Cruising up the 101

(And the 1 but it didn't have such a nice ring to it)

So we started the Pacific Highway, the original focus of this trip before we were drawn to Las Vegas' bright lights. We drove from Oxnard, California and made our first stop along the coast in Santa Barbara, a gorgeous little town with Spanish style buildings and a great lookout from the courthouse over the red roofs out to sea. It was more about the town centre than the underwhelming beach but we were happy just to stroll around, admiring the architecture and for my part, searching for good coffee.

We continued on to Solvang, a Danish village with windmills and bakeries at every turn. What more could you want? And then on to Guadalupe where we were in search of the Lost City of DeMille but couldn't find it. The irony was lost on us. Defeated, we headed to Pismo beach which was our final destination for the day. We went to the beach for sunset and then spent the evening at Sycamore Mineral Springs where you can rent your own hot tub under the stars. Perfection.

Day two of the Pacific Highway saw us make a lot of stops for unmissable photo opportunities but not a lot of stops in towns. We passed through Cambria, Hearst Castle, stopped at Point Piedras Blancas which is home to a huge elephant seal colony. Then through Big Sur where the road twists and turns and around every bend you're compelled to pull over and pull out the camera. The weather (which had started the day by raining! We were appalled) improved vastly as the day went on, as did the views. Coincidence, perhaps. We stopped in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the McWay Falls which is only a short walk away and is beautifully framed by the bay it cascades into. There was also a random drum player which seemed to add a weird tension and drama to the moment. Everyone was digging it.

We finished our stint on the Pacific Highway that day in Monterey where we got amazing pizza and wandered the bay. Have I mentioned I'm probably turning into a whale? Too tasty to care. The next morning we had a walk around Santa Cruz, more searching for good coffee and then continued up Highway 1 to San Francisco. The Pacific Coast Highway is breathtaking, driving along dramatic cliff edges and glimpsing hidden bays around each corner. And we're still only in California! Two more states and a lot more PCH to come.

One of my bucket list destinations next: San Francisco. A city which didn't disappoint. We drove straight to Baker Beach where we got our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The colour hits you first, a dazzling red against a blue (or grey depending on the weather) background and you cannot put down your camera. The views from Baker Beach were pretty special, not mentioning the nudist end of the beach, and we also followed the coastal trail up to the gun batteries and Fort Point. Fort Point used to be used to defend the city but honestly we were only really interested in more pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge! We went out to Alcatraz the following day which was fascinating. We spent a fair few hours there following a ranger tour, taking the brilliant audio tour and watching a film. All very interesting although ranger Mike was a little too into wildlife and didn't have enough cool stories about prisoners escaping the rock. Basically all we wanted to hear about.

Back on the mainland we wandered through Fisherman's Wharf to Pier 39 to see sealions, down to Pier 45 to Musée Mécanique and had to duck into In-n-Out Burger to avoid the sudden rain. We simply had no choice. A bit of a dampener was put on our afternoon plans, (pun most definitely intended) so we looked for something indoors to do and ended up at San Francisco's City Hall. What it lacks in LA City Hall's observation deck, it makes up for in beautiful architecture with a huge dome to be admired both inside and outside the building.

The next day saw us strolling through Chinatown and up San Francisco's ridiculously steep streets to reach Coit Tower, a 1930s building with original lift and optional singing assistant to take you up to the top of the 210ft building where you get panoramic views over beautiful San Francisco. It cost $8 but the 360degree views were worth it, especially with the weather back on our side. We took the Filbert St steps down from the tower which afforded more lovely views of the city, a chance to nosy at some cool houses and finished in Levi's Plaza (named after the jeans). Levi's HQ sits there and the building really impressed me, not enough to buy jeans but enough to take a photo.

We strolled along to Fisherman's Wharf where we rented bicycles to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge which turned into a mostly uphill, 9 mile jaunt. Not quite the strenuous exercise we were looking for but still, a beautiful afternoon. We took a million more photos of the Golden Gate Bridge including selfies on the bikes on the bridge which hilariously include a group of other cyclists catch us, looked disgruntled with our tomfoolery and then naturally overtake us. An amusing anecdote for all involved, I'm sure. Our bike ride ended in Sausalito where we took the ferry back to mainland San Fran. We returned our bikes, wandered the harbour and enjoyed the cityscape at night. We loved San Francisco, so beautiful, so much to see and do and definitely somewhere we'd like to return to.

So the next adventure is Yosemite National Park but you'll have to read the next blog to find out all about it!

Cecilia Ryan1 Comment