Seven years ago we visited the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and a selection of places in California. Here’s a slice of our road trip in California – Monterey to Solvang. This was just a couple of days in our road trip, and we took the Classic Highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway. I understand that PCH1 is currently closed in sections due to erosion, so this route might take you a bit longer than our drive did. Also, you may not have the scenic drive we experienced. However, I would say it’s still totally worth doing!
The City of Monterey, in Monterey County, is located on the southern edge of Monterey Bay, on Central California’s Pacific coast in California. We arrived late afternoon, and walked down to Cannery Row to see the sealions on the rocks. We ate Mexican food, and had enormous cocktails instead of dessert, then wandered through the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
The next morning we visited Monterey Aquarium. Sea life in this part of California didn’t look too dissimilar to what we know on the North Sea coast in north east England. They also have lots of kelp and seals! Of course there are plenty other interesting marine creatures, too. We loved it at Monterey Aquarium, especially the jellies, and the Open Sea exhibit. My favourite creature was the weedy seadragon, which is a bit like a seahorse, but more elaborate. No, I don’t know what I’m looking at with the huge fish behind me – yes, it was alive and real!
Pacific Coast Highway – Big Sur
As we headed south, and out of town, things started to get a bit beautiful. There was almost no point of this drive that wasn’t gorgeous and totally photo-worthy.
Carmel by the Sea
We were driving along the Cabrillo Highway and stopping to take photos of the view at random spots. It was so beautiful.
One of the most Instagrammed sights along the Big Sur, at Bixby Bridge we stopped for a while to read our guide book and take photos. Less than 15 miles south of Carmel, this landmark spanning Rainbow Canyon is one of the world’s highest single-span bridges. Completed in 1932, it was built by prisoners eager to cut time off their sentences. You can see from the photo how tricky it would have been to get that concrete attached to the cliff. A wonder of modern engineering. At the moment because of the road closure, you can only approach Bixby Bridge from the north. The best views of the bridge are from the north.
Here we stopped for a short while, to stretch our legs and have an explore. Our main reason for stopping at this beach was because the sand is purple / pink! We later found out that the colouring is occasional, and we had to squint a bit to think of the sand as truly purple while we were there.
Pfeiffer Beach, with its purple sand, is down Sycamore Canyon Road at mile marker Mon 45.64. It is not a state park, but on Los Padres National Forest land. You park in the car park ($5 to park), and then you take a short, winding path on the right to find this little beach. I’m not sure why I remember the car park so much, but I do – there are picnic tables and someone had a yellow kayak. Swimming at the beach here isn’t a good idea, but I don’t know if the kayak was for Pfeiffer Beach or if they’d just stopped for a rest.
For lunch, we stopped off at Nepenthe. The Nepenthe restaurant and bar, perched on a cliff high above the Pacific, was immortalised in the 1965 Hollywood film The Sandpiper. Apparently it’s changed very little since then. We ate on the balcony for lunch – there are superb sea views while you’re eating. The meal we were recommended to try was the Ambrosia burger, and we were advised that little else was good on the menu. I don’t know if that’s true – we ate the Ambrosia burger! Also here are the Café Kevah and Phoenix shop, a huge emporium of unusual jewellery, books, textiles, ceramics, art and clothing. A hippy shop, as you might term it.
Elephant Seals on the sands at Piedras Blancas
I think, with the current road closures, you might struggle to do this section of the trip. Here, we were able to see a beach full of seals. Really, it was covered with elephant seals wallowing in the sand. Hunted nearly to extinction for their oil-rich blubber, elephant seals have made a remarkable comeback. One of their main colonies is this beach in the southern range of the Big Sur. In September, when we were there, the majority of the seals on the beach are the young ones, resting before they go out to sea.
Our final leg on the day’s drive was to Solvang, a Danish village in the Ynez Valley in California. Founded by Danish immigrants in the early 1900s, this is a little bit of Denmark in America. The village is full of Danish architecture, with storks on the rooftops for good luck, and Hans Christian Andersen round every corner (almost).
This was a small drive in our journey around California, Nevada and Arizona. I’ll post again soon with another leg of the road trip.