Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway is everything you’ve imagined, everything you’ve seen in iconic movie scenes and so much more. Offering views that will quite literally take your breath away, especially if someone doesn’t keep their eyes on the road, it’s one of the greatest road trips in the entire world. But for a successful journey, there are a few things you need to know – before you go.

Closed – No Detour

Watching sunset take over beautiful oceanside canyons is spectacular. Realizing however that you’re 50 miles into a stretch of road, which is now treacherous and dark, with 50 miles to backtrack – just to get back to somewhere going your direction is not good. Vast stretches of Highway 1 are closed, and signage is very limited. Coming from the North, Carmel is roughly as far as you can go, before you’ll need to detour. The highway continues on with no warning signs, so heed this warning before driving on.

Bixby Bridge – Iconic

The Bixby Bridge is just south of Carmel, meaning you’ll have to pull a U-turn after viewing. But it’s completely worth it. In our opinion, it’s one of the most pristinely beautiful and inspiring places on earth. Anywhere – literally, anywhere. Try to time your trip for early morning or late afternoon, while the sun is still out, giving yourself ample time to make it back onto main roads before dark.

Fill Up – Expensive

A few very clever entrepreneurs once figured out that Pacific Coast Highway offers very few detours – and that it’s a very long stretch. All this boils down to one thing – expensive gasoline. Petrol, gasoline or whatever else you’d like to call it will run an absolute fortune, if you fall into one of the common tourist traps. Try to use a fuel efficient car and be sure to fill up during any diversions off of Highway 1, you’ll save a fortune.

Eyes Peeled – Truly

Highway 1 is best experienced shared with another person. But not just for company. The views are enough to make your head swivel – but one person will need to constantly mind the road. It’s highly possible to fly off of a 500+ foot high cliff onto rocky coast below, if distracted. Share the driving so that your companion can enjoy full viewing pleasure, and you can too. And save the Instagram for when you reach your final destination.

Carmel > Monterey – Right?

Monterey has become a lighting rod for tourists, and while the neon signs are eye catching, we recommend the more village like, rugged feel of Carmel. You’ll find beautiful country shops, organic restaurants and beautiful hillside spots. Monterrey is a lovely place, but for the most authentic experience – you’ll find it hard to leave Carmel.

The Real Time – Driving…

There are highlights all up and down Highway 1, but if you’d like to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco, vice versa or any points in between – you’ll do best to pick your battles. We love the drive from San Francisco to Monterrey, the short stretch into Bixby Bridge and then again around Malibu and other Southern California gems. Using mostly Highway 1, the drive can take more than 10 hours, whereas focusing on the main freeways, venturing over to Highway 1 for short jaunts will run more like 7 hours or less.

Have you driven Highway 1? What are your tips?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. I’ve driven down this road (before the closures). I can say one thing:
    CHECK THE WEATHER.
    If it’s going to be foggy, just do it another day. There is not much point in driving down the most beautiful shoreline not seeing jack of the scenery..

  2. I did this route 2 times. One in 2013 before all the closures and the last time was three months ago. Both were such an enjoyable experience. This last time I managed to complete in three days and decided to not sleep in Carmel and Santa Monica. But instead this time I stayed at San Luis Obispo and just took some time to get to the best views instead. It is a really special roadtrip, for sure.

  3. Cell phone coverage was very spotty between Carmel and San Simian when we drove it back in April 2016. Rock slides occur also, we came across 2 cars that drove over some rocks and blew out their tires. We had to go about 20 miles to get a cell phone signal to be able to call for assistance for them. But, so worth it. Breathtaking views.

  4. We drove it many, many years ago. What a great trip. There were no closures at that time. Went from San Fransisco to San Simeon and stayed the night in a quaint hotel. Visited the Hearst Castle the next day then headed to LA.

    Great trip. Would love to do it again some day.

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