LOS ANGELES - Only those who have driven California’s Pacific Coast Highway can truly appreciate the exhilaration one feels while navigating one of the world’s most scenic stretches of pavement. This All-American Road can only be described with one word — awesome.
First posted as Highway 1 in 1934, the PCH hugs the rocky California coastline and at times cuts through sky-high Redwood forests and offers drivers some drop-dead gorgeous Pacific Ocean vistas along the way.
We couldn’t wait to get started.
After collecting our rental car at the San Francisco Airport (unfortunately not a convertible) we find ourselves on the freeway eagerly anticipating our first sight of the famed Golden Gate Bridge. A legacy to the engineering genius of its designer, Joseph Strauss, the orange-coloured marvel is San Francisco’s most treasured landmark and as we drive under its famed arches, we’re offered spectacular views of the city’s Bay and infamous Alcatraz, which stands alone, imprisoned on an island.
What an impressive way to start our journey before heading south along the PCH.
After leaving the City by the Bay behind, it’s not long before we are winding down the tree-lined PCH admiring the sights and sounds coastal California offers.
We arrive a short time later on the outskirts of laid-back Santa Cruz, the oceanfront community that invites visitors to pull off the PCH and stay for a few weeks. We only have the day, however, so we take a quick walk on the boardwalk and get right back on the highway.
The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles could take as little as six hours if one chooses Interstate 5, the only U.S. highway that touches both the Canadian and Mexican borders. But we’re glad we’ve slowed down and are enjoying the jaw-dropping scenery the PCH is serving up.
The sun steadily gets warmer as we move south and soon we branch off the PCH shortly before Carmel, which sits at the northern end of Big Sur, and pay the worthy admission to enter famous “17 Mile Drive.”
Easily accessible from San Francisco — just 2.5 hours away — the enchanting 17 Mile Drive is a scenic wonderland that cuts through fabled Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove and past multi-million dollar mansions owned by the likes of Clint Eastwood.
With deer roaming along the side of the road, we pass impressive Del Monte Forest, where wildflowers are in full bloom, and a few minutes later the entrance of famed Pebble Beach Golf Course — home to many U.S. Opens — comes into view.
Above: Seals having a siesta along the sandy coast.
From high atop a pull-off where a lone Cypress tree seemingly stands guard over this natural majesty, we watch giant waves crash against mighty rocks where sea lions are basking. It’s hard to pull away from such an idyllic scene but the PCH promises more down the road.
From Pebble Beach we slowly pass through Carmel-by-the-Sea, a wonderful town rich with history in the arts, where quaint inns and lodges with Spanish-sounding names invite us to pull over and spend the night. No time — we must push southward to keep true to our tight schedule.
Not long after leaving Carmel-by-the-Sea, we’re hugging the coast known as Big Sur and it’s easy to see why so many artists and writers are drawn to this area. If Big Sur doesn’t get your heart racing with excitement, check your pulse.
The boundaries of Big Sur, translated from the Spanish el sur Grande, are loosely defined, but most people agree it stretches north from Carmel to San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County in the south.
Stunning is the only word that truly describes Big Sur. That’s why there’s been plenty of “vista stops” placed on the side of the PCH and we take full advantage of them. There’s a Kodak moment around every curve.
Standing with our feet on the edge of the precipice, a feeling of calm overcomes us as we watch the thundering waves smash against the rugged coast.
Exiting Big Sur, we are no longer looking down at the Pacific, but driving next to its crisp blue waters.
Ahead, we see something that looks like it jumped off the shores of the Mediterranean — the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The former estate of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst — of Citizen Kane fame — stands out against the azure sky.
Not far from the castle, we stop at a beach overcrowded with elephant seals, a species that was once almost extinct due to the high content of oil in their blubber but who have now made a significant comeback in recent years.
As Big Sur fades in our rearview mirror, and quaint San Luis Obispo offers more memories and a great meal, my travelling partner and I start to get excited about our arrival in Los Angeles.
With the sun steadily dropping into the Pacific, we charge through Santa Barbara, Ventura and Thousand Oaks in hopes of reaching the City of Angels before dark. Being the hockey fan I am, I can’t take my eyes off the Staples Centre — home of the Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings — and I miss the off ramp that would take us to our overnight accommodation.
It’s the only wrong turn we’ve made all day on what is undoubtedly one of the greatest drives in the world.