California’s Scenic Byways

Enjoy a drive on one the 8 national scenic byways in California

Highway 1 Dream Drive

From Diane Blair and Patricia Wright at Westways

With international travel restricted over much of the last year and fewer travelers boarding planes, many Americans seeking fresh scenery have rediscovered a love for hitting the road. Among sought-after routes are the 184 national scenic byways designated in 48 states; eight are in California.

Congress established the National Scenic Byways program 30 years ago to recognize, preserve, and enhance select roads throughout the United States based on one or more archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities.

“Scenic byways are paths to adventure and meaningful experiences for all of us,” writes National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “They offer opportunities to explore national parks, admire stunning geologic features, connect with our shared heritage, and #RecreateResponsibly.”

So, pack up the car and hit the road. Here’s a snapshot of the eight scenic byways in our state: routes where the journey is the destination. Visit fhwa.dot.gov/byways for more information.

Morro Rock

San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway

Length: 57 miles

Chiseled foothills, wildflower meadows, grasslands, farms, and acres of rolling vineyards meet the sea on this eye-candy ride along California’s Central Coast. Tide pools and secluded coves border quiet beach towns, and sanctuaries and estuaries harbor wildlife, including elephant seals, otters, monarch butterflies, and rare birds. Continue north on Highway 1 to connect with Big Sur Coast Highway, another scenic byway described below.

Don’t miss: Morro Bay National Estuary, home to Morro Rock, called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.”

Ragged Point Bixby Bridge

Route 1-Big Sur Coast Highway

Length: 72 miles

Considered one of America’s finest scenic drives, this Pacific Coast–hugging trip offers stunning mountain-to-sea vistas around every bend. Tiny coves, pebbly beaches, and parks are perfect pit stops along the way. Look for sea lions sunning on rocky outcroppings, California condors gliding above, and migrating whales off the coast. The road is currently closed to through traffic to repair a landslide that wiped out 150 feet of roadway at Rat Creek.

Don’t miss: Bixby Bridge, one of the tallest single-span arch bridges in the world, with lofty sea cliffs and canyon views.

Check out Westways for the full list of California’s national scenic byways.

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