This is the west coast mother-road, the one everyone talks about. On the 10th day of our Pacific Coast Road Trip, we got to the famous California Section of the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey through LA.
After an incredible trek in Yosemite and a jaunt back over to the coast, our Pacific Coast cruise began late in the day in Monterey with an aquarium visit, and a night in Carmel. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was a dream come true. We spent hours in awe of the kelp forests, otters, shimmering schools of sardines, and jelly fish, to finish off the day with a warm Carmel sunset excited about the miles of coast to come.
From there we continued south through Big Sur towards Santa Barbara, ending up in LA en route to San Diego.
The majority of this Pacific Coast Highway journey is incredible – blue ocean spraying white foam as breakers crash onto rocks and beaches, smooth curving highway hugging the mostly green and verdant hills, big old bridges spanning canyons and streams, sweet coast air and sunshine.
Especially through Big Sur, it is crowded, but beautiful. We saw a lot of other motorcycles on the road, and even more convertibles with their tops down slowly cruising this smooth road.
At Bixby Bridge we hiked down the hill for some pictures. At other viewpoints we stopped to stretch and take in the the beauty of this glittering coast.
We passed through coast towns, small sections of pristine beach between vaulting rocky cliffs. But as the afternoon wore on and we passed Morro Rock approaching Santa Barbara, the famous section of Highway 1 came to an end.
We were funneled back onto the 101 freeway, then got back on the 1 where it deviates from its coast route to run through farmland – Guadalupe, Orcutt, Lompoc… this is not the picturesque California coast. This, like much of Central California between the coast and the eastern mountains, is farmland that feeds the country year-round. So much is growing in the fields, but in this year’s incredible drought, everything apart from the irrigated fields is dust. Bone dry parched and desolate, it’s like an agricultural wasteland.
So many orange trees, nut trees, rows and rows and rows of romaine lettuce, fragrant red bell peppers, strawberries, cilantro (you wouldn’t believe the smells you miss by riding in a car, until you pass a strawberry field on a motorcycle).
There are dust devils in dry fields, trucks full of tomatoes, ditches fenced off and irrigation water hoarded. But the reality of the drought is startling, and the Mexican flags hoisted over the pickers’ honey bucket wagon show us who does our dirty work. Most people cruising the coast avoid this. This is not what vacationers want to think about, but seeing it gave us a better understanding of California as a whole.
Soon enough, though, we were bound for the coast again. Santa Barbara ushered us into the So-Cal scene with neat rows of palm trees.
We navigated through neighborhoods to the city’s water edge, past the community college and parks full of dogs and people out for a run or soccer game, past the harbor studded with sailboats, onto the heavy planks of the pier in search of dinner and a sunset view.
We parked the bike, stashed our valuables, and walked with our helmets to the Moby Dick Restaurant for fish and a pecan salad made from produce grown less than a hundred miles away. Maybe half that.
We watched the sun set over the harbor and the mountains turned purple, the moon came out, and a group of pelicans took flight from the restaurant roof and skimmed impossibly close to the bounding surface of the bay.
The next morning, we had a beautiful drive on the coast to Malibu, and at Los Angeles the Pacific Coast Highway runs out into neighborhoods and freeways. This stretch was one of the crowning rides of this west coast trip, and I’d love do it again someday slower with more time to pause and explore.