One Week on the West Coast

The west coast. Highway One. An iconic strip of road with incredible 180 degree views. Add two people and a car and that is what you call a road-trip. Think Thelma & Louise, Bonnie & Clyde, Starsky and Hutch. Except we opted to avoid the police hunt, spare the bank robberies and swap the Ford Gran Torino for a Hyundai from Hertz. Once Mr A had given up the dream of driving a convertible and I'd taken the polka dot dress and rollers out of my backpack, we swapped the 50's dream for the 00's. Minus the leather driving gloves, Mr A was his own Lewis Hamilton navigating the winding Highway One like the swimming pool hairpin at the Monacco Grand Prix. Here is a week in our lives going from A to B to another B and another B...

Point A: San Francisco 
You might have already caught wind of our antics in this windy (but officially: misty) city and if not check this out here. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge was our first sighting of water of the non-chlorinated variety since the Thames in London after our desert antics and the first of many ventures with Air BnB. The States is notoriously expensive and when we found ourselves here in peak season, this offered a much more affordable option. The financial benefit gained, there are so many others; a decent bed, local knowledge, staying away from the tourist trap(s) and, in the case of our San Franciscan host, arriving to the smell of baking and first dibs on her warm zucchini bread. Add to that picture the cup of tea we were offered before bed and you have yourself a home from home. So much fun to have your own front door in a strange city and when your hosts have such immaculate taste and are clearly very creative people, it gives you new eyes to see what's outside your new front door too. It is thanks to Praise that we also discovered Tartine’s Bakery (see my Instagram thread @MrsAtoB_). Check out the apartment here if you find yourself in need of a place in SFO.

Five days later, we were back to the Hertz dealership and on our way down the famous California coastline...

Point B1: San Jose
Setting off down Highway One, I'd like to say here "with the wind in our hair" but it was AC all the way. A must-see stopping point is the totally bizarre Winchester Mystery House, owned by Mr & Mrs Winchester and their daughter. Sadly after the passing of her husband and daughter, Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company inherited $20 million dollars and earned $1,000 a day in royalties (back in 1880 you can imagine the extent of her wealth from the royalties alone), continued to develop the house with workmen onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 38 years resulting in a 160 bedroom house and some rather bizarre attributes. Controversy over whether her actions were to confuse the spirits of those killed in association with the Arms Company or because she'd genuinely lost the plot split critics; there were doorways to brick walls, stairways to ceilings and windows to everywhere and nowhere. Worth a visit but note quite a hefty entrance fee of $36 pp. 

Point B2: Monterrey
A beautiful fishing town that has a big history in canned fish. We stopped to feel the sand between our toes, the heat on our shoulders and stretch our legs down Main Street. Hosting the first ever Bubba Gump restaurant, I had to refrain from running and running and running right on in there. The aquarium at the end of the street came highly recommended to us and had we had longer to stay there we would have coughed up the entrance fee (a rather steep $50 pp). So us honeymooners opted for the free option (with the exception of purchasing a frozen yoghurt) to walk the coastline around to Lovers Point and enjoy the sights. 

Before arriving at our second Air BnB, we continued just a few miles down the road to nearby...

Point B3: Carmel
Home to Clint Eastwood don't you know and if you don't bump into him (it is a very small place after all) you can visit his dairy farm and former restaurant Hog’s Breath. Noting the affluence by the designer shops and myriad of Lambourginis, Ferraris and a Pagani Zonda, or "super cars" as the boys at Top Gear would have taught me - this is a place to daydream and watch how the other half live. Turns out we were in town at the same time as Monterey Car Auction and Concours d'Elegance, an auction of super-rich cars to the super-rich. Our backpacks were particularly good here at making us stand apart from the crowd!! Down by the beautiful beach at sunset was stunning - busy with tourists but that's to be expected when most of the shops have security guards and restaurants have waiting-lines. Carmel felt to me like a Rodeo Drive or Brompton Road avec la plage. 
Point B3: 17 Mile Drive
Having been turned away from entering the 17 mile drive earlier in the day on our way to Carmel due to the “private car auction”, we were stoked to find our Air BnB was actually within the confines! Staying with the lovely Richard and Renata, we were made to feel so very welcome. After allowing us to do our travelling chores: laundry (it's the only chore really), the driving, walking and fresh sea air had us crashing for what was about to be the best nights sleep in America. I needed a stepladder to get into the bed and a harness to pull me out of it 10 hours later. Wow. This bed is made of dreamZzz. Check it out here: Pebble Beach Forest Room.

Point B4: Pebble Beach
On the advice of our host to see the coastline at its best, we set off early doors to take to the 17 mile drive; beautiful winding roads with vistas and top spots to check out, starting with Pebble Beach. If there's one way to eat breakfast on the west coast, the beach is it... Until Mr A shares his blueberry muffin crumbs with a nearby seagull only to prompt a recreation of the scene with the pigeon lady in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York City! 
Woven into the scenery is the world famous Pebble Beach golf course, which regardless of whether you are a fan of the sport, you would be in for a treat - particularly when you see some tee-off metres from the sea edge (Mr A was hoping for an invite). For me, despite being impressed by the golf course, I was watching the ‘other’ local inhabitants in action; sea lions, squirrels and seagulls that is! 
A great spot is Joe's Point where a Chinese fisherman used to live and sell his product. I loved that they weren't sure whether the man was named after the place or the place named after the man!

Back on the road, we headed south on Highway One via Big Sur, which was luckily open despite nearby forest fires. Lots of handmade signs of appreciation lined the roads as firefighters have been working tirelessly to contain them - a seemingly impossible task as we watched helicopters flying overhead collecting seawater to help dampen the flames! We had been monitoring the situation and even bumped into some friends in San Fran who were doing the route in reverse (northbound) and had been diverted to the 101 (a much more crowded and less scenic interstate road).
Fortunately for us, we were able to continue our journey and make the most of the various vista points to stop and appreciate the winding roads and majestic scenery, as per the above after we had crossed Bixby Bridge. The drive offers the perfect opportunity to blast out some classic tunes and take in the views but remember some water and snacks as there aren’t a huge amount of places to stop along the route. 

Point B6: San Luis Obispo 
As you head south there's two things you notice; it gets warmer and it gets bigger. I found the next three cities to be each versions of the same thing, that as you slowly got closer to LA became more populated with surfers and popular food chains. And for that reason, the smaller of the three was my favourite. San Luis Obispo had such a friendly, suburban feeling to the area. It was easy to walk from our loft conversion Air BnB to the centre of town (Marsh Street) and there was everything you needed without it being ostentatious. We spent hours in a bookstore, exploring vintage shops, eating at the incredible Big Sky Cafe and ended in a reclining leather chair in the local cinema – “living like a local” I think they call it. It was the most innocent and delightfully relaxing afternoon/evening spent after another five hours cooped up in the car and navigating the slow, single lane roads from Carmel. Before you leave, make sure you take a visit to Bubblegum Alley (next to Mother’s Tavern on Higuera Street); it is what it says on the tin, a small side-street that would be fitting in Willy Wonka’s factory and would make Violet Beauregarde proud. Kind of gross when you think about it and I wasn’t keen to get too close but the overall effect was…in-chew-esting.
Point B7: Santa Barbara
Upping the ante in the next destination; Santa Barbara - The rise of the juicing culture, yoga and lunching with your InstaDogs. Just a 90 minute drive south of SLO, you can leave early and then spend the late morning and afternoon nourishing yourself with superfoods from The Natural Café, exploring the shopping on State Street and hanging out on the beach by Stearns Wharf. The perfect way to see out your day is on the beach about 10 minutes down the road in Mesa and on the doorstep of our penultimate Air BnB stop over, which had its own private garden entrance. A short stroll away we watched the most incredible sunset at Shoreline Beach (accessed by steps at the end of Mesa Lane in the middle of a lovely residential area). 

Point B8: Santa Monica
Rocking a hippy vibe just along the coast between Malibu and the heart of Los Angeles is Santa Monica, home to one of the most famous strips of coastline in the US and only an hour drive south of Santa Barbara. Of course, I had high expectations of buffs on the beach and lifeguards jogging in red swimsuits. But behind the TV camera is a slightly different view. When not walking their dogs or juicing, the locals head to downtown Santa Monica shopping district on 3rd St or hit the basketball court, skateboard park or tackle the famous West coast waves (our attempts to jump them and subsequent mouthfuls of salt water meant they were definitely over 6ft!) 

After an afternoon of taking in some sun and shopping, an evening in the Zinque Bar (on the corner of Abbot Kinney and South Venice Blvd) is the perfect way to unwind after the exertion of wave-jumping, or in my case, bandeau-bikini-rescuing. Chatting to the barman who had happened to live 10 minutes down the road from us in London and ran a notorious nightclub venue, gave us fantastic recommendations and we enjoyed happy hour celebrating the Californian grape and local IPA! The most incredible bar snack is the Burrata for melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella to help soak up the alcohol after 5 or 6 hours have passed. A great recommendation of our final Air BnB host, Jenny, and the first of many for our few days soaking up the last of life in America. The morning after the night before head down Abbot Kinney for a real nutritious hit from Kreation Kafé, which offered a plethora of healthy juices and meals.
Taking the house bikes for a spin, we explored the famous Venice Canals, four strips of short walkways lined by beautiful houses for the local affluent real-estate owners – it’s very tranquil and offers an insight into why Venice got its name. 
Just a short walk away is the equally notorious Muscle Beach gym where I was determined to ‘perform’ one pull-up (purely for the camera – there was no interest in a full workout). One was just about possible, which is surprising considering the 23kg I’m lugging around on my back every day! After an afternoon of checking out (the slightly cheesy) Santa Monica pier and sunning ourselves on Venice beach, we were quite appreciative of a quiet night-in with Netflix!

So, after 400 miles of negotiating the confusing fuel station systems and poor local drivers (in Mr A’s opinion) there it is – my guide to a week of exploring the West coast. Quite possibly the most perfect setting for a road-trip which gives you a true insight into the California coastline, culture and… extensive juice network.

Next stop, LAX, flying south to Quito, Ecuador.
Over and out North America.



2 comments

  1. That house sounds like Hogwarts .. when you read it in the book - only the stair cases that lead to nothing start moving before you reach the top!

    ReplyDelete

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