Tearing ourselves away from Los Angeles, we picked up the rental car which was going to become home for the week and hit the 101. Traffic was as bad as we expected and it took hours even to make it past Malibu.
We had a quick stop off in Santa Barbra for a late lunch (deep-fried-avocado taco heaven on the pier) then carried on past views like this…
…until we hit San Luis Obispo.
I loved how our hostel looked – it had the perfect small-town USA feel that we were looking for!
The town centre is absolutely beautiful with some of the kindest and friendliest people we’ve ever came across. Its the kind of place that if you ask a stranger for directions to a restaurant they won’t just tell you – they’ll walk you right to the door. This literally happened to us on our first night while trying to find somewhere open after 9pm! We had a great dinner accompanied by some local craft beers at Eureka followed by an early night.
In the morning we set out to explore in the sunshine.
The main “tourist attraction” that San Luis Obispo has to offer is Bubblegum Alley – literally a 20m long alley with walls caked in inches of used gum. It’s apparently been around since the 1950’s and it’s as gross as it sounds.
These face’s say it all really…
The more you look at it the more disgusting it gets.
Content that we weren’t going to find anything else in SLO to top that, we jumped in the car and headed straight to our next destination. Monterey is a beautiful, if slightly too touristy, seaside town known for it’s aquarium and sardine-canning past.
Our reason for staying in Monterey however was not the town itself but to use it as a starting point for our drive along the world-famous Pacific Coast Highway, or Big Sur as it’s better known.
Usually Big Sur would have been accessible from the south, but in February California saw the highest level of rainfall in recent history and serious landslides caused lasting damage to large sections of highway. Luckily, the 20 mile stretch of road south of Monterey is safe and sound, and open as usual. It also happens to be the most scenic part of the route, hugging the stunning coastline and passing over Bixby Creek Bridge.
We couldn’t have picked a better day for it, with clear blue skies and beautiful afternoon light. When we arrived at the first viewpoint we were all completely blown-away.
Dramatic cliffs, bright blue water, the Pacific ocean crashing at your feet…it’s spectacular.
It should be noted that Martin was ridiculously patient – visiting one of the most beautiful places on the planet with two photography geeks is no easy feat! (Martin: “I was happy to stand about like a lemon – it’s that good a view!”)
We spent around 2 hours travelling up and down the highway, stopping at various points for a new angle and more photos. The huge concrete bridges over dramatic canyons are especially impressive – it’s was easy to see why Bixby Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world!
Our wheels for the week:
I can’t overstate how beautiful Big Sur is in real life – the views surpassed all of my expectations easily! The three of us had an incredible time (as clearly shown below!) and for me this day will be the standout memory of our entire California trip.
If you’re still not bored of Big Sur pics, Ally’s posted lots of his awesome photos on Instagram – @manson_7am.
The following morning, at Martin’s request, we visited the nearby Pebble Beach – (apparently) renowned for being one of the best golf courses in the United States if not the world. It holds a famous Pro-Am competition every year and has also hosted the US Open multiple times. Someone was very happy to be there…!
If, like me, you have zero interest in golf, the Pebble Beach estate is also home to 17 mile drive – another stunning stretch of California coastline. One of the must-see points is known as the Lone Cypress. It’s easy to see why!
While we were admiring the view, we noticed a small group of people standing watching something in the opposite direction. Curious, we asked what they were looking at in the seemingly empty expanse of ocean. Whales!! A lovely couple gave us a loan of their binoculars and sure enough there they were! Swimming quite a distance off the shore but clear enough to see before each dive back under. The thrill of seeing animals in the wild beats somewhere like Seaworld a million times over! We left on such a high, ready for our next destination.
As part of our all-American road trip we knew we wanted to see some kind of live sport, but due to the time of year the basketball & baseball seasons had yet to start and the football season had just finished. We were left with ice-hockey, so on the recommendation of our friend Scott we purchased tickets and headed to San Jose.
San Jose is an industrial city just south of San Francisco, home to a few small tech companies that you might have heard of such as Apple and Google. Their hockey team – the San Jose Sharks – is also one of the best in the league and Scott had assured us that we would have an amazing time at a game. He was not wrong! We cheered and yelled along with the rest of the crowd and a friendly guy next to us kindly explain the rules as we went. The only downside was the cost of a beer – $13 for a can!!!
I think I speak for all three of us when I say we’d go back to another ice-hockey match in a heartbeat! The game is easy to follow and the atmosphere is fantastic. 100% worth the stopover.
The final stop in our California tour ironically wasn’t really in California anymore. We woke up early and drove for 5 hours, climbing higher and higher up mountainside until we hit this view…
Lake Tahoe. Right on the border between California and Nevada and at an altitude of over 6,000 feet.
The California side of the lake is a beautiful ski resort, complete with wooden chalets and lodge style hotels. As soon as you cross into the Nevada side, the hotels turn into casino-resorts with very familiar names (Hard Rock, Harrahs, etc.). Obviously this is where we chose to stay the night, to show Ally a little of what he’d missed in Vegas. We had a great night of gambling in every casino, and I have no photos to show for it!
The following morning we set off (slightly hungover) looking for some of the great Tahoe views we’d read about. We started down at the beach, which looks beautiful but was bitterly cold.
We drove up into the mountains looking for Emerald Bay, supposedly a beautiful viewpoint on the south east of the lake. Sadly the weather turned against us pretty quickly, and instead of views we got a blizzard!
It was absolutely freezing so after a quick snowball fight (of course) we jumped back in the car ready to leave. We did not have the correct clothing with us to handle weather like that! It’s hard to believe that we were still in the same state that we’d been so sunburned in two weeks earlier.
This road trip really showed us how varied California is. While the definite highlight (for me) was Big Sur and the coast, I loved seeing the contrast between north & south, east & west.
On to our final stop of San Francisco…