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From modern jazz to the Jazz Age

Highway 1 cuts to the chase on the edge of California

The California coast's ridged cliffs.

Between Monterey and San Simeon, California's Highway 1 dips and rolls along high cliffs and scenic valleys on the rugged California coast. Hardly a mile goes by without some incredible vista or historic site. The road is narrow and winding, so go slow and be careful.

Seven miles south of Monterey lies Point Lobos State Reserve, dubbed "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world" by landscape artist Francis McComas. Access to the park is limited -- potential visitors queue up outside waiting for vehicles to leave before the next is allowed in.

Helpful Info: Highway 1 highlights

The park offers scuba diving, unusual geologic formations, hiking, and plenty of opportunities to see nature at its wildest, including the sights and sounds of the California coast's famed sea lions.

About 18 miles out of Monterey, the highway crosses the 714-foot Bixby Bridge over Bixby Bixby BridgeCanyon -- built by prisoners seeking to knock time off their sentences -- and nears Point Sur Lightstation State Historic Park. The light, built 270 feet up on a block of volcanic rock in 1889, is open to tours on weekends (Call (408)625-4419 or 667-2316). The rock promontory that is home to the light and its support buildings is nearly separated from the mainland by the Pacific waters. The area is a prime location for watching the semi-annual whale migrations between Baja and Alaska.

The area's largest state park is 27 miles into the drive -- most of Andrew Molera is accessible only on foot, horseback or bicycle. It provides 20 miles of hiking trails, fishing and swimming, and plenty of access to the Pacific surf.

The Big Sur Valley comes after Molera State Park, bringing the first signs of true modern civilization since departing Monterey. Restaurants, hotels, supplies and even a post office fall on a short stretch of highway before the extensive vistas begin again.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is inland, Big Surtucked beneath canyon walls and sheltered by large trees. Eleven miles further south, tiny Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park features McWay Falls' 50-foot tumble down the cliff to the beach below -- and 1,680 acres of underwater reserve. The Pfeiffers were an early California pioneer family.

A remarkable side trip begins 60 miles south of Monterey at the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road -- a mountain road that provides the only automobile access between Highway 1 and the inland US 101. It's an even trickier trek than Highway 1, and runs through a military reservation. Get maps before trying this trip.

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Almost 95 miles after it began this precipitous journey, Highway 1 stumbles into San Simeon, home of William Randolph Hearst's famed Hearst Castle. The newspaper magnate called his hilltop estate in the Santa Lucia mountains simply "The Ranch," but its 165 rooms reflected the lifestyle Hearst -- and many of the illuminati of the 1920s and 1930s -- enjoyed. The estate is now a State Historical Monument.

From modern jazz to the Jazz Age, Highway 1 spans the gap while speeding daringly on the very edge of the West Coast -- worth a day or two of any Monterey area visit.

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Photos courtesy Monterey Peninsula Visitor & Convention Bureau

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