Road Trip: Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

This has been a bucket list item since I was a little kid and I’m happy to announce that it’s crossed off the list! If you hear about road tripping in the U.S. you’ll most likely hear about the Pacific Coast Highway. This coastal road is probably the most iconic road in the U.S. If you have the time, you can end/start in San Francisco and San Diego. We only had 3 nights in California after already spending time in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon to LA

So this portion of our trip we had to drive from Bryce Canyon in southern Utah, back to LA. If we were to do this trip again I would’ve chosen to go to Bryce Canyon first and then Zion second since Zion is closer to LA and that would’ve shortened our drive.. The drive from Bryce Canyon to LA ended up taking us about 8 hours. We stopped for lunch in Las Vegas and then drove the rest of the way to LA. It was a long driving day and we got up pretty early to start our drive so I was glad to have a driving partner to take turns driving while the other one napped.

We had one night in LA and ended up getting tickets to The Comedy Store, a famous comedy club in LA. We went because Joe Rogan would be there and were pleased that the line-up also included Bobby Lee and Marc Maron. Just when we were about to leave, too, there was a surprise drop-in by DAVE CHAPELLE!!! It was a pretty awesome night. If you like comedy, are in LA, and don’t know what else to do, I would highly suggest The Comedy Store. It was a lot of fun. The only downside was that the show runs late and we needed to get up early the next day to start our drive.

LA to Big Sur

The next day would be another long drive. To avoid the crazy 4th of July weekend crowd in Big Sur as well as to shorten our drive later on in the trip, we decided to drive the whole way from LA up to the Big Sur coast in one day.

Some things to keep in mind

Be sure to factor in extra time when you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway. 1. It’s slower than the main freeways and 2. You’ll want to make time to stop along the way. Also, cell reception and data is limited throughout the drive so be sure that you have maps and whatever else you need that doesn’t require the internet or cell reception. I downloaded offline maps ahead of time and my friend printed out all of reservations for extra measure.

We hopped on highway 1, also known as the pacific coast highway and made our entire way to Big Sur from there. Be sure to do some research of places that you definitely want to stop in. We basically played the drive to Big Sur by ear but I wish we had planned out some of our stops. I would’ve loved to grab fish tacos in Malibu but we didn’t think about it until it was too late. We did, however, make a stop near Malibu and hung out at the beach. We also stopped at the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, a strawberry stand where we bought some really delicious strawberries, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, and a ton of vista points. By the time we made it to the Big Sur Coast, we pulled over to a turn off and enjoyed the view for a short time. After that, we had to make our way to our campground before it got dark.

Big Sur

Where to stay

Just like the national parks that we visited, getting a campsite in Big Sur was almost impossible. There are a bunch of campgrounds along the Big Sur Coast but most of the ones I came across were completely booked with some walk-in availability. There are also some private campgrounds along the way if you want to $65 for a campground.

I eventually tracked down a campground and was able to reserve one night at Ponderosa Campground which is about 10 miles east of the coast on a super windy road. Which meant that for our 2nd night we would just have to hope that we could find a place to sleep without reservations. Ponderosa Campground was nice and secluded but it was a ways away from where we wanted to explore. Also, keep in mind that this campground has a crazy amount of flies as soon as the sun hits your campsite.

For our 2nd night we decided to try our luck and asked around at a few other campgrounds if there was any availability, there wasn’t. So we decided that in the evening we would try camping at one of the turn-off on Nacimiento Road, where they allow camping as long as your completely off the road on a turn off. It was a bit nerve racking since we were trying to find a place for Friday night and as we were driving down the windy Nacimiento Road Friday evening it seemed like every turn off we passed by was inhabited. It took us a while and we weren’t on the coastal side, but we found a pretty awesome spot to camp at. If you do this, be sure to get a spot early enough and that you have enough water to last you through the night. You are literally camping on the side of the road so you won’t have access to water or toilets. BUT the view will be pretty awesome.

What to do

Keep in mind that Big Sur is going to be more expensive. We made the mistake of not filling up our tank before we hit the coast and paid $6/gallon to fill up once in the Big Sur area. There are plenty of restaurants on the Big Sur Coast just expect to pay more. We were camping, so we made sure to bring in all of our own food.

We didn’t have a ton of time here but there are so many things to do and explore that I would definitely come back to check out the state parks and hiking.

We ended up visiting Pfeiffer Beach located near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Parking and access to the beach is $10. It’s famous for it’s purple sand and beautiful views.

I would’ve liked to do more hiking but since we only had one full day to enjoy the Big Sur Coast we had to opt for one short hike. We ended up checking out Partington Cove. It’s not easy to find but can be identified by a green gate at Highway 1. There’s a turn off where you can park your car and you’ll walk down the dirt road which will lead you to the creek and the trail will split north and south. The north trail leads to a small rocky beach. The south fork leads though a historic tunnel and to an overlook which once was a loading dock for ships. The hike is 1 mile roundtrip. Downhill the whole way there and uphill the entire way back.

At one point we needed internet access so we stopped by Big Sur Taphouse to get a couple of beers and get our internet fill. If you’re looking for an affordable place for food and drinks, this is a good option.

The next day we spent some time taking in the views, stopped by the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery a second time and then stopped by Hearst Castle. We didn’t do the tour since we didn’t have time nor did we want to spend the money, but it definitely was an interesting tourist destination.

Between Big Sur and LA

We spent two nights on the Big Sur Coast and decided to stay somewhere between LA and Big Sur for our last night. We decided to do Airbnb so that we could 1. Take showers 2. Sleep in an actual bed for one night. We found a spot in Atascadero, right near San Luis Obsipo aka wine country. The place we found was a private wing of a house on a ranch. It was super nice and private with our own bedroom, living room, and bathroom. It looks like the listing now accommodates 3 people and is a little more expensive. When we stayed there it was a 2 guest maximum and about $80 instead of the current $100/night.

Atascadero is near San Luis Obsipo which has a lot of wineries. If you’re looking to do wine tastings, this area is prime. We didn’t do any wine tastings but we did go to a brewery, Tap It Brewing. There are a bunch of other breweries in the area too if that’s more of your thing. We also explored the downtown of San Luis Obsipo which is full of restaurants, bars, and shopping.

Atascadero to LA

The next day my friend and I needed to make it to LAX for our evening flights to our respective homes. We left Atascadero early and made the 3-ish hour drive back to LA. We wanted to make sure we had enough time before our flights and were even able to get Korean BBQ for lunch in Koreatown. We went to Kang Ho-dong Baekjong. If you you like Korean BBQ, this place did not disappoint.

Once we were thoroughly stuffed we made our way to LAX, dropped off our rental car, and took the shuttle to our respective terminals. And that’s it! The end of my summer road trip.







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