Leaving the San Francisco area with many beautiful memories, we were next headed for the South of California. We had planned to stop in surfer town Santa Cruz, former Clint Eastwood town Carmel-by-the-sea (where he was once mayor), and finally Pismo Beach off Highway Number 1, where hopefully a nice dinner and comfy bed would be waiting for us.
This was the first day where we truly noticed how cold California can be. I had always associated the West Coast with a lot of sunshine, burning heat, and a pleasantly cooling breeze. It turned out that there was more of a breeze than anything else.
I will not complain, as I am not someone who would normally seek either heat or sun (skin allergies and headaches hello). But you are well-advised if you bring a sweater along on your tour, as you will for sure need it. Or you buy one in one of the many cute little shops at (apparently year-around chilly) Carmel-by-the-sea; which is what we ended up doing for hubby because he never thinks he will get cold. 😊
Santa Cruz & Carmel-by-the-sea
We only very briefly passed through Santa Cruz. Picture us parking the car, literally taking a 30min stroll along the boardwalk, one picture to remember where we were, and off we went. Why we did not stay longer? It is the same as with a new book: if it does not capture our attention within the first couple of pages, we would skip the rest and start with a new one (leading to dozens of unfinished books on my Kindle).
Our lunch-stop at Carmel was more promising, yet chilly, and soon we entered famous Highway Number 1. This is a major north-south state highway that runs along the Pacific coastline and is a very popular route for tourists. I somehow had envisioned it to run right beside the coastline with direct access to beach and water, when instead, we drove on a high cliff way above sea level. Because I am afraid of heights (my second-biggest fear right after spiders), I was not able to enjoy the trip as much as I had hoped and was kind of glad that I made it through alive.
Highway No. 1 & Pismo Beach
The highway is a very scenic road that passes through several worth-to-visit areas, such as Big Sur National Park, which we skipped for timing reasons. You will find though that there is no going fast, partly because the road winds itself along the cliff and forces you to hit the brakes frequently. But also, because you might not be the only one picking this path. So, lean back, enjoy the views if you can and dream about where you will be arriving next.
After a full day of mostly driving, interrupted by just a few stops for coffee, lunch and pictures, we arrived at our place for the night. We crashed at a little Inn at Pismo Beach with a gorgeous ocean view and binoculars in every room for spotting Whales and other wildlife (we only saw ‘other wildlife’).
As much as I adore smaller hotels, their breakfast in the US mostly leaves me disappointed. Unless you are a fan of pancakes, waffles and sausages – a traditional American early morning offering and quite typical for an Inn – you may end up doing what we did: when hotel breakfast lets you down, Starbucks is always a good choice.
Ready to hit the road again, our next stop was Santa Barbara, half-way between Pismo and LA, where we planned to spend a few hours, stretch our legs and have lunch. Gosh, what a beautiful city and certainly one to come back to one day. Now if this was a book, I would definitely make it to its final page, and it would not be a long read.
With its Spanish-inspired architecture, very pleasant Mediterranean climate and countless opportunities to shop, eat and drink, the city proved to be a perfect stop on our tour. It does deserve more than just a couple hours though, so plan plenty of time, if you head there next, or even stay for a few more days to explore the more hidden areas.
LA & Huntington Beach
Back in the car, we were headed to our final destination: Huntington Beach, a seaside city known for its white sandy beaches approximately 35 miles (56km) southeast of Los Angeles. It is less crowded and hence less touristy than any of the LA beaches. But do not be fooled: despite looking very close to LA on the map, once stuck in traffic, you will easily spend two or three hours between the two cities.
When we finally arrived, hungry and exhausted, Huntington became the perfect escape for the remainder of our vacation. We put ourselves in idle mode, cherished our daily early morning workouts at the beach, took lengthy (and healthy) breakfasts, got plenty of sun, enjoyed delicious dinners in the sunset and just relished our time together and away from everything else. Completely lost in paradise we did not feel like going anywhere else for several days.
Yet, with LA in such proximity, a bit of guilt was creeping up that maybe we owe that famous city a visit while we were there. Admittedly, our rather brief exploration of Hollywood and Beverly Hills ended up being more of a check-the-box activity (been there, done that, took the picture) and nothing that has left us overly excited (okay, Beverly Hills was kind of nice). I am sure this does not do the city any justice, but we got an initial impression and that is all we wanted.
Our vacation ended after another full day in Huntington, gathering some final memories from our trip and reminding ourselves of how grateful we can be for such a wonderful time together. We enjoyed every bit of it, found our highlights, laughed about our lowlights and would take the same tour again if one day we can.
If you plan a vacation, you can never be certain that you pick the right journey, time of year, or places to stay. This time we felt that everything was just right. We especially appreciated being a bit away from the overly touristy areas and that we selected locations that are not as common (some might think boring). Did we miss a few important spots on our journey? We sure did. But why stress about it if we always have a chance to return … It was a perfect vacation for us and that is all that counts.