Highway 1, which runs almost the entire length of the California coastline, could hardly have been more aptly named, as it’s often cited as the number one driving experience in the USA.

The All-American Road (an official designation that effectively treats it as a tourist destination in its own right) starts just south of Los Angeles and finishes in Mendocino County, more than 650 miles north.

The Big Sur is one of the most picturesque sections of the California coastal driving route.

The Big Sur is one of the most picturesque sections of the California coastal driving route. With stunning coastline, pretty beaches to stop at, and charming towns to explore on driving breaks, it is one of California's gems.

I’m not a fan of driving for driving’s sake - getting from A to B is generally all that counts when I’m behind the wheel - but Highway 1, which is also rated among the most scenic drives in the world, is definitely an exception.

Not only are the coastal views often incredible, but there are plenty of fascinating places to stop and explore along the way. So if you’re hitting the road in California then there might be a quicker way - via Route 101 or Interstate 5, both of which stay inland - but there's definitely no better way to get from many A’s to B’s in the Golden State.

Actually, scratch that, there is a better way - in a convertible Ford Mustang. I saw dozens on the road as I tootled along in my rather more conservative hire car, wishing I’d been a bit more extravagant in my choice of vehicle.

I picked up Highway 1 just north of Santa Barbara and followed it to San Francisco, stopping off at a number of places en route. But I’m getting ahead of myself - or was it those Mustangs getting ahead of me? - as I started off in the lovely city of Santa Barbara, beautifully located right on the coast beneath the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Steve took the Highway 1, just north of Santa Barbara, and followed it to San Francisco - the ultimate west coast road trip route.

Steve took the Highway 1, just north of Santa Barbara, and followed it to San Francisco - the ultimate west coast road trip route.

Without wishing to cast aspersions or tempt fate, if you’re ever going to get into trouble with the law, this is the place to do it. The Santa Barbara County Courthouse, built in 1929 in Spanish Moorish style with a fabulously ornate staircase and 25-metre clock tower, is so beautiful that defendants are likely to forget they’re even in the dock.

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is still a fully-functioning court today.

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is still a fully-functioning court today. However, that won't stop you having a wander around the beautiful building and taking in the interesting architecture. Take a picnic and sit in the gardens on one of the many sunny California days after a tour.

The city is packed with Spanish colonial-style buildings and red tile roofed-buildings, with its Mediterranean architecture and vibe earning it the nickname ‘Riviera of the West’.

The moniker also partly reflects what an easy, Mediterranean-type place it is to explore on foot, particularly the downtown and seafront areas - which I ambled around throughout my two-day stay. I also hopped on a whale-watching trip in the Santa Barbara Channel where the disappointment of catching only a brief glimpse of a blue whale’s back was partly compensated by a delicious mahi-mahi sandwich and beer back at a café on the harbour.

There is opportunities to go whale-watching in the Santa Barbara Channel, which makes a great excursion from exploring the town and ambling around the shops

There are opportunities to go whale-watching in the Santa Barbara Channel, which makes a great excursion, after exploring the town and ambling around the shops. If you're fortunate you might have a little more luck than Steve at spotting the local marine life!

After a couple of relaxed days in Santa Barbara I ventured out on my first trip on Highway 1, heading for Pismo Beach, a place that’s held a place in my conscious for years, courtesy of a certain 'wascally wabbit'. I remember Bugs Bunny regularly trying to burrow his way here - complete with sunglasses, deckchair and cocktail - but invariably ending up in some frosty alternative, typically exclaiming: “I knew I shoulda taken a left turn at Albuquerque”.

Highway 1 passes right through the heart of Pismo, so after a 90-mile drive my navigation was a no-brainer - I just had to turn left at Main Street. The old-fashioned seaside town is roughly midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and depending on your perspective, is either retro cool or starting to look its age - it was undoubtedly in its pomp when those Looney Tune cartoons were made in the 1940s and 50s.

The popular old-fashioned seaside town of Pismo continues to bring in tourists to sample it's traditional seaside wares.

The popular old-fashioned seaside town of Pismo continues to bring in tourists to sample its traditional seaside wares. Buy an ice-cream and have a stroll around the seafront shops - it is a great day out.

That said, the beaches, streets and restaurants were all busy when I visited, proving that - like Bugs - it remains popular to this day. The biggest queue of all stretched round the block from the door of Splash Café, a surf-shack style restaurant just along from the pier. I joined it, and the wait to be served was more than worth it for the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted.

The sunsets were also among the best I’ve ever seen, a timeless attraction for a destination with an apparently timeless appeal.

If you want to witness an impressive sunset, head to Pismo Beach and watch is awe as the sun disappears on the horizon. Stunning.

If you want to witness an impressive sunset, head to Pismo Beach and watch in awe as the sun disappears on the horizon. Stunning.

Highway 1 briefly heads inland north of Pismo, before returning to the coast at Morro Bay and hugging it all the way to Monterey, the views getting more and more spectacular with every passing mile.

If you want a break from the car, Monterey is perfect for getting active.

If you want a break from the car, Monterey is perfect for getting active. As well as getting your blood pumping with sporting activities, there are walking tours to visit all the John Steinbeck landmarks and the places he wrote about.

The most stunning section is around Big Sur, which I reached after a detour to Hearst Castle, the one-time residence of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, an eccentric millionaire often assumed to be the inspiration for the cult movie 'Citizen Kane'.

The 165-room castle, with 127 acres of beautiful gardens and land, Hearst Castle really is an impressive building. You could easily spend the day wandering from room to room, or lazing in the beautiful Californian sunshine in the gardens.

The 165-room castle, with 127 acres of beautiful gardens and land, Hearst Castle really is an impressive building. You could easily spend the day wandering from room to room, or lazing in the beautiful Californian sunshine in the gardens.

His former home (he called it ‘The Ranch’) is an incredible 165-room hilltop property set on 127 acres of land near San Simeon, and is a shrine to excess, with every room a treasure trove of art and artifacts, many of which Hearst collected during his regular visits to Europe.

Largely based on a Spanish cathedral, the castle opened in 1919 after decades of construction work, and its grounds contain an array of statues, villas, Roman baths and more, many with views across the hills to the coast.

Hearst Castle was designed by architect Julia Morgan in 1919 as a home for newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who built the nation's largest newspaper company. These days, the doors are open to the public, so take a tour and see how he lived.

Hearst Castle was designed by architect Julia Morgan in 1919 as a home for newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who built the nation's largest newspaper company. These days, the doors are open to the public, so take a tour and see how he lived.

Fascinating and bewildering in equal measure, the castle is now a National Historic Landmark and one of California’s top tourist attractions, and I was definitely as bemused as amused by the whole thing.

The next section of my journey was a less disputable affair, as the area around Big Sur contained the most impressive section of the drive so far, offering spectacular views of the rugged coastline and its magnificent cliffs and towering redwood trees.

Sadly as the driver I was forced to enjoy some of the views vicariously through the regular exclamations and “wow”s of my passenger, as I was too busy negotiating numerous hairpin bends (‘switchbacks’) and keeping an eye on the oncoming traffic. Pulling off to stop and enjoy the views is therefore an absolute must along this stretch, especially near the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, a ridiculously photogenic arch bridge just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood was once the mayor.

There's no doubt the Big Sur is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast, so it is worth making regular stops along the highway and making the most of the view. Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in California, so is a great place to stop and check out what all the fuss is about.

There's no doubt the Big Sur is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast, so it is worth making regular stops along the highway and making the most of the view. Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in California, so is a great place to stop and check out what all the fuss is about.

I was unable to make his day by dropping in, as time was tight and my target was the popular tourist spot of Monterey. My flying visit largely involved checking out Old Fisherman’s Wharf and its resident harbour seals but I saw enough to know it’s a place I need to return to, not least to visit the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and the plethora of bars and restaurants I spotted while exploring the former fish packing plants of Cannery Row, made famous by author John Steinbeck.

Highway 1 skirts around Monterey Bay as it heads north, passing Moss Landing, gateway to one of the largest wetlands in California, en route to Capitola, a cheery little seaside town brimming with brightly-painted houses, shops and restaurants.

The Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of those attractions that you need to experience. The old steam train travels through a redwood tree forest, which is very picturesque. Great for some picture opportunities!

The Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of those attractions that you need to experience. The old steam train travels through a redwood tree forest, which is very picturesque. Great for some picture opportunities!

I made this my base to explore nearby Santa Cruz, the birthplace of surfing in the mainland US (there’s a museum to prove it) and a funky beachfront town with loads to see and do. The wide-ranging attractions include the west coast’s oldest boardwalk amusement park - where even the new rides have been made to look old - and the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad, a narrow-gauge steam railway that winds its way between towering redwood trees in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Santa Cruz is a must-stop destination on your west coast road trip. There's so much to do, you will definitely have to pick and choose wisely - though the seafront Boardwalk should definitely be on your list.

Santa Cruz is a must-stop destination on your west coast road trip. There's so much to do, you will definitely have to pick and choose wisely - though the seafront Boardwalk should definitely be on your list.

I rattled my way through the trees on ‘Dixie’, a 105-year-old steam engine originally used on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad before enjoying a quieter, closer look on a lovely walking trail that lets you get up close - and in one case inside - the incredible trees, some of which date back almost 2,000 years.

The Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad makes for a brilliant day out. Steve travelled on Dixie - a 105-year-old steam engine originally used on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

The Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad makes for a brilliant day out. Steve travelled on Dixie - a 105-year-old steam engine originally used on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

The final leg of my journey was an 80-mile drive along the coast to my final destination of San Francisco. This section of the highway is almost mundane after the dramatic scenery around Big Sur, but any coastal drive is a treat for people who live in the landlocked Midlands, so I made the most of it all the same, even hopping out to snap some photos of Rockaway Beach at Pacifica.

From here it was an easy hop into San Francisco, which is easily my favourite city in the US. And i'm not alone - it was voted best city in the US by Condé Nast Traveler magazine for 16 years in a row.

No west coast road trip would be complete without a stop in San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It really is magnificent.

No west coast road trip would be complete without a stop in San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It really is magnificent.

The ‘City by the Bay’ is a brilliant place to visit, with a range of attractions and iconic sights familiar to millions.

The list of highlights is as long as the invariably fog-covered Golden Gate Bridge (8,981 feet/2,737m, as it happens), and includes the largest Chinatown in the US, Fisherman’s Wharf (where the main catch is tourists), the historic island prison of Alcatraz and the California Academy of Sciences and a stunning natural history museum in Golden Gate Park.

I also loved hanging out in the hippy area of Haight-Ashbury and touring the bars of North Beach, where the beat poets used to hang out, and where I’m sure I was served a beer by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

Of course, the Bay is much more than just the Golden Gate Bridge. Wade through the fog and visit Alcatraz, go for a ride in the iconic cable cars or attend one of the many festivals, events and celebrations.

Of course, the Bay is much more than just the Golden Gate Bridge. Wade through the fog and visit Alcatraz, go for a ride in the iconic cable cars or attend one of the many festivals, events and celebrations.

Not surprisingly the city offers an amazing choice of eateries, from tourist traps - ice-cream at Ghirardelli’s, clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf (worth it for people-watching alone) to locals’ favourites such as the food trucks that pitch up at various locations and sell the most fantastic array of street food - I was especially taken with my lobster salad roll from the Lobsta Truck.

San Francisco holds the title for the largest Chinatown in the US, so it is worth exploring - and grabbing dinner while you're there.

San Francisco holds the title for the largest Chinatown in the US, so it is worth exploring - and grabbing dinner while you're there.

Another important food recommendation in this part of the world is In ‘n’ Out Burger - a brilliant fast food chain and a Californian institution not to be missed. Two words are all you need here: “double double” - if you like burgers I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

The same goes for a road trip on Highway 1, which is an experience not to be missed and undoubtedly one of the best holidays I've ever had.

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