A Lazy Ride Along the Pacific Coast Highway
SAN DIEGO to SAN FRANCISCO— U.S. Route-1, at times known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), is the famous route that runs up the Western Coast of the United States from San Diego to Seattle. When Grant and I first set out, we initially planned on driving the entire thing—through California, Oregon and Washington, tip to tip, but then ration and good sense got the best of us. We’d be going from San Diego to San Francisco, driving along the PCH the entire way.
Driving out of San Diego, the Pacific Coast Highway takes you through small beach towns in Southern California, with a handful of stoplights, a few Starbucks, people padding around in flip flops, surfers off in the distance…a relaxed sense of life, a feeling that I shouldn’t be rushing this, that I should be taking the time to drink in towns such as Encinitas, San Clemente, Carmel, these gorgeous little beach towns, albeit with expensive real estate.
From San Diego to Los Angeles took us no time at all. Before we knew it, we were cruising into Venice Beach and got a spot right there, zero blocks from the beach. We rented roller blades; we posed in front of Muscle Beach. We went for a quick dip in the ocean. We bought some silly hats. We had a good time.
LA is nice, but I didn’t see the city. I didn’t see the Hollywood sign; I didn’t care to. Not one bit. I did care to continue on U.S.-1 however, driving out of LA, through Malibu. It’s a peaceful drive, one where you can stare out the window in a meditative trance, drinking it all in.
Malibu is a place that you hear of everywhere, so it’s fascinating to finally see. It’s a 10-20 mile stretch of neighborhoods right along the ocean, right along the cliffs. There are some surfing beaches, but not many. U.S.-1 winds through these homes, which are precariously placed right on the ocean which and make you think that if global warming trends continue, and the oceans encroach, that this is the last place you’d want to own a piece of property. It’s a risk, but its well worth it because the views are beautiful. Watching the Pacific gracefully crash into the rocks is an experience unlike any other.
U.S.-1 is just the way to do that. There are pulloffs everywhere, so you can stop and take a photograph. It becomes almost tiresome; stopping for photos like this. Somewhere around Santa Barbara, you realize that the landscape has changed. Southern California is filled with palm trees and sandy beaches, hot, humid air and a beach-vibey feel. Before Monterey, however, the coast takes a turn. Palm trees disappear in favor trees of the coniferous variety.
Sand beaches become fewer and further between, and the waves now crash against rocks, or just the cliffs themselves. Approaching Big Sur, U.S.-1 winds higher and higher on the cliffs, it’s no longer right next to the beach, right next to the ocean, these mountain passes, which at times leave you above the clouds, driving through the clouds, feeling like you’re on an enchanted desert island. You can’t see anything, you don’t know where the ocean is, these hairpin turns that you’re taking, you don’t know where they’re taking you, but then you find yourself cresting on a turn on Bixby Bridge above the clouds, you look down and the Pacific Ocean is just a few hundred feet below you, you can just make out the waves, glistening in the golden hour sunlight, driving up to Monterey, a retired man’s paradise, the air is cleaner, it’s crisp, it’s beautiful, it’s refreshing. The ocean commands everything—early in the morning you wake up and there are clouds, and it doesn’t look like it's going to be a nice day; it might rain a little bit, but by afternoon those clouds clear, just in time for you to look out and watch the sunset over the ocean, an experience which cannot be missed.
From Monterey to San Francisco is slightly less stunning, though perhaps it’s because how could any bit of this drive along U.S.-1 rival that of Malibu and Big Sur? There are small beach towns, but now one is no longer hugging the ocean tightly, and you can feel that the surfer dude SoCal lifestyle is fading. Sure, there is the town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, a stunning place just twenty miles outside of the city where you can go, pop out a beach chair, tan, surf, drink a daiquiri and feel right at home, but for the most part as you approach Northern California the opportunity for this sort of experience dwindles. You can shoot right through San Francisco and head north towards Point Reyes, towards Tomales Bay, towards the John Muir woods, Redwoods, towards Stinson Beach, towards Mount Tam—wilderness right at your fingertips. You can skip right over the city, or you can dive right in. We dove right in.
For whatever reason, we thought it would be a cinch to find a place to park in San Francisco, right around the Embarcadero. We quickly realized that this was a poor choice, especially since both of us have lived in New York for years, we should know that San Francisco is not a place to park a car. Approaching the big city, the terminus of our trip, I heard from Grant, hardly a nature buff, that man, I thought I would be excited to get back to tall buildings, but I’ve got to say, I’m not looking forward to it.
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve gotten used to a smaller town vibe, to life in the West Coast, to nature being everywhere around me, to taking the time to appreciate this beautiful gorgeous drive along the largest ocean in the largest state in the U.S.
Arriving in San Francisco was not something that excited me. Sure, we had friends there and we enjoyed our time, but it was when Grant made that comment that I knew my mission was complete. To show him the American West, to show him a life away from the small beehive in which he lives —to show him that there’s more out there, that sometimes there’s merit in just hitting the open road with some good music, some snacks, a camera, a book, a lounge chair—everything that you need to pass your time, in your car, right there. Meaning that you can just stop at Stinson Beach and relax for an hour without bothering anyone, without buying anything from the store, because that’s the beauty of life away from the big city. That’s the beauty of the U.S.-1 drive is seeing all of these towns, seeing Los Angeles and San Diego and San Francisco, these monster, mega-cities known all across the world, but having a relaxing, soothing, pass through them. Being able to just see them, reap what’s best, and then hit the road again, and watch the sunset…because that’s what these trips are really about.