Stretching along the Pacific Ocean for roughly a thousand miles from top to tail, the California coast includes virgin wilderness, the cutting edge of cosmopolitan culture, and the full spectrum in between. For almost the entire way, coastal roads give quick and easy access to the best parts, with panoramic views appearing so often you’ll simply give up trying to capture it all.
Starting in the north, the green forests of the Pacific Northwest continue well beyond the state border, forming a mountainous seaside landscape that lasts until the edge of metropolitan San Francisco. Along this stretch you’ll find a number of old logging and fishing towns, varying from the burly blue-collar likes of Eureka and Crescent City to the upscale ambience of Mendocino, in and amongst endless acres of redwood forest.
At the approximate midpoint of the California coast sits San Francisco, deservedly ranked among the world’s favorite cities. The 100 miles of coast stretching south from San Francisco hold numerous remnants of the Spanish and Mexican eras, exemplified by the town of Monterey and the beautiful mission at Carmel. Beyond here is another stretch of wild coastline, the rugged country of Big Sur.
Beyond the southern edge of Big Sur, opulent Hearst Castle marks the start of what most people consider Southern California, the rivers and trees of the north giving way to golden beaches, grassy bluffs, and considerably denser populations. A pair of very pleasant small cities, Midwestern-feeling San Luis Obispo and ritzy Santa Barbara, make excellent stops in themselves, smoothing the transition into the environs of Los Angeles, the unwieldy megalopolis that, seen from the I-5 freeway that links Los Angeles and San Diego, seems like one monstrous, 100-mile-long suburb. While it’s true that the natural beauty that brought so many people to Southern California in the first place is increasingly endangered, some lovely, almost untouched places remain, hidden away but within easy access of the fast lane. We’ve pointed them out; enjoy them while they last.