What? : This is the most beautiful and unique section of Highway 1, for it 123 miles length you will have a breathtaking ocean view with attractions worth stopping along the way.
Although it can be done by a half a day drive you should plan for this road section a full day.
In this blog I will describe mainly the north 50 miles section of the road as well as the south section near Morro Bay.
Where? : Located in the central coastline of California, south of Monterey and north of Morro Bay.
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You will experience moderate weather all year long, with temperatures ranging from 57 – 65 degrees.
Fall: Sunny mornings and warm afternoons.
Winter: Can be windy with occasional shower.
Spring: Provides cool, sunny weather.
Summer: mornings often deliver a foggy marine layer covering the coastline, this create cooling effect. This fog usually clears by the afternoon and the weather get much warmer.
Due note 1: It is highly recommended to drive highway 1 from north to south, at that driving direction you are on the ocean side, has a better view from the car and can easily and safely find places to stop and enjoy the view. Everything can be done also when driving from south to north.
Due note 2: Summer is the busiest time of the year on the Pacific Coast Highway, the same goes for weekends. Plan that everything will take you longer than expected.
Due note 3: This is a one-lane road for all this hwy 1 segment, in many places it is narrow winding cliff road. It is not allowed and too dangerous to pass slow moving cars or RVs in many sections. Expect a slow driving with many short stops at roadside viewing points along the way. If you are driving slowly, try to find roadside turnouts and clear the way.
Due note 4: Only few gas stations are available in this long road section, make sure you have a full tank of gas before setting out south from Carmel-by-the-Sea or driving north from Morro Bay.
Due note 5: if you are lucky, you may spot in the ocean migrating gray whales, from December to May.
My thoughts: No wonder why this road section is considered to be one of the must-drive cynic highways in America. A lot to see from the road and many places to visit along the way.
I did section of this road several times and never got bored, every time I discovered new things.
The driving planning:
You’re planning and activities depends on how much time you planned for this road, where and how early you start your day and where you plan to finish it for the night and what you want to do or see.
As always, remember that you cannot see and do it all in one visit.
This road section may seem to take 3 hours, after-all it is only 123 miles long, but it will take you at list half a day to drive it with only few viewing points stops along the way.
This section of the road can be done in half a day (5-6 hr), but I recommend to plan for a full day drive from Monterey to Morro Bay.
Plan to stop for short picture-taking opportunities along the road at the countless amazing pointes along the way.
If driving it from the north you can sleep at Morro Bay, at San Luis Obispo (15 min drive inland from Morro bay) or at the tourist attraction coastal town of Pismo Beach. Additional 2 hours’ drive south will take all the way to Santa Barbara.
Attractions along the way:
Below I listed the recommended to visit places along the road from north to south (the recommended direction to drive, see due note 1), I wrote a short description, for some location I wrote a full blog (follow the link).
My list of must see attraction along the road:
- Bixby Creek Bridge (20 min stop)
- Big Sur Station (30 min stop)
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - McWay Falls (30 min stop)
- Elephant Seal Viewing Point (30 min stop)
- Countless amazing viewing point along the road
Best nature parks along the road:
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (2-3 hr at list)
- Pfeiffer Beach (1 hr)
Full list of attractions along the road:
Carmel By the Sea:
A small tourist upscale town located just south of Monterey. The town has a nice center with many art galleries, shops, and restaurants. A short distance walk down from the main street will lead you to the bay with long stretch of sandy beach. When entering the main town road, you will see on your left the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum. If you stayed and visit Monterey not sure this is a must visit on your highway 1 road trip.
A popular park with one of the best coastal landscapes. Large rocky cliffs, coves, and ragged ocean coastline as well as many marine animals and birds. This park is very popular and may be overcrowded during weekends, when parking are full visitors park their cars on highway 1 sideways, drive slowly.
Garrapata State Park and Soberanes Point:
I did not visit here, short hiking option to Soberanes hill-top Point. You can also hike inland up into the coast ridges.
Sandy beach access below the ocean cliffs, on the south side of the beach you can access the Garrapata Creek with the arch road bridge. At springtime, the cliffs overlooking the ocean are covered with calla lilies during the blooming season. Not a must visit, if you have time and want to explore the beach below this is a good place to do so.
Notleys Landing viewpoint:
A good viewing point to stop and see the ragged coastline to the south. There is also a restaurant nearby (Carmel restaurant), a short stop on your way.
Rocky Creek Bridge:
A large arch bridge crossing the canyon below, there are only few parking spots just before the bridge.
Probably the most famous bridge of this section of the road. It was completed in 1932 and hovers 260 feet above the steep canyon below. There is a small parking lot just before the bridge and on the other side of the road.
Large dominate bluff with a lighthouse and research center, near the road you can find the old top-secret submarine defense system Naval base.
This is a large nature park with a sandy beach located a mile away from the road. the park is located where the big sur river is flowing to the ocean. Not a must stop if this is your first highway 1 exploration and you are short in time.
Big Sur Station:
Located at the gorge of the Big Sur river where the coastal redwoods forest flourish in the creek along the Big Sur River.
This is an excellent place to stop to eat something, there is a visitor center with useful local information.
This location is the entry point for hikes into the Big Sur mountain ridge and wilderness. Pfeiffer Big Sur is an extremely popular campground, reservation is a must, even at winter.
I did not visit here so I cannot recommend.
A narrow road will take you to the secluded small beach. It is famous for its purple sand and for the few large rock formations in the ocean, at a specific winter day the sunset light crosses a small tunnel in one of the rooks.
A small hidden cove, a 1.5-mile round trip trail will take you down from the road level to the ocean below. You need to park your car on the side of hwy 1 and follow the clear trail, at some point you will cross a small tunnel that will lead you to the hidden cove.
This is a short, less than 1 hr, stop and a hike on your road-trip, a good opportunity to starch your leg and do some hiking.
One of the most beautiful waterfalls I ever saw, a highly recommended stop, if you do not have time it can be very short, just to see the waterfall from the roadside.
The small river is flowing from the large rocky cliffs directly into the ocean bay below. If you are coming from north the best is to stop just before the park entrance and enjoy the view from above, you can also stop later in the park itself on the left (east) side of the road. From the parking lot there is a short easy hiking trail that cross underneath the road through a small tunnel to the viewpoint near the bay, the waterfall is right on the other side cliffs.
Big Creek Bridge:
Limekiln State Park:
I did not visit here so I cannot recommend
Sand Dollar Beach:
I did not visit here so I cannot recommend
Willow Creek Picnic Area and Beach:
Short road will take you to the beach level, Small parking lot and restrooms.
easy beach access.