California: Five top Pacific Coast Highway stops

By Megan Singleton

The drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco is only about six hours, but with so much to see on the way, you could make a week of it. Here are Megan Singleton's top five picks for places to check out.

Hearst Castle and its grounds are now a museum to 1930s decadence. Photo / Creative Commons image by Wikimedia user Stan Shebs
Hearst Castle and its grounds are now a museum to 1930s decadence. Photo / Creative Commons image by Wikimedia user Stan Shebs

Santa Barbara

I declare this to be quite possibly the prettiest city in the US. On the way stop at the Camarillo shopping outlets, then when you get to Santa Barbara (about two hours drive) hit the main street with its adobe buildings and bright hanging flowers. Visit the Spanish Mission, the beach and stay a couple of nights to taste at the surrounding wineries. Click here for Megan's blog on Santa Barbara.

Hearst Castle

Not to be missed! You may think why bother, but bother you must. Originally built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, this enormous home, full of priceless artefacts, is now a museum to 1930s decadence.

Hear the stories of Hollywood celebrities and scandals and take photos of the gold-leaf indoor pool. But don't mention terrorist granddaughter Patty Hearst!

Big Sur

A stunning drive up the rugged Pacific coastline into forests with sweeping clifftop views over beaches dotted with kite surfers. Hearst Castle is about halfway between Santa Barbara and Big Sur. There's not much to do except take in the beauty, but do stay at Ventana Inn with a log fireplace in each room and bison on the menu. Oh and beware of the clothing optional area lest you get a nasty surprise.

Santa Cruz

Stopping for photos of the Bixby Bridge head first to Carmel, famous for having Clint Eastwood as its mayor in the 1980s. It's cute and higgledy piggledy. Call in at Pebble Beach to see some golf then head around Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz where the oldest boardwalk and fun pier in the US is located.


Less than an hour now to San Francisco, so before you drop your car off, drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to the little artsy village of Sausalito. From here you'll get amazing views across the bay and Alcatraz prison to the city. Spend time browsing the galleries and stop at one of the many cafes or waterfront bars for lunch before driving into the big smoke.


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