The Pacific Coast Highway makes for the perfect road trip
From Santa Barbara’s colonial-style architecture to Costa Mesa’s luxury shopping complex to San Diego’s farm-to-table cuisine, there’s plenty to explore on this roadway.brand stories Updated: Jun 04, 2018 16:33 IST
Take an ultimate cruise along California’s sunniest strip of coast-hugging roadway, the Pacific Coast Highway. Start at either end—Santa Barbara or San Diego—and follow the PCH to visit sand-and-surf beach towns (maybe even snag a surf lesson), artists’ enclaves, shopping havens, and iconic theme parks such as SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California. So, spread on the sunscreen, flip the car top down, and hit the roads right away!
Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera. Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the Mediterranean, but the current Spanish colonial-style architecture—all red-tiled roofs and whitewashed courtyards covered in climbing bougainvillea—didn’t take root until 1925, when an earthquake damaged downtown, making room for a whole new style.
Relaxation finds a perfect place in this appealing coastal town roughly 65 miles/105 kilometers north of Los Angeles. While antique hounds have long known to pull off the PCH to poke around Ventura, a new generation has started to discover the town’s microbreweries, smart eateries, cool clothes boutiques, and live music scene.
Set along a curving shoreline, the neighbouring coastal communities of Santa Monica and Venice Beach blend classic Southern California sand and surf scenes with upmarket shopping, creative dining, and a vibrant nightlife.
Technically, Santa Monica is independent from LA, a dynamic oceanfront city in its own right. While the broad beach and lively pier are great places to experience the city, consider timing your visit to coincide with Santa Monica’s outstanding downtown farmers’ markets, frequently honoured as one of the country’s best. Here, mingle with chefs doing their daily shopping, watch cooking demos, or just relax with a latte and watch the scene, and maybe see a celebrity or two.
With beaches and marinas along its waterfront and a busy dining and shopping scene on downtown’s Pine Avenue, Long Beach blends big city sophistication with resort town fun. Tour the legendary, permanently docked ocean liner Queen Mary, then relax with a drink in the ship’s Observation Bar; you can even stay overnight in one of the ship’s cabins.
Plan to spend at least a day imbibing the surf vibe in this classic beach town, where the main drag heads straight to the beach. Southern California’s beach culture thrives along this city’s curving shoreline, where you can bicycle down an oceanfront path, play volleyball, and, of course, surf. Surfing definitely sets the tone in Huntington Beach, and even if you never grab a board, you can shop at leading surf retailers and watch some of the locals riding the waves alongside the landmark Huntington Pier.
Shopping in The O.C. is almost as legendary as surfing, and this town, just inland from the coast, has the ultimate shopping destination of them all: South Coast Plaza, California’s largest luxury shopping complex. You can easily spend a day here perusing boutiques for luxury brands such as Hermes, Chanel, and Prada. The complex also includes more than 40 places to eat, from quick bites and specialty foods to splurge-worthy fine dining—consider the gourmet fusion fare served at Anqi by House of An.
You can end your trip in this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. You can also see the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village—pedestrian-friendly enclaves are the epicentre of San Diego’s burgeoning culinary movement, progressive art scene, and craft beer boom. Start your own sampling in North Park, the neighbourhood bordering Balboa Park’s northeast side. Along 30th Street and University Avenue, enjoy farm-to-table cuisine and boutique wines at Urban Solace, or wing it at local favourite Carnitas’ Snack Shop (the menu changes daily depending on the produce and ingredients available that day). Work off lunch by heading down to San Diego’s sparkling Mission Bay to rent stand-up paddleboards or kayaks. Finish with dining and dancing in the lively Gaslamp Quarter.