A twelve day romp along the Pacific Coast Highway in May of 2017
This trip was inspired by the History of California from the Chumash to the Californios, retracing the steps of El Camino Real stopping in and around Mission Towns and learning about the state I have officially become a resident of. I found myself in looking for the motivations of the miners who made their way towards this coast 168 years before me.
Some background on the trip: I moved from La Mirada, CA to Long Beach, CA with the purchase of a condo in May 2016. A couple of months later, after a lot of careful planning and budgeting was put into the condo purchase, I was "promoted" at work which resulted in a salary decrease due to no longer receiving overtime pay. Although I was grateful for the new title, and for not having to rely on overtime pay it ended up being a difficult period. Not only was I dealing with the increased stress of money issues, and owning a condo, I had to deal with living in a new city and not really knowing anyone. Without an extended vacation in over two years, I really needed one. I sold a number of my possessions, such as my extensive sneaker collection, cutting my losses. I cooked almost every meal at home for about six months up to this point. I scraped enough money together and cleared my savings to get out of town for almost two weeks. A one way rental car and a plane ticket back from San Francisco had been purchased.
An interactive map of my journey:
Day 1: Long Beach to Ventura
Left long beach fairly early in the morning on a Monday trying to beat the traffic to Ventura. This is about a 70 mile drive, and I should have definitely left earlier, but I made it to Ventura Harbor in time to hit the ferry for Channel Islands. By the time the boat hit the open water, the stress literally blew off of me. I felt like I could finally breathe again. A weight was off of my shoulders and I knew at this point that this trip was going to be exactly what I needed.
Channel Islands National Park
When the boat got to Prisoners Harbor we off-boarded the ferry and did the orientation. After a few minutes I hit the trail and headed towards Potato Harbor. The bright May sun shone and the sea breeze blew through the high grasses bringing tears to my eyes. THIS was California as it was experienced by the Chumash. California as God made it. It was unspoiled by development, the rugged coast only shaped by the passing tides.
The entire Santa Cruz island was a sight for sore eyes. To the distance I could see the California Coast. Further off you could see Anacapa Island, and island foxes slyly stole food from packs and containers. On this day it became evident why la Isla de California was so revered by so many generations. On this day it became evident that this trip would make me a proud Californian.
Leaving the island on the ferry back to Ventura we saw some dolphins and other sea life, I stopped by one of the restaurants near downtown Ventura and had some fresh fried fish, checked into my hotel and reviewed my day. What a special adventure had begun.
Day 2: Ventura to Ojai to Santa Barbara
From Ventura, after packing up and hitting the road it was a short drive to Ojai. Oh hi, cool little town, lots of local shops and artisans. Some places to check out near downtown; the post office, a little park nearby and across the street were some shops. Deftinitely check out Bart's Books, one of the only outdoor bookstores I have ever encountered. After a morning/early afternoon in Ojai, it was time for Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a good representation of the mishmash of culutres, old and new. Spanish and American. Sea and Land. The city sprawls from the harbor and shore into the mountains. Lots of the buildings are made to look old, spanish style with terra cotta roofs and whitewashed stucco finishes. There is also a mission in town that is fairly well preserved. This is definitely worth a look. Also check out the courthouse. If there's anything that encapsulates Santa Barabara it is the courthouse. Made to look like an ostentatious Spanish Mission its full of frescos and arches and other features. However it was built in the 1929.
Good food, good shopping, good weather. A really nice public beach and boardwalk. A main street that sprawls for many blocks. Some tips for the city, you can go to the marine museum and take the elevator to the top floor for a nice view of the harbor. You may run into some quirky Santa Barbarans along the way. Keep an eye out for the local ukelele club. Defintely a cool town to spend some time in.
Day 3: Santa Barbara to Hearst Castle to Ragged Point
As I kept meandering my way up the coast the population dwindled. I passed towns like Santa Maria, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. About the time I got to Morro Bay. I realized I was nearing what is called the Central Coast a sweet spot between northern and southern california where the coastline is littered with cliffs and where PCH started getting really beautiful. I had an afternoon ticket to visit Hearst Castle the next adventure on my trip.
This place was ridiculous. The gardens were meticulously manicured, I'm not sure if there is some portion of the garden that is always in bloom, but I was blessed with the sight of every color of rose imaginable blooming simultaneously. There were roman and greek statues, and columns, and sculptures galore. The house is set at the top of a giant sprawling property that is surrounded by mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This place was magnificent. The inside of the main house was awesome although a bit dated. If I were to do this again I would probably choose a different tour, maybe the guest houses tour.
My favorite piece of the castle apart from the gardens were the guest houses. Each of them had a back porch area that looked directly out to the ocean. Complete with golden statues on the columns that seemed to admire the view just as I had been. Hearst Castle is worth a trip in itself but it was definitely a highlight of Day 3. After a while it was time to head out. As I left I got a view of the indoor pool and tennis courts. Then it was time to keep heading north.
When I left Hearst Castle, I stopped by the Elephant Seal habitat and got a little jealous of how aloof they were. But I had to keep moving. This is the point where PCH started to get really beautiful, unfortunately for me, a crack was discovered at a bridge near Big Sur which haulted traffic north of Ragged Point so that was as far as I could go from the south. I stopped to snap some pictures along the way, and as the road wound up and into the coastal cliffs I rolled into the Ragged Point Inn around early evening, time enough for a short hike.
I walked to a spot just south of the resort that was recommended by someone at the front desk, where it looked like I could climb some hills and get a view down to the coast. The late afternoon sun started to set and a fog rolled in. Yellowish hues hit the green grassy knolls and a crisp sea air kept everything cool. Dinner at the Ragged Point Inn was interrupted by another highlight of my trip, a purple, raspberry, sunset that was really unlike anything I have ever seen. I have no idea how this happened but everyone left their tables and went outside to take pictures and admire the sight. The rooms at the Ragged Point Inn were awesome. Clean, with an ocean breeze, it really is Big Sur. I woke up refreshed and ready to hit the road for Monterey.
Day 4: Ragged Point to Monterey
Due to the road closure on PCH I had to go to Monterey the long way. There was quite a bit of driving this day. Through the Central Coast to King City then up the 5 and back over to Monterey. I got to Monterey early afternoon and did a little bit of hiking around the outskirts of the city, then checked into my hotel. Got an opportunity to jump in the pool and hot tub, then relaxed and later on had dinner with some of my extended family. My cousin was getting married so this was another reason for this trip. However, it was Thursday and the wedding wasn't until Saturday, so I would be here for three more nights. This was really a driving and chill day. I think every vacation needs one of these, especially after how much I had experienced so far this trip.
Day 5: Monterey and Big Sur
My parents got into town this day, so we met for an early lunch and made it a point to do some exploring. PCH was open coming from the north a little bit past the Bixby Creek Bridge. So we decided to go down there and then head back up north to Carmel and loop back around the back way to Monterey.
Another Big Sur photo opportunity at the Bixby Creek Bridge. Then off to Carmel by the sea for a shot of Lone Cypress.
Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey
Day 6: Monterey
Day 6 was the wedding. Lots of family, laughs, and dancing, a good time was had by all.
Day 7: Monterey to Santa Cruz
Day 7 was a groggy brunch as everyone said their goodbyes. A full week on the road for me was in the books. And I had to keep on moving, on to Santa Cruz.
I want to shout out the Sea and Sand Inn in Santa Cruz. It was an awesome place. Santa Cruz is like Santa Barbara after a few bong rips. The town is super chill, I liked the downtown area, it didn't seem quite as pretentious as the other Central California cities, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The boardwalk is super cool too. Of course I had to stop by my favorite coffee spot Verve Coffee Roasters.
I want to give a special shout out to Verve. First of all, I have been regularly ordering Verve Coffee since probably 2011, not even joking I'm addicted. I emailed them before taking this trip, just letting them know that I have been a loyal customer and I was going to be in the area, I asked if I could take a tour of their facilities and see what it was all about. They wrote me back and told me to stop by which was super, super rad. When I took a sip of the nitro cold brew at the Seabright facility it felt like I was drinking holy water.
Their roasting equipment was amazing, their staff was chill and they gave me some pointers on how to enjoy Verve even more, they even gave me some free swag, customer for life. I had some Verve this morning actually.
Day 8: Santa Cruz to Yosemite
I figured since I was up in Northern California it was a good idea to take a little detour to this National Park that everyone had been talking so much about. I had heard that Yosemite was another must see in California. Somewhere, I don't remember where, I saw a list of Realistic State Mottos. And California's was: We Have Whatever Your State Has, But a Better Version of It. Nowhere was this more evident than at Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park
We had a really wet winter of 2016 in California and the Sierra was pummelled with snow. So much so that Glacier Point was not open until late May 2017. Although the south part of the park was closed due to snow and ice, ALL of the waterfalls were spitting at full capacity. The Merced River almost completely filled the valley which provided some awesome photo opportunities on Day 1 in the park. I pulled in and snapped some pictures in the afternoon, then checked into my canvas tent at Half Dome Village.
Then I was able to catch sunset around the park. Seeing Yosemite Falls, California's waterfall that is bigger and better than anything any other state has was a majestic sight. Seeing the sunset on Half Dome and the golden glow it provided. Seeing Middle Cathedral Rock's reflection in the Merced. All of these moments I will always remember.
The only thing I really dislike about Yosemite is the crowds. There are so many people at this park, and this was the first time I learned that it is necessary to hit the backcountry to avoid the crowds. I planned for a morning hike the next day.
Day 9: Yosemite
Early to bed early to rise. I hit the trailhead at Lower Yosemite Falls around 6am, a short walk from Half Dome Village. This was an excellent idea. I was able to see the last bits of sunrise hit the valley as I made my way up towards Yosemite Point. The trail was also sparsely populated. When I finally got closer to Upper Yosemite Falls it was another moment of magic in this sacred place. The water was flowing so profusely that it was hitting the ground and jumping back up into the air, creating rain around the base of the fall. If you ever go to Yosemite, go in May.
Getting to Yosemite Point the whole valley came into view. A new appreciation for the splendor of this place really hit me. It was 3,000 feet striaght down to the valley floor. This appreciation was soon replaced with annoyance when I hit the crowds who got later starts to their day than me. However, I believe this was the day my backcountry thirst was first quenched. Thank you to John Muir and everyone who helped preserve this place for everyone else to enjoy.
Day 10: Yosemite to San Francisco
At this point I was ready to get back to civilization, a long drive that took me through Modesto offered me a chance to do some laundry on my way to the San Francisco airport to return my rental car. Then I took an Uber from the airport to my hotel near Chinatown. It was nice to be back in a hotel. Grabbed a shower then I got the chance to do some exploring of the city.
I headed for Dolores Park and the Mission District. Seeing the Painted Ladies brought back memories of Full House. Dolores Park was uniqely San Fancisco. A local man had a parrot that he trained to do flybys. The view of Downtown got better and better with each step I took. This city is extremely walkable.
Dinner was at La Taqueria in the Mission District. Hands down the best burrito I've had to date. Definitely worthy of the tag "Best Burrito in America" that it was given. The order is the Carnitas Super Burrito, Dorado Style. Make sure you bring cash. The burrito will be gone in no time.
Day 11: San Francisco
This city is so cool man, and what a first impression. There is a quote, "the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco", nobody knows who said it, maybe it was Mark Twain, but that is contested. Either way, the weather was perfect for me. I could not have asked for a better introduction to this city.
My second day in SF I took the ferry to Alcatraz and did the self guided tour. That was awesome. Highly recommended. After that I checked out Lombard Street and did a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. That bike ride was really cool, the plan was to get all the way to Muir Woods, I got to the entrance but I didn't feel like making another descent that would have been an eventual ascent on my way back. You can rent a bike for a pretty reasonable price. Something happened and I actually bent a rim, even with the bent rim, after a Ferry back to the Embarcadero it was only about sixty bucks for the rental.
Day 12: San Francisco to Long Beach
Breakfast, then checkout. Took an Uber to the airport and caught my flight home. My trip had come to an end. What a whirlwind. I fell in love with my new home, warts and all. Stay Golden Pony Boy.