Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Mon April 18 2016

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  • A Cruising Couple | April 18, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    The Ultimate Highway 1 Road Trip For Nature Lovers

    The Ultimate Highway 1 Road Trip For Nature Lovers

    Photo by A Cruising Couple

    One of the most scenic stretches in the United States, Highway 1 is over 600 miles of dramatic cliff-side driving. Running all the way from San Francisco down to San Diego, there are plenty of pit stops along the way that are bound to leave nature-lovers awestruck. Here are a few of our favorite Highway 1 pit stops that will have you exploring the best outdoors attractions along the way:

    San Francisco

    Driving from North to South will put you on the outer side of the highway, closer to California's expansive ocean views. What's more, the "City by the Bay" is the perfect place to start your coastline tour. Kick off your road trip with a journey across the massive 1.2-mile long Golden Gate Bridge. Before you get started, stretch your legs along the Battery Park trails, which have spectacular views of the bridge and surrounding coastline.

    READ MORE: The 4 Best Coastal Drives in the Country

    San Gregorio State Beach

    one perfect sea

    Photo via Flickr/Nosha

    Visible from the highway, the San Gregorio State Beach is a beautiful barrier beach formed from where the river flows to meet the ocean. You can choose to either venture down to the beach area and walk along the sand or take in the spectacular view from one of the hiking paths that run along the sandstone cliffs above the beach. Nature lovers will be happy to note that birds can be spotted wading through the lagoon year-round.

    Pescadero State Beach

    Sunset at the Pescadero State Beach

    Photo via Flickr/Stanislav Sedov

    Another favorite stop for its unique terrain is Pescadero State Beach. The mile-long shoreline varies from rocky tide pools to sandy coves to jagged cliffs. The Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is just on the other side of the highway and is another great spot for spotting birds and other wildlife.

    Santa Cruz

    Wharf - Santa Cruz

    Photo via Flickr/Davide D’Amico

    The laid-back surf city of Santa Cruz is overflowing with great gems. The Natural Bridges State Beach just to the north features a natural bridge that towers over a section of the beach. This is also a great spot to see Monarch butterfly migrations.

    Once you get to town, take a stroll down the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the Wharf and then up West Cliff Drive to Seal Rock where you can see local surfers catching waves before they crash alongside the rocky cliffs.

    Monterey Bay

    Continuing your drive south you'll hit the town of Monterey, famous for its aquarium (which sees some two million visitors a year!) The aquarium is host to all kinds of marine animals including sea turtles, otters, sharks, and penguins!

    Big Sur

    Big Sur California

    Photo by A Cruising Couple

    The dramatic landscape of Big Sur will have you stopping to snap photos around every bend. Sparsely populated and bordered by the Santa Lucia Mountains, this stretch of the drive is our favorite along the entire route.

    Don't miss a stop at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, known for having seals, sea lions and sea otters, and the California Sea Otter Game Reserve further south where you can hike out to Point Sur and the Point Sur Lightstation. Also, be on the lookout for McWay Falls and Cove, a waterfall that spills into the beach and ocean below the highway.

    READ MORE: The Jucy Camper Van Makes Camping on California's Coast a Breeze

    Los Angeles

    Although the sprawling city of Los Angeles may not appear to have a lot to offer nature lovers, one of our favorite hikes was along the Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffith Park. The climb takes you up close and personal to the famous Hollywood sign and has excellent views out over the valley.

    San Diego

    Balboa Park, San Diego

    Photo via Flickr/Mity

    Highway 1 ends as you arrive in San Diego, a great place to finish your trip, considering how much there is to do. Home of the renowned San Diego Zoo, start by visiting the more than 3,500 animals including giraffes, koalas, apes, hippos and plenty more! After exploring the park, take a walk around the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the U.S.

    Have you driven the coast of California along Highway 1? What were your favorite stops for nature lovers?

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A Cruising Couple A Cruising Couple's Column

A Cruising Couple Dan and Casey are the two lovebirds, world travelers and adventurers extraordinaire behind the popular travel blog A Cruising Couple - adventure travel with a dash of class. Their stories and photographs feature that special place where experiential and stylish travel meet. Find out how you can spend less money, live more adventurously and travel more luxuriously on their blog,
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