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Trip Report A Beautiful Drive

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Since my wife and I have to attend a trade show in Las Vegas we decided to start our trip to the US by having a mini driving holiday. Our arrival city in the US is Los Angeles so I decided on a driving trip up the fame Pacific Coast Highway along the best part of the coast of California. I searched the trip reports on Fodors as well as TripAdvisor and with the help of Fodorites such as Crosscheck, Smeagol and Filmwill I was able to come up with a great plan for our holiday.

Our flight on Cathay Pacific arrived one hour early and luckily we were out of the airport within 20 minutes. We boarded the Hertz shuttle bus and upon arrival I saw my name displayed on the Hertz Gold member board directing us to our waiting car. I did extensive research on how to get the best rate for a rental and we wanted a convertible but we were travelling with 2 big luggage and carry-ons. From my research I was able to rent a Mercedes E350 Cabriolet at a very reasonable rate with the loss damage waiver included. All of the luggage fit into the Merc albeit some of them were in the back seats and we were off.

It has been over 6 years since I was last here and slightly longer for my wife and the first thing that we noticed on the road was the lack of seeing American made cars. When I went to college here in the late 70s and early 80s foreign cars were so rare and drivers in BMWs and Mercedes used to blink their headlights at each other to say hello. Now the roads are dominated by Japanese, Korean and European vehicles which is kind of sad.

We drove North on the 405 in relatively light traffic and then took the 101 going West towards Santa Barbara. Typical highway driving at this stage of our trip and my wife succumbed to jet lagged and slept soundly while I cranked up the hip hop music on the car’s radio to keep awake. We arrived in Santa Barbara in around 1.45 hours and headed straight for our inn for some rest. I researched everything including the famous resorts like the Four Seasons Biltmore, San Ysidro Ranch etc but settled for the Inn of the Spanish Garden. The inn was very nice and welcoming with very comfy beds and a fireplace.

It was around 1 PM when we arrived at the inn so we set the alarm clock on my phone to wake us up and took a much needed nap. After our rest we woke up in the late afternoon and took a walk around State Street. The weather was perfect with bright sunshine and cool breezes. In L.A. it was overcast and it even rain a little when we left so this was perfect for us. The first stop was at a T-Mobile phone shop where I bought a prepaid sim card with a great call package (unlimited calls to my home country and data plan) for my iPhone. Did some shopping on State Street and had a quick sea food dinner by the marina and then decided to retire to our inn for the night.

We woke up at around 4 AM due to the time difference and watch TV and made video calls to my office and our daughter who could not join us because of school. Showed my daughter our Inn through the web cam of my iPad and she loved it and mentioned about wanting to attend UCSB for her master’s degree. After the very welcoming inclusive breakfast we left Santa Barbara stopping by a Gelson supermarket to pick up some supplies for our trip and headed to our next destination, Solvang.

We left Santa Barbara on PCH 1 and decided to take route 154, or the Chumash Highway, to Solvang. Very scenic route and we drove up and down the mountain, through wine countries and Lake Cachuma. We arrived in Solvang at around 9.30 AM and the town was pretty much deserted. My wife stopped by some gift shops picking up some trinkets while I wondered around the empty streets. I noticed a small tour group going by on Segways and thought about joining in but my wife said that she prefer to instead drive around town in our convertible.

Next we headed to Los Olivos for lunch where I had researched on Tripadvisor and really wanted to try out a particular restaurant – Brothers Mattei “Side Hardware & Shoes”. Los Olivos is a really small town and most of the shops are set up for wine tasting and wine sales and yet I had difficulties finding the elusive Side Hardware & Shoes. I had to ask for direction from a local and he quickly explained that I had passed the restaurant already and that the restaurant had no sign! I made a u-turn on the empty street and found it and to my delight the food was very good!

After lunch we headed for our next destination, Morro Bay, where we will spend another night before heading further North. I had research other towns in the area like San Luis Obispo, Pismo beach and Cambria but decided to stay in Morro Bay at the highly rated (on Tripadvisor) Anderson Inn. The wind had really picked up and is now blowing at 45 MPH according to the news. Trucks and large vehicles were “swaying” on the road while our little Mercedes had no trouble and performed like a champion. We rejoined the 101 and the drive is pretty much nondescript going through fields and small towns. At San Luis Obispo we veered off onto PCH 1 and headed to Morro Bay.

Morro Bay is a sleepy fishing village and their claim to fame is probably “Morro Rock”, a 576 foot high volcanic plug that stood at the entrance of the harbor. We found the tiny 8 rooms Anderson Inn right on the harbor and was greeted warmly by the brother and sister team of Mollie and Jeff Anderson. They quickly motioned us to enter their office as it was very windy outside and the temperature was quite cold. After a quick chat with the Anderson we were escorted to our room overlooking the harbor. The view was very nice but the wind was so strong that we can hear it “whistling” through our walls.

We lit the fire in our room and rested for an hour or two before having dinner at the Anderson Inn’s restaurant, The Galley. The food was very good here and the view of the sunset by the Morro Rock was very nice. Good seafood and good local wine at reasonable prices amongst furniture that looks like they were from the 70s. During the night, apart from the whistling wind, we could hear seals calling or talking to each other the whole night but luckily we were so tired that we slept through most of it.

We woke up at around 6 AM and thankfully we are over the worst part of the jet lagged which I attribute to being able to sleep soundly on the flight over. We checked out of the Anderson Inn and found a small diner in Morro Bay that serves breakfast. A good old American diner serving huge portions with unlimited coffee was a good way to start our day!

Our next stop was at Hearst Castle where I had pre purchased a couple of tickets for the main room tour. The wind had died down so I open the top of our car and drove North ward toward San Simeon. We pass by the sleepy town of Cambria and after that the PCH 1 was “hugging” the coast line for most of the way. The topography was relatively flat and the beautiful blue pacific had white crested waves as far as they eye can see. We drove up to the visitor center of Hearst Castle where we picked up our tickets and had to wait about 30 minutes before the tour started. The tour starts with a ride in the tour bus, climbing higher and higher with the voice of Alex Trebeck explaining the history of Hearst Castle over the sound system. Upon arrival our guide greeted our group and began the tour of the main rooms inside the spectacular castle. The view from here of the surrounding coast line and mountains was wonderful. We finished the tour and wandered around the guest houses and pool of Hearst Castle for a while. Beautiful place and I look forward to returning one day and perhaps do an evening tour.
We headed back to PCH 1 and it was lunch time so we headed to Sebastian General Store which is almost across the highway from the entrance to Hearst Castle. Quaint little place but packed with lunch time diners most of whom are park rangers! By this time we are now back to being accustomed to the size of the food served in the US. We ordered 1 portion of beef burger with toppings and split the food amongst us and still we could not finish everything!

After lunch we made a quick stop by the Piedras Blancas elephant seals sanctuary. The wind had picked up again so we made a quick stop and took some photo before heading to our next destination. The highway is now climbing up and hugging the cliff edge of the land with spectacular views along the way. There are many pull over zones where people stop to take pictures. With the beautiful blue pacific on one side and the rugged coastline and mountains on the other we slowly made our way past mountains and the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park before arriving at our next inn, the Post Ranch Inn, where we will spend the next two nights.

To be continue!

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