Last issue, we took you to the Rock Store and touched on the Pacific Coast Highway, but the brief glimpse we gave you of PCH is really a small tip of an asphalt iceberg. Also known as State Route 1 or Highway 1, this road stretches along a good length of California's coast with scenery you won't believe. Actually you will believe it, since you'll see it, but that's beside the point. You can cover the whole route in a day, but it's a long trip; be prepared to go from LA to Frisco (or vice versa). Following it from start to finish can be a bit of a challenge, since it's not one continuous road but various interconnected pieces that get renamed here and there along the way. Not surprisingly, road conditions en route are just as ambivalent as PCH's various names. It changes so much along the way that rather than cover the whole stretch in one shot, we decided to cover the southern part this go-around then pick up the rest of the highway in future issues down the line.
The south end kicks off in Orange County at I-5 south of San Juan Capistrano heading north into downtown Dana Point. There's a split that lasts about half a mile before PCH reunites then continues up through Laguna Beach and Crystal Cove State Park. After that, it moves slightly inland, becomes the Coast Highway and passes through Newport Beach. As it hits Huntington Beach, "Pacific" is added back into its name. Shortly after that, it exits Orange County. There's some nice beach scenery along this leg of the trip and plenty of places to grab a bite. Riding through here is pretty much at your own pace; it's not technical in the least, being a mixture of long straightaways, gradual curves and city street traffic.
That all changes as you pass Seal Beach into Long Beach in Los Angeles County. The road moves inland 2 miles before hitting the Long Beach Traffic Circle. From here to Santa Monica, it's all slow city traffic, with speed limits hitting a blistering 40-50 mph. You can follow PCH until it merges with Sepulveda Boulevard south of LAX, but there's nothing scenic along the way. If you want to skip this part, you're better off taking the I-710 Long Beach Freeway north to the I-405 Freeway then cutting onto I-10 west into Santa Monica, where I-10 ends and merges into PCH south of Malibu. Sepulveda runs into I-10 also, but this is a quicker way to get back on track.
We dealt with Pacific Coast Highway's Malibu leg last issue, but to sum up, the route takes you straight through 'bu proper. Traffic volume varies, with rush hours and weekend days not exactly giving you the road to yourself. At this point, you get hints of the beautiful landscape yet to come; beaches and rock formations dot the landscape, but civilization's ugly head gets in the way. The farther north of Malibu you get, though, the better the view. Continuing north, you'll run through Point Mugu State Park, eventually passing through a notch in the mountain that forms Point Mugu. A little while later, the road moves away from the coast again, heading into Oxnard. Here it hits Wooley Road and becomes Oxnard Boulevard shortly thereafter. From Vineyard Avenue, it's redubbed PCH and joins Route 101 until it passes through Ventura County. Here it rejoins the coastline, traveling along Emma Wood State Beach to the Mobil Pier Undercrossing, where it remerges with the 101 near La Conchita.
Overall, the southern part's the least scenic leg of the trip. It has some nice moments in Orange County, Malibu and beyond but nothing like the scenic wonders you come across in the central and northern parts of the state. What can we say? Sometimes we like to save the best for last. B
GPS: Lat 3327'31"N, Long 11739'53"W
Emma Wood State Beach
GPS: Lat 3417'11"N, Long 11919'40"W