No road better represents a west coast road trip than California’s Pacific Coast Highway or PCH. First opened in 1934, this 655 miles long stretch of asphalt winds along pristine coastline, redwood forests, and California’s most famous beaches. Running the majority of the state’s coastline, there is no shortage of amazing sights.
California’s HWY 1 brings you to places like Venice Beach, Big Sur, and that big red bridge in San Francisco, but there is so much more to see. The PCH is full of tiny stop offs offering amazing views, great restaurants, and one of a kind things you can only find along Highway 1.
The Arches of Elk, California
Elk is one of those towns that if you blink–you may miss it. A sign reads ‘Population: 203’ as you enter the blip of a town. Elk, California may seem just like many of the other tiny towns along the PCH, but it’s worth pulling over and exploring.
Elk is home to about five restaurants and a little bit of small town charm, but that’s not the main draw. Hidden by the town are two beautiful bays full of stone arches in the sea. Great views can be had by parking in front of the tiny visitors center and walking to the cliff’s edge. The adventurous can hike down the steep cliff with the help of ropes for some up close photos or to swim through the arches.
Prairie Creek Redwood State Park
There are many parks where you can see California’s famous Redwoods, but this state park in particular has lots of trees with very few people. Drive alongside massive Redwoods without seeing more than a few cars in a day. This park also has a ton of nice hiking trails with the Fern Creek Trail being a local favorite.
The Elephant seals of Piedras Blancas
For a bit of wildlife to mix in with the stunning views and the smell of sea spray, pull over in Piedras Blancas. With a face only a mother could love, elephant seals are kinda cute– in a weird way. Pull over and stretch your legs while walking the trails behind the beach for views of the very odd looking elephant seals. What makes these seals unique is their floppy noses that look a bit like a stubby elephant trunk.
If you visit during mid-day you’ll find the beaches littered with hundreds of seals napping in the sun. There’s bound to be a few swimming in the water, using their strange snouts as snorkels as they hunt and fish right off the shore.
Lunch along the PCH at Malibu Seafood
On the inland side of the PCH in Malibu sits a restaurant serving up amazing seafood with views of the ocean. This is a no-frills type of place where lunch is served on picnic tables facing the sea. Their Ahi Tuna Burger alone is worth pulling over for. Other offerings include their famous fish tacos and steak fries.
Lompoc Wine Ghetto
Around the town of Lompoc is where the HWY 1 curves away from the sea between Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara. So, you might as well make this less-than-remarkable part of the PCH a little more interesting and drink some wine. The uniquely named ‘Wine Ghetto’ is a collection of over 20 different tasting rooms from around the Santa Barbara wine country. This old industrial park turned tasting room is the perfect place to get lost for an afternoon.
Sunset at Gaviota Beach
When the highway finds the sea again and a short drive from Lompoc sits and amazing place for sunset. Located on a stretch of coast that faces due west, Gaviota Beach gets some incredible sunsets. A long pier stretches far into the ocean and calm waters lap against jagged rock formations in the sea. Gaviota Beach makes for a perfect place to finish a day of driving along the PCH.
About the Authors: Author & Photographer at GettingStamped.com, Adam kicked his corporate job to the curb and said good-bye to the “American Dream” in June 2013 and has been traveling the world ever since with his wife Hannah! They have traveled to 6 continents, stamped in 54 countries, slept in 200+ beds, and made countless memories. Follow Adam & Hannah on Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @GettingStamped for a live sneak peak of their travels.