Cruising California's Pacific Coast Highway on a classic summer road trip
When four twentysomething women are silent in a car, you know something is up.

Or down. Or in this case, both, in the form of hundred-foot rocky cliffs that dropped off sharply to our left, plummeting to meet the aquamarine Pacific Ocean, and the scrub-covered Santa Lucia Mountains rising to our right.

We were halfway through a summer road trip up California's Pacific Coast Highway, and it hadn't taken long for the rugged beauty to silence us all. You can only say "wow" so many times until simply not saying anything is the best exclamation of awe.

One of the country's most famous scenic drives, California State Route 1 runs along the Pacific Coast from Dana Point in Orange County to Leggett.

The heart of the road's beauty comes in a 90-mile stretch through central California known as Big Sur. Low on development and big on breathtaking views, the route was designated as the Pacific Coast Highway in 1968 and has been drawing tourists ever since.

Many opt to begin the popular road trip in the north and travel south, but our plan was to begin near San Diego, where three of us from Milwaukee met up with a friend living in La Jolla on the Fourth of July.

Four perfectly sunny days, three beaches, two breweries and one stingray sting later and we set off for a three-day trip up the coast.

Day 1: San Diego to San Luis Obispo

Carefully packed into our rented Chevy Malibu, we opted for a quick jaunt up to Los Angeles along Interstate 5 before officially beginning the scenic drive.

We rolled into Los Angeles along Highway 101 blasting Katy Perry's "California Gurls" and unabashedly perusing a giant Hollywood star locator map if we were going to be tourists, we might as well embrace it.

After a quick stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and obligatory photos in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre, we made our way into the Hollywood Hills along Mulholland Drive for views of the Hollywood sign and the surrounding valley.

We trailed a few tour buses the same ones that hawked their celebrity sightseeing trips up and down Hollywood Blvd. but our giant map and own musings (is that Bruce Willis in front of us?) were enough entertainment.

Back in the valley, we refueled at Mel's Drive-In along the Sunset Strip before making our way alongside the Bentleys and Benzes on Santa Monica Blvd. to the ocean and the start of our Pacific Coast journey.

We turned north onto Highway 1 and drove past the long, white sandy beaches through Malibu we somehow missed the joke of driving a Malibu through Malibu before veering slightly inland at Oxnard and joining up with Highway 101 for a stretch up to Santa Barbara.

A short trip off the highway brought us to the Old Mission Santa Barbara, also known as the Queen of Missions.

Perched on a hill with views extending to the ocean, the mission was founded in 1786 and is still home to a community of Franciscan friars and an active parish. The church was reconstructed following the 1812 earthquake, but statues inside date back to the 1790s. Outside, the museum's expansive Huerta Historic Garden contains plantings representative of the mission era.

About 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, the PCH veers inland and weaves through the rolling hills around Lompoc. We passed cattle grazing the gray-brown hillsides, evidence of one of the most severe droughts in California's history.

At San Luis Obispo the sun that had been our constant companion since San Diego gave way to clouds, mist and much cooler temperatures. We turned west toward the coast again and Montana de Oro State Park, our pit stop for the night.

The park gets its name from golden wildflowers that bloom in the spring, which were gone by the time we visited in July. We instead soaked up the misty views of the ocean and a long sand spit covered in windswept dunes that separates Morro Bay from the Pacific Ocean to the north.