Going Coastal...

Trip Start May 22, 2010
Trip End Jun 28, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, May 23, 2010

The wind bit deep into my bones at five thirty this morning when Shane and I got out of bed to take a walk to the beach at Carpinteria. At first I wondered why I was doing this to myself - after 14 hours on a plane and 3 hours in a car the very LONG day before...

But as I slowly defrosed and took in the quiet Carpinteria morning, I realised that it had been a great idea after all. The greyish-pink quality of the light at dawn and the crispness of the air really made me feel alive.

The waves shushed against the shore as we crossed a lone train track to reach the cliff overlooking the ocean. Beaches in this part of California are like no beaches I have ever seen. The sand has an almost coffee colour to it, and they are much rockier than I had imagined. The waves were almost restless even out to sea, and in the distance gas rigs were visible, somehow not detracting from the desolate beauty of the coast.

A flock of pelicans glided by, caught in an updraft. Shane thought they were dirty - their feathers weren't the usual gleaming white we are used to.

Later after a quick breakfast of cereal and yoghurt (Mel was game enough to try the powdered-egg omeletes) we jumped back in the tank for the four hundred mile trip from Carpinteria to San Francisco. The plan was to take Highway One, a road we had been told was a lovely scenic trip.

Somehow the descriptions that friends had given us of this road had not done it justice. Not even slightly.

I'd been told that travelling from LA to San Francisco would feel like travelling to another country. What I hadn't planned on was the feeling of travelling through many on the road between the two cities.

The trip began as the urban sprawl gave way to farming land - acres and acres of crops like a patchwork across the ground, with the mountains in the background framing the picture. This gave way to fields of swaying green-gold grass, as we hit Highway One and the coast came into view once more. Even the coast seemed changed; fantastic craggy rock formations pierced the surface of the ocean like an old man's teeth.

We made our first stop at the Hearst Family State Park. The wind hadn't let up - if anything it had gotten stronger, whipping my hair into my face as we tried to pose for photos on the jetty. It was here we discovered the answer to the dirty pelicans - they're a whole different species - the Brown Pelican.

Zipping across the highway we made a little detour to Hearst Castle - the home of WR Hearst, a media magnate from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His Castle and grounds are said to be breathtaking in their magnificence. Unfortunately, we hadn't pre-booked a tour, and in the typical control-freak style of the American's, no one can access the castle or the grounds unless they are on a tour. The wait for an available tour would have made us so terribly late into San Fran that we were forced to leave empty handed.

The disappointment didn't last long, however, when we stumbled across the next stop on the highway - a viewing area for Elephant Seals who sun themselves on the beach. And before we even got near the seals I was fully distracted by another form of wildlife - a squirrel, begging for food. I desperately wanted to feed it, but the signs forbade it, and I had nothing to give in any case.

The seals were enormous, rolling about in the sand and flicking it over themselves while using as little energy as possible. The only real action we saw was when two larger ones started grunting and throwing themselves at each other - an obvious show of dominance.

What really left me speechless was the sheer numbr of seals on the beach - it seemed like almost every available bit of sand was taken up with at least one of the enormous creatures. Their colours varied from a deep grey to a sandy gold, and while some had sleek hides, others were peeling as if from sunburn. Which could be the case, seeing as all they seemed to want to do was sunbake...

After there the road really started to take some serious twists and turns, narrowing and winding around the steep cliffs overhanging the ocean. Bede was a very careful driver, taking the road slow and steady like the tortoise. Unlike Shane, the hare, who seemed to prefer to leave the car to pick its own speed, and at times I was clinging to the seat for dear life. He'll insist I was overreacting, but I'm sure I tasted my heart in my mouth at least once.

It seemed like every time we came around a bend we were gasping at the new beauty of the scenery. It never stopped being amazing how each turn revealed a sheer drop towards aqua ocean, cliffs covered with pine trees or enormous misshapen rocks.

We stopped for lunch at a little cafe very high above the ocean. As suspected the meals were enormous, but delicious. I think Man and Food might be even - the cool, salty air must have boosted Shane's appetite.

We weren't entirely through the windy part, but the road curved away from the ocean, and the landscape changed again. Forest suddenly soared up on either side of us, forming a break from the icy coastal wind, and overshadowing the road. We had entered Big Sur.

One thing I was dying to see was a Giant Sequoia - a Redwood. They are the tallest trees in the world, and only found in this part of the United States. While the best ones are hanging out with Yogi Bear at Yellowstone, according to the slightly creepy park attendant at Big Sur "there are some lovely specimens right here". Of course, I think his slightly confused tone of voice was in response to Shane's ambiguous and uber bogan greeting: "g'day mate, we wanna see some big trees". It's been Shane's goal to try and work up to using an Australian colloquialism like "flat out like a lizard drinking" or "dry as a dead dingo's donger" in a conversation with an American. He's not quite worked up the courage, but I think he's on his way.

The "specimens" we saw in the park weren't quite the giant ones, but they were still enormous and magnificent. Mel and I were like tiny munchkins trying in vain to get out arms all the way around one. Mel is used to being a munchkin, but it's not something I've ever really felt before...

Further into the park, we came across a little rocky stream. There was no question about whether I was taking a paddle or not. Icy cold outside it may have been, but that water was getting on my feet in one way or another.

The trees allowed a dappled light to penetrate and sparkle off the water (a bit like vampire skin, really). The water WAS freezing, but my feet were numb so quickly that I didn't mind. I waded around for about ten minutes with the boys. Mel decided her feet would stay dry, but she did find some tiny golden specks in the wet sand. Gold was a big contributor to the settlement of California, and so the specks could well have been tiny pieces of real gold.

We dried off and kept moving, still having a couple of hours until we would reach out accommodation in San Francisco. The road met up with the 101, and we were flying once more.

My first glimpse of the San Francisco I recognise was the steep rows of houses as the freeway closed in on the suburbs surrounding the city proper. I couldn't pay too much attention though, because we suddenly found ourselves all concentrating on navigating into the city centre in the tank, which was definitely not built for city driving.

Shane's first impression of San Fran was; "It's like Melbourne - it's cold, there're trams and lots of beggars". And he's quite right. In walking one block from the car to the hotel I was accosted by three different beggars - one cradling a scruffy looking dog with a sign against her knees reading "Please help us get out of the cold". It was almost heartbreaking.

It's definitely not a sleeping city though - it's almost midnight on a Sunday night as I write this and I can hear the street car (tram) clanging it's bell outside my hotel window. I'm looking forward to riding one of them tomorrow.

Our hotel is 'boutique' and had maintained an Art Deco charm. The features are very close to original, and the corridors are long and confusingly laid out, almost to the point where I'm starting to wonder if I turn a corner whether a pair of twins will appear asking me to come play with them...forever and ever and ever... But horror movie scenery aside, it's a stunning hotel, and definitely more unique than any modern behemoth.

Tomorrow we plan on hiring some bikes and taking a bit of a ride through the city. Maybe we'll catch the trolley car to the top of a hill and coast down...

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Lyn on

I'm really enjoying the read each evening.

Jackie on

Loving your blogs :)

Fallon on

Ha, you should be a travel writer. Love the descriptions. Too bad it's still so cold though...

Juzzi on

You better have given the dog some food sis !

Juzzi on

You better have given the dog some food sis !

Juzzi on

You better have given the dog some food sis !

Juzzi on

You better have given the dog some food sis !

Juzzi on

You better have given the dog some food sis !

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