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10 Things to Know before going on a Road Trip on California’s Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1)

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Planning on driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Southern California to San Francisco? We have done it several times in the last 5 years and always love the drive. Here are ten helpful hints to make the most of your trip.

1. It’s all about approximate time, not distance when traveling through California. Is your next destination 13 miles away? Well depending on where you are and what time of day you are driving, that could take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Horrendous traffic in parts of California is the trade off for 70 degree sunny winter days.

2. Do not feel like you have to drive the Pacific Coast Highway the whole trip. Some parts of the 1 (I am looking at you Long Beach) are not so pretty and you can save time by getting back on the freeway for a bit.

3. Don’t forget your layers. The weather in LA is completely different than San Francisco. Having a good windbreaker shell is also essential as many parts of the Hwy 1 can get pretty windy in the Big Sur and Carmel area.

4. Do not forget to hit up In-N-Out at least once along the way. It will not be an authentic California Road Trip if you miss it. Bonus points for ordering animal style.

5. Big Sur is absolutely breathtaking… but it is expensive. Plan on spending a full day driving the coastline, but staying overnight can be quite expensive. One day slowing driving through should be enough, plan on staying on the outskirts of Big Sur to save some cash. Or, book ahead and make use of one of their beautiful campsites.

6. Get gas before starting the Big Sur section of the Highway. You do not want to run out of gas and gas stations are far and few in between, not to mention very expensive.

7. Do not forget to stop and try at least one winery, but don’t try too many and go over the legal limit. Nothing kills a road trip like jail time and a DUI. Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Santa Cruz all have fabulous spots to stop and try some Vino.

8. Some of the most breath taking beaches are not visible from Highway 1. Do your homework before you leave or download a helpful travel app like Trover to help you find cool little coves and short hikes to some beautiful beaches.

9. Give yourself enough time to enjoy the road trip, especially since driving can be exhausting. I have driven from LA to San Francisco before in 7 hours, and by the time we were done I was tired and grumpy from being in the car and saw nothing but the dust bowl of the 5 freeway. If you are starting in LA I would recommend giving yourself at least three days to drive up the coast to San Francisco to take it all in.

10. Don’t forget your camera. You will want something with a zoom feature on it, and most smartphones just don’t cut it (think baby seals playing on the rocks).
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