Long before my husband was ever my husband, we'd sat in the courtyard of our favorite old stone church in the heart of Baltimore, sharing Frappuccinos, whipped cream piled high, and talking about where in the world we'd go together when we had the time. We dreamed of a ride along California's Pacific Coast Highway, accompanied by the best road-trippin' mix ever and by authentic Mexican food to our hearts' delight. We eventually got engaged and considered holding our ceremony out west, just so we could tack on a PCH honeymoon. That didn't exactly work out (we were married in New York City), so a few weeks after our first anniversary we made good on our musings and hit the road north from Long Beach along arguably the country's most scenic highway. It hugs the Great Wild Ocean from Dana Point in Orange County to Leggett in Medocino County, often twisting its way tortuously through mountain ranges and along spectacular, breathtaking (literally) cliffs that fall away into that immense blue expanse.
Our nine-day, endlessly sunny tour took us from the lazy, palm-strewn beaches of Malibu to the redwood-ensconced trails of Big Sur to the adorable towns on the Monterey Peninsula and finally all the way up to San Rafael, Sonoma and Sacramento. We did it all, but that's never enough. So now we're dreaming of an extension, from San Francisco north--perhaps all the way to Portland.
(above) Morro Bay, our first overnight stop, is home to the imposing Morro Rock, one of a series of ancient volcanic "plugs" called the Nine Sisters.
The Neptune Pool exemplifies the opulence of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst's 165-room estate in the Santa Lucia Range. Called "La Cuesta Encantada," the Enchanted Hill, it will leave you entirely smitten.
The big beauty of Big Sur, at its most glorious in early October.
Morning mist rolls off the rough waters of the Pacific in Big Sur.
Lime Kiln State Park, at the southern end of Big Sur, is home to Monterey County's oldest redwoods.
At Point Lobos State Reserve, you can spend an entire day hopping along the rocks, worn into unusual shapes from eons of Pacific pummeling.
Monterey is home not only to Steinbeck's famous Cannery Row (now more of a tourist trap) but to all sorts of Pacific wildlife, like sea otters and sea lions.
Posh-and-pretty Carmel by the Sea boasts the historic Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, the only one of California's 21 missions to sport an original bell tower dome.
Santa Cruz has a boardwalk amusement park that features the historic Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1924.
The stretch of Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and San Francisco runs through significant stretches of undeveloped land (no cell signals!), so thank goodness for Pie Ranch, with a beautiful barn chock full of local produce and, of course, pie.
From the Marin Headlands, you can admire downtown San Francisco through the suspension cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.