California Highway One


Californians will argue, but a prime contender for classic Highway One is the stretch between Monterey and Morro Point. This drive combines captivating scenery with historical interest and challenging driving.

Monterey makes a good landing point—at least the Spanish/Mexican colonizers thought so. This colonial capital of California is home to some of the oldest buildings in the state. Like many historically important towns, it tends towards the over-explained, but scratch beneath the gratuitous interpretation, and the town makes for some great ambling and corner peaking, particularly if you've read John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. The Monterery Bay Aquarium is an fun, innovative teaching center, where you're guaranteed a gander at a family of cavorting sea otters as well as sharks, octupi and 5,000 other marine species.

Carmel , three miles down the coast, used to be considered an artists colony. Its residents included photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and writers Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Mary Austin. Now it still sort of is, if you're an artist whose art form is golf, and who has pockets as deep as Clint Eastwood's, a former mayor of the town. A GORP staffer recently shelled out $30 apiece for burger and fries at a Carmel pub. There's a scene here that, luckily, you can drive on through.

Things pick up after you cross the Carmel River. Carmel River State Beachis sandy romp, great for beachcombing and letting the kids loose. Birders will want to grab the binoculars and see what they can see at the river's marsh delta.

But you might want to hold out for Point Lobos State Reserve, a little further on. The writer Robert Louis Stephenson called this"the most beautiful meeting of land and sea on earth." Which is not an understatement; there might be places as beautiful, but not more beautiful. Only 450 people are allowed in the reserve at any one time. On the weekends there is frequently a line of people waiting to get in—so plan to arrive early or go during the week.

The reserve's 1,276 acres stretches for 6 miles down the coast, taking in tidal pools alive with starfish, anemones, sea urchins; sheltered coves with colonies of barking sea lions; and many, many birds, notably brown pelicans, herons, and sea gulls.Kelp beds lie just off the coast, which means romping grounds for sea otters. Grab the binoculars. The California Sea Otter Refugebegins at the southern end of Point Lobos, and extends south to Big Sur.

The land area above the reserve is called the Carmel Headlands. Soon, the headlands end and the Santa Lucia Range begins, turning Highway One into a thrilling stretch of road. The drive twists and turns between sheer cliffs above stretching to the sky and sheer cliffs below plummeting to the violently churning ocean. Considerately, there are many pull-outs along the way so that you can get out to enjoy the view and let the speed demons pass.

2,800 acre Garrapata State Parkmakes for a good leg stretcher, a place to explore white sand beaches filling in between rococo stone grottos, arches and buttresses. A good 1.5 mile trail climbs through the chaparral hills along Sobranes Creek to a grove of redwoods.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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