Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Highway One hugs the Californian Coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles, taking in so much stunning scenery the route has been designated an All-American Road, one of the finest scenic routes in the USA.

Will and Alexandra are here to help give you the inside track.

Why we think you’ll love it

Because America is the home of the road trip, and they don't come much better than Highway One.


Our guide to holidays in Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

As you can tell, this is prime road trip country - particularly the famous stretch known as Big Sur - but the entire 440 mile stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles is spectacular, and obviously topped and tailed by two of the greatest (and VERY different) cities in America.

Heading south from 'Frisco means you're on the Ocean side of the road the whole way, and for most the first main stop is the Pebble Beach Peninsula, home to golf courses galore but also the towns of Monterey and Carmel. Monterey is famed for its huge aquarium, in what was once the town's sardine processing factory, and home to aquatic animals from hammerhead sharks to sea otters. Needless to say, children will love it, but most adults too. On the other side of the peninsula, charming Carmel is home to wealthy retirees and art galleries galore and more than a little reminiscent of an English seaside town, except with sunshine, and a Spanish mission dating back to the 18th Century.

Next stops include the hugely photogenic Bixby Bridge and the region of Big Sur that has leant its name to the wider area from Carmel down to Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. The mountainous interior dropping into the sea with the road clinging to the cliffs makes this one of the most iconic stretches of tarmac anywhere in the world, and one worth at least a night's stay so you can get out of the car for a while and explore on foot, be that walking along dramatic headlands, or around cultural anomalies such as Hearst Castle, the extraordinary former home of the multi-millionaire media baron William Randolph Hearst, inspiration for Orson Welles's movie Citizen Kane.

At this point you're almost equidistance between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and can stop off in Morro Bay and at pretty Pismo Beach before reaching Santa Barbara, rebuilt in Spanish colonial style after a devastating earthquake in 1925 and bordered by the ocean to the south and the beautiful Los Padres National Forest and mountains to the north. The south facing slopes make this one of California's finest wine regions, with much of the produce available to sample on the fun Urban Wine Trail in the city itself. Santa Barbara is also home to some of the state's most spectacular houses, on the so-called America Riviera, as well as the fun waterfront area of the Funk Zone, brimming with cool bars and restaurants. From there it's just a quick two hour hop into Los Angeles via the movie mogul multi-millionaire mansions of Malibu and the beaches of Santa Monica.


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Time Difference

GMT -8 hrs


Top picks for Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara

Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Located a few hours north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara has much more to offer than a beautiful town centre and white beaches. Exhibiting sun coated hills and valleys of vineyards; Santa Barbara is home to 103 wineries. Explore the counties Urban Wine Trail and sip your way through a number of magnificent wineries of Downtown Santa Barbara.

What to do

Roof terrace at Canary Hotel, luxury hotel in Santa Barbara

Canary Hotel

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Canary Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, complete with roof top pool and just a short bike ride from the beach.

Where to stay

Ventana Inn & Spa

Ventana Inn & Spa

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Sat atop a hill overlooking the rugged Big Sur coastline, the Ventana Inn & Spa is a luxurious adult’s only retreat set within 243 acres of forest, meadows and gardens.

Where to stay

Sunset at Post Ranch Inn, luxury hotel in the Big Sur

Post Ranch Inn

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

This cliff hanger luxury hotel - it literally does hang over the cliffs - is one of the few places to stay along the Big Sur (of this standard anyway), meaning guests can explore uninterrupted to their hearts content.

Where to stay

Carmel Valley Ranch

Carmel Valley Ranch

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

A short drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea and the lovely Monterey Peninsula sits the Carmel Valley Ranch, a luxurious place to stay along the California coast, surrounded by 500 acres of country estate.

Where to stay

The pool at El Encanto, luxury hotel in Big Sur

Belmond El Encanto

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Dating back to the 1920’s, El Encanto has been meticulously restored by Belmond, and aims to capture the romance and glamour of that era.

Where to stay

Sunset at Anderson Inn, luxury hotel in Morro Bay, Big Sur

Anderson Inn

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

For guests looking for understated luxury, look no further - The Anderson Inn is a family run contemporary boutique hotel, and nothing says quintessential seaside home stay than the hotel’s stunning spot on the waterfront in Morro Bay.

Where to stay

Big Sur Road Trip

Big Sur Road Trip

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

The coast of California between San Francisco and Los Angeles is home to one of the most famous stretches of road in the world, and one of the most romantic and dramatic road trips. Travelling south from San Francisco, the famous Route One highway passes through long stretches of wild, rugged scenery, with cliffs, sparsely populated beaches and the Pacific Ocean on your right, and Californian Redwood forests and the hills of the Santa Lucia sierra on your left.

What to do

The poolside at Pebble Beach Resort, luxury hotel in San Francisco

Pebble Beach Resort

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Famous for its four extraordinary golf courses (that have hosted the US Open five times) as well as incredible facilities and settings.

Where to stay

Terrace at Four Seasons Santa Barbara, luxury hotel in Santa Barbara, Big Sur

Four Seasons Santa Barbara

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

The Four Seasons group acquired this Spanish-style 1920's hacienda during the Reagan era and restored the 22-acre property to make the most of its historic charm.

Where to stay

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Located on the hilltop of Enchanted Rock, the magnificent Hearst Castle is California’s most famous monument to wealth and ambition, offering breathtaking views across California’s Central Coast and the Pacific Ocean.

What to do

Big Sur Whale Watching

Big Sur Whale Watching

Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip

Whale watching is an amazing activity to do while journeying the Californian Central Coast. The Big Sur is definitely one of those special places in the world to experience the breathtaking beauty of these large aquatic mammals year- round.

What to do

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Mitja and Katarina Brus

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