‘Wait, is that…? Guys! Look!’
The breaks squeal on the hot tarmac as we turn off Highway 1 into the beachside parking lot. The scene down below has already attracted a crowd. Stretched out on the dunes are hundreds of elephant seals, all honking, fighting, spraying each other with sand, unfazed by the gawping bystanders with their beaten-up Chevies and their shiny camera-phones. It’s a magical moment – one of many on this classic Californian roadtrip.
Our route starts out in geek-chic San Francisco. These days hacking parties are more popular than love-ins, but the city still retains its alternative edge, not least around the Hispanic / hipster epicentre, the Mission. Famed for having the best weather in the city, this is the go-to hood for independent bookshops, Berlin-style ping-pong nights and midnight Mexican feasts. Food is taken very seriously here, so be prepared for long queues outside the city’s cult food trucks and brunch spots. If you don’t fancy spending your Saturday morning in line, head instead to the farmer’s market outside the elegant Ferry Terminal Building. If the range of produce doesn’t blow your mind, the buskers and the views across the Bay just might.
As soon as you cross the iconic bridge, you’ll feel the weather change. While the fog rolling over San Francisco’s hills gives it a cool micro-climate, across the Bay you’ll feel the full force of the Californian sun. The attitude changes too, and our first stop, Santa Cruz, is as laidback as they come. Whether or not you’re a surfer, you can’t help but enjoy the chilled out atmosphere and retro feel of this colourful beach resort. A local buddy points us in the direction of a kitschy dinner. Living in a shack right on the ocean, he seems unbothered by the fact that his car has just broken down.
‘I got my bike,’ he says, tucking into his sloppy vegeburger. ‘What more do I need?’
Back on the Pacific Highway, we do indeed pass some hardy cyclists, but we’re definitely glad of our car’s horsepower as the terrain grows more rugged. It’s tempting to stop in Monterey and check out its world-class aquarium, but we are determined to get to Big Sur before the sun sets over the waves.
The twisting, vertiginous 90 mile road through Big Sur feels like the set to your own personal Bond movie. On one side there’s steep cliffs down to the Pacific. On the other, mountains and forests loom off into the distance. We stay in a restored 70s Airstream trailer, complete with its own front garden and bbq, but the area also offers yurts, cabins and even treehouses. One tip: when you’re booking, check how far off the road your accommodation is. You’ll find it much harder to commune with nature if trucks are barrelling past your window all night.
After a few days of hiking though nature reserves and exploring tiny beaches, we were ready for some less wholesome fun. LA was calling, but first there was another stunning drive to enjoy – and endure. Parts of the legendary Pacific Highway are so narrow that it’s near impossible to overtake, which can mean that you find yourself crawling behind a tractor or a cautious pensioner. On the plus side, this gives you a chance to take in the ever-changing landscape. As we drive south, the verdant hills make way for scrubland and palm trees, national parks for suburbia and honking sealions for elephant seals. Stopping for lunch at an upscale mall in Santa Barbara, we feel culture shocked. Was it really only last night we were sitting by the firepit, drinking hot toddies under the stars? If you're thinking of taking a break to the United States you can buy your USA Dollars here - www.currencytoday.co.uk/buy-us-dollars/index_usd.html
But it’s brash, electric LA that’s the real jolt to the system. Grabbing ice coffees in Silverlake we clock our first celebrity spot – although the punters are so gorgeous it’s hard to tell the A-Listers from the wannabes. Our AirBnB pad in nearby Echo Park is the perfect retreat from the madness of the clogged freeways, an oasis of tropical flowers and neighbourhood restaurants. By this point the car is a mess of sand and pine needles and Big Gulp soda cups, but as night falls we hop back in, already hungry for the next adventure.
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