At just over 1,055 kilometres, California’s north-south state Highway 1 is not only considered the best road trip destination in the United States, but to many, it’s the best in the world. And at the heart of this bucket list drive is Monterey County, a 159-kilometre stretch of scenic coastline, dramatic vistas and quaint towns.
Often the most memorable trips come with unexpected discoveries, but our best advice is to start with a plan on this all-American road because you don’t want to miss once-in-a-lifetime attractions and eclectic accommodations. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you let the adventure unfold or map an extensively precise itinerary. Everywhere in Monterey County is a beautiful drive. Before you see it for yourself, let us inspire you.
SeeMonterey.com | Big Sur
Incredible beauty awaits at every turn in the road when driving north through Monterey County along the famed Big Sur coastline, known as "the Gateway to Big Sur."
Suzanne Emily O’Connor | Mcway Falls
Travelling up the coast, the iconic McWay Falls should be your first stop. Take a short walk along Overlook Trail to view the 21-metre cascade that tumbles from the cliffs to a remote beach in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Here, hikers can enjoy many scenic trails, often among wildlife. Be on the lookout for endangered California condors, migrating whales and sea otters floating on their backs in dense kelp beds. For those who want more exercise, a woodsy trail hike is just across the way with redwoods, oaks, conifers and other grand trees. Bring a refillable water bottle with you, stay on the marked trails and treat the area with care.
For lunch, seasonal California cuisine can be found at Big Sur Roadhouse while cliffside Nepenthe restaurant’s expansive ocean terrace views pair perfectly with craft beer or a glass of Monterey County wine. At Big Sur River Inn, thirsty travellers can enjoy an award-winning Bloody Mary while lounging with their feet in the river.
Further up the coast, a dreamy nature walk at Andrew Molera State Park leads to a sandy, rocky, driftwood-covered beach at the base of the Big Sur headlands. If you plan to stay in Big Sur, campgrounds abound as well as simple cabins like those at historic Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. Splurge-worthy stays include Post Ranch Inn with morning yoga, nighttime stargazing and infinity hot tubs overlooking the Pacific. Ventana Big Sur offers glamorous canvas tent lodging alongside luxurious guest rooms while the Adventure Tents at Fernwood Resort offer rustic glamping in a wooded setting.
Kevin Wolf | Bixby Bridge
Farther north, there are plenty of roadside pullovers to safely stop and reflect on the area's stunning scenic beauty. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is also a must. Dedicate time here for a hike in this coastal haven with wildlife, wildflowers and secluded coves. Numerous trails trace the coast with benches to help visitors appreciate ocean views, grazing deer, vocal birds, barking seals, soaring pelicans and floating otters.
Daniela Araya | Carmel-by-the-Sea
Make Carmel-by-the-Sea your next stop and enjoy this charming seaside town filled with galleries, shops and eateries. Be sure to catch a sunset on Carmel Beach, often complete with dolphin sightings. Nearby, the lagoon at Carmel River State Beach attracts many migratory birds and makes for a special place to enjoy a picnic lunch. Pick up sandwiches at Bruno’s Market & Deli beforehand and remember to properly dispose of any trash, not leaving a trace of your visit behind. Numerous cozy bed and breakfasts can be found in town but just a 10-minute drive through the countryside brings you to Carmel Valley Ranch, a 500-acre oasis with organic gardens and vineyards, bee hives, goat and chicken feedings, three restaurants and amenities like golf, tennis and a gym. Hot tip: book a room with an outdoor hot tub. While in Carmel Valley, be sure to visit the 12-plus wineries, tasting rooms and wine bars found along the sunny valley floor.
The famous 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach stretches from Carmel-by-the-Sea through Pebble Beach and into Pacific Grove. After some rest, head out to explore this unforgettable stretch of road that hugs the Pacific Coastline and includes famous stops along the way such as Bird Rock and the 250-year-old Lone Cypress tree.
From October through March, witness the magic of the monarch butterflies clustering together on pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Stretch your legs at Lover’s Point Park and Beach, a state marine reserve on the southern end of Monterey Bay, and admire this shoreline recreation area with incredibly inviting views of the crystal-clear water accompanied by ground squirrels who may be just a bit too friendly. Not far away is historic Cannery Row and the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. And while there, be sure to catch a breathtaking sunset at Asilomar State Beach.
SeeMonterey.com | Monterey Bay Aquarium
If you continue north, you can experience wildlife up close by kayaking the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing and complete your Monterey County road trip with a visit to The Haute Enchilada Cafe for fresh, sustainable seafood and local organic produce. The Cafe features a full bar with wine and beer tastings, plus two galleries showcasing local artists' original artwork for sale.
This open road adventure will help you understand the vastness and beauty of California.
Presented in collaboration with
Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau