The Pacific Coast Highway starting from California’s Northern border with Oregon and stretching over 100 kilometres down to San Diego is one of the most beautiful and most-loved scenic drives in the USA. Mr S and I love a road trip and we chose to drive a section of this gorgeous road as part of our big honeymoon adventure. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a huge amount of time to take this drive so this post isn’t fully comprehensive but it is an idea of how to take the trip in style and luxurious places to stop along the way. Also apologies for those looking for guidance on hiking, national parks and beautiful beaches as this post focuses more on my area of expertise, nice places to eat and luxury hotels!
1. Hire a luxurious car
Hiring a luxurious Porsche meant our journey was so much more comfortable and, as I never travel light, there was plenty of space in the car for my *many* pieces of luggage and
shoes important things. Ok there is an argument to do it ‘properly’ in a vintage convertible Cadillac or Mustang but in the end we opted for comfort and space over cliché!
Ideally the car will also have satellite navigation but when you’re trying to actually get on to the Pacific Coast Highway, ignore your sat nav. If it’s trying to get you on to the quickest route it may send you on to the Highway 101 – don’t take this route as you want the longer and more scenic route which is the Pacific Coast Highway also known as Highway 1.
2. Plan Your Route
Make sure to plan your route for driving the Pacific Coast Highway, you can take it from the North to the South or the other way around. We spent a little time in Napa Valley, Sausalito and San Francisco before jumping on the highway and heading South finishing up in LA.
We did it this way as we were then flying from LA to Bora Bora but you can extend the trip and travel further south to Laguna Beach and San Diego. Another reason for driving North to South is that your are on the ocean side of the road and it’s easier to get out for photo opportunities, however if you’re driving South to North you’re not driving right at the cliff edge which may be preferable to some people.
We had a few over night stop overs but we were only had two days of driving, if I had time I’d have extended this as we didn’t get to visit many of the national parks and take as many photos as I would have liked to.
3. Bring Layers
It was a sunny day in San Francisco when we left for our road trip and this is how I started off:
Soon as we were barrelling along those coastal roads I ended up more like this:
Obviously it depends on the time of year but we were there in June and generally if you want to do this trip in comfort and style you should pack a few jumpers.
4. Stop for lunch at cute Carmel-by-the-sea
Once on the road from San Francisco you’ll head through San Jose and Santa Cruz with the option to stop at pretty beaches such as Half Moon Bay but we continued through Monterey with the plan to stop for lunch at Carmel-by-the-sea. Now, as we were on honeymoon I wanted us to eat at Casanova, reputedly the most romantic restaurant in Carmel, but I’d already seen on their website it closed at 3pm. We were rather determined to get there in time, but as we got stopped for speeding we missed our chance…
However, we did find a super cute bistro so I wasn’t too disappointed. I’d highly recommend a stop in Carmel, it’s a gorgeous chocolate box town with extremely cute houses, lovely luxurious shops and beautiful beaches. It’s around 120 miles from San Francisco to Carmel and it takes two hours. But don’t speed, kids…speeding is bad especially on treacherous coastal roads.
5. Stay at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur
The central coast line of the Pacific Coast Highway is the most scenic stretch of road and I’d definitely devote a good portion of time to this area. After lunch in Carmel we got back on the road and headed towards Big Sur, a beautiful rugged stretch of road containing gorgeous wilderness and absolutely stunning viewpoints.
We stopped here for two nights at Post Ranch Inn which simply one of the best hotels that I’ve ever stayed in…
You can read my full review here but highlights were the cosy cabins made from reclaimed materials, stunning infinity pools, a fine dining restaurant, fresh cookies every day, a hot tub with a view and star-gazing at night.
6. Have lunch with a view
I never wanted to leave Post Ranch Inn but after checking out we headed a little further down the beautifully scenic central coast and stopped for lunch around the Santa Lucia mountain range.
Here we found a very simple restaurant which boasted the most stunning view.
It was actually one of the best lunches we had while on honeymoon, munching on fish and chips and gazing out at the ocean.
7. Stop to take a look at Hearst Castle
It’s about a two and a half hour drive from Big Sur to San Simeon and
Mr S we took a little break from driving to check out the famous Hearst Castle.
Heart Castle is an 250,000 acre estate designed for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst where he used host many of the movers and shakers of the 1920’s and 30’s. The multiple rooms of the house are decorated with his vast art and furniture collection and though the huge display is quite over the top it’s rather fascinating to see the eclectic mix of pieces that Hearst purchased over the years.
While in San Simeon also take a moment to check out Moonstone Beach and see all the elephant seals lolling in the sun!
8. Spend a Night at The Four Seasons in Santa Barbara
After admiring Hearst Castle and the seals we carried along the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara where we spent one night.
Unfortunately we arrived in Santa Barbara fairly late in the evening and had plans for the next day so our stay there was all too brief. But The Four Seasons The Biltmore was a gorgeous place to stay with beautifully manicured grounds, views out to sea and a stunning Spanish Colonial interior. I was sad not to explore the town much as it looked so pretty and chilled out. but I would recommend heading to a lovely restaurant called The Lark in The Funk Zone, a cosy and relaxed place with a family style menu of delicious and incredibly flavourful dishes.
9. Have lunch at Nobu Malibu
After a night in Santa Barbara, we got back on the Pacific Coast Highway headed for LA! As you drive through Malibu en route, one of my favourite restaurants, Nobu Malibu is very conveniently located on the side of the road.
I can’t emphasise enough how much I love this restaurant, with outdoor seating right by the ocean, a great vibe and perfect Nobu-standard food I was in absolute heaven. A
Kardashian famous celebrity walking in is the one thing that would have improved the experience for me ;).
10. Stay in the Beverly Hills Hotel
I loved, loved, loved The Beverly Hills Hotel by Dorchester Collection and for me it’s the very best place to stay in Los Angeles. I mean I was staying in a Pink Palace that was favoured by Hollywood Legends such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe…what was there not to love!
I also loved the elegant pool, eating fish tacos at the Polo Lounge….
…and best of all….
…getting my red carpet moment! My other top picks for La-La Land are staying in Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, shopping on Rodeo Drive, lunch at the Ivy, dinner at Spago and drinks at Chateau Marmont
I really hope that you’ve enjoyed my luxury guide to the Pacific Coast Highway, let me know if you have any more tips on how to do the drive in style.