Edge of America: Pacific Coast Highway

Since embarking on a four month tour of the U.S., I can officially say that I covered the whole of the California coast — from San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate  to traverse the steep cliffs of Muir Woods; I’ve camped in the Redwood Forest en route to Portland and celebrated Thanksgiving in sunny San Diego after a week in Los Angeles — all arrived to by our steadfast Buick.

To conclude the some 120 day exploration in Pacific Standard Time, we took Highway 1 north from San Diego to Half Moon Bay completing our circumvent of California reaching our starting point of San Fran once again.

Highway 1 / Pacific Coast Highway / PCH (adopt your preferred designation) is beautiful. The California coastline is protected by tall rugged mountains which sit right up against the crashing Pacific. The slender road that takes us North (the inside lane closer to the mountain than the cliffs) rises and falls — it rolls down by the sea where we were so close that a torrent wave rose up and crashed on the road and our car; then in a moment we’ve climbed up a cliff side and peer over the furthest edges of America.

san diego

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Ice skating with Palm Trees, Coronado

At the southern most reaches of San Diego, just on the other side of Tijuana is a surf and sun culture. Ice skaters enjoy the sea view and sweater weather post-Thanksgiving at the famed Hotel del Coronado.

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Surf spot, La Jolla

In La Jolla, boarders ride out the waves while old men play an acoustic guitar and steel drum on the sand.

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Lifeguard station, La Jolla

At the Sunset Cliffs we watched the sun sink into ocean, imagining China on the other side.

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Feet up at Sunset cliffs, San Diego

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We left San Diego and headed through the dense post-holiday traffic in Orange County, up through Long Beach and yet again the traffic that be in Los Angeles. Finally, the roads let up and the ocean came back into view as we passed Santa Barbara. We didn’t stop there this trip but I recall as a kid visiting UCSB where I remember the campus being a sandy paradise.

Libbey Park, Ojai

As sunlight fell after several hours stalled in southern California’s dense highways, we veered inward toward the mountains until we reached Ojai — a slightly mystical Spanish town built into the mountains. Many consider it a spiritual center. We sat in Libbey Park for a road snack while a lone flautist played his tunes in the woods. The park sits in the center of the Spanish colonial revival town built in the early 1900s.  While in town be sure to stop at Fig — a very lovely and unique home and garden store.

san luis obispo

Further north along the mountains which abut the Pacific is San Luis Obispo, affectionately dubbed SLO. The quaint main street is filled “organic” and “earth-friendly” food, it’s a granola mountain town that happens to have its own Apple store and houses the west coast headquarters of Mind Body Online. We sipped coffee at Kreuzberg — a converted movie house — with a breakfast açai bowl and while craving more of this sweet little town, we unfortunately had to be on our way.

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Coffee to go at Kreuzberg, SLO

san simeon

Back on Highway 1, we were seaside again. Podcasts play a big part of our journey (and sanity in the car) through which we discovered Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This — dedicated to the “secret and forgotten history of 20th Century Hollywood.” While in L.A. we listened and learned about the love affair between Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, and their time at Hearst Castle.

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Hearst’s home at the center of his curated Mediterranean Village — designed to look like a church in a town square, San Simeon

Randolph inherited the 250 thousand acre ranch in San Simeon ranch from his father — he spent his childhood camping on the hill. When his parents had both passed and he took control of the land, he finally built an estate as he had always dreamed to, in his most favorite place.

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Water view, San Simeon

He worked with Julia Morgan as his architect to design a Mediterranean Village atop the hill. Notably, Morgan was the first woman admitted to the architecture program at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris as well as the first woman to be licensed as an architect in California.

In a 15-minute winding bus ride flirting with steep cliffs and Hearst’s narrow, winding driveway we reached the top — where you can see everything. And with 250K acres, you might say Hearst literally owned the view.

big sur

Big Sur is the heart of the central coast of California and placed in the northern most stretches of Los Padres National Forest.

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Rock climbing, Big Sur

It’s hard to select which part of Highway 1 is the most beautiful, but the steep climbs and overlooks in Big Sur were cinematic in their glory.

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Bright blue waves, Big Sur

The ocean waves intensify with every Northward step. As a child of the long stretches of white sand beaches in Amagansett, NY, I’ve never seen waves so fiercely uninviting and yet mesmerizing leaving entry to only the bravest and strongest of swimmers.

The splendor of Big Sur is no secret. Exquisite luxury and a fine dining experience await at the Post Ranch Inn, with surreal cliffside views.  Or people nestle into the mountainside at Deetjen’s Inn, a rustic getaway for those who seek tranquility and nature as did the inn’s Norwegian founder nearly a century ago.

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Wave watching as clouds roll in, Big Sur

Whilst stopping to admire the power of the ocean waves on a trail off the road we were struck to find a man stripped down to his underwear standing atop a cliff. He was ready to go for it as his friend cheered him. Just some 100 feet in the distance waves smacked and roared against the abutting cliffs, he would only have one safe exit from the water. And we watched him leap. He descended into the water powering through the gigantic rush of water to a small pebble alcove which would safely lead him back to the road. We left before we saw him reach dry land.

monterey, carmel by the sea, and Pacific Grove

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Sunset on 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach

“Carmel by the sea, Monterey by the smell and Pacific Grove by God;” it’s the old adage to describe the area. Of course, in John Steinbeck’s time here that may have held more true as Cannery Row in Monterey had once been a fish canning hub rather than a row of shops, hotels and breweries.

It’s not quite as occupied with activities and eateries as the downtown (be sure to stop at Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Café for the most unreal, delectable almond croissant) but the old wharf makes for a beautiful backdrop. A running and bike path stretches along the marinas and the beautiful Victorian homes which enjoy the ocean views.

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Scenic Drive to Monterey, Pacific Grove

South of Monterey is the very beautiful, picturesque Pacific Grove. Seals rest upon the rocks and narrow sand beaches nestled between roaring waves and rugged landscape stand empty in this early December.

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Sunset on 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach

For $10.00, one can drive through the world renowned Pebble Beach golf course and it’s prestigious 17 Mile Drive where rows of mansions peer onto a glorious bay.

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White water, Pebble Beach

Signs reinforce the dangers of the sea.

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Danger!, Pacific Grove

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No visit would be complete for my fiancé, John Steinbeck’s biggest fan, without a trip to Salinas — the setting for East of Eden and his home before moving to Pacific Grove, and then of course to Sag Harbor — my neck of the woods.

I suggest taking a walk through the National Steinbeck Center at the end of Main Street for an interactive dive into his plethora of great novels.

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Just beyond the stretches of this cold, industrial fishing town is Maverick’s Beach.  Maverick’s Beach, or more accurately, about two miles off shore from Maverick’s are ocean waves which changed the California surfing scene forever.

In 1975, local Jeff Clark paddled out alone at the age of 17 to ride waves that topped out at 24 feet. In fact, the waves routinely top out at over 80 feet after a winter storm. Waves of this magnitude had been virtually unheard of outside the Hawaii surfing scene. Fast forward to today and an invite only surfing contest has brought the world’s best big wave surfers to brave it — and many have lost their lives trying.

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The breadth of the big waves are too far to see from shore, but check out this live cam.

To learn about Maverick’s I suggest watching the documentary Riding Giants.

And so concluded our West Coast tour.