Highway 1 – the world’s best road trip
California State Route 1, better known by the name Highway 1, winds through some of the most beautiful coastal areas in the world. It is often called the All-American Road or Pacific Coast Highway.
Highway 1 starts, or ends if you will, in Orange County and then travels all the way north to US 101, close to the town of Leggett. We guide you through a northbound trip – a total distance of 1055 kilometres )or 655 miles) through fantastic scenery offering scores of experiences, providing for an unforgettable road trip.
Rent a car
Our Highway 1 travel guide comprises eight days, but to maximise the experience, 14 days for the whole stretch would be a good number. It is possible to rent a car in the US for two weeks for less than you might imagine. Check out Holidaycars
Leg 1: Doheny State Beach and Laguna Beach, Orange County
If you start your road trip at the southernmost spot, you will probably fly in at Los Angeles Airport (LAX). The trip from the airport takes about an hour (mostly along Interstate 5). When you drive southbound towards Highway 1 (or California State Route 1, which is its real name), take the exit at the CA1/Camino Las Ramblas.
You will then find yourself in Orange County, a county with more than three million inhabitants. Shortly after the exit you will get to Doheny State Beach, a beautiful seaside area offering great swimming opportunities. It is possible to catch an express ferry to the charming island of Santa Catalina from here. Park your car at Point Harbor and eat lunch at Harbor Grill before you depart.
We suggest staying the night at Laguna Beach, a 20-minute drive away, to acclimatise to the Californian hospitality and US time zone. A great choice is the Holiday Inn Laguna Beach that offers good standards and sufficient parking.
Laguna Beach is a resort city, or in other words: a tourist town. It offers some incredible beaches and only 13 days of rain a year on average. If you get tired of the beach you should visit one of the tiny art galleries or cafés scattered around the neighbourhood.
If you are looking for a decent American restaurant, head over to Nick’s.
Total travel time day 1: approximately 1 hour 45 minutes (including the trip southwards from the airport)
Leg 2: Laguna Beach – Newport Beach – Long Beach
The second leg is also a short one, but there is a wealth of places worth visiting along the way. Newport Beach and Huntington Beach are both posh cities and place of residence to crowds of affluent people. Newport Beach is home to Nicolas Cage, Chuck Norris and Gwen Stefani whilst Jenna Jameson, Jürgen Klinsmann and all the members of Avenged Sevenfold, among others, live in Huntington Beach.
Both of these places are perfect for a seaside lunch break. If you are a fan of seafood, head over to Bear Flag Fish Co. located at the harbour. If you rather chose to halt in Huntington Beach, grab a sandwich from this place. Pop by Fashion Island situated just off Newport Beach if you want to go shopping.
You should stay the night in Long Beach. This vast seaport offers lots of interesting attractions, but we especially recommend a trip to RMS The Queen Mary. Aquarium of the Pacific is also great, and if you are into art, head over to MOLAA for a rather different cultural experience.
Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown Long Beach is a great hotel with sufficient parking and great views. From this hotel it is possible – though the Americans probably would disagree – to walk to Queen Mary. The restaurant offering the best views of town, The Reef, is also within walking distance (situated in between the hotel and Queen Mary).
Long Beach is also a perfect starting point if you are visiting Disneyland. By car it will take you around 30 minutes from the hotel. You should probably include an additional day in your travel itinerary if you plan to visit Mickey and Donald. In this travel guide, we only count one day in Long Beach.
Total travel time day 2: 1 hour
Leg 3: Long Beach – Santa Monica
Likewise, the third leg through Los Angeles is manageable in terms of travel distance. This day will take you to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Hollywood. You should include an extra day here if you want to explore the celebrity neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills or visit the spectacular amusement park Six Flags Magic Mountains, only a 40-minute drive away. In this travel guide, we only count one day in Santa Monica.
To live in Santa Monica is no cheap affair, and the same goes for Beverly Hills. A good option is the uncomplicated but decent motel Super 8. If you want better standards and are willing to pitch in some more money, live at the amazing Channel Road Inn or one of the trendiest hotels in Santa Monica, the Georgian Hotel.
We suggest Best Western Plus Sunset Plaza Hotel if you prefer to live in Hollywood, which is a good hotel with decent prices in a nice location.
Indulge in some great food at the Jiraffe Restaurant in Santa Monica, or try the steak at Boa Steakhouse – one of the best in the country, according to Sunset Magazine.
For shopping, head over to Montana Avenue where you also can spot celebrities out for coffee. Third Street Promenade is a superb pedestrian street with lots of great shops, whilst the pier offers a variety of small, charming stores.
Total travel time day 3: 1 hour 10 minutes
Leg 4: Santa Monica – Santa Barbara
This stretch will take you through Malibu Creek State Park. The park was earlier owned by 20th Fox Century Studios and used in numerous movies, such as Planet of the Apes (the original 1969 version). The park has beautiful nature, so it is nevertheless well worth a visit. Another beautiful and famous location is the Point Dume State Beach. You will also drive past Leo Carillo State Park and Point Mugu State Park on your way.
Highway 1 will take you through central Oxnard in Ventura County. This is the city of the old Hollywood stars, and Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino have roamed the beaches here. Channel Islands Harbor is a delightful place to visit, though we personally would have carried on all the way to Santa Barbara (40 minutes onwards from Oxnard).
Continue on and pass by San Buenaventura State Beach. Make a minor detour here and visit the incredibly beautiful Lake Casitas (exit CA-33, 15 kilometres off Highway 1).
Santa Barbara is considered the closest thing to an American riviera mainly because of its fantastic climate. Silicon Valley is the widely used, however less delicate nickname of this area. Celebrities living in Santa Barbara and its neighbourhood include Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Cruise. This is in other words the perfect place to spot celebrities, especially around Montecito.
The beaches of Santa Barbara are first-class – we recommend Arroyo Burro Beach or Hendry’s Beach. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, many which have held on to the town’s Mexican traditions. Mexican food is served at Los Agaves and Los Arroyos. For good wine, visit Bouchon. Brophy Bros. offers great wine and views of the harbour.
The Inn at East Beach offers good accommodation right next to Santa Barbara Zoo. The Fess Parker Santa Barbara is another good choice, whilst San Ysidro Ranch provides ultimate luxury.
Total travel time day 4: 1 hour 42 minutes
Leg 5: Santa Barbara (- San Simeon -) Carmel by the Sea
This stretch is the most extensive in this travel guide, but also one of the most stunning. If you consider it to be too far we suggest a stopover in Julia Pfeffer State Burns Park, where you can stay at one of the most incredible hotels in the US: Ventana Inn and Spa. It is undoubtedly worth the cost.
Another option is to stay at The Morgan Hotel San Simeon. The leg from Santa Barbara to San Simeon will take you around 2 hours and 10 minutes, so it is situated about halfway. The crucial reason to make a stop in San Simeon is The Hearst Castle.
Carmel by the Sea once had Clint Eastwood as its mayor, and it is regarded to be one of the best US travel destinations, largely because of its numerous golf courses (among them the renowned Pebble Beach). In town you will find attractions such as wine tasting, art galleries, spa facilities and some splendid restaurants. There are also some great beaches in this area – check out Big Sur.
If you are a bookworm you should visit the National Steinbeck Center. If shopping is more your thing, Del Monte Shopping Center is worth visiting as you will find everything from Apple Store to Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret here. The shopaholics should as well stop by Gilroy Premium Outlets, a 45-minute drive outside Carmel.
Patisserie Boissiere in Carmel offers great food in a charming atmosphere. Upscale dining is to be found at Anton & Michel, whilst cheaper food can be consumed at the Dametra Café. If you are in need of a proper steak, head over to Whaling Station in Monterey.
In Carmel you will have a choice of charming hotels such as La Playa Carmel, Wayside Inn and Coachman’s Inn. Check in at Carmel Valley Ranch for a great experience.
Total travel time day 5: 4 hours 37 minutes or 2 hours 39 minutes and 2 hours
Leg 6: Carmel – Santa Cruz
The stretch between Carmel and Santa Cruz is a beautiful ride through Monterey Bay. If you want to test your surfboard then make a halt at Manresa State Beach, one of the best surf spots in
In Santa Cruz you can admire the hand carved merry-go-round from 1911 – a local treasure and national landmark. There is also an arcade with a casino in the area.
When you are feeling hungry, head over to Center Street Grill. Spend the night at the charming Babbling Brook Inn.
Total travel time day 7: 50 minutes
Leg 7: Santa Cruz – San Francisco
Two things are for sure: San Francisco is a city that must be experienced, and it is a horrible city to manoeuvre around in by car.
A place outside central offering stunning views (for a good slump of money) is the Cavallo Point. It is also possible to live on the other side of Oakland Bay Bridge at the Courtyard by Marriott Emeryville. An affordable, semi-central option is the Travelodge at the Presidio.
San Francisco offers a well of attractions. Both Kokkari and Gary Danko will provide you with a proper dining experience.
Total travel time day 7: 1 hour 35 minutes
Leg 8: San Fransisco – Point Arena (or back to Los Angeles)
When you reach your final destination of Point Arena, the Coast Guard House Historic Inn is a good place to spend the night. If you want to finish Highway 1 in its entirety you can drive all the way
to Drive-Thru Tree Park, which will take you about two hours from Point Arena. In all honesty we would probably chose to turn around before this, or visit Berkeley instead.
The trip back to Los Angeles will take you about six hours from San Francisco (you will then drive through the inland along the Interstate 5).
Total travel time day 8: 3 hours 55 minutes
Total distance covered: 226 kilometres
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