Taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway – a true bucket-list experience – is the only way to make the most of California’s rugged coastline. Wind your way past the Spanish-colonial buildings of Santa Barbara, the bucolic wilds of Big Sur and the wildlife haven of Monterey Bay on an unforgettable drive through the Golden State.
Among the micro-breweries, art galleries and surfboard shapers (someone who designs and handcrafts surfboards) of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone; the Wayfarer brings its own eclectic style to the table. Loungers and cartoonish lacquer-red sofas sit beside an outdoor heated swimming pool, while rainbow-colored books fill the shelves of a lounge decorated with a coy-looking giraffe sculpture and a floor-to-ceiling image of robots. Rooms include complimentary breakfast, retro phones and pigtailed-tiger cushions – choose between private or shared accommodation to suit your budget.
Carve your way through the waters of Santa Barbara’s coastline and discover its natural treasures. There are four available journeys to choose from, which can be tailored to different levels of ability. Each option begins with a relaxing paddle out from the Santa Barbara Harbor. As you follow your guide, they will paint a picture of the area’s history, leading you past craggy shoreline cliffs and eye-popping vistas of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Keep an eye out for the tell-tale ripple of a nearby dolphin or seal.
The Post Ranch Inn came to fruition over a shot of Jack Daniel’s, born from a desire to preserve the deep-reaching roots of a family ranch. Its rooms, suites and houses dot the hillside, camouflaged by mossy roofs and reclaimed wood architecture. Find rest beside a wood-burning fireplace in the Butterfly Rooms (named for their shape), or take in the breathtaking views from a deep-soaking tub in one of the ocean-facing rooms that teeter above the coastal cliffs. Complimentary guided nature hikes, yoga and stargazing mean it’s easy to make the most of the idyllic Big Sur landscape.
Winding along the coast from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach, the 17-Mile Drive is a picture-perfect road lined with dreamy houses, rock-fringed bays and crooked trees warped by the salty winds. Before you set off on this tour – which takes you through some of the most spectacular landscapes California has to offer – you’ll be supplied with an electric bike, a helmet and bottled water. As you pedal, your host will fill you in on the history and nature of the picturesque area, while the electrical assist ensures your legs don’t get too weary.
Monterey Tides sits on the sands of a private beachfront, providing a gateway into the vast ocean. The interior echoes its surroundings with coral and seashell decor, tree-stump tables and driftwood-style dividers, while floor-to-ceiling windows in the rooms ensure you can appreciate the killer sea views over a morning coffee. Feast on 12hr braised pork belly at the on-site restaurant Vizcaino Waterfront Food + Drink where studded leather chairs complement the sea-shack-reminiscent wood paneling. Alternatively, tuck into tapas and sangria in Bar Sebastían. There is also an outdoor pool, but you’ll likely spend most of your time on the beach, looking out for seals or toasting s’mores around a bonfire.
Known as prime whale-spotting territory, Monterey Bay is an excellent place to see the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. This tour will take you out on the water, where a marine biologist or naturalist will share illuminating knowledge about the natural history of the area and the wildlife that lives below the rippling surface. You may see humpback, gray and even blue whales (the largest of them all) as well as dolphins, seals and sea otters. The crew will also be on hand with helpful tips for capturing the sealife on camera.
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These recommendations were updated on July 17, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.