If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, you'll want to drive the 101, but for those wishing to stop and smell the roses—or rather, to see the wildlife—there's nothing that compares to Highway 1's coastal sojourn.
Here's where to pull over and sight some of Northern California's most awesome creatures.
The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, seven miles north of San Simeon with a large marked parking lot, is a six-mile protected area where elephant seals can haul out to mate, give birth, rest, or molt. Molting season is in the spring, but for the most excitement, visit from November to March when these giant 2.5 to three-ton animals show up to battle for breeding rights and give birth; you may find upwards of 10,000 animals at the rookery around January and February.
You can also spot elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park north of Santa Cruz. During breeding and birthing season here, all viewings are via organized tours ($7, plus a $4 reservation fee). During molting season, you can get a free permit; sightings require some hiking over sand dunes.
If you're there Friday through Sunday, visit Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where you can tour the farm and sample cheese and goat's milk–based bath products.