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A magical road trip along Highway 1 in California, USA

Apart from the fact that I love to fly, driving is probably my favorite mean of transportation when going on holiday – and I did some pretty amazing ones already. My favorite? Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco along Highway 1 – or Pacific Highway, as it’s also called. Buckle up! We’re going road tripping! 


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California offers the perfect settings for a good old-fashioned road trip, and Highway 1 is probably the most famous route. Stretching from San Diego in the southern end of the state to San Francisco in the north, Highway 1 offers some of the world’s most epic sceneries including rugged coast line, sandy beaches and luscious vineyards. It covers 644 miles in total, or 1.036 kilometers, and it opened in 1938 after 18 years of hard construction work. My ex-boyfriend and I spent 2 weeks driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco and it was one of the most memorable trips of my life!

Whether you like to camp, drive, hike or bike along Highway 1, comfort is crucial. Choosing the right vehicle will let you focus on what’s important: the scenery and magical views! Auto Europe offers a wide range of rental cars ideal for a road trip – especially in the US! Their ‘Gold Rate’ package, which applies especially to the US market, grants you several advantages like one full tank of gasoline for free, extra drivers etc.

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Cruising through The City of Angels

From Venice Beach to Napa Valley

Driving Highway 1 doesn’t need as much planning as many other road trips might do. Still, it’s a good idea to plan what you want to see and do along the way before you go. We took a short-cut and started in L.A. instead of San Diego, and that gave us a couple of more days to explore The City of Angels. A city of this size needs at least a week to be fully explored, and be aware that you need a car wherever you go. No exploring by foot here, unless you’re in a certain area like Santa Monica or Venice Beach. Speaking of Venice Beach – this was our starting point. It was one of my life long dreams to visit this iconic place, which was made legendary by 1960’s rock bands and hippies. And what a place! Venice Beach is crazy, beautiful and fun, and the area embraces all kinds of people. No boundaries. Take time to enjoy at least one sunset here and continue along to stylish Santa Monica, which is completely the opposite.

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The adventure begins in LA, at the iconic Venice Beach!

One of my absolute favorite stops on the route was Santa Barbara, which is located approximately 1,5 hour from L.A. Known to attract a wealthy clientele, but also home to a large group of students, Santa Barbara offers epic sunsets along the wide, sandy beach front and a lively night life. We had one night in the area before continuing towards Monterey and the cute little town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. In Monterey, we obviously had to visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I’ll never forget the amount of sea lions lying around the beach. Tourists were constantly taking their photos, but they didn’t seem to care much.

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Overlooking the bay in beautiful Monterey

You can’t mention Highway 1 without thinking about Big Sur as well. Big Sur is a cult phenomenon and one of the most breathtaking stretches on the route. It only includes a few houses, a gas station and a camping area, so it’s not even a real town. The surroundings attracted many hippies and intellectuals from San Francisco in the 1960’s, and ever since it’s been a refuge for bohemians searching for the true meaning of life. It almost felt like I found it during my short time there, but I guess that’s what Big Sur does to you 😉

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Nature on the Big Sur stretch is both rough and peaceful

From Big Sur, it’s only a 2,5 hour drive to San Francisco, which is obviously a must-see. I could write pages about “the city by the bay”, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll simply tell you that San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world; it has that unique blend of European culture and American lifestyle, and that makes it very attractive as a travel destination.

Read: Why You Must Explore San Francisco: 4 Good Reasons To Go

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Checking in at the legendary Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco. Unfortunately, this hotel no longer exists.

 

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Enjoying a California sunset on the back of our truck – the perfect way to end a day along Highway 1!

Highway 1 doesn’t stop in San Francisco, in fact, it continues all the way to the border of Oregon; a 9-hour drive from San Francisco. Nevertheless, we decided to drive to Napa Valley instead. It’s just a stone’s throw from SF and really worth the visit. In Napa, I also had one of my most memorable hotel stays at the amazing Calistoga Ranch.

So when is the best time to explore Highway 1? Most people would say during summer, between June and August, but we went there in February and thereby avoided loads of tourists and heavy traffic. It was quite chilly, especially in the northern regions, so I’d probably recommend going in September. At this time, most tourists have left,  the climate is perfect and the wine harvest season in Napa Valley has begun. What more can you want in life? I can’t think of anything 🙂

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This article was sponsored by Auto Europe, but all opinions are, as always, our own. For more information, click here.

My best tips for driving Highway 1:

  • We drove from the South to the North, but it’s generally recommended to do it the other way around. If you drive the North-to-South direction, you’ll avoid having motorhomes, cars and bikes behind you all the time (this especially applies during summer!)
  • Highway 1 is picturesque, but not always easy to drive. There’s a lot of curves and tricky passages, especially around Big Sur, and that demands an experienced driver.
  • It’s possible to complete the route in just 4-5 days, but take at least 8-10 days: the whole point of Highway 1 is to stop and enjoy all the sights and cute towns along the way.
  • Sometimes, Highway 1 is partly closed during winter due to earth slide. Check this link for further information.
  • Some of my favorite stops along the way includes: Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Hearts Castle, Monterey, Half Moon Bay and Big Sur.

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