We spent eight hours exploring what would normally be less than a five hour stretch on the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Barbara to Carmel. We could have easily enjoyed a few more hours savoring the gorgeous views and stopping at more lookout points. I recommend setting aside ten hours to fully experience this part of the Californian coast, even more if you plan to stop somewhere for lunch (which we did not). If you can spend a night or two working your way up, even better. You will not lack sights to discover.
The windy, narrow roads perched hundreds of feet above the bluest seas add to the adventure of this non-stop scenic drive. I find it unfathomable that eight hours along the Pacific Coast can offer such an infinite variety of breathtaking beauty without ever getting redundant. There was not one dull moment during the drive. In fact, there is no Wi-Fi on the majority of the highway which allows drivers to fully take in the vistas in all their glory without itching for their iPhone.
Our first stop along the route was at Madonna Inn in Obispo, CA. This kitschy little inn puts Serendipity's in New York City to shame. It is full of whimsical character, charm and a packed café. In fact, it was so busy that we felt uncomfortable waiting for our to-go coffees and hot chocolates at the bar. Their gorgeous cakes must be so delicious that even Covid can't keep diners away! The very pink next door dining room was less crowded and offered much more social distancing. The inn is a really fun stop to stretch your legs and peruse through the property's charming gardens and fantastical décor.
My husband and I stopped in this town twenty years ago when we drove through the PCH from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It was a rainy afternoon, we had no children, no pre-booked hotel and no agenda except to stop when we felt like a break. We chose San Simeon as a rest stop for the evening and we remember sitting in our patio staring into the sea while it rained around us. So much has changed twenty years later except for the Pacific Ocean who stands as majestic and glorious as she did those few decades ago.
Piedras Blancas Rookery
We spent at least forty five minutes staring at the seals as they soaked in the sun while they napped. Some seals kept throwing dirt on their backs, some snored, some managed to inch a few inches during their slumber in search of a better position, some basked in isolation but mostly they all snuggled and cuddled in the cutest way imaginable. There were hundreds of seals sprawled along the shore. The kids got a kick out of watching them and quite frankly so did I.
State Route 1
State Route 1, AKA Pacific Coast Highway, yields endless opportunities to pull over, perch yourself on a cliffside and just stare Mother Nature in the eyes. Really, just unbelievable bounty of beauty.
On the coast of Big Sur pours a waterfall from a height of eighty feet. The waterfall flows into the Pacific Ocean year round. I think I could watch it empty into the ocean every single day and never get bored of the sight of the two bodies of water connecting in perfect harmony. When we were in Tobago Island in Panama a few years ago we were fortunate to watch another waterfall pour into the sea. Yet, there is something so magical about McWay Falls and the surrounding colors of the aqua waters, golden sand and white foam that makes this spot truly stand out.
Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby is one of the most photographed bridges in the USA. Once you'll arrive, you will understand why. The epic scenery embracing the already magnificent design of the bridge just screams for attention.
It is no wonder why the PCH is known to be one of the most remarkable highways in the world and on many people's bucket list. Because our lunch plans fell through due to a wait time of over ninety minutes at the restaurant we had in mind, we all got hangry at a certain point. If it wasn't for the sudden crash in our energy we would have easily spent several more hours noting the ways the clouds touch the sea at certain spots, the way the sky and ocean meet at the horizon giving the illusion that the earth abruptly comes to an end, the way the water suddenly turn aqua or how some rocks that emerge from the water are so white they seem drenched in snow. Most importantly, I could have used a few more hours practicing humility while breathing the salty air. The drive is a wonderful reminder of how small we are in this great big world yet how big our purpose should be to earn our place in it.