Pacific Coast Highway

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From the PCH to the freeways of LA

Written by Emmy on 2 October 2011

We woke up in Pismo Beach on Thursday morning, packed up the tent and headed into “downtown” Pismo for a quick stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls before hitting the road. The spot had been recommended by one of our books, so naturally we obliged and ordered one with pecans and one with almonds.

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Continuing our drive, we passed through Lompoc, where nearly three-quarters of the world’s flower seeds are grown, and drove by an enormous air force base. We drove through the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where we gave ourselves a self-guided tour. We parked in Santa Barbara and took a brief stroll along the city’s historic State Street. We considered taking a hike into the hills but the morning fog was still obscuring the view. So instead, we went to lunch.

We were far enough south to get authentic Mexican food and so we visited the acclaimed La Super-Rica Taqueria, a brightly colored but tiny restaurant on a street filled with tacos.

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Always eager to prove that we can, in fact, handle spice like the natives of any cuisine, we ordered a selection of authentic items from the menu and enjoyed them with a triad of homemade salsas. Chaz tried two different types of taco, while I sampled two less common items — chorizo super rica, a baked casserole meant to be wrapped in tortillas, and a spicy bean gordito.

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From Santa Barbara we drove to Ventura, where we stopped by the visitor center for the Channel Islands. Channel Islands National Park is, as the name suggests, in the middle of the ocean. Even though we couldn’t visit the actual park, Chaz still got a stamp in his national parks passport.

From Ventura, we continued down the coast on Highway 1. The scenery was still beautiful, though far less isolated than the hills we’d driven by the day before. We passed through Malibu and its oceanfront homes and eyeballed a few more beaches before turning off PCH in Santa Monica.

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From here we hopped from freeway to freeway. I have never seen so many highways in one place before, and they were all SO FILLED with cars.

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Back in an urban metropolis, we conducted a few errands. Chaz’s pillow was a casualty of our stay in the Bay Area, so we headed to IKEA in Burbank to pick up a new one. We visited the first ever Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, where Joe himself apparently shops. And then, because it’s hard to resist a giant supermarket, we strolled through the largest Whole Foods I have ever seen.

After another hour of freeway driving, we arrived at our friend Joanna’s house, where her parents graciously hosted us for the evening. We showered and did laundry, the simple luxuries of life, and had a delicious dinner of steak, quinoa, roasted peppers and fresh corn with the Wohlmuths. We ended dinner with fresh figs, which were incredible.

We unpacked and repacked Dorothy, filled her with gas and headed to bed early in order to prepare for our big drive the next morning.

Out of the hills onto the beach

Written by Chaz on 30 September 2011

When we woke up on Wednesday to start our second day on the Pacific Coast Highway, we found that dramatic fog had rolled in, blanketing Big Sur.

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We made breakfast and coffee, taking our time leaving our beautiful campsite in the hopes that weather conditions would improve with time. We took a walk around the campground and down to the beach below it. But unfortunately the fog didn’t show much sign of lifting, so we struck camp and set out south.

As we drove, we soon left the cliffs of Big Sur behind and found that we were driving in and out of very obvious shelves of cloud cover. We stopped a few times at remarkable beaches or views as we slowly made out way south. Realizing that we would need a little more fuel than we had to make it through Big Sur, we bought three gallons of gas at $5.69 per gallon, the going price on the cliffs of Big Sur. Naturally, there were tears in our eyes.

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We also made a quick stop at Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s mega-mansion, and though we didn’t do any of the tours, we got a good look at his magic kingdom from the bottom of the hills.

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We stopped in San Luis Obispo, the first sort-of-real city south of Big Sur, for a much-needed fuel tank fill-up, and pressed on to Pismo Beach, where we spent much of the afternoon and the night. After picking up a few supplies, we set up camp at Pismo State Beach’s North Campground, where our campsite, No. 18, was just a short walk through the dunes from the ocean.

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Emmy made a delicious lunch of bean and vegetable salad and turkey, avocado, muenster and corn chip sandwiches, and we packed a beach bag and headed down to the beach for some sun and surf.

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As the afternoon drew to a close, we retreated to our campsite for some appetizers and a couple rounds of Set. We took the last of the appetizers back to the beach to watch the sunset.

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For dinner, Emmy pulled off one of her best camping feats, roasting chicken sausages and bell peppers over our campfire to add a smoky flavor before chopping them and throwing them over the stove to soften and stew a bit. More so than the other hot dishes we had while camping, this one relied on the quality of its ingredients and preparation, rather than its recipe, and it was delicious.

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After a round or two of s’mores, we cleaned up and headed to bed.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Written by Emmy on 30 September 2011

We had barely left San Francisco before the scenery underwent a rather dramatic transformation.

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Just a few miles south of bustling San Fran, Highway 1 turns into a cliff-hugging roller coaster ride, with hills to the left and water to the right. Better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, the route runs all the way down the coast and the appeal of the journey is the drive itself. Our plan was to hit the highway and just get going. We had a couple destinations in mind, but otherwise planned to admire the scenery and stop impulsively when a whim struck.

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Our first planned stop was in the tiny town of Pescadero. Several of my trusty food-recommending sources had given a shout out to Duarte’s Tavern and so we had to check it out for ourselves. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but we know not to judge a restaurant by its exterior.

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We sat down and looked over the menu, which was dominated by artichokes and crab. We weren’t too far north of Castroville, Calif. — the artichoke capital of the world — and as for the crab, well, the ocean was obviously not too far either. We decided to sample the steamed artichoke hearts served with an aioli and the crab melt. The waitress commended us for ordering precisely what she would have recommended. We were quite pleased with ourselves.

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Neither of us was bowled over by the artichokes while we were eating them, but in later reflection, we determined that we had really enjoyed them for their artful simplicity. The crab melt was fantastic — like a lighter version of a tuna melt. With no extra frills, save for a pickle on the side, the freshness of the crab was really what made the sandwich.

In reading about Duarte’s, we had seen mention in several places about the pie. We had ordered light so that we would have room to try a piece and after examining the lengthy list of flavor options, decided to ask our trusty waitress for her recommendation. She said we had to order the ollaliberry. When we both looked at her somewhat quizzically, she launched into an explanation. The ollaliberry is a varietal of blackberry found only in particular locations, the northern California coast being one of them. The berry is smaller and redder than the blackberries I know and love, almost like a cross between the fat black berries and raspberries. Our waitress split our pie slice into two in the kitchen, which was probably a smart move because we would have had a hard time sharing the delicious dessert.

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IMG_4869What was so great about the pie was — you guessed it — its simplicity. Just like the other dishes we ordered at Duarte’s, there was no extra flair. Just berries sitting between a flaky crust, no extra sweetener or goo. The couple at the table next to us noticed our blossoming love affair with the pie and unprompted, offered to take a photo of the two of us with our slices. How could we say no to that?

From Duarte’s we continued south on Highway 1. (There wasn’t much else to see in Pescadero.) Just south of the small town we came upon Pigeon Point Lighthouse and having been thwarted in our attempt to visit a lighthouse the day before, decided that we needed to stop for a quick photo-op.

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South of the lighthouse, the road was largely rural and we passed farm after farm. One had a giant sign proclaiming “fresh ollaliberries” and so we had to stop. We sampled a few of the farm’s products before purchasing a jar of ollaliberry jam for each of our moms.

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The whole time we had been driving the road and the ocean were shrouded in fog. But by the time we hit Santa Cruz and its oceanfront boardwalk, the fog had lifted and the sun was shining. We parked Dorothy for a few minutes and ran to put our feet in the ocean.

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We stopped next in Monterey where we tried to find another recommended roadside eat, but found our destination closed. We continued along the Monterey Peninsula until we reached the exclusive and elusive Pebble Beach. The legendary golf resort boasts 17 miles of coastal driving aptly named “17-Mile Drive.” Pebble Beach charges cars to drive the 17-mile loop and we had heard that it was an absolute must-do, so we paid the toll and motored Dorothy along.

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Maybe it was the fog covering much of the ocean or maybe it was knowing that we had driven over 100 miles along the coast already (for free), but we were underwhelmed by 17-Mile Drive. We exited the loop in the historic village of Carmel-By-The-Sea and headed back to Highway 1.

If we had thought the earlier part of the day was along a desolate highway, then our whole perspective was about to change. As we approached Big Sur, the cliff we were driving along grew steeper. To our left, the hill stretched high into the sky and to our right, one wrong turn and we would have been fully in the ocean. We saw fewer and fewer signs of civilization, only rocks reaching out into the distant fog.

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We crossed over several majestic bridges, a few of which had been turned into one-lane roads because of the erosion. The roads were so narrow to begin with; it was easy to see how a few fallen rocks could displace the vehicles. Below is Bixby Bridge, one of the more well-known along the coastal route through Big Sur. Big Sur is the name of an actual town on the coast, found at the beginning of the long scenic stretch, but the whole region has come to identified by its moniker.

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We continued south down the coast, largely in awe of our surroundings. Despite having lived my whole life in close distance of the ocean, the east coast landscape is absolutely nothing like the splendor along the PCH.

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After a while, we finally arrived at our destination for the night, Kirk Creek Campground. Perched atop the cliffs just off of the main road, the whole campground overlooked the ocean and with one of the highest campsites, we had a perfect view for sunset. Chaz deserves all the credit for finding this unbelievable location. We set up our tent, shaking off the mud left from the apocalyptic rains of Yosemite, and laid out a picnic spread to enjoy while overlooking the ocean.

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We dug into turkey burgers (cooked, once again, in an impromptu stove-top fashion) with avocado and mango-papaya salsa, followed by s’mores, before drifting off to sleep to the calming sound of the ocean waves.

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