Best Pacific Coast Drives in America
By Leslie To
Jet setting to far off destinations may be exciting, but there’s something to be said for experiencing your own country on ground level. One of the greatest ways to experience the beauty and personality of America is via a good, solid road trip, especially a trek that reminds you where the continent ends – the coast. Leg cramps and sticker shock at the gas pump are just hazards of the trade, but well worth a trip where literally traveling is the goal. Having spent my entire life living in this country, I know the best drives at the very edge of the Pacific Coast.
Hana Highway, Maui
The proverbial road to Hana is one of the most beloved stretches of highway in the glorious island of Maui. With beautiful foliage, verdant mountains and beaches featuring black sand and fresh water caves, Maui is easy to love. I also stay at the Hotel Wailea, an old favorite during my Hawaii vacations, then make my way through the numerous forest preserves to Hana. The twisting, serpentine journey – also known for its effects on the stomach as well as the eyes – starts off in the paradisiacal surfer’s cove of Paia, then zig-zags eastward along the coast for more than 50 miles. Make sure your driving skills are up to par, you’ll need them to negotiate the 600 hairpin curves and 54 one-lane bridges while also taking in the jaw-dropping beauty.
Highway 1, California Coast
As a California native and lifelong resident of the Golden State, I may be a bit biased here, but this is my favorite place on earth. Technically, Highway 1 runs about 650 miles up the state, but the best stretch is the top half– from the Central Coast region of San Luis Obispo all the way up to Mendocino. As you skirt the edge of the continent, the road evolves from soft, approachable curves to intensely windy, narrow twists and turns towering high above the ocean. The rolling green hills of Southern California give way to the dramatic cliffs of Big Sur, where the Santa Lucia Mountains kiss the Pacific, then continue on up with ragged coastline – thanks to significant erosion – that is shockingly beautiful, if, at times, impassible. Along the way are charming coastal towns like Cayucos, Pacific Grove and Fort Bragg, dotting the diverse landscape between the cultural nexuses of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Seward Highway, Alaska
Alaska is the land of hyperbole – the longest coastline, the tallest mountain, the most diverse geography – and this relatively short drive of 127 miles packs a scenic punch. Boreal forests, majestic fjords, massive glaciers and wildlife fill the trip that starts in Anchorage and ends at the tiny portside town of Seward on Resurrection Bay. Along the way, you’ll cross the south Kenai Peninsula, running along the Chugach Mountains and overlooking the Turnagain Arm of Crook inlet past waterfalls. Take your time, browse through the Alaska Wildlife Conservation center and take in all that the last frontier has to offer.