California’s Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, is one of the most “road-tripped” highways in the world. It takes top rankings in most guides to road trips in the US, and for good reason.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to drive through the canyon with dinner in a basket, drop down onto PCH and pull into Zuma Beach for a picnic with friends at a lifeguard station.
The Pacific Coast Highway meanders along the entire west coast, through iconic coastal villages like Malibu, Santa Barbara and Carmel by the Sea. It dips and dives into the beaches below Santa Monica and rises up the steep curves of Big Sur. Everywhere, there are stories.
Here is where that famous movie car chase scene was shot…here are the best waves…here is where the swallows return in droves, year after year.
On our own summer road trip, we took the classic PCH route from Los Angeles, headed north. There are dozens of destinations worth mentioning, but we’re focusing on the ones that got our creative juices flowing. We’re making the case for coastal maximalism, one road trip stop at a time!
Our route follows Hollywood drama, politics, history, architecture, Oscar nominations – as well as the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll of the wild West Coast in the 1960s.
First stop – Hearst Castle – perhaps the most Mac Daddy maximalist home of modern times. William Randolph Hearst built his Xanadu in the high rolling hills of San Simeon, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Architect Julia Morgan was the architect of Hearst Castle, definitely groundbreaking (pun-intended!) for her time. She was one of the first women to receive an engineering degree from the University of California and was the first woman to earn an architectural degree from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. We love kick-ass women!
Hearst was a flamboyant newspaper publisher, politician and collector. He collected not only art and furniture, but entire carved wooden ceilings from the 1400s, textiles, light fixtures and fireplaces.
He also collected movie stars. His hilltop mansion was the social hub of the West Coast elite. Stars like Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow were often found lounging by the opulent pool or dining in the grand hall, mixing in with Winston Churchill and Howard Hughes.
Stars often stayed for weeks or months, making themselves at home in one of the castle’s many guest houses.
Julia Morgan’s invoice for the cost of construction of Hearst Castle (1919-1942) was $4,717,000. She designed, supervised and ran the construction project – definitely not the norm for a woman of her era.
Morgan’s architectural designs can be found up and down the West Coast and beyond. She embraced the Arts & Crafts movement, but believed in mixing things up. Structural innovation was mixed with scholarly references, formalism balanced with playfulness and whimsy.
And, especially with Hearst as a client, she found a way to layer in textures and collections from around the globe, creating a true maximalist’s paradise.
But she wasn’t the first to design eclectic, layered interiors along the Pacific Coast. More about that, in a sec…
Our next stop, Big Sur – is known for its excesses in other ways. For decades, Big Sur was the epicenter of bohemian literary and artistic movements. In the early 1900s, author Henry Miller moved in, and later photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams called the area home. Actors Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth came to stay. Jack Kerouac was there, too.
The counterculture was strong here – with nudist colonies and drunken brawls becoming part of the local landscape.
In fact, our soundtrack for this part of the journey, was heavily influenced by this hedonistic vibe. Feeling like a coastal wild child at the moment? Tune in and tune out — with our Spotify playlist.
On a road trip, there are several galleries and bookshops to pull into off PCH in Big Sur. We recommend the Henry Miller Memorial Library and the Hawthorne Gallery. For organic body products and soft t-shirts, check out the Post Ranch Mercantile.
The classic pit stop has to be Nepenthe, the restaurant located on cliffs above the ocean. It opened in 1949 and features simple and fresh California fare. The Phoenix Shop offers unique art, crafts and gift wares. But it’s the miles-long view of the coast below that really takes your breath away. Sit outside at one of the glassed-in counters and you’ll feel as if you are floating in space. In reality, you’re sitting on the very edge of the continent.
On the comfortable terrace, we found inspiration in the deep, rainbow of colorful pillows, set up for star-gazing and just hanging out.
We enjoyed a fresh caprese salad and a walk in the crisp, coastal air, before heading back to the open road.
At our next stop, Carmel by the Sea, we visited the Historic Carmel Mission, founded in 1700 by Father Junipero Serra. The Spanish influence is evident in many of the historic buildings and preserved interiors of the area. Walls are decorated with richly painted borders.
This plaster wall reminded us of our Tadelakt peel-and-stick wallpaper.
Decorative patterns are painted anywhere and everywhere. We fell in love with this simple graphic element next to a heavy wooden door.
Pottery, carved wood and woven textiles create layers of color and pattern in historically accurate rooms.
Even functional items, like protective window grates, get the decorative treatment.
We love seeing historic coastal maximalism in all its glory.
Even the rugged terrain of the California coast offers inspirational color palettes – and not just the expected nautical blues.
No Pacific Coast Highway road trip is complete without a hike to Point Lobos, China Cove and Bird Island. There, you’ll find emerald green waters and a tiny pocket beach, far from the madding crowd.
Climb up the trail for an ethereal view of the coast line…
…and hike to Bird Island for views of harbor seals and pelicans in a relatively untouched environment. Even the stones at Point Lobos offer natural patterns for inspiration.
And yes, I know! Road trips aren’t the best for maintaining pedicures!
Fully inspired by the color and pattern of the natural environment and sea breezes, still ruminating on grand coastal palaces, we filed away images for use in developing our own patterns and products, later.
What did we learn about self expression and maximalist interiors along the way?
First, you don’t have to be a publishing magnate or a world-renowned architect to be bold in your interiors. Do what you want! If it’s in your heart, put it on your walls and on your upholstery.
Add in organic items that reflect your environment. Seashells. Stones. Feathers. Sea glass. Paint on your walls or your furniture. Make things. Collect. Mix it all up in a way that makes sense to you.
Basically – commit to living with what you love.
If you’d like more, modern coastal maximalism inspiration, click here to download our free guide.
For more road trip inspiration, follow along every Thursday as we travel across America.