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Road Trip Guide
California's Central Coast

The central coast portion of Highway 1 has a little bit of everything. At its northern boundary, San Francisco provides a plethora of urban eateries and attractions. Highway 1 then follows the coast past Half Moon Bay, where you can find quiet beaches and long stretches of open road reminiscent of northern California. At Monterey and Santa Cruz you’ll find luxurious hotels, amazing breweries and wineries, and plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and surfing.

South of Carmel-By-The-Sea, the mountain encroaches on the ocean along the stunning Big Sur section, arguably the most scenic part of the entire pacific coast. Wildlife abounds south of Big Sur at the elephant seal rookery of San Simeon and pristine estuary of Morro Bay. Finally, the highway heads inland around Point Conception until it reaches the Santa Barbara Channel.

If you only have time to drive one section of the pacific coast, I would make the Central Coast the one.

Here's what you'll find in the Northern California Highway 101 & 1 Road Trip Guide

California's Central Coast Road Trip Guide pano

17) San Francisco


SOME AWESOME HIKE Why you should go here Additional information FIRST Look for any TAG along your route ATTRACTIONS (Shops, Museum, and Tourism Spots) VIEWPOINTS (Free Roadside Pulloffs) EATERIES (From Seafood Shacks to Fine Dining) HIKES (Mostly Short Dayhikes) CAMPING (For Bikers, Tenters, RVers, and Yurters) LODGING (Hotels, Motels, and Bed & Breakfasts) BREWERIES (Tasting, Touring, and often Food) WINERIES (Tasting and Touring) BEACHES (Some of the Best Spots to Relax) THE ICON TELLS YOU WHAT IS THERE CLICK THE TAG FOR MORE INFORMATION

** MOBILE USERS - Zoom in for more detail **

Pescadero Bellvale La Honda Portola Valley Tunitas Half Moon Bay Miramar El Granada Montara Pacifica DALY CITY SAUSALITO Muir Beach PALO ALTO MOUNTAIN VIEW N 2 MILES 17) SAN FRANCISCO 2 hours Drive Time 73 miles PALACE OF FINE ARTS Greco-Roman palace of performing art Prices vary based on show DE YOUNG MUSEUM Panoramic views of the city Visit the viewing deck for free GOLDEN GATE PARK Huge urban park w/ varied attractions Best experienced by random wandering BIMINI TWIST #1 ranked restaurant in San Francisco Advanced reservations required OCEAN PARK MOTEL Retro art deco property w/ hot tub $115 - 230 per night DEVIL’S TEETH BAKING CO. A local favorite for baked goods $4 - $7 LANDS END Stunning bluffside hiking w/ cypress Look for shipwrecks from tall vistas SUTRO BATHS Ruined 1896 public coastal bathhouse Short walk to shore + nearby cave SAN FRANCISCO ZOO Over 1000 animals + special exhibits $20 adults, $14 children SUNSET LINCOLN GEARY 3RD SAN FRANCISCO SAN FRANCISCO MUIR BEACH OVERLOOK Short walk to prominent view point One of the best pacific coast views BAY MODEL VISITORS CENTER Acre-sized model depicting Bay area Free admission 9am - 4pm SUSHI RAN Longtime high-end sushi destination ~$18 entrees, ~$5 sushi CAVALLO POINT LODGE Sophisticated rooms, spa, & yoga $360 - $750 based on packages GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE One of the worlds famous bridges Explore the viewpoints on either end BREAKERS Great quality and value breakfast spot $10 - $15 MORI POINT Network of trails along bluffs Various loop options DEVIL’S SLIDE TRAIL Closed off coastal roadway for hiking and biking, 2.6 miles out-and-back BUNKER VIEWPOINT Precarious located WWII bunker GRAY WHALE COVE STATE BEACH Secluded clothing optional” beach Whales often seen close to shore MONTARA BEACH Mile-long beach with good surf Sculpted sandstone cliffs = good pics POINT MONTARA HOSTEL Dorms & rooms in 1875 lighthouse $32 dorms, $83 private rooms FITZGERALD MARINE RESERVE Tidal pools, sea lions, & whales Visit during low tide to see the critters MAVERICK’S BEACH Home to big waves & legendary surfers Come watch during large winter swells SAM’S CHOWDER HOUSE Enjoy a famous lobster roll sandwich $11 - $22 HOP DOGMA BREWING CO. Craft beers in quaint warm ambiance Try the Fides in Fermento stout VIA UNO CUCINA ITALIAN & BAR Casual trattoria for Italian classics $10 - $18 LA NEBBIA WINERY Known for hearty local reds $10 tasting fee HALF MOON BAY COASTAL TRAIL Parallels the ocean for 5 miles Great for walking or jogging HALF MOON BAY STATE BEACH Picturesque 4-mile long beach strand Also has a campground SAN GREGORIO GENERAL STORE Listen to local musicians over a drink Great Bloody Marys, weird trinkets SKYLINE-TO-THE-SEA TRAIL Multiday route from redwoods to coast 30 mile one-way (usually takes 3 days) BUTANO STATE PARK Camp in coastal redwood grove 39 sites - $35 per night HIGHWAY 1 BREWING CO. Brewpub with eclectic tavern fare $14 - $20 entrees PIGEON POINT LIGHT HOSTEL Stay in a lighthouse + outdoor hot tub $32 dorms, $83 private rooms PESCADERO STATE BEACH Mix of sandy coves, cliffs, & tidal pools A nice picnic spot ARCANGELI / NORMS MARKET Get the articoke bread w/ spinach dip $6 - $9 PEBBLE BEACH VIEWPOINT Interesting geology & stairs to cove Nice trail south towards Bean Hollow BEAN HOLLOW STATE BEACH Quiet beach with restrooms & grills Great for beachcombing HARLEY FARMS GOAT DAIRY Farm-to-table meals at a working dairy Offers tours, cheeses, & bath products

18) Monterey Bay

Favorite Spots along the Central Coast

Local Advice from Josh McNair

Devil's Slide

Devils Slide Trail

The Devil's Slide area of Pacific Coast Highway used to be an actual part of the road that was rather dangerous for drivers. They have since moved the road into a tunnel that is much safer and have opened the old Devil's Slide as a biking / hiking path. It is a beautiful spot to get out and enjoy views of the coast while being active.

Sam's Chowder House

Sams Chowder House

Located in Half Moon Bay, Sam's Chowder House is one of the most popular stops for food along the drive and it is pretty much always crowded. The go to item is the lobster roll which has been on a few "best sandwiches in America" lists. The restaurant overlooks the water and it's a great spot for a nice meal.

Natural Bridges State Park

Natural Bridges State Park

This state park, located in the North part of Santa Cruz is a beautiful spot to just sit and enjoy the beach. The highlight though is the massive rock arch that stands about 20 feet out in the water. The park is called bridges because there used to be two but since the other one collapsed it is just the one main arch out in the water.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

One of the most iconic stops on the entire drive is the beautiful McWay Waterfall that cascades directly onto the beach. This is an easy 5-minute hike that leads to the overlook for the waterfall. No trip down PCH is complete without taking a few minutes to observe it.

Splash Cafe Clam Chowder

Splash Cafe

Probably my favorite meal on PCH is the clam chowder in a bread bowl from Splash Cafe. This decadent soup never ceases to amaze me, and it is easily the best clam chowder I have had. The actual restaurant in Pismo Beach is a fun historic spot as well, and you can take your soup to go and eat it on the beach if you would like.

Josh McNair is the creator of, a website that is dedicated to exploring and cataloging the beauty of California. Everything from restaurants and hikes to road trips and strange attractions are explored on the site. Check it out for even more great ideas to explore the pacific coast.

Swanton Davenport Soquel Capitola Scotts Valley Glenwood Laurel Aptos Rio Del Mar La Selva Beach Freedom Interlaken Watsonville Las Lomas Elkhorn Moss Landing Oak Hills Blanco Castroville Neponset Marina SEASIDE Del Monte Forest CARMEL BY-THE-SEA Carmel Highlands S a l i n a s N 2 MILES 18) MONTEREY BAY 1 hour 40 minutes Drive Time 81 miles 17 MILE DRIVE Adds 20 minutes Adds 6 miles SANTA CRUZ MTN BREWING Organic brews, taproom, & beer garden $4 pints during happy hour SANTA CRUZ BOARDWALK Amusement park, games, & rides $39 for unlimited daily admissions CAROUSEL BEACH INN Beachfront hotel near all the action $99 - $159 per night TAQUERIA LOS PERICOS Easygoing, counter-serve Mexican fare $5 - $11 LAILI Modern Mediterranean & Afgan fare $8 - $21 SANTA CRUZ PIER Iconic seaside pier w/ shops & eats Look for seals & sea lions underneath W CLIFF DRIVE Adds 15 minutes Adds 3 miles OCEAN BROADWAY W CLIFF SWIFT BAY FRONT SANTA CRUZ S a n L o r e n z o SANTA CRUZ LOVERS POINT INN Oceanfront inn near all the highlights $119 - $199 per night POINT PINOS LIGHTHOUSE Beautiful views & walking paths Tour lighthouse w/ optional donations MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM World-renowned aquarium, a must see! $50 adult, $30 kid, go early on weekday HULA'S ISLAND GRILL Tiki spot w/ Hawaiian fare & cocktails $9 - $18 CANNERY ROW Defunct fish factories turned tourism Location of popular Steinbeck novels MONTEREY PLAZA HOTEL & SPA Refined retreat w/ spa & rooftop deck $259 - $455 per night + spa packages 1 7 M I L E D R S U N S E T CANNERY MONTEREY MONTEREY ANO NUEVO STATE PARK Coastal hiking with elephant seals 4.5 miles out-and-back GREYHOUSE ROCK PARK Quiet beach with ample parking Climb up Greyhound Rock at low tide WHALE CITY BAKERY Excellent poached eggs & benedict $9 - $15 SHARK FIN COVE Small beach hidden from the road A great sunset spot FOUR MILE BEACH Popular beaching & surfing spot Mile-long stretch of white sand HENRY COWELL REDWOODS Stunning camping under redwoods $35 per night THE MYSTERY SPOT Gravitational anomoly cabin & forest $8 per person NATURAL BRIDGES VIEWPOINT Watch shorebirds on natural bridge Explore the tidal pools during low tide NEW BRIGHTON STATE BEACH Beach-side camping + shipwreck $35 per night GIZDICH RANCH Tasty fruit pies of all varieties & jams Pick your own berries by the pound COWBOYS CORNER CAFE Perfect breakfast food, huge portions $6 - $9 MOSS LANDING S.W.A. Largest unaltered salt marsh in CA Best explored by kayak SANCTUARY CRUISES 2-3 hour whale watching adventures $45 per person FARM FRESH PRODUCE Fresh fruits & veggies w/ low prices 5 avocados for $1 - for example CAPTAIN’S INN Whimsical B&B with river views $169 - $279 per night MOSS LANDING CAFE Seafood & tasty deep-fried artichokes $8 - $22