image courtesy of California State Department of Parks and Recreation
The San Francisco Bay Area is the starting point. 1 NORTH
Highway 1 north from San Francisco allows an escape into a quieter, less-populated area. The two-lane road leading to Stinson Beach winds through fragrant eucalyptus groves, then rustic countryside that is rife with wildflowers in spring. It hugs ocean-side cliffs for long stretches, riding like a roller coaster and providing breathtaking views. The inland route known as Panoramic Highway is steep, with many blind curves. One of its nicknames is Kamikaze Alley, bestowed because of accidents that occur regularly in the fog. On sunny summer days, both roads become congested when everyone heads to the beach to soak up some of the famous California sunshine that is so elusive in the northern part of the state. A word of warning: The rocky cliffs and beaches along the coast are scenic and beautiful, and people sometimes forget that they are also dangerous. Though it is tempting to stand at the edge, where the surf is pounding, people have been washed out to sea doing just that. Don't be one of them. Be careful. Stay on trails. Obey posted signs. And take special care not to let children run loose.
The trip down Highway 1 from San Francisco features a breathtaking, cliff-hugging ride along the Pacific Ocean. After passing ridges of boxy houses in pastel tones (referred to as being made of “ticky-tacky” by folk singer Malvina Reynolds in her famous ‘60s song “Little Boxes”) and the beach town of Pacifica, Highway 1 winds to the ocean through a eucalyptus-lined path in the coastal foothills. A stretch of this road known as Devil’s Slide hugs cliffs dropping steeply into the sea. In fact, part of the road itself occasionally drops off, causing traffic congestion due to detours. Though many people make informal stops in the Devil’s Slide area to take pictures, it is unsafe. Restraint is in order until finding an official parking area. Once passing this hilly area, the road moves inland and becomes more flat and straight. When the Bay Area is blazing with sunshine, this area is often disappointingly socked in with fog. And vice versa. In fact, on many late summer and early fall days when San Francisco is covered with fog, this area is at its most beautiful. The area’s spectacular unspoiled beaches are a popular destination anytime, but they are especially so then, when the weather is usually warm and clear. Be careful, though, about going in the water, as tides can be dangerous. Always check with a ranger station or lifeguard before swimming.