Drive our special stretch of Highway 1 between Ragged Point and Nipomo, and you can’t help but be awed by its natural beauty and scenic riches. These 81 miles are what make a Highway 1 road trip one of the top bucket-list excursions in the world. But finding all the secret treasures of this famous byway would take several days — and a local’s know-how. If you want the inside scoop on the best places to stop while driving the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll need inspiration from a knowledgeable guide.
Here, we’ve shared a thorough list of must-drive routes along Highway 1 that will open your eyes to its many charms. Stand beneath a waterfall and listen to its roar. Taste wines influenced by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. Travel through patchwork farmland and past towering sand dunes. Be dazzled by the kaleidoscope of thousands of Monarch butterflies. Explore the grounds of a historic lighthouse. Hunt for sea glass, pick apples, and summit coastal mountains. All of this and so much more can be found just off Highway 1, if you know where to look.
Have a look at our list of the best places to stop along Highway 1, and use the links to Google maps to help you navigate each destination and attraction. If, however, you want to explore more in any given area, check out the destination-specific maps at the end of each section. And if you want a single map detailing all of the best things to see on your drive, look at our “Discovery Route” map.
Now turn the ignition, roll down the windows, and put it in gear — it’s time to take that iconic Highway 1 road trip.
Highway 1 Road Trip
Ocean-View Cliffs of Ragged Point
Home of the “Million-Dollar View,” Ragged Point offers some of the best scenery from the road. Park at the Ragged Point Inn, where you can grab a glass of wine or beer and enjoy panoramic views from the patio. This is an especially bewitching sight during sunset, perched high over the ocean. And don’t miss the Ragged Point Inn Restaurant for fresh-caught seafood, or the coffee bar and gift shop, too.
Thrill-seekers will want to take the steep walk along the Cliffside Trail down to a secluded purple-sand beach. Here, the Black Swift waterfall tumbles down to the beach and rolls to the ocean — a great view that’s hidden from the road. (Just be sure to wear grippy shoes and save some stamina for the steep walk back up!)
No matter where you turn in Ragged Point, ocean views are never far. And as the gateway to Big Sur, it offers some of the first cliffside driving heading north (or some of the last heading south).
Where’s the best place to stop for this adventure? Pull over here for easy access to Ragged Point scenic views. Or use our Ragged Point Activity Map for more points of interest nearby, including the famous Bixby Bridge on Highway 1. Other experiences might include dipping your toes in San Carpoforo Creek or snapping photos of the vintage Piedras Blancas Motel.
Elephant Seals & the Piedras Blancas Light Station
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s easy to see the Piedras Blancas Light Station from the road, but it’s not a close view. Some people park at the light station’s gated entrance to get a peek at it, but there’s actually a better way.
As an alternative, park at the Elephant Seal Rookery viewing area, where thousands of Elephant Seals can be seen mere steps away. Enjoy viewing the wildlife, then walk the adjacent Boucher Trail, which travels to the Piedras Blancas Light Station, built in 1875. This easy 1.9-mile walk parallels the coastline and provides more chances for wildlife viewing. You can even schedule a tour of the Light Station on your way, making this one of the Central Coast’s best two-for-one itineraries.
For this adventure, the best place to stop along Highway 1 is at the Elephant Seal Vista Point. In addition to elephant seals and lighthouses, San Simeon offers many more things to see on Highway 1. Travel back in time with a tour of opulent Hearst Castle, the home of historic newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Or pull over to glimpse the famous zebras of Hearst Ranch, descendants of those in Hearst’s private zoo, still roaming beside Highway 1. These ideas and many more are available on our San Simeon Activity Map.
Vista Point at Hearst Memorial State Beach
Located just south of the entrance to San Simeon State Park, this vista point offers an ideal place for taking in effortless views. You can even park in the Hearst State Beach lot, off Highway 1, and see it all from the comfort of your vehicle. This is also a great place for whale watching, with its expansive ocean views. Bring binoculars to look for gray whales, minke whales, harbor seals, and sea otters, as well as dolphins and porpoises. These marine mammals are regular visitors to this stretch of shoreline. Do this from the bluffs above the beach, or with your toes wiggling in the warm sand below.
For the best place to stop on Highway 1, follow our map to the Vista Point at Hearst Memorial State Beach. Find plenty of other pullover activities on our San Simeon Road Trip Map. Sip award-winning wines at the Hearst Ranch tasting room then fish off the San Simeon Pier and take in the scenery. Or watch the kites of windsurfers and kiteboarders at Arroyo Laguna Beach, where winds can get up to 40 mph in the afternoons.
Moonstone Beach Drive
From Highway 1, it takes just a moment to pull onto this 2-mile oceanfront roadway that parallels the shoreline. Moonstone Beach lies below, a favorite hidden beach where locals come for excellent beachcombing that includes sea glass, colorful worn stones, and driftwood. Taking advantage of the classic coastal California views across Moonstone Beach Drive, several restaurants offer indoor and outdoor seating here, overlooking the ocean.
Start at the north end of Moonstone Beach Drive; the best place to stop is at the Leffingwell Landing State Park parking lot. A trail leading toward Hearst State Beach stands here, for those wanting to take a stroll north. Otherwise, to walk toward Moonstone Beach Park, pick up the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk about 0.5 miles south of Leffingwell Landing. Walk the boardwalk, which spans the majority of the shoreline, for a romantic stroll or to watch seals from the viewing deck. If you’re driving rather than walking, the best place to stop for this spot is at the Santa Rosa Creek Parking Lot. The Moonstone Beach Park offers an ideal setting for a picnic or a sunset view.
Many more attractions lie nearby in Cambria’s East and West Villages, including the Covell Clydesdale Ranch where horses roam over 2,000 acres. Or peak into the tiny Old Santa Rosa Chapel, Gardens & Cemetery, where Bing Crosby attended services when he stayed at Hearst Castle. For these and other Highway 1 road trip ideas in Cambria, see our Cambria Road Trip Map.
Old Creek Loop from Cambria to Cayucos
Looking for a scenic backcountry adventure while driving the Pacific coast? Follow this itinerary through the roads behind Cambria and Cayucos, forming a loop with Highway 1. You can begin in Cambria at Santa Rosa Creek Road, or in Cayucos with Old Creek Road. Along the way, check out the views of Whale Rock Reservoir, a deep blue basin above Cayucos and the coastline. You can also buy slices of pie at the quaint Linn’s Fruit Bin Farmstand, tucked into the hillsides surrounding Santa Rosa Creek Road. And don’t miss wine tasting at Stolo Family Vineyard & Winery; you can even sit on their lush lawn to indulge in a picnic. For details on the itinerary, check out the Old Creek Loop route map.
And if you’d like more things to do and see near Cambria, have a look at the Cambria Road Trip Map. You may consider tacking on a hike along the Fern Canyon Henry Kluck Memorial Trail or Strawberry Canyon.
Park and Stroll the Estero Bluffs State Park
One of the best bang-for-your-buck walks off Highway 1, the Estero Bluffs trails can be explored a little or a lot. In other words, you don’t need hours to enjoy this dramatic state park. The trick is knowing where to find the 7 pull-outs that lead to the trails, midway between the towns of Harmony and Cayucos. These are nondescript dirt turnouts just off Highway 1 that can easily be missed without local know-how. If you find them, they’ll grant access to a magical coastal walk to view the state park and its namesake, the Estero Bluffs. Alternatively, you can just park and enjoy the ocean views from the comfort of your car.
For more activities to tackle en route to Cayucos, check out our Cayucos Discovery Loop Map. Here you’ll find ideas for your trip, like tasting cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Company and surfing and swimming at Cayucos State Beach.
7 pull-outs that lead to trails between Harmony and Cayucos
Ocean View from Cayucos State Beach
On your road trip, pull over for a cruise down North Ocean Avenue in Cayucos, just a stone’s throw away from Highway 1. This is Cayucos’s main thoroughfare, running directly parallel to downtown, Cayucos State Beach, and the historic Cayucos Pier. North Ocean Avenue offers plenty of dining options, from clam chowder and fish and chips, tacos to farm-to-table fare. Pull over to grab a bite, then head to the Cayucos Pier, which is within walking distance of all downtown restaurants. Here you can walk the planks of Captain Cass’s pier, originally built in 1872, and watch surfers hang ten below. Kids will love the play structure, directly on the beach, and they may just spy dolphins or a whale spouting offshore.
Of course, the view from just about anywhere in Cayucos is picture-perfect, but some of the best spots are really tucked away. Make like a local and travel to the southern end of Cayucos State Beach. Here, you’ll nearly be “on” the beach, with a wide open view of the waves. Enjoy the ocean view from your car, or step out and take a stroll north to Cayucos Pier or south to Morro Rock. The best places to stop are in the parking lots for Morro Strand State Beach Day Use Area or Sand Dollars Beach.
Want to hang a bit longer in the Cayucos area? Try ideas from our Cayucos Road Trip Map, including wine tasting the Pacific Coast Wine Trail and hiking Harmony Headlands.
View of Spooner’s Cove and Montana de Oro
At 8,000 acres, with 7 miles of shoreline, Montana de Oro State Park makes for a lovely scenic drive. This special state park offers panoramas of Estero Bay as well as paths that wind beneath towering eucalyptus forests. The road that travels through it all is Pecho Valley Road, which extends directly from Los Osos to Montana de Oro State Park.
One of the best places to stop is Spooner’s Cove, a secluded, magical beach cove with swimming, beachcombing and picnic facilities. Park in the parking lot, step out of your car, and you’re immediately right at the center of a locals’ favorite beach. Another best place to stop is further into the park, featuring grand ocean views you can take in from your car. To find this cliffside pull-over spot, drive slightly further past Spooner’s Cove to park between the Bluff Trail and the Spooner Ranch House.
Of course there’s a lot more to do nearby, like hiking the Black Hills Trail and bird-watching at the Elfin Forest. For more activities near Montana de Oro, check the Los Osos / Baywood Road Trip Map.
Scenic Views of the Avila Bay
Anyone who cruises Avila Beach Drive through Avila Beach can tell you what a stunning ocean-side drive it offers. But the hidden vistas and lesser-known views from historic Point San Luis Lighthouse are absolutely worth the hunt.
Pick up Lighthouse Drive near the end of Avila Beach Drive, before it terminates on the Harford / Port San Luis Pier. This will eventually lead you out to Point San Luis Lighthouse. The best place to stop is at the Point San Luis Lighthouse parking lot. Along the way, enjoy the remote coastal scenery, from both sides of the vehicle. At the parking lot, you’ll have access by stairs to a secluded beach cove, as well as the trailhead for the Pecho Coast Trail.
Pro tip: This Lighthouse Drive excursion is a much less-trafficked scenic drive than the more well-known cruise out to Pirate’s Cove off Cave Landing Road. Pirate’s Cove definitely delivers on amazing views, along with a bluff trail and a clothing-optional beach — but it can be very crowded. The best place to stop for this alternative adventure is in the parking lot at the end of Cave Landing Road.
For other activities nearby, like hayrides at the Avila Valley Barn or kayaking, paddleboarding and sport fishing, check our Avila Beach Road Trip Map.
Butterfly Groves and the Oceano Dunes
Thousands of Monarch Butterflies migrate to the eucalyptus trees within the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove each year. Directly on Highway 1, this incredible sight is one of the easiest wildlife viewing opportunities available on the Central Coast. The best place to stop on your Highway 1 road trip is the Monarch Butterfly Grove parking lot, just south of Pismo Beach.
After marveling at the Monarchs, drive 2 miles south to discover California’s only drive-able beach! The best place to stop for this is at the entrance to the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. The ideal time for most vehicles to drive the beach is during low tide. Stick to driving over the hard-packed sand closer to the water to avoid getting stuck in the soft sand further from the shoreline. (Find a tide table for this area at Central Coast Weather.) Parking is also available at the park’s entrance for those who can’t or don’t want to drive onto the beach.
Pro tip: South of the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve lies Oso Flaco Lake, which drains into the ocean via Oso Flaco Creek. While this area is well worth a visit, crossing the creek without a four-wheel drive vehicle is not recommended.
For more activities nearby, including stellar golfing and side-splitting comedy at the Great American Melodrama, download the Oceano / Nipomo Road Trip Map.
Backcountry Wine Trail
One of the best parts about wine country in the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys is how hidden and uncrowded it is. But you don’t have to travel far off the beaten path to discover the area’s crisp chardonnay and earthy pinot noir wines. But there’s much more here than wine: these valleys offer some of the most heavenly countryside views. Peer out at rolling vineyards and golden hills punctuated by farmhouses and rustic barns. So enjoy the scenery! And remember to keep yourself, your passengers, and your fellow drivers safe; don’t drink and drive.
The best place to start for a backroads wine country loop is the Old Edna Townsite, where you can grab lunch and a bottle or two at Sextant Winery. (Or if you’d rather drink in an aerial view of wine country, hike Islay Hill, which looks over the entire Edna Valley.) The loop then travels north to Biddle Ranch, to Orcutt Road, to Tiffany Ranch Road, Corbett Canyon Road and back again. But don’t let our suggestions keep you from veering off the path; a wide array of wineries can be found across the region. Use our Wine Country Map to see all the different tasting rooms in the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys.
Village of AG to farmlands of Old Huasna
The backlands of Arroyo Grande and Old Huasna (pronounced WAH-znuh) might be the best-kept secret of any Highway 1 drive. First, land in the Village of Arroyo Grande, where the best place to stop is the parking lot behind Olahan Alley. Enjoy a delicious breakfast or lunch at any of the Village’s many eateries, then hit the road for a meandering countryside drive. Cut through patchwork farmland, past farm stands and quiet oak glens that feel like a world away. The route along Highway 227 (which becomes Huasna Road) travels to the old Huasna Townsite, a little-known locale that even locals often miss. This is an area often featured in car commercials for good reason: the backcountry scenery is picture-perfect the entire route.
Pro tip: It’s easy to extend your adventure to include Lopez Lake State Recreation Area. At the intersection of Huasna Road and Lopez Drive, turn left on Lopez Drive to head toward Lopez Lake. Alternatively, you can re-route to wine country in the Edna or Arroyo Grande Valleys. To do that, turn left onto Lopez Drive as though you’re going to Lopez Lake, then turn left onto Orcutt Road. There, you’ll find many family-owned, award-winning wineries and their tasting rooms.
Looking for more attractions near Huasna and backroads Arroyo Grande? Have a look at our Edna Valley & Arroyo Grande Road Trip Map. This includes access to everything from the historic Swinging Bridge in the Village of Arroyo Grande to horseback riding lessons and golf courses.