Things to See and Do on your California Coastal Road Trip
If you enjoy temperate weather, sand between your toes, and the salty ocean breeze, now is the time to plan your California coast highway road trip! Don’t know where to start? Find Eureka, California on the map and start heading south down the gorgeous Pacific coastline. If you need more than the fantastic weather and the gorgeous beaches to convince you to take the trip of a lifetime, then you’re in luck. Read on to find numerous other reasons to take a California coast highway road trip!
California Coast Road Trip Stop #1: Eureka and the Gentle Giants
Highway 1 lives up to its reputation as one of the most spectacular drives in the world. This major north-south highway runs along the Pacific coastline of California. It spans over 655 miles and travels past shining beaches, dense forests, and countless attractions along the way.With its sharp curves, jagged cliffs, and the vast blue Pacific Ocean, you won’t want to miss this experience.
One of the top scenic drives in the world, the Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile stretch of historic Highway 101 that winds right through the heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the largest remaining stand of old-growth coast redwoods on Earth. These gentle giants can live to be up to 2000 years old and some are more than 5 stories taller than the Statue of Liberty! Whether you choose to explore the 200 miles of trails by bicycle, horseback or on foot, spending time with the giant redwoods will leave you feeling awed and humbled.
Instagrammable Moment: Without doubt, you’re going to want to get a shot of yourself near the Dyerville Giant!
Places to Stay near Eureka, CA
Stop #2: Fort Bragg and Glass Beach
Next, head south towards Fort Bragg. As you wind your way down the coast, make sure to stop at Glass Beach. Instead of sand or pebbles, this beach is covered with bits of tumbled sea glass. Surrounded by the coves and cliffs of MacKerricher State Park, the area is dotted with tide pools containing crabs, mollusks and anemones.
Featured Fort Bragg Vacation Package
UTV Tour at the Inn at Newport Ranch
A UTV Tour at the Inn at Newport Ranch will provide an experience that you’ll remember for years. A seasoned guide will take you through the 2000 acre ranch. From Ridgeline to Coastal Meadow to Redwood forest, the trip passes through three unique microclimates. You’ll hear the story of the many handcrafterd benches that the owner commissioned from various artists. Sit and watch the waves come in, and drive through herds of cattle grazing peacefully in the meadows.
California Coast Road Trip Stop #3: Mendocino and Wine Tasting
The next day, continue south to Mendocino, where you can sample some of the fabulous wines from Husch Vineyard, Navarro Vineyard, or Toulouse Winery. Stop at the Boonville General Store to create a picnic from local cheeses and other artisanal fare, which you can snack on while visiting the vines. Known as one of California’s prettiest and least crowded places to taste wine, Mendocino wine country is home to boutique winemakers who have perfected sustainable winemaking techniques. Don’t miss the Pinot Noir at Husch or the Gerwurztraminer at Navarro!
Places to Stay near Mendocino
Stop #4: Half Moon Bay and Kayaking
Continue on down the road and just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay will appear. While the town is known for surfing and golf, there are a large variety of activities to enjoy in this quaint coastal town. Rent a bike and explore the 5 mile California Coastal Trail or try a guided sunset paddle with the Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. Visit the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to wander through tide pools and see some harbor seals.
Places to Stay near Half Moon Bay
California Coast Road Trip Stop #5: Monterey and Bixby Bridge
Continue your trip by following the 17-Mile Drive along the coast to Monterey. The 17-Mile Drive is widely recognized as one of the most picturesque drives in the world. The route takes drivers by the region’s golf courses, magnificent beaches and past the famous Lone Cypress. The Lone Cypress is one of the most photographed trees in North America; you won’t want to miss this stunning view! Spend the late afternoon exploring the quaint villages of Monterey and Carmel-by-the Sea.
Instagrammable Moment: The Bixby Bridge is a must-see road trip spot for many and probably the most Instagrammed feature along the Highway 1 coastline. Always an iconic feature of Highway 1, the bridge was made even more famous when featured in the opening credits of the popular HBO series “Big Little Lies”. There are numerous turnouts where you can stop to get amazing views, particularly from the bridge’s south end at sunset.
Places to Stay in Monterey
Stop #6: Pinnacles National Park and Paso Robles Wine Country
After you’ve gotten your fill of the Monterey area, take a detour inland to view Pinnacles National Park. This unique natural area was formed some 23 million years ago when multiple volcanoes erupted and flowed to form towering rock structures. Rock climbers will enjoy the variety of climbing routes. Birding enthusiasts can look forward to seeing falcons, eagles and condor. Hikers will enjoy the miles of trail systems -- From short trails for the whole family to strenuous hikes for the serious adventurer, Pinnacles has something for everyone!
Once you’ve finished your adventures in Pinnacles, continue south towards Paso Robles to taste some amazing wines. With close to 300 wineries, around 80 of which feature tasting rooms, a visit to Paso Robles is a must for serious wine lovers - especially if you favor a big, bold, complex red!
Places to Stay in Paso Robles
Stop #7: San Luis Obispo and Farmer's Market
After gorging yourselves on the amazing food and wine of the Paso Robles wine region, continue your gastronomic adventures and head to San Luis Obispo to visit their world-famous farmer’s market! Every Thursday evening, Downtown San Luis Obispo transforms into a foodie arena, shutting down Higuera Street and allowing visitors to leisurely stroll from merchant to merchant. With more than 120 vendors, the bustling San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market offers fresh, locally grown produce, blooming flowers, handmade craft goods and jewelry, live entertainment and much more!
Stop #8: Santa Barbara Wine Country
After you fill your shopping tote with local goodies, hop back in the car and head south to spend some time in Ballard, CA exploring the Santa Barbara Wine Country.
Featured Vacation Package: The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table's Wine Country Cycling Package
The Ballard Inn has teamed up with the folks at Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours to create this amazing 2 night package that includes a guided bike tour featuring a farm to table lunch, olive oil and wine tastings, bike rental, and afternoon hors d'oeuvres and wine!
After your day exploring the Santa Barbara wine region, head back towards the coast to Santa Barbara. This charming town features beautiful Spanish-style architecture and a spectacular palm-lined waterfront, all backed by mountains that glow pink in the late afternoon light. Make sure you visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara, known as the "Queen of the Missions", the graceful beauty and picturesque setting. This mission’s complex is also home to a museum and the stunning La Huerta Historic Gardens, which feature mission era plants such as pomegranates, prickly pear and citrus.
California Coast Road Trip Stop #9: Catalina Island Adventues
Once you’ve finished with Santa Barbara, continue south along the coast to Long Beach, where you’ll take a one hour ferry ride out to Catalina Island. The picturesque town of Avalon will be the home base for your island explorations. No matter your interests, Catalina can provide you with something to do. From golf to ziplines and aerial adventures to sealife safaris, Catalina Island has you covered!
Instagrammable moment: The rooftop deck at the Avalon Hotel yields panoramic views of Avalon and the harbor and is the perfect spot to get beautiful photos to feed your 'gram!