Travelers from all over the world and across the county journey to California to experience what residents of San Luis Obispo County have access to every day – Highway 1 and the gateway to Big Sur. For SLO residents looking to take a drive and get out of town for the day, driving up the coast to the most northern reaches of the county is something grand to do.

The things you see along the winding way – endless sky and ocean from horizon to horizon, steep cliffs, giant jagged rocks along silent shores, old forests and untouched wilderness – will open your eyes wide to take it all in as it rolls by like a living, breathing movie.

Highway 1 has earned its “1” as one of the most scenic highways in the U.S. because it is as close to a highway of human possibilities as can be imagined. Every year since Highway 1 opened in the Big Sur region in the 1930s and became more accessible in the ‘50s, seekers of nature and beauty from all over the world have make the road trip up and down the coast on the edge of the Pacific, but the stretch of Highway 1 that runs along the coast in San Luis Obispo County captures perhaps the very best of the Highway 1 experience. The San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway and Big Sur Coast Highway are the only two sections of 655-mile-long Highway 1 to be officially designated as scenic highways.

Splitting from Highway 101 in SLO, Highway 1 to the ocean picks up again from the city of San Luis Obispo, emerging as Santa Rosa Ave., which becomes Highway 1. You know you’re close to the ocean when you see the three smokestacks of the dormant Morro Bay Power Plant and the top of Morro Rock in Morro Bay. Then, leaving nearby behind Cayucos to spectacular long-distant views of Morro Bay State Beach and Morro Rock, Highway 1 briefly leaves the ocean to pass vast, sloping, cow-dotted hills, pastures and woodlands until rare Monterey pine forests reveal you’re nearing the quaint, charming village of Cambria and seaside Moonstone Beach.

Ten miles north of Cambria on Highway 1 is tiny San Simeon, situated less than a mile from Hearst Castle, the hilltop mansion built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century, and probably the biggest tourist attraction on the Central Coast. Six and a half miles from San Simeon is the Piedras Blancas Light Station and a large northern elephant seal rookery known as the Piedras Blancas rookery.

Fifteen miles after San Simeon is Ragged Point, a scenic promontory which calls itself the gateway to Big Sur. Highway 1 then enters the Big Sur region, crossing San Carpóforo Creek just south of the Monterey County line. For about 72 miles from San Carpóforo Creek, which marks southern end of the Big Sur coastline, to Malpaso Creek, the road winds and hugs the cliffs of Big Sur, passing various area coastal parks. The road briefly leaves the coast for a few miles, passing through a redwood forest in the Big Sur River valley. The Big Sur segment of the highway, built between 1919 and 1937, also crosses a number of now historic bridges, including scenic Bixby Creek Bridge, a reinforced concrete arch with a 320-ft. span that passes over the Bixby Creek gorge, the Rocky Creek Bridge and Big Creek Bridge.

Beyond lies Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and San Francisco, names etched deeply in the history and lore of California and the world.

The lure of the coast continues to make Highway 1 one of the greatest attractions for tourists and travelers taking the full measure of California. If you haven’t taken the drive then you haven’t experienced a part of California that will stick with you forever. If you live in San Luis Obispo and are looking to take a day drive that also fills the sails of your soul, remember Highway 1 and the gateway to Big Sur.

It’s in your backyard.