Take A Drive On This Winding Road Trip Route For Stunning Views Of The California Coast

Highway 1 in California is the road trip of a lifetime and a coastal treasure. The 650-mile route winds up and down the Pacific Ocean shoreline from Mendocino County to Orange County. Offering unrivaled jaw-dropping views, travelers will pass through historic towns, tiny beach communities, big cities, an infamous beach boardwalk, and even a castle.

In the middle of the route is Big Sur, possibly the most impressive section of Highway 1. Big Sur, flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Santa Lucia Mountains on the other, is a 90-mile portion of Highway 1 from Carmel to Hearst Castle. Big Sur is also home to the famous Bixby Creek Bridge — which you may be familiar with from "Big Little Lies." — which sits 260 feet above the beach and is one of the most recognizable landmarks along Highway 1. Want to pull over and savor the view? The north end of the bridge has a small parking lot.

Whether traveling to the rugged and beautiful coastal town of Big Sur from the north or south, the ocean views are gorgeous, and there are many exciting destinations along the way. Drive slowly and savor every breathtaking moment — and don't forget to stop often and snap some photos.

Pit stops from Mendocino to Big Sur

The Highway 1 Mendocino to Big Sur route is 297 miles and takes a little over five hours with no stops. Known for its giant redwood trees and glass-bottomed beaches, Mendocino is a fantastic starting point for a road trip. If you have the time, spend an extra day here to hike at Russian Gulch State Park or explore the cute Victorian town.

Driving south down the coast on Highway 1 is scenic, to say the least. Don't rush — there are too many beautiful things to see and do along the way. To name a few, don't miss Point Reyes to see the famous lighthouse, and Stinson Beach to hike the cliffside trails or relax on the sand. Stinson Beach's Parkside Café is a great spot to refuel for breakfast, lunch, or dinner before starting back on your journey down Highway 1.

Next up, road trippers will love driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, through San Francisco, to the quieter roads in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, where they'll be treated to stunning ocean views. A little further south, Santa Cruz is a fantastic pit stop for busy boardwalks, carnival games, and a big sandy beach. Nearby, Carmel is ideal for a quieter retreat. The fairytale-like Ocean Avenue is in the heart of town and leads to the big, beautiful Carmel Beach with stunning sunsets. Opt to explore the scenic Pebble Beach 17-Mile Drive ($11.75 per vehicle) before reaching Big Sur. 

Pit stops from Dana Point to Big Sur

The southern end of Highway 1 starts in Dana Point in Orange County. The trip to Big Sur is 353 miles and about six and a half hours if driving nonstop. Arguably, the most impressive section of this journey is Malibu. The small town is known for its beaches, and Highway 1 lets passengers get up close and personal. Oxnard, the "Strawberry Capital of California," is the next pit stop on the map. This is a great place to stick toes in the sand and admire Victorian-era architecture. When leaving Oxnard, heading toward Santa Barbara, look left to spot the Channel Islands.

For drivers looking to break up the drive, Santa Barbara is a great place to spend the night. San Ysidro Ranch is an award-winning resort tucked away in the foothills, while Rosewood Miramar Beach is an excellent beachfront option. Some popular things to do in this "American Riviera" include relaxing on the beach, shopping, visiting art galleries, and exploring The Old Mission Santa Barbara. Keep in mind, though, that it's a practicing mission, meaning there are Franciscan Friars on site. Guests are encouraged to go on a tour to learn more about the mission's history and explore the beautiful gardens.

From Santa Barbara, popular stops on the way to beautiful Big Sur include Pismo Beach, Hearst Castle, the former home to publishing tycoon magnate William Randolph Hearst (it's pretty impressive with 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens), and the seaside town of Cambria.