2017 was a turbulent year all around the world, but especially along the HWY 1 along California’s Central Coast. Natural disasters left sections of this famous road closed for more than a year. Two events happened that caused major detours for people taking a HWY 1 road trip.
However, it’s time to celebrate because the historic HWY 1 is back open! Something that you don’t get to say very often is that they finished this massive project, not just on time – but early. Once you see the pictures of the aftermath of the landslide you’ll see what a massive undertaking it actually was.
Here a little bit more background & our guide to the perfect road trip down HWY 1 along the Central Coast! Our most recent trip was actually our third time driving HWY 1. A few years ago we drove from Vancouver to L.A. on part of an even bigger road trip around the country. We love road trips, and can truly say this is one of the best in the world!
The Big Sur Land Slide
In May 2017 a massive chunk of rock and soil came tumbling down covering HWY 1 for a quarter-mile long section and spilling into the sea. In total, 6 million cubic yards of land slid down from the hills behind HWY 1, near Big Sur at Mud Creek. Luckily before the Big Sur landslide happened CalTrans (the government body responsible for the road) was monitoring the situation and already had closed the road and no one was hurt.
It’s hard to put into perspective how large this landslide was and how much work it was going to be to repair the road. The aftermath of the HWY 1 landslide was a major project to safely reconnect the road. With a lot of hard work, CalTrans finished the road a few months ahead of schedule and the road is again open. You can now drive the entire length of HWY 1 with no detours.
Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge Closure
The second major closure on HWY 1 about 30 miles north was the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Here another landslide compromised the structural integrity of the concrete columns supporting the road.
In order to reconnect the road, a new bridge replaced the previous one in late 2017. Using advanced techniques HWY 1 was partially reopened with a new bridge with a steel backbone to span the canyon.
Dream Drive 2018
To celebrate the reopening of HWY 1, California celebrated by rounding up nearly 100 vintage cars to make the drive from Monterey Bay to Morro Bay. With the help of local volunteers and classic car owners, we took a drive down this famous road in a convoy of amazing cars.
Our car for the event was a baby blue 1953 Chevy Bel Air. We started the day with a lap around the Laguna Seca Race Track before hitting the streets! We didn’t set any speed records on the track but we loved our big ole’ cruiser. It was the perfect car to make the trip and seemed to embody what this road trip feels like to us.
Top Stop’s Along HWY 1 Central Coast Cabrillo Highway
The coastal stretch of HWY 1 from Monterey Bay to Morro Bay is also known as the Cabrillo Highway. Within this portion of the famous highway are many great stops and viewpoints. We just got back from driving this section of road as part of the Dream Drive put on by Visit California.
We had so much fun, we did it again the next few days making our way up and down this amazing road. Here are our favorite stops along HWY 1 Central Coast.
Bixby Creek Bridge
One of the most iconic and most photographed spots on HWY 1 is the Bixby Creek Bridge. This arched concrete bridge spans the canyon of Bixby Creek about 25 miles from Carmel. There are a few pull-offs to get a photo with the bridge and coastline.
Our favorite is the dirt road on the Northeast corner of the bridge. From here you get nice views of the bridge and coast. If you line up your shot just right from here you can frame yourself under the arches.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Big Sur, it might have been this picture-perfect waterfall. Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a unique waterfall that spills out right onto the sand just inches from the sea.
Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately – you’re not allowed to go right down by the falls themselves. Which, once you’re there you’ll appreciate the fact you can get a shot of this impressive 80-foot waterfall without other people in your pictures.
One of the most popular stops on Highway 1 is the over-the-top Hearst Castle. This massive estate was once the home of William Randolph Hearst famed newspaper and media mogul. The Hearst Castle holds 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms set around 127 acres of gardens. Be sure to set aside a couple of hours to visit the Hearst Castle while stretching your legs on a California HWY 1 road trip.
A more low-key stop compared to the castle is Willow Creek. Keep your eyes open for signs for this pull-off inside Los Padres National Forest. It’s easier to spot traveling from north to south but is worth pulling over for.
Here you’ll find piles of dark rocks worn smooth by the power of the ocean surrounded by steep cliffs. You can picnic here or spend part of your day enjoying the surroundings.
A Paso Robles winery run by the Hearst Family. Make sure to plan a pit stop for a glass of rose or a red blend along your drive (while being responsible of course). If you don’t have time to make it to the tasting room among the vines in Paso Robles, you can catch a wine flight across the road from Hearst Castle in their seaside tasting room. If you’re looking for a lunch spot on your HWY 1 road trip this is the place to stop, with great options for adults and children too.
The small town of Big Sur might only take a whole two minutes to drive through, but there is so much to see and do here you could spend weeks. This place is a mecca for hiking, surfing, and has recently become a place for wellness retreats. If you are up for a hike Big Sur has mile after mile of trails leading to spectacular pristine beaches and grand vistas.
A favorite stop among locals and visitors is the perfectly placed ragged point. Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean is a mini peninsula with stunning views of the coastline. Due to its westward-facing cliffs, it is an epic place for sunset. Watch the sun melt into the horizon here while sipping some wine or having dinner at the Ragged Point Inn & Restaurant.
If you’re in need of some rest, Ragged Point also has rooms to rent and makes a great place to stay. Ragged Point Restaurant is really busy for lunch but at dinner time we were able to get a table outside right away.
Piedras Blancas (Elephant Seal Beach)
A California HWY 1 road trip itinerary must include a stop to the most famous residents along the way, the Elephant Seals on Piedras Blancas. You are guaranteed to see seals chilling on the beach and every so often coming and going back out to sea. These creatures are fun to sit and watch with their big floppy noses.
There is a large parking lot right off of HWY 1 and two wooden walkways with viewing platforms. There is even a webcam, click here to see what’s happening at Piedras Blancas right now and how many Elephant Seals are sunning themselves on the beach. Please obey the signs and don’t feed the elephant seals or jump the fence and enter the beach.
Don’t forget to pack a pair of binoculars or a zoom lens for your camera, because just about any time of the year you can spot whales off the coast. We pulled off on one stop where a small crowd had gathered to find about five whales splashing offshore.
Paso Robles Wine Region
On the slopes behind the southern stretch of the central coast is an emerging wine region in Paso Robles. Know for their red blends this region makes the perfect detour while cruising down the central coast of California.
When you see a massive rock plunked down in the Pacific Ocean just a few hundred yards from shore, you know you’ve made it to Morro Bay. This iconic rock was the end of our dream drive where we took in a misty sunset.
One of the last pieces of shoreline you can catch before HWY 1 turns inland on its southward journey to L.A. is Pismo Beach. Around this area, the road also changes names from the Cabrillo Highway to the PCH. Don’t miss this stop-off before the road curls east and you lose sight of the coast for about 80 miles.
HWY 1 FAQ:
Q: Is HWY 1 open all the way now?
A: Yes, as of July 18th, 2018, HWY 1 is now completely reopened and ready for your next road trip. HWY 1 is open from north to south and everywhere in between as of the article. However, conditions change and it’s best to check before starting your drive. See HWY 1 closure information here.
Q: Is the bridge on HWY 1 open?
A: Another landslide caused the closure of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge where the slide jeopardized the integrity of the bridge, but the bridge has been rebuilt and open again.
Q: Where is the Cabrillo Highway?
A: The Cabrillo Highway refers to the section of HWY 1 between roughly from San Franciso to Pismo Beach.
Q: Is the PCH the Same as HWY 1?
A: No, but kinda. The PCH 1 is a portion of HWY 1, but not the whole thing. It’s a common misnomer that HWY 1 is the PCH 1, but that’s not really correct. The PCH is HWY 1, but HWY 1 has several names along its path down the California Coast. The PCH 1 is the proper name of HWY 1 while it covers either side of L.A. for a few hundred miles from Gaviota to Dana Point.
Where to Eat Along HWY 1 Central Coast
On this section of HWY 1, there are surprisingly very few restaurants or really anything for that matter – just a whole lot of natural beauty. There are a few stops worth mentioning if you get hungry along the drive.
It’s best to pack a few drinks and snacks for your road trip down the central coast on HWY 1. There will be places to stop for food and gas, but they are kinda far apart. Here are a few of our favorites!
Ragged Point Restaurant
This place is the perfect halfway point along the central coast drive and a great spot for dinner and sunset. One of our favorite nights we on our HWY 1 road trip was the evening we spent having dinner here and then watching the sunset.
A great place for brunch is Ventana perched on a tall cliff overlooking the Pacific. Here you’ll find a refined atmosphere surrounded by lots of natural beauty. There’s both indoor and outdoor dining with an amazing patio area.
If you find yourself hungry along HWY 1 and you are anywhere near Morro Bay, this is the place for you. Here you’ll find giant plates of great seafood tacos and other offerings. Even if you’re not starving when you drive past Morro Bay, this place is worth a stop, but we would suggest splitting because their portions are massive.
A favorite on the southern stretch of this drive is Moonrock Bay Restaurant. Serving up local seafood in a fun welcoming atmosphere.
Tucked away high in the hills overlooking the ocean is a unique little restaurant and glamping resort. We saw this place from HWY 1 and had to check it out. Up in the hills, they have yurts and treehouses to stay in and they also have a cute little restaurant with great views.
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*Thanks to Visit California for inviting us to be part of the Dream Drive Event. As always all opinions are our own. We love heading off on a California Hwy road trip, we know we’ll be back again!This post may contain affiliate links, see our disclosure