Central California’s Pacific Coast Highway offers one of the most iconic drives in the U.S., with sweeping views of the ocean from Monterey through Pebble Beach and Big Sur. If you’re hitting the photogenic, 123-mile freeway sometime this summer, here are a few places you should be sure to stop along the journey.
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
With its European-style architecture, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel dramatically overlooks Monterey Bay, located along the popular Cannery Row thoroughfare made famous in a novel by John Steinbeck (historically, the area was known for its sardine canning factories). The sizeable hotel offers 290 guest rooms, the full-service, penthouse-level Vista Blue Spa (with 270-degree views of the bay) and a waterfront restaurant, Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar, that has a menu featuring sustainable seafood and local produce. While you’re here, don’t miss the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium just four minutes from the hotel.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach
From Monterey, continue along Cannery Row on Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive along the dramatic coastline, stopping for photos, to dip your toes in the cool water or to catch surfers hanging ten. Then, begin your journey along 17-Mile Drive. The scenic route is best known for its incredible coastline, golf courses and natural attractions (17-Mile’s Lone Cypress is one of the most photographed trees in North America). Wind past Spanish Bay and catch a glimpse of the California sea lions before you make your way to the Pebble Reach resort, home to world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links and Four-Star The Lodge at Pebble Beach. The hotel features stately architecture and a view like no other, whether you’re dining at Stillwater Bar & Grill or gazing at an oceanside fairway from your room balcony. Enjoy the best of both this summer with an Independence Day week package consisting of two nights at the Lodge, daily breakfast credit at one of the Pebble Beach eateries and a complimentary round of golf on The Links at Spanish Bay when you play another at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill.
A few miles down the road from Pebble Beach’s 18th hole you’ll find the township of Carmel-by-the-Sea, once known as a colony for artists, writers and poets. This Four-Star European-inspired boutique property has just 20 rooms but they all exude a vintage charm. Designed by revered San Francisco architect, Albert Farr, the hub of the space is its inner courtyard, where guests can enjoy the tranquility of the sleepy seaside town. Within the chalky white exterior, the lobby features a whiskey and spirits cabinet for guests, as well as a fireplace for cool nights. Five-Star Aubergine is helmed by executive chef Justin Cogley, who is considered one of the top new culinary minds in the U.S. His kitchen focuses on ingredient-forward dishes that showcase seasonal ingredients like abalone (sea snails) and crab in a variety of complex textures and flavors.
For a taste of California wine country, head to Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley just a short way from the coast. The upscale, Four-Star ranch is highlighted by surroundings of lush lavender and rolling grapevines, reminiscent of the Italian countryside. Creeping vines along the surrounding stonework help paint the pseudo-European feel, too. Visit for a taste of the Bordeaux and Chardonnay but stay for the unapologetically California cuisine at Lucia and the vino-inspired therapy treatments in the Four-Star spa.
Post Ranch Inn
Finally, in the heart of Big Sur, the Four-Star Post Ranch Inn rests on a cliff 1,200 feet above the Pacific. If you haven’t tired of oceanfront views, the vista from either of the inn’s two infinity pools is truly special. The property’s natural architecture compliments its dramatic coastal location perfectly. Public spaces and private rooms have a rustic elegance (wood-burning fireplaces, custom-built furniture) that creates a luxuriously relaxing stay. With 39 guest rooms free of alarm clocks and televisions, the invitation to let go is very convincing. Morning yoga, guided hikes, stargazing, a Four-Star spa and Four-Star cuisine at Sierra Mar Restaurant form an exhilarating combination to complete an epic trip along the California coast.