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.