By now you most certainly know that The Pacific Coast Highway is at the top of so many bucket lists for being one of the most scenic drives in the world. Lucky for us Americans, (Huh, I haven’t started a sentence with that since November. But I digress…) the PCH is right in our backyard.
As someone who has traveled to California every summer for five years, I was baffled that I had yet to enjoy the roadside views I’ve read about and admired for so long. So this year, when Jon and I were planning our fifth anniversary trip to the Golden State, we decided it was time to cross two things off my bucket list: Big Sur and the PCH. Jon’s parents, who live in Lake Tahoe for the summer, let us borrow their RV to travel from the lake to the west and down the coastline.
And guys, it was LEGENDARY.
I realize most people don’t have the luxury of just borrowing an RV, but these days you can rent an RV pretty easily and affordably (especially if you’re traveling with other couples) via RV Share and other sites out there in the interwebzzzz. Of course, you can make the trip in a regular ol’ car, but what we loved about the RV was that it allowed us to stay comfortably at certain stops and campsites as this was several days long of road-tripping. Basically, the RV allowed for convenient “glamping,” if you will. And truly, renting an RV, at least at RVShare, is not too much more than renting a bigger vehicle anyway. So it’s kind of a no-brainer. However, if you’re up for roughing it out in a tent during your road trip, more power to ya.
So, if you’re looking for an epic, crazy scenic road trip that shows off Mother Nature’s best assets, let this post be the nudge you needed. Go see the Pacific Coast via the PCH. It’s in our country, and you deserve to indulge in its beauty.
If you do take my recommendation, here are the stops we made along our trip after doing some research. For ease, I am listing these in the order you see them on the map below, not exactly in the order we visited them. Also important to note is that landslides and storms have closed off some parts of the highway, but we didn’t let that stop us and believe we did everything we could considering those circumstance. Among our stops, Point Lobos, Andrew Molera beach and Big Sur were my favorite, but I recommend all of them! (Except the night we spent at a Walmart parking lot, which I will not even mention after this.) Here goes:
Stop 1: Santa Cruz
Because we had already been to San Francisco a few years ago, we started our journey with a leisurely stop at Santa Cruz, right by the famous beach boardwalk. As soon as I got off the RV, I could hear a sound that made me giddy: sea lions. Eeee.
It was a foggy and cool morning, which I expected here on the West Coast. The boardwalk was closed because it was too early, so if you do make a stop here, make sure you can enjoy the boardwalk because that’s where there’s a ton of things to do! Still, the beach beyond the boardwalk was a beautiful and peaceful view to start with.
If you’re ever in this area, try to check out Natural Bridges State Beach!
Stop 2: Monterey
Monterey Bay, not far at all from Santa Cruz, was our second stop. Everything was
bustling now that it was a bit later in the morning – kayakers, tourists and sailers as well as (I like this part) seals, otters and pelicans. Every time I saw a critter, I’d clap my hands in excitement, you know, like that “Hercules, Hercules” party in the Nutty Professor. Jon gets so embarrassed.
Anyway, if you’re a lover of seafood, you’ll find that Cannery Row on Monterey Bay is a little bit of heaven. The strip is filled with fresh seafood eateries, shops and tour guide stops. We allllllllllllllmost got ourselves into a whale-watching tour, but we’re planning a whale-diving trip soon, so we shall make up for our decision to keep moving forward. (But if you’re up for that, totally do it and tell me all about it!)
Further down, a bit away from the strip, we saw really cool shops nearby and a few museums.
Even if you don’t stop for a bite to eat or a chance to shop, Monterey Bay is interesting and gorgeous. Also, this otter.
Stop 4: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Guys, this was the highlight of our road trip. My words and photos won’t do it justice, but I’ll try.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel is breathtaking. Its cliff-top views of turquoise blue waters are dramatic in the best way possible, and its coves give you a more calm, peaceful look at the Pacific Ocean, yet they’re equally as breathtaking.
Because we arrived very early, we were some of the first to arrive to the park that day. (I recommend doing so, because parking is along the side of the road, which means you could be walking a long ways if you arrive when it’s busy.) The park felt everything but tourist-y. It was quiet and serene except for the sounds of birds and sea lions in the distance. Seriously amazing views.
If you go, make sure to see Bird Island and China Cove. More photos below.
Stop 5: Andrew Molera State Park
OK, hands down, this is the coolest-looking beach I have ever been to in my life. (And I’ve been to a gazillion beaches.) We hiked here after spending the morning in Big Sur (again, this list of stops is not in the order we visited them), and although our feet were quite dead, the gorgeous view energized us all over again. We weren’t expecting that reaction since Andrew Molera State Park wasn’t originally the beach we wanted to go to, but Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park (a more popular destination) was closed due to the recent landslide closures in the area. However, I’m so happy about where our detour led us.
When we arrived to the park, we were pleasantly surprised by dozens of driftwood teepees that were built along the shore. It was nature’s art and man’s art all in one place, and it was stunning. The teepees, while really neat, also served a purpose: they blocked us from the sand the wind was picking up every once in a while. We relaxed and played in them for some time.
Over on the north side of the beach, a teeny bay along cliffs offered a more peaceful, less windy area. Go here. It’s awesome. Also, note that it is a little bit of a windy hike before getting to the beach, so dress appropriately.
Stop 5: Big Sur
Big Sur. The longtime object of my admiration. At last, we met. As I expected, it was impressive and beautiful and lovely and all those adjectives that so often aren’t enough. Let me start at the beginning.
We stayed at a campsite right down the street from the park, and it was the cutest campsite I ever did see. Riverside Campground is mostly for RV travelers, but I did see a few people driving in with cars and tents.
As its name suggests, the site goes along the Big Sur river, which made for an even lovelier view than I had imagined.
It was a quaint campsite, and also one of the only one still available when we called a week prior. If you plan on staying at a campsite, call ahead. Way ahead. (One campsite was booked through the year!)
A short hike away from the campsite, there she was, Big Sur.
The redwood trees give you a grand entrance into the park. The trees, while mighty and giant, are smaller than the redwoods I had seen at Muir Woods, north of San Francisco. A
sign at the entrance explains that redwoods get bigger the more north you go. (See myvideo at the top of this post.)
Along our hike, we were joined by a deer that I swear was following us. I think it was used to people feeding it, and at one point it jumped out on the street in front of a car. It was a good reminder of why we shouldn’t feed wildlife.
We hiked a long trail up to a mountain and coastal view, which was nice, too.
So much natural beauty, you guys. SO MUCH.