Up the California west coast on Route 1 (well sort of..)

After arriving in Los Angeles, the plan was originally to briefly go southward, and then make our way up the west coast of California from San Diego to San Francisco (it all sounds so glamorous..) on Route 1, the coastal road. However, due to the volume of traffic on the way down to San Diego, on the start of the route up we decided to instead take the freeway around Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, and start on Route 1 from there (as we didn’t have much time and didn’t need to go through the LA section again).

Still, even on the freeway, it’s a long drive to Santa Barbara and it took over 4 hours!  We got there in time for a late lunch and on first appearances was a very nice town, pretty and clean and with a really nice atmosphere. We sat in a cafe and watched as a march started on the pavement opposite. There were 15-20 people (mostly older in age) making up a Pro-Trump rally (which by the way,  was far bigger than any Anti-Trump rally ever held).  If you ever watched Father Ted, it was a bit like the scene where they were picketing the cinema (down with this sort of thing!).

We then headed off to a great little studio apartment (thanks AirBnB), about a mile from the city centre – no TV or internet, but that can be a good thing. After dropping our stuff off, we went along the shoreline ‘scenic drive’ to see an amazing sunset (I know, we’ve seen a few now), then grabbed some shopping from the supermarket for our tea before heading back to the apartment and settling down for the night.

Santa Barbara – and this is just a car park!

Next day we visited one of the oldest sites in Santa Barbara, the Mission. A beautiful old Franciscan Mission church and grounds founded in 1786 to convert the local Indians to Christianity, with an amazing history especially as it was nearly completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1812 and again in 1925 (apparently, California is overdue for another “big one”).

Mission, effectively destroyed in 2 earthquakes (and then restored…)

Santa Barbara itself is a great looking town, no building is allowed to be over 4 storeys high or 60 feet tall.  Also, all the buildings are in the Spanish Revival Colonial architecture style, which give the city an uncluttered uniform look.  We wandered around in the sun (though it was still quite chilly) and checked out the County Court House, a beautiful building with a clock tower you could go up for amazing views of this low rise city.

State Street (the main street)
Even the shadows are attractive
County Court House
With great views from the top….


Though this view is better….
Buick Wildcat in State Street

Next day we checked out of the apartment and headed off up the coast again, driving through Guadalupe, a town which looks just like a movie set. One of the things about Southern California is it is a bi-lingual state. There are lots of Spanish and Mexican influences and Guadalupe is definitely a Mexican town.  Just outside Guadalupe are some amazing sand dunes on the coast, which unfortunately were shut due to weather conditions (which started to become a bit of a theme…)!

Waiting for the cowboys in Guadalupe
Me, Dawn and Elantra

Next stop on the way, Pismo Beach.  We had a close call with a parking attendant/local police officer there for inadvertently parking in her space (we had read it but the warning sign made no sense to us!), but after a chat she saw we were foreigners and let us off the citation (ticket?) that she might otherwise have slapped on us. We went to the tourist information for some road details (as we’d heard rumours about some closures on Route 1), and also got a recommendation for lunch round the corner. We ate in an amazing diner called the Splash Cafe, famous for it’s award-winning Clam Chowder (a kind of creamy, fishy, potato soup).  There was an extensive menu, Dawn had the Chowder (bleugh), but I opted for an excellent chicken burger -both really tasty.

The Splash Cafe
Too much choice, but they had chips as well as fries – yay!

Pismo Beach itself is a pretty little seaside town, we walked up the pier and saw a sea otter and her cub playing around in the water, all in all a great stop.

Pismo pier (Americans love a flag)
It was too cold so we asked if it could be a little “otter”

We drove on to Morro Bay to see Morro Rock, one of a chain of “volcanic plugs” running to the sea, but this one is actually in the sea. However, there’s a road and you can drive right up to it for a closer look.

Morro Rock

It was dark by the time we got in to our motel at San Luis Obispo. We dropped our bags and grabbed a Denny’s for a cheap meal, then got back to the motel, barely able to move because of all the food we’d ate that day (where had the healthy eating from NZ gone….)!

San Luis Obispo is another nice town, apparently voted the nicest place to live in North America (although I think the Canadians might have something to say about that).  We went for a wander the next day before we drove on, and considering it was rush hour on a Tuesday morning, there didn’t seem to be much going on or many people around. SLO has it’s own Mission, some very nice architecture and a great looking old fashioned theatre (the Fremont), where UB40 are playing this month.  It would have been nice to stay a little longer, but we had more things to do and places to be!

San Luis Opisbo (and another flag)
The Fremont theatre
Holy Cow!  (don’t ask)


The plan now was to head up Route 1 to the Big Sur and on to Monterey. Unfortunately we had heard in Santa Barbara that following 2 years of drought, 2 weeks of monsoon rain the previous month had caused the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur to crack and start sinking into the shifting mountainside, so they closed that section of Route 1 on February 15th. There were also other mudslides and issues in the surrounding areas too, so about 100 miles of the road had been closed. The damaged bridge needs to be rebuilt, and the other problems dealt with too, so you won’t be able to drive that section of Route 1 for at least a year.

We could still have gone to Hearst Castle near San Simeon (just south of the closure), but that meant driving several miles up the coast and then driving back again, and in the end we decided to give it a skip. If we’ve learnt nothing else this trip, we have at least learnt to be adaptable so we took Route 1 to the road 46 turn off inland. We then headed along the 101 freeway before taking the local, G16 to Carmel, via Carmel Village. Once back on the coast, we drove down Route 1 as far as we could before the road was shut (about 10-15 miles). It was well worth the detour as the coast is beautiful here, just a pity we couldn’t get to the Big Sur!

Morro Rock from the 46
Carmel Valley  – a picture of small town America
Back along Route 1
A very rugged coastline
About as far as we could get before the road closure – that’s Bixby Creek Bridge
The cops had guns so we decided not to risk it and turned back!

So we turned back and went to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a stunning town. Clearly a millionaires hideout with many beautiful houses, and for many years Clint Eastwood was mayor here!

Carmel (and Dawn) by the sea

Then on to Monterey. Another pretty town, famous for it’s converted cannerys from the fishing industry, where fortunes were made from sardines, until they ran out in the mid 1930s. Now it’s another popular family orientated tourist location.

Cannery Row in Monterey

Our last day on the road and the run up to San Francisco.  Again, following Route 1 we stopped at Capitola. Another nice town with a seafront allegedly designed to look like a Mediterranean town.

Capitola, not sure I’ve been anywhere in the Med like this?

Then it was a little further up the coast to Santa Cruz, for another quick stop.  Santa Cruz has a great boardwalk going through an amusement park that has been open there since 1907.  It also has an amazing old wooden roller coaster, sadly the park was closed for the winter so we didn’t get to go on the rides.

Santa Cruz
I so wished we could have ridden this

We grabbed lunch on the coast at the Whale City Bakery in Davenport, and walked to the cliffs opposite to see if there were any whales (there weren’t – they were being a bit elusive like those tigers from the start of the trip….). We then drove on, over the San Andreas fault, and into San Francisco….for our very last stop of the trip!

Whale City Bakery – ordered too much food again..
Dawn, on the wrong side of the tracks on the way to look for whales



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