Driving the Pacific Coast Highway isn’t exactly the most ‘original’ or trips, but I question the need to be original with travel – at least the need to be original all of the time. I trust that the many, many travellers before me had good reason to tackle that route, be it recommendation or the mere reputation of the trip as being one worth taking the time to do.
In this blog post I’ll share with you our road trip journey, what we did and why I think the crowds of tourists – in this case – are correct!
After 4 days in San Francisco, we took the scenic drive to Monterey. There were two things I was most excited about when we decided to visit Monterey: seafood and whale watching.
Let’s first address the whale watching situation. You can book a whale watching trip which lasts around 4 hours, either for a morning session or an afternoon session. Given we were due to continue the drive south after the trip, we booked morning tour tickets with haste!
In hindsight I’m extremely thankful that we chose a morning trip because it meant there was less content for me to throw up over the back of the boat.
Never before had I suffered from travel sickness. My first experience of motion sickness was in fact only 10 months prior to this – and was the result of jumping out of a plane over Queenstown, so seemed reasonable.
This sea sickness was like nothing I’d experienced before. 45 minutes into a 4 hour trip, I was barely able to lift my head off the handrail at the back of the boat without inducing another wave of retching. This was highly amusing to my husband, who was remarkably unaffected by the choppy ocean swell. It was less amusing for the other slightly sea-sick passengers, who also began to spew once they had seen my green tea soy latte expelled from my mouth at speed. Despite the sickness, I did manage to see some whales, dolphins, seals and other marine life.
My top tip? Take a travel-sickness pill even if you don’t normally suffer from motion sickness!
Once we hopped off the boat I felt fine within a matter of seconds, at which point I then became ravenously hungry! Queue scoffing a smoked salmon sandwich before heading to a restaurant for chowder and crab! You really must sample the fresh seafood when you’re in Monterey Bay!
Carmel beach boasts one of the best sunsets in the world. Head here in the evening, park the car and gaze out over the shore line and you’ll see the sun visibly dive over the horizon in a haze of golden orange.
We took the drive down from Monterey, taking a hot drink and sitting on the white sandy beach. We were not alone, as many of the locals walk down to the beach to witness the evening ritual.
On the night we went, there was significant cloud cover, yet the sunset was still mesmerising. What’s strange is the speed at which you can see the sun setting. It’s something you really ought to see for yourself if you’re stopping in the area. Check online for the estimated sunset time, because the whole thing is over in 20 minutes so you could easily miss it if you’re not careful!
Before I visited the US, if I had been asked to imagine a Californian Surfer town, the picture I conjured in my mind’s eye bore a remarkable resemblance to the reality of the experience when we finally arrived in Santa Barbara. One long sweeping beach, ocean waves, a chilled out vibe and the smell of salt in the air all contribute to a feeling of relaxation and youth associated with that culture.
Arriving late afternoon, we took an evening stroll on one of two piers before settling down for an al-fresco dining experience at a charming Italian restaurant.
*We actually cut dinner short because of a minor disagreement, resulting from spending 2 weeks consistently in each other’s company, no doubt!*
Having slept off any residual marital irritation, we headed (together) to Sambo’s beachfront café. Given that it was recommended to us by a local, expectations were high!
From the moment the complimentary home-baked mini-muffins landed on the table as we perused the menu, I was SOLD! Even though ‘Biscuits with Gravy’ (flat dry scones with creamy sauce, to those outside of the USA) was a little unusual, I enjoyed my Sambo’s experiences immensely nevertheless!
Many of our friends remarked – prior to our holiday – that we probably wouldn’t like it in LA and that 2 nights was therefore plenty of time to see the sights. I’d have to say, I’m glad I heeded their advice!
Los Angeles is like no other city I’ve ever been to. It appears not to have a true ‘heart’, instead sprawling over many miles and making tourism somewhat a pain-in-the-ass.
My favourite part of LA was Santa Monica. Hours could be lost browsing the shops, padding on the beach and trying out arcade games. I left there having finally learned what ‘Skeeball’ is and having picked up a self-help book* in Kitson. How very LA.
Griffith Observatory is also worthy of a mention. A visit after sun-down allowed us to take in panoramic views of the city and escape the traffic, noise and perceived ‘tensions’ we felt driving through Little Armenia. Take the time to queue for a view through the telescope! It’s worth the 10 minute wait!
We stayed at a renovated old-hollywood hotel not far from where many of the studios are based. One thing I noticed whilst staying at the hotel is that many of the inhabitants seem to behave as if they are constantly in an audition! People walk around singing loudly, wear full make up and heels to the pool and do not appear to eat. In our 2 nights in the hotel, I saw only 2 people eating in the on-site pool café.
We took a drive out to Beverley Hills – clearly a very wealthy area and a desirable place to live – and visited Fogo de Chao for an evening meal. It’s similar to Bem Brazil or Fazenda in the UK, only with valet parking and a slightly bigger salad bar. It also had valet parking. The necessity or even desirability of valet parking is something I still cannot comprehend.
By this point in our trip we had been touring for around 3 weeks! We had already taken in the sights in New York, Vegas, Death Valley and Yosemite National Park before we hit the coast. Naturally our pace began to slow down when we reached San Diego!
San Diego Zoo is world-famous and home to one of very few remaining Giant Pandas. We visited the Zoo on a very hot day and were slightly disappointed that many of the Animals were ‘missing’ – perhaps taking cover from the intensity of the Californian Sun.
Having paid a visit to San Diego Zoo, I remain conflicted about zoos generally. On one hand, I think they’re distasteful and that the sterile, unnatural surroundings are somehow cruel. On the other hand I think they’re important in terms of looking after animals (and to some extent species) who would not otherwise survive in the wild.
We were staying over on Coronado Bay – a retreat from the city but only a 20 minute journey by car. We stayed at the Loewe’s resort which was excellent and despite the weather being horribly overcast we spent the final day of our trip by the pool and in the Jacuzzi chatting with fellow travellers about beer, fracking in Tulsa, and what it’s like to live and travel outside of the USA!
There’s a good reason why this remains a popular holiday for those who live in the US as well as those visiting. If you’re stuck for time then do as well did and cut out some of LA – don’t skimp on time in San Francisco or starve yourself of the ability to pull over and take in the views along the coastal road. The road trip isn’t supposed to be a sprint, after all! Take the time and enjoy the journey!
*the self-help book was called ‘You Are A Badass’ and was written by a very witty and non-preachy Jen Sincero. It was the beginning of a new-found appreciation for self-help, self-discovvery and provided me a massive kick up the ass, which resulted in me writing a book and starting this blog! Worth a read!