San Francisco Coastal Drive - Pictures & Map (stunning!)

Yes, it really does look like this. All my photos are unretouched!
Yes, it really does look like this. All my photos are unretouched!

Gorgeous views into the ocean - a 30-minute drive from San Francisco!

One of the nicest things about living in San Francisco is the gorgeous natural beauty around it. No matter which direction you head, you're bound to find plenty of visual richness to take in. Heading North, you can enjoy the Marin Headlands, Mount Tamalpais (Mt Tam), and the lush greenery of Marin County. To the East, you have the Oakland Hills, including Mount Diablo. To the West, well, you have the expansive Pacific Ocean, with the Farallon Islands a few hours away by boat.

But to the South, you can hug the coast along Highway 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), a picturesque road that goes all the way down to Southern California. Just south of Pacifica and before you reach Half Moon Bay, there are some truly mesmerizingly beautiful spots where you can relax, take in the natural beauty, and be relatively unbothered by noise, crowds, and other drawbacks of city life.

show route and directions
A markerGray Whale Cove State Beach -
Gray Whale Cove State Beach, South Coastside, CA 94044, USA
[get directions]

A quiet, but expansive, white sand beach hugged on both sides by towering bluffs. Beautiful wooden steps lead you down from the road.

B markerDevil's Slide -
Devils Slide, California, USA
[get directions]

Sheer cliffs from this point going southward. The last one, right before you reach Gray Whale Cove, has a WW2 military bunker & unbelievable views

Devil's Slide

Without a doubt, the Devil's Slide range of cliffs has some of the most dramatically beautiful ocean views so close to San Francisco. Check out the pictures to the right if you don't believe me.

I strongly suggest visiting on a day with decent weather, heading down Highway 1 from Pacifica. It is a short, 5-minute drive south from the "center" of Pacifica (where Linda Mar Boulevard and Highway 1 meet). You will pass the Tom Lantos Tunnels (still currently under construction) twice: once on the Bay side, and again on the ocean side. The very next turnoff on your righthand side is where you're going to want to stop. You'll recognize the place because you'll see a lone bunker perched at the end of the cliff.

Park your car, and walk up the sandy paths to the bunker. Be very careful! This area is not well-protected, so don't take any risks! There is plenty to see and enjoy without jeopardizing your safety.

Military bunker: The bunker is a bit of history, even in its current dilapidated condition. Apparently, in 1940, the US War Department purchased close to 10 acres along the Devil's Slide area, to build base end stations overlooking the ocean in the pre-radar era, which were completed in 1943. Military personnel stationed in this bunker and 2 others along the coast would use binoculars or a telescope, and a compass to relay information about incoming ships to a central command center. There, triangulating with the measurements from the 3 bunkers, a precise position and trajectory of the ship could be calculated. Naturally, modern technology eventually obviated the need for outposts like these, and this type of setup, in use in the US since the 1890s, was discontinued in 1946.

Beautiful flora: If you're here during the summer in particular, you'll notice incredibly vivid colors all around you. The area is blessed with a multitude of brightly-hued plants, including (see picture to the right):

  • the intensely bluish-purple Douglas iris
  • and the glistening Bluff Lettuce, with bright yellow flowers, and bright red, almost prehistoric-looking, stem (this is my personal favorite, hence, the closeup!)
  • the lavender-colored Farewell-to-Spring
  • the white, ball-shaped flower clusters of the Coastal Angelica

If you're a total botany buff and would like to identify loads more, check out this site which catalogs most of the wild plants you'll see in the area.

Photo opportunities: Because of the tremendous light and natural contrasts of this terrain, you can take some pretty awesome pictures. I took all these photos with my camera phone! Granted, the phone I have has a pretty nice 8MP camera, but the pictures demonstrate you won't have to lug around an expensive DSLR to take memorable photos.

There are a couple of stretches that go to the edge of the cliff, right down below the bunker. You can (carefully!) walk...or crawl...to the end of one of them, and have someone else take pictures from the other, or from the base, that are almost melodramatic. See the pictures to the right to see what I'm talking about!

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Just about a half-mile down the road from the Devil's Slide bunker is the Gray Whale Cove State Beach. There will be a parking lot to your left. Park, and carefully cross the road to the other side to make your way down the paved path until you reach the top of the wooden staircase.

The wooden staircase will slowly take you down the ravine into the beach, where clean, white sand awaits you.

The setting for the beach is almost as nice as the beach itself. It's nestled between the Devil's Slide to the north, and other promontories to the south as you make your way towards Montara. Behind is the vast McNee Ranch State Park, which is one giant agglomeration of green. Tucked in from the noise above and with any sense of civilization completely out of view, you can feel like you and other beach visitors are on "the Island" from Lost.

On a bluff right above the beach, there's a picnic area that's well-shielded from the surf, even during high tide, so feel free to bring a blanket and a basket full of food if you want to have a pleasant, seaside picnic.

While you can bring towels, blankets, and picnic food, there wasn't anywhere to dispose of garbage except at the top of the staircase, so you should plan on bringing your litter back up with you. It's also supposedly a dog-free park (although we did see people bring their dogs), and fires are forbidden (rules).

What is it called "Gray Whale Cove"? Apparently you can occasionally see gray whales from the shore here. We were not that lucky, but apparently the season to see them is:

  • mid-January (southern migration, from Alaska to Baja California)
  • mid-March (northern migration, from Baja California back to Alaska)
  • late-April/early-May (to see mothers and their calves)

I personally find the water too cold to take a swim in, but it can be nice to walk along the water's edge barefoot. There are all sorts of interesting-looking seaweed, including the odd "sea sacs" (or sea nipples, Halosaccion glandiforme) which look like elongated green orbs filled with water & air in varying proportions.

A couple more pictures from atop Devil's Slide

Facing north from Devil's Slide
Facing north from Devil's Slide
The pounding surf from up above at Devil's Slide.
The pounding surf from up above at Devil's Slide.
Facing south from Gray Whale Cove State Beach
Facing south from Gray Whale Cove State Beach

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Comments 19 comments

Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco

Highway one has to be one of the prettiest highways in North America. I love all of your photos. We have never stopped at Gray Whale Cove; will have to do that before the weather turns!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you for your comment, Robin! It's absolutely worth the drive on a sunny day. The beauty is really otherworldly. And you can head south about 10 minutes for some seafood afterwards if you like! :)


doodlebugs profile image

doodlebugs 5 years ago from Southwest

Beautiful photos. We just got back from Sonoma county, where we took Hwy 1 down to San Francisco. What a lovely, but winding drive.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, doodlebugs! The 1 is great up in Marin and wine country, too. And, yes, I actually have to do the driving there, since I get carsick otherwise. :)


INFJay profile image

INFJay 5 years ago from Santa Rosa, California

Fantastic photos! I need to get out more and enjoy such a beautiful backyard we live in. Thanks for sharing.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

We have spent some time on Highway 1 but not in the gorgeous spots you have highlighted in this hub. Thank you so much for showing us these areas. Your photos are wonderful. All the ups except funny.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

Nice page and information livelonger. And photos - I particularly like the big one with the ground cover plants and the cliff in the background.

It's easy to find information on the major attractions of a city like San Francisco - but not so easy to find info and photos about the local vicinity, places to go just for a day out etc. So pages like this are useful for tourists visiting, and for residents who don't know what's on their own doorstep!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

It has been more than a year since I've stopped by Devil's Slide- your gorgeous photos remind me that I've got to go back there! Thanks for the wonderful reminder. Hurrah for living in the Bay Area!


WesternHistory profile image

WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

Thanks for a very excellent hub with great photos. I spend a part of each year in the San Francisco area and I agree it is one of the most scenic areas in the U.S. I've visited the old World War Two shore batteries and have particularly enjoyed the area north around Bodega Bay and Jenner. Lots of great things to do and excellent photo ops.


Maddie Ruud profile image

Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

It's almost worth buying a car...


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you, everyone!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK

Great pictures. I seem to recognise some of these scenes from the occasional Hitchcock movie. Would love to get out there to see them.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Simply gorgeous photographs and so inspirational! I love road trips, and as a West Coast resident, this is definitely a possibility without much preparation. Coastal drives are beautiful. Love this hub!


webcheck 5 years ago

Thanks so much for posting this. Maybe I will make that trip sometime.


rwelton profile image

rwelton 5 years ago from Sacramento CA

Loved the memory lane- Used to live in 'the city' and my motorcycle would take me up and down Hwy 1 on many an adventure...with little hidden campsites a car couldn't get to... awesome pics...voted up!

rlw


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

Oh, I miss the ocean. Absolutely gorgeous photos!


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

Very beautiful... I do not know why I ever left the ocean and why I have not moved back. I think I will have to plan a road trip to Point Reyes... Thank you for the awesome hub and beautiful photographs.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Nice hub! Good information and pictures. It sounds like I need to make a trip to San Franciso some day. Voted up and interesting!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 3 years ago from Western New York

How absolutely beautiful. When I was a kid, we used to drive from Riverside, CA to Big Sur (and eventually up to San Francisco, where my great uncle lived). Driving up PCH was always a fun trip, though my mother called it the Highway of Doom due to the sheer cliffs on one side of the highway! I miss driving along the ocean and looking out to see sea otters and sea lions basking in the sun. If we ever make it to Northern California again, we'll definitely stop at Devil's Slide!

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