America’s best drive – The Pacific Coast Highway

I’ve driven more than 18,000km on our trip across the United States of America – that’s around 12,000 miles for those still resisting the metric system.

We’ve crossed 22 states and my longest stint behind the wheel of our big van was an 11 hour marathon across Wyoming and Idaho.

It gets pretty boring coasting down a gun barrel straight highway for hours and hours with nothing but fuzzy classic rock radio stations for company.

(Carmen always falls asleep in the passenger seat!)

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The spectacular Pacific Coast Hwy in California

The best road in the USA

But the one long distance drive I have enjoyed and would like to do again was the Pacific Coast Highway that winds its ways along the shores of Oregon and California.

It’s the sort of drive you see in the movies and can imagine yourself doing in a convertible, leather driving gloves on the wheel and a beautiful girl beside you in the passenger seat.

I had to settle for a clapped out Pontiac van as my ride, but at least I had a beautiful girl next to me. Carmen stayed awake for the entire trip as we oohed and aaahed at each beautiful vista the twisting road took us to.

Coast road Highway California Double-Barrelled Travel

Getting to the Pacific Coast Highway

We got on State Route 1 near the town of Astoria in Oregon which is famous for being the backdrop of two of my favourite hangover movies – The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop. I saw the jail where the Fratellis escaped and the school where Arnie punched that guy out.

Very cool!

As we drove down the highway we were amazed at the scenery; it’s better than anything Hollywood has ever shown.

To the left of the car there was an unbroken mass of lush forest and to the right there were plunging cliffs and wide expanses of sand being pounded by huge waves, all of it shrouded in eerie mist. The highway crosses hills and valleys and takes you out so far above the waves sometimes you feel like you’re flying.

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The dangers of the coast

But being so close to the water can be dangerous. We passed many signs identifying low lying areas as tsunami evacuation zones; if a tidal wave came in quite a few towns and homes along the route would be at grave risk and you would need to flee to higher ground.

Our destination was Crescent City in Northern California and when we got there we were shocked to find out how much damage had been wrought by the tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in 2011.

The waves caused great damage to American communities as well and Crescent City’s harbour is only just being reopened now.

The community there relies on fishing and has suffered great financial loss because of the tsunami damage.

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The best bits

The best thing about the Pacific Coast Highway is you don’t need to plan anything to do it.

You just drive along and slow down wherever takes your fancy.

There are well constructed pullouts all along the road so you can stop and take in the scenery, and there are dozens of towns lining the route all offering refreshments and places to stay.

We stopped for lunch at a little shack on a cliff and ate a huge bowl of creamy clam chowder served with garlic bread, delicious!

We drove the Pacific Coast Highway in a day and had a great time. But I want to go back and take it easy, stopping at more places along the way and exploring more of the amazing sights.

If you have any stories of your experience on the Pacific Coast Highway – or any other scenic route –  we’d love to hear them.

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About the author

Dave is the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel and has been nomadic since May 2013. When he's not busily working on a novel, he can be found exploring a war museum, sailing a yacht (unfortunately not his own), or hiking up a mountain.

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