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.
From the northern state border to the edge of San Francisco, the green forests of the Pacific Northwest continue into California, forming a mountainous seaside landscape. Along this stretch you’ll find a number of old logging and fishing towns, from Eureka and Crescent City to Mendocino, in and among endless acres of redwood forest.
At the midpoint sits San Francisco, deservedly ranked among the world’s top cities. The 100 miles stretching south from San Francisco hold remnants of the Spanish and Mexican eras, exemplified by the town of Monterey and the beautiful mission at Carmel, followed by the rugged country of Big Sur.
Beyond the southern edge of Big Sur, opulent Hearst Castle marks the start of Southern California, the rivers and trees of the north giving way to golden beaches, grassy bluffs, and denser populations. San Luis Obispo and ritzy Santa Barbara make excellent stops in themselves, smoothing the transition into the environs of Los Angeles and San Diego. Many lovely, almost untouched places remain, hidden away but within easy access of the fast lane.