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8 Inspirational Photos That Will Make You Want to Drive California’s Pacific Coast Highway

Everyone’s heard of the Pacific Coast Highway. You know the one: that winding black ribbon of tarmac that fiercely hugs the stretch of shoreline from San Francisco to San Diego. It pit stops in places of unending beauty: Carmel, Monterey, the Big Sur and San Simeon, to name just a handful. It’d be rude to visit the Golden State and not get behind the wheel, bound for Highway 1 with the top down and the wind in your hair....

…so that’s exactly what I did. My fiancé Brad and I picked up our Chevy Camaro in San Francisco after three days of soaking up the key sights (Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf), drinking wine in Napa and bike riding across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito. Eager to reach our next destination, Los Angeles via San Simeon, we hit the road at 10am. After navigating the labyrinthine streets of the City by the Bay, (which proved a lot easier than coming in) we were on our way.

It wasn’t long before we felt the benefit of the convertible. On one side we were dwarfed by roadside cliffs, on the other, lapped by deep blue ocean, and we had a 360-degree IMAX-esque view of it all. The scenery was indescribable – so much so that it’s hard to put it into words… which is where my photos come in. So if you’re still not sold on this epic USA road trip, maybe these inspiration snaps will help:

Our first pit stop on the road, we were barely an hour out of San Francisco when we came across this beach. It was utterly peaceful, save for the occasional wave crash or smiling dog walker. We felt like we were the only people left on earth, and we had this striking coastline to enjoy together.

I love this photo. It just shows how close we were driving to the edge of the coastal crags, not to mention how lush the surrounds were – no doubt invigorated by the sea spray.

There are few things that make you want to go on a road trip more than seeing a racy soft top in front of an incredible view. Here's our take on that.

Bixby Creek Bridge (or just Bixby Bridge) was the bit I was looking forward to the most… and I think this image explains why. It’s an incredible feat of human engineering and saved travellers from the rough, treacherous track that ran from Carmel to the Big Sur prior to the bridge’s completion in 1932. But that’s not why I loved it. Turquoise waters, undulating emerald hills and a concrete behemoth of soft arches, punctuated by sandy-hued supports that disappear into the greenery below. It’s beautiful.

I don’t know how it’s possible, but I think the Highway's bridges are just as dramatic from afar. Up close they feel huge, but from this distance Big Creek Bridge looks dominated by the coastline and cliffs, blending seamlessly with its surroundings.

As we neared San Simeon, we stopped to look back at the road we’d driven along. This is what we got. I just love how it seems to disappear into the haze in the distance, as if it were already a distant memory…

This was one of the greatest surprises of our Pacific Coast Highway drive. Just a few miles from our hotel in San Simeon, we spotted a sign for the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, so immediately pulled over. We battled coastal winds to reach a beachside walkway, where we were able to ogle at the elephant seals as they slept, molted and fought on the silica below. Seeing these strange, huge creatures in their natural habitat was an unexpected, wonderful experience. David Attenborough, eat your heart out.

And to finish, here’s my favourite picture from the drive. It’s not the most perfectly composed photo – in fact, it’s not really that great at all. The bridge looks a bit washed out, my hair has definitely seen better days and we didn’t get the Pacific Ocean in. But I think putting yourself in the frame is one of the most exciting things about travelling somewhere new. It means that now, every time we look at this photo, we’ll remember posing and how we felt in that exact moment: bursting with pure wanderlust.

Alex and Brad did a road trip through Arizona, Nevada and California on our California & Canyons Journey, one of our tailor-made USA holidays.

Written by Alexandra Cronin (Gregg)

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not getting up close to animals and sea creatures, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. 

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