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Is this the world’s best road trip?

Considered one of the world’s best road trips, America’s Pacific Coast Highway is on the top of just about everyone’s bucket list when it comes to US travel. It snakes for almost 200 kilometres along the Californian coast, and has been designated an “All-American Road”. Hugging the cliffs, the highway narrows in places, with sharp drop-offs providing glorious and sometimes hair-raising views of the water.

One of the reasons why the team at Flight Centre is so adept at dispensing expert advice about various corners of the world is because they’ve tried and tested the places themselves. Here they recount a recent journey to one of America’s truly iconic destinations.

America Pacific Coast Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress is an icon of the Pacific Coast

From retro-hip Santa Cruz to whimsical Carmel-by-the-Sea

“As we left San Francisco behind, we were welcomed by the sea breeze and a real feeling of freedom. There was nothing but steep cliffs to our left and the Pacific Ocean to our right.  Just over an hour’s drive from San Fran is the kitschy city of Santa Cruz. It draws in tourists with its fun 50s-themed amusement park and beach boardwalk. But don’t be put off; there are plenty of gems to uncover, including a scenic walk along West Cliff Drive.

Further south is the gorgeous coastline of Monterey. Hit up the scenic 17-Mile Drive that meanders from Pacific Grove all the way to Carmel-by-the-Sea, passing expansive houses, quiet beaches and scenic vistas. Make sure to stop at Lone Cypress – perched high above the Pacific, it’s one of the most photographed trees in the US.

America Pacific Coast Carmel
Carmel has a charm reminiscent of a Disney movie

The residential community of Carmel-by-the-Sea has a charm reminiscent of a Disney movie, with whimsical cottages, inns, quaint shops and friendly locals. Carmel is quite simply picture perfect. Take a walk on the mile-long Carmel River State Beach, visit the home of poet Robinson Jeffers, or treat yourself to a round of golf at world-class Pebble Beach.

Just a 10-minute drive from Carmel is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. It’s worth stopping here for a quick and easy hike. The 1.3km Cypress Grove Trail meanders across rugged cliff tops, while also taking in flower-strewn meadows and forests of Monterey cypress.

As you leave Monterey, you will quickly discover that you’ve reached a place that draws you in with a magical allure. Welcome to pure scenic bliss!

Big Sur – the highlight of the Pacific Coast Highway

Just 15 miles south of Carmel is the first big-ticket Big Sur fixture – Bixby Bridge, one of the world’s highest single-span bridges, arching 80 metres high and 200 metres across. The stunning coastline here makes it hard to stay focused on the road. We were forced to pull over at virtually every turn to take it all in. It’s easy to understand why Henry Miller once said it was here where he learned to say “Amen!” You know a place is a gem when its raw beauty has inspired the likes of Jack Kerouac and other Beat Generation visionaries.

America Pacific Coast Bixby Bridge
The Bixby Bridge is another landmark on the drive

From Highway 1, it’s a sharp right turn onto Sycamore Canyon Road down to Pfeiffer Beach, a long-time hippie haunt known as a place of good vibes. It’s also known for its huge rock formation and purple sand, and the stunning crescent-shaped beach is a great spot to chill and watch the sunset. We climbed up a hill to take in the 180-degree view of the beach. According to locals, the best time to visit the beach is around December when sunlight pours out of the sea archway.

The next morning, we woke early and headed straight to Big Sur Bakery, which gets inundated with visitors for a reason. After stuffing ourselves with freshly baked goods, we found our way to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to visit the truly awesome McWay Falls. How to even begin to describe this paradisiacal beauty? Be sure to follow the short trail above the beach to see these majestic, 70-foot falls tumbling over granite cliffs and free-falling into the Pacific Ocean.

America Pacific Coast Big Sur
Big Sur is a stunning sight

As we continued our journey south, leaving Big Sur and heading toward Santa Barbara, we looked back for one last glimpse of the jaw-droppingly beautiful coastline. We would have liked to have seen Ragged Point, with its fabled million-dollar view and hiking trail down the cliff face, and to have spent some time at Hearst Castle; or to have had the chance to hunt for moonstones and California jade at Moonstone Beach in Cambria. But all of this we’ll save for another summer; after all, few people take this once-in-a-lifetime road trip only once.”

DID YOU KNOW? There are multiple daily direct flights between Hong Kong and San Francisco, allowing easy access to the Pacific Coast. The journey takes a little over 12 hours.

Flight Centre can help you plan a trip along the California coast, or any kind of American escape, from the snow-capped north to the sultry south. Just visit one of its four Hong Kong outlets (in Central, Happy Valley, Wan Chai and Discovery Bay), call 2830 2730 or go to flightcentre.com.hk

This article first appeared in the Oct/Nov edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.

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