Seven Things To Do on the USA Highway 1

September 29, 2019

They woke up before dawn to make the most of what was left of their time together. It was a sunny day like any other you would expect at this time of a year in California.

That might be an introduction to my first novel, but not too far from what actually happened on that beautiful summer day.

We rented a car and made our way down the well-known Californian Coast from San Francisco to Big Sur, following Pacific Coast Highway 1.

The trip itself was at first just another thing to tick off from our bucket list. However, our perspective shifted the moment we drove through the Golden Gate Bridge and caught the first glimpses of the coast.

coast line

We looked at each other and smiled the moment we realized what we are about to experience. The incredible power of nature that we could find ourselves to be a part of thanks to the human work.

At this point we started to wonder about the history of Highway One, who built it and why and whether its location has been picked to provide these scenic views on purpose. Although I was not completely mistaken with my romantic interpretation, he was closer to the truth:

In 1897, Dr. Roberts made the trip from Monterey to San Simeon on foot […] Although he promoted the road for access to the spectacular scenic beauty of the region, he was also a land speculator and entrepreneur, and recognized the business aspects of tourist travel.

Roberts gained a powerful ally for his proposal in Elmer S. Rigdon, Cambria’s State Senator and a member of the California Senate Committee on Roads and Highways. Rigdon finally succeeded when he promoted the road for its military value in the defense of California, rather than as a scenic highway.

The more you read about its history, the more fascinating it becomes. Did you know it were primarily the prisoners who worked on the road? A lot of them died or escaped whilst trying to accomplish this project. It is not entirely surprising to hear that given it’s been built almost a century ago and the coastline conditions are particularly rough. Nevertheless, $10 million later, and the construction was complete.

The section of road along the Big Sur Coast was declared the first State Scenic Highway in 1965, and in 1966 the first lady, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, led the official designation ceremony at Bixby Creek Bridge. The route was designated as an All American Road by the US Government.

View on Bixby Bridge

As you drive from San Francisco, there are many stops that are worth taking a break at to relax and admire the coastal views. Below are my Seven Top Picks. By no means they come close to everything that you can experience on this roadtrip though.

Half Moon Bay State Beach

We drove for about 40mins from San Francisco and since the temperature was quite pleasant in the early morning, we made this into our first stop.

Half Moon State Beach View

This beach in the shape of the half moon is actually a combination of four: Roosevelt Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach. Each of them is easily accessible from the nearby parking slots. The incredibly clean sands and picnic spots made it a perfect spot to watch these surfers and the pelicans dipping their noses in the waters.

Santa Cruz restaurants and beaches

Did you know this city gave birth to the surfing in the USA? Neither did I. Although on this occasion we have not spotted any surfers featured in Chasing Mavericks, we did walked the famous Beach Boardwalk with its vintage rides. The 1911 Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The city seemed much quieter to what we imagined after seeing all these movies, but admittedly it was a middle of the week. The city harbour is a perfect stop for some delicious lunch. I recommend the Crow’s Nest patio for some of the best views of the Santa Cruz Harbor.

Crow's Nest View

Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

Both these lovely cities are perfect for a romantic getaway thanks to their uncrowded beaches, art-filled villages, and the atmosphere overlooking the gorgeous Monterey Bay. Did I mention the seafood?


Drive over the iconic Bixby Bridge

There are 33 bridges along the Pacific Coast Highway 1. However, the most famous of all is Bixby Bridge that you might know either from the postcards or the featured photo for this post ;-) It was built in 1932 and it is truly spectacular. Not only because of its aesthetics, but mostly its erection. When you think back to the times when it was built and how difficult it must have been to accomplish this task as it crosses over the canyon. Admiring at its foundations, you can’t tell the difference between the rocks and the bridge itself. It almost looks as if it grew out of the rocks! It is a magical place and I am glad we went there in the middle of the week when we could enjoy its presence without the crowds.

Point Sur Lightstation

One of westernmost locations along the big sur coastline sits on a volcanic rock.

Point Sur Lightstation

It is amazing to admire from afar, but it felt like missing out a bit. Especially because it is the only operating lighthouse open to the public since 1890’s. However, in order to catch a tour, you need to plan in advance as they are organized only a few times a week on the specific dates.

McWay Falls

It is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State and it is one of these vistas you should not miss on your way. You do not need to hike anywhere, just pull out and enjoy the view of the waterfall cascading directly onto the beach.

McWay Falls

Unfortunately, the beach itself is not accessible, but the view compensates for that manifold. Plus no strangers on your photo!

Nepenthe Restaurant

We planned our trip carefully to make sure we arrived there before the sunset. And it was all worth it for the incredible views from the open-air bar seating accompanied by the Greek and Californian food and a bottle of wine.

Nepenthe Restaurant View Bar

You cannot really ask for a better end to the day and the holidays together.