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California Route 1, Santa Cruz to Pismo Beach

California Route 1, Santa Cruz to Pismo Beach

Starting Point: Santa Cruz, CA

The Route: 176 miles along California’s Highway 1

What to Expect: The Golden State’s famous Pacific Coast Highway offers serious California Dreamin’ bang for the buck—salty seaside towns, dramatic sea cliffs, lazy turns, pure top-down-wind-in-the-hair driving joy—especially with noted landmarks such as Hearst Castle, oft-photographed Bixby Bridge and Big Sur, and Oceano Dunes State Park, where the road trip can continue right onto the sand.

Where to Stop: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster turns 90 this summer; Pebble Beach’s gorgeous 17-Mile Drive; Schooners Wharf restaurant in the one-surfboard-town of Cayucos for steak and seafood with a view.

America's most scenic waterside drives

Travel+Leisure

By Kimberley Lovato

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America's Best Spring Drives
World's Scariest Bridges
America's Most Scenic Roads


See All of America’s Most Scenic Waterside Drives

Whether it’s a Griswold-style family vacation or a simple Sunday cruise, road trips are classic America—especially when looking out your windows at sea upon shining sea. In a country that’s fringed with more than 95,000 miles of shoreline, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to putting the pedal to the water-view metal.

These ribbons of scenic coastal road have inspired artists to paint them, poets to praise them, and even bands to immortalize them in song. The Mamas and the Papas’s “Pacific Coast Highway” is an essential top-down driving jam whether you’re cruising that famous stretch of road or not.

However, rolling rivers and sparkling blue mountain lakes can inspire wanderlust just as much.
From bucket-list classics down the Florida Keys and through 400 years of history on Cape Cod to more-novel waterside routes that circle Lake Tahoe, whiz by alligators in Louisiana, and ply the Maritime Highway in Alaska, it’s time to tune your radio and set your GPS for some of America’s most scenic waterside drives.