Last known location: London, England

Pacific Coast Highway

After our short stay in L.A. we were soon back on the road – once again navigating the maze of highways and the tempers of the impatient Angelino drivers. We were headed to the coast, and the beach town of Santa Monica.

Parking on the promenade we went for a quick wander along the wide, white-sand beach, lined with towering palm trees. It was mainly deserted but for a few joggers and dog-walkers! We then went to the pier, with it’s slightly quaint fun fair. Gem insisted that we went on a ride, so I selected the rollercoaster. It wasn’t the most terrifying looking contraption, but it was enough to make me slightly edgy, and Gem laughed her head off the whole way round – partly at the ride, and partly at my reaction!

From Santa Monica we joined Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway) which runs all the way up the coast from Mexico to Canada. After passing through Malibu, with it’s swish beach-front homes, we stopped in a small bay known as Paradise Cove. We sat on the shore to eat our cold Chinese leftovers from the night before (nicer than it sounds), and we were then ready to be on our way again. It was then we noticed the parking charges; $25 dollars, or $3 if you spent $20 dollars in the beachfront restaurant. Thinking we may as well get something for our money we went in for a cold drink and a dessert. The delicious cheesecake I chose was enough to feed about 10 people, and even I couldn’t polish it off, so we left Paradise Cove having replaced our leftover Chinese with Cheesecake and Key Lime Pie!

We continued North up the beautiful coastline, passing rocky coves and beautiful beaches, before arriving in Santa Barbara, our home for the night. We found a decent looking motel and after a bit of haggling we checked in. We definitely got lucky with the room, which had a huge jacuzzi bath, and before I’d unloaded the car Gem had it filled and was in for a soak!

Santa Barbara is a quaint little town, with white-washed Mediterranean buildings along it’s main street, all leading down to the white sand beach, and pier full of seafood restaurants. We thought we’d treat ourselves to a nice meal, and ended up eating at Pierre Lafond Bistro, where the portions of Shrimp Bisque, Crab Cakes, and Goats Cheese Salad where still huge, despite being a bit more gourmet than our usual fare!

The following day we were back on the road, but made quite a slow start and didn’t actually leave until nearly 11! North of Santa Barbara Highway 1 juts inland through rolling hills and valleys, where we reached the town of Guadalupe. We stopped for some lunch at the Far Western Tavern, and on entering the dining room there was no mistaking the speciality – the walls were covered in stuffed and mounted cows heads, and even the curtains were made of cow hides! We had a delicious steak sandwich each and it wasn’t long before we moved on.

The highway was soon back by the ocean, following a much more rugged coastline than further south, with rocky bays and crashing waves. We passed Hearst Castle, a huge structure on a hill overlooking the shore, and built by the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to entertain royalty and celebrities in the 1930’s, and now open as a museum. A spectacular if slightly desolate place to build your dream home!

Shortly afterwards we came to Point Piedras Blancas, home to a large colony of Elephant Seals. The creatures were hunted virtually to extinction in the 1920’s but conservation efforts since mean that there are now an estimated 100,000. There were certainly dozens of the huge animals (they can weigh nearly 3 tons) on the beach, lounging around, playfighting, making a racket, and for the most part sleeping!

Continuing northwards we came to the stretch of coastline known as Big Sur, where the road narrowed and began to zip-zag around the cliffs, with long drops to the sea below. This is apparently one of the most beautiful stretches of California’s coast, but our progress was checked by a landslide which has closed the road for weeks. We’d been warned about the closure for the previous 30 miles, but naively assumed there would be some sort of diversion in place. There wasn’t! We’d under-estimated quite how wild the area would be, and there wasn’t a road inland for another half hour back down the coast. Our diversion into the hills took us through wine country, passing dozens of small vineyards until we reached the main interstate 101 and turned north again. We were still 200 miles from San Francisco, and decided to cover another 80 of those that evening, since there wasn’t much to see from the motorway! We eventually stopped for the night in the sleepy town of Salinas where we bargained hard with the motels before settling down for a quiet evening.

The next day we managed to get up and on the road by 8am, and were soon back by the sea on Highway 1. After passing through the town of Santa Cruz we headed up into the mountains – Gem loved negotiating the winding roads – to visit the Big Basin Redwood Forest, a 20,000 acre protected forest and nature reserve. It was a very peaceful place, and we spent an hour or so wandering among some of the world’s tallest trees, some of them over 350 feet tall – they even made me look small!

We were now only 60 miles or so south of San Francisco, but we still had time for one more stop, at the small marina in Princeton. We found a little place for a fish lunch, amid a slightly weird selection of people who seemed intent on some hard lunchtime drinking! It was then only half an hour into the centre of town, and our last stop on the Pacific coast.

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