California Roadtrip - back to the coast and on to Carmel

Published: July 10th 2011
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Our journey from LV to the coast of California was relatively uneventful. We broke it up with a slight detour to Antelope Valley and the California Poppy Reserve. This is an area of 8-miles or so of trails that weave through vast numbers of poppies and wild flowers. Unfortunately the best displays of the flora were to be found just outside of the park and my husband thought it was hilarious to sit in the car and photograph me picking my way through the undergrowth trying to get a good picture of the flowers. Note to self: do your research and wear more appropriate clothing when venomous snakes are going to be present. (For a laugh see my husband’s favourite picture. Sundress and walking boots - not a good look.)

Luckily, I made it out of there without a warning rattle and we reached Santa Barbara on Highway 1 in relatively good time. This is the part of the drive that both of us had been looking forward to the most and it didn't disappoint. The coast in south Cali is in soft focus in comparison to the harsh monochrome of the north. The blues and greens are as vivid but the sand is paler and the wind is lighter and warmer. It’s a place where you can’t help but feel happy.

We travelled from Santa Barbara up to Morro Bay via Santa Maria and Pismo Beach. This is clearly agricultural country but there are still many vines in this area too so another wine region for us to try next time! We had a quick a stop by the side of the road to taste some of the freshest fruit and vegetables I've tasted for many years – the smell of sunshine and sweetness reminded me of childhood PYO excursions when the family farm had strawberry fields. Quite a transport back in time.

Another quick stop at Pismo Bay was required as I practically launched myself across the car when I saw a dolphin's fuin bobbing through the water. Then there were 3 so Simon had to hold me in the car until we stopped! But they disappeared within minutes so we were able to head for Morro Bay in time to see the sun set behind Morro Rock from our room.

That evening and the next morning we explored our location; the Inn at Morro
Hearst Castle - outside poolHearst Castle - outside poolHearst Castle - outside pool

With real roman pillars shipped from Italy in the first half of the century. Hearst was a collector on the grandest scale.
Bay is what I'd describe as ol'-style American class. They have jazz playing in the lounge at night and the majority of cars parked in the driveway are Cadillac’s and Lincolns. My grandfather would have fit in very well! That’s not to say it isn’t lovely. It is set in a state park, overlooking the estuary and the rooms are light, white and airy. There were no complaints. Morro Bay itself is a very sweet seaside tourist town. It is very much geared around the wildlife (seals, herons, peregrine falcons) and the surfing. Sunday morning here appears to consist of coffee, surf and a brunch BBQ. Somewhere I can get on board with!

From Morro Bay we set off for Carmel via Hearst Castle and the Big Sur. I have to confess I wasn't excited about Hearst Castle inspite of recommendations. I anticipated heavy tackiness. And it is in many ways but the place is stunning - both good and bad. On the plus side the setting is outstanding. It overlooks about 15-miles of shoreline and many more towards the mountains at the back of the property. And the gardens, pools and guest houses are breathtaking in their design and use of materials (22 carat gold mosaic tiles in the pool! Last count was, I think I heard right, 800,000). The not-so-positive for me was the inside of the main house. It's was clearly advanced for it's time in terms of facilities but I personally found it too dark and stifling. And a true homage to greed on a grandiose stage.

From Hearst Castle the plan was to head straigh on to the Big Sur but a stop to take pictures of the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas resulted in spotting migrating whales. My one and only must-see for the entire trip was achieved so I was beyond thrilled. The moment was slightly spoilt by some deviant squirrels who Si had been feeding from the car whilst I was out taking pictures. As he had ran out of cookie, he encouraged them to come see what I had - and they not taking 'no' for an answer! I was literally chased back to the car whilst he laughed himself silly.

30 miles north of Hearst Castle a landslide had occurred which resulted in us being sent back to another highway and worst of all, we had to miss out the drive to the Big Sur. A real disappointment but Carmel lightened our mood slightly. It is an extremely pretty town with a whiter than white sand beach - and best of all – the possibility of bumping into Clint Eastwood, the former mayor and part-time resident of Carmel. To secure our highest chance of a glance, we had dinner and drinks at the Hogs Breath Inn which is an English-inspired pub that he used to own. Unfortunately the man was not to be seen but sampling his wine was good enough for me.

Additional photos below
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Carmel by the SeaCarmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea

Golf lovers - if you look carefully, pebble beach is in the distance.

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