Six days and 1300 miles behind me, I arrived home from my Road Trip Pacific Coat Highway (solo). What’s in a name? I mostly referred to it as “the route”, thanks to the friendly woman inside my Garmin navigator (who I affectionately call Lois). Whatever the name, it is well worth the time it takes to leisurely enjoy this twisting and turning coastal road. It is unlike any other in the United States.
“Lois” and I had six days, and set out to drive from Los Olivos, California to Gig Harbor, Washington. I certainly thought six days seemed like plenty of time (Lois was non-commital) as we left Los Olivos on a hot and sunny September afternoon. Six days, it turns out, was not enough time to road trip Pacific Coast Highway…I needed more time to really drink in the views, get out and hike the trails, breathe in the ocean spray and sink my toes in to the sand. I needed more time. To relax.
Lois – well she prefers to spend her time “recalculating”.
With another week I may have even continued the trip all along the Washington coast – and frankly I think I will do that, sometime in the next month or so….I just feel compelled to see the rest and complete the quest. I know Lois will be up for it too.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway there were surprises: standing on the beach in Point Reyes without a breath of wind coming off the ocean. Unheard of in my experience.
There were frustrations: construction projects throughout the drive causing back-ups which Lois couldn’t possibly have prepared for. I tried to be patient, realizing how important it is to maintain this historic gem of a road and keep drivers safe.
There was peace: watching the sunrise at Cannon Beach as I did my morning run along the shore…the pink and gold of the new day bathing Haystack Rock and its sister rocks just as I was running by. Took my breath away.
There was adrenalin boost: when I slipped and fell on a muddy hill as I was trying to get a photo,
catching myself only by grabbing a seedling within reach. Thinking later about how long I might have laid on that rocky beach below before the next tourist trying to take a photo saw me there…
There was variety: Hot sun and torrential downpours. Fog, wind, beautiful clouds. I saw it all.
There was Lois: keeping me company, insisting on the shortest route to my destination, which never was the Hwy 1 Coastal route. She adjusted…eventually.
And I would do it all again. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway was rejuvenating and relaxing and restoring to travel alone, singing in the car, thinking, planning. Sometimes using the “mute” button on Lois. Wish I had had a mute button when doing road trips when my kids were little. And sometimes just being still. A new skill I’m learning; being still.
I truly recommend making this quest – alone or with someone you love…there were certainly many moments I wished my husband was with me. But it was also a great thing to do alone…to just be alone can be a really good thing for the soul.
I didn’t see it all, but I did see a lot…enough to make some recommendations. So take my advice or not, but find the time to make all or part of the beautiful and scenic Hwy 1/101 a part of a future road trip. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway alone or not, is a positively delightful experience.
CALIFORNIA – Road Trip Pacific Coast Highway Solo
In a word: Wine
Yummy Eats: Los Olivos Café
Claim to Fame: One of the film locations for the movie “Sideways”. I actually haven’t seen this movie, I don’t know why. Gotta check it out now. My observation of Los Olivos was the “cute” factor is fairly new…perhaps a result of its brush with Hollywood. No matter, tiny and quaint, its worth an hour or two.
Lois says: Find a shady parking spot, on the street. The sun here is hot, even in the fall.
San Luis Obispo
In a word: Friendly
Yummy Eats: Firestone Grill – serving San Luis Obispo’s famous tri-tip sandwich
Pillow Talk: Cheap, clean and fabulous, the Peach Tree Inn on Hwy 101 is a throwback to my childhood road trips in the station wagon with the fam. $79 a night.
Claim to Fame: Named the most friendly city in the United States in 2010 by National Geographic writer Dan Buetner in his book Thrive.
Home to the California Polytechnic University, this city has made a conscious effort to control growth and promote local (downtown still is a shopping area and has an outstanding Farmers Market, year – round, on Thursday nights), right down to no Target, no drive through restaurants. Yes I said no drive-through restaurants. Why you ask? Well SLO’s Mayor says they want people to get out of their cars! Shhh…don’t tell Lois.
Lois says: I love the old “Motor Inns” designed for road travel. The Peach Tree was perfect.
In a word: Elephant Seals
Claim to Fame: Hearst Castle – worth a visit. Can be long lines depending on the time of year
Watch for the signs to stop at the Piedras Blancas and view the harems of these smelly, loud, entertaining and interesting coastal creatures who make this beach their home year-round, with peak season being February through May.
Lois says: The parking lot at Piedras Blancas was muddy, watch for large potholes here…but plenty of parking available.
In a word: Stunning
Pillow Talk: Lots of options in Big Sur – all expensive. But for something fun and unique splurge on the fabulous Treebones Resort. You won’t be sorry.
Claim to Fame: The very rugged area did not see electricity until the 1950’s and the coast highway took 18 years to build. Pioneers were a tough breed here, and early conservationists. Their names are still visible throughout.
Great hiking and views everywhere you go. Don’t miss Julia Phieffer Burns State Park, Phieffer Beach and to the North the spectacular Point Lobos State Park where you can spend the whole day and not see it all. No cell phone service anywhere here, on Verizon anyway.
Lois says: If you are prone to motion-sickness take your meds before joining me on this section of the route. Very up, down and twisty and we don’t want any messes on the interior of the car. Thank you.
In a word: Tourists
Yummy Eats: Fish Hoppers – delicious seafood risotto with a waterfront view. Monterey has lots of options for dining on the water…some more touristy than others, but worth it to enjoy the salty smell and sights of the ocean here.
Pillow Talk: Very disappointing room at Padre Oaks…for $200 it was old and sad. But the motel was full, so that must mean $200 is the going rate. Too bad, over my normal budget.
Claim to Fame: The spectacular Monterey Aquarium is worth a visit, make the time, especially if you are traveling with kids.
I particularly enjoyed a morning run along the waterfront. A great trail that runs from Fishermen’s Wharf to Lovers Point was wonderful, flat and right next to the ocean. Listening to the sea lions bark and the smell of the ocean breeze was a great way to start my day.
Lois says: If you are only going to be in town a few hours skip the lots and park in street parking a few blocks out of the Cannery Row area. Abundant and inexpensive.
Half Moon Bay
In a word: Charming
Yummy Eats: I had lunch at the Moonside Bakery and sat outside in the sun. My turkey sandwich on croissant and latte were perfect. It was busy – always a good sign- and the clientele appeared to be both tourists and locals.
Claim to Fame: A coastal gem, Half Moon Bay’s temperate climate, access to San Francisco and the coast position it perfect for a full vacation if you have the time. Unfortunately, I did not.
Lois says: Choose the “Business Route” to assure access to the downtown area of Half Moon Bay. The area is well marked to access the beach here too.
In a word: Variety
Yummy Eats: So much fabulous food…so little time.
Claim to Fame: The history of San Francisco is deep. This city played a major role in the developing California territory and the entire west coast with gold, lumber, fishing, fires and more. San Francisco has also been a leader in gay rights, healthy lifestyle and technology.
You really need to make San Fran a separate trip, but if you make it a stop on this trip and only have a day just stroll and enjoy the waterfront, the Golden Gate and the views.
Some of the most stunning views on the route are after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge on Hwy 101, follow the signs to Hwy 1 which climbs up and over Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods. Spend time here if you can, it’s really beautiful. Be sure to pull into the Marin Headland overlook and enjoy the view here before descending down the winding road to the coast and several beaches including Stinson and Bolinas.
Lois says: Caution – keep your eyes on the road going over the Golden Gate Bridge…its hard to do, but safety first!
In a word: Earthquake
Yummy Eats: Sir and Star is a spectacular and surprisingly affordable restaurant in the heart of tiny Olema in a beautiful historic building. I nearly died over the delicious dinner rolls, along with my trumpet mushroom salad and Bubble and Squeek.
Pillow Talk: The Roundstone Farm Inn Bed and Breakfast offered a superb location to enjoy the area. $170 a night included a nice breakfast.
Claim to Fame: Home to the stunningly beautiful Point Reyes State Park which boasts miles of shoreline and hiking you could spend several days here and I wish I had. You can also walk on the San Andrea Fault which runs right through the area. A great visitor center at Bear Valley is only minutes from Olema and is a great place to plan your day.
In the neighboring town of Point Reyes be sure to visit Cowgirl Creamery for the most outstanding cheese on the earth.
Lois says: My GPS is a little iffy in this area…I really had a headache here. You might want a back up paper map in the car just in case.
In a word: Oysters
Yummy Eats: Hog Island Oyster Bar
Claim to Fame: If you love the bi-valve then this is the place. Popular with the weekend crowd from the city, but open most days, you can enjoy sitting at the outdoor beach bar and slurp raw or cooked oysters, you can buy oysters to go, and you can also see the oyster farm. Worth a stop!
Lois says: You come upon this place quickly so be watching and aware of cars turning into the valet parking lot. I recommend valet always…such cute guys at the valet!
In a word: Lighthouse
Claim to Fame: The only pacific coast lighthouse where you can climb to the top (115 feet), Point Arena is worth a stop. The views from the road are also spectacular. A nice stop to stretch and breath the sea air.
Lois says: You’ll catch sight of the lighthouse easily from the road. There is a perfect pull out on the ocean side to stop and snap a few photos.
In a word: Redwoods
Yummy Eats: The Avenue Cafe is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner – right on the world famous Avenue of the Giants. Pancakes – yum.
Pillow Talk: Miranda Gardens is a cozy and fun spot for a night or two right in the middle of the giant trees and close to everything Redwoods, including the Avenue of the Giants.
Claim to Fame: Big Trees. Even if you’ve seen them, every time I still feel so small. It’s astonishingly beautiful and renews your appreciation for Mother Nature and her ability to amaze.
Lois says: Lights on for safety in this area. Big Trees = dark roads.
OREGON – Road Trip Pacific Coast Highway Solo
In a word: Wild
Yummy Eats: This is a town you want to have seafood in. Check out the Nor’Wester for Seafood and Chowder.
Pillow Talk: Fabulous lodging at the historic Ireland’s Rustic Lodges. Get a cabin if available (mine was darling and the bed very comfy) or ask for a lodge room with an ocean view. The cabins don’t have views but are roomy and include a small fridge and microwave. Oceanside rooms do as well.
Claim to Fame: Gold Beach touts itself as the “Wild Side” and rightly so. Enjoy wild crashing waves on deserted ocean beaches, wildlife, wild salmon and wild views all with fewer people than some other towns along the Oregon Coast. Easy access to the wild Rogue River as well.
Walk to the beach in the early morning and you will likely have the place to yourself. A great way to to start the day
Lois says: The final section of Hwy 1/Hwy 101 out of Rockport before you hit Crescent City and cross into Oregon is very steep and windy. We tackled it in a rainstorm as well. If possible, plan your trip to be on this section during daylight hours.
In a word: Shopping
Yummy Eats: A perfect lunch or light dinner choice is Sweet Basils. Great tapas and wine as well as a nice happy hour in the summer season.
Pillow Talk: Cannon Beach Hotel – I loved this quaint hotel one block from the beach. The building is old but beautifully restored and the rooms are small but very comfortable. The breakfast which is included in the price was the best I had on my trip in the cozy french cafe that adjoins the hotel. Tres magnifique!
Claim to Fame: The sand is world famous here, known as the singing sands. The world famous Cannon Beach Sand Castle Festival is in June, but enjoy the sand and beautiful beach any time of year. Bring a jacket. Lots of great shopping here too, if that’s your thing. Stay more than one day and also visit beautiful Seaside just 8 miles up the road. I also recommend a visit to Ecola State Park for the view. If you have time, hike around. I saw several elk here.
Lois says: For some reason driving on the ocean beach is a popular activity here. I’m not into it myself, but if you are, and have the right vehicle, it’s legal.
WASHINGTON – Road Trip Pacific Coast Highway Solo
In a word: Shipwrecks
Yummy Eats: The Depot Restaurant is a great place to combine a great meal with history and ambiance.
Claim to Fame: Ilwaco on the Long Beach Peninsula has a wealth of history as a hub for transportation on both land, sea and river. It’s primary seafaring and transportation position has also created many shipwrecks through the years. Today its still a hub for fishing, transportation, seafood, cranberries and tourism.
A stop at Cape Disapointment State Park will greet you with spectacular views, two lighthouses and a wonderful museum/interpretive center on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
I did not spend the night here, but hope to go back and do so, as this area is worth several days to explore.
Lois says: I used my Washington State Parks annual pass here, well worth the purchase if you visit many of our State’s parks through out the year.
In a word: Seafood
Yummy Eats: East Point Seafood has fresh, canned and frozen seafood to go as well as an outdoor fish and chips stand. Don’t miss it!
Claim to Fame: Famous for Willapa Bay and the fabulous oysters produced there. Even if you are just driving through town, be sure to stop and pick up some to go.
Lois says: Watch the speed limit, these small town police love to give you a ticket.
I left Hwy 101 at the town of Raymond and headed East over to I-5 and took I-5 from Chehalis on home. I will hopefully continue the tour in the next month or so and enjoy the rest of the rugged Washington Coast section of this wonderful route. With Lois of course – she was a great companion!
More on that when I (we) do!