Updated: Aug 8, 2019
California's Highway One is a state highway. It runs from Capistrano Beach in Orange County to Leggett in northern Mendocino, a total of about 750 miles. You can tackle it in sections, pick just part of it to see or make the journey into a week-long road trip.
The road you think of as the Pacific Coast Highway is probably the section between Malibu and San Francisco. Its sights include Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, the Big Sur coast, Carmel, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.
One of the most scenic sections of Hwy 1 goes through beautiful Malibu. For the first part of the trip, the road passes the garages and back doors of coastal homes, but north of Pepperdine University it sometimes runs so near to the continent's edge that it feels like you could reach out and dangle your fingers in the water.
North of Oxnard, CA Hwy 1 merges with US Hwy 101. The stretch of 101 between Oxnard and Santa Barbara is especially scenic, with views of the Channel Islands offshore.
Just north of the Gaviota Tunnel (which is north of Santa Barbara), Hwy 101 turns inland, and you won't see the ocean again until you get to Pismo Beach, and then only briefly.
Hwy 1 splits off from Hwy 101 north of Gaviota, passing through Lompoc and Guadalupe before rejoining Hwy 101 just south of Pismo Beach. This 50-mile section is sometimes called the Cabrillo Highway. You could drive it if you want to cover every single inch of the famous highway, but there's little of interest if you're just sightseeing. From Pismo Beach to San Luis Obispo, Highways 1 and 101 are the same.