With 198 kilometres (or 123 miles) of hair-raising, cliff-hugging driving time, California’s Pacific Coast Highway is not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights. If, however, you are looking for a drive with scenery that will take your breath away, this is one trip you will want to take. This stretch of exhilarating road runs between the seaside town of Monterey – home of the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium – and Morro Bay. The Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway are encompassed by the drive.
The north-to-south version (Monterey to Morro Bay) is perfect for thrill seekers and those who are comfortable with a few less feet of road between them and the drop to the ocean. To really do this drive right, the locals recommend that you get your hands on a Mustang convertible (and, of course, you get extra points if it is red). If the weather is fine, this is the kind of drive you will want to experience with the top down.
The town of Big Sur is about 45 minutes from Monterey. This sparsely populated region showcases some of the best views of the trip, as it’s here that the Santa Lucia Mountains rise sharply out of the Pacific Ocean. The Big Sur stretches 145 kilometres (90 miles) south to San Simeon.
Continue on for another 20 minutes and you will come to The McWay Falls, located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The waterfall is one of only a few in the world that empties straight into an ocean. The contrast between the dense forest and the expansive water makes this area a photographer’s dream. If you only have time for one stop during the drive, this is the place you will want to see.
After the McWay Falls, the road winds its way along the coast and presents many opportunities to stop and check out the breathtaking views.
You can do this drive comfortably in one day; however, if you want to extend it out from San Francisco to Los Angeles, allow a couple of nights so you can do it at your own leisure. A final word of advice: the drive can be done at any time of the year but June is particularly susceptible to the heavy fogs this area is prone to. The locals call it June Gloom for a reason! If that’s the only time of year you can make it though, it is still well worth it.