The best road trip in the world: the top 5 places to visit on California’s Pacific Coast Highway

With over 50s travel spend having grown by £10 billion a year since 2011, it’s no surprise we are fast becoming the ‘bucket list generation’.

Along with round the world adventures, charity treks and Arctic explorations, road trips are topping the polls for favourite holidays for 2017. But which should you plump for?

Bacara’s private beach

California’s America’s Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) hugs the ocean and golden shores for almost 660 splendid miles, so it’s little surprise that it holds on of the top spots for those looking for adventure and style. As ever, don’t miss out on any gems en route…

The best places to stay on the PCH

1 The OC
The Fairmont Newport Beach

Kick things off south of LA at Newport Beach; the calling card for those who love beach living with a good dose of glamour. Fashion Island is the appropriately named mall where you can shop till you drop and its Fig and Olive restaurant a charming semi-fresco dining spot with capacious bar and Mediterranean-inspired menu.

For weekend brunch California style, head for the waterfront Lighthouse Café before enjoying the endless water activities including paddleboarding and exploring charming Balboa Island.

The Duke Hotel is well located for holidaymakers and its Spa Sante is the spot to sooth away post-flight aches and pains. The facialists in particular really know their stuff – Orange County being home to the original regenerative oxygen facials. The Duke’s cabana and pool area is great for soaking up the sunshine and if you have family in tow, Newport Beach is also an easy drive to Mickey and Minnie at Disney.

2. Stylish Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, Shops on State Street in the city of Santa Barbara in southern California

Less than two hours from LA and Malibu, the PCH swings by Santa Barbara – full of cool, stylish restaurants and a burgeoning wine and art area in the warehouses of the 12 blocks east of State Street.

High 50 tip: A convertible is a must. One week’s car hire in LA with Hertz starts from £301.

Bacara spa is one of the best on the PCH

Stay at the stunning Bacara resort just out of town – a haven of hushed serenity with a low-lying, elegant suites and its sea view Oak Grill restaurant that serves the best aged steaks in town.

Bacara’s private luxury resort

The hotel’s wisp of private beach is fabulous for a morning wander and the neighbouring golf course will keep putters happy (I escaped to Bacara’s 42,000 sq foot stunning spa and its private courtyard pool for the morning, booking in for of the best massages I’ve ever had – the Gaviota Harbal Therapy treatment is fragrant, warming and utterly sublime).

Shop in SB at Paseo Nuevo and explore the classy centre of town on the Red Tile Walking Tour or pick up a tandem by the beach and cruise along past Stearns Wharf and enjoy the 3-mile Cabrillo Bike Path.

The main pool at Bacara

The Gaviota coast is a 10-minute drive from Santa Barbara and its rugged, natural beauty attracts well-heeled outdoorsy types. Kick a morning off with the kayak tour, stand up paddle boarding or horse riding on the beach – or just a beautiful hike along the sand – before hitting the open road again, top down of course.

3 Perfect Pismo Beach
The Dolphin Bay Resort, Pismo

Around an hour and a half from Santa Barbara, located within the county of San Luis Obispo, lies the laidback town of Pismo. Set on a coastal bluff, Dolphin Bay has an enviable location overlooking the majestic Pacific coastline emblazoned on so many California travel brochures. It also happens to be the best place for sea view sunset, romantic outdoor fire pits included. The large suites, family rooms and pool make Dolphin Bay a prime stop off for multi-gen and family holidaymakers.

4 Perfect Paso
Beautiful Niner Wine Estate’s heart valley vineyard

Divert an hour inland from Pismo and cool Paso Robles awaits. This is wine country at its best – an elegant town filled with field-to-fork restaurants, cool lounges and artisan shops – and minutes down the road (take an uber) the rolling valleys of the Paso wineries. Niner Wine Estate  is a favourite – not solely due to the stunning, double-height wine tasting atrium, heart-shaped vineyard valley and outdoor patios, but Niner’s delectable seasonal produce restaurant.

La Bellasera Hotel, Paso Robles

An innovative menu and inevitably wonderful wine flight (starting from $15) makes this place a real highlight – overnight at the quirky La Bellasera hotel, midway between town and vineyards with a pool for summer de-roasting! Bliss.

5 Big Sur and Carmel

And so to the main event. The PCH teeters along clifftops and snakes around the beaches, bluffs and redwood forests of the Big sur. On a clear day Nepenthe offers incredible views with lunch or turn off at Pfeiffer Burns State Park for Pfeiffer Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on Big Sur. Take your time, take it all in and cruise along Bixby Bridge – one of the most photographed spots on Big Sur.

Quail Lodge’s magnificent golf course

You can spend hours along the Big Sur and then it’s an easy drive down to the chocolate-box town of Carmel-By-The-Sea where golfers can enjoy elegant Quail Lodge, where greens are immaculate and lakeside lodges cosy with open fires for the cooler months and private outdoor decks with loungers for the summer.

Quail Lodge has lakeside decks for summer and cosy fires and four posters for cooler evenings

Don’t miss 17 Mile Drive, the romantic route around Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove before cruising a couple of hours to San Fran, where you can shop, sight-see and round off your trip in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Ready for a road trip?
A soft top convertible, the best option for a road trip of a lifetime. Courtesy of Hertz

The PCH is like the ultimate pick n’ mix of beautiful coastal towns, fabulous restaurants, wineries and golf courses so it’s little surprise this iconic Californian route is so popular for bucket list tickers. Easy to do in a week, perfect for a leisurely two weeks and with enough to do for months, it’s a pick-your-own holiday bookended with two amazing cities.

Sign up to the free Hertz Gold Plus Rewards programme prior to booking so your car is waiting for you when you arrive, plus you earn Hertz points and get special offers.

Fact Box

Bacara room rates start from $400

Dolphin Bay room rates start from winter $359/night. Summer $509/night.

Quail Lodge room rates start from $265

Bellasera room rates start from summer $199-329. Winter $179-279.

Click here for more Central Coast information.

See Visit California for more.