San Francisco to Santa Barbara

Trip Start Mar 26, 2006
Trip End Oct 20, 2006

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, October 5, 2006

After San Francisco it dawns on us that the U.S. leg of our journey is nearly over - we've started making plans for Southeast Asia and taking care of the million little To-Do's on the list before we leave the Land of Dubya for awhile. It's incredible to realize that we've already covered more than 3,000 miles and we're still just a long day's drive from home, but we've had some great times and met some good friends along the way.

From San Francisco, we continue south on Highway 1 to Santa Cruz. A spin through the university takes us through the huge sprawling campus made up of 8 different schools that are hidden and tucked away in the redwoods.

We eye the seafood joints on the pier and have fun watching the boisterous sea lions that lie along the pilings beneath the boardwalk. You can hear their barking and bellowing hundreds of yards away from shore. The amusement park that borders the ocean appears vacant, perhaps because it's mid-week, or now that we've passed Labor Day everything may have shut down for the season. Though the downtown shops and restaurants are busy, the pier feels like some weird, deserted no man's land.

Santa Cruz is also a surfing hotspot. A crowd of guys (and one woman) bobs on their surfboards waiting for the next series of big waves along the rocky cliff face north of the pier. For most of an hour, we're captivated as we watch them catch towering waves that curl over and throw foam into the air. Even the locals are psyched about the size of the waves today. It's a spot that requires some skill - the waves here crash into the side of the 50-foot-high cliff we're standing on and one wrong move could send a surfer careening headfirst into solid rock, but none of them seems to mind.

From Santa Cruz, we head south again along yet more beautiful coastline to Monterey, where we spend almost an entire day at the incredible aquarium. Jellyfish squish past one another, sea otters entertain with their over-the-top teddy bear cuteness, eels and colorful fish swim among swaying kelp, swarms of silver fish swim in never-ending circles above our heads, and the Hammerheads, the Galapagos, and the Great White sharks keep us mesmerized. One interesting factoid we learn - they've just recently discovered that Great Whites don't ONLY stay right along the coast. Not much comfort for Todd and I when we're planning to try surfing in Malibu!

We also fork over the $8.75 to cruise the famous 17-Mile-Drive, a famous stretch of road that spans past lavish homes and exclusive golf courses as it winds its way toward Pebble Beach. Suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by expensive cars and well-to-do tourists and the whole place feels pretentious, stuffy, and boring. I fantasize about releasing a herd of wild boar on the golf course to break up all the uptight monotony here. Unless you're a mega-millionaire whose dream is to own a vacation home that's surrounded by really tall hedges and gates to keep all of humanity out, this is not the place for you.

We also whiz through Carmel-by-the-Sea, another ultra-luxe boutique town with lots of big homes along the water. It's quaint and I enjoy the mishmash of architectural styles - southwestern adobe, Cotswold cottage, fairytale castle, modern steel and glass - but again I find myself yearning to leave, wanting to find a bit of nature and quiet and, well, reality.

The drive further south along the 1 takes us past glorious Big Sur with its dramatic ocean vistas and mountain walls that plunge to the oceans below. Just north of Sand Dollar Beach, we come across Kirk Creek Campground and score an unbelievably gorgeous campsite perched on a ledge 300 feet above the water. We set up camp, then open up our folding chairs and settle in just a foot or two back from the cliff face to stare in amazement at the shimmering water that stretches as far as the eye can see. First we spot dolphins arching their way across the horizon. Later we spot a seal, and the next morning we watch as a shark's dorsal fin cuts the water followed by its vertical tail fin. It disappears then reappears at the surface several times before it's gone from sight.

A guy at the campground nearly convinces me to try surfing until we stop by nearby Sand Dollar Beach where most of the surfers spend 1/2 hour just trying to get past the first break. Once they get out there, the waves are several feet higher than a surfer standing on a board and everyone is taking a good pummeling, so I decide that I'll wait to try until we find some gentler waters.

Near Hearst Castle, we stop at a popular tourist spot where hundreds of Elephant Seals set up camp on the beach each fall. There are big, blubbery bodies wriggling and jiggling all over, and they're constantly using their big, hand-like fins to scratch their faces, stomachs, and backs. One of the seals keeps scooting around the beach trying to snuggle with everyone around her, and it's cute how they use each others' comfy smushiness like a pillow to rest their heads.

We pass through Cambria, Morro Bay, and San Luis Obispo, taking a quick look at each town before we reach Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara, a breathtaking community of sparkling white mission-style adobe buildings with red tile roofs, spans the hills that reach from the edge of the ocean to the beautiful mountains nearby. It's a place of gorgeous landscaping, incredibly expensive homes, an active arts community, a university, easy access to all kinds of recreation, and 300 days of sunshine a year. Spectacular!

Since we haven't yet stayed with someone we've never met before, we're a little nervous to meet Bill, a friend of a friend who has generously offered to let us stay with him at his home. We quickly discover that he likes to laugh as much as we do and that he can dish it out as fast as we can, so it's pretty obvious from the beginning that it's going to be a great few days. We enjoy a couple of nice restaurants, take the scenic drive into the mountains above town, walk the historic downtown area, lounge around the beach for a few hours, explore the university. And last night, completely touristed out, we stayed in, grilled chicken and fresh veggies, and watched the season premier of Lost. A HUGE thanks to Bill for your generous hospitality and for accommodating our constant dessert cravings!!!

Next stop is the City of Angels...
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