Central Coast Travel Guide

California's central coast comprises some of the most spectacular shoreline, including the Monterey Peninsula and the Big Sur coast, where adventurers can marvel at gnarled trees, towering cliffs, rugged shores and enchanting bays.

The Pacific Coast Highway (also called Highway 1) stretches along most of California's coastline and, from San Francisco, it passes the small bayside city of Santa Cruz, with its famous Beach Boardwalk to the Monterey Peninsula. Called the 'Jewel of the Central Coast', Monterey's beauty has been immortalised by artists, writers and photographers, appearing in books such as John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and the black and white photographs of Ansel Adams. Its diverse cultural heritage is evident in its Spanish architecture and lively harbour and wharf district.

Monterey marks the northern edge of the wild and undeveloped Big Sur coast, with Highway 1 crawling along the edge of the rocky cliffs that hang precipitously over the crashing surf below. Big Sur refers to the entire 90-mile (145km) stretch of wilderness between Monterey and San Simeon. The often nerve-racking drive, especially when blanketed in thick fog, takes visitors along one of the most dramatic and exhilarating coastlines on earth, hemmed between the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range and the Pacific Ocean. The area provides a peaceful respite from the frantic energy of the cities, with little more to do than enjoy the mountains, cliff-top views and occasionally accessible beach coves.

The highway curves into the wealthy American Riviera town of Santa Barbara, an attractive coastal town with golden beaches, red-tile roofs and outdoor cafes.