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Coastal Drive from San Francisco to Monterey

On our trip to California we above all wanted to explore the coast. So we took the spectacular Highway 1 south, from San Francisco to Monterey.

The Monterey area is definitely worth a vacation trip. The city itself is in a pretty location and there’s a lot that interests travelers: the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Aquarium and the Cannery and outside the city Carmel, Pacific Grove, Carmel Valley and Big Sur. 

The coastal drive from San Francisco to Monterey is one of the top scenic drives in the US. This post is going to present you the Highway 1 sights, on the drive from San Francisco to Monterey.

Capitola Wharf, Highway 1, California

Capitola Wharf, Highway 1, California

San Francisco to Monterey Itinerary on the Map

 

This is the itinerary from San Francisco to Monterey along Highway 1. A short way to drive, 130 miles and 3 hours, but be prepared to spend almost a full day on this beautiful coastal route.

We started our Highway 1 trip from San Francisco, more exactly  from Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

 Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

San Francisco of course is a must see place in California. We spent days exploring this amazing city and I recommend that to you too. I wrote two posts on San Francisco sights (and some more on other attractions in San Francisco area). Here are my San Francisco posts and you can find the rest on the California posts page.

View from Lands End walking track

Lands End, California

Highway 1 takes you from Golden Gate Bridge through the Presidio to Golden Gate Park in south. From there it takes you to US 280 in Daly City. You can take that road if you like. We instead tried the smaller road along the seashore, Lincoln Boulevard to Sea Cliff and Lands End.

Point Lobos Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths, Lands End

Lands End is a popular hiking area and there is an old bathing complex (Sutro Baths). What about a hike in the fresh sea wind?

Point Lobos walking track

 

After Cliff House the road turns inland. The Great Highway leads you past Golden Gate Park to Skyline Boulevard that you will follow up to Pacifica.

San Francisco Ocean beach

Ocean beach and Great Highway

Golden Gate Park buffalo

Buffalo in Golden Gate Park

In Pacifica south of San Francisco Highway 1 narrows to a two lane road. There is a row of small towns like Princeton and Half Moon Bay and sandy beaches all the way as you drive down.

Nice beaches but no-one is swimming, absolutely nobody. The Pacific Ocean is very cold, all year round. But you can spend time on beaches in other ways and look at Californian spring flowers:

Californian flowers, Highway 1

Californian flowers, Highway 1 San Francisco to Monterey

Californian flower, Highway 1

Pescadero

Historic Pescadero California

 

After some driving the old village of Pescadero might be the place for your first stop. It’s a tiny village, a small farming community that only has a church, a country store, a tavern and a post office. But that’s all you need. We are in the American West.

Pescadero Country Store road sign

 

Pescadero is so tranquil and so original, and just a short drive from the crowds of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Just two streets with Wild West buildings. And better still, one of the farmers is producing traditional American barns for sale. I’d so much love to take one of these barns with me and put them to my home yard, back home in Finland, Europe! As a souvenir from here.

Dry Creek Mini Barns Pescadero

 

More village views of Pescadero, California Highway 1 San Francisco to Monterey:

Pescadero historic homes

Pescadero homes

Pescadero Main Street

Main street, Pescadero, California

Pescadero Country Store

Pescadero Country Store

 

We stopped a the Country Store. It also had a taverna were local farmers in their cowboy hats and leather booths where having lunch.

Pescadero Country Store

We just had to order hamburgers and join them!

Pescadero Country Store bar

Pescadero country store: the bar

Pescadero Country Store hamburger

A Pescadero hamburger

Rocky Shoreline and Sea Birds

Waterbird on the rock

 

The region here is very flat farmland but there is a pretty shoreline with rocky cliffs and sandy coves.

Driving southward there are natural preserves that are good for bird-watching.  Above a California sea bird and below a coast view:

Californian Highway 1 coast

Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point Lighthouse California

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

The next stop on Highway 1 is Pigeon Point, 8 miles (13 km) south of Pescadero. Pigeon Point has an old lighthouse station that today serves as a hostel. So this rural area has some accommodation!

The lighthouse built in 1872 seemed to be closed for the public but you we walked around in the hostel area.

Pigeon Point hostel San Francisco to Monterey

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

Spring is a great time for California travel. The weather is not too hot (and we noticed it can be misty on the coast). There are absolutely no crowds yet.

California ice flowers

 

But in the spring the nature shows its best. There are flowers everywhere, a lot of them! Look at these ice flowers!

Pink ice flower

Californian ice flower

California also has a lot of succulents that benefit of the dry but misty climate. Succulents flourish here and grow into huge dimensions:

California succulents

Wallside succulents, Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point succulent

Californian succulents

Green succulent

Pigeon Point rocks are a perfect spot to observe ocean life. There are seals swimming around, barking and lying on the rocks:

California seals, Highway 1

Pigeon Point sea life, California Highway 1

Seal on the rock, Californian Highway 1

A California seal off Pigeon Point

And of course there are the water birds, and whole colonies of them.

Californian water bird

A big black bird at Pigeon Point

Waterbirds on the rocks

Californian water birds

But we have to continue south, we are on the way to Monterey. We are driving in the gently rolling, green landscape. Next stop: Ano Nuevo State Park.

Driving from San Francisco to Monterey

 

Ano Nuevo State Park

San Francisco to Monterey Ano Nuevo State Park

 

The beautiful Ano Nuevo State Park consists of a vast area of Californian coast and also extends to the western slopes of the coastal mountains. There are marked walking trails and picnic areas. Parts of the state park are farming land where many crops and herbs, among other things rosemary is grown.

Californian rosemary

Californian rosemary

But Ano Nuevo State Park is best known for its elephant seals that flock here in great numbers during their breeding season every winter.

To see elephant seals you have to walk 3 miles (5 km) from the car park at the park’s south end.

Most times of the year small numbers of elephant seals can be seen in Ano Nuevo State Park and during breeding season you can see a lot of them. At that time you are only allowed to go and watch the seals together with the park ranger.

Californian elephant seal

A Californian elephant seal

Californian shoreline San Francisco to Monterey

Ano Nuevo State Park, California

Californian oat

 

Information on Ano Nuevo State Park on the California Department of Parks and Recreation website.

Further down Highway 1 comes the next thing to see: the Natural Bridges State Beach.

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Park

 

On Natural Bridges State Beach ocean waves have carved huge archways into sandstone cliffs. This makes the cliffs look like bridges which of course is what the beach’s name comes from.

There have been many cliffs of this kind but most of them have collapsed. Only this one is left. You can see the archway at a short distance since it’s just offshore.

Natural Bridges State Park sea birds

Natural Bridges State Park sea birds

The state park itself has a small and protected sandy beach with pretty tidewater pools.

In addition there is a nature path in a grove where you can see Monarch butterflies at certain times of the year. If you’re lucky you can see as many as 100 000 butterflies at the same time! The butterflies stay here in the winter and when spring comes they move to inland valleys.

West Cliff Walk

San Francisco to Monterey ice flowers

 

West Cliff Walk, or West Cliff Drive, is between Natural Bridges State Beach and the Lighthouse Field State Beach just north of Santa Cruz. It is a 3 mile scenic walk or bike route (also a driving route) along the Pacific Ocean.

Lighthouse Point at the south end is a good place for whale and dolphin watching.

West Cliff Drive beach

West Cliff Drive, California

West Cliff Drive surfers

Surfers walking down the cliff

West Cliff Drive ice flowers

West Cliff Drive flowers

Yellow ice flower

An ice flower

West Cliff drive is a residential area in Santa Cruz. A nice area where each home is different.

West Cliff drive street view

West Cliff Drive homes, California Highway 1

West Cliff drive home

 

Santa Cruz

West Cliff Drive ends at Santa Cruz. The city was severely damaged in an earthquake but was rebuilt. There are many new houses but the historic core still remains.

Santa Cruz is a university town that is linked by a good road to Silicon Valley. One of California’s missions (that all lie on the earthquake zone) is here, the Mission of Santa Cruz. 

Neptune's Kingdom Santa Cruz

 

Santa Cruz is a popular tourist resort. The most famous sight is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with an old style amusement park and other attractions for holidaymakers. The roller coaster is a National Historic Landmark.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Behind the amusement park is a beautiful sandy beach.

Santa Cruz also has a long 1oo year old wharf with shops and restaurants. From the wharf you can watch wildlife like sea lions, and free sea lion shows are arranged at the end of the pier.

Californian nature flowers

 Santa Cruz flowers, California Highway 1 

San Francisco to Monterey flowers

More information on Santa Cruz and the area on the official Santa Cruz travel website.

Capitola

Capitola riverside houses

Capitola, California

South of Santa Cruz is the postcard-pretty Capitola, a traditional resort town, the Pacific Coast’s oldest. Capitola was founded over 135 years ago and it has kept much of the old atmosphere.

A river, Soquel Creek with the remains of an old wooden railway bridge splits the village is two parts.

Capitola flowers

Capitola flowers

Capitola has some Key West atmosphere, there are pretty buildings in pastel colors, oceanside cafes and a long pier.

Capitola street view

Street views of Capitola, California

Capitola shopping street

 

Capitola looks like an ideal resort for a relaxed vacation. It has a sandy beach, restaurants, small galleries and antique shops, and Santa Cruz and Monterey at a close distance.

Capitola pier

This is the long Capitola Wharf where you can fish or have a meal, or rent a kayak.

Capitola San Francisco to Monterey

View of Capitola, California Highway 1

California flowers

 

Monterey

San Francisco to Monterey California

 

Monterey is our destination, the city with an interesting history. It got its name from a Spanish explorer who came to Monterey in 1602.Years later Monterey became the capital of the Spanish California.

They city also saw the gold rush after which the capital was moved to San Francisco in 1848.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Monterey Fisherman's Wharf sandwich store

 

Like Santa Cruz Monterey is a fishing port with a long wharf. Monterey’s wharf is called Fisherman’s Wharf.

The wharf has been the center of fishing and whaling but is today more famous for its souvenir shops, seafood restaurants and whale watching tours.

 

Me and my husband don’t care about souvenirs and neither do we like candies.

Instead we took a whale watching tour with one of the companies which I can recommend. We spotted many whales, mostly humpback whales and our guide told us a lot whales them and their habits.

Monterey Fisherman's Wharf candy store

 

California Sea Lions

Monterey sea lions

 

In Monterey Harbor you can see sea lions everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of sea lions, much more than in San Francisco.

Monterey harbor seals

 

Monterey Bay sea lions climb to the breakwater and on stones and you can see them below the pier. They even climb on boats. You can see them in the water. They make a noise and they smell, but they are so nice to look at!

Monterey harbor seal

 

The Pacific Ocean outside Monterey is rich with sea life. Monterey Bay has a vast underwater canyon, it’s like the Grand Canyon below the water.  The deep Monterey Canyon also makes it possible for whales to live very close to the shore.

Monterey Bay waters have been proclaimed the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Monterey harbor

Monterey Bay Marina, California Highway 1

Cannery Row

Monterey Canning Co

 

Cannery Row used to be a street lined with sardine canneries, an industrial area. Like many other industrial areas it transformed to a shopping and tourist area that today also has the world-famous Monterey Aquarium in one of the canneries, at the north end of the shopping district.

 

It was John Steinbeck’s well-known book that gave this very special area its name. Steinbeck wrote two of his novels, Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954) in Monterey, observing the harsh life of fishermen and cannery workers.

Cannery Row Monterey

 

Cannery Row completes my post on our drive along Highway 1 from San Francisco to Monterey. In my other posts coming up later I will show you the beautiful region of Monterey: Pacific Grove, Carmel, Carmel Valley and Big Sur. In the meanwhile I recommend you check out my other posts on California:

Monterey Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, California

Read more about Monterey area on the Monterey travel website.

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