Holy moly, the Pacific Coast Highway is not fooling around. Every time you turn a corner (and there are a lot of corners) you’re greeted with a new and stunning view. Honestly, it was all I could do not to pull over at every little off-road pocket. Stunning, stunning, stunning.
Can you tell how happy I am to be on the road? This is the second big coastal drive L and I have done together (the other was on our Cape Breton trip) and it really doesn’t get old. We shared the driving, with whoever was in the passenger seat responsible for deciding where to pull over for great views. We left San Francisco in the early afternoon and drove as far as Carmel Valley, where we stayed for two nights. Having an extra night gave us more time to explore the area, and also to go for a hike. Our Airbnb was really close to a trailhead, so on the second day on the road we set off on foot. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed the first half of the hike (basically a continuous, and relatively steep, climb for two miles, in the heat), but as usual it was totally worth it, and once we were up, the hike along the ridge and then the descent were very pleasant.
While I’m not sure Carmel Valley is every exactly lush, the drought was very evident there. The lower part of the trail had some interpretive signs, one of which talked about spawning fish in the river, but there was no river. The trail was sandy and very dry, and near the top there was a little plastic container with a sign asking hikers to donate some of their water to help the local wildlife, which we happily did.
After the hike we were all geared up to swim, so we went back to where we were staying, took very quick showers, and set off for Carmel-by-the-Sea. Never was California’s micro-climate so stark: where the valley had bee hot and sunny, Carmel was cool and overcast, and too chilly for me to swim. L was debating whether he was going to swim and then we saw dolphins (!) so that settled that and in he went. Swimming with dolphins. It just about made up for our late arrival in Monterey — in what is becoming an unfortunate holiday tradition for us, we got there just a half-hour before the aquarium closed, which made the admission fee just a little too steep. Next time for sure, though (Audry recently went to the aquarium, so if you’re wondering what we missed out on, she has all the details.)
Day three was another big driving day — Carmel to Santa Barbara, through Big Sur. We didn’t have the best weather when we started out (that’s the bridge right before Bixby Bridge, but of similar design), but once we got over a few hills we found the sun.
We stopped at two beaches in Big Sur. We stopped at Pfeiffer Beach, which was bright and sunny, but also windy, for lunch. We had a little picnic, and I was napping in the sun when L came running over to tell me there were whales just offshore! All our photos are of the puffs from their blowholes, splashes from their jumps, and the rise of their tail flukes, but we think there were at least three, and our best guess is that they were Gray Whales, which migrate along the coast of California. We were too busy watching them frolic to take very good pictures, but they were amazing to see so close up. After Pfeiffer Beach we drove along to Sand Dollar Beach, which was overcast with no wind (or whales). The lack of wind was really nice though, so I finally went swimming (the water was really cold, but definitely worth it). Naturally, L swam at both beaches.
After our beach stops we really had a bust a move to get to Santa Barbara before it got too late. We were driving along and doing pretty well at not stopping for every view when L said, “You need to pull over.” I thought maybe he didn’t feel well, but when I pulled off the road he looked at me and said “Whales.” That man has eagle eyes. We were up quite high, but over the cliff and out in the ocean he’d seen them: four or five more whales, just playing. There were some German tourists stopped and watching them as well, and one of them said he thought they were Orcas, but I’m pretty sure they were more Gray Whales. L did quite a good job to get one in mid jump, I thought.
After that we really had to get going. We stopped at Taco Temple in Morro Bay for dinner (Audry, thank you so, so much for the recommendation, it was amazing!) and drove abandoned the coast for a speedier highway to Santa Barbara where we spent the night. We wandered through a city a little in the morning and then got back on the road to drive the last leg to San Diego. Let me just tell you now that driving from Santa Barbara to San Diego (218 miles/350 kilometres) takes longer than flying from Toronto to San Francisco (approximately 2,500 miles/4,000 kilometres) and leave it at that. L drove, I knit, peace remained. San Diego was a bit of a whirlwind for me, and it was the only day of bad weather we had — not that we could complain about a rainy day in a state that so badly needed it. It seemed like a fun city, though, and I would definitely go back. There were a lot of restaurants I would have liked to try.
Such a fun trip. It’s almost hard to believe that I was there just last week.