Winding from the modernist compounds of Malibu through the redwood rusticity of Big Sur to the Victorian inns on the Monterey Peninsula, there is a ribbon of blacktop so mythic that Californians simply call it "the One." Indeed, portions of California State Route 1 have been officially designated national scenic byways. Along the way, there are relics of the ancient Chumash tribe, 18th-century Spanish missions, and atmospheric vestiges of boomtowns built around the Golden State's earliest industries: fishing, ranching, mining, lumber, and agriculture. And, of course, monuments to 20th-century prosperity, none more lavish than .
"Driving on the 1, you see the breadth of California architecture and design from Spanish Colonial haciendas to Mediterranean villas to midcentury modern," says Roman Alonso of the Los Angeles design firm , who cites the Big Sur aesthetic in his company's work. Traveling the coast also reveals the various sensibilities that have coalesced to become "California casual," a style shaped by indoor-outdoor living and generously scaled furnishings.
It's a 315-mile drive from Malibu to Monterey, and seeing just the highlights—Santa Barbara, San Simeon, Big Sur, and Carmel—can take a week. So some ground rules are essential: Rent a car with enough cargo space for the treasures you'll find at antiques stores. Stick to the main roads, and sleep where you can hear the sound of the ocean.
in Pacific Palisades, just south of Malibu, is an ideal starting point. Oil baron J. Paul Getty began construction in the 1950s to house his extensive art collection; by 1974 his holdings required something far larger and grander—a villa and gardens based on the home of Julius Caesar's father-in-law. Staking a claim for classical significance in a community that's more famous as a movie colony, the Getty Villa is an impressive set piece—an authentic-looking Roman estate high above the contemporary homes on the beach.
Vintage shoppers have long flocked to Ventura's Main Street, where motorists park their 1950s rides in front of '50s diners, Mexican cantinas, thrift shops, and design stores. But it is Santa Barbara, with a well-regarded art museum and its own film festival, that is the cultural heart of the central coast. Red-roofed Spanish Colonial Revival architecture around the harbor justifies the town's self-proclaimed title of the American Riviera.
On the lavish 1909 estate known as Miraflores, the Music Academy of the West operates the antiques-filled Treasure House, which helps raise funds for the Academy's classical music festivals. Of special note, the May Madness sale, with donations from the area's doyennes, is an all-day event. Two of the city's southern enclaves are also essential design destinations. Summerland's Lillie Avenue flows past garden shops, continental antiques stores, and , one of the West Coast's best galleries for American crafts and tramp art. In Montecito, where early-20th-century architect George Washington Smith helped popularize Spanish Colonial Revival, the junction of San Ysidro and East Valley roads is a hub for antiques stores, many housed in the most charming strip malls you are ever likely to see. , furnished with sunroom classics, and , which specializes in early-20th-century decorative arts, are must-see spots, where you might catch a glimpse of Montecito homeowners Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges, and Ellen DeGeneres.
North of Santa Barbara, take a detour on Highway 101, which jogs inland and passes through Los Alamos, one of a string of small ranch communities, then heads north to the college town of San Luis Obispo. It is here, in 1958, that Alex Madonna created a motor inn that has become synonymous with theme-room hotels. With Swiss-chalet architecture, rock formations, and Technicolor decor, the Madonna is blindingly kitschy and wildly entertaining. By contrast, the city of San Luis Obispo, recently proclaimed on Oprah as the happiest place in America, has a tastefully preserved downtown that the National Trust for Historic Preservation granted a Great American Main Street Award in 1999. If you are there on a Thursday night, don't miss the farmers' market on Higuera Street—it's the heart and soul of a rapidly evolving local foodie community.
--> --> --> --> -->
--> --> --> --> -->
--> --> --> --> -->
Scenic Morro Bay, notable for its eponymous Rock, is just north on the 1, which thereafter is known as the Coast Highway. It leads to Cayucos—a classic California surf village with seafood shacks, vintage stores, and the popular , all of which seem untroubled by the 21st century—and Cambria, an arts colony with a taste for Tudor that translates into shake shingles on rooftops and storefronts.
The palatial is in nearby San Simeon. One of the grandest estates in America, it has its own own zoo and airstrip, and four Mediterranean Revival homes with a total of 56 bedrooms. On its grounds are two magnificent pools—the marble Neptune Pool, with a Greek temple, colonnade, and statuary, as well as the indoor Roman Pool, which is based on ancient baths and has mosaics inspired by a 5th-century mausoleum.
The acquisitive Hearst filled his mansions with dazzling collections of sculpture, friezes, antiquities, artifacts, centuries-old European furniture, tapestries, and decorative arts, but it was groundbreaking architect Julia Morgan's synthesis of Spanish, Italian, and Moorish styles with ancient Greek and Roman, medieval, and Gothic influences that makes Hearst Castle a singular achievement.
Before the completion of Highway 1 in 1937, Big Sur, the sequoia forests, and the rocky cliffs north of San Simeon were largely inaccessible. Now, though only about 1,700 folks live there, millions visit the breathtakingly beautiful region. Big Sur was the stomping ground and inspiration for works by outlaw authors Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, who wrote, "This is the California that men dreamed of years ago...this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."
To turn Gertrude Stein's famous quote on its head, in Big Sur, there is only there, there: No signs or billboards dot the road, and accommodations—from yurts and cabins to high-end resorts—are all but invisible, built in such harmony with nature that they are hidden in the dramatic landscape.
This rugged patch of the coast has long been a potent showcase for eco-conscious modern architecture. Kipp Stewart, a prolific designer of midcentury-modern furniture, built , Big Sur's first luxury resort, in the 1970s. The guest rooms have latticed façades of warm, weathered cedar that glow in the afternoon sun. Architect Mickey Muennig's , which opened in 1992, takes the vernacular a step further with lodgings tucked into the terrain and topped with landscaped roofs.
--> --> --> --> -->
--> --> --> --> -->
The city closest to Big Sur looks entirely different but also exudes a bohemian spirit. Though it was first known for its beautiful 18th-century Spanish mission, Carmel-by-the-Sea became a haven for writers such as Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, and poet Robinson Jeffers. Photographer Edward Weston built a cabin and darkroom near Point Lobos, and the area soon became a magnet for visual artists. But it was the lesser-known Hugh W. Comstock who would shape the way the village looks today. In the 1920s, he met and married Mayotta Brown, the creator of Otsy Totsy rag dolls. For her showroom, and his studio, Comstock built Hansel and Gretel, two cottages based on illustrations by the British painter Arthur Rackham.
Comstock's fairy-tale style set a trend for irregularly shingled, moss-covered buildings, hidden walkways, and charming courtyards. The homes, galleries, shops, and restaurants in town have no street numbers and lighted signs are outlawed.
Carmel's Ocean Avenue is the main shopping artery in a village filled with galleries, antiques emporiums (such as ), intimate Mediterranean restaurants (), and hotels like the dressed-to-the-nines and animal lover Doris Day's , where pets and owners enjoy the comforts of the handsomely appointed lobby and lounge. The street leads downhill to the ocean and Scenic Road, where the Walker residence, a privately owned Frank Lloyd Wright building, juts out on a promontory like a ship headed out to sea.
To the north, the Monterey Peninsula incorporates Monterey, the fishing town John Steinbeck immortalized in Cannery Row—now a tourist destination with factory spaces refurbished as stores—and Pacific Grove, a small cluster of Queen Anne inns, antiques shops, and an auction house on Lighthouse Avenue. "It's called America's last hometown," says Marilyn Buck, owner of Pacific Grove Antiques, where some of her dealers offer Victoriana but she specializes in "anything tattered and Catholic."
While 17-Mile Drive, a scenic route that winds around Pebble Beach, is regarded as one of the loveliest drives on the central coast, there's a little-known surprise off Sunset Drive. Founded in 1913 as a girls camp for the YWCA, is a sprawling oceanfront property with bungalows and soaring halls built in an Arts and Crafts style from stone and wood, with Gothic arched windows and just a touch of Tudor. Eleven of its 49 buildings were designed by Julia Morgan and attest to the brilliance of the architect, who could build magnificently for millionaires like Hearst as well as for those of more modest means. Open to the public, Asilomar is an ideal bookend to the visual riches of San Simeon and the rustic simplicity of Big Sur—a humble yet nonetheless dazzling group of buildings that eternally embodies all the natural splendor of the California coast.
--> --> --> --> -->
--> --> --> --> -->
Essential Coastal California
Admire the view. These sights guarantee a good lookout: Point Mugu State Park in Malibu, the elephant seal colony near San Simeon pier, and the magnificent 1932 Bixby Bridge between Big Sur and Carmel.
Take a hike. Walk among ancient redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (831-667-2315; ). For a pretty stroll, go on a guided tour of the cottages and gardens of Carmel (831-642-2700; ).
Go vintage shopping. Santa Barbara has retro-hip Haley Street, and Monterey offers the Cannery Row Antique Mall, but don't skip the smaller towns for collectibles: Ventura has antiques, Los Alamos has western art, Cayucos has Americana, and Cambria offers beach-cottage furnishings.
WHAT TO SEE
Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Pacific Palisades, 310-440-7300; : Modeled on the ancient Roman Villa dei Papiri, the museum houses an array of classical artifacts, and the lavish gardens are filled with sculpture.
Hearst Castle, 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, 800-444-4445; : William Randolph Hearst's Mediterranean Revival residence is so vast and ornate you'll need several visits to see it all. Don't miss the extraordinary indoor Roman pool.
Lotusland, 805-969-9990; : Created by six-times-married Russian opera singer Madame Ganna Walska, the 37-acre estate features lush gardens and a lovely Moorish fountain. Tours are by reservation only.
San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission, 3080 Rio Rd., Carmel, 831-624-1271; : This 1770s Spanish Colonial landmark is one of the most beautiful missions in California.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St., Santa Barbara, 805-963-4364; : A classical building with an extensive collection of Impressionist and American art.
WHERE TO STAY
The Biltmore, 1260 Channel Dr., Santa Barbara, 805-969-2261; : This luxe Four Seasons resort has 207 handsome rooms in Spanish Colonial buildings.
Cass House Inn, 222 N. Ocean Ave., Cayucos, 805-995-3669; : Five elegantly decorated rooms in a restored 1867 residence, which also houses the best restaurant in town.
La Playa Hotel, Camino Real at Eighth Ave., Carmel, 831-624-6476; : A 1905 mansion with sprawling gardens and beachy interiors, just two blocks from the surf.
Madonna Inn, 100 Madonna Rd., San Luis Obispo, 805-543-3000; : This design-gone-mad landmark has 110 rooms, each with unique decor—from English chintz to Hapsburg-inspired grandeur.
Malibu Beach Inn, 22878 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, 310-456-6444; : Modern minimalism, with artwork selected by owner David Geffen, in 47 oceanfront rooms; a spa, restaurant, and private beach.
Post Ranch Inn, 47900 Hwy. 1, Big Sur, 831-667-2200; : The gold standard for luxury retreats is a secluded cliff-top enclave with 39 guest rooms, a spa, and a serene dining room.
Ventana Inn & Spa, 48123 Hwy. 1, Big Sur, 831-667-2331; : This 1975 cedar-clad compound above the Pacific remains an icon of Big Sur's rustic-chic style, with 60 rooms, an award-winning restaurant, two pools, and Japanese soaking baths.
WHERE TO EAT
Brown Butter Cookie Co., 250 N. Ocean Ave., Cayucos, 805-995-2076; : Hand-rolled shortbread cookies that are to die for.
Casanova, Fifth Ave. between San Carlos and Mission, Carmel, 831-625-0501; : Belgian farmhouse architecture, Pierre Deux–style decor, and winning Mediterranean fare make this the most romantic restaurant in Carmel.
Full of Life Flatbread Pizza, 225 Bell St., Los Alamos, 805-344-4400; : A weekends-only restaurant offering organic artisan pies using local farm ingredients.
Hearst Ranch Winery, 442 SLO San Simeon Rd., San Simeon, 805-927-4100; : Try Tempranillos and Malbecs from the Saunders vineyard in Paso Robles in a tasting room at the 1852 Sebastian's General Store, which serves a terrific roast beef sandwich made with the ranch's own beef.
The Hungry Cat, 1134 Chapala, Santa Barbara, 805-884-4701; : The Central Coast outpost of Suzanne Goin and David Lentz's Hollywood hot spot features a fab raw bar.
Luna Red, 1009 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo, 805-540-5243; : Inventive global tapas made with local produce and seafood.
The Montecito Cafe, 1295 Coast Village Rd., Santa Barbara, 805-969-3392: Ladies who lunch come for the California nouvelle cuisine in the restaurant of the Spanish inn that Charlie Chaplin built in 1928 as a getaway from Hollywood.
Nepenthe, 48510 Hwy. 1, Big Sur, 831-667-2345; : A terraced aerie with fireplaces and stunning views of the Pacific, this family restaurant dishes up salads, steaks, and the house special, the Ambrosia burger.
Savory, 29169 Heathercliff Rd., Malibu, 310-589-8997; : Paul Shoemaker bakes his own bread and creates seasonal specialties for his casual dining spot in Point Dume Village.
Tillie Gort's Cafe, 111 Central Ave., Pacific Grove, 831-373-0335; tilliegortscafe.com: The Monterey Peninsula's most honored vegetarian and vegan comfort-food restaurant also offers meat dishes and sinful organic desserts.
WHERE TO SHOP
Davis & Taft, 1482 E. Valley Rd., Ste. #28, Montecito, 805-969-7987; : Continental antiques mingle with Danish modern, 20th-century French and American furniture, midcentury Italian lighting.
Forget Me Not, Sixth and Mission, Carmel, 831-624-9080: Updated antiques, bedding, and garden furniture for the chic beach cottage.
Fusion Home, 418 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-652-7017; : Along a vintage- and thrift-shop strip, this high-style housewares emporium sells contemporary accessories as well as a clean-lined furniture collection designed by the owners.
James Perse, 3939 Cross Creek Rd., Ste. #E-100, Malibu, 310-469-6030; : The L.A. designer known for casual beach clothes showcases his line of handsome slipcovered upholstery and indoor-outdoor furniture at the upscale Lumber Yard mall.
Just Folk, 2346 Lillie Ave., Summerland, 805-969-7118; : Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon visit this general store–style gallery for handmade Americana and outsider art, 19th-century quilts, and more.
Pacific Grove Antiques, 472 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 831-658-0488: Marilyn Buck's gallery, specializing in Italian and Spanish church relics, is on a strip that also includes the massive Holman Antiques mall and Hambrook's auction house.
Rue de Lillie Antiques, 2496 Lillie Ave., Summerland, 805-695-8180: This Provençal-style bungalow sells vintage rush chairs, transferware, silver, and French country and toile accessories.
William Laman, 1496 E. Valley Rd., Montecito, 805-969-2840; : In a clapboard cottage, William Laman and interior designer Bruce Gregga offer neutral and elegant decor—antiques with linen and leather upholstery, lead planters, modern wicker, and woven baskets. Look for a red Adirondack chair out front.
--> --> --> --> -->
--> --> --> --> -->