Pacific Coast Highway, California

After hopping back on board the Bart train in central San Francisco we made our way to the airport. Instead of boarding another flight however, we very excitedly made our way to the car rental depot. Miles and I have rented cars in the past, but always the cheapest option we could find, probably a Fiesta of a VW Golf in Scotland – but not this time. This time we were picking up our convertible Ford Mustang and beginning our journey down one of America’s most famous coastal Roads – Route 1, The Pacific Coast Highway aka. the great American Road trip mecca.


After picking up the keys to the car we headed to the garage to pick up the beast (as we affectionately referred to it from that point onwards). Despite a shaky start (we couldn’t work out how to actually start the car) we were soon off and looking for the signs to join Route 1.


After a short drive (mostly spent getting used to the car – it was huge!) we made our first pit stop at Half Moon Bay. Half Moon bay is a really cute beach side town with nice shops and cafés lining the main street. It’s quite a busy town, although I think that’s simply down to it being at the mouth of Route 1 from San Francisco. We had a wander through the town and picked up a road map of California from the bookshop. By this point we were both quite peckish and decided to make a lunch stop before hitting the road again. We noticed the San Benito Deli right off the main street with a snaking line of people queuing to get inside. We decided to join the queue and both grabbed the most enormous sandwiches we have ever seen. Our plan was to have an impromptu picnic on the beach, but on entrance to the car park we realised we would have to pay for the privileged so instead stayed in the car and had our picnic at the wheel.


Shortly after finishing lunch we hit the road again and were treated to the most amazing views across the rugged Californian coastline, with some elevations reaching 5000ft above the glittering pacific ocean. It was literally breath taking. We kept wanting to stop to take photos as just around every bend the view got progressively more beautiful.


After a little while on the road we made our second pit stop at the city of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has an atmosphere similar to that of Brighton. It’s main feature is the huge ocean lining boardwalk littered with roller-coasters, Carousels and there’s the constant sweet smell of sugar wafting around. Although we didn’t stay too long, and certainly didn’t pay for any attractions, it was interesting to have a wander up and down the main strip, watch the surfers in the distance and take in the ‘holiday vibe’.


When we had sufficiently seen all we wanted of Santa Cruz we hopped back in the car and drove the remainder of our day’s journey to Monterrey where we would be spending the night. First job on the agenda – find accommodation. Luckily this was easy enough and we found a room at the Monterrey Bay Travel Lodge. This was our first experience of a proper motel and actually exceeded our expectations. We had a huge room with views out over the pool – it’s a shame we weren’t staying there any longer than the one night!

 
After a quick costume change we made our way into the centre of Monterrey. Monterrey was once the sardine packing capital of California and the old factories around the main street (aptly known as ‘Cannery Row’) make for a really quaint industrial feel. Nowadays the old factories have been turned into bars, restaurants and shops – its brilliant for having a wander. That evening we went to Hula’s Island Grill for dinner which, even though it sounds like a tourist trap, served delicious authentic Hawaiian meals – it was delish! After filling up on ceviche and cocktails we wandered through the town and headed to the Cannery Row Brewing Company where we tasted the various beers on offer and watched the basketball – it was a lovely chilled evening.

Cannery Row, Monterrey


The next morning we woke up early, parked the car by the sea front and headed to the Fisherman’s Wharf area of the city. Fisherman’s Wharf, the historic fish market , is made up of a row of stilted wooden shops lining the pier. If you’ve ever seen the film Jaws you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the area had a distinctly Amity-like feel about it! Nowadays the fishing industry of the city has died down in the wake of tourism and the old shops are home to various charter boat companies for Whale watching tours. If we had spent longer in the city this would have definitely been on our to do list – apparently Monterrey is one of the best spots on the West coast to see Humpback Whales, Killer Whales and dolphins.

 

Monterrey Harbour

Having wandered for a little while we headed back to the car ready for the day’s drive ahead. After a short time on the road we stopped off at the small beach town of Carmel. Carmel was recommended to us by Veronica’s parents so we thought we would stop off and have a look around. Carmel is known for its white beaches and its fairy tale like cottages which line the streets. The buildings look like something out of an old English village. We dropped off the car and had a wander to the beach which was absolutely beautiful. Having walked up the shore for a little while we noticed a pod of wild dolphins in the near distance which was amazing to see.

 

The cute buildings in Carmel
Dolphins on Carmel beach


Hitting the road again we headed towards our next main destination – the Big Sur! I’ll let the photos of this stretch of the drive do the talking; the views were completely amazing. As was the famous Bixby Bridge which was incredible to see straddling the cliffs.

 

The iconic Bixby Bridge

 

The Big Sur

Bixby Bridge – the Big Sur

After spending some time at the bridge we drove up towards the Big Sur Bakery for some delicious pastries, coffee and smoothies. The Big Sur Bakery is a big log cabin and has such amazing food on offer that they’ve recently released a cook book – I’ll have to make sure to add that to the Christmas list. Full up and satisfied we hopped back in the Mustang and carried on with the beautiful drive.

 


Further down the coast we made our next pit stop at Piedras Blancas to see the Elephant Seals. The beach was absolutely rammed with seals (which were huge!) – we were able to get really close which was amazing to see. You could tell there was a real hierarchy within the group with certain seals fighting for the best spot on the sand. We could have spent hours watching them.


Next we made our way up to Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle is a historical estate with mansions and extensive grounds. We didn’t want to pay for a guided tour (which apparently took a few hours!) so after having a wander and a drink in the grounds we hit the road again.


Next on our route was a short stop at Harmony, a small ex-dairy settlement boasting only 11 residents. Harmony felt like a small hippy town if I’m honest. There was a few out buildings housing various crafts including a glass blowing shed, a wedding chapel and a couple of residences. The town was lit up with strings of lightbulbs hanging from the rafters and various photo opportunities which travellers could take advantage of. It definitely was an interesting place to see.

    

Hitting the road again we carried on for a little while before stopping of at the small roadside town of Cayucos, enticed in by the road signs advertising delicious treats at the Brown Butter Cookie Company. After sampling many of the delights on offer we hit the road again and made the last of our day’s journey before arriving in Santa Barbara.

The pier at Santa Barbara

We arrived in Santa Barbara early evening just as it was starting to get dark. Once again we didn’t have any accommodation booked, however this time round we found it seriously difficult to find a room for the night. The motels were either fully booked or completely out of our price range (Santa Barbara was certainly living up to being posh and oh so expensive!) Eventually, after a string of rejections, we found a motel with room at the inn. We stayed at The Beach House Inn which was a family run business and was everything we needed with spacious rooms and even our own kitchen. After dumping our bags it was well and truly dinner time so we headed into the main town to find something to eat. Unfortunately by the time we arrived most of the restaurants on State Street had annoyingly closed their kitchens (at about 9pm!) so we had to settle for a very average burger at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company. After we had eaten we wandered up further and spent the remainder of the evening drinking beers and listening to the live Reggae band at Sandbar.

 

Reggae at the Sandbar

The next morning we woke up early and decided to wander around Santa Barbara. I feel that Santa Barbara is one of the places you grow up hearing about whilst watching US TV so I was really excited to actually be there. It felt a bit surreal! It was a pretty cloudy morning but we wandered up to the top of the pier which gave nice views back out across the city. Back on dry land we wandered up the palm tree lined streets of the downtown area past the very expensive looking boutique stores. Miles wanted to look for a new skateboard so we spent a bit of time on the main shopping district.

 

The main street in Santa Barbara

Fully shopped out we headed for a well-deserved brunch of Huevos Rancheros at D’Angelos which was absolutely delicious. We had an interesting table sitting next to us, an English woman who had obviously lived in the states for a while was talking to a young American girl about her upcoming auditions – we were obviously getting closer to Hollywood! After a final wander around the town we packed our stuff, got the car going again and hit the road. Next Stop Los Angeles!

 


After a couple of hours drive down the never ending beauty of Route 1 we drove through Malibu (no sign of Pamela much to Miles’ disappointment) and arrived at our next destination of Venice Beach, LA. Venice is such an interesting boardwalk full of fascinating characters – it’s amazing for people watching. We wandered up past Muscle Beach, took in the displays at the skate park, wandered across the beach and enjoyed the sights and smells of the area. There seem to be a lot of so-called ‘Green Doctors’ in the area if that’s any indication of the sort of people you might find enjoying the delights of Venice.

Venice Beach

Muscle Beach, Venice


A little while later we hopped back in the car and headed towards Hollywood! Even writing that makes me pinch myself – it felt so surreal actually visiting all these places. The one thing we had heard about LA before we visited was that the traffic was horrendous – that could not be any closer to the truth. We probably spent 90% of the day in the car moving an inch at a time – although I guess this did let us properly take in all the sights and surroundings. To get to the Hollywood hills we drove up Route 66 (eeek!) and up past Rodeo Drive and Beverley Hills – it was crazy seeing all these places in real life.

 

Driving down Route 66!


Through some research online I had read that the best place to see the Hollywood sign is up Canyon Lake Drive. Luckily we could drive all the way and got some fantastic photos.

 

Hollywood!

Just standing next to my convertible Mustang in the Hollywood Hills – no biggie.

The next stop on our LA list was a bit of a different one, and one which Miles still gripes at me for today. My favourite film in the entire world is Father of the Bride and it has been a dream of mine since I was little to visit the beautiful house of George and Nina Banks. When I was planning our day in LA I noticed that the town of Pasadena (where the actual house is) was only a short 20 minute drive away. OK so I should have realised that 20 LA minutes actually meant closer to two hours – but we eventually made it and I actually thing I let out a little squeal when I saw the house! It was amazing. I probably owe Miles for the next 10 years for that little diversion! Well worth it though..

The house from Father of the Bride!

From one childhood memory to the next, we departed Pasadena and headed to the famous Laguna Beach for the evening. Anyone of our generation will have spent many of their teenage years catching up on what Lauren Conrad, LC, Kristen and Stephen were up to. I used to dream about growing up in a place like that (leafy Surrey didn’t really compare) so it felt very surreal actually being in the little town. Our accommodation for the evening (which we luckily found on arrival) was the Pacific Edge Hotel which was conveniently right on the beach. After unpacking our stuff and having a quick change we started having a wander around the town, although it was dark it still brought back many memories. We headed to Nick’s for dinner and had the most delicious meal courtesy of my mum! It was probably our poshest meal of the trip and was such a treat! After filling ourselves with delicious grub we left the restaurant to check of Laguna’s night life. Surprisingly the town had quite a fun side to it, so we had great evening drinking probably the strongest G&T’s listening to a live band at Henesseys.

 

The most delicious meal at Nick’s Laguna Beach


The next morning was our last day on the PCH as we would be finishing the drive and leaving the car in San Diego. We woke up early and decided to wander around Laguna Beach in the daytime. This was when all my teenage memories came to life recognising things like the Laguna Cinema, the surf shop Stephen worked in and the lifeguard tower – it was very surreal! We had a nice wander down the beach, but it was a bit of a cloudy morning. We then headed to the big Wholefood’s in town and grabbed breakfast burritos for the journey (just a little tip – breakfast burritos are not conducive to returning a car in a clean state – those little buggers go everywhere!). Breakfast in hand we hopped into the car and bid farewell to Laguna Beach and enjoyed the last stretch of Route One.

  

A morning stroll down Laguna Beach

Next Stop – San Diego!

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