CA-1 Central Coast

CA-1, California's scenic coastal highway begins from Leggett in Mendocino County and goes down to Ventura in Santa Barbara. The drive is beautiful along the rugged coastline with breath taking views. The single lane (and at times two) windy highway passes through many small towns along the coastal route from Mendocino county to Ventura. It runs concurrently with US 101 along the Golden Gate Bridge. On a clear day, you will enjoy some pretty views of the Pacific and California's coast drive. Our favorite  part of CA-1 is the drive along California's central coast from Monterey to Cambria.

Travelling to Los Angeles from the Bay Area via CA-1 is a great option. However with its winding turns and the frequent stops you will make to take in the views and pictures it can take more than 8 hours. Hence plan accordingly.

Coastline view
CA 1 looking north 

Tips:
  • The weather along the coast is mostly cold and windy. Have some warm jackets available.
  • Keep your camera ready. The best scenery may just be round the corner. Have extra batteries + memory card and a video handy.
  • Be prepared for motion sickness (if you are prone to it). A good option is to let that person drive. Carry paper bags.
  • Carry snacks specially when travelling with kids as there are not many options except in the town areas along the route.
  • Make use of restrooms whenever possible. You may not find one for miles together.
  • Since this route is along the coast, the distance between towns can be far. It is always a good idea to fill gas when half at the first available gas station to avoid running out of gas.
  • If you are travelling from US 101 ( North or South ) from Laytonville, CA to CA-1, the route is long windy and you may be the only one of the road ( just like it happened to us ). You will find very few people travelling along this route. When we were in the area, a local told us that the best and safest route is Highway 20 ( Willitts \ Fort Bragg road ). 
  • Do not always rely on your GPS if you are going off the road, carrying maps can come in handy.
  • The GPS may not work in certain hot spots along the coast.
  • There are many state beaches along the way. For a day fee, you can picnic and have a fun family day.
  • Check for contruction. That can sometimes delay your travel.
Ca1 route
Single lane road on CA 1 driving south
Driving along CA 1 is always refreshing and a great stress buster. The crashing waves on the rocks, sea gulls hovering above and the beautiful landscape make a great day out for the family. CA-1 is also great for spotting the whale migration. Have a good pair of binoculars handy. Below are listed the scenic places and stops that can be covered  in a day on this drive.

1.) POINT LOBOS STATE RESERVE:

Located 3 miles south of Carmel by the sea on the Cabrillo Highway, this is a perfect spot for photography, watching seals , sea lions, tide pooling and short hikes. This preserve is rich in flora and fauna and has a multitude of colors on land and sea. Stroller accessible, this is a nice hike for young kids too. You could spend a lot more time here as there are a number of scenic trails in this reserve. However we have included this point on this trip list in-case you want to start-off your drive with a great short hike.

Views from Point Lobos
View from Point Lobos

2.) HISTORIC ROCKY CREEK BRIDGE:

Stop for pictures and views of CA-1 looking North.

3.) BIXBY BRIDGE:

It is located about 13 miles south of Carmel and has been the most photographed due to its location and scenery surrounding it.

Bixby bridge
Bixby Bridge

4.) JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK:

This is my favorite spot on Cabrillo Highway. This is a must see location. It has featured in most magazines and is the most photographed scenic spot in California. Within the park, lies McWay Falls. An 80 foot waterfall that flows into the ocean year round! There is a short hike which starts within the park which is stroller accessible and very easy to the end of the walkway. Parking is available within the park for a day fee.  Cash only and self paid.

The views are fantastic from the end of the boardwalk.  With azure, green waters surrounding the cute cove and a waterfall flowing into the ocean, it is the most romantic spot for pictures. The beach access is difficult and has been preserved to retain its natural beauty.
McWay Falls
McWay Falls on a beautiful summer day

McWay Falls
McWay Falls ( pic taken in spring )
4.) ELEPHANT SEAL COLONY ON CA-1:

For more information on these seals are available here. This vista point is around 4.4 miles on CA1 from Hearst Castle.

seals on ca1
Seals on Ca 1

5.) HEARST CASTLE:

Click here for more information. You may need at least half a day here, unless you are staying close by. It is a good 3 hours or more drive from the Bay Area, so time yourself if you have a reserved time slot to visit the castle.

6.) MORRO BAY \ MORRO ROCK:

The most prominent spot in Morro Bay is Morro Rock. Surrounded with an estuary and miles of undisturbed beaches, it stands tall at a height of 576 foot volcanic plug. You can drive right up to the end of the causeway  to hear the chirping of hundreds of birds nesting above and enjoy the surrounding views, watch for birds or just photograph the surroundings.

Morro Rock
Morro Rock


Another spot to see Morro Rock is from the beach near Azure St, Morro Bay. There is a parking lot available with restrooms close by.

If you are a ardent bird lover and a photographer, then Morro Bay is a must in winter. The Winter Bird Festival is usually held in January and makes it a great place to photograph winter birds visiting the area. In 2013, the festival will be held on January 18, 19th and 20th. Family Day is on the 19th. Please check this website for more information as reservation is required for some tours.

CA-1 from Morro bay joins US 101 South, from where we continued to L.A \ San Diego.

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