Malcolm, at least when he is possession of a wallet (for which see previous post), is a sucker for the magazine shelves of his local WH Smug. A couple of glossies play vicariously to his wanderlust, so he rarely misses issues of Coast and Lonely Planet Magazine.
The latest issue of Lonely Planet has an “Awards” feature. Thus Malcolm found (page 62) the Most incredible journey was the Trans-Siberian Railway. Listed as the last of the “runners-up” was:
5: Driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco
This prompted Malcolm’s objection: Why would anyone do it in that direction?
Go north, if one must, on the eighteen-wheeler hell that is Highway 101.
Don’t forget to crank the CD/iPod to max for the “Ventura Highway” stretch:
America (the ’70s group, bonehead!) at full blast is as essential mood-music for this stretch as “Tales from the Vienna Woods” is for that last stretch of the E60/A1/West-Autobahn from Kirchstetten into Vienna:
Now, Malcolm offers that notion for free as the basis for an article: music to match roads to. Sponsored cover CD an optional extra.
OK, we’ve survived 101.
Turn off at Salinas, and take the better part of half a day to do the National Steinbeck Center (actually, well worth it), then take 68 back to the coast, which drops us nicely back on to Highway 1 at Monterey. There must be many teachers of EngLit who (like Malcolm) came away with the iconic T-shirt listing of Steinbeck’s works on the back, and, afront and to affront the philistines:
I guess there are never enough books
Next for Monterey and the Aquarium, If we do it properly, there’s another half-day or more gone for ever into the personal memory bank. Cue for another plundered vid (though the Flash headliner on the Aquarium’s website and the whole range of other multimedia resources there are crisper):
Time for food. The Aquarium, on the site of the Hovden Cannery, is as much as the average stomachs can take of the kitsch that is now Cannery Row, but which has to be traipsed to reach Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Redfellow ensemble lunched (quite nicely, too, and with added local India Pale Ale) at Domenico’s on Fisherman’s Wharf.
So, with Monterey done and dusted, we head south. It’s worth the fee to do the Pebble Beach 17-mile Drive (in fact, a bit under ten miles) and we get to view that iconic tree (right).
Onwards! To the main event!
Coming south, one has the sea immediately to the passenger side: since the Lady in his Life is doing the driving bit, that means Malcolm gets the beer and the thrill-ride. And that’s why Malcolm fails to grasp Lonely Planet magazine‘s sense of direction.
As Malcolm understand the “official” definition, only bits of State Highway 1 are designated as “Pacific Coast Highway”. The particular bit to which Lonely Planet magazine refers runs between Monterey and Morro Bay. That takes in:
- Carmel-by-the-Sea (foggy and pricey: only do the Hog’s Breath if you must, there’s no chance the boss will be in, but everybody asks),
- Point Lobos (dive! dive!),
- Big Sur,
- Bixby Bridge (Photo-opportunity! photo-opportunity!),
- Nepenthe (a sure stop and snacking point: who remembers it was Orson Welles’s/Rita Hayworth’s intended hideaway, but they never got there?),
- then the glorious rocky stretch down to Ragged Point,
- after which the PCH runs through grass pastureland,
- book ahead for a tour of San Simeon (we’ll be back again: just believe the decadence, as right),
- then Cambria (nice, but walk Moonstoone Beach: we might actually find some),
- Harmony (blink and we miss it: but we are now entering serious wine country),
- to end in sight of Morro Rock (between the late Fall and early Spring, we look for eucalyptus trees to find monarch butterflies).
The definition of “Pacific Coast Highway” seems to extend beyond that. To take an example: Malibu Pier is 23017 Pacific Coast Highway (and, in Santa Monica the addresses seem to run south-to-north). Malcolm suspects PCH addresses run all the way to the Airport, at least: by which time one has really reached the pits.
But you knew all of that.
Malcolm was already, thanks to the depredations of those Romas, was prepared to be easily irritated. It rankled that Lonely Planet had missed the great bits further north.
One year the Lady in his Life and Malcolm had intended the whole caboodle, from Vancouver to LA. It didn’t work out that way, and the expedition had to be severely abbreviated. They made Crater Lake (right) the weekend before it shut for the season. The previous day had brought them to Sisters, where morning frost had warned the location was a thousand metres in altitude and it was getting late in the year.
Since the lodges were not taking guests, they overnighted at Grant’s Pass (making sure to buy anything pricey, which included a MacBook, before leaving no-sales-tax Oregon). Then onto 199 and the Redwoods Highway.
Along here, there are 10 and 15 mph speed limits at certain points: suddenly, pulling aside for an oncoming vehicle (which is definitely ignoring any speed limit), with a wheel already in the roadside scuffle, an inch from a long drop, the limits seem over generous. After the descent through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, 199 brings us onto 101 (far tamer than the bit heading up from LA) at Crescent City.
There are some good bits, for example across the Klamath River, but the next stopover should be Arcata, the “greenest” town in the US, and home of Humboldt University. The town gets lively, loud and (ahem!) aromatic on a Friday evening in term time.
After that, it’s stick to 101: nice country, up and down, but not a lot to note. At Leggett — if we’ve entered the town we’vwe gone too far — we take the signposted right onto Highway 1. That brings us down, via a couple of highly enjoyable (at least for passenger Malcolm, trusting the Lady’s driving) hairpins , to Shoreline Drive (which promptly kinks inland and away from any sight of shore).
Have faith: we get back to the sea shortly, and there are some spectacular beaches (all deserted: the sea here is cold) until we reach Fort Bragg. This, of course, is not the Fort Bragg of US Army Special Forces fame (that’s in South Carolina). This is a decent small town, full of retirement homes, yachties and the like: and several decent cheap motels. Fort Bragg has two quite different attractions: Glass Beach (effectively the old town dump rendered down by wave-action) and the Skunk Train (40 miles inland to Willitts, and then back again because that’s about it, in restored equipment from the 1920s).
Back in Fort Bragg, you’re not far from the next place of real note: Mendocino.
This wooden town has gone through more names than any con-man: Buldam to the Pomo Indians, Big River, Meiggstown after the railway speculator who tried to make this an alternative to the Bay Area, Mendocino City, and a stand-in for Monterey (in East of Eden) and “Cabot Cove, Maine” (in Murder, She Wrote).
Pretty well the whole burg is now a listed building: book into the Mendocino Hotel overlooking the Bay and damn the expense. Watch the sunset, though. Next door is the wine store, where Malcolm had an intensive course on the virtues of Cabernet Sauvignon at the cost of buying a small supply of excellent Big Yellow Cab.
Should you see a t-shirt advertising that brand, perambulating Muswell Hill, North London accost and greet Malcolm.
After Mendocino, Highway 1 lives up to its alias, Coast Highway, until Bodega Bay, after which we can cut inland to 101 or dog-leg back onto 1 (now Shoreline Highway) past Point Reyes. Either route lands us back at the Golden Gate Bridge, with the SF skyline in the background; which was where Lonely Planet‘s original thought also ended.
Malcolm sincerely apologises is any or all of that was introducing Granny to her soft-boiled egg.