DNA X #24
The fog lifts and the weather forecast predicts fair skies for the next 48 hours. We aim Blackie south hugging the coast to follow the famous California Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway. This is one of the most scenic drives anywhere and we are thrilled to have good weather to enjoy the views. South of Monterey we come to a toll booth- what, a toll? This is of course the very upscale neighborhood of Pebble Beach, mansions galore and some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. Well this is one way to keep out the riff-raff, (no motorcycles allowed either) so we pay the $10.00, acquire a map and proceed to follow the road now called The 17 Mile Drive. Is it worth the 10 bucks? If you like beautiful scenery and exquisite estates it is. 100 years ago, this was just a trail where covered wagons ferried tourists from their hotels to the beach. The map has numbered stops with descriptions and there are some “public” facilities along the way. We stop by the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links, which really is as beautiful as advertised. We stroll through Carmel by the Sea, a small, artsy enclave that has unusual laws like – you have to have a permit to wear high heels – (lawsuit protection from uneven sidewalks). No problem I don’t have any. Dogs are very popular here and are allowed in just about anywhere including the upscale hotels and restaurants. There are plenty of designer shops to loose your cash in and various famous actors/actresses call Carmel home.
We have over 300 miles to go before we sleep so we push on climbing ever higher as the road gets squeezed between the mountains and the sea. We are entering the Big Sur section of the road. This narrow, two-lane snake (no shoulders) may be referred to as a “state of mind” but you better not be anything but alert from now on. Be sure to allow for plenty of time and no ogling at scenic views until you stop in one of the “turn outs”. Be warned that once you get on this road gas stations are few and far between and there is no “exit” for 100 miles. It’s just you weaving along the mountain’s skirt, teetering on the edge of sheer cliffs (minimal guardrails) that plummet down to the crashing surf. Spectacular? Absolutely! Frightening? Definitely, when a truck appears head-on around one of the thousands of corners. Large vehicles are discouraged from traversing this section but there are a few small settlements along the way that need supplies so – be ready. Arms and tires get quite a workout. At several points we are 1000 feet above the surf with a long view of the coast where we can appreciate the engineering feat of building this road. The coast here can be fogged in and winter storms can promote rockslides and accidents so we count our lucky stars for this beautiful weather! There are a few state parks along the road where you can stretch your legs and relax your eyes. Eventually the road unwinds and we notice a wide beach covered with…? We pull over at Piedras Blancas and discover one of the few remaining elephant seal rookeries in the US. The protected beach is manned by docents from the Friends of the Elephant Seal (firstname.lastname@example.org) who answer questions and make sure no one approaches or disturbs these animals that were almost hunted to extinction. Further south, we pass San Simeon and the famous Hearst Castle perched high above the sea (reservations required for a tour).
South of here the terrain takes on a decidedly southern California flavor. Its drier and more rolling landscape is also becoming busier with more traffic at a faster pace. The daylight is fading as we pull into Malibu and catch a classic sunset over the Pacific. Our hotel is in nearby Santa Monica where again we get one of the last rooms. Our main mission here is to see our oldest son and experience the action around Los Angeles. This is the land of Hollywood, movie stars, art and music. The seemingly endless beach borders the heavily developed coast and each area has its own character. From the swanky city of Malibu to the funky fun of Venice, it’s all connected by sand and concrete. Since we have a “local” as a tour guide we get to take a hike in the secluded hills of Topanga, eat at Trestavere, a great Italian restaurant in Santa Monica and tour the Getty Villa in Malibu, home of one of the worlds greatest collections of ancient Greek and Roman art (admission free, reservations required). The highlight of our visit was a personal tour of one of the few analog music studios left in the US. Shangri la Studios has a rich history and for many years has provided a creative workplace for such famous musicians as Eric Clapton, The Band, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, the Kings of Leon and many more. The Malibu studio continues to produce albums recorded the old fashioned way and if you hear digital recordings next to analog you might wonder why anyone would go digital. In one of its previous lives, Shangri La was home to the 1960’s TV show Mr. Ed and his stall is still there! While you are in the area check out beautiful Zuma Beach, an uncrowded stretch of sand with clean water where surfers work the waves.
Have a drink at the Sunset Restaurant right on the beach or for a great meal head into town for dinner at The Sage Room. This Italian family run restaurant features authentic fare in a cozy setting. Make sure you leave some time for a little California Dreaming while you absorb the sound of the ever-crashing surf. This is as far south as we can go on our Discover North America Expedition, it will be a while before we hear the ocean again. Tomorrow we will change directions – east we go!