Last week Matt and I road-tripped up the Pacific Coast Highway from L.A. to San Francisco. This 660 mile journey took us along some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen and included stops at several parks, landmarks, and California towns. Here’s a photo-heavy recap of our 5 days in California… enjoy!
Chino Hills State Park
We flew into LA-Ontario airport on Thursday, picked up a Mustang convertible, and made a beeline for the nearest In-N-Out Burger. I had never been to one and the (very patient) guy at the drive-thru was kind enough to explain all of the crazy ordering lingo. Thanks, In-N-Out guy! Next, we set off for a hike at Chino Hills State Park. This park was nearly empty (it was a Thursday, after all) and we enjoyed the sweeping vistas of Southern California from the top of Upper Bane Ridge Trail.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery (San Simeon)
Matt and I worked on Friday and then resumed our road trip that evening. By Saturday morning we were cruising up Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway. Our first official sightseeing stop was just north of San Simeon to see the Elephant Seal Rookery. I knew we’d see seals here but I didn’t realize that there would be hundreds of them flopped all over the beach! Some were splashing around in the water, others were fighting/playing on the sand, and most were just passed out in piles. Very cool!
Limekiln State Park (Big Sur)
We continued up Highway 1 to Limekiln State Park. Like most (all?) CA state parks, you have to pay an entry fee (this is not the norm in PA), but the hiking, redwood forest, and waterfall made this stop well worth the $10 we paid to visit!
Big Sur Coastline
North of Limekiln the views really got amazing. (They seemed very nice before Limekiln… I just had no idea what was ahead!) The road started climbing and twisting along the steep cliffs and we were presented with breathtaking coastal views at every turn. All through Big Sur there are gravel turnouts near all of the good views, so we happily spent the afternoon pulling over every few miles to snap more photos.
Bixby Bridge (Big Sur)
We stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea on Saturday night and then returned south to Big Sur for more sightseeing on Sunday. We started at Bixby Bridge, a concrete, single-span bridge built by the CCC in 1932. Bixby is one of the most photographed spots along the Pacific Coast Highway and the turnout on the north end of the bridge was packed with tourists snapping photos.
After taking some photos of the bridge from Highway 1, we left the Mustang behind and hiked 1/2 mile up Coast Road, a rough dirt road that roughly parallels the highway. From Coast Road we got to see a different angle of Bixby Bridge and had the view completely to ourselves.
Partington Cove (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Big Sur)
Next up was Partington Cove, a beautiful rocky beach at the bottom of a steep canyon. We parked in an unmarked turnout on the highway and hiked down to the Pacific on a wide gravel path. Although there were several hikers enjoying the scenery this area felt much more private and serene than the busy Bixby Bridge.
We sat and watched the waves crash against the rocks for a while, then took a side trail to a little waterfall. I didn’t want to cross the creek on the wet rocks so Matt took the camera across and got a good shot of the waterfall. (He’s very proud of this photo so I have to include it in my recap of Partington!!) 😄
McWay Falls (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Big Sur)
After Partington we were getting really hungry… it was nearly noon and, due to a freak power outage in the entire Monterey peninsula on Sunday, we hadn’t had a real breakfast or any coffee. Ignoring our grumbling stomachs, we pushed on to the famous McWay Falls, an iconic waterfall 2 miles south of Partington.
The waterfall was in the shade and therefore wasn’t quite as breathtaking as I’m sure it looks in afternoon sun, but the views from the trail were excellent. We hiked to the remains of the “Waterfall House,” a mansion that was donated to the state along with the surrounding land for use as a state park. The state could not find a public use for the house so demolished it in accordance with the donor’s wishes. We stood on the terrace of the house and took in the views that the previous owners would have had from their living room… not bad!!
Pebble Beach (17 Mile Drive, Monterey Peninsula)
After McWay we enjoyed a laid back, lazy lunch of nachos, beer and sandwiches at the Big Sur Taphouse. This was a great way to unwind after a busy morning of sightseeing and recharged us for our next stop… Pebble Beach!
Pebble Beach is a gated golf community just north of Carmel. We paid a $10 entry fee and drove along 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road that passes several landmarks and overlooks. After driving around Big Sur for free all morning, it seemed a bit silly to pay a corporation to see their coastline… but I immediately forgot all about that the moment the water came into view. We drove by gorgeous sandy beaches, rocky points, and, most notably, the famous Lone Cypress (above). Now I see why everyone told us we had to visit 17-Mile Drive!
After a day of sightseeing we somehow found the energy to go wine tasting in Carmel on Sunday evening. My favorite tasting room was De Tierra Vineyards. Matt and I sipped wine at a wine barrel table by an open window, discussing our favorite parts of the trip and looking forward to continuing the journey up Highway 1 on Monday.
Carmel to San Francisco
Monday morning we had a hearty breakfast at From Scratch in Carmel, then we drove through Monterey on our way north. We made quick stops in Santa Cruz and at several beaches and lookout points and finally arrived in San Francisco at around 4:30PM.
I had never seen the Golden Gate Bridge before so I was excited to finally glimpse its red towers in the distance. With all of the other trip planning I never actually researched where we needed to go to see the bridge, but as luck would have it we happened to turn right into the parking lot for the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. We hiked down to the beach and were rewarded with amazing views of the bridge… what a great way to end our California road trip!
We spent Monday night at Fisherman’s Wharf and took a 6AM flight home the next day. Reading over this post I can’t believe how much we saw in such a short time! The California coast is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I can’t wait to go back!!
Want to see MORE photos of our journey up the coast? Check out my full photo album on Flickr.