September 2009 – The 93 mile long California State Highway One, stretching from Orange County (South) to Leggett, Northern California is an ideal way to appreciate nature’s bounty at its pristine best. This 3 D nature package, salubriously stenciled with towering Redwoods and Cypress, steep cliffs, verdant valleys and varied flora and fauna, is at its alluring best between Los Angeles and San Francisco. To get most of this spectacular view cruise leisurely (traffic permitting) watching the azure skies cuddle the Pacific Ocean.
The Route: We arrived in San Diego a day earlier to leave our footprints in the Gas Lamp District, Old Town and Balboa, the Spanish architecture inspired Park that houses the San Diego Zoo. From here drove down to La Jolla, a fascinating and upscale beach town set amidst ragged coast line, beaches and bluffs. The town lives up to its Spanish moniker ‘The Jewel’ as one walks down Prospect Street enjoying European veneer with Californian vivre of gourmet restaurants, art galleries and elite stores setting the tenor of the on going CA-1 drive.
It was time to move on and followed Interstate 5 transiting Oceanside, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, Oxnard and Santa Barbara towards San Luis Obispo. The interesting feature of Highways 101 and I-5 is that at places they revert into El Camino Real or Old Footpath or Kings Highway that at one time connected Mexican and Spanish Outposts and Missions, pueblos and presidios. This ‘ancient’ route started from San Diego (now Presidio Park) right through to San Jose and San Francisco (Market and Third Streets) and is distinguishable by the iron bells hung on shepherd’s crook or “Franciscan walking stick” shaped supports. The bells, nearly 450 in number, worked as road signs and the first bell was unveiled on August 15, 1906 at the Plaza Church near Olvera Street Pueblo, Los Angeles. We counted a few till we reached San Luis Obispo and connected to CA-1. Our overnight halt was San Simeon, located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (either way), about 40 miles from Los Angeles. It was past 9 p.m. and a lonely drive with occasional headlights assuring that we were on the right road. We had booked at Day’s Inn and woke up to a typical California day,bright and carefree, and retraced our steps to Cambria that turned out to be a picture book holiday town with the towering Monterey pines framing an effervescent coastline. A deserted Main Street greeted us, it was 8.30 in the morning and the only two stores open were a real estate office and a gift shop. Purchased ‘Cambria’ sweat-shirts and by-passed the real estate office and expectant looks of sales person. Colored storefronts and Victorian houses vie for attention from between newer houses built on hill slopes. Drove back to San Simeon, a one street town with motels, a fairly reasonable beach, warehouses and the Hearst Castle the reason for the town’s attraction. The all engulfing fog added a touch of mystery to the surrounding hills, farms and even the Castle. From up close there was nothing illusory about ‘The Enchanted Hill’ which is now a State Historic landmark and the best way to see the Castle is to take a guided tours offering glimpses into the opulence of its environs.
- We spent more than two hours walking the grounds, listening to the stories and watching a documentary on the building of the Castle. William Hearst had a dream of building a magnificent castle and he fulfilled his dream. But then as someone from the audience commented he had the money to do so. I had seen Citizen Kane for my cinema critique class and did ask the guide if the movie was based on Hearst. She refused to comment on my question. It was back on the road on to Big Sur, 65 miles from Hearst Castle and hoping to break for lunch. Watched sea lions roosting in the surf at Elephant Seal Vista Point, 4 miles north of Hearst Castle. From far the sea lions appeared as sand dumplimps oblivious to humans.
- The mist hid the Big Sur Lighthouse, gateway to Big Sur, and we continued our journey via Salmon Creek waterfall, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the Henry Miller Library and Hawthorne gallery, camping and hiking trails and state parks. In between is Hurricane Point and the 265 feet arched Bixby Bridge or the Rainbow Bridge…ideal spots for a panoramic
- view of steep cliffs, rugged canyons and waterfalls and what Henry Miller referred to as “the face of the earth as the creator intended it to look”. The negative point is that the traffic moves slowly, a single two-way lane circling the mountains, and one can only hope that the driver in front is a nature freak and stops at some culvert to let you pass. Otherwise just endure and appreciate nature’s bounty.
Too much of fresh air can make one hungry and since it was getting past lunch time tried locating a quiet place. Going by guide books there are enough choices from delis to fancy eating places such as the Nepenthe, designed by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright on the site of the cabin gifted by Orson Welles to Rita Hayworth. We opted for Rocky Point restaurant which, as its blurb says, is located ‘On Edge of Forever”, near the Rocky Creek Bridge. Natural light and water makes one forget mundane things as that there was no electricity in the area till the 1950′s. The serenity of Big Sur was a magnet for artists, poets, writers such as Aldous Huxley, Joan Baez, the Beatles (Ringo and George) to live in the area.
A satisfying lunch/dinner, it was past 5 p.m. and we headed towards Carmel taking the Big Sur River valley road through Redwood forests. Carmel is about five miles south of Monterey and 26 miles north of Big Sur depending on direction which traveling. The San Luis Obispo /Carmel section is an official part of the National Scenic Byways Program
It was still sunlight and Carmel turned out to be a quintessentially sophisticated dog-friendly beach town with missing traffic lights. We parked somewhere near Ocean Avenue and walked barefoot to the white sandy beach so as not to get shoes filled with sand. Later we learnt that at one time walking with high heels, without a permit, was prohibited. It must have been an acceptable rule as the cobble stone pathways through trademark ‘dollhouses’ might have been a cause of accidental falls.
Time for wrap up and onward journey along the 17 Mile Drive towards Pebble Beach with wild flowers and wind-swept ocean-line merging in a soothing riposte. This stretch is a toll road maintained by Pebble Beach community and one can stroll along the ocean or stop to take pictures of Pebble Beach trademark, the Lone Cypress Tree.