Enjoy your study with me, an odology* of California’s Coast Road, also known as California Highway 1 or California State Route 1.  It is not U.S. Highway 1.  That is east coast.

CA SR1.  Westside.  California Drive.

More familiarly it is referred to as “PCH,” as in Pacific Coast Highway, but only in the southern third of the State, and in the many-published, glossy, over-sized photography books.

Assembly Bill 1769, Chapter 1569, passed the State Assembly in 1959, officially designating a name to three geographic stretches of California State Route 1: Pacific Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway, and Shoreline Highway.

In southern California, locals refer to Highway 1 along the stretch of California coastline as “Pacific Coast Highway,” or, “PCH,” from where 1 begins in San Juan Capistrano, then northward through Laguna, Newport, Huntington, and Malibu, until the road reaches the urban-farmtown of Oxnard, where the road conjoins with Highway 101 through Santa Barbara.

Some locals say “the” in front of “PCH.” Others merely, yet specifically, call it, “PCH,” as in, “Take PCH up to Laguna Canyon Road, then head east to Irvine.”

North of Santa Barbara, PCH, referred to as Highway 1, turns inland through Gaviota Pass, then separates from 101 in a north-northwest direction through the old Army town of Lompoc, past Vandenberg Air Force Base, and then dips and curves through tall eucalyptus groves into the dry California country of Nipomo and Guadalupe, rejoining 101 at the off-road vehicle beachtown of Pismo.

Forgotten along the San Luis Obispo County stretch of Highway 101 (101, the old “El Camino Real”), until reaching the Cal-Poly town of San Luis Obispo, Highway 1 then reappears westward on maps as the “Old San Luis Road.” (Though not many drivers use the term, “Old San Luis Road.”)

From the coast town of Morro Bay, then northward, Highway 1 cruises through Cambria, Cayucos, San Simeon. At Lucia, then onward through Big Sur, begins the most photographed portion of Coast Highway.

Although Assembly Bill 1769 signs this portion of Highway 1 as the “Cabrillo Highway,” (so named for João Rodrigues Cabrilho, or Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer who is the first recorded explorer of California’s coast), few locals refer to the road as, “Cabrillo Highway.” Instead the natives say, “Coast Highway.” Coast Highway remains the vernacular all-along the Central Coast until Monterey.  When this road was first proposed and then constructed, this portion was labeled, “Carmel-San Simeon Highway.”  Now reference is made to this stretch on maps as Cabrillo Highway, but most often simply as CA SR1.

Cabrillo Highway signs this Central Coast portion through Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo counties, up to the foggy surf town of Pacifica, the same town from which the deer hunting party of Baja California gobernador-explorer, Gaspar de Portolá, made the discovery in 1769 of the great estuary that was to later be found a bay and named, the Bay of San Francisco.

From Pacifica, Cabrillo Highway winds up a steep grade, conjoining with Highway 280, and 19th Avenue, through San Francisco and its Presidio. At the Golden Gate Bridge, that rust red beauty to which the Sierra Club once opposed, 1 conjoins again with Highway 101, into Marin County, through the Rainbow Tunnel, and then, finally, north of Sausalito, 1 separates from 101 to wind around the southern flank of Mount Tamalpais. (“Tamalpais,” from the Coast Miwok, ‘coast mountain.”)

Up along a ridgeline, separating the slope of Mount Tam from the geothermal-pocketed and pebble-y Marin County beaches, Highway 1 drops down into the quiet West Marin country towns of Stinson, Point Reyes Station, and Tomales. Reaching maximum speeds of 30 along tight twists of road is considered a fast acceleration. Through rolling, grassy, and oak tree-studded grazing land, Highway 1 is signed by Assembly Bill 1769, as well as referred to locally, as “Shoreline Highway.” 200 miles later, through Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, Highway 1 terminates at Fort Leggett and Highway 101.

*”Odology is the science or study of roads and motorways, from the Greek word odos or hodos, meaning road. The word odology was coined by the geographer John Brinckerhoff Jackson in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, and refers to their cultural, economic and spiritual meaning.”


16 thoughts on “Vernacular

  1. fabulous blog – interesting topic. i’ve bookmarked you – i’ll be teaching social studies to fourth graders this year, and fourth grade means california history! lots of great stuff here! thanks!

  2. Yes, and when I lived there, probably hasn’t changed, we just said “PCH.” No local every said “Pacific Coast Highway.” Just like up here it’s just “Coast highway.”
    I’ll have to ask people above Ft. Bragg what they call it, as there ain’t no other road.

  3. I loved that you point out that it is just PCH, not ‘the’ PCH. Just like no local would ever say ‘the’ OC (“I’m going to the Orange County”, that’s not right). Sadly after Hollywood left it’s mark, some have adopted ‘the’ OC….but not me.

    Hope you are well A!

  4. Meade! Glad to see you buddy. I look forward to more of our join-ups along the Coast Road. 🙂

    Further plans? Don’t know. What began as one intent is currently on hold. Maybe that original plan will morph into a new project?

  5. I don’t think you told me about this site. Came upon it looking for something else and saw your name. Good work. What further plans for this project?

  6. i have been following your posts for a while now all i can say
    is they are great. I look forward to reading more from you.

  7. Thanks for clearing up and describing the different terms for describing this road. Since I’m a transplant to the area AND making paintings of the area, it’s good to know what to title the paintings.

    Your now my official expert on the area. I’m going to come to you for my information, and some inspiration. 🙂

  8. I’m glad to have you along for the ride, Dominic!

    I’m only covering Highway 1 as it runs from San Juan Capistrano to Leggett. Once it turns inland through the Redwood Empire I see it as Highway 101-only.

    Please continue to check in. I’ll try to keep the place lively. 🙂

  9. I look forward to viewing your sequential photos of California Highway 1 from Oregon to Mexico. I expect you’ll be taking that trip soon.

    Good luck on The Coast Road – the perfect blog for you!

  10. I did not! So thank you! It’s kind of motivating for me to then get going. So, thanks. 🙂

    See you around, or maybe at a coastal campground!

  11. We love HMB and the San Mateo Coast. We will often camp down at Butano State Park for a quick getaway. We’re located in the East Bay.

    I found your blog on by looking through the Big Sur tag. I bet you didn’t expect an visitors so soon. 🙂 It’s a great topic.

  12. Hey thanks – it’s just getting started. How did you come across it?

    Your blog is interesting (at first glance, I’ll spend more time to check it out further)! I love microbrew beer and California camping too. We must be twins. I’m in HMB, are you on the Mendo coast?

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