Heading south from San Francisco, Highway 1 quickly lives up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, with its hairpin curves, awe-inspiring cliffs and endless shots of the big blue Pacific. Before long views of the crescent-shaped harbor of Half Moon Bay appear, a town famous for its surf. Hit the waves with a private surf lesson from Jetty Betty Surf School in the morning then hightail it to Pebble Beach.
You don’t have to be a golf fan to appreciate the legend of the place (the Pebble Beach Golf Links have seen five U.S. Opens) and stellar views afforded from the oceanside course. Make a reservation for lunch on the patio at The Bench, located right on the 18th hole, and toast your active morning with a glass of champagne paired with wood-grilled dishes like steak with summer beans and horseradish potatoes. Afterwards follow the red-dashed-line from the parking lot to the 17-Mile Drive along the coast, taking drivers by the region’s golf courses, beaches and by the Lone Cypress, the most photographed tree in North America (you’ll recognize it when you see it).
Spend the late afternoon walking the beach and wandering passed the charming homes of Carmel-by-the-Sea. At sunset head to Mission Ranch, a restored farmhouse owned by Clint Eastwood (a former mayor of Carmel). Cocktail hour starts at a sociable 4pm here, with hearty American fare like prime rib and roast duck on the dinner menu.
Have your camera ready — today’s portion of the PCH offers photo ops galore, beginning with the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, just 15-miles south of Carmel. Continue on to Big Sur Bakery and fuel up for a morning of hiking with fresh pastries and coffee (foodies take note: their cookbook also makes a great souvenir).
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is just a few minutes away, a good choice for first-time visitors to the Big Sur area as its trails are lined with redwood groves and are easy enough for amateur hikers to explore. Continue on to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and make the .64-mile trek along the McWay Waterfall Trail, which ends in views of an 80-foot waterfall dropping directly onto a sandy beach with turquoise-blue water. Hungry? Head to lunch 800-feet above the Pacific at Nepenthe, an open-air restaurant where we’d order the Ambrosiaburger (ground steak on a French roll with the house sauce).
In the afternoon, head 65 miles south and make a quick stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where the giant seals come to raise their pups. Continue on to San Simeon and Hearst Castle, the landmarked mansion built by William Randolph Hearst. Opt for the “Upstairs Suites” tour, which includes peeks inside the ornate guestrooms where visitors like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Joan Crawford stayed.
End the day with the drive down to Santa Barbara and check into El Encanto hotel. Unwind with a dinner overlooking the city at their alfresco terrace restaurant, followed by a soak in your suite’s oversized tub.
Start the day with a dip in the hotel’s infinity pool then head towards the beach for brunch at locavore restaurant Finch & Fork (try to snag a table on the waterside patio). Take your plastic for a stroll along the shops on State Street or, if wine’s your thing, tour the city’s Urban Wine Trail, where the nautical-themed Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room, eco-conscious Municipal Winemakers and Santa Barbara Winery (the oldest in the county) are must-visits.
Make your way south and end the trip in Malibu with an early dinner near the beach. For a cocktail, visit Duke's where the glass-sided walls make it easy to spot dolphins and the occasional whale passing by. Follow it with a casual meal at local favorite Reel Inn, where a lengthy menu of fresh fish is served on paper plates.