Palm trees swaying in the breeze, eternal sunshine on endless beaches and turquoise waves gently lapping the shore: Yep. Driving down route 101, along California's idyllic west coast, is on most people's to-do lists for a reason. This fabled road elicits sighs of reverence and wistfulness whenever it's mentioned (at least from me).
I drove the route in February and enjoyed it for reasons I expected and reasons I didn't. I noticed a worn-out sign somewhere on the highway. I squinted through the sun, and could just about make out the words, “elephant seal lookout: 5 km.”
Intrigued, I followed it. I came upon a huge stretch of sand that was filled with elephant seals. They were grunting in the surf and nursing their young. The PCH is littered with unexpected little spots like this. The ones you didn't plan for are always the best.
But if you're not convinced yet, let me help. Here are the reasons you should set out to live this American Dream this summer:
1. The Views
The Pacific Coast Highway, otherwise known as route 1, sticks to the ocean like glue. So, this road trip offers up a colossal 123-miles'- worth of incredible views from your car window.
One moment, you're at the same level as the beach and the surfers dancing with the waves. The next, the road falls away beneath you, crumbling into ragged cliffs descending into the sea.
Sunrise and sunset — when the burned oranges and reds set fire to the horizon — are the best times to get those envy-inducing photos. The best part? Whenever any one of these views strikes your fancy, you can just pull over, jump out and explore it to your heart's content.
2. The Lifestyle
Guys, this is California. The days you spend driving along the Pacific Coast Highway are likely to be some of the chillest times you'll ever have.
You'll drive through places like Malibu, Laguna Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea. The weather is always good, and life is easy.
In the bars, people are drinking in shorts and sandy flip-flops, with their hair tangled from the saltwater. People lounge on the beaches for hours, just watching the world go by.
If you wanted to, you could drive the Pacific Coast Highway in five hours, But it's so much nicer to stretch it out for as long as possible and just soak up the deliciously laid-back vibe. You'll soon feel your worries slip away with the tide.
3. The Beaches
Speaking of beaches, the Pacific Coast Highway is home to some of the best in the world. You're essentially driving along one long, winding beach for the entire trip, so there are almost too many to choose from.
Pismo, El Matador (where "Baywatch" was filmed) and El Pescador State Beach are only some of the best. What's more, all of the beaches on the highway have a kind of rugged beauty that makes them feel miles away from those crowded tourist traps.
4. The Weather
Need we say more? Life doesn't get much better than when you're driving through winding roads in the California sunshine. The weather here is pretty good all-year-round. In fact, it was baking in February when I drove the route.
But if you want the hottest and most consistent weather (to really ensure that golden tan) drive the route between the months of July and August.
5. The Food
When you're not busy driving or sunning yourself on the beach, you're going to need to eat. Luckily for you, this route is crammed full of little gems. There are tons of restaurants and cafes specializing in typical Californian beach cuisine. Try Duke's in Malibu. It's a Hawaiian-themed beach bar with a great happy hour, and it has amazing views of the ocean.
You can't drive the Pacific Coast Highway without making the most of all that incredible seafood. Head to Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall to shuck your own oysters while you look at the very bay they were pulled from. You can't get any fresher than that.
Here are your three must-see stops on the Pacific Coast Highway:
Monterey: Make sure you check out the aquarium at this cute little seaside town. Carmel-by-the-Sea: Depending on which way you're driving on the highway, you'll come to Carmel shortly after Monterey. It's a pretty little village filled with colorful houses and art galleries. Big Sur: Big Sur stretches over 90 km of coastline, and it's home to some of the Pacific Coast Highway's most celebrated views. I challenge you to take a bad photo of its rugged, natural beauty. Trust me, it's impossible.
From the beaches to the lifestyle, driving the Pacific Coast Highway is a unique, unforgettable trip. Book that plane ticket, hire that sports car and get out on the open road.