In 2011, my girlfriend, my mate and I completed an incredible road trip around the western USA – this is our story.
In my previous blog post I wrote about my travels from the Northern Michigan summer camp I’ve worked at the last two summers, to Detroit and Chicago and then to Los Angeles where myself, my mate and my girlfriend rented a Chevrolet Cruze. We had planned the road trip of a lifetime but by the third night the plan had already gone out the window. We had travelled to Malibu and Ventura during the day and decided we did not want to go back into LA only to have to drive out again as planned the following day to begin our road trip. So we continued up the west coast and thus the epic road trip began a day early, on Saturday August 20th 2011. The only problem was we had nowhere to sleep…
We went to one of the beaches along the Malibu stretch of coastline for a while and I asked a dozen people if they knew anywhere in the area we could spend the night. Unfortunately most of these people were tourists, particularly of the non-English speaking Mexican kind. Eventually I asked a lifeguard who informed us we would not be getting any cheap hotels in Malibu or around the area that night and that our best option was to camp. We had already bought a tent from a Target store so set about looking for campsites along the coast. We were advised by some clearly very high locals that we should pitch up by the ranger’s cabin in the valley inland where nobody would find us; we thanked the hippies very much and passed on their recommendation!
That stretch of coastline is full of campsites on the beach with dozens upon dozens of RVs. Unfortunately they all seemed to be full that night and in the end it was a combination of luck and generosity that got us somewhere to stay. The third such beach campsite we rocked up at appeared full but we drove in anyway and knocked on a random RV to enquire about spaces and policy on what constituted a plot. The owner told us there was no room and we got back in the car to head on our way, only for said owner to then wander over and tell us we could pitch on his plot. Apparently British people had been nice to him all his life and he was happy to do us a favour! So we pitched our amazing new tent that took barely a minute to pitch, grabbed some beers, chilled on the beach and then made sure we departed by 8.30 the next morning so he didn’t get in trouble for sub-letting. Americans really are the friendliest and nicest of people most of the time.
In what would become a familiar scenario for the next two weeks, we got up and hit the road straight away. I drove us up the coast to Santa Barbara for tea and a bagel and a quick check of Facebook on the tourist information centre computer. There seemed to be some classic car event on in Santa Barbara and it had a nice pier with a man fishing in a floating armchair off it (no, seriously), but other than that it seemed quite a sleepy place. Maybe it’s because it was a Sunday.
We pressed on up the coast, stopping briefly at the rather quaint Shell beach to make a sandwich. After that the road got seriously interesting. Highway 1, which occasionally merges with Highway 101, is quite simply the most stunning piece of tarmac I have ever driven. The Pacific Coast Highway, as it’s more commonly known, features elevation changes along the side of cliffs which make nearly all the winding bends exhilaratingly blind whilst the most spectacular ocean vista tries to distract you on the left the whole time. It’s simply breathtaking.
Beach Boys and Best Coast provided the perfect soundtrack to the drive that day. It was incredible to think I’d been driving all day when it felt like no time at all – I would happily have turned around and driven it all again. Interestingly, the guidebooks all seemed to recommend driving down the coast but we had chosen to drive up it so we would end up in Las Vegas at the same time as our friends from the summer camp we worked at, at the end of August. Driving up the coast was fantastic and I’m personally really glad we did it that way around. My other fear that the west coast would be the highlight of the trip and we would peak too soon also proved to be wrong, spectacular as the west coast was, but that’s a story for another blog…
We found a $15 each a night campsite at the stunning Big Sur by a gorgeous river in a valley and pitched up. To get to Riverside campsite you had to drop down a steep lane into the wooded valley, a beautiful setting to spend the night. We drove back south to the famous Big Sur waterfall, a spectacular unique coastal waterfall cascading onto the beach with amazing photo opportunities. We headed back and gathered wood from the woods by the river and built a fire. We knew what we were doing after two months camping in the Michigan wilderness but the beauty of a Californian campfire was a new experience.
The following morning I drove us up to Bixby Bridge, famous for being built by convicts and being a stunning crossing between cliffs high up on the coastal edge. We were literally driving through a cloud, just to add to the excitement of the drive. Bizarrely, at Bixby Bridge there is a bus stop in the middle of nowhere.
Next we went for a cruise, in the Chevy Cruze, to Santa Cruz via Capitola where we had a great cafe breakfast. We pitched a tent at New Brighton State Beach, another beautiful campsite with access to the beach.