This post is part of our 26-day road trip from Wisconsin to California.
After exploring five national parks ( see our previous posts on Rocky Mountains, Arches, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite), we were ready for beaches. How could we not take the classic US-1 from San Francisco to San Diego! Although the coastline is about 550 miles, it took us about 9 days. We stopped wherever we felt with no strings attached. It was certainly a fantastic drive!
Stop 1: San Francisco
Yosemite to San Francisco is about a four hour drive. Lots of curvy roads leaving the mountains, then farmland until you get to the suburbs. My cell phone couldn’t pick up any signal until the suburbs, while we even had a signal in desert areas in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
My view on American cities in general, is that, to explore a specific city, you need to stay there at least a week to really see and enjoy it, otherwise, you end up just doing tourist things that are not as appealing ( my opinion only though ). Since neither Ben nor I had much interest in city life, we decided to just stay downtown for a night, visit friends, wander around, and then head to the beach. In general, San Francisco looked much older than what I remembered, but is certainly a very unique city: roads are still hilly, trolleys are still cute, Fisherman’s Wharf is still dirty, Golden Gate bridge is still crowded all the time, and the city is still foggy.
Stop 2: Santa Cruz
We left San Francisco in the afternoon and headed for Santa Cruz. It was so foggy the whole way that we barely even saw the ocean on the right side. Santa Cruz is where surfing was originally introduced. When we walked on the beach boardwalk in the late afternoon, surfers were enjoying their rides. Otherwise, the whole beach area was pretty much dead: restaurants and shops were empty, no kids playing at the roller coasters, but it was perfect for us to walk.
The next morning when we had breakfast at the hotel, for a moment, I thought we were in China since Ben was the only non-Chinese in the whole dining room.
Stop 3: Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur
We are both big fans of the underwater world, so we decided to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I loved all the types of jelly fish and octopi they have there. I have never seen a lot of these in other aquariums. This reminded us once again that we should get back to scuba diving soon!
From Monterey Bay to Carmel, we took the 17-Mile drive ( this is the name of the drive) , a $10 toll road, supposed to be a “wonderful” ride. It basically runs through mega private mansions and a bunch of golf courses, right by the ocean. Every single mansion has a sign like ” Private Property. Do not park any time”, and surrounded by tall fence. So the ocean-side is basically owned by super rich people and you have to pay to drive by. When you are allowed to park at some public area in between, ugly metal fences were put right by the cliffs! I only wish we knew ahead what the 17-mile was really about.
Carmel though is a wonderful town. The beach is incredibly beautiful with the soft white sand. I just wished the weather was warm enough to swim! Through Carmel, to Big Sur and beyond, the coastline is amazingly beautiful. Maybe next time we will rent a convertible, :).
Stop 4: San Simeon: Elephant Seals and
San Simeon is just a tiny town, but is in the perfect location between the elephant seals vista point and Hearst Castle. At the vista point, I could not believe there were indeed hundreds of elephant seals lying around the beach, about 10 feet away from us!
Hearst Castle, hmmm, how should I describe it? If you google it, you will learn much more about it. “It is a must-see to end all must sees, an eye-popping extravaganza with a 165-room castle, 127 acres/51 hectares of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools”. It is definitely impressive, however, I am just puzzled why people could be so obsessive on designing a house. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful and satisfying to help poor people instead of spending money like this? Though thanks to Mr. Hearst, we got to see some Africa zebras running on the field.
Stop 5:Huntington Beach
After Hearst Castle, we decided that we were done with touristy things. No wine tasting, and definitely no Los Angeles. Ben’s goal for the trip was to go surfing at least once. So we decided to hang out at Huntington beach for two nights, the capital of surfing. Ben did surf, but unfortunately didn’t surf at the right time and had to struggle with a strong wind and big irregular waves. He was very proud that he was able to get up a bunch of times, though did end up with a few bruises and scrapes. Definitely a good workout! We watched the real surfers from the pier the next day, they made it look so easy.
Stop 6: San Diego
Our final stop in California was San Diego. Everything we heard about San Diego before was positive. And everything we saw indeed was great! Ben’s friend was a great host and we spent wonderful time together. After maybe twenty year’s waiting, Ben finally got to eat at Shakey’s Pizza, an old childhood pizza place that he used to go to as a kid that went out of business in the midwest long ago.
Our original plan was to stay for about a week, to truly experience the city and relax. Unfortunately, Ben hit his fatigue point that even laying down on the beach couldn’t fix. So, we definitely will have to visit San Diego again in the future.