For those of us not seeking snow this winter, and are drawn to the joys of driving, there is no better route than the California coastline. The west coast of America is beautiful, dramatic and a traveler’s dream with some of the world’s best hotels and dinning. There’s no better way to see the coast than by the Pacific Coast Highway, as you’ll be traveling right beside the ocean and not far from some spectacular scenery.
Our biggest advice for this road trip is to find yourself in something you love to drive, because you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car. May we suggest the Rolls-Royce Dawn? A super posh convertible that permits more views, ocean air and an incredible driving experience. Ideally, this dream drive should begin in the southern part of the state, so as you make your way north, you’ll be completely captivated by the ever-changing scenes of California.
Why: San Diego is the perfect first dose for your drive up the coast. The city is busting with American history, sea-side actives and incredible dinning options.
Stay: If you’re looking for a hotel with history, the Hotel del Coronado is a beach-side property that’s been a favorite since 1888. The Hotel del Coronado is great for families and those who don’t mind some antique charm. Want something a little more vibrant and young? Tower23 is a sleek stop with incredible ocean views.
Eat: You’ll find it a difficult task to discover better food than what’s offered at Juniper and Ivy. This is a must-visit for those looking for a fine dinning experience in San Diego. If you’re looking for a brilliant spot for lunch in the heart of San Diego, Monello is situated in the Little Italy neighborhood and has the best pasta this writer has ever tried.
Do: San Diego is known for its annual migration of whales, and you’re able to see them up close by boat if you book a tour. If you’re into golf, few courses beat Torrey Pines, as it’s nestled on a sea-side cliff. Finally, end your day at the Sunset Cliffs. The name says it all, as this is thee spot to the glorious California sunsets.
Why: Newport Beach is the perfect second stop for your trip up the coast. The town is everything you could ever want from a beach town; small town/cozy vibes mixed with high end amenities. Something about the place makes you feel like a local.
Stay: The Lido House is perfectly situated on Newport Beach’s peninsula, providing the best location to experience the city. The Lido House is full of charming nautical touches and houses an incredible spa. You’ll find yourself in walking distance to the beach, shopping and dinning. Make sure to enjoy the sunset from the hotel’s roof-top watering hole.
Eat: Perhaps you wouldn’t expect to find incredible French food on the coast of Southern California, but Marché Moderne is one of the best meals you will ever have. Period. I am joyfully haunted by the perfection that is their Coq Au Vin. On the hunt for a lunch option? Find yourself at the Oak Grill. It’s next to Fashion Island for the perfect excuse to shop.
Do: Explore Newport Beach by way of Duffy. This small electric boat will give you the best views of the harbor and all of the incredible homes situated on the water. If you don’t have your sea-legs, stroll around Lido Marina Village or Balboa Island. Also, try to escape to Crystal Cove State Park for a walk on the beach.
Why: This immensely charming spot captures the spirit of California so perfectly. Though it isn’t stuffy, you’ll find it classic and tasteful. Though it neighbors the Pacific Ocean, you’ll likely find yourself off the beach more in Santa Barbara. Shop-lined streets make for a perfect afternoon of window shopping.
Stay: Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara is one of the most stunning hotels you will ever visit. The Spanish colonial design defines luxury in the town. Go all out and land in one of their bungalows with a private pool. Seeking a more casual pitstop? The Kimpton Goodland is a fun, low-key stay that offers a nice place to dine. But do not have luxe-expectations for this nook.
Eat: What almost feels like a requirement, the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach is thee spot to have breakfast. Situated right on the beach, you can start your day with a crab cake Benedict and serving of fresh ocean air. Indulge at Finch & Fork for dinner. The Duck Breast with carrot cardamom puree and blackberry gastrique is a must have.
Do: Explore the shops Stearns Wharf, before you make your way to the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara. Looking for something truly unique? Visit the underground Himalayan salt caves at Salt Caves Santa Barbara.
Why: On this third stint of your drive, you’ll experience the most majestic scenes of the coastline. The winding highway takes you on incredible sea cliffs and views that you won’t soon forget. You’ll make your way through Big Sur, which is also a fab stop. There’s no shame in stopping often for a photo opp. Though some would consider the town to be on the sleepier side, Carmel by the Sea is such an incredible spot to take it slow
Stay: The La Playa Carmel is a quick jaunt to the beach and is a perfectly cozy nook to hang your hat. Though it doesn’t offer much for in-room dinning or spa services, you’ll find the place has a historic charm that fits with the town. L’Auberge Carmel offers incredible on-site dinning and a more luxe vibe.
Eat: Dinning in Carmel is certainly on the more casual side, compared to its neighbor city that’s sometimes stuffy and falls short (Read: The Post Ranch Inn), but none the less has a variety of amazing options. Try to visit Cultura, Oaxaca-inspired foods such as homemade tortillas, mole and the most incredible quesadilla you will ever have.
Do: You’ll quickly find that the pace of Carmel by the sea is much slower than the rest of the cities listed here. You’ll find a plethora of hiking and jogging trails in the town, anything to keep an eye on the views while you’re visiting. If your eye is craving even more beauty, visit Dawson Cole Fine Art gallery or Bennett Sculpture Carmel.