Pacific Coast Highway

California’s fabled Route 1 is one of the most scenic drives in the world and it does not disappoint.  Our trip on this classic drive almost never happened.  Several people cautioned us about taking an RV up this stretch of road, sufficiently spooking Alayne, and nearly resigning us to take the 101 instead.  However, this is a drive I have always wanted to do, and after talking with a few fellow RVers, who had taken the trip in larger rigs than ours, we regained confidence and headed up the coast.

California Route 1 has many different personalities.  At times it is an in-town freeway, sometimes a two lane country road, and at others, it clings to the sides of cliffs with sharp switchbacks and steep drop-offs.  It is these changes that make the 1 always interesting.

We caught up with CA-1 in Ventura and headed north towards the infamous Big Sur coastline.  Somewhere between Ventura and Santa Barbra, the self indulgent, hectic vibe of Southern California is left behind and by the time we reached the promenade in the Mediterranean inspired Santa Barbra, we began to breath a little easier and enjoyed being in the moment.   Soon after we passed through the Central Coast wine country with mile after mile of perfectly lined vineyards stretching out over the hill sides as far as the eye could see.  We camped on the beach in Pismo, a small laid back beach town, and pretended to be on vacation.  The next day we landed in charming Morro Bay, a still active fishing village made unique by Morro Rock standing like a sentinel at the mouth of its harbor. We passed by Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and found Seal Beach with hundreds of Elephant Seals resting, playing, and searching for a meal.  The Big Sur coastline has no actual beginning, that we could see, but soon the elevation increases and the ocean falls off below.

<left to right: Ventura Beach, Pismo Beach, Morro Bay>

CA-1 along the Big Sur coast takes on near fantasy characteristics.  If your fantasy is to drive a road with hairpin turns hugging the side of hills with shear drop offs into the ocean.  But this is a well traveled road and the speeds are fairly tame.  While we frequently turned out to let traffic pass, the RV was competent, but driving required full attention.  Some drivers, especially motorcyclists, tend to cut corners around blind turns causing my teeth to clench and palms to sweat.  Fortunately, there are many places to stop to gaze at the Pacific down below, crashing against the rocks and shoreline.  We were fortunate enough to nab the last spot at Kirk Creek Campground, one of the most sought after camps in the country, and spent our night overlooking the ocean and the rocky shoreline, with the occasional spouting mist from gray whales migrating up the coast.  The next day we drove through red wood groves, over picturesque bridges and saw dramatic shorelines and beaches and made our way to MontereyBay.

<left to right: Kirk Creek Campground, Big Sur Bridge, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park>

After a couple hundred miles of National Forest, small towns and shoreline, suburban style civilization comes as a slight shock.  Carmel, the home of the famous golf club Pebble Beach, oozes with money and exclusivity, and given its location it makes perfect sense.  A few miles away is the town of Monterrey, now known for its aquarium but historically was a commercial fishing port, and you can still feel and see its industrial roots.  Between the new hotels and shops, there still are old foundations and warehouses that used to can sardines by the ton a half century ago and made famous by the Steinbeck novel “Cannery Row”.  The crescent shaped Monterrey Bay is also home to Santa Cruz on its north side.  Santa Cruz has a funky and playful edge and is home to a large amusement pier, surfers and skaters, and today is leading the way in organic farming.  Just north of town, agriculture takes over, ocean front farming with surfers ducking in and out of fields to find the best breaks. We picked up a box full of fresh produce and headed off to our final destination along the 1 to camp ocean front at Half Moon Bay, before heading inland to San Francisco.

<left to right:  Approaching Carmel, Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz>

8 thoughts on “Pacific Coast Highway

      1. Mary T.

        I would like to know how big your RV rig was. Ours is a 5th wheel that is 37 1/2 feet long and want to drive up the Pacific Coast old Hwy 1 starting in the south and heading north on May31,2014

      2. The RV Nomads Post author

        Our rig is a 24ft class C motorhome. The road is very narrow in spots with some tight switchbacks. It made us a little nervous at times, but we have heard of larger rigs doing it. May want to check with the DOT to see if there are size restrictions. Safe and Happy travels!

      3. iamriot

        My wife and I are making a trip next month up the 1 in our 26ft Class C. We will be towing a car on a dolly. Do you think we will be ok?

      4. The RV Nomads Post author

        Hi iamriot! I think as long as you take it nice and slow you should be able to make it. There are some tight corners and you will definitely have a few heart-pounding moments, but it will definitely be worth the experience. It’s a beautiful drive!

  1. Josh

    We’re toying with the idea of taking a month next summer to travel from northern California to Vancouver BC. Thank you for your detailed experience.


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