USA Road Trip No. 1 - San Francisco to New York


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Verse 7: Big Sur to Santa Barbara

After a really good and cosy sleep in our lovely wooden cabin (called Grandpa's Room) at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, it was champagne in bed and up early for another mega breakfast.


Our cosy cabin bottom right and on to the breakfast room...


Mr B's perfect breakfast, poached eggs not ice-cream by the way.


Mrs B's Eggs Benedict, mmm lip smackingly good, just add Tobasco.
We decided that this was not enough food and added bacon...


It was only half way through this gigantic plate of food that Mrs B realised that she had meant to order the half portion. After several pauses and coffee refills, she struggled on and managed to clear the plate of every morsel. Praise the Lord for stretch jeans!

So after that wonderful breakfast it was back to the winding Big Sur and another gorgeous day of blue sky, sunshine and t-shirt temperatures.


The car and Mrs B.

The person who owns this letter box probably has a view something a little like this:

We stopped several times to take in the incredible view of the mountains cascading into the Pacific. At one stop there was a honky tonk chorus from hundreds of seals on the beach below. Pulling up just after us was a friendly New Zealand family touring in an RV, one of the children was more interested in playing Nintendo than the epic nature on display.

Look closely (click on the pics for larger image), all those rocks are actually seals... big fat and lazy looking until they dragged themselves into the water where they became graceful and playful.


As we drove we kept an eye out for tell tales signs of the elusive Gray Whales which migrate south along the Californian coast in the winter months between December and early February. Mrs B was determined that we would see them without having to go on an expensive tour (although if you have time it is probably worth doing this to get really up close). An excited shout and a grab of Mr B's arm as he drove... a bushy spout of water! Yes... Gray Whales, not just one but three travelling together. Now don't get too excited about this picture as we were high up on the cliffs and the whales are out at sea but we can assure you that these are whales, although when Mrs B later tried to focus the binoculars she only managed to find a large log and some foamy flotsam.

Actually these could be rocks but we really did see some whales, honest. Our sighting was later affirmed when we bumped into the NZ family again and they excitedly asked us if we had seen the whales. We said "yes" (although we might also have seen two logs or some rocks). Mrs B is adamant that she saw the watery spout of a Gray Whale, Mr B was concentrating on the road at the time.


There's a beach tucked away in the middle of this picture, no idea how you get down there, or even if you can. I am sure Big Sur is dotted with tiny little bays like this. Apparently there's one called Partington Cove but we missed it and drove on to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park where the fragrant mix of alpine Redwood trees and the tang of the sea on a clear winter's day was a potent mix. 

Our plan had been to take a short hike in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park but the trails we wanted to follow were closed due to last summer's fires, bridges collapsed and vulnerable habitat. We should have checked at the State Park Ranger Station the day before in order to replan but hey we're on a roadtrip so who cares. Fortunately we could still do the short and very accessible walk to the viewing platform above the waterfall at McVay Cove, that should at least burn off half an Eggs Benedict, well maybe a quarter, possibly just one poached egg.

And what a site... the waterfall cascades some 80 feet directly into the Pacific Ocean, it looked like a scene out of that 80s classic Blue Lagoon, we half expected a naked Brooke Shields to sashay out from behind the rocks. Instead three young lads had managed to get down onto the beach, or perhaps they were ship wrecked becasue we could not for the life of us see any way down. There are worse places to be stuck.

We walked a little further around the headland to a viewing platform. In front of us and around us tiny metallic shimmering hummingbirds flitted about, shooting at incredible speeds high into the air and dropping like swooping bullets back into the orange flowers.

As with our Gray Whale photo, our camera is not well equppied for nature documentary. However if you look right in the middle of the above photo (click on it to enlarge) there is definitely a tiny green bird there... honestly, go on take a closer look. Oddly it looks quite big in that picture, it was tiny.

Lovely. To top off our day of amazing sightings a UFO appeared on the horizon, it approached gradually then passed over us, as we stood overlooking the waterfall beach, and then continued on its way down the stupendous Big Sur coastline:


Eat your hearts out Erich von Daeniken (or if you understand German Twitter him), Robbie Williams and Peter Andre!

On the way back to the car Mr B entered a dark tunnel


and disappeared in a flash of light! We had found the Big 'Sur'chedelic Tunnel (see what we did there?)

This really happened, believe everything you see.

Eventually Mr B reappeared and we got back in the car and drove off down the road. 

After many wonderful winding sunny miles, the steep cliffs and deep headlands and canyons started to give way to shaggy hillsides and the floor of the Pacific Valley section of Highway 1 and eventually onto rolling dunes and hills.


It was around 2.30pm by the time we hit the sandy dunes and soft grass covered hills just north of San Simeon and Hearst Castle. The highway was now at sea level with the lush, hilly meadows to our left. Suddenly to our right we caught a glimpse of the beach - what were those big blubbery shapes just beyond the shallow dunes. Some way up ahead we could see cars parked up along the road and as we got closer throngs of people lining the narrow path that snaked along the top of the dunes right on the beach. We jumped out of the car and were hit by the almighty stench of defacating animals and the rumble and raucous barking of some seriously large mammals. 

A male Elephant Seal shows off his probiscus to his harem of females.

Only to be outshone by a battle royale further up the beach between two HUGE males. Amazingly no one else seemed to have noticed these two mammoths bellowing and battering at each other so Mr B and I hotfooted it along the path to the end of the beach to get a front row seat of this amazing spectacle.  Using our highly technical nature documentary camera, which had earlier that day captured whales, hummingbirds, a man disappearing and a UFO, we managed to capture this remarkable footage for you. 

Time for Mr and Mrs B's 'Life on Earth: Smelly Majestic Mammals'

After our brush with the Elephant Seals we hopped 8 miles down the road to Hearst Castle an incredible manmade fantasy vision, after the miles of awe inspiring nature. We could see the Disney like turrets peeking over the hilltops from some distance. Hearst Castle was conceived, built and lived in by William Randolph Hearst a latter day Rupert Murdoch who partied in the Castle with Hollywood greats including Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant. Simply spiffing dahling.

Another 'we make mistakes so you don't have to' moment now. If you want to actually go right into Hearst Castle you have to book a tour in advance, even in winter... as we found out the wrong way i.e all sold out for the entire day. So we had to join other groups of disorganised road trippers and tourists in just staring up at the Castle from the visitor centre as it lorded over us up in the hills, with its magnificent Mediterranean Revival architecture and sheer camp presence.


The visitor centre is free but miles from the castle, you have to get a bus to the actual castle and you can only do this if you have a tour ticket, of which there are 13 possibilites, each of varying cost and duration. We satisfied ourselves with the information in the free visitor centre and an envious gaze up to the castle. We also took in the glamourous dramatisation of William Randolph Hearst's life. Shown in the onsite IMAX cinema this was a tale of success, money, hard work and most importantly 'the building of a dream', a phrase repeated at around a rate of six times per minute. The title of the movie was Hearst Castle - Building the Dream. It was dramatic, slick, glamourous and full of sweeping strings crescendoing and pulsing tear inducing theta-waves across the audience. So much so that I felt the compelling urge to stand up, punch the air and leading the audience through the Star Spangled Banner.

Dramatic license aside it did look pretty amazing and it's an interesting place with a very glamourous history. We would love to go back and see the castle up close some day.

After coffee and a hot chocolate, accompanied by a delicious choclate brownie (the first of two brownies that we forgot to photograph, clearly they are just too tempting to wait for a quick snap), we headed onto Santa Barbara. Past San Luis Obispo and the palace of kitsch that is the Madonna Inn (read Charlie Brooker's opinion of this motel that we will definitely stay in if we pass this way again) and on into the sunset to another meeting with strangers trusting enough to host strangers in their own home.

See that small prick of red light, that's an oil rig. Not a UFO.

The road ran by the ocean and skirted round towns and then curved inland towards the coastal mountains of California, carving through hillsides and rugged rock and into darkness. 

Good evening Santa Barbara.



  1. hey guys! Great trip!! Looks like you are having fun time! Keep us all posted on your travels!

  2. oi! Santa Cruz is far from a "seaside resort" as you call it. It's a beautiful town, bursting with life and energy. had you visited Pacific avenue just two blocks down from the boardwalk, you would have seen this. there is always something beautiful happening in santa cruz, and I greatly resent the implication that we close up shop when the tourists leave town. thats when the fun begins!
    -rose, a true santa cruz local

  3. Great blog!

    I think we might abandon our mainland europe travel plans and do something more similar to what you're doing : )

    Thanks for the inspiration

  4. Dear Rose,

    You surely are a true santa cruz local! Thanks for getting things straight. I don't think "seaside resort" was meant in a bad way. We would have loved to spend more time than just passing through.

    Dear Matt and Rach,

    Thank you! And good luck with your plans : )