monthly cover
Senior Spectrum Newspaper
April 2018
Current Golden Pages Cover
Golden Pages
Current Generation Boomer cover
Generation Boomer

Senior Spectrum Publications

Simply Smart Travel
by Jeff Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein
top of page

The Delights of California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1 A Spectacular Drive Through Central California’s Nature and People

California is blessed with more geographic and cultural diversity than most nations. Many of the Golden State’s most extraordinary landscapes and towns can be found along or near California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast highway. Come along with us as we explore this incredible strip of asphalt.

The USS Essex LHD2 sails under the Golden Gate Bridge.
The USS Essex LHD2 sails under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Credit: Jeff Orenstein

After visiting Sonoma wine country, we hit the Pacific Coast Highway at Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River 30 miles west of Santa Rosa. From there, we meandered for 195 miles (exclusive of many delightful detours to points of interest) as far as Point Lobos State Natural Preserve, just south of Carmel-By-The-Sea in the northern Big Sur. Along the way, we visited such wonderful spots as Marin County, San Francisco and Oakland, explored Santa Cruz, Castroville and Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Southbound from Jenner, we motored through the beautiful coastal environment around Bodega Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore on our way to San Francisco. Most of this leg was spent in Marin County, a fabulous potpourri of upscale towns like Sausalito and Mill Valley, wineries and wilderness. The Muir Woods National Monument in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a magnificent place to see towering old-growth redwood trees.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin brought us to San Francisco, a city worthy of several days’ exploration. Some of its must see highlights are Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, Land’s End, The Ferry Terminal, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, great neighborhoods set in the hills, the historic corner of Haight and Ashbury and many others. Oakland, San Francisco’s across the bay neighbor, connected by BART and the Oakland Bay Bridge, has its own bundle of interesting places to explore. We enjoyed our visit to nearby UC Berkeley, Jack London Square’s great restaurants, shops and passenger trains running down the street, Lake Merritt and spectacular views of San Francisco Bay from the Oakland hills.

Leaving San Francisco behind, we headed to Santa Cruz. We followed the gorgeous coastal route through Half Moon Bay which hugs the shore, passing many picturesque state beaches enroute and offers postcard-like vistas.

Santa Cruz, with its iconic pier and boardwalk, is a charming microcosm of what central California has to offer— sun, sea, infrastructure and education. The beautiful University of California Santa Cruz campus is a worthy destination unto itself. It is set on over 2,000 acres of rolling hills covered with redwoods and offers amazing views of Monterey Bay.

There are impressive coastal vistas from the paths in Point Lobos.
There are impressive coastal vistas from the paths in Point Lobos.

Nearby is the charming little coastal town of Capitola. It’s a great place to stop for a view of a Pacific sunset and browsing some charming shops.

Before You Go

For a list of area attractions and tour suggestions, check:

Getting There

Must-Sees for A Short Trip:

Jeffrey Orenstein, Ph.D. and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Their Simply Smart Travel column appears in newspapers and magazines in eight states. Reach them at