Driving the Pacific Coast Road

We arrived in LA on Sunday after a LONG day driving the Pacific Coast Road; stopping at Big Sur National Park, a couple of coastal view points (we saw elephant seals!!) and a small town for a bite to eat. Considering it was the first time I’d driven on the WRONG side of the road, it went rather well. And all 450 miles of it on one tank of fuel *slow claps self*.

Our route: San Fran – LA

If you ever go to California – DRIVE THE PACIFIC COAST ROAD!! I can not recommend it highly enough. One thing I would say, is consider stopping the night en-route, as there are many beautiful places to stay – we didn’t do this, driving straight through from San Fran to LA and it’s the only thing I’d do differently. Not because it’s too far to drive…the drive is long but perfectly do-able…but because I wish I had more time to explore the National Parks and other beauty spots (incl. the odd vineyard…) we passed.

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Almost there…

We picked up the hire car somewhere in the midst of a very hilly San Francisco. The car was bigger than I expected it to be! So not only was I about to drive on the opposite side of the road for the first time, in a city with some of the steepest roads, but compared to anything I had driven before (not including a Safari Park van…) I was doing it all in a tank. “YOLO” became my go-to phrase on this journey.


America. Stop signs. What is with this obsession? Every intersection either had stop signs or traffic lights. Fine if you were driving down hill, hairy if you were driving up. Fortunately the car was an automatic, so stalling wasn’t going to happen, however I had to put my foot to the floor going up those hills. Also this “turn right on red” rule you have. I got used to it by the end of my trip and think it’s not such a bad idea…but turning right on red where there is a pedestrian crossing?? My British roundabout-wired brain couldn’t cope with that one.


I drove the entire way, due to Helen not being able to drive for medical reasons. I didn’t mind this at all…and must say, she has the patience of a saint. Aside from the satnav being a tad slow and then getting us lost in a residential area at one point, the journey went pretty well! If nothing else, the drive gave the two of us ample time to natter and put the world to right. Definitely drive from North to South if you are doing it in one go, as the scenic beauty just got better and better!! I can’t imagine arriving in a cold, grey San Fran having driven so far and wanting nothing more than to sleep.

The further south you go, the warmer it gets...

The further south you go, the warmer it gets…

The drive was beautiful. We stopped a couple of times to have a nose at Big Sur National Park, a group of Elephant Seals chillin on the beach and stop for a bite to eat at a small restaurant in an equally small town (I WISH I could remember the name of the place – the ceiling was covered in hats!). Didn’t have to stop for petrol, which impressed me a great deal. Some of the roads were fun. By fun I mean pavements. There were some unneccessary “15mph” zones, which I found annoying…however there was one section where the road bent back on itself then in between two sections of cliff, round a corner and down a hill where there was nothing to our right other than a sheer drop (remember, we were driving on the right-hand side of the road…if you can call it that. It was too narrow to say really…). YOLO moment.

Our approach in to LA was the longest stretch of the journey – or at least it felt like it. Having temporarily moved away from the coast, driving instead alongside field after field of vineyard as the sun was setting, we eventually reached Santa Barbara. To be honest, from this point onwards the roads did a Jeckyll and Hyde on us and went from being quiet, bendy a-roads to the biggest, straightest mo’ fo’ motorway in the history of tarmac!! I distinctly remember being in the inside lane (I would say the “fast” lane, but America doesn’t seem to follow the same speed rules as the UK), pootling along quite happily, overtaking a lorry, when BAM…three more lanes appeared to my left. Nothing to indicate this was about to happen. They just appeared. At the same time, another lane merged from the right and I suddenely found myself in the middle lane of a seven lane carriageway. Another YOLO moment. I shouldn’t say that whilst driving, really.

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Eventually we snuck further in to LA – even without a satnav you would know, as every place/street is named after a celebrity!! MENTAL! Found the hotel quite a while later (where we encountered a light hopper as I was turning left…got to test the horn…and the breaks…), et voila; the coast road had been driven.


As I said before, if you are in this part of the world – do it. Just do it. There is a highway that connects San Fran to LA, there are coaches that take said highway, there are planes that will get you from one to another in an hour…but none of these will give you the experiences, the memories or the photo ops that driving highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Road – will give you.

I promise you won’t regret it.


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