It’s summer. Rent a convertible and spend the day cruising along one of Southern California’s most iconic roadways, the Pacific Coast Highway. PCH, also known as State Route 1, is designated as an All-American Road because of its beautiful scenery and national significance.
In 1991, the National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads programs began through an Act of Congress to “recognize, protect and promote America’s most outstanding roads.” The best National Scenic Byways are designated All-American Roads when they have met “the same criteria as a National Scenic Byway, but possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are of national significance and the byway must be considered a destination and reason for travel unto itself.”
PCH first opened in the Big Sur region in the 1930s. Portions of roadway were added throughout the years until 1964, when it was officially designated as SR 1.
The drive from Santa Monica Pier to Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara is just under 100 miles from start to finish with a Google maps driving time of about two hours, however, with the usual traffic and stops along the way it can easily be an enjoyable full-day trip.
Santa Monica Pier
200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 90401
This bustling wooden wharf offers eateries, shops, a high-tech arcade, roller coaster, giant Ferris wheel, the famous 1922 Charles I.D. Looff merry-go-round and views of the bay and the mountains. The pier, built in 1909, is a National Historic Landmark.
It might be tempting to just spend the entire day in Santa Monica. There is surf, sand, people watching at Muscle Beach and plenty of temptations and distractions, but resist that urge. A short walk along the beach, maybe a snack, or two, on the pier, then it’s time to hit the highway.
After you leave Santa Monica, head north along PCH and past Palisades Park and Will Rogers State Beach. Beaches along the Malibu coast include Surfrider Beach, Zuma Beach, Malibu Beach, Topanga Beach, Point Dume Beach, County Line and Dan Blocker Beach.
Malibu is one of the most iconic cities in Southern California. The 21-mile strip of beach is home to movie stars and moguls. The Malibu Colony development is the most famous of the private enclaves for wealthy celebrities. Founded in 1926, it is a gated community with multimillion-dollar homes on small lots.
17300 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, 90272
Corner of PCH and Sunset Boulevard. Founded in 1972 Gladstones offers historic beachside dining. Rumors persist that the venerable restaurant may close after Nov. 1.
The Malibu Pier
23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 90265
A Southern California icon in an area once called the Riviera of America. The historic landmark is located in the heart of California’s surf culture.
28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 90265
The films “Beach Blanket Bingo,” “Gidget” and the television shows “Sea Hunt,” “Malibu Run” and “The Rockford Files” all filmed here. The Paradise Cove Beach Café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
El Matador State Beach
32350 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 90265
Breathtaking views, sea stacks and bluff side picnic tables. Explore north to caves and arches in the rocks. The largest cave faces the ocean at the bottom of a huge flat rock connected to the base of the bluff.
Leo Carrillo State Park
35000 West Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 90265
Leo Carrillo State Park has 1.5 miles of beach for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, surf fishing and beachcombing with tidepools, coastal caves and reefs for exploring.
Point Mugu State Park and Sycamore Cove Beach
9000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 90265
Sycamore Cove Beach is a southwest-facing sandy cove with lifeguards, picnic tables and nice facilities.
Point Mugu State Park features five miles of ocean shoreline with rocky bluffs, sandy beaches, sand dunes and two major river canyons. Offers 70 miles of hiking trails.
After leaving Point Mugu you will drive inland to Oxnard/Ventura. PCH dead ends into U.S. 101. Technically the roadway at this point is considered both the 101 and SR 1. Head west toward Santa Barbara, but take a few minutes to drive into downtown Ventura which offers quaint cafes and art galleries.
Ventura City Hall
501 Poli St., Ventura, 93001
Built from 1912 to 1913, the neoclassical courthouse was designed by the noted Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin Sr. in a Beaux Arts style.
750 Harbor Blvd., Ventura, 93001
Built in 1872 at a cost of $45,000, it was at one time the longest wooden Pier in California. Great ocean views and the perfect place to watch surfers ride the waves.
Emma Wood State Beach
On the 101, two miles west of Ventura
As the day wears on, the traffic along 101/PCH gets heavier. Sixty-eight miles after leaving Santa Monica you will find Emma Wood State Beach. Here you can see the offshore Channel Islands and a variety of wildlife including raccoons and great blue herons. Dolphins frolic just offshore.
Carpinteria State Beach
5361 6th St., Carpinteria, 93013
After passing the community of Mussel Shoals you enter Carpinteria, only 12 miles south of Santa Barbara. This charming, coastal community offers a pedestrian-friendly main street (Linden Avenue), mom-and-pop shops, gourmet cafés and antique stores. Carpinteria State Beach is a stone’s throw from downtown. See seals and sea lions December through May, as well as gray whales. Tidepools contain starfish, sea anemones, crabs, snails, octopi and sea urchins.
Sterns Wharf Santa Barbara
221 Stearns Wharf Santa Barbara, 93101
When completed in 1872, this became the longest deep-water wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco. Take a ride on the water taxi or spend time with marine life at the Sea Center. There are also restaurants and shops to enjoy.