Roadtrip for Cameras: California's Pacific Coast Highway – the Central Coast

California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1

Summer is fast approaching when Memorial Day Weekend comes around. It’s the time of year when folks load up their cars and drive – some like to get away for the long weekend, some prefer to go across the country for a month. As for me, I like to load up my camera gear, extra memory cards, and take the slow, scenic route.

Rock Formations along 17-Mile Drive, Monterey

Based in San Diego, I’m pretty much already at the end of the road for most road trip routes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have options. I live in Cardiff by the Sea, just a few blocks from the section of Pacific Coast Highway that runs through San Diego’s north county. I love everything about the PCH, I grew up taking family road trips along this coastal highway, and have vivid memories of watching the ocean and scenery from the backseat. I have a few faded photographs too, but those stay in the family scrapbook. I decided it was time to do this road trip all over again – this time, for my camera.

My Starting Point: Carmel by the Sea


My Ending Point: Cardiff by the Sea


First, it’s an absolute must to spend more than a day in Carmel by the Sea. I based my stay in two different but equally awesome hotels: the Vendange Inn, a classic motel thoughtfully re-designed for wine-lovers, and the Hofsa House, an ideal family and pet-friendly hotel with spacious rooms and great views.

View from the Hofsa House Hotel in Carmel by the Sea

From here, it is a short drive to Monterey via the infamous 17-Mile Drive. Photo opportunities abound, and I found that an early morning made for the best chance of viewing wildlife and avoiding crowds at significant stops along the coast.

17-Mile Drive, California – Images by Kymri Wilt

Monterey and Carmel both have a great variety of restaurants to choose from, depending on your mood. Some of my local favorites are: The Beach House at Lover’s Point, Pacific Thai Cuisine, both in Pacific Grove; and in Carmel, Mundaka Spanish style Tapas Bar, Village Corner for breakfast, and Basil Seasonal Dining for dinner.

While in Monterey, be sure to check out Pacific Grove sights such as the lighthouse, and Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. If you are here between October and February, look for Monarch Butterflies, who gather here in the Eucalyptus Trees to mate, before continuing their migration.

My camera was certainly having a great time exploring the Monterey Peninsula, and we hadn’t even left Carmel yet! Before I headed south, I went east to explore the Carmel Valley – a popular region for wine growing with many tasting rooms and ranches to visit. I checked out Holman Ranch, a fabulous setting for weddings, retreats, and special events. There I found lots of great eye candy for the camera, and was particularly captivated by the property’s Coast Live Oak Trees.

Heading south on Pacific Coast Highway 1 from Carmel, a must stop is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a great spot for whale-watching as well as viewing other marine mammals, like adorable Harbor Seals.

I set out early, and found the sandy beaches of Carmel and the foggy coast of Big Sur to be particularly photogenic in the morning light.

Oh, there is so much to see and do! I lost count of how many times I pulled over to take pictures. One of my favorite stops, which is also one of my favorite campgrounds, is just south of the Redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur, called Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I love it because it’s quieter, less visited, and has an pretty fantastic waterfall that spills into the ocean. While better to photograph in the afternoon light, it is impressive nonetheless.

Continuing down the coast provides plenty of scenic vistas and countless opportunities to pull over, which you’ll want to do often, as the Pacific Coast Highway winds it’s way clinging to cliffs with steep drops to the ocean below. The speed limits are lower and require driving more slowly and carefully. Road closures for repairs due to landslides are not uncommon any time of the year.

It finally begins to level out, and takes on a different character through San Luis Obispo County. Here my favorite roadside attraction is the Elephant Seal Colony at Point Piedras Blancas, just north of the Hearst-San Simeon State Park region.

Finally, just before the Highway turns inland for a long stretch, there is perhaps the most breathtaking of all natural land formations along the California Coast, and one of my favorite stretches of beach, at Morro Bay.

From here the road leaves the coast, and becomes a whole new story, for another day, another blog. While California’s central coast road trip on Pacific Coast Highway can be done in a day, you really don’t want to rush it. There are numerous State Parks and historic sights to see, as well as lodging options ranging from campgrounds to 5-star hotels. Take your time, and take your camera.

On instagram, check out my stream and hashtag #electrictrek.

For more photos, see the Mira Terra Gallery of California images.

Disclosure: All or part of this trip was provided free or at reduced cost for review purposes. Chevrolet provided me with a Chevy Volt for my road trip – see my honest review on


3 thoughts on “Roadtrip for Cameras: California's Pacific Coast Highway – the Central Coast

  1. These images are gorgeous. This part of the country is about my favorite and have been many times. The last time we were there we stayed at Post Ranch Inn – aaaaaah. Thanks for the memories

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