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Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway

For Lawrence of Arabia, it was camels.  For Roald Amundsen the choice was dogs and sleds.  Thor Heyerdahl decided to make his own out of balsa wood.  Neil Armstrong went in a tin box strapped on to the top of a giant firework, taller than the Statue of Liberty.

In each case, the individuals mentioned, used a form of transport appropriate for the particular journeys that they had in mind. Each had their specific benefits for the terrain involved, but equally each had their limitations.  Amundsen would never have been able to beat Scott to the South Pole on a caravan of camels, and Armstrong would never have got to the moon on a rocket made of balsa wood.

When it comes to deciding on a means of transportation for our next vacation, we have to first of all decide on our destination and our objective.  Do we want a nail-biting struggle with winds and currents across the Pacific Ocean or an epic march across the icy wastelands of the Antarctic?  Or do we want a nice and relaxing holiday of sight-seeing and fine dining, exploring the architectural, social and historical heritage of a new country.  Do we want to feel the searing heat of the desert by day and freezing cold of the night, or do we want travel with all the mod cons of air conditioning, wifi and google and sleep comfortably in a nice warm bed at night.

When it comes to adventure what can be better than a road trip?  How about following Bobby Troup’s advice and looking for kicks on Route 66 or a photographic odyssey over the myriad Bridges of Maddison County. And then there’s always the Pacific Coast Highway.

The website “Visit the USA” states:

“The legendary Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) was first started in the 1930s, and remains a marvel of human effort that hugs over 900 kilometers (600 miles) of California’s rugged and beautiful coastlines. It is one of the most astoundingly scenic roads in the world, meant to be traversed slowly, while gasping at the mountains, towering trees, expansive beaches and endless sky. It also affords travellers an unparalleled opportunity to dip into all the character California has to offer: pioneer outposts, surfing villages, farm-fresh foods, local wine, roadside kitsch, Hollywood glitz and bohemia.”

It goes on to suggest that you take your time to explore all that the area has to offer.  This is where the internet shows its true worth.  Never mind the advancement of human knowledge and understanding, the sharing of vital scientific information and the transmission of top-secret military information.  Finding a hire car, planning an itinerary, booking a room in a B&B, and even getting a head start by checking out restaurant menus, are now all possible with just a few key strokes on Google Maps and TripAdvisor.

California’s Pacific Coast Highway is without doubt one of the most beautiful, scenic drives in the U.S., may be even the world. It winds along a large stretch of the Golden State coastline, closely hugging the shoreline, from San Francisco all the way southward to San Diego.

Along its length it offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, quaint seaside towns and villages, delightful restaurants and shops with a backdrop of virgin forest and the eternal presence of the refreshing ocean breeze and bright California sunshine. 

While the 615 mile drive itself could be accomplished in a day, the best way to enjoy the whole experience would be a leisurely 6-7-day drive in a modern air-conditioned automobile with friends and family, stopping to sample the offerings at the many chic eateries or even take a tour of a vineyard.

And although the drive is the main feature, one’s choice of transportation can make or break the occasion.  The comfort and safety of our loved ones should always be a high priority. The best way to experience this dramatic drive is from North to South, keeping the sea on you right all the way down the California coastline.  You can fly to San Francisco, pick up passenger vans for rent at the airport, drive town to San Diego and then fly back to San Francisco.

For larger family groups a van is often a much better option than a car.  Passenger vans now offer high levels of comfort and convenience for all occasions, with features such as dual A/C, high-quality audio systems, automatic transmission, pre-collision assist, and acres of legroom.  They also have the advantage of ample storage space for all the extra luggage and all those well-chosen nick-nacks picked up along the way.

The coastal views are stunning at any time of year, but just be aware that sea fogs are a common feature of being by the sea, especially during the early summer months of May and June.  Recent hot dry summers have left many more prone to dramatic wild fires which may lead to road closures and detours inland.  The wild fire season runs from July to October. 

Starting from San Francisco the route will take you past glorious sandy beaches, rugged coastal cliffs, historic buildings iconic bridges, sea side resorts with sea food restaurants and a host of quaint towns and villages to explore.  Whether you want to spend a few hours on the beach with the kids, exploring rock pools, and playing in the surf, or maybe touring round one of the many vineyards sampling the latest wines before dining in a coastal restaurant and watching the sun go down, there is plenty to keep you occupied and entertained.

How about taking one of the organized boat trips out of Monterey Bay to look for humpback whales, orcas and dolphins, or maybe taking a step back in time and exploring the cultural and artistic heritage to be found in Hearst Castle in its mountain home above San Simeon.  And then retire for a peaceful night’s sleep in one of the routes many hotels and B&Bs before waiting refreshed in the morning ready for another day exploring this incredible coastline.

In fact, when you reach San Diego, why catch a plane and fly back to San Francisco at all.  Why not just spin that van around and do it all again, looking out for all those places you missed the first time.  Only this time, keep the ocean on your left.