PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY

After San Francisco, my plan to gracefully embrace change along the way shifted slightly. In my mind, I was to leave SF and head towards Monterey, CA to begin driving down highway 1 and then continue all the way down the coast to LA. I would stop in Monterey for lunch and hopefully make it just north of Santa Barbara by Thursday evening. However, I did not check traffic reports or roadsigns as I drove, I just drove. Limited service aided in my ignorance. I was aware of the wildfires, but didn’t think they wouldn’t affect my travels too much. But a lot can happen in a day.

Prior to hitting my first major roadblock, I had lunch in Monterey at the Pier and watched the sea lions and jellyfish mingle in the water below. I ended up at the restaurant featured in HBO’s series Big Little Lies for a quick bite. After I scoffed down lunch, I filled up my tank and headed for the infamous Highway 1. 

Once I got through Carmel, the views opened up and all you could see was coastline and ocean. It was overwhelming for an East Coast girl like me, so I did my best to stay focused on the road and take my time. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Pacific Coast Highway is even better than I imagined it to be. It feels like the very edge of the world surrounded by rocky, deliberate cliffs. On your left, various shades of brown, beige, rust, sage and deep greens cover the earth like one enormous camo print blanket and on your right some of the deepest blues and whitest white caps collide, eventually meeting a hazy afternoon sky on the horizon. The road winds and bends and sits just at the edge of some of the highest cliffs I’ve ever gotten close enough to. 

If there’s one tip I can share, it’s blast a curated playlist as you drive. {See my Spotify California playlist here + at end of this post}  Tracing the coastline, I sang and listened to some of my all time favorites, windows down and wind in my hair. It was almost cinematic how freeing it was. 

I pulled off at nearly every viewpoint. But there was one spot I found especially hard to leave. It was everything I'd imagined it would be and then some. And there I was, so genuinely happy to be sitting at the edge of it all, in one of the most beautiful places I'd ever been. The past month or so had been filled with far too many bad days, too many tears and too many negative thoughts. It was there, I got lost in sea and sky. I thought only of the ocean and let only the sounds of crashing waves fill my head. I welcomed the late afternoon sun on my pale skin. Even now, reliving the moment, tears well up in my eyes. It was driving along the very edge of the coast, I realized the amount of beauty that remained in this world. 

After driving about 65 miles south, I quickly passed one of those digital road signs that read, “No Detour”. I passed it so fast that I didn’t see what the rest of the message read. So I kept driving, but hoped I’d come across some sort of civilization to ask what the message was all about. I finally found a small cliffside rest area and pulled off. As I approached the door, a neon pink sign read in bold capital letters, “YES, YOU HAVE TO TURN AROUND. NO DETOUR 35 MILES PAST LUCIA.” My heart sunk, and I walked inside to confirm the news with the ladies behind the counter. Sure enough, Highway 1 was closed 35 miles past the town of Lucia and there were no detours whatsoever. So I had to go all the way back to where I came from and take inland highways down to the LA area. I got back in my Jeep, panicked for a quick second, then turned the music back up and headed north. At this point, the sun was setting and I was miles away from my next destination. I was alone, facing the unknown. And if you’ve ever been in that situation before, you know the anxiety I was beginning to feel. This would set me back almost an entire day if I had to stay in Carmel or Monterey for the night. So I brainstormed as I drove and tried to calm myself down by watching the pink sun set behind hazy clouds. I made it back to Carmel, where I regained service and called a hotel in Pismo Beach I had noted prior to the start of my trip. The hotel had vacancies and was welcoming residents of Santa Barbara due to their recent mandatory evacuation. The wildfires had spread greatly in just a day and my plans to stop there quickly changed. I was about 3 hours from Pismo so I geared up and headed south to the hotel. 

The Inn at the Pier in Pismo Beach welcomed me with open arms. I was exhausted from driving so I couldn’t wait to eat something and get some rest. I ordered room service which I ate in bed in my pajamas. Yes, it was fantastic. I was lucky enough to get a solid nights sleep and wake up rested for the last chunk of driving ahead of me. I didn’t stay long, I needed to get back on the road to make up for lost time. Luckily the staff that delivered my room service the night before told me about a California transit app that proved to be a lifesaver the remainder of my trip. CalTrans provided live updates on traffic, road closures, wildfires, accidents, etc. I wanted to make sure I could take certain roads that had been closed earlier in the week because of the wildfires. Luckily the app came to the rescue and aided my travels all the way to Malibu.

I made a quick pit stop at Malibu Pier, walked down to dip my toes in the ocean and ended up making a friend, a furry one. I dusted the sand off my feet, threw my shades on and headed back to the Jeep after an hour or so. I was almost at my final destination. I continued south, gawking at the ocean front real estate that hugged the highway. It was surreal I had made it this far south, but I wasn't stopping now. 

Next stop ~ Los Angeles.