Driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north through Malibu, rocky mountains to my right, endless ocean to my left, I felt like I had finally arrived.
The subject of many songs, stories and of course, road trips. The first state I’ll conquer on my tour out west and surprisingly one I know very little about.
Born on the east coast, everything I know of California comes from films and two short trips to Los Angeles. But after one week of touring, I know one thing for sure about this state, I’m in love with it.
My first priority after picking up my Jucy Champ was reaching a beach, so I headed to Santa Monica and continued driving along the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway. A quick stop at Neptune’s Net to try the crab cakes and pause to take in the view, then I continued on to Santa Barbara, where I would spend my first night.
Well that’s what I thought at least.
While there are RV Parks located not far from the town center, I found their rates to be a lot higher than State Parks located a few miles away, so I booked something a bit further out.
Heading deeper and deeper into the wild, I arrived at Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, where I spent my first night. It was pitch black outside by the time I got there, so I was surprised to wake up the next morning and see I was surrounded by the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains. It’s an ideal place to spend a few days in the summer. But in the winter, you’ll find it pretty empty, so don’t worry about booking ahead this time of year.
My only goal for day two was to reach somewhere close to Hearst Castle, which I would tour the following day. I held out as far as possible, skipping State Park after State Park. I finally gave in at Morro Bay and it was a good decision.
Eucalyptus trees line the road to Morro Bay State Park, which is located right on the water. Since they only accept cash or check payments to park up for the night, I had to find a bank. Being in the heavily forested area, you would have no idea how close the town center and loads of shops are. I decided on staying in the town center, spending the night at Cypress Morro Bay RV and MH Park, where I got a space, free wifi and partial hook up for just under $40.
Basically, there are campgrounds here to suit everyone in this area at similar rates, whether you want to be completely surrounded by nature or stay in a town not far from it.
Cypress is walking distance from Morro Rock and Morro Strand State Beach. Along the way to the town’s iconic rock, I passed by a marina filled with sailboats and fishing charters, heaps of independently-owned, fresh seafood restaurants and even a bit of wildlife in the form of three otters playing in the water, not far from shore. I really loved this spot, because it has a nice balance of nature and town life. Plus the sunsets are incredible.
The next morning, I was on the road just after 7 a.m. on my way to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. I thought my view of the coast was unbelievable from Highway One here, but it got even better once I reached this castle on a hill. Media mogul William Randolph Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan, California’s first certified female architect, to build his dream estate in 1919.
It literally has the best of two continents, the grandeur of European royalty and the stunning California scenery. Hearst Castle offers an array of different tours, all of which allow visitors to wander around the estate until closing time. The estate is home to an incredible private collection of European art.
The next leg of my journey would actually bring me to tears and make me wonder why it took so long to visit this state.
There are no words to describe the drive on Highway One from Hearst Castle to Big Sur.
Picture a two lane road cut into rocky hills that rise from the sea. Clear skies and a bright sun lighting up a dark blue ocean. It’s a cruel joke that you need to pay so much attention to driving on the swerving road, because all I wanted to do was stare out my side window at the view of the coast.
I must have stopped about ten times at different vista points along the way. One to check out is a beach that’s home to hundreds of elephant seals, another because I spotted whales out to sea and the rest, well, if you saw just how incredible the coast looks here, you would understand.
Big Sur is a forest on the sea and my favorite stop from week one. I met up with my friend Emily here who flew in from New York City. In one day we crossed the Bixby Canyon Bridge, photographed McWay Falls, watched the sun set from Nepenthe Restaurant, drank tea and played with a cat called Theo at Henry Miller Memorial Library and met locals at Fernwood Grill, which might as well be a living room for them. I spent both nights camping at Fernwood in a spot right next to the Big Sur River. The forest there is filled with coastal red woods, not quite as big as the trees up north, but still fascinating.
This section of California is owned by nature, but also a few unique restaurants, bars and lodges seem to come out of nowhere along the road here. It’s hard to believe it’s only 30 minutes from civilization in the form of Monterey.
Pay attention when walking on trails in in the forest here. A poison oak plant brushed my skin at some point here. Nothing serious, but it’s good to be aware.
After a day in Big Sur, we made our way up to San Francisco, stopping at Carmel by the Sea, to stick our feet in the Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz to check out the boardwalk and Half Moon Bay to see the bluff from a Ritz Carlton located right on the beach here.
We finally reached San Francisco, where we would spend a few days, around 7 p.m.. Give yourself an entire day or even longer to do the trip from Big Sur to the city, it takes a lot longer than you would think.
We couldn’t have chosen a better weekend to be in the bay area as it was buzzing about the 49ers being in the NFC Division Championship game, which they won!
We started our visit in the city by taking in its best views, visiting Bakers Beach to see the Golden Gate Bridge and Twin Peaks to see the city from above. While it was worth getting to Twin Peaks for the view, driving up the hills in San Francisco is one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced on the road. Don’t even bother with the break going up. Keep your foot on the gas to stop the car from falling back.
Our trip to Alcatraz gave us another view of the city and one that must have been such a tease to the men imprisoned there decades ago. Tours of Alcatraz are self guided and told through recordings of former prisoners and officers. Focusing only on the voices that guide you and the areas they point out, it’s easy to get lost in the island prison.
Book your tickets to Alcatraz far in advance, it sells out days ahead at all times of year.
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the busiest spots in San Francisco. There is loads to do in this area and great seafood restaurants to eat at. We visited the sea lions at Pier 39 and I was lucky enough to be scared by the Bush Man yet again. This San Fran staple covers himself with shrubbery on the sidewalks around the wharf, scaring inattentive passer-bys, like me.
While the Wharf has a ton of restaurants, we opted for Italian food in North Beach for dinner as one of my friends who lives in the city, says it’s where all the locals go. Think 1950s Italian restaurants, stringed lights hung above the streets and tasty homemade meals.
While in the city we also visited Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies (a row of houses made famous by Full House), Haight Ashbury (where all the hippies traveled to in the 60s) and Lombard Street, which is known for being San Francisco’s crookedest street.
I said goodbye to Emily in San Francisco and welcomed on tour my wonderful boyfriend Ric. Our last activity in the city was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to Napa, something I never thought I would do in my life.
This state has so many claims to fame and so many icons known around the world that make it attractive at face value. But like any great love, it’s the state’s secrets and surprises that will make you fall for it. I can’t wait to find out more about it.
Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
As always all opinions are my own.