The Road Less Traveled: 17-Mile Drive

While taking our trip up the coast, we had to stop and drive the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. The 17-Mile Drive is widely recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world. The famous coastal landmark runs through Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach, from the dramatic Pacific coastline to the majestic Del Monte Forest. The drive passes famous golf courses, mansions and scenic vistas and landmarks. 

  

It began as a carriage road for guests at Monterey’s Hotel del Monte in the early 1880s, and since then has been lauded for its magnificent scenery. The drive now serves as the main road through the gated community of Pebble Beach. There are 5 entrances, with the most convenient being the entrance off of Highway 1. The drive from the Highway 1 Gate and the Carmel Gate is approximately 17 miles. There is a $10 fee to enter the community, which gives you access to the area and a map to follow along. The fee can be reimbursed if you dine at one of the restaurants within the area. The route is easy to follow, as the points of interest are clearly marked. There is also red painted dashes to help you follow the route. You can also follow the Interactive Map

  

There are 21 points of interest along the drive, and they showcase the majestic beauty this part of California has to offer. 

Inn at Spanish Bay

The Inn at Spanish Bay is a five star resort, beautifully sited next to rolling sand dunes and in the middle of a Scottish-style links golf course. An interesting note about the Links at Spanish Bay, is they have a bagpiper close the course every evening. 

  
 Across from the Inn is Spanish Bay. Spanish Bay was once the landing point for the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola.  It’s also famous because of its surf. It is a right beach break, and while waves are reportedly best from September to March, they can be found year-round. This is also a great picnic spot as well as a great place to walk along the shore.    

 

Restless Sea

In between Spanish Bay and Point Joe is an area where the ocean always seems restless. The turbulence from the rocky underwater terrain keeps the ocean in a constant tumbling motion. There are some great views of the restless sea from Point Joe. 

  

When explorers first came to this part of the California coast, they often mistook Spanish Bay for the Monterey Bay, its bigger counterpart in the north. Many of them met disaster on the rocks as they tried to make their way to shore.

  

Point Joe

Joe was Chinese man who lived alone in a driftwood house near this point in the early 1900s.  He made a living selling trinkets to tourists and tending goats.  No one knows for sure if the point was named for Joe or if he was named after the point. Point Joe offers some great views of the Restless Sea and Spanish Bay. 


  



China Rock

Along the coastline, from Point Joe to China Rock, Chinese fishermen built lean-tos and small shacks against the rocks from the late 1800s to early 1900s.  Chinese immigrants were the first to commercially fish the waters of Monterey Bay and helped make Monterey a successful fishing port.


  

Bird Rock 

This one is pretty obvious. Bird Rock is a rock along the coast and  is called “bird rock” because of all the white stuff they leave on it. You’ll typically see cormorants, pelicans and California sea lions sharing the rock – and a harbor seal or two hanging out near the water line. If you’re lucky, you can also see a few sea otters floating in the kelp bed. 

  

In case you wonder why the cormorants sit in such weird looking positions, there’s an easy explanation.

Unlike other sea birds that have waterproof feathers, the cormorant has to dry out between dives. So it stretches its wings in odd-looking directions to catch the sun. 

  

Fanshell Overlook and Cypress Point Lookout

Both Fanshell Overlook and Cypress Point Lookout are spots favored by mother harbor seals to birth their pups. Something about that white sand and the ocean waves crashing on the surf……I think we understand why they like it. Both lookouts are closed April 1 through June 1 during the pupping season.  

  

Looking out over the ocean you will actually be looking at Carmel Canyon, part of the 10,000-foot-deep Monterey Canyon and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 
  

 


Cypress Point was called Cabo de Nieve (Cape Snow) by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.  Nobody is sure why he saw a white landscape in 1542.  Many years after the first Europeans roamed the area, a missionary called the small peninsula La Punta de los Cipreses (Cypress Point) and the name stuck.

 When Cabrillo arrived to the area the Monterrey cypress was nearly extinct.  It only occurs naturally from this point to Point Pescadero and in Point Lobos (south of Carmel).  Nowadays, thanks to conservation efforts, this type of cypress has been planted all around the world.

  


The Lone Cypress

The Lone Cypress is one of the most photographed trees in the world. The tree is so iconic, the Pebble Beach Company adopted it as their logo. Since the Lone Cypress is trademarked, no images of the tree are to be used for profit or commercial use. Personal use of images is acceptable and welcomed. 

  

The Lone Cypress is perched on a granite out cropping and has stood the test of time for over 250 years. It’s even had to deal few overzealous visitors from time to time. Access to the point where the tree is perched is restricted, but there are plenty of places where you can have an unrestricted view of the tree. 

  

The Lone Cypress is the most popular stop along the 17-Mile drive. It is also the stop with the least amount of parking. Patience is a virtue when waiting for a spot to open up. It’s definitely worth the wait!


Pescadero Point

Perscadero Point offers spectacular views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove. The famous “Witch Tree” landmark, often used as scenic background in movies and television, was formally at Pescadero Point. The tree was blown down by a storm on January 14, 1964. 

   

 

Pescadero Point is also home to the Ghost Tree. The tree has long since “given up the ghost,” but tourist enjoy it so much, they’ve built a wall around the roots to keep it in place. The Ghost Tree is a Monterey Cypress.  It’s been bleached by the elements over time. 

  


Pebble Beach

Built in 1919, The Lodge at Pebble Beach is home to the Pebble Beach Golf Links and is a fine place to stay if it fits into your budget. Even if you don’t plan to spend the night, its public areas are open to everyone and you’ll find a few nice shops to putter around in. 

   

Across the street, you’ll find a bank and a small market that sells sandwiches and snacks.

Shortly after you pass the Lodge, you’ll see signs for the Carmel exit. 

Take that and not only will you avoid any backups at Hwy 1, but you’ll end up in scenic downtown Carmel.


  

Here are some great tips for when you take the drive yourself. 


  1. There are five entrances into the community. The main highway entrance at California State Route 1 is the most popular and is the one we used on our trip.
  2. The entrance fee is $10.00.  The money can be reimbursed if you dine or shop within the community. You can also get in for free if know someone that lives within the community. 
  3. A map describing the major attractions is provided upon paying the entrance.  It is very easy to navigate the road using the map and the signals. You can also find an interactive map by clicking here
  4. The only services open to the public are at the Inn at Spanish Bay and at the Lodge at Pebble Beach. It is better to go prepared with what you need. There are grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations in the surrounding towns. 
  5. The drive can get really busy (especially around sunset).  Be prepared to encounter packed parking lots (be patient, the wait for a spot is not long), people walking on the streets and several aggressive or lost drivers.
  6. The best time to visit is during the Spring or Fall. During the Summer, the fog can stay inland until late in the day. So if your trip brings you at that time, be sure to come in the afternoon, giving the sun some time to burn off the fog. Even if you’re unable to make it at those times, the views are amazing and you won’t be disappointed! 

Above all, have fun, stay safe and make lots of memories! If you liked this post or have any questions, please comment below! You can also subscribe for more adventures like this and follow us on Facebook

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23 thoughts on “The Road Less Traveled: 17-Mile Drive

  1. I drove the 17-mile drive in late November, early December last year with my daughter and it was lovely. We had the place practically to ourselves. Bring a windbreaker, though!

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    1. I can imagine needing a wind breaker, especially in that time of year. I’ve been able to drive the 17-Mile Drive a couple of times, and it’s been busy each time. Never tried it in the fall/winter months though.

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  2. Thanks for the really detailed post about the 17 mile drive! I was just up north last week but decided to skip it because of the fee (which I didn’t know was reimbursable!) and because I thought aside from the tree, it was similar to the other scenic parts of the Highway 1 drive. The China Rock is really cool, it looks like Joshua Tree but on the ocean!

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  3. What a gorgeous drive, completely new to me. I’ve done some incredibly beautiful drives along the California coastline but this is news to me. And you got to see seals, so fun, and not something I’ve seen in California apart from the pier in San Francisco. Thanks for sharing this experience.

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    1. Thanks Aileen! You should definitely go on a road trip! There are tons of great places to visit, especially in California! If you want/need any suggestions, I’d love to help!

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  4. Fantastic pictures of the 17-mile drive. At one point of our full-time travel we plan to drive cross country, so this would be a great drive to experience!

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  5. Amazing shots – we literally just did this drive this week and LOVED it! Such a fab spot in California – hadn’t heard of it before we reached Carmel but really glad we did 🙂

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  6. We took that drive on our honeymoon 15 years ago next month! What a pretty place. I enjoyed looking at the names of the homes. Many have signs just off the streets. One I remember was ‘7th heaven’ and we have named our homes ever since!

    Great post. I did not realize there were so many named rocks!
    Natalie

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    1. I completely forgot to include the names of the homes. There are some pretty neat ones. I think I would ‘borrow’ 7th Heaven for my home as well. It just fits.

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