Santa Barbara, Los Angeles & Laguna Beach

Rejoining Highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway – from Paso Robles, we continued our drive south down the Californian coast. Reaching the ocean once more, our first stop was Morro Bay, where we pulled up near this famous rock. This rock has given the area the epithet “the Gibraltar of the Pacific”, though you can see from the photo that it is somewhat underwhelming when compared with its European namesake. More interesting was the friendly sealion swimming back and forth in the water below.

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From Morro Bay we continued south on Highway 1, which looked a little different from the winding route further north, and we didn’t always have a view of the ocean.

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Our next stop was Pismo Beach, where we had a pleasant walk to the end of the pier. At the end of it we met a seagull, and also a man who spent about 20 minutes telling us in depth about the history of the whole area. I can’t imagine anyone in England being that enthusiastic about regaling tourists with the history of their town, but I must admit I was too busy worrying about getting back to the car before the parking ran out to recall much of what he told us.

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This was the view looking towards the town from the pier. The Americans love flying their flag, we have discovered, and I quite like it because it’s a constant visual reminder of where one is.

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From Pismo Beach we pressed on to our next overnight destination, Santa Barbara, arriving mid-afternoon.

Santa Barbara

Having checked into our hotel, we headed out for a walk and quickly decided that we loved Santa Barbara. We walked along the palm tree-fringed seafront, lapping up the views of its impressive mountain backdrop.

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There are two pier-type structures in Santa Barbara: Stearns Wharf, and the main harbour. We went first to the wharf, where a few people were enjoying a walk in the late afternoon sun.

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The principle attraction of the pier was the view it afforded of the nautical activities taking place outside the harbour; we sat down at the end of the wharf to watch dozens of colourful sailing boats out on the water in the setting sun.

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Particularly lovely was a group of tiny boats, a child in each one, being towed around as they learned the ropes.

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After that we walked back along the coast to the harbour, where we found a sushi place for my dinner and a burger place for Lee’s.

I must also say something about how excellent the hotel was. We stayed at The Inn by the Harbor, receiving a warm welcome from the laid-back chap on the front desk. Free wine and cheese were laid on late afternoon, so we sat outside the front of the hotel to enjoy that before heading out for our walk. The chap on the front desk said that if we didn’t make it at the allotted time then he would always pour us a glass whenever we wanted! He was also laying on free milk and freshly baked cookies in the evening, so we had some of those before bed. It was probably one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in overseas.

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Los Angeles

Next morning, after breakfast at the table you see empty in the photo above, we made our way south with some trepidation into the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, where we anticipated traffic jams on a gargantuan scale. We had elected not to stay overnight in LA, as we weren’t particularly interested in it, but one thing we did want to see was the Hollywood sign. My friend Sunny – with whom we would be spending the night in her home at Laguna Beach, an hour or so south of LA – advised us that the Griffith Observatory offered the best view of the aforementioned sign, so we made our way there in the searing 38 degree heat of the midday sun. Sure enough, there was the sign in all its glory – a far better view than the glimpse of it I had once had from an aeroplane window on my way home from New Zealand years ago.

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While we waited for the Observatory to open, we walked around its perimeter to admire the breathtaking views over the city.

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It’s certainly a great place to appreciate the mind-boggling scale of Los Angeles.

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Inside the Observatory is a fantastic free science and space museum, which was absolutely brilliant. They have a Foucault Pendulum and a Tesla Coil and all kinds of other interesting things, so I was really glad Sunny had told us about it.

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After looking around the museum and enjoying lunch on a terrace with another great view of the Hollywood sign, it was time to make our escape from Los Angeles. The traffic was every bit as dire as we anticipated; not only were there a bewildering number of different roads to get you from A to B, some toll roads and some not, but there were at least eight lanes in each direction and traffic jams as far as the eye could see. Happily, however, we were two people – unlike 99% of the other cars, which were occupied only by their driver – which meant that we could utilise a splendid innovation called the “Car Pool Lane”, which took us whizzing past most of the jams.

Laguna Beach

Our final stop along the coast for our Pacific Coast road trip was Laguna Beach, where we stayed the night with Sunny and her husband Mike. She has a beautiful beach house and we sat drinking wine on her decking, watching hummingbirds flying to and fro from the feeders. They are just the cutest little birds – you can hear their wings buzzing, and they also make sweet little chattering noises when they fly around. If I lived in Laguna Beach, I feel sure I would get nothing done but sit watching them.

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When the sun started to go down, we walked down to the beach to watch it set over the Pacific. I was amazed at how quickly it sank below the horizon – so fast you could see it moving – a breathtaking sight.

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In the evening we went out for Mexican food, bringing our time in California to a convivial conclusion. In the morning, we would be battling our way through the LA traffic to the airport and boarding a domestic flight to a whole new state: Nevada. I shall detail our adventures there in my next post.

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