America’s Most Beautiful Drive & Best Free Attraction!

When it comes to mind-blowing scenery, cliff-hugging stop-offs, ragged rocks plunging into  the sea, and pristine beaches for both surfers and swimmers, few routes deliver like this one. This All-American Road encompasses Carmel Highlands, Big Sur, Bixby Bridge, San Simeon, Malibu, and Newport Beach. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also known as California State Route 1, is America’s most beautiful drive. Our drive from San Francisco to Laguna Hills encompassed most of America’s best free attraction and we were not disappointed.

After driving through Carmel Highlands, where impressive houses perch on granite cliffs above the sea, we reached the start of Big Sur, made famous, of course, by Jack Kerouac, which extends 90 miles south to San Simeon. On this dreamlike coastline, redwood groves reach skyward and waves are beaten on ragged rocks below. As we threaded through mountains that plunged into the Pacific, we had our camera ready for the cliffs and bridges that provided for great panoramic views.

Bixby Bridge is a single-span concrete arch more than 260 feet high and 700 feet long. This marvel in engineering  is one of the top ten highest single span bridges in the world. We parked at turnouts on both ends to take pictures. Within 2o minutes, clouds partially hid the bridge on one side while the sun reflected off of the gleaming white structural supports on the other. By parking at a graded, gravel road directly across from the main pullout, we were able to get a picture of the entire bridge with the Pacific Ocean in the background.

After weaving through spectacular mountains and stopping regularly for amazing photo opportunities, we reached the town of San Simeon, a staging area for the five-mile bus ride to Hearst Castle. Perched in the Santa Lucia Range, the 127-acre estate, started by William Randolph Heart in 1919, features the 115-room main house and guesthouses, which mix classical and Mediterranean styles, using European antiques and artwork collected by Hearst. The famous castle or home was definitely worth the stop. We gazed upon Roman and Spanish art collections and jaw-dropping grounds including several pools, gardens, and tennis courts.


With views of the Pacific Ocean from rocky heights, it’s easy to see why Malibu is home to many movie stars, producers, and wealthy politicians. This affluent, beachfront city in northwestern Los Angeles County was a highly desired stopping point along the PCH. As we strolled along the warm, sandy beach, I imagined life as a star. It certainly was luxury, oceanfront living at its best.

Our final stop before returning home was to one of the cleanest, most beautiful urban beaches in the world. Balboa Peninsula is home to Newport Pier and my romanticized version of Orange County.  We watched surfers tackle the Wedge, one of the best surfing spots in California, and enjoyed a leisurely walk along Newport Pier, made famous to me by the show OC. Although it’s not the actual pier in the show, Newport Pier still met my expectations for beauty and perfection. At 16 miles from my home in Laguna Hills, Newport is quickly becoming a regular, weekday stopping point and a weekend retreat.

I’ve often wondered why it is so outrageously expensive to buy a home in California, but this seaside journey resolved the mystery. Words and pictures don’t do justice to the views we saw while twisting and turning along the Pacific Coast Highway.

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59 thoughts on “America’s Most Beautiful Drive & Best Free Attraction!

  1. This came at a GREAT time! The mother of our German Exchange Student is flying to San Francisco and then driving down California and to Phoenix. I told her to take PCH and then you posted this! I’ve shared it with her! Thank you!

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  2. I made this drive on a road trip last summer! However, due to our car breaking down, we drove this most scenic stretch of highway in the US in the dark. It was absolutely heartbreaking. However, I’m looking forward to going back someday and actually being able to see the coast! Beautiful pictures 🙂

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  3. I see you missed Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park! I think you need to go again…it is the single greatest view on all of Highway 1 and possibly America. Please Google and search images.

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  4. This is beautiful! When i was working in Phoenix at Luke AFB, i drove the Grand Canyon through to Las Vegas route a few times, and was spell bound by it all… i did miss out on driving through California, though, and regretted it ever since!

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  5. PCH is such a great drive! We took it two years ago directly after Route 66 and before cutting back across to Chicago. It was the most memorable part of the trip. I had been to California before, but not until driving along PCH did I understand why so many people fall in love with the state!

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  6. Made this drive last October from SF to LA. Awesome views. Only drawback was most of Big Sur was fogged in. We had made that drive a few years before so we already had picures of some of the great views in that stretch. Still was an outstanding trip!!

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  7. Just spent a week in the area with a Sierra Club service trip and LOVED the coast! Didn’t make it much farther than Pfieffer Big Sur beach, but what we did see was awesome. I always thought the the scenes on TV and in movies were all of the same few sections of beach and cliffs, never realized the entire PCH was so dramatic and beautiful. Great post!

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  8. this post brought back memories for me

    I hitched from Vancouver down coast road to San Francisco (then on to Mexico) with 1st wife late 70’s.

    Great scenery and some fantastic people met along the way !

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  9. I’ve been fortunate to live in Cali most of my life and seen some of these great spots. It’s time for me to revisit after seeing these shots.
    Santa Barbara always left a good taste in my mouth after eating at the El Encanto Inn.
    Monterey Pier for seafood! Yum! Carmel for the beauty, 17 mile drive is awesome. After seeing Hearst Castle long ago and then seeing De Caprio play Hearst…. It made it all the more compelling. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Great shots! The pic of the bridge makes me think of the movie, The Sandpiper, with Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton. I think the whole thing was shot near Big Sur/ Carmel. I hope to do this trip someday. 🙂

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  11. Thank you for the great photos and decriptions. We live close to Highway 1/PCH and often visit many awe-inspiring places along that route. We are truly blessed to live close to so much beauty. We also greatly enjoy Point Lobos, Carmel-By-The-Sea, and Pacific Grove.

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  12. Love this! My husband and I were planning a trip along the PCH 3 years ago, right before I was downsized from my job. The pictures help my imagination run wild, and I still hope to be able to take the trip one day.

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  13. We’ll be staying at San Simeon State Park campground early July. Can’t wait!!!! Definitely planning on taking LOTS of photos and doing a write-up. Thanks for giving me an idea of what I’m looking forward to!!! 🙂

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  14. Hearst Castle has been on my list for a long time! I’m going to try really hard to check that one off the list this year! I hear it’s gorgeous near Christmastime!

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  15. Thanks for liking our budding renovators.wordpress.com post. I think the idea behind your blog is wonderful – we all have our bucket list! I notice you don’t have anything in your Australia category so maybe I’ll send in a post from down under so you can see our amazing scenery as well 🙂

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  16. Hallelujah sister! I am driving across the country from Philadelphia, PA in June, returning to Seattle, WA and am taking the scenic route home, which includes twisting and winding up HWY 1! Your post is total inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

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  17. Thank you. The photos are stunning. I am heading to the States in June for a conference and have 2 days to fill. This may be just the thing. Sunny California will be a welcome escape from our grey winter. Thanks for liking my posts. I look forward to seeing posts of adventures with Athena. Kids open up a whole new way of experiencing the wonderful world in which we live. Enjoy this new chapter in your lives and the journey ahead.

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  18. We drove home from our honeymoon in Monterey Bay on PCH. You need to post more shots of the incredible views from the cliffs! They make this ride worth taking. Thanks for reviving lovely memories.

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  19. One journalist said, “Traveling Hwy 1 is more than just a scenic drive, it’s a pilgrimage, a reconnection to California’s history, environment, mythology – it’s Spirit.”
    PCH views are stunning! Bixby Bridge was built in only 14 months at the cost of $200,000 using prison labor. A myth about Bixby Bridge: a Chinese construction worker had a fatal accident and rather than have construction delays due to a lengthy police investigation, his body was cast into the freshly poured concrete of the north pier.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  20. I’ve traveled this road north and south. It’s a fantastic drive and has produced some of the most beautiful pictures I have. The seals are pretty awesome. Can’t wait to get back to the west coast and drive it again.

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