2 Car Girls Cruise California's Pacific Coast Highway
I bought my 1965 Mustang with a purpose, to explore America via the open highway. With so much beautiful country to explore, it’s often difficult to choose where to go next, but luckily one of the top rated highway drives in the country is just a few hours from where I live, so California’s Pacific Coast Highway was an easy choice. This iconic highway winds along steep mountainous cliffs showcasing the rugged pacific coast in a uniquely magnificent light. Of course, road trips are always more fun with a friend, so I partnered up with Automotive Influencer, Erica Schrull, for a week long adventure in my Mustang powered by ShellVPowerNitro+.
SANTA ROSA, CA TO POINT REYES STATION, CA
We began our journey in Santa Rosa, California because it has a small airport that offers an easy access to Northern California (and wine country) without the traffic and hassle of San Francisco. My Mustang was towed and delivered straight to the Astro Motel where we stayed. Recently remodeled, this kitchy 60’s motel is perfect for budget travelers on a road trip. I stayed in the king suite which had a nice kitchen and mid-size fridge and there was fresh coffee and muffins for breakfast in the retro lounge area. Erica and I shared a bottle of local sauvignon blanc from Belden Barns while we enjoyed the giant tree stump in the middle of the courtyard.
The next morning we started bright and early, and after fueling up a local Shell station we headed west along Highway 116 for the hour drive amongst the trees towards Jenner, CA. Once we arrive at the coast, we headed north on the 1 for less than a mile to a vista point looking south over Sonoma Coast State Park, where the Russian River Valley meets the Pacific Ocean. This protected land is home to hundreds of species and we saw many seals swimming in the calm bay below. Beautiful is an understatement.
We stopped for an early lunch at Rivers End Restaurant in Jenner, CA, a popular spot known for their amazing views and seasonal fresh catch, meaning 12 hours maximum from ocean to plate. King salmon season currently among us, we dove into their specialities; a house cured salmon salad w/ dill and capers and salmon belly crudo served with avocado and cucumber and a spicy ginger ponzu. Chef Martin did not disappoint, and neither did the magnificent view of Sonoma State Park from their deck.
Just south of Jenner we turn off at Shell Beach for a quick hike (1000 feet) down to the coast. There are a lot of trails in Sonoma State Beach Park and all are well marked with exact distances you can choose what is best for you. We still had a lot of driving to do so kept it short and headed back on the road. The coastline continued to change as we got closer to Point Reyes and although I wanted to visit the Point Reyes Historic Lighthouse, we didn’t have enough time to make the hour treck off Highway 1 and still find a place to stay for the evening.
POINT REYES STATION,CA TO MONTEREY, CA
Point Reyes Station is a cute little town at the south end of Tomales Bay. We stopped into Station House Cafe and I enjoyed a few beers on their patio while we used their WiFi and figured out where we were going to spend the night. Luckily we ended up booking a room near Inverness on Tomales Bay just a few minutes away and arrived just in time to view a gorgeous power pink sunset.
The next morning I satisfied my craving for local breakfast with a seasonal fig and goat cheese scone and drip coffee from Bovine Bakery. The roads were wet from the rain and the marine layer was thick as we drove south towards Stinson Beach, a small historic beach town in Marin Country. We parked and I walked down the foggy wet path toward the beach, to find thousands of seagulls, and zero visibility. This was a telling sign of the next two hours of our drive along the coast towards Muir Beach Overlook, a view that on a good day spans 40 miles. That day I could see about 10 feet, but it was still fun to walk along the path through the clouds.
From Muir Beach I continued navigating for an hour along the twisty, windy, foggy cliffside until we finally arrived safely in San Francisco. My Mustang handled the conditions without complaint and we were golden as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge. We breezed through the city stopping 20 miles south at Montara State Beach for a moment of zen. After that the driving was easy and we cruised happily to Santa Cruz. Erica had an itch to drive my car and I had an urge to sample some local beer, so we made a deal. We sat in the afternoon sun and I enjoyed the beer on the lovely patio of Humble Sea Brewery, after which I taught her how to drive a classic car for the first time. The next hour and a half were more picturesque coastline coves, and we caught the sunset as we pulled into Monterey.
MONTEREY TO PISMO BEACH
Although the entire coastline thus far had been magnificent, this section was by far the most scenic part! We started our morning with the 17 Mile Drive, which took about an hour however it’s important to note that we did not stop at all 17 points of interests. My favorites were Picnic Rock, Seal Rock and Bird Rock, Crocker Grove; the largest and oldest Monterey Cypress trees in existence.
I exited the 17 Mile Drive and drove directly into Carmel-by-the-Sea, a historic beach city known for its rich artistic history and environmentally sustainable initiatives. We ate at the quaint Basil Cafe, where I devoured a delicious homemade veggie burger on a brioche bun, garlic mushrooms and hot and crunchy shoestring fries.
As we continued the drive along the rugged mountainous coast, just south of Big Sur, we crossed the notable Bixby Bridge, famous for its architectual design. Although they were doing construction when we were passing over so I missed it, there is a vista point just south of the bridge to snap a postcard worthy picture. Our next big stop, albeit a few more stunning vista pullovers, was 80-foot McWay Waterfall; where McWay Creek falls into the Pacific Ocean. Parking is on the east side of PCH and the falls lookout is a short easy walk.
From there we continued south and the views continued to wow me as the highway hugged the steep mountain cliffs of the mostly protected coastline then we cruised down to sea level.
PISMO BEACH TO SANTA MONICA
This laid back beach town is the perfect place to soak up the California surfer lifestyle without any of the SoCal attitude. The people are super friendly and their sunsets are only rivaled by their sunrises, both of which hypnotized me from the oceanside deck of our Beach House at Sea Venture Hotel. That evening Ubered to Guiseppes Italian Cucina and enjoyed martinis and dinner at the bar. I ordered the Caprese Royal, a caprese made with fresh burrata and local tomatoes grown at the owners’ nearby farm. The next morning I awoke to the sound of ducks and seagulls against a powder pink sunrise. After a leisurely morning at the beach we stopped at surfside donuts for acai bowls and their signature hang-ten donut. Then we fueled up at Shell for the 100 mile journey to Santa Barbara.
I’ve been to Santa Barbara a handful of times but this was the first time I physically drove onto and parked on the Santa Barbara Pier and for only a $5 parking fee it was totally worth it. Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is my favorite place to eat on the pier by far. They offer fresh caught daily specials and their salads are fresh and delicious, none of that iceberg lettuce crap. Luckily we left just in time to get some killer shots of my Mustang on the pier at sunset.
SANTA MONICA TO NEWPORT BEACH
No trip to southern California is complete without visiting Santa Monica, the quintessential SoCal beach city. I like to park on Ocean Boulevard and take in the view of Santa Monica Beach from above, then use the bridge to cross and walk down to the Santa Monica Pier. I don’t recommend eating on the SM Pier, there are a lot of amazing farm-fresh restaurants in the city and it’s a shame to get caught at a tourist trap on the pier. I always check out Eater whenever I’m in a city, to view the latest chef driven spots. From there we cruised through Venice and Marina del Rey and then took the scenic route west to Manhattan Beach by turning right on Jefferson and going through Playa del Rey and south past Dockweiler Beach where the views of the South Bay are fantastic.
Manhattan Beach is a vibrant yet low-key beach community who enjoy being active outdoors and there are always plenty of folks surfing, bike riding, running or playing volleyball. It’s also where the volleyball championships are held each summer, a massive gathering where the entire beach becomes a party. Lucky for us the pier was pleasantly uncrowded and I felt quite peaceful as I watched the surfers bob up and down in the water below.
Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California that is often overlooked as it’s not exactly on Pacific Coast Highway, but the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean make the extra miles more than worth it. From Highway 1, turn right on Palos Verdes Blvd just south of Redondo Beach and meander up the bluff through expensive suburban neighborhoods. Then turn right on Palos Verdes Drive West for a panoramic view of Redondo to Santa Monica. We circled all the way around the peninsula and went through San Pedro before getting back on Highway 1.
Our final destination was Balboa Island, an iconic harborside community on a man made island in Newport Beach Although you can drive on the island, the most fun way to enter the island is the Balboa Island Ferry that’s been in operation since 1919. In addition to the local shops, restaurants, boating activities, and Fun Zone amusement rides, there’s the Balboa Car Show every Sunday where Erica and I ended our road trip for our grand finale. We drove in surrounded by over 100 classic cars and car enthusiasts and shared our adventure on a live Man Seeks Adventure Podcast. The best way to enjoy the island is to rent a house with friends like our amazing place (White Sail Realty) was just one block from the harbor.