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California's Iconic Highway 1 is Fully Open

Follow one of the world’s most celebrated routes on this coast-hugging drive. You can start this trip at either end. Here, the trip begins in San Diego, at the southern end of the state, then travels north to beach towns, the bustle and excitement of Los Angeles, through elegant Santa Barbara, then north to Big Sur. Continue to more beaches and attractions in Carmel, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. End in the ultimate “City by the Bay,” San Francisco. 

Learn more about the Big Sur component of this scenic drive by listening to the California Now Podcast.


California dreamers, endless coastline & sunshine

Start in one of California’s sunniest destinations, not just in terms of the weather, but also in attitude. In the heart of the city, shop in Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo.

Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, such as Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village—pedestrian-friendly enclaves that are the epicenter of San Diego’s burgeoning culinary movement, progressive art scene, and craft beer boom.

Start your own sampling in North Park, the neighbourhood bordering Balboa Park’s northeast side. Along 30th Street and University Avenue, enjoy farm-to-table cuisine and boutique wines at Urban Solace, or wing it at local favourite Carnitas’ Snack Shop (the menu changes daily depending on fresh produce and other ingredients available that day). Work off lunch by heading down to San Diego’s sparkling Mission Bay to rent stand-up paddleboards or kayaks.

Finish with dining in downtown’s Little Italy area (home to chef Richard Blais’ eateries Juniper & Ivy and fried-chicken-fueled Crack Shack) and dancing after dark in the lively Gaslamp Quarter.

Splurge on a night at one of California’s iconic lodgings, the Hotel del Coronado, on idyllic Coronado Island, connected to the city by an arcing bridge that makes you feel like you’re a million miles away.

Drive along San Diego’s coastline north—with a visit to beautiful La Jolla (elegant shopping and sidewalk cafés abound)—then pick up the beginning of Highway One in Dana Point, which leads through Orange County to Huntington Beach.



Endless summer, surfer's paradise

Plan at least a day to hang out and get the surf vibe in this classic beach town, where the main drag heads straight to the beach. Southern California’s beach culture thrives along this city’s curving shoreline, where you can bicycle down an oceanfront path, play volleyball, and, of course, surf. Surfing definitely sets the tone in Huntington Beach, and even if you never grab a board, there’s shopping at leading surf retailers and great viewing of some of the local dudes riding the waves alongside the landmark Huntington Pier.

From the pier, it’s a short walk to the outdoor mall Pacific City, or Main Street’s stylish boutiques and restaurants, many with sidewalk tables or decks that let you bask in Huntington Beach’s fresh ocean breezes and sun-soaked afternoons. You can get a taste of the Surf City life with stays at Huntington Beach’s luxurious oceanfront resorts, such as Waterfront Beach Resort, the super-family-friendly Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, and Paséa Hotel & Spa.

Or discover more natural sides of town by trying horseback riding in 143-hectare Huntington Central Park, or bird watching and exploring trails in Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a restored wetlands and one of Southern California’s most vital coastal habitats.

Next, follow the coast north to California’s largest metropolitan area, Los Angeles, with big city museums, dining, entertainment, and other attractions.



Rooftop Restaurants, A-List Celebrities

As California’s largest city, Los Angeles has nonstop action and things to do, but it can be a challenge to navigate, so planning your trip in advance is a big plus.

Start in the coastal city of Santa Monica, with a wide, uncrowded beach, a signature pier topped by carnival rides and restaurants, and outstanding shopping at Third Street Promenade (great for rooftop dining with ocean and city views). Follow the Santa Monica Boulevard northeast to visit legendary Beverly Hills, where cars with tinted windows pull up to Chanel and other deluxe boutiques along Rodeo Drive. Continue east to Hollywood to stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame and visit TCL Chinese Theatre.

Drive east to visit hip and historic downtown Los Angeles (or simply DTLA). An influx of new residents has helped energise the area, and downtown’s re-emergence has also been spurred by such attractions as contemporary art museum The Broad and Grand Park, an urban oasis with views stretching from the Music Center (including Walt Disney Concert Hall) to City Hall.

Vintage buildings have been transformed, including the ornate 1927 United Artists building on Broadway, where the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles offers stylish digs and a restaurant, and the food hall Grand Central Market, which dates back to 1917. Crowds flock to the sports and entertainment complex of Staples Center and LA LIVE, where you can also see music artifacts (Elvis’s sheet music, Michael’s glove) at the Grammy Museum and catch concerts at the Microsoft Theatre. Finish your L.A. experience with a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood, with movie-themed rides and back-lot tours.

Return to the coast to drive north past Malibu and on to one of California’s prettiest cities, romantic Santa Barbara.


With its Mediterranean climate and cache of culture, this seaside city deserves to be called the “American Riviera”

Next stop on your coastal cruise is this elegant city of Santa Barbara, hugging the coastal hills, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera.

While Santa Barbara may have a burnished antique look, the Spanish colonial-style architecture—all red-tiled roofs and whitewashed courtyards covered in climbing bougainvillea—didn’t actually take root until 1925, when an earthquake damaged downtown buildings, making room for a whole new style. And in this case it was a romantic look back, a nod to the region’s first Spanish visitors more than 150 years before. The elegant building style has stuck around, and become the city’s visual touchstone.

Perfect architecture, and perfect setting.

Tucked into the lee of the Santa Ynez Mountains and protected from the brunt of Pacific wind and waves, “The American Riviera” enjoys a dreamy Mediterranean climate, with plenty of sunny days and mild winters. Add wine country producing award-winning vintages, outdoor adventures on land and sea, big-city arts and entertainment, and you have a city that’s a poster child for the California good life. 

Stroll State Street for excellent shops and dining, launch a kayak from East Beach to paddle under Stearns Wharf, visit the classic Old Mission Santa Barbara, and tour the 1782 Presidio for a look at original adobes like El Cuartel, the second oldest surviving building in the state. Then explore the city’s forward-looking neighbourhood—the rehabbed warehouses of The Funk Zone, now home to urban wine-tasting rooms, artist’s studios, and cool boutiques.

Now drive north to sample the region’s legendary vintages in a beautiful, mellow stretch of wine country.



Tour an iconic wine region with fog, sun, and plenty of Pinot

This next stop encourages you to slow down, relax, and really savour your surroundings—and the amazing wines produced here. The Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, is one of most diverse grape-growing regions in the county. Near the Pacific, fog and cool air rolls in at dusk, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Fifty kilometres inland, it’s sunny and hot—perfect for Bordeaux varieties like Cab Franc and Merlot.

And scenic? How about rolling hills, endless vines, and ancient oaks to the horizon. Between the wines and the views, it’s easy to see why the region became a star in the 2004 surprise hit, Sideways. Take a self-guided tour of the film’s many shoot locations in BuelltonLos AlamosSolvang and Los Olivos—even if you don’t remember the movie, these places are all worth a visit.

Where to go? Why not start at Sunstone Winery. It has a cool wine cave, sustainably grown grapes, and a spectacular limestone chateau available for overnight stays. Or, try the Rhône varietals at Zaca Mesa Winery in Los Olivos, or the Pinot Noirs (the oldest in the County) at Sanford Winery in Lompoc.

Another tip: buy a pass from Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association to save on tastings at 15 participating boutique wineries.

Next stop is San Luis Obispo County—with cool seaside towns including Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, and Cambria— and a visit to one of the state’s (if not the country’s) remarkable structures, the ornate compound known as Hearst Castle.



Wraparound Views, Lavish Designs

From Highway One, you’ll see this incredible complex of ornately embellished towers and buildings perched high on a coastal hilltop in San Luis Obispo County, like a coastal Shangri-La with 360-degree views. Park in the main lot of the state park grounds of Hearst Castle, then check in at the visitor centre to ride one of the park’s shuttle buses up to the castle for a guided tour. (Make online reservations well in advance, especially during the busy summer months.) 

Lavishly designed by Julia Morgan (California’s first female licensed architect) as the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the complex, completed in 1947, is an extraordinary temple to opulence and excess. Now showcased within one of California’s most visited state parks, it is a must-see to end all must-sees, an eye-popping extravaganza with a 165-room castle, 51 hectares of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools.

In fact, the castle’s two pools are standout attractions. The outdoor Neptune Pool, 32 metres in length and with an oil-burning heating system, evokes ancient Greece and Rome, with marble statues of Neptune and Nereid guarding over the aquatic paradise. (The pool re-opens in August 2018.) The second, smaller indoor Roman Pool has the look of a decadent Roman bath, with rich details including cobalt blue and gold smalti, or glass tiles. Look up to see intricate mosaics depicting a star-filled night sky, spreading across the roof and dome. The pool is surrounded by eight marble sculptures of Greek and Roman gods, goddesses, and heroes, carved by Italian sculptor Carlo Freter.

From Hearst Castle, you can take a detour to the wine lover’s magnet of Paso Robles, or head north 25 kilometres to Ragged Point. Take in the views of crashing waves against plunging cliffs from the patio of the Ragged Point Inn. Towering 122 metres above the Pacific Ocean, this oceanfront locale is a prime viewing spot for whales, dolphins, and elephant seals, and is considered the “Gateway to Big Sur.” 

Next up, you’ll encounter the most famous panoramas along the Central Coast—Big Sur.

Ragged Point will ensure you see the iconic panoramas of the rugged California coastline.



Art and nature merge on this rugged coast, one of California’s most spectacular settings

Welcome to Big Sur, one of the world’s most unforgettable stretches of coastline. This roughly 145-kilometre-long stretch of redwood- and fog-trimmed waterfront between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle has no specific boundaries, no urban core, drawing you (and writers like Henry Miller and Beat Generation darling Jack Kerouac) in with a magic allure that is almost palpable. This is, quite simply, a place you want to be—bluffs, sea, and sky.

Drive Big Sur’s length via twisting Highway One, with plenty of pullovers at places like Bixby Bridge. Another favorite photo op: McWay Falls, a silvery cascade that falls some 20-metres from the sea cliffs to a remote beach below in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You can see it from the open sections of the park’s Overlook Trail. Look up to see endangered California condors, North America’s largest birds, or look down to scan the swells for migrating whales or sea otters floating among dense beds of kelp, California’s signature seaweed.

Try the famous Ambrosia burger on the deck of Nepenthe, then nurse your beer to watch the sunset. Campgrounds abound around Big Sur, as do rustic cabins at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. The region’s beauty also makes it a magnet for splurge-worthy hotels like the cliff-hugging Post Ranch Inn, or Ventana Big Sur, which combines traditional luxury accommodations with fabulous glamping options.

Continue north along Highway One towards your next stop, romantic Carmel and historic Monterey. Along the way, consider a detour to explore Andrew Molera State Park, where you can ride horses right next to crashing waves.



Romance and a big blue sea

Wrapped by the Pacific on three sides, the Monterey Peninsula at once offers wind-tossed beaches and quiet coves, fine dining and casual eats, early history and postmodern art.

Your first stop will be Monterey Bay to visit the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. With its psychedelic jellies and bat-ray petting tanks, the aquarium is a must-visit, especially for families. Mesmerizing tanks and exhibits showcase more than 35,000 animals and plants representing over 550 species—a large number of them California natives, including California sea otters. Insider tip: Get tickets online in advance to skip long lines.

Step outside and find yourself among hotels, shops, and restaurants filling former fish-packing plants along Cannery Row, made famous by local author John Steinbeck. Rent bikes to follow the coast south around the peninsula to Pacific GroveAsilomar State Beach, and the sea-and-spray beauty (and gazillion-dollar homes and celebrated Pebble Beach golf courses) along the 17-Mile Drive.

Head south to artsy Carmel-by-the-Sea (locals call it car-MEL), a town that deftly straddles the balance point of rich history and new wealth. The Carmel Mission is one of the state’s most beautiful, and shady trails fan out from the site into lush Mission Trail Nature Preserve. Stroll the white sands of dog-friendly Carmel Beach, or explore Carmel’s main village, with gallery-lined streets, cosy gastropubs, and even cosier inns. Or, spend an hour or two hiking around the gorgeous shoreline trails and wave-battered bluffs of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, 10 minutes south of Carmel.

Continue north beyond Monterey to the boho-funky beachfront town of Santa Cruz, where surfers carve waves and kids play on a classic waterfront boardwalk.



Surf's up at NorCal's friendly beach getaway

Follow Highway 17 south over the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains toward the coast, where you can relax and play in this ultra-mellow beach town. Santa Cruz has a decided split personality—and both sides are cool. First, there’s the family fun of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a yesteryear-style esplanade lined with classic coasters, arcade games, corn dogs, and a historic carousel. Then there’s downtown Santa Cruz, where local college students browse for vintage and boho chic, and relaxed restaurants focus on organic, local ingredients.

But at its heart, Santa Cruz is a surf town. This is where the sport was originally introduced in California, and top surfers know that the place to be is Steamer Lane. Need more proof? Around town, one can still feel the influence of late resident Jack O’Neill, the legendary surfer and pioneer of the wetsuit. Shop at any of the three O’Neill Surf Shops in the Santa Cruz area—one of the shops is just steps from Cowell Beach.

A wide beach and splashable waves are always inviting; add a colourful boardwalk with rides, games, and music—well, how can you say no? Not many people do—this popular waterfront boardwalk is a summertime ritual for countless California families, a wonderful way for you to relax and play just like the smiling locals. While there are countless attractions lining the boardwalk, the big star is the Giant Dipper, a burly wooden coaster first opened in 1924 and generating screams, squeals, and squinched-shut eyes for decades. These days, it’s not the only thrill ride in town; the boardwalk also features the 38-metre-high Double Shot tower for heart-in-throat adrenaline lovers. For tamer rides, especially for little ones, take a spin on the painstakingly restored 1911 Looff carousel (yes, that’s real horse hair in the tail of your painted steed).

Your road trip ends back in San Francisco, where you can explore by foot, bike, or clanging cable car.



Sparkling Bay, Magic City

Finish your trip in one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to visit “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore San Francisco by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a park, or head into Golden Gate Park to visit museums and row across a secret gem, Stow Lake.

Continue along the flat Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Exploratorium science and learning museum. Park your bikes and hop a cable car to ride over the hill to the high-end shops and enormous Macy’s, NikeTown, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus around bustling Union Square, with a stop for Italian pastries and cappuccino at Emporio Rulli right in the square.

Nearby, stroll boutique-lined Maiden Lane—a pedestrian-only thoroughfare during the day, when cafes set up tables and chairs right in the street. Nearby Westfield San Francisco Centre, a dazzling complex on once scruffy but now spiffed up Market Street, glitters with even more stores, including a deluxe food court on the lower level.

While San Francisco is teeming with cutting-edge restaurants, and plenty of wine from nearby Napa and Sonoma, the city also boasts its own wineries and tasting rooms—like Bluxome Winery, with a location in Ghirardelli Square, and a small tasting room for groundbreaking Napa Valley winery Chateau Montelena, tucked in the lobby of the Westin St. Francis.

At night, catch a show in the theatre district, or head to North Beach to see Beach Blanket Babylon, a raucous and irreverent San Francisco institution. For more nightlife and dining, stroll Valencia Street in the Mission, a trendy and eclectic hotbed of restaurants and bars, and awesome late-night scoops at Bi-Rite Creamery—a sweet way to finish your road trip.