Top Stops from LA to SF on the Pacific Coast Highway

Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco could take you seven hours by interstate, but the drive would be dreary and dull. Take PCH, or the 1 as locals call it, and look for these incredible stops along the way.

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Malibu

Just north of Los Angeles lies Malibu, a city sung about in countless songs throughout the years as the playground of Hollywood starlets, higher ups in the entertainment industry, and other well-to-do people, which meant that I had to stay comfortably (and cheaply) away in Calabasas and drive into Malibu for a nice evening. Rather than sprawling out over the ample mountains around it, the beach city takes up precisely 21 miles of California coastline. From one of many beaches you can catch some rays, waves, or just hang out and watch others surf. The Mediterranean climate makes the days warm and the nights perfectly chilled, but those intending on hanging out by the water after the sun bids adieu may want a jacket or blanket—the winds wafting off the Pacific are less than cozy.

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I definitely wanted a blanket when we headed to Malibu Farm. The dreamy coastal restaurant and cafe, brainchild of Swedish-born, California-based Helene Henderson, is situated on the Malibu Pier, overlooking the water and some of the most beautiful coastline on PCH 1. A true farm-to-table, Malibu Farm encourages local consumption by sourcing nearly everything from with a short distance of their restaurant.

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The food was fresh, the views were incredible, and the company was fantastic.

Hearst Castle // San Simeon

A few hours from LA but close enough to make it a day trip, San Simeon is a sleepy beach town with a bustling tourism spot. Hearst Castle, built over a period of three decades and host to old Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Dolores del Río, and historical figures like Winston Churchill and FDR. William Hearst, newspaper mogul and the genius behind the luxury and detail of Hearst Castle, was a social butterfly and created his estate with the help of architect Julia Morgan not only to be a family getaway, but also a gathering point for his many society friends. 

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He collected the unusual and had a fascination with Europe, so many of the treasures found around the castle can be traced back to old artists or even ancient times. The architecture is a mixture of Spanish, Arabic, Roman and Grecian—odd, yet striking—and the decor was so opulent that I couldn’t fully get behind it. I did, however, love the gardens, the vista, and the brief view of the famed Neptune Pool. While the pool has been closed for some time for renovations and leak repair, reopen has been scheduled for later this year with a few lucky (and wealthy) folks getting the opportunity to take a quick dip.

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Big Sur

Driving down Pacific Coast Highway 1 provides some of the most beautiful vistas, but the views along Big Sur State Park are an experience all their own. Hiking, camping, and partaking in the rugged natural beauty of the parks are encouraged, but some parts of the park can be more remote than others after natural disasters like last year’s landslide.

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While many stretches of the highway still have ongoing construction, as whole it was recently reopened for through traffic. Take advantage of the reopening and experience Big Sur in all it’s rugged, windy and winding splendor. Take shots at Bixby Bridge, or really just anywhere (with a turnoff) that you please!

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Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel has become my favorite little town in recent times. I have many more to go, so no promises—it might be ousted—but, at present, the beach town built into a hillside has won me over. Be sure to check out the Carmel Bakery for the best pretzels in town and possibly on the whole West Coast. Take a walk down Ocean Avenue to the beach for a glimpse at a Frank Lloyd Wright home that embodies his quintessential “organic architecture”, stop into one of the many art galleries for a look at some overpriced, but beautiful, ocean scenes, and certainly pop into the many unique shops that line the main avenues. At night, get dinner at Dametra’s Cafe for a one-of-a-kind dinner experience. Stick around until they bring out the instruments and get up and dance when they do.

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All in all, Carmel is quite posh, with the store-lined streets presenting anything from trendy boutiques to bespoke leather goods to high-end designers. As such, staying in the town can be a bit pricey, but it’s an easy stop in along the way up the coast or a perfect day trip from the Bay Area. For a real treat, stay in any of the small inns that line the main street. We chose the Pine Inn, established many a year ago, for a luxury stay with old money vibes.


I’ve yet to explore many of the lovely towns north of San Francisco and look forward to further exploring the towns listed and many more areas along PCH 1, so look forward to more pictures and news from northern California. ’til then, XoXx Fernweh

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