Destination California: 7 Must-See Pacific Coast Highway Pit Stops

Whether you drive the entire west coast or only a section, this classic American road trip will take your breath away.

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Redwood Highway

California may be famous for it’s golden coast, but it’s the towering redwoods that really cause jaws to drop.

Must do: Take the ‘Avenue of the Giants’ scenic detour, the old Hwy. 101, for a chance to see the enormous timber trunks up close. For an hour-and-a-half the narrow two-lane passageway weaves through the colossal redwoods. To get a sense just how big these trees are, pull over and try to wrap your arms around one. Don’t forget to take a photo.

Alex Weber

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Mendocino Coast

This section of the north California coast is simply breathtaking. Rocky cliffs line the deep blue Pacific Ocean for miles and miles, making it the perfect place for photos.

Must do: We enjoyed a morning coffee in the seaside town of Mendocino. Filled with quaint coffee shops and cool clothing stores you could definitely spend a full day blissfully browsing with the ocean in the background.

Alex Weber

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

San Francisco

The heart of hippie culture, San Francisco is a city that marches to the beat of its own drum. Beyond the Golden Gate you’ll find a city full of trendy boutiques, hip bars and cool cuisine.

Must do: Shop. Take a streetcar to historic Chinatown where red paper lanterns lined the road to explore shops filled with gold plated china, strange herbs and dainty jewellery. Then spend the afternoon hanging out at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, the psychedelic hub of California.

Alex Weber

Photography courtesy Shutterstock.

Photography courtesy Shutterstock.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Usually referred to as just Carmel, this European-style village once called Clint Eastwood its mayor. Quaint shops, local art galleries, wine tasting rooms and charming restaurants, it's the perfect pit-stop to take in some refined culture.

Must do: Drive right into the downtown, park your car and wander around. Once you've popped in and out of some shops and tasted a few wines, head just outside of the village and drop into Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant for a bite, owned by Mr. Eastwood himself, who has been spotted on more than one occasion having dinner on the property. At the very least you can sip on a cocktail and gaze at the green meadows and crashing waves.

Stephanie Gray

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Big Sur

Spanish for “the big south,” this wild and remote region of California is home to some of the most dramatic pieces of coastline in the state. At night the sky bursts into a billion stars making it a truly romantic pit stop.

Must do: Take in Mother Nature at its finest with a stop to the iconic Pfeiffer Beach in the heart of Big Sur. Too rocky for swimming, it is however, a perfect place for a picnic, watching the sunset or just taking in the ocean views. Be sure to have $10 (US) cash ready for parking.

Alex Weber

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

Photography courtesy Alex Weber.

 Venice Beach

This beachfront neighbourhood is a mecca for the creative and artistic. In the 1950s and 60s, Venice was the centre of the Beat Generation. Today this southern California hangout is an acclaimed surf spot known for progressive social change.

Must do: Wandering the boardwalk in this groovy seaside town is a must. The shops are packed with cheap, cool accessories and souvenirs. There are also plenty of fun activities to keep you occupied as you make your way down the strip. If you have the time, walk the Venice boardwalk north until you hit the Santa Monica pier. The two towns are right beside each other and both make for excellent people watching.

Visit venicebeach.com for more information.

Alex Weber

Ocean Beach, San Diego. Photography courtesy Kyle Wilson.

Ocean Beach, San Diego. Photography courtesy Kyle Wilson.

San Diego

With perfect weather year-round, the official birthplace of California is just a few miles from Mexico and is a haven for surfers, beach bums and party-goers alike.

Must do: Take a dip in the ocean. Thanks to San Diego's perfect temps, you can swim in the ocean all year. You'll feel like a local hanging out at Ocean Beach where the vibe is very relaxed, and even if you don't feel like dipping your toes in the water, you can stroll down the main drag to shop for antiques, records, and beachwear.

Stephanie Gray