California Highway 1 is a scenic route that runs along the Pacific Ocean, offering stunning views of the coast. This well-known route is one of the best road trips to take in California, and arguably the entire USA. Spanning over 650 miles, you can start in northern California and drive down or begin in the south and work your way up, depending on your starting point. No matter where you begin, there are numerous beautiful areas, but here are the top three scenic stops along CA Highway 1 that you don’t want to miss.
If you are planning a road trip along Highway 1, make sure to check for road closures ahead of time. Currently, there is a section closed from Ragged Point north to Big Creek Vista Point (near Lucia) due to recent landslides. This means that to get from Ragged Point to Big Sur, you need to take an inland detour, which adds some extra time and distance. However, the detour is worth it because once you reach the stretch of coastline in Big Sur, you’ll be amazed at its stunning beauty!
To visit these three stops, you can start in Los Angeles and head north to end in San Francisco or vice versa. Either way, you’ll witness one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific coast!
Elephant Seal Vista Point – San Simeon
Distance from Los Angeles: about 4 hours
This spot is a fantastic scenic stop along CA Highway 1 to observe numerous elephant seals. Even on a rainy, overcast day, you can see many seals lounging on the beach and swimming in the shallow water. There is plenty of parking available at this stop, and it’s free to view the elephant seals year-round! The best times to see the seals are January, April, and October, but you can expect to see them throughout the year.
- Although there are no facilities at Elephant Seal Vista Point, it’s a great spot to take some pictures and perhaps have lunch before continuing your journey.
- Nearby, you’ll find the Hearst Castle, and the town of Cambria is about 20 minutes away. Cambria is a charming town if you’re looking for nearby food and lodging options.
McWay Falls – Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur
Distance from San Simeon: about 3.5 hours due to the current Highway 1 detour
McWay Falls is located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur. Entrance to the state park costs $10 per vehicle (payable on site) or is free with a valid California State Parks pass. The parking lot is quite small and can fill up quickly due to the popularity of the waterfall.
The Waterfall Overlook Trail is a 0.5-mile roundtrip trail that is very flat and easy. Starting from the parking lot, it goes under the highway and leads to a viewpoint overlooking the waterfall and beach. This spot is incredibly unique as you can see McWay Falls cascading directly onto the beach! Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the beauty of this spot!
- Currently, the Waterfall Overlook Trail is closed past the waterfall viewpoint, so it’s a very quick stop and perfect if you’re short on time.
Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
Distance from McWay Falls: about 35 minutes
This well-known bridge features an impressive archway over Bixby Creek along the stunning coastline! Parking can be tricky at Bixby Bridge as there is a small area to park on both sides of the road, but it can definitely get crowded on a busy day. You can view the bridge from multiple angles, and it is truly a classic stop on any Highway 1 road trip!
- We enjoyed viewing the bridge from both sides of the road: standing behind the bridge, looking towards the coast, and from along the coast, looking back towards the bridge and the surrounding canyon.
If you have a little more time, one of our favorite viewpoints in Big Sur, which showcases both the coastline and Bixby Bridge, is Hurricane Point View. It’s about a 2-minute drive south from Bixby Bridge and is absolutely stunning!
From Bixby Bridge to San Francisco, it’s a little under 3 hours of driving if you continue up Highway 1. Alternatively, you can opt for the faster inland route if you’re short on time. Let us know if you have any other top scenic stops along CA Highway 1 to add!