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Top 8 Places To Visit While Exploring California’s Pacific Coast

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The legendary Pacific Coast Highway winds south from San Francisco to San Diego, navigating 600 glorious miles of California coastline. Prepare to encounter soaring mountains and cliff faces, fantastic wildlife, charming coastal towns, vibrant cities and expansive beaches. Driving north to south you’ve got the coast to your right, so it’s easy to pull over to capture another stunning view. Here we delve into eight highlights of this epic road trip.

Pacific Coast Highway California

San Francisco

The city by the Bay is replete with must-sees, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is number one on today’s bucket list. Check out the green swathes of 1,000 acre Golden Gate Park, where you’ll find museums, a Japanese tea garden and a herd of buffalo! Take a boat trip across the bay to Alcatraz Island, site of the notorious former penitentiary. At lively Fisherman’s Wharf, sample freshly caught seafood and salute the resident sea lions at Pier 39. Enjoy cocktails and vibrant street art in the lively Mission district. Jump aboard one of the city’s iconic cable cars, and make short work of those steep hills.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Monterey

This pretty coastal town lies a couple of hours south of San Francisco. Pay a visit to Monterey’s celebrated aquarium, dedicated to conservation of the ocean and the marine life that resides in it. Get up close to sea otters, African penguins, sharks and rays. Rent a kayak and explore the waters, or join a whale watching excursion to spot humpback, blue and killer whales and bottlenose dolphins, which feast on small fish and krill that live in the bay.

seal at Monterey

Big Sur

South of Carmel, Big Sur is a dramatic stretch of rugged coastline sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean. Drive across deep wooded gorges and rocky cliffs towering over deserted sandy coves. Don’t miss the stunning Bixby Bridge viewpoint, one of the most photographed vistas on the Pacific Coast; views from the bridge’s south end are incredible at sunset. The surrounding state parks offer excellent hiking territory, and the region is dotted with campgrounds and attractive small communities, perfect for an overnight stay.

Bixby Bridge Big Sur

Hearst Castle

Straddling a hillside above the ocean near the town of San Simeon, Hearst Castle is a lavish 20th century property, and former home of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. This sprawling 125 acre complex comprises pools, gardens, walkways and 165 ornately decorated rooms filled with sculptures, antiques and notable works of art. Known as the ‘Enchanted Hill’, the venue once hosted decadent parties frequented by Hollywood elite. Guests included Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and prominent pubic figures such as Winston Churchill. Join a fascinating guided tour around this grandiose retreat and gain a glimpse into its flamboyant past.

Hearst Castle California

Morro Bay

Sheltered peacefully on an inlet, Morro Bay is a laid-back seaside town featuring six miles of golden sands and calm waters perfect for paddle boarding and kayaking. Across the bay you’ll see mighty Morro Rock, a distinctively hulking volcanic crag which looms out of the ocean. The town serves as a great overnighter or lunch stop: check out excellent seafood restaurants, local wineries and craft breweries. Sail, fish and wildlife watch at Morro Bay State Park. This saltwater marsh and lagoon is home to abundant sea otters and sea birds, and its eucalyptus groves attract clouds of migrating Monarch butterflies each year from December through to March.  

Morro Bay California

Santa Barbara

Founded in 1782 by a Spanish missionary, historic Santa Barbara functions as an upscale seaside town and sleek weekend retreat for many well-heeled LA residents. Visit the Santa Barbara Mission and learn about the town’s colonial past. Check out the town’s abundant wineries on a wine walk, and sample a glass or two. Browse artisan boutiques, art galleries, museums and top class restaurants. Swim, surf and paddleboard on Butterfly Beach, popular with locals and visitors.

Santa Barbara Mission, CA

Los Angeles

The city of angels boasts no end of visitor delights. Gawp at celebrity mansions nestled in the Malibu hillside, and spot famous faces in the bar at Chateau Marmont. Ride the iconic Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier, and explore the tranquil Venice canals. Check out a working film set on a tour of Universal Studios. Shop for high end and street fashion in Westfield Century City or Robertson Boulevard. For eclectic, artisan stalls head to Melrose Trading Post.

Santa Monica Pier, LA

San Diego

More laid back than its glitzy L.A. neighbour, San Diego is a great place to chill out at the end of your road trip. Stroll the 3 mile boardwalk at Pacific Beach, and swim, surf and kayak in sea caves at La Jolla. Beach bums should head for Coronado, where the golden sands and gentle surf are regularly voted best beach in the U.S. Sample the Gas Lamp district’s lively bar and restaurant scene; the city’s food scene is excellent and diverse, and Mexican cuisine is a specialty.

Coronado sunset, San Diego

Read more:

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