the classic pacific highway road trip

July 9, 2014

I had always wondered why Californians were so passionately pro-California. As an East Coaster without much experience on the Left Coast, I was baffled by the superiority complex. Also, having been born in New York and spending my formative post-college years in Manhattan, I was contractually obligated to always lend a pfft whenever a Calfornian got on his or her high horse. But after driving up the scenic Highway 1 (or Pacific Coast Highway or PCH) last week to a wedding in San Francisco, I get it. California is friggin’ awesome. The classic route traverses some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring vistas I’ve ever seen—a mix of yell0w-green hills, verdant mountains, and spooky bluffs—and it never failed to impress me that everything we were seeing was encapsulated into one state.

Our route involved going inland around nearby Orange County and L.A. (which we can visit anytime) and starting the PCH in Santa Barbara. As it got dark towards the tail end of the Big Sur region, we decided to hit the faster inland route. I wish we had more time to stop and explore—2 weeks would’ve been ideal—but we had to get to SF that night. So we stopped for brunch and wherever a view piqued our interest, and though we rarely paused for more than 10 minutes and were really booking it the last few hours, we spent a whopping 17 hours in the car. Not for the faint of heart.

Yes, we were a tad delirious when we rolled up into the Applebee’s in Gilroy* for something, anything to eat. Yes, I was completely bleary-eyed when we stumbled into our friends’ SF apartment. And yes, it took us a few days to recover from the exhuastion, but it was still worth it. Absolutely. And here’s my photo diary that explains why:

santa barbara // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogsanta barbara // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogsanta barbara // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogsanta barbara // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blog

When I think Santa Barbara, I think beaches and glitz, but the downtown area is funky, beautiful, and quaint. It reminded us of The Hamptons, Orange County, and a university town rolled into one. Brunch at Tupelo Junction Cafe was wonderful because you could tell just how fresh everything was, from the berry compote in my baguette-style French toast to the meat in Eaman’s burger. And for good measure, we hit up one beach, Goleta Beach by UCSB’s campus. Those are some spoiled and lucky students right there.

pismo beach // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogpismo beach // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blog

I have a very hard time saying or reading the words Pismo Beach without thinking of Clueless. Cher helps organize a Pismo Beach clean-up, so I expected a gross shoreline, but the whole area is beautiful and the town itself is a laid-back surfer hub. I didn’t love the copious seaweed in the water, but the kayakers didn’t seem to mind.

san simeon // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogsan simeon // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blog

I have no idea where exactly this spot is, but I do know that it was where I saw water coming out of a whale’s blowhole. It went on a handful more times, and though I was expecting the whale to do a flip Free Willy-style, I was pretty excited about the simple blowhole feat nonetheless. So happy, in fact, that I decided to bust out a faux yoga move like I see everyone doing out in nature on Instagram. Of course I’m not even doing it well or properly, but this was one of the most beautiful places along the whole route, so I was feeling a little extra joyous.

big sur // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogbig sur // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogbig sur // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blogbig sur // my socal'd life, a lifestyle blog

Oh, mama. Big Sur is the Big Daddy of the PCH road trip. If you choose to drive through Big Sur, you’re committing to drive all the way through because no highway cuts through until the end. With all the winding roads, speed limits run at about 30 mph, so be ready to take it slow. Also be ready to want to stop every few miles. Each inch of Big Sur is magical. I don’t know how else to describe it. Clouds hang precariously low, roads teeter on the edge of cliffs, houses lie atop mountains, and charming hotels and food spots fill the nooks and crannies. Sadly the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was dry (see last photo), but I actually loved the view by the famous 1932-built Bixby Bridge even more (see first photo). My goal is to get back to Big Sur sometime in 2015 to explore the space (and food) more fully.

On Friday I’ll share a little about what we actually did once we reached San Francisco. Spoiler alert: It involves food.

*Gilroy, located about 80 miles south of SF, is filled with garlic farms and is home to an annual garlic festival. When we stopped for food in the town, before we even rolled down our windows, we could smell the garlic in the air thanks to the day’s steamy weather. It was one of the coolest, weirdest, smelliest things I’ve ever experienced.

13 thoughts on “the classic pacific highway road trip

  1. Corey

    This drive is my absolute favorite part of California. It’s the thing that makes me love this state. I generally do this road trip alone though. Very peaceful.

    1. Archana Post author

      I can definitely see a solo drive being incredibly serene. That setting just lends itself to some deep introspection, no?

  2. Jen @ Marshmallows and Margaritas

    We just moved to southern California last summer, so we haven’t had a chance to explore the whole state yet… but you’ve inspired me! I really want to try this drive, but it sounds like maybe we should split it into two or three days. What a fun adventure!!

    1. Archana Post author

      Thanks, Jen! I definitely recommend spreading it out. 2-3 days sounds perfect if you’re not hiking. Hope you do it soon!

  3. Cara-Mia

    The central California coast is my absolute favorite (sorry, San Diego). It’s stunning. My brother-in-law is from Boston and is so down on California, but I’m convinced it’s because he hasn’t done this gorgeous drive. I have driven through Big Sur but never stayed there. Hoping to try to organize a camping trip there this year in the off-season.

    1. Archana Post author

      Totally agree. Central Cali was the highlight, and there’s no way he’s going to argue with Big Sur. It’s magical!

  4. Fareesa

    It looks like the trip was amazing!! Doing Carmel and Big Sur in August and getting super pumped after seeing your Big Sur photos!!!


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