Distance: 27 miles
Driving Time: 30 minutes, but southbound traffic can come to a standstill on Sunday afternoons and at the end of a long weekend
On this scenic stretch of highway, ocean and mountains leave just enough room for the road, making for a very scenic drive. On a clear day, you'll see the Channel Islands offshore, along with some oil platforms.
Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, campers will find Carpinteria State Beach where you can camp oceanside. This spot is so popular during summer and nice weekends any time of year that you're unlikely to drive in and find a spot open, and during the busiest times you may have to reserve seven months in advance to get in.
Points of Interest
If you can tear your gaze away from the ocean, you may see citrus orchards north of the highway.
The long structure jutting into the ocean near Mussel Shoals is the 6200 Richfield Pier, privately-owned by an oil company. You may recognize it from films such as The Two Jakes and others.
And speaking of oil... On a clear day, you can see several offshore oil drilling and production platforms. According to website Edhat.com, they are quirkily assigned names whose first letters indicate their location, with “Irene” being furthest north and “Emmy” furthest south. Others are named Hidalgo, Harmony, Grace - and then (perhaps because they ran out of ideas) - A,B and C.
As you pass the tiny community of La Conchita, look on the inland side of the road and you may notice banana trees growing in backyards and along the streets. They're the remnants of a former banana plantation. There's also a young avocado orchard on the north side of town.
Where the coastline curves away from the highway just south of Santa Barbara is Rincon Beach, a favorite spot for local surfers and a nice place to stretch your legs and watch them (exit at Bates Rd).
Just south of Santa Barbara, you may catch a glimpse of the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club on the inland side of the road just south of exit 90. It's the third-oldest polo fields in the United States. During polo season (which runs off and on from April through October), you can watch the play on selected days.
Take CA Hwy 33 just north of Ventura for a side trip to Ojai, a small resort town in a location so idyllic that parts of the 1937 film Lost Horizon were filmed there. If you decide to stay overnight in Ojai, you can check for the best hotel rates at Tripadvisor.
You'll find a few places to stop along the highway for food and gasoline, but the highway is literally wedged between cliffs and ocean in places. You may be better off to fuel up in Santa Barbara or Ventura.