If you really want to get a feeling for how varied and beautiful California is, the way to go is to follow scenic, winding Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH) along the Pacific Coast from San Juan Capistrano (between San Diego and Los Angeles) in the south to Leggett (between San Francisco and the border with Oregon) in the north. You'll need several days if you're interested in making the whole trip—and leave some padding in your itinerary just in case you feel like hanging around somewhere (many of California's best attractions are on or just off Highway 1).
To enjoy this road, you need to be patient. In most urbanized coastal areas, the route is also a major local thoroughfare, with four to six lanes of commuter traffic. In other places, where Highway 1 reverts to its slower two-lane origins, you could be stuck behind rubberneckers and lumbering RVs on the winding, narrow sections where passing is impossible. So allow plenty of time: If you're in a hurry, take Highway 101, which runs parallel a little farther inland beside farmlands and is less scenic.
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