Driving the California Coast and Big Sur

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
Trip End Oct 02, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ben Reporting: We return on the bus from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after a six-hour trip, at about 4 pm. We have no place to stay, which isn't too unusual, and no plan except to get to San Francisco. At the Los Angeles Union Train Station, where we get dropped off, we try to access the Internet to get a look at flights to San Francisco, or maybe look at even getting a hire car. Strangely, Los Angeles' main train station doesn't seem to have any Internet access, despite the fact that we're dead in the middle of L.A. only minutes from the Beverly Centre, the cities big shopping centre. So, we find a couple of rent-a-car centres, get some quotes, and get a ridiculously good quote on a car for three days from Budget rent-a-car, which we can drop off at San Francisco airport.

At around 5:30 pm on a weekday evening, then, we find ourselves in a nice blue Dodge, flying along amongst a thousand other cars on the L.A. freeway, which is an experience in itself. I've heard many scary experiences of people driving on big city highways in the U.S., of many cars flying in unnamed directions and of missing sudden exits and getting horribly lost - but we found our way pretty easily. Once we got on the right freeway, going in the right direction, we joined the masses of cars flying home for the night on the eight-lane, two-way motor monstrosity. The American highway is actually a very good invention, getting you from one place to another without having to worry about overtaking slow-coach drivers or dragging your heels through slack-jawed 30 mph limited country towns.

At about 6:30 pm we find ourselves in Malibu, which is the first main town out of LA on the coast, and so we decide to stop for the night. The lonely planet guide tells us that Malibu is the home of such celebrities as Tom Hanks and "Babs" Streisand, but we aren't there for celebrity spotting, we're just glad that we find a decent motel that isn't overpriced and has an unused outdoor spa.

Malibu is a nice beach spot, similar to the beach town of Torquay in Victoria, or maybe Victor Harbour in SA (but nicer due to the high value of real estate). Courtney Love wrote a song about this place, and it's hard to imagine her and Kurt Cobain frolicking on these beaches with their sad, drugged-out eyes and bleach-blonde hair, but I guess that was a long time ago, when they were just people and not weird super-real celebrity legends as they are now. After our night in Malibu, we head out of town and try to get a few photos, but the beaches are mostly inaccessible, it seems, privatised giving access only to the people who own beach front property. The one road we went down that advertised beach access just ran parallel with the beach for about two miles, like some sad rich-mans tease. Give me Semaphore any day.

We take off down the Californian coast and veer off from highway 101 to highway 1, which takes longer but follows the coast. It's a sunny day, perfect for a coastal drive, and we soon discover that the Californian coast has plenty to offer. After driving a while between ocean and hills, we reach a town called Cambria, which is the last town along the coast for 115 kilometres before we meet the well-known area of coastal California known as Big Sur.

The journey from Cambria to Big Sur is quite breathtaking. The whole distance sees tough, winding roads, with cliffs leading down to the Pacific Ocean on the left, and tall, rolling hills on the right. It's a difficult road to drive on, but rewarding with some brilliant views of hilly fields and timeless rocks. The stretch is comparable to the Great Ocean road in Victoria, especially that 30 - 40 km section leading up to the town of Lorne (in Vic). Pride makes me happy to report that the Great Ocean road is slightly more spectacular, the beaches more golden and the rocky sections more beautiful than this still impressive section of the Californian coast. What the Victorian stretch lacks is the rolling hills and the greenness, for some portion, at least, until you reach the amazing rainforests. Then the contest is more or less over.

We do make one incredible discovery though. As we drive, there is a sign that reads "Elephant Seal Bay". Leah asks me with puppy dog eyes, "Can we stop at that bay". I find myself thinking, come on, its just a name, there probably isn't any Elephant Seals... So we stop and, of course, littered across the beach are close to one hundred Elephant Seals. We head out of the car to see the amazing sight, I haven't had the fortune to see wild Seals since Kangaroo Island over 12 years ago, and this is quite beautiful to see. As we lean over the barrier something moves in the bushes in front of us... a quick, nimble... little... squirrel! I think, perhaps, the first squirrel I've ever seen in person. Wow, this is much better than Tom Hanks or Courtney Love! After being awed by the adorable squirrel as it nibbles at the bush just in front of us (I suspect it was trying to milk some food out of us using the 'cute factor') we turn our attention to the seals. These majestic creatures slouch on the sand, sunning themselves and flipping sand on their malting rotundness when they get too hot. It's an incredible sight, watching so many seals lazing around doing nothing - and I'm not being sarcastic. See the pics attached. After some seal gazing, then, it was back onto the long and winding road.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity of windy roads and impressive views, we reach Big Sur, a section of national park, which the Red Hot Chilli Peppers sang about in their song 'Road Trippin'. The area is famous for it's Ocean views, which are amazing, and for its forests of towering Sequoia trees. And, I'm sure, for the few humble abodes that offer accommodation in a pleasant natural setting; there are no five-star hotels here. We try to get access to the Big Sur national park but there's a charge and it's about 4:30 pm so we'd only have an hour. As we leave the park, we realise that the trees all around us at the park entrance and down the main road of Big Sur are the mighty Sequoia's that we've heard about, and that, in actual fact they aren't all that impressive. They're not what you'd necessarily term 'mighty' but they are biggish, I guess. So the Sequoia's were around us all the time! I guess you could say we didn't see the forest for the trees! ... Umm... anyway...

We venture on beyond Big Sur and leave the incredible flat, vast horizon that is the Pacific Ocean behind us. The Californian coast is yet another amazing piece of nature to be experienced first hand, despite our sometime sense of under-whelming. We arrive in a town called Seaside near Monterrey, and find a motel that is cheap, and has free WIFI Internet, and we are happy to make camp for the evening. We eat at Wendy's, which is an American hamburger place that makes the best cheap take-away burgers we've both experienced. The funny thing about Wendy's is that they have a 'famous' half-pounder hamburger, which must be copyright and thus explains why McDonald's has the quarter pounder and the double quarter pounder but not the more logical half pounder. Ahem, anyway, too much philosophising on take-away food - don't worry mum, we're eating well, fruit every day etc etc...

We spend an extra full day in Seaside, just because we need a break from all of this constant moving around from one place to the next. We take some time to wash our clothes at the local Laundromat, which is always a relief, and we take some time to blog. Somehow the day goes by in a flash and nothing seems to get done - it's a bit like a Sunday really, although the days blend into each other now that we're on the road. We have dinner at the Black Bear Diner, which is a really nice place that has fantastic soup and sells toy black bears.

The following day we're off again, to San Francisco. Check back for the next instalment for that one. I can say that the trip along the Californian Coast was another beautiful journey through landscape I'm glad that I'm alive and able to see. It makes me long to travel the Great Ocean Road again, though and I recommend that journey to anyone who hasn't yet taken it. Anyway, see ya'll in San Francisco, the home of the best Clam Chowder in the U.S.A.
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russ on

You have the most wonderful job in the whole world! California Coast will become a part of you, eventual. I road my bike from S.F. to L.A. on highway 1, also know as PCH! Enjoy the trip!! Thanks Again.


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