How to make the drive from the beaches of Santa Monica to the dramatic cliffs of San Simeon even more memorable (hint: it involves the Pacific Coast Highway, historical pit stops, and a bucket of oysters).
Cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway along the preposterously picturesque California coast—preferably in a convertible, ideally with the Beach Boys Pet Sounds on repeat—is one of the great rites of road-trip passage. Built in 1934, State Route 1 starts south of Los Angeles and winds along the coastline from Orange County to Mendocino, about 150 miles north of San Francisco. But the best parts are between L.A. and San Simeon, a craggy region of fog and waterfalls. Start early in Venice, stopping by Gjusta, a warehouse-like bakery and deli, for a wake-me-up coffee and a fresh-baked croissant.
Head north, keeping the famous beach volley ball courts of Santa Monica on your left and the Malibu mountains on your right. About an hour and a half later you’ll arrive in Ventura, an archetypal surfer town that will leave you feeling like an extra in Endless Summer. (If you’re the real deal, ride a wave or two at Mondos beach, the local favorite.)
Now it’s time to eat, which means stopping by the Jolly Oyster, a food truck parked just behind the beach dunes offering shuck-your-own oysters by the bucket-full, ginger beers, and steamed clams. Keep driving past nearby Santa Barbara, after which the road turns inland for about 90 minutes until intersecting with Pismo Beach. Take a moment at this quintessential beach town to stretch your legs on the boardwalk and pier—the ocean views are uninterrupted here.
Drive about an hour up the coast to Hearst Castle, perched on a high hill in San Simeon. Built in 1919 for publishing tycoon William Randolf Hearst, it’s well worth spending a couple hours at this 56-bedroom, 61-bathroom, 60-000-square-foot home. Be sure to check out the outdoor Neptune pool, which was redone three separate times to meet the owner’s specifications. About five miles north of Hearst Castle is the Elephant Seal Rookery, a must-stop strip of beach where rubbery elephant seals sunbathe by the dozens.
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