An exhilarating driving experience, this twisting, cliff-hugging, 123-mile (198-kilometer) route along the central California coast takes about five hours to complete at a leisurely pace. Designated an All-American Road—among the nation's most scenic—the drive encompasses both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway.
The route starts in historic Monterey, visits the art colony of Carmel, and threads through Big Sur, where mountains plunge into the Pacific. Farther south, the landscape mellows to oak-studded hills as the road passes Hearst Castle on its way to Morro Bay. In places, the road has narrow shoulders and sharp drop-offs, so stay alert. This route can be tricky for RVs or other oversize vehicles.
Start in Monterey
Join California Route 1 in Monterey (Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. tel. 1 831 649 1770. www.montereyinfo.org.). The town served as California's capital under Spanish, Mexican, and American flags, and by the early 1900s boasted an important sardine industry. Surviving sites include the Royal Presidio Chapel, Monterey State Historic Park, Custom House, Casa Soberanes, Larkin House, and other adobe buildings, as well as touristy Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row, home of the celebrated Monterey Bay Aquarium ( www.montereybayaquarium.org).
After enjoying Monterey, drive 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south on Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea (Visitors Center: San Carlos St.; tel. 1 831 624 2522 or 800 550 4333; www.carmelcalifornia.org), an upscale village of quaint colorful cottages, restaurants, inns, shops, and art galleries fronted by a broad beach fringed with Monterey...