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Central Coastal California
For all the great drives around North America–and there are plenty of them–few can hold up to the likes of California’s majestic Hwy 1. This famous road traces the twisting western coastline of our continent, spanning from Los Angeles all the way to Eureka in the north. Of course, this epic route doesn’t fit our fuel-tank criteria, but we have captured a central coast tour that’s ideal for shorter getaways.
This taste of Hwy 1 begins in the town of San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772. Consider a stopover and visit the Spanish mission here, the fifth such institution in the state, as an excellent introduction to central California’s missionary heritage.
Up the road apiece, past Morro Bay, is where we find the landscape beginning to change. The rolling, oak-covered hills give way to taller, greener landscapes, complete with cliffs, hills, and mountains rising straight out of the Pacific. Take some time to explore the town of Cambria, a cute-as-a-button village favored by grizzled bikers and ritzy spa-goers alike.
Roughly fifty miles north lies Los Padres National Forest, and Big Sur. More of an idea than an actual place, Big Sur still retains all the charms of its bohemian past. Be sure to visit the Henry Miller Library, a rather unique and eclectic destination along the highway, and homage to the famous author and painter.
Leaving Los Padres, Hwy 1 brings you to the Monterey Peninsula. Spend an afternoon shopping the quietly upscale downtown area of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Heading north on Hwy 1, once in the town of Monterey you must visit the famed Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. Long gone are the riff-raff and bums depicted in Steinbeck’s works. Today, this revitalized district is headlined by the world-class Monterey Aquarium. Take time to stroll along the city’s scenic waterfront and indulge your inner clam chowder-lover at any of the several restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf.
The quiet, meandering Hwy 1 morphs into a fast freeway for a spell as it carries you north around Monterey Bay to the town of Santa Cruz. With nearly 30 miles of public beach, this is a great place to be lazy. Don’t miss taking a lap or two on foot along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Hwy 1 returns to its old leisurely self after passing through Santa Cruz, as it approaches Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. “The City by the Bay” may not offer the best topography for getting around in your rig. So drop her off and hop aboard one of the several of San Fran’s famed cable cars for a fun and breathtaking tour of some of the city’s most famous areas. Afterwards, consider a visit to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a 74,000-acre park along the bay with its magnificent centerpiece - of course - the Golden Gate Bridge. From here you can visit three beaches, as well as plan a tour of infamous Alcatraz Island. Another essential destination is Fisherman’s Wharf where wonderful seafood dining experiences don’t get any fresher. Other San Francisco treats (no, we’re not talking ‘bout Rice-a-Roni ™ here!) include a walking tour of Chinatown (The largest of its kind in North America), the Cable Car Museum, and the Haight-Asbury district, “ground zero” for the (mostly) bygone ‘60s counterculture.