What’s better than watching the waves crash as you drive along a sunny coastline? Whether you’re looking to walk the Golden Gate Bridge, take a tour of Facebook’s headquarters or visit a production set in Universal Studios, the California fun is never ending! From San Francisco to Los Angeles, here’s everything you need to do and see on your road trip this fall.
The Pacific Coast Highway
Stretching 650 miles, the Pacific Coast Highway (or Highway 1) is one of the most iconic and ruggedly beautiful coastal routes in the world. It’s a twisting drive that features plunging cliffs, panoramic vistas of the Pacific, towering redwood groves and mellow, oak studded hills.
The Pacific Coast Highway is a designated All American Road, and the storied ribbon of cliff-hugging asphalt – as famous as Route 66 – threads from Dana Point in Orange Country to Fort Bragg in Mendocino. The full drive takes at least ten hours. However, many travelers opt for the condensed version, a 123-mile section that features the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway. Even better, the California roadways are quieter and less crowded in the off-season, making it ideal for your next journey.
Cities, Towns and Points of Interest
A road trip is about expecting the unexpected. It’s about discovery and adventure. While it’s a good idea to have an itinerary of what you want to see and do, be sure to leave plenty of time for surprises. You never know what’s around the next bend; it could be a forest of Cypress trees or the sunny glow of a wine making region. There’s something for everyone to enjoy on California’s coast.
San Francisco. The Bay Area is a must stop, and the best way to see this hip, tech-savvy city is to ride the famous cable cars. Popular attractions in San Francisco include the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street (known for its eight hairpin turns), Haight Ashbury and Chinatown. San Francisco has one of the best dinning scenes in the U.S. You can crack local Dungeness crabs at laid-back fish shacks on Fisherman’s Wharf, choose from pre-fixe menus of Peking Duck in Chinatown or sit down for a white-linen experience at one of the city’s Michelin star restaurants.
San Jose. San Jose is part of Silicon Valley and home to Facebook, Google and the famous Hewlett-Packard Garage. But San Jose is more than just a tech center. It’s a city filled with unique museums, galleries, a zoo and the largest open-air market in the U.S. San Jose’s most popular attraction, however, is the Winchester Mystery House, a $20 million castle featuring 165 rooms, a staircase that runs up the ceiling and an assortment of other curiosities. Grab a bite to eat at one of these popular San Jose restaurants: AFK Gamer Lounge, The Noodle Dude, On the Flip Side and Kaizen Japanese Bar & Grill.
Big Sur. Big Sur’s isolated beauty is breathtaking. On one side of the road, the Pacific Ocean is spread out like a sheet of shimmering blue glass, the rocky beaches lined with tide pools and flanks of fog, and on the other side there are mountains of towering redwood trees. There are no train stations or airports nearby, and the Big Sur area, which spans 90 miles of the California’s central coast, has a mythical and majestic beauty. Big Sur has long been a haven for writers, artists and bohemian types, the mountains and beaches venerated by popular authors such as Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller. Bixby Bridge is the gateway to Big Sur, and one of the most photographed bridges on the West Coast. Beautiful lookout points along the coast include McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Beach, Point Sur State Historic Park and Ragged Point. Big Sur’s a rural mountain community and is also known for its natural hot springs.
San Simeon. Coastal California features numerous roadside attractions, and San Simeon has two of the best. Hearst Castle on the Enchanted Hill is San Simeon’s most popular attraction, with more than one million visitors a year exploring its 250,000 acres of rooms, suites, cottages and grounds. Animal lovers, on the other hand, will enjoy the Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery at San Piedras Beach. More than 15,000 elephant seals migrate every year, and you have a close up view from the rookery’s viewing platform. San Francisco might be more famous for the sea lions that congregate on Pier 39, but San Simeon offers viewers a more Animal Planet experience.
Los Angeles. No trip to California is complete without a stop in Los Angeles. It’s big, bold, brash and has all the glitz and glamor you’d expect from a place famous for its Hollywood hotspots. Los Angeles exudes old school allure – think Union Station and the Pacific Dining Car, the Biltmore and Park Plaza hotels –and new world sensibility. Places to visit include the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios and Santa Monica Pier. Be sure to drive down Sunset Boulevard or window-shop on Rodeo Drive, the West Coast’s version of Madison Avenue… you might even spot one of your favorite movie stars! The views of the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory are unbeatable. From Korean barbecue and Wagyu beef to fish tacos and kimchee pancakes, the city’s eclectic restaurant scene will have foodies screaming for seconds.
Weather and Travel Tips
California is a year-round travel destination, and the weather is as diverse as the state’s landscape. Fall is a beautiful time to visit the California coast, especially San Francisco, Big Sur and other North Coast regions. Much of the fog that blankets the area in the summer is gone, and the days are bright, sunny and temperate.
There’s so much to see and do on the California coast that you won’t be able to do it all in one trip. Eventually, you’re going to need to choose between one incredible stop and another. And that’s okay because that’s what California dreaming is all about… letting the pull of the tide take you from one place to the next, while you sit you back without a worry in the world.