The US prides itself on the ultimate roadtrip, and that was just what I wanted to achieve last weekend. With warm weather and two free days I saw it as the perfect opportunity to rent a car and head up the Pacific Coast Highway, the longest state route in California, and one of the most scenic.
I woke up early Saturday morning and picked up the rental car. Of course I was a little nervous; this being my first time driving solo on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But much to my surprise it really wasn’t as difficult as I had expected - five months living in the US must have re-wired my brain. I took to the highway with the windows down, sun shining, music blaring, I even cracked open an ice cold Bundaberg Lemon Lime & Bitters (a rare find here in the States).
All seemed to be traveling smoothly until the car conked out on the 101 outside Ventura. After having a minor tantrum, throwing a few fists at the steering wheel, and then calling my mother at four in the morning, I began to settle down and realise there was no good in being angry. With no hope of moving out of the emergency lane I waited patiently for the tow truck to arrive, sipping my now warm drink in a sweaty hot box. If I had known the green fuel pump meant Diesel, and not Unleaded as it does back home, then I wouldn't be in this mess. A mistake I'm sure to never make again.
Once Bob, the classic bearded, beer belly, rodeo slingin’ (he was in fact into the whole rodeo scene) tow trucker arrived I was soon on my way again. Luckily he was headed towards Santa Barbara so I got to experience the glory of the mystic fog seep over the Santa Ynez Mountains from the front seat of a towering truck. Bob even had his own cooler stocked with Pepsi’s and iced waters, just what I needed.
We reached the eclectic community of Santa Barbara at around 2:30pm but my and Bob’s journey was not yet over. The address he was given to drop the vehicle off was wrong and we were stuck to find the rental company by ourselves. With a GPS that wouldn’t load and an Australian who really had no idea where she was, it was up to Bob to get us to the appropriate destination. Sitting in this huge bull-like truck maneuvering its way along gravel roads and slippery surfaces was a challenge in itself. My ears were ringing from the roar of the engine. Finally, the thrill of the rodeo was over when we were lead to the rental company located at the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. Here, we parted ways and I was fortunate to receive a new, much more advanced rental car, and thus continued along the 101 towards my next pit stop.
Just outside Solvang I stopped at Ostrichland, a ranch home to a parade of ostriches and emus. A peculiar tourist attraction where you can even feed the birds, the kids loved it, but I wasn't big on the smell. 2.5 miles further along the highway nestled amongst wineries and vineyards is the Danish capital of America - Solvang. A quaint village designed in old world European architecture. Pastry shops were stocked with strudels and sweets, antique stores crammed with clogs and clocks, and local wines, cheeses, and chocolates tempted my palette. This was the perfect place to stretch my legs before hitting the road towards Pismo.
The seaside town of Pismo is known for its sand dunes, monarch butterflies, wineries, and never ending stretches of beaches. I strolled along Pismo Beach Pier for about half an hour before I was eager to get back behind the wheel. With my ears still ringing and a little dehydrated, nothing sounded more appealing than getting to my Airbnb where I could finally shower and relax.
Once I reached San Luis Obispo (SLO), located approximately 4 hours between L.A. and San Francisco, I SLOwed down by enjoying local fish & chips whilst dawdling downtown. The seagulls cry and the smell of salt in the atmosphere was accompanied by the savouring taste of hot fish n chips reminiscent of my childhood days at Queenscliff beach back home. Unfortunately, there were a few things I missed out on visiting in SLO, particularly Bubblegum Alley, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and meandering through the many museums. Hopefully I'll have more time to explore this cute town in the future.
After a peaceful nights sleep at an Airbnb in Atascadero (15 minutes from SLO) I ventured along Green Valley Road towards Hearst Castle. The road wound its way through green pastures where cattle grazed and Condors soared high above. Once I found the Visitor Center I was ushered onto a tour bus. The coastline continued to drift further away as the large bus chugged up the mountainside. It was interesting to learn that these 250,000 acres were once home to an array of imported exotic animals: polar bears and lions were kept at Mr. Hearst's private zoo, and bison, kangaroos, giraffes, zebras grazed the lands (some of whom still roam the area today).
William Randolph Hearst was an American businessman, newspaper publisher, and politician. With the help of female architect, Julia Morgan, it took around 28 years to build the 165 room Castle which now hosts twenty five thousand artifacts from across the globe. This temple of opulence transported me back to the 1920s, I could only imagine what it must have been like to dine, drink, dance and gossip with the countless influentials who once roamed the halls; Chaplin, Churchill, the Marx Brothers, Greta Garbo and Cary Grant, were all guests on Mr. Hearst's list.
The adventure to Hearst Castle was definitely worth the trip, but there was still something I was dying to see before I embarked on the journey back to Los Angeles - The Elephant Seal Vista Point - 5 miles from the Castle. This was a highlight! We witnessed hundreds of elephant seals flounder out of the icy Pacific, coming ashore to shed their fur. I felt a little like David Attenborough narrating their floppy slug-like movements and loud moans, each one vying for more space on the warm sand.
And so began the 4 hour drive back home. I stopped once more in Santa Barbara to explore the Mission and beaches, but as I stepped back into the car I realised sticky black tar had melted onto the soles of my feet... Google was here to help and I quickly discovered the only way to get it off was with butter! And thank goodness it did the trick.
Note to self: always read the petrol pumps AND wear shoes on the road when it's hot.
Caitlin is a 20-something broad from Australia with a passion for filmmaking, writing and exploring the world.