Highway 1 – California State Route 1

State Route 1 (SR 1) is a major north-south state highway that runs along most of the Pacific coastline of the U.S. state of California. Highway 1 has several portions designated as either Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, or Coast Highway. Its southern terminus is at Interstate 5 (I-5) near Dana Point in Orange County and its northern terminus is at U.S. Highway 101 (US 101) near Leggett in Mendocino County. Highway 1 also at times runs concurrently with US 101, most notably through a 54-mile (87 km) stretch in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Highway 1 is famous for running along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the USA, leading to its designation as an All-American Road. In addition to providing a scenic route to numerous attractions along the coast, the route also serves as a major thoroughfare in the Greater Los Angeles Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and several other coastal urban areas.

SR 1 was built piecemeal in various stages, with the first section opening in the Big Sur region in the 1930s. However, portions of the route had several names and numbers over the years as more segments opened. It was not until the 1964 state highway renumbering that the entire route was officially designated as Highway 1. Although SR 1 is a popular route for its scenic beauty, frequent landslides and erosion along the coast have caused several segments to be either closed for lengthy periods for repairs, or re-routed further inland.

Leaving downtown San Francisco on a Sunday morning was quiet and we quickly headed west to join up with Highway 1 just south of the Golden Gate bridge. As we left the city and the road came closer to the ocean on our right the views improved. Our plan was to be in Santa Cruz for lunch to catch up with an old friend who had lived in Kuala Lumpur and was now living just off the beach at Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is a lovely seaside town and after meeting our friend we took a walk along the seafront admiring the beautiful bay and the surfers working the waves. We had lunch at the Crow’s Nest Restaurant right next to the small harbour watching the sealions play in the inlet as we ate.

Leaving Santa Cruz it was a short drive south to Carmel stopping briefly at Monterey to admire the seafront.

Carmel is a delightful and relaxed small town with a quaint collection of very English looking houses along the Main Street. The beachfront is wonderful and the sunset with the waves crashing on the beach was very relaxing.

Just adjacent to Carmel is the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Club and as a keen golfer I could not resist a visit. It was strange to walk into the clubhouse Past the practice putting green and clock that looked so familiar from TV coverage. The view over the 18th hole from the clubhouse verandah with the sea in the background was stunning.

From Pebble Beach we drove around 17-Mile Drive which offered up some incredible views over the Pacific. 17-Mile Drive is a scenic road through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in California, much of which hugs the Pacific coastline and passes famous golf courses, mansions and scenic attractions, including the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock and the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees.

The drive serves as the main road through the gated community of Pebble Beach. Inside this community, nonresidents have to pay a toll to use the road. Like the community, the majority of 17-Mile Drive is owned and operated by the Pebble Beach Corporation. The 17-Mile Drive is a 17-mile (27 km)-long scenic loop having four primary entrances – the main highway entrance at California State Route 1, and entrances in Carmel and Pacific Grove.

Heading south again from Carmel on Highway 1 we reached the area known as Big Sur where the scenery just got better and better with steep cliffs falling away to the ocean. Stopping occasionally to take photographs we saw many whales breaching in the sea and there were also many large pelicans flying close to the sea.

Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. Although it has no specific boundaries, many definitions of the area include the 90 miles (140 km) of coastline from the Carmel River in Monterey County south to the San Carpoforo Creek in San Luis Obispo County, and extend about 20 miles (32 km) inland to the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucias. Other sources limit the eastern border to the coastal flanks of these mountains, only three to 12 miles (19 km) inland. Another practical definition of the region is the segment of California State Route 1 from Carmel south to San Simeon. The northern end of Big Sur is about 120 miles (190 km) south of San Francisco, and the southern end is approximately 245 miles (394 km) northwest of Los Angeles.

The name “Big Sur” is derived from the original Spanish-language “el sur grande”, meaning “the big south”, or from “el país grande del sur”, “the big country of the south”. This name refers to its location south of the city of Monterey. The terrain offers stunning views, making Big Sur a popular tourist destination. Big Sur’s Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous 48 states, ascending nearly a mile (5,155 feet/1571 m) above sea level, only three miles (4.8 km) from the ocean.

The name Big Sur can also specifically refer to any of the small settlements in the region, including Posts, Lucia and Gorda; mail sent to most areas within the region must be addressed “Big Sur”.

Further south we reached San Simeon where we had planned to visit Hearst Castle. Unfortunately we had missed the last tour so had to make do with taking a photograph of the castle on the hill from afar.

However right next to this location we saw a long pier heading out to the sea and some commotion happening in the water. When we got down to the pier we saw the incredible sight of thousands of pelicans and other birds in a feeding frenzy as there were obviously large shoals of fish in the water. As the birds dived for fish we could also see numerous dolphins surfacing in the waves ….. what an incredible sight it was.

We stayed in Morro Bay that next evening and witnessed a most beautiful sunset over the distinctive Morro Rock which sits just offshore from the town. The seafood here was fresh as expected and was washed down well with local Californian wine.

Heading south from Morro Bay the scenery was not so dramatic and had many wine growing areas as well as large extents of pastures for cattle. With the recent drought in California much of the land was yellow and very dry.

We stopped at Santa Barbara taking lunch out on Stearns Wharf giving us a panoramic view of the town.

This was the end of Highway 1 for us as we then headed north east at Ventura towards Valencia, Santa Clarita to bypass Los Angeles before then heading on the following day for Las Vegas.

Highway 1 is one of those must-do drives of the world and I hope I get the opportunity to do this again, perhaps doing it south to north next time.

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