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Tour Highway 1 in California - coastline, historic attractions

Highway 1 On California's Coast Provides
an Unforgettable View

by Suzanne Carmel

Big Sur Coastline
Big Sur Coastline, Monterey County
Photo courtesy of the Monterey County CVB

Would-be visitors to California may be lured to the Pacific coast by either Los Angeles or San Francisco - two attraction-packed cities with much to offer tourists. Those with time to spare might consider a drive along cliff-hugging Highway 1 between the two tourist meccas. It may even be worth spending the majority of your time stopping along this breathtaking route, where the journey is just as important as your end destination.

For those who prefer to avoid a white-knuckled drive hugging the cliff side of the road, travel north from Los Angeles, a lane away from the edge. In that direction you'll see these reasons to stop and enjoy more that just the scenery.

Santa Barbara County - The city of Santa Barbara is located 92 miles north of Los Angeles and 332 miles south of San Francisco. Travel there along Highway 1, and be certain to also visit some of the other cities in the county, such as Carpinteria, Montecito and Solvang. Some 100 miles of stunning Pacific coastline, an impressive wine country, and the Channel Islands National Park give visitors another reason to linger awhile.

With over 300 days of sunshine, there is plenty of perfect weather for exploring area attractions. Orient yourself to the city of Santa Barbara with a self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour that will showcase architectural gems. The city is dotted with historic adobe structures and missions. Stop at the Mission Santa Barbara - founded in 1786 and the only one of California's 21 missions to be continuously occupied and used since its founding. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is known for American, Asian and European collections, while the Museum of Natural History features nine halls of exhibits, including dioramas, marine displays and more.

Santa Barbara County Mission
Mission Santa Barbara
Photo: Robert Holmes

Outdoor attractions include seven 18-hole championship golf courses, nine beaches, horseback riding ranches, and bird-watching sites, such as the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

Stroll the city streets and paseos (pathways) to upscale local shops and boutiques. A very different walk along Sterns Wharf, the oldest operating wharf on the West Coast, will take you to seafood restaurants, while a stroll through the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens treats families to sightings of over 500 animals and a botanic garden.

Not far from Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys are home to more than 60 wineries, some offering tours, picnic sites and tasting rooms. The county is home to more than 1,000 local artists, translating into many galleries and displays of public art. In Santa Barbara, every Sunday and select Saturdays and holidays, the Arts & Crafts Show runs along Cabrillo Blvd., showcasing the work of over 250 local artists.

For more information, call the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission at (800) 549-5133 or visit the web site at

San Luis Obispo County - This county, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is home to one of the most popular attractions in California, and so much more. The Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument in San Simeon was once the opulent home of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Visitors can join one of four daily tours to some of the 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, pools and fountains on the estate.

In downtown San Luis Obispo, stop by historic San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the fifth of California's missions, founded in 1772. Inside the mission, find a rare collection of early California photographs. Outside the mission, stroll through Mission Plaza, which hosts outdoor events. Every Thursday night, the city holds the San Luis Obispo Higuera Street Certified Farmer's Market, featuring blocks of food, entertainment, and a wide assortment of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

California Hillside Vineyards
Hillside Vineyards / San Luis Obispo
Photo: San Luis Obispo County VCB

The county is home to over 80 wineries, 12 golf courses, and one hundred miles of coastline, with some ten beaches along the coast. Animal lovers can spot gray whales, sea otters and elephant seals along the coast, a wide variety of birds, and, as they migrate, monarch butterflies.

Visit Morro Bay to see 576-foot-high Morro Rock and the more than 250 species of birds that make their home in the bay. Pismo Beach is known as the "Clam Capital of the World", has miles of beaches and a 1,200 foot pier to accommodate fishing enthusiasts.

For more information, call the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau at (800) 634-1414 or visit the web site at

Monterey County - Moving up the coast, Monterey County is just 120 miles south of San Francisco and 345 miles north of Los Angeles. The 12 incorporated cities in the county are within 3 to 10 miles of each other. Of these be sure to visit Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Big Sur.

The county boasts 25 golf courses, three of which are consistently rated among the top ten courses in the nation. There are great whale-watching opportunities, and the peninsula is a popular spot for scuba diving and fishing.

Monterey County's Big Sur Coastline
Big Sur Coastline
Photo courtesy of the
Monterey County CVB

The top attraction in the county is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with over 300,000 marine plants and animals. Other attractions include Cannery Row in Monterey, made famous in the same-named novel by John Steinbeck. The aquarium is located here, as are shops restaurants and galleries. Also in Monterey, Fisherman's Wharf is a good place to soak up the coastal atmosphere, watch the fishing industry and grab some seafood.

In Salinas, the National Steinbeck Center displays the author's work and has interactive exhibits, art exhibits and a gourmet café. In Big Sur, within the Andrew Molera State Park, the Ventana Wilderness Sanctuary serves as a wildlife protection and habitat restoration site. Take a steam train ride through redwood forests of Felton in neighboring Santa Cruz County. Just south of Carmel, hike scenic trails in the Point Lobos State Reserve.

For more information, call the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (888) 221-1010 or visit the web site at

These attractions and others encourage Highway 1 drivers to enjoy stops along the journey on this scenic route. Who knows? You may enjoy these spots so much you'll save California's biggest cities for another trip, and another excuse drive along Highway 1.

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