Considered as one of the world's best road trips, the Pacific Coast Highway is on the top of everyone's bucket list when it comes to US travel. It snakes some 198-kilometres along the California coast, and has been designated an All-American Road. Hugging the cliffs, the road gets narrow in places with sharp drop-offs providing glorious, and sometimes, hair-raising views of the ocean.
We powered south of San Francisco as we hit Highway 1 (or the Pacific Coast Highway). As we left the city behind, we were welcomed by the ocean breeze and a real feeling of freedom. There was nothing but steep cliffs to our left, and the Ocean to our right.
RETRO-HIP SANTA CRUZ
After a little bit over an hour's drive is the kitschy city of Santa Cruz. It draws in tourists with its fun 50s-themed amusement park and beach boardwalk. But don't be put off as there are plenty of gems to uncover including a scenic walk along West Cliff Drive.
MONTEREY & CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA
The gorgeous coastline of Moneterey is lined with pretty beaches and world-class golf courses. Hit up the scenic 17-mile drive that meanders from Pacific Grove all the way to Carmel-by-the-Sea passing by expansive houses, quiet beaches, and scenic vistas. Make sure to stop at Lone Cypress – perched high above the Pacific, it's one of the most photographed trees in the US.
The residential community of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming town that is reminiscent of a Disney movie with the whimsical cottages, inns, quaint shops, and friendly locals. Carmel is quite simply picture-perfect – it's where I would like to live when I grow up. Take a walk on the mile-long Carmel River State Beach, visit the home of poet Robinsons Jeffers, and treat yourself to a round of golf at world-class Pebble Beach.
Just a 10-minute drive from Carmel is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. It's worth stopping here for a quick and easy hike. The 0.8-mile Cypress Grove Trail meanders across rugged cliff tops, while also taking in flower-strewn meadows and forests of Monterey cypress.
As you leave Monterey, the scenery becomes even more dramatic. And you will know instantly you've reached the place that will draw you in with a magical allure. Welcome to pure scenic bliss!
Just 15 miles south of Carmel is the first big-ticket Big Sur fixture – Bixby Bridge, one of the world's highest single-span bridges, arching 80 metres high and 200 metres across.
Make sure to stop just before you go over it for a photo op. Be warned! You might be tempted to stay there for hours listening to the water below you crash into the rocks, breathing the fresh air, while reflecting on the good things in life.
The stunning coastline makes it hard to stay focused on the road. We were forced to pull over at virtually every turn to take it all in. It's easy to understand why Henry Miller once said it was here that he learned to say Amen! You know a place is a gem if its raw beauty inspired artists like Jack Kerouac and other Beat Generation visionaies.
From Highway 1, we took a sharp right turn onto Sycamore Canyon Road down to Pfeiffer Beach, a long-time hippie haunt known for its 'good vibes'. Known for its huge rock formation and purple sand, this stunning crescent-shaped beach is a great spot to chill and watch the sunset. We climbed up a hill to take in the 180-degree view of the beach. A local once told me that the best time to visit the beach is around December when the sunlight pours out of the sea archway.
The following morning, we woke up early and headed straight to Big Sur Bakery, which gets flocked by visitors for a reason. After stuffing ourselves with the freshly baked goods, we found our way to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to visit the truly awesome McWay Falls.
How do I even begin to describe this paradisical beauty? Be sure to follow the short trail above the beach to see these majestic, 70-foot falls tumbling over granite cliffs and free-falling into the Pacific Ocean. Beside the falls are a golden beach and swirling blue pools.
As we continued our journey south leaving Big Sur, heading toward Santa Barbara, I looked back for the last glimpse of that jaw-dropping beautiful rugged coastline that made me appreciate the natural wonders even more. I would have liked to have seen Ragged Point, with its fabled million-dollar view and hiking trail down the cliff face, and to have spent some time at Hearst Castle. The artsy coastal colony of Harmony has also captured my imagination, as has the chance to hunt for moonstones and California jade at Moonstone Beach in Cambria. But all this, I'll save for another summer, after all, few people take this once-in-a-lifetime road trip only once.