Route One

A drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway is an amazing way to take in the scenery, relax and soak up some sun. Here are some highlights to visit on your trip and where to stop along the way.

By Bonnie Siegler


We narrowed our Route One drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Here’s how to take the trip in style and make sure you hit all the highlights along the way.


Stop 1: Hotel AbRi, San Francisco

The newly transformed Hotel AbRi is ideal for leisure and business travelers alike. “The hotel was built as apartments shortly after the historic 1906 earthquake,” says Jim Gerney, AbRi’s General Manager. During the 1950’s it was converted to a hotel, under the name of Monticello Inn. Then, it closed for renovations in 2008 and re-launched as Hotel AbRi.

Gerney describes the sleek and contemporary property as hip, fun and engaging. “Our hipper interior style separates us from the other historic hotels in the Union Square area,” says Gerney of the 91-room hotel. It is also an eco-conscious destination and even has a recycling program in place.

 Exterior of hotel arbi, San francisco

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Next stop on your Highway One vacation will be the beautiful Monterey Peninsula, home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and setting for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. You’ll then travel on to the coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, voted one of the best cities in the world for romance, before heading further south to Big Sur.

Some great ways to take in a view of the coastline include a hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or a leisurely lunch on the terrace of Big Sur’s iconic Nepenthe restaurant – a legend since 1949.

After soaking up some sun and good food, you’ll continue south across the Bixby Bridge – one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Due to its aesthetic design, and gorgeous location, the Bixby Bridge is also one of the most photographed bridges in the country.

Some 240 miles south of San Francisco, sits San Simeon – home to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst’s house on a hilltop. Be sure to visit the Hearst castle. The Mediterranean Revival estate is filled with art and antiques from Hearst’s vast collection. You’ll also get your exercise. I took tour two and climbed over 200 stairs!

Stop 2: Best Western Cavalier Oceanfront Resort

Right down the road from the Hearst Castle is the Best Western Cavalier Oceanfront Resort. The waves are a welcome respite from the cable cars and highway traffic. Try making s’mores in one of the hotel’s open fire pits by the ocean’s edge.

Best western cavalier oceanfront resort

Stop 3: Bacara Resort & Spa, Santa Barbara

There’s a reason Santa Barbara is home to celebrities including Oprah, Rob Lowe, Kevin Costner and Dennis Miller. And you’ll soon find uncover that reason when you stay at the Bacara Resort & Spa.

Nestled on the bluff and beaches of the Santa Barbara coast, this 42,000 square foot spa is one of the largest spas on the West Coast. Built in 2000, the resort features 354 lavish guestrooms and suites, each with a private balcony overlooking breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Bacara main lobby

“Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera,” says Kathleen Cochran, General Manager of the Bacara. “We look like a little Mediterranean Village.” Add in that there is a sunny and temperate climate year round, and I was ready to become a resident.

The Bacara isn’t just about luxury, however. “We support and promote educational programs to help our community be more aware of what’s going on with our planet,” says Cochran. Also, the spacious spa takes full advantage of the resort’s surroundings with its own wellness program. “Organic, local herbs are used in many of our treatments,” says Cochran. The signature BABOR SeaCreation Facial utilizes precious extracts of microorganisms found at the bottom of the sea and a portion of the proceeds from this treatment benefits the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. “We try to impart a mind, body connection in our guests,” says Cochran. “I feel the spa industry is heading towards complete wellness and that can be a paradigm shift for a lot of us hoteliers – particularly in the luxury segment because our spas were indulgence based for a long time. The focus now is on people wanting to get better, live longer and be educated.”

pool at bacara resort & Spa

Dining runs the gamut from the Spa Café to Miro, named after the Spanish artist Joan Miro. “Our dining practices have incorporated local produce into so many dishes. Santa Barbara is amazingly rich with local artisans such as honey makers, bread makers, chocolate makers – so much so that we’re launching our first wine and food event in conjunction with the Julia Child Foundation this year,” says Cochran.

“Guests say this is a special and magical place – you can do or not do whatever you want,” says Cochran. “Ultimately we all want to have a personalized experience. That’s what Bacara provides. We provide beauty, a lifestyle and service that exceeds our guests’ expectations.” What a great way to finish your Route One trip. VM