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This road-trip road should be number one on your bucket list

If there is a bucket list for roads, Highway 1 on the California coast must certainly place near the top of the list, if not at the number one slot. Sometimes, those of us living in California tend to take it for granted. After all, there are far more quick and efficient routes when traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But there is not another one that even approaches its grandeur and jaw-dropping beauty.

A road trip to Big Sur

Recently, my daughter and I planned a road trip to Big Sur. We headed toward Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo and picked it up at another scenic spot called Morro Bay. From there, we began the winding and impossibly gorgeous route that attracts people from all over the world. We passed through the picture-book town of Cambria and the speck on the map called Harmony, population 18.

Immediately after Hearst Castle in San Simeon, we stopped to visit the elephant seal colony near the circa-1875 Piedras Blancas Lighthouse station. There, literally thousands of elephant seals were basking in the sun, while the rugged and dark blue waters crashed into nearby craggy coasts. It’s a hypnotic spot to stop, but at some point, you’ve got to pull yourself away and get back on that road that is calling to you.

For the most part, it’s a two-lane road with occasional passing lanes. But to rush yourself through the scenery is to do a great injustice. The point is not to speed, but to absorb. Yes, there are definitely parts of Highway 1 that might inspire a bit of white-knuckling. The switchbacks and steep ascensions are certainly dramatic, but also very safe. The only risk as a driver, I suppose, is letting your eyes wander off into the deep blue horizon and almost comically sweeping vistas that at times seem to swallow you up.

There are many places to stop along the way to pose for photos and catch your breath in the cool and sweet breezes. And then, mile after mile, it all just repeats itself. Steep granite canyons soon give way to deep green forests as the road hugs its way through the majestic and ancient redwoods in Big Sur. This segment of the highway was built between 1919 and 1937 and crosses over several historic bridges, including the Bixby Bridge, a reinforced concrete arch with a 320-foot span that passes over the Bixby Creek gorge.

The trip between Morro Bay and the boundary of Carmel, just after Big Sur, can easily take several hours. But every moment is worth it. Once you hit Carmel and Monterey and the road goes back to being an elegant and much simpler coastal drive, it’s easy to miss the drama of startling outposts and heavenly postcard views.

The solitude and power of California’s central coast are some of nature’s most indelible forces. The perspectives and angles afforded by Highway 1 are beyond just impressive. They are inspiring and achingly profound. Planning a road trip in California? There is 1 road not to miss. Literally.

Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com

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Impavid (@guest_216256)
11 months ago

My main squeeze and I drove south from Astoria, OR. When we got to Leggett, CA we decided to take Hwy #1 to Ford Bragg, CA. There were no signs suggesting maximum lengths. We were driving a F350 pulling a 37 ft Everest 5th wheel. Soon we heard a trucker ahead of us announcing on the CB radio every corner he was coming to and stating he was pulling a 40 ft flat deck. Within a few miles we had second thoughts. On almost all right hand curves we needed to be completely on the wrong side of the 2 lane road so our 5er didn’t hit the rock overhangs. It was that tight. There are many places to turn around which we did after 10 miles. In a car you’d be fine, but I’d suggest not pulling a trailer. We continued to San Fran. Four days from Astoria to SF. It was Nov and half the time it was misty but very little traffic. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The rest of hwy 101 was a breeze.

Linda Graham Gruvman (@guest_216352)
11 months ago
Reply to  Impavid

We had a similar experience with our 30 ft. Class C and toad. There actually was a sign at Leggett saying something about a 40′ limit. Your trucker may have had special clearance. If I were ever to repeat the journey I’d drive from south to north. Sitting in the passenger seat looking down hundreds of feet with no guard rails is quite anxiety-producing. We did not pass any other rigs as long as ours until we reached San Simeon.

Tony (@guest_216224)
11 months ago

You are right, this is a beautiful highway and most of us Californians take it for granted. But as you said, don’t be in a hurry!

Mike (@guest_194198)
1 year ago

My wife and I took my motorcycle from Jersey across to Truckee,CA.then down to SanFransisco. From there we headed south on 1 to Los Angeles. Absolutely beautiful views!

Tom H. (@guest_194189)
1 year ago

We rented a camper in San Francisco and took HWY 1 North to Oregon. So beautiful! We plan to go back and catch the southern half one day.
One thing I learned is I won’t tow my 5er on 1 but I will rent and drive someone else’s 😉😎

Michael Galvin (@guest_140114)
2 years ago

When you travel this road, go north to south. That way you are on the ocean side and don’t have to cross over traffic when you want to park at the view points.

Terri R (@guest_140602)
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Galvin

great suggestion!

Glenda Alexander (@guest_216254)
11 months ago
Reply to  Michael Galvin

I agree! I’ve traveled south from San Francisco to Carmel and would like to see more. I’ve also used this tip twice when traveling down from northern Washington to northern California.

Sink Jaxon (@guest_140104)
2 years ago

Won’t catch me in CA, with their high taxes, fires, drug and homeless problems, defecating in the streets, needles and rats in the gutters…no thank you.

Ran (@guest_194181)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sink Jaxon

That’s not only in Ca. That’s everywhere, but thanks for not coming! We get tired of fighting for camp spots! 🤓

friz (@guest_194237)
1 year ago
Reply to  Ran

Your cities have become open sewers. You elected a gov who is in reality Nicolae Carpathia.
Your countryside is stunning. PCH is one of the most beautiful roads in the country maybe world. Go figure.

Dave (@guest_194208)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sink Jaxon

We enjoyed the countryside but avoided the cities. Probably won’t visit again for the same reason Californians are leaving.

Carson Axtell (@guest_140092)
2 years ago

Yup! This stretch of road is my favorite, so much so that I have traveled the section north of SF more than a dozen times, and the section south to Morro Bay at least a half dozen. Charles Kuralt called the Beartooth Highway north of Yellowstone “The Most Beautiful Road in America”, but I think that must be because he hadn’t yet driven the PCH… The only problem is the long lines behind slooowww drivers that will make the trip seem more like a rush-hour commute on many days.

Kamwick (@guest_140058)
2 years ago

This is indeed a beautiful drive. Makes me want to go again.

Firefly (@guest_140053)
2 years ago

So, are you saying that there are no concerns with an RV of any length traveling this highway?

Kamwick (@guest_140056)
2 years ago
Reply to  Firefly

I would say avoid it unless you have a self-contained van or class C less than 26′. I’m sure it can be done, but there are some places that are quite problematic.

friz (@guest_194238)
1 year ago
Reply to  Kamwick

Did you enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway pulling your trailer or in a 40′ Class A? About the same.

Deborah Johnson (@guest_216269)
11 months ago
Reply to  friz

The Blue Ridge Parkway doesn’t have an ocean below rocky cliffs on the southbound side. I’ve driven both many times, in my VW Westphalia and my 1953MGTD.

Tony (@guest_216225)
11 months ago
Reply to  Kamwick

I wouldn’t have a problem driving our 35’ motorhome on it, but some people might. There are delivery trucks and many RVs, just don’t be in a hurry.

Mike Sherman (@guest_140043)
2 years ago

In my opinion, the finest views are from Westport to San Francisco. Sonoma County has world famous vistas that you see in many car commercials. Avid motorcyclists ship their own machines from all over the world just to experience California’s spectacular Coast Hwy. #1. Truly a slice of Heaven!

Carson Axtell (@guest_140097)
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Sherman

Bingo! Agreed…Sonoma is especially beautiful in the spring, before the crowds show up and when the cliffside pastures are populated with ewes and their newborn lambs.

Steve Wilkins (@guest_139907)
2 years ago

One additional comment for the article, above: Portions of Highway 1 – often in its most dramatic areas – are frequently closed due to landslides. Wildfires have increased that likelihood. Last fall, we drove Highway 1, over several days, from Point Arena to Santa Monica (where it evaporates into L.A.’s sprawl). We were most fortunate to find this spectacular roadway open the entire way.

Tony (@guest_139880)
2 years ago

15 years ago we did this trip in our car, heading south, and it is indeed beautiful. As a bonus, we happened, by chance, to leave the Monterey area a few minutes after the Tour of California bicycle race went through. Within a few minutes we came upon the tail end of the racers’ support vehicles and TV crews. Within an hour we were a few cars behind the racers and I’m pretty sure spectators thought we were part of the SAG vehicles.

I was amazed that these young men were consistently going about 30 MPH for hours, all the way to San Simeon. We didn’t last that long and stopped for lunch about half way there. Unfortunately the Tour of California seems to have ceased operations but that drive is truly spectacular.

Oscar Thomson (@guest_216364)
11 months ago
Reply to  Tony

We drove from Monterey to Morrow Bay pulling a 30 ft TT. Never again!!!! Views were spectacular. However, Arms, elbows, back, neck, knees, feet, all hurt from the anxiety of the switchbacks, curves, and big trucks coming the other way. It was a tense drive.

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