Road Trip: the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway was the whole reason we chose California for our honeymoon; the other places we visited were mere bolt-ons to what is widely considered to be one of the ultimate US roadtrips. I’d read rave reviews about the splendour of this stretch of coastline, and a few friends had done the trip this year and gave us loads of advice, so it was with a sense of great anticipation that we left Monterey on Highway 1 and started the journey.

The first thing to say about the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is that there are absolutely loads of stopping points, which are perfect for photo opportunities and swapping drivers. We shared the driving, swapping seats every 20 minutes or so.┬áIt makes sense to do the trip north to south, as that means you’re on the right side of the road (the coast side) for all the stops. We kept seeing the same people at each of the stopping points, many in open-top Mustangs. We were in our trusty Ford Focus, which did the trick just fine!

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I was a little freaked out to discover, on our first stop, that we were in a “tsunami hazard zone”…

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The scenery down the PCH is, of course, very dramatic and impressive. You get amazing views all the way along this winding road, and the land often drops quite magnificently into the sea.

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It’s pretty unpopulated between Monterey/Carmel and San Simeon, and you only go through a couple of inhabited areas, so you have to make sure you have plenty of fuel. There are a couple of petrol stations in Big Sur, which is where we refuelled.

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There are a few “historic” bridges spanning the headlands.

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This is Bixby Bridge, the most famous of them, built in 1932.

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The wildlife is worth looking out for, too. We saw a whale down in the ocean, and at one of the stops we encountered this little chap, having a snack:

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It may have just been because the weather wasn’t great on that first day of the PCH, but I must admit that it didn’t seem as impressive to me as the Cornish coast, or the White Cliffs of Dover!

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This little timelapse will give you an idea of what the drive is like along this stretch of Highway 1.

The Highway doesn’t always follow the coast exactly, but there’s always something interesting to look at.

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I was intrigued by the way erosion had formed these strange shapes:

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As we approached the end of the first day’s driving we saw signs to an elephant seal colony near San Simeon. In fact, we saw several beaches with large groups of elephant seals, but there’s one in particular that everyone stops at, because there’s a viewing platform where you can watch (and hear) them.

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You can see them moving around in this video:

Just like the other kinds of seal we’d seen already during the trip, these were mostly lounging around and snuggling up together to keep warm. It’s a seal’s life…

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It’s not hard to see why they’re called elephant seals, though only the males have snouts like this:

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They’re pretty noisy, too. Click play to hear them:

There were several pairs of males fighting at the water’s edge, while some of the females were busy trying to drag themselves – rather unelegantly, bless them – around the beach.

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Here they are fighting. [click the play button] I didn’t realise Lee was recording, so ignore my stupid comments!

I absolutely loved them and could have watched them all day, but we had to get going so that we’d get to our stop for the next two nights: Paso Robles, the subject of my next post.

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