Our Trip on Highway 1, California – Tips and Stops

When I asked my friend Ana, who lives in San Francisco, what she would recommend doing to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles, she was emphatic: we should drive the Highway 1. According to her, this is a lifetime trip. Since I trust her advice a lot, we didn’t think twice. We decided that we would do so. After a four-day visit her in San Francisco, to enjoy our godson, we would leave for Los Angeles and later Las Vegas.

Today, I begin to share some of this trip with you, my impressions, and tips. And, in today’s post, I’m going to tell you about this road trip on Highway 1, which is an amazing trip. Unforgettable. I close my eyes and remember all the wonderful landscapes I’ve seen. Highway 1 is, in fact, the old highway linking San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific coast. Today, there is another route, which even shorter, but that one is not by the coast. Whoever chooses to do Highway 1 does it just for the beauty of the path, to contemplate unique views. It is a very remarkable experience, since there is not, let’s say, many traces of civilization (including, in several places, no phone signal). The highway has only the mountain on its left and the imposing Pacific on its right.

Ana suggested that we make the path in two days from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As you end up stopping often – believe me, you’ll want to stop at every turn – travel time ends up stretching a little bit. We left San Francisco on a Monday around noon and headed to Carmel through 101. This was because we had already made that journey, passing through Monterey and 17-Mile Drive two years ago, which is a super beautiful stretch also and should be included in your itinerary! There is a post here on the blog and you can check the details by clicking here. In Carmel, we had lunch at Flaherty’s Oyster Bar (6th Ave, Between Dolores & San Carlos, Carmel-By-The-Sea). The food was great and the prices for the main entrees start at $16 on average. Carmel is a super cute town! It is worth walking through its charming streets.

McWay Falls

Leaving Carmel, here we go: we started our journey on Highway 1. The tip is: get ready because you will stop a lot on the way. We had some points marked on our map, but obviously, we stopped a lot more. Highway 1 is known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world! Every curve, a surprise. I’ll share the post with topics:

  • The car – we used Kaiak to search and rent a car  – Hertz. We chose to pick it up in San Francisco, in the city, not at the airport. As our final destination was Los Angeles, we chose to return the car at the Los Angeles airport to use the car in the city during our stay there. Hertz offers free shuttle buses to the airport terminals. The return of the vehicle was super convenient – but be warned: go in advance to pick up the car. The ideal is to be there at least an hour before. For you to have an idea, Thiago choose to get the car at 9 am but only left after 11 am! About the prices: we spent about $ 500 – we got the car from Monday to Friday. We put gas three times in total – one leaving San Francisco, the other almost arriving in Los Angeles and the last in Los Angeles.
  • Getting ready – Highway 1 is a road dominated by, say, nature. Translating: you will not see dozens of restaurants, gas stations, and hotels. After we left Carmel, only when we arrived in Cambria that we found more options. I remember that, before that, I saw a gas station and a couple of hotels. So my suggestion is to stock the car with water and lots of snacks! Also, I suggest downloading the map for offline use, at least until Cambria, as we had no cell phone signal before that (shortly after Carmel’s departure the signal started to get bad). Oh, and even though it was summer, near the Pacific the wind was very cold, so I suggest having a jacket in the car!

  • How long is the trip? – we left San Francisco on a Monday at noon and arrived in Los Angeles the next day at about 8:00 PM. As I mentioned at the beginning, we already knew 17-Mile Drive (Monterey, Santa Cruz, etc). So I think maybe you have to have some extra time to include that route. I would venture to say another day, to do it quietly!
  • Accommodation – as it’s a long trip, you can not do it all in one day, since you’ll stop many times – believe me, you’ll want to stop! So we chose to sleep in Cambria. We stayed at the Castle Inn. It is not far from the highway – and it is located across the Pacific. In the same street, there are several hotels, in the same style. The rate included a simple breakfast, internet, private bathroom. We arrived at night and there was a note at the front desk advising that we should get the key in a hotel that was almost next door. It was easy. The room was comfortable and catered to our needs. Parking was free.

Ponte Bixby Creek

Our stops!

As I mentioned, we had a few points marked on the map for stops, but there were several other random stops, especially when the sunset started … Below, I made some of the points defined.

  • Bixby Creek Bridge – is the bridge that appears on HBO’s Big Little Lies. In fact, I highly suggest watching the series to already be contemplating the breathtaking landscapes – not to mention that the story is great! I have a fascination for bridges and I do not even need to say how much I loved to check this closely, right? As it is a famous spot on Highway 1, there were a lot of people there taking pictures – it has great angles.
  • Nepenthe – is a charming restaurant that has a privileged view of the Pacific. Unfortunately, when we passed by, there was a fog and we could not have a clear view. In fact, the fog is another thing that I need to comment on: it appeared at various points along the road. Nepenthe has a menu with food and drinks. There is also a cafe there, but it was closed.
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park / McWay Falls – we stop at this park with a single goal: to see McWay Falls, a waterfall that flows into the ocean. To park, you need to pay $10 – in cash. Good to have the exact amount, because there is no employee, you put the money in an envelope. But I saw cars parked on the side of the road, and I read that it’s easy to do that too. In the park, just follow the directions to the waterfall. So beautiful! We still spotted a sea lion from afar. The park opens from sunrise to sunset.

Hearst Castle

  • Hearst Castle – you have to visit this place! Designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect, is the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. The complex, completed in 1947, is an extraordinary temple to opulence and excess. Now showcased within one of California’s most visited state parks, it is a must-see to end all must-sees, an eye-popping extravaganza with a 165-room castle, 127 acres/51 hectares of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools, and, to top it all off, wraparound views of the sunny Central Coast. You can visit the place through a tour – we choose the Rooms Tour, great for first-time visitors. We bought our tickets online. We park at the Visitor Center, we got our wristbands and the bus took us to the castle. Tour takes one hour and the place is beautiful! Also, be aware that is warmer in the castle area. We did this tour on the second day of the trip.


Morro Bay

  • Morro Bay – a super cute little town that sits on the Pacific coast, whose highlight is Morro Rock, a large rock that can be seen from the pier. The pier is a nice place to walk, full of restaurants. We had lunch at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant, which serves fish and seafood. We ordered oysters and grilled fish. Prices were good, $ 15 on average for main courses.
  • Los Olivos – a street full of wineries – seriously, side by side. A good place to stop and buy wine and/or doing a wine tasting.
  • Solvang – a replica of a Danish town. The architecture, the name of the streets, the cuisine. Super nice. We ate at Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe, a delight!

After Solvang, we headed straight to Los Angeles – but that’s a subject for another post. Malibu Beach was on the itinerary too, but, we were very tired! Anyway, as I said in the beginning, it’s an unforgettable trip. It will surely be in my memory as one of the most beautiful travel experiences I have ever had! I

I hope my tips have helped! I would like to thank my friend Ana for all the help she gave us with the itinerary and tips, which made our experience so much better!

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