Summer Bucket List: Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

August 4, 2022

After working remotely for two years, it’s time to get out of the four walls of your home office, smell the ocean breeze, eat delectable food, and enjoy a beautiful day in the outdoors. What better way to unwind than to have a road trip with your family or friends? 

Take your family on a famous Pacific Coast Highway road trip, arguably one of the best drives in the world. Drive leisurely on this highway 1 roadtrip to savor the picturesque sight of the towering trees, pristine mountains, expansive beaches, and gorgeous urban spaces. 

From kitsch roadside attractions, local wineries, and farm-to-table food to freshly-caught seafood, get ready for an exciting Californian road trip! 


What is the prettiest part of Highway 1?


No matter where you start your Highway 1 road trip, you will get endless expansive views of the cobalt-blue waters, rugged cliffs, beautifully carved sea stacks, and verdant mountain ranges. While it takes 10-12 hours to drive the entire CA Highway 1, this road trip is about the stops. It’s hard to pin down the prettiest part of Highway 1 as every visit is as breathtaking as the other.  

However, if your family is big on outdoor adventures, teeming wildlife, fantastic food experiences, and wine and craft beer tasting, you should drive by San Luis Obispo. This charming city is dubbed the “Happiest City in America,” drawing tourists with its Spanish-style buildings, friendly locals, sunny weather, and year-round outdoor activities.  

Spend at least six days on your Highway 1 road trip so you can savor the full experience. Be sure to pull over at these breathtaking sights along the way: 

Here are our favorite, off-the-beaten stops on Highway 1: 


San Simeon


San Simeon is the perfect place for a spontaneous photo op with its dramatic coastal cliffs and wide-open ocean views. This Pacific Coast Highway road trip stop offers plenty of outdoor adventure, including fishing, camping, and whale watching. Animal lovers can catch a glimpse of more than 15,000 elephant seals at the Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon. From the viewing platform, you can watch them all flop around in the sand. 

This fascinating village is home to the famous Hearst Castle, which boasts spectacular terraces, pools, lush gardens, and museums brimming with exquisite art collections. A drive to the luxurious San Simeon may sound like a splurge, but visitors are often surprised at how affordable this beach town can be. It’s also a foodie paradise with various fine dining options, including a Michelin-starred Mexique restaurant. You can find even more breathtaking scenery at Ragged Point, the gateway to Big Sur just a short drive away. 




It’s hard to get past your Pacific Coast Highway Road trip without stopping by Cambria for wine tasting or its pristine beaches. The town of Cambria, tucked between the towering pines and shimmering Pacific Ocean of California’s Central Coast, is a picturesque seaside village with beautiful year-round weather and an array of exciting things to see and do.  

Cambria is home to multiple tide pools brimming with sea creatures, so head out on a low-tide day and explore. Walking down to the north end of the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, you will find several tide pools filled with sea anemones, spiny purple sea urchins, snails, and crabs. 

For true-blooded wine lovers, spend a day or two touring the Central Coast’s renowned wineries. The region’s lush hillsides and ocean-cooled breezes produce grapes that give the area’s wine a unique flavor. Kick off your stay with a sip of something special at one of Cambria’s tasting rooms. The tasting rooms of Cambria are warm and approachable, where you can end up chatting with winemakers while sipping a glass of wine. 

Take a self-guided walking tour of Cambria’s tasting rooms, or branch out into the vineyards to discover new flavors. Look for art around every corner, and don’t forget to stop at one of the many restaurants serving delicious food and wine.


Edna Valley 


Head to Edna Valley if you’re not done with your wine tasting spree yet. San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley has 40 or more grape varieties thanks to coastal air, rolling hills and shaded valleys, and a year-round Mediterranean climate.   

Edna Valley is a picnic lovers’ paradise, with over two dozen tasting rooms, outdoor seating, and views of the rolling hills covered with vineyards. The oldest vineyard in Edna Valley and a picturesque location at the base of the hills, Chamisal Vineyards offers patrons an intimate wine tasting experience on its patio. Sample five wines, including the estate chardonnay and pinot noir. 

Imagine sampling wine as you watch the sunset at the vineyard. Wolff Vineyards has a lovely tasting patio, with flowers growing in various colors. You can smell the sweet aroma of the flowers wafting through the air as you indulge in a picnic lunch in the shade. They grow several types of grapes, including the famous Petite Sirah. 

It’s best to inquire about making an advanced reservation for these vineyards as some require a reservation for big groups. 


Morro Bay


Morro Bay has gone from a small fishing village to a waterfront recreational destination with stunning scenery and relaxing waters. This charming coastal town has lots to offer if you and your family love water activities. The calm waters make it popular for paddleboarding, kayaking, and sailing. 

Morro Bay is one of the best places for delectable fresh seafood meals. The harbor’s waterfront restaurants offer delicious locally caught fish served at bayside patios with views of Morro Rock and the bay. 


Downtown San Luis Obispo


Downtown SLO is a great place for an afternoon stroll or a full day of exploring. You can take in the local sights, shop at eclectic shops and antique stores, or enjoy a classy meal at one of the town’s many fine dining establishments or a quick bite at one of its many hip eateries. 

You can also spend your time exploring the surrounding countryside – with plenty of hikes with stunning views, vineyards and wineries, and great beaches nearby. Go horseback riding at the Madonna Inn Trails or sunbathing at Avila Beach. 

Stay at Sands Inn and Suites when at San Luis Obispo, and you’re a 5-minute walk away from Downtown SLO. Our pet-friendly hotel is the perfect “base” for your adventure across the county. After a long day of exploration, you can rest well in our clean and comfortable rooms and relax at our outdoor heated pool and spa. 


Montaña de Oro State Park


It takes a scenic 45-minute journey through the southern California coastal hills to get to Montaña de Oro State Park from San Luis Obispo. The cobalt-blue waters of the Pacific Ocean beckon you from afar as you approach the stunning Montaña de Oro State Park. It is the perfect destination if you are craving outdoor adventure.

Ready for an adrenaline rush? Hiking through scenic trails along the valleys and mountain ridges is easy to get started. If you’re looking for something more challenging, trek your way to Montaña de Oro’s 1,347-foot peak to see panoramic views of the mountains, valleys, and the Pacific Ocean.

Montaña de Oro should be on your highway 1 road trip map with its endless range of outdoor activities, splendid wildlife views, appealing wildflowers, and rugged cliffs. 


Pismo Beach


Make Pismo Beach your next stop if you are into surfing or kayaking. Although this humble beach town is a haven for ocean lovers, great food and wine, beautiful parks, and sandy beaches await everyone. Try golfing, ATV, horseback, surfing, body boarding, or fishing for an active getaway. The city has many long beaches, best for a pleasant stroll or enjoying the spectacular views of the sunset. Its perfect weather and numerous wineries make Pismo Beach an excellent spot for a relaxing vacation. Pismo State Beach is one of many free things to do in Pismo Beach. This stunning spot is where thousands of monarch butterflies cluster as they migrate for the winter. These butterflies travel to California’s coast every winter; this grove is their largest congregation, boasting more than 25,000. 

The Pismo Preserve is a nature preserve that stretches across 900 acres. Landed Conservancy, a nonprofit group, funds the preserve. It boasts beautiful views of nature and 11 miles of recreational trails. Visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and much more in this fantastic area.




Coined as California’s “Little Denmark,” the quaint beach village is worth visiting for its striking Danish architecture and bakeries offering authentic Danish treats. Solvang is one of the best stops on the Pacific coast highway, just over an hour’s drive from San Luis Obispo. A popular pitstop among those driving to Santa Barbara, Solvang is a quirky destination where you and your family can dine in one of the incredible restaurants offering international cuisines. 

Fall in love with the rich history of the idyllic village as you check out galleries, museums, and historic Old Mission Santa Inés – all with beautiful countryside views. Catch a performance at the Solvang Festival Theater, including an array of concerts, Broadway musicals, and award-winning plays. The Solvang Festival Theater hosts a variety of shows from June through September, where you can enjoy impressive performances under a starry night sky. 



While on a highway 1 road trip, rest your weary feet at Sands Inn & Suites. We are a 5-minute walk from downtown San Luis Obispo, making our Spanish-inspired hotel a convenient base for exploring the city. Recharge for your next destination in our heated outdoor pool and spa, or call it an early night in our luxurious bed. Traveling with your four-legged buddy? Don’t leave your best friend behind — Sands Inn & Suites welcomes your fur friends!

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