In the previous post, we have visited San Francisco and Northern California highlights; we will now take a trip further South, via scenic Pacific Coast Highway.
‘We've been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for number one
California here we come
Right back where we started from’
- Phantom Planet
Monterey & Carmel
Heading South from San Francisco, a scenic 17-mile drive along the Monterey Peninsula will take you towards two picturesque little towns, Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Monterey is a former capital of Alta California (Upper California) and a beautiful coastal town, immortalized by writer John Steinbeck in his novel Cannery Row. These days Cannery Row offers an eclectic mix of shops and boutiques, art galleries and world class restaurants. Monterey is also home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a pristine city with an artistic heritage, founded by writers such as Jack London, George Sterling, Mary Austin and Robinson Jeffers. It’s known for its fairy-tale cottages, art galleries, museums and stunning white sand beaches, suitable for surfing and scuba diving. There are plenty of beautiful hotels and B&Bs for those who want to enjoy an atmosphere of this pristine town for a little longer.
From Carmel, you can continue your scenic journey towards San Simeon, 90 miles South. You will drive through the world’s most memorable and alluring stretch of coastline – Big Sur. The blue of the ocean and the sky, the orange rocks, raw and unspoiled beauty will give you plenty of awe inspiring and unforgettable moments during your California adventure. You can experience some of the most amazing hikes here, surf unforgivable waves, visit famous McWay Falls – one of the most Instagrammed Big Sur’s spots, explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to trek amongst magnificent redwoods, take SUP in one of many Big Sur’s coves; or just absorb the beauty and spirit of Big Sur, relax and… do nothing.
From Big Sur taking a scenic Highway 1 through Central California, you will head to Santa Barbara, also called American Riviera because of its Mediterranean climate and a reminiscence to that region. Santa Barbara is a stunning and upscale coastal town. If you decide to take a break here, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, and plenty of outdoorsy activities, such as biking, hiking, surfing, sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, or sailing. From here you can explore beautiful Santa Barbara County and a must-visit Channel Islands National Park. This remarkable natural reserve seems like worlds apart from California’s mainland, encompassing five remarkable islands and their ocean environment, with unique flora and fauna preserved by thousands of years of isolation.
As you head south from Santa Barbara, towards Los Angeles, you will find yourself in Orange County, one of the most iconic California destinations. If you are a surfer, it’s time to take a break from the road and put the wetsuit on, because you have reached your destination. Huntington Beach, aka Surf City USA has been voted the best California’s surfing beach. All-year-round swell and a 10 mile stretch of a coast, make it a perfect place for all levels of surfing. If you haven’t tried surfing yet, you can learn how to surf in one of many surf schools; or just watch locals and maybe get inspired to give it a go.
Some of the Orange County highlights worth seeing include San Juan Capistrano - the oldest California Mission, which you can combine with the Los Rios district, the oldest neighbourhood in California. Take a day trip from Long Beach to Santa Catalina Island, for hiking, trekking, or water sports activities, or venture to Santa Ana Mountains to take a hike.
Joshua Tree National Park
Whilst Northern California featured in our last blog, provides excellent outdoor opportunities, just a few hrs drive from Los Angeles or San Diego lies a Southern California wonder - Joshua Tree National Park. Surreal geologic features sculpted by nature, where two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together. Rock climbing and bouldering are very popular here, with 8000 climbing and 2000 boulder routes, making Joshua Tree National Park the ultimate climbing destination. Mountain Biking, Hiking, Camping or Horseback riding are also activities to be enjoyed in this fascinating natural ecosystem. You can forget about civilisation for a moment and enjoy natural beauty and uniqueness of the place, without the temptation to check your phone, as there is no cell signal in the park. Just unplug, bring plenty of water and explore the wilderness.
San Diego is where your California Pacific road adventure is likely to end, unless you have the luxury of time and the lust for more adventure, in which case you can venture through Baja California to Mexico!
Here are some practical tips for your California Adventure, for San Francisco and Northern California described in Part One and the Pacific Highway road trip through Central and Northern California described in Part Two.
The largest international airports in California are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego.
The best way to travel in California is a car, and car rental is strongly recommended. It gives you the flexibility and freedom in deciding where to go, when and how long you will stay in each place. Maybe except San Francisco, unless you fancy driving and parking on very steep roads.
It’s definitely worth bringing portable charger with you, as California provides plenty of photo opportunities, which can drain your battery pretty fast. Google maps also come handy, especially in San Francisco and bigger cities.
Uber (or any other similar taxi service), is a life saver in San Francisco and California if you do not drive. Uber Pool can save you money and sometimes, if there aren’t others booking it along the way, you will end up being the only passenger taken to your destination with no diversions to pick up or drop off others.
You can find other practical tips here.
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