The Pacific Coast Highway tops our list of scenic drives. And it’s not just because of the ocean scenery. The route also offers a glimpse into California history, remote mountainous cliff-sides, rugged twists and turns, numerous waterfalls, and other sights along the way.
The route from Carmel to Morro Bay is approximately 120 miles, just a portion of the more than 600 mile long State Route 1. This stretch, and the focus of this ride, is called the Pacific Coast Highway for good reason as it hugs the coastline in spectacular fashion; albeit with a few forays further inland.
Strangely enough, it shouldn’t be so mesmerizing. It receives as many annual visitors as Yosemite National Park, offers very few restroom stops, and is made up of narrow two-lane highways with limited places to park along the road. On paper it has all the makings of a less-than-stellar road trip; but digging deeper, the Big Sur stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway surprises as quite possibly one of the best motorcycle routes out there.
The Big Sur region encompasses miles of undeveloped California coastline; meaning it’s overloaded with beautiful views, rugged landscapes, and perfect twisty turns. You’ll love it. It is one of only 31 routes in the country that has received the “All American Road” designation, meaning it has features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States. It’s wildly unique and important enough that the route is a tourist destination in itself. That’s pretty high praise for a little over a hundred miles of state highway…
Pacific Coast Highway Highlights
Bixby Creek Bridge
One of the most photographed and notable landmarks along the way includes the Bixby Creek Bridge (pictured above). At 700 feet long and more than 250 feet high, you’ll instantly recognize the bridge from unlimited car commercials and movie montages, as it spans the impressive outlet for Bixby Creek to drain towards the Pacific Ocean. There’s parking close by, at the end of the bridge, but you’ll find that the views from further down the road are much better. To really do it justice, use one of the pullouts approximately one mile south of the bridge. You’ll find it’s one of those iconic views of the California coastline that seems to work it’s way into everyone’s collective memory.
Morro Bay, at the south end of the route, is known for Morro Rock. It’s a giant volcanic plug, labelled a remnant of a long extinct volcano that helped shape the landscape. It’s also a revered site to some of the area’s indigenous peoples As such, the public are not allowed to climb on this massive rock island in the bay. You’ll find great views of it for miles around, including the vista from Montaña de Oro State Park.
McWay Creek, about 35 miles south of Carmel, spills into the ocean in a rather dramatic fashion, falling 80 feet on the Waterfall Cove beach. McWay Falls also has the distinction of being one of two tide falls, waterfalls that empty directly into the ocean, along the California coast. This area of the coast is subject to rock and landslides; and it’s one such slide that essentially created the cove and beach at the falls’ terminus. Prior to 1985, it emptied directly into the surf. While the Overlook Trail to McWay Falls may be partially closed due to current trail erosion, you will still be able to see the falls from the open trail section. You’ll definitely want to check current conditions at the Julia Pfeiffer State Park as trail conditions can change quickly.
Big Sur Redwoods
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the southernmost places to see California’s mighty redwoods. The Colonial Tree is the largest Redwood in the park, measuring 31-feet in diameter. And if that weren’t picturesque enough, there are more Redwood trees that are going on 800-900 years old in the aptly named “Old Grove of Redwoods”. Also, if you need another waterfall fix while in the park, make sure to take the trail to the 60-foot high Pfeiffer Falls. It more than makes up for this park’s lack of beach or ocean access (you won’t miss it along this route anyway).
You can start at either end of the route, in Morro Bay to the south or Carmel to the north. Follow State Route 1 along the California coastline. It’s a rugged route through partially undeveloped country and is notorious for occasional rock slides that may create a few detours. You’ll want to check ahead, especially if you’re trying to camp or stay along the way. Lodging tends to fill up well in advance. But, all of that shouldn’t deter you from taking one of the ultimate American rides.
Again, the ride up and down the California coast along Big Sur is the reward itself, but numerous vistas and sights along the way will forever ingrain this route in your memories. Yes, it can be relatively crowded along the Pacific Coast Highway, but it’s one of the top routes in the country; and has the designation of an All-American Road to prove it. Honestly, it won’t surprise your friends when this ride shows up in your travel itinerary again and again.