Scenic Drives in Los Angeles: Drives on the Coast

Photo courtesy of Eric Demarcq, Flickr

When a cliff is the only thing separating the road and that beautiful mass of Pacific blue, it's tough not to crank up the stereo and sing LA's praises. These scenic drives are a sports car's dream: winding roads, tight turns, beautiful beaches and clear skies. All along the coast, these drives take you through beach towns and past palm trees, while offering plenty of stops to take it all in. Don't forget to put the top down — you'll want people to know how much fun you're having.

Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Zuma Beach in Malibu (20 miles)

The Vehicle: A Porsche 911 Carrera convertible. Ray-Bans should be worn; plastic visors shouldn’t.

The Story: The first thing to know about this drive is that locals never call it Pacific Coast Highway; it’s PCH. A sun-drenched road hugging the coastline, this is LA’s signature drive — the one people envision when they think of LA. Look to one side and you’ll see beaches full of pickup volleyball games, sun worshippers and surfers waiting for the next set. Turn to the other side and you’ll see multimillion dollar homes from the pages of People magazine set atop rugged mountains. This is one drive that’s beautiful any time of day, from sunrise to sunset. You don’t need a map to navigate; just head north from Santa Monica and then head back the way you came.

Reasons to Pull Over: Watch longboarders catch rolling waves at Surfrider Beach; immerse yourself in classical Mediterranean art at the Getty Villa; or wander near the cliffs of Point Dume in search of seashells and inner Zen.

North Sepulveda Boulevard from Redondo Beach to Manhattan Beach (4 miles)

The Vehicle: 1969 Dodge Charger (a.k.a. “The General”) — a little vintage shine will fit right in with this stretch of beach cities.

The Story: This stretch of Highway 1 is North Sepulveda Boulevard, which runs through the aptly named South Bay, the area between the Palos Verdes Peninsula and El Segundo. The prime real estate for visitors include three of the coast’s best beaches: Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan. While the drive passes through these beach towns, several offshoots take you straight to the sand. Enjoy the neighborhood atmosphere of these beaches at local bars, restaurants and piers.

Reasons to Pull Over: Get lost in the seaside views at Redondo Pier; take a walk on The Strand in Hermosa Beach, the town’s bike and walking path; get pancakes at local favorite, Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.

Palos Verdes Drive from Palos Verdes Estates to San Pedro (14 miles)

The Vehicle: An Alfa Romeo 8C — high-end, curvy and beautiful.

The Story: This drive is arguably one of the nicest in Southern California. Think Pirates of the Caribbean — several scenes in these Disney films were filmed on and off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Expect winding roads, craggy cliffs, miles of coastline, sandy beaches and breathtaking vistas around most every turn. If you’re lucky, you might spot a Palos Verdes Blue, an endangered butterfly resident to the peninsula. This drive is so pretty — and so geographically interesting — you’ll definitely have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road. Never fear — rest stops along the way provide plenty of opportunities to pull over and snap some pictures. A few directional notes: as you head into San Pedro, take West 25th Street as Palos Verdes Drive South ends. Head north on South Pacific Avenue toward one of San Pedro's distinctive landmarks, Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Reasons to Pull Over: Keep an eye out for migrating gray whales at the Point Vicente Lighthouse; check out the Lloyd Wright-designed Wayfarers Chapel; hike down to the shoreline to look for the remains of the Dominator, a freighter that ran aground in 1961; play the back nine at Trump National Golf Club; check out the Korean Bell of Friendship in San Pedro.