- Helping you drive happy

The best part of the best drive in the world

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Alex Law
Peel back the socialized surface of most drivers anywhere in the world and you'd likely find that their dream traffic situation could be summarized thusly: to go wherever I want, whenever I want, in whatever I want, with whom I want, as fast as I want.

(Photo: Alex Law)
It is my experience that this dream has no greater influence on the driving dynamic than it does in what is known as Southern California, which essentially means the land crowded up against the Pacific Ocean inside the San Diego-Santa Barbara-San Bernardino axis, with tendrils stretching to Las Vegas and Palm Springs.

It is true that the center of this triangle -- Los Angeles -- is justifiably famous for being the antithesis of the driver's dream. I've driven in traffic along an eight-lane section of I-5 through LA at 2 a.m. going 120 kmh in traffic so busy you couldn't pass anyone, and at 6 a.m. on the same road going 10 kmh because of overwhelming traffic volumes at the start of rush hour.

But it is also true that the area is also capable of making the dream come true. A person could get off an airplane at LAX, for example, and an hour's travel in pretty much any paved direction would put them on one of the best driver's roads in the world, in the middle of surprisingly undeveloped land.

(Photo: Alex Law)
My first choice in this regard is the fabled California Highway One, which the locals call The PCH, short for the Pacific Coast Highway. For the most part, the PCH lives up to its name all the way from the Mexican frontier to the Oregon border, though there are places when it strays away from the water or even disappears completely. It is my great good fortune to say that I have driven more of the ocean-hugging road than nearly anyone, and I can tell you that it is the best drive in the world.

Driving northwest toward Santa Barbara from LAX, however, it's only interesting at the start. You can cheat upon leaving the airport and head south to the Imperial Highway, where a right turn will take you to Vista Del Mar ("view of the sea"). This runs right along between the water and the western edge of the airport and allows you a view of the abandoned subdivision at the end of the runways, where the houses are gone but the roads and palm trees remain.

(This is all spectacularly visible in the hybrid iteration of, by the way, if you want to follow along.)

Marina Del Rey's harbor forces you away from the ocean, but you can turn back to it quite quickly and rejoin the oceanfront on the other side. This stretch passes roads that are named in an alphabetical nautical theme, so you soon encounter Yawl Street and quickly pass Topsail, Spinnaker, Mast, Fleet, Catamaran and the rest before getting to Anchor.

(Photo: Alex Law)
Shortly thereafter comes Washington, where you are advised to park and join the crowds on Ocean Front Walk. This is an excellent place to immerse yourself in the deep weirdness that is the LA beach culture, which has its epicenter at Venice Beach and one of whose sun-baked denizens is guaranteed to make your jaw drop.

Driving north again you are quickly returned to the conservative beach lifestyle, where money counts more than a stoner attitude. This steps up a notch when you reach Santa Monica, the best place in the world to be a homeless person, thanks to liberal municipal attitudes and the weather, dude.
Alex Law
Alex Law
Automotive expert