Drive. Dine. Walk. Gawk. Find joy. Explore 735 gorgeous miles of the iconic road with these essential stops along the way.
Aliso Beach Park
Most beautiful stretch of sand, Laguna Beach
Catch Aliso Beach Park on a balmy day when the water turns a translucent turquoise, and you'll think you've been transported south to the tropics. Backed by low hills and cliffs topped by dream homes, the beach looks out on Santa Catalina Island, with low-tide access south around a rocky point to a long, curving stretch of sand. There may be better-known beaches in Orange County but certainly none more beautiful. 31131 S. Pacific Coast Hwy.; ocparks.com/beaches/aliso.
A peerless pier, Manhattan Beach
Southern California loves its piers, and none gets more summer lovin' than Manhattan Beach Pier. With surfers riding the waves, multiple volleyball games along the sand, and tanned and toned locals providing flesh-and-blood evidence of Manhattan Beach's fitness obsession, the pier gives you an opera-box perspective on SoCal beach culture. It's also mercifully free of clutter, so you get views that sweep from Palos Verdes Peninsula to Malibu. End of Manhattan Beach Blvd.
Secluded sands, Malibu
Like Zuma Beach, its famous neighbor just to the north, Westward Beach has ample parking and powerful waves. But bordered by sandstone bluffs instead of PCH's pavement, it feels more unspoiled. The headland of Point Dume forms the beach's southern boundary, and if you want even more privacy, hike up and over the point, then down a staircase to secluded Dume Cove. Westward Beach Rd., off Pacific Coast Hwy.
Match made in heaven, Santa Barbara County
Surf and mountains near Highway 1 in Santa Barbara County.
The new wine country, Lompoc
The rolling hills around Lompoc are producing some of California's best wines--heady stuff for a town formerly known as flower-seed capital of the world. And while it may be short on romance--it's located in an industrial park--the improbably named Lompoc Wine Ghetto is a collection of 20 tasting rooms where you can sample some of the best the Santa Rita Hills region has to offer, including Fiddlehead Cellars and Flying Goat Cellars. Tasting fees vary; 200 N. Ninth St.
The magic castle, San Simeon
Of course you want to see Hearst Castle--no trip up Highway 1 would be complete without a tour of William Randolph's fabled hilltop estate. If you've visited before, we suggest getting a more intimate glimpse of the press baron on the Upstairs Suites Tour. Afterward, head down the hill to San Simeon, the tiny port that gave the castle its official name. Sebastian's Store serves superior burgers (made from Hearst Ranch beef); across the street, San Simeon Pier and W.R. Hearst Memorial State Beach are both fine places to soak up a little sun with your views of the Pacific. Castle: From $25; hearstcastle.org. Sebastian's Store: 42 SLO San Simeon Rd.; (805) 927-3307.
Solitary strolling, Big Sur
In Big Sur, Highway 1 leads to long, uncrowded beaches made for meditative walks.
Why rush your trip? Consider stopping for the night at any of our favorite coastal hotels
Perfect beach day, Monterey Bay
Make yourself at home on one of the area's incomparable stretches of sand.
Take a detour on Monterey's Wine Road
Thrill rides, Santa Cruz
Take a scream-stirring ride on the Giant Dipper, or test your courage on the new Undertow, a roller coaster with spinning cars. Amusement parks don't get more amusing than the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Need a place to recover from the Dipper's curves? Spend the night at sleek Santa Cruz Dream Inn. Boardwalk: From $3; 400 Beach St.; beachboardwalk.com. Dream Inn: From $279; jdvhotels.com.
Stretch your legs and explore Santa Cruz
Hidden beaches, Half Moon Bay
The San Mateo County stretch of Highway 1 is its most underrated. Unjustly. North of Pescadero, you'll find magical pocket beaches: Pomponio, San Gregorio, and--most secluded of all--Cowell Ranch State Beach. A half-mile walk leads to the stairway down to the deserted sands; for a longer hike, turn south onto the Cowell-Purisima Trail, a 3-mile path tracing the cliffs. 3 mi. south of Hwy. 1 and State 92; openspacetrust.org.
Lost in the labyrinth, San Francisco
You can find serenity walking the elegant labyrinth off San Francisco's Land's End Trail.
Architectural icon, Bodega Bay
St. Theresa of Avila church has been a Bodega Bay landmark since 1862.
Discover the Wine Country's hidden corners
High light, Point Arena
At 115 feet, Point Arena Lighthouse ties with San Mateo County's Pigeon Point as tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. Even cooler, you can climb to the top for views of the Mendocino Coast. $7.50; pointarenalighthouse.com.
Paradise found, Mendocino County
Blooms and views grace the Mendocino Coast.
Big trees, Rockport
Mendocino County is where Redwood Country begins. Tucked into the Coast Range, the Redwood Grove & Picnic Area is a misty little grove you'll likely have to yourself. Mile marker 88.71, 1/2 mi. north of Rockport.
Highway 1 isn't the only route up the coast. Read about California's Highway 101. And find more great road trips through the West!