California’s Route 1, the windy stretch of road linking Monterey to Morro Bay, is so breathtaking it’s been designated as an “All American Road.” If followed from end to end, the 123-mile, cliff-hugging drive will take you about five leisurely hours. You’d be missing out if you didn’t spend even more time on the route, basking in all that California is known for: beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets, great food and pristine wildlife. We’ve compiled a few pit stops to plot your trip. But the best way to journey along Highway 1 is without much of a plan, so we’ll leave the rest to you.
Start your day early at the mother of all aquariums—the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Check in on the adorable sea otters, jellyfish, penguins and massive octopi—who incidentally have 9 brains, one central one, and one for each tentacle. Then, get up close and personal in the “petting” area to see what starfish and sea turtles really feel like.
After your underwater fix, head three miles south to Carmel by the Sea, for a quick walk on the beach and if you’re lucky, a dolphin spotting. The area tends to be pretty touristy, so depending on your preference, either take a short tour of the town and its cute shops or hop back on the road.
#Selfie Stop and Big Sur’s Nephenthe
Start heading further south to the best stretch of Highway 1, Big Sur. Pull over to take in the view and capture the best selfie backdrop your Instagram feed has ever seen. At this point, you’ve surely worked up an appetite. Nepenthe—a Big Sur institution since 1949—serves healthy, hearty lunches and dinners with insane views of the ocean.
Work off lunch on a walk through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which boast an 80 foot waterfall, turquoise oceans and redwood trees. Make sure to watch out for poison oak, as it’s plentiful around here.
The area has inspired many a literary homage by beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller. The latter lived here for several years, and after his death, his cabin was turned into a bookshop, concert venue (everyone from the Pixies to Phillip Glass have played here) and meeting place with complimentary tea and coffee.
At this point it’s nearly time to retire for the night. For the adventurous, bring a tent and camp under the stars. For those looking for something a little more glam, Ventana Inn is your spot. Hit up their hot tub and recharge for tomorrow’s final stretch of highway.
Inspired by the castles he saw in Europe as a kid, publishing magnate and Hollywood scion William Randolph Hearst built a 165 room mansion in San Simeon with acres of manicured gardens, a monumental art collection, and several swimming pools. Stop in for a tour to see how the good life was lived.
The trip of course can be done in reverse depending on where you’re coming from. And we won’t tell anyone your journey riding shotgun started off with a cocktail.