Unlike Route 66, this is a road trip I’ve taken before – and as a Californian, I’ll have the chance to do it again. But I’m doing it because I want to associate good memories with this route. I took it once before in 2004: when I left Berkeley, my asshole roommates handed me a letter asking me to move out – ironic, given I was on the Berkeley Rent Board at the time. I resolved to not let it ruin my vacation, but it certainly distracted me while I tried having a good time. Now, I have the chance to do it again – and link the beauty of Highway One with better times in my life.I left Redondo Beach this morning, as Jim and Sandra helped put the last items back in my car. As I headed through L.A. traffic to take Pacific Coast Highway due north, I put in an Eric Clapton CD to maneuver the challenging landscape. Pretty soon, Los Angeles gave way to the ritzy neighborhoods of Malibu – where you have to pay just to park on the beach and take in the beautiful scenery. Screw that, I’m going to keep driving until I can park somewhere for free. With the Eric Clapton CD done, I put in some George Harrison – the last album the ex-Beatle produced before he died, and was released posthumously.
By now, I’m in Ventura County – and can park the car and step out on the ocean. The sky is overcast, but it’s still a beautiful day – as I sit meditatively on the rocks while the Ocean creeps up on the beach. I’m the only one here, and it feels lovely – still a million miles from where I need to be, as far as I’m concerned. I look on the map, and see that Oxnard is the next town. But wow, Santa Barbara isn’t that much farther away – where I’m supposed to meet up with Melissa, an old friend from law school. I call Melissa, and tell her I’ll be there in an hour.The drive from Oxnard to Santa Barbara is really easy, because Highway One merges with US-101 – a freeway. By now, I’ve switched from George Harrison to the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack – and I get to Santa Barbara in time. Melissa is getting her PhD in History, and lives in graduate student housing. It’s lunchtime, so we get in her car to go eat at a fabulous beach-house restaurant in town. Melissa tells me it’s her favorite beach in Santa Barbara, and we take our leisurely time after lunch to explore the birds and cliffs on the waterfront. Now, the clouds have parted and the sky is a gorgeous hue of blue. She drives me back to where I parked my car – and now it’s 4:30 p.m. I had spent over three hours in Santa Barbara!
Getting back on US-101 due north, the ocean hugs the freeway – and it’s a glorious sight to see. But of course, I can’t stop the car and take pictures – because everyone’s racing at 70 miles per hour. So I put in my Beach Boys album to get into the groove, as the first song “Surfin’ USA” calls out all these cities I’m familiar with like Santa Cruz, Pacific Palisades, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Ventura County Line and La Jolla. Except for La Jolla (which is in San Diego), I already have – or soon will – pass by each of these communities as I drive back up to San Francisco.
Much to my chagrin, Highway One deviates from the Ocean after a few miles – but the drive inland is lovely, with lush green hills that tell me “wow, this is California.” You can see why Americans across the country have migrated here, to come to the promised land. But I still yearn to be back on the beach – sometime before the day is done.After an hour of maneuvering through hills (with Led Zeppelin to keep me company), I finally get my wish in Pismo Beach. By now, it’s almost 6:00 p.m. – and the sun is beginning to set. But I don’t have much more driving to do today – so I take a slow walk into the beach, teasing the waves as they slowly come crashing in.
A mere 20 minutes later, I’ve arrived in San Luis Obispo – a good mid-point for Highway One travelers who take the journey from L.A. to San Francisco. I’m staying at the Hostel Obispo – where I stayed nearly 7 years ago, which is one of the better youth hostels that I’ve visited. Tomorrow, I will go visit Hearst Castle which is a few miles north – and try to see what part of Highway One’s majestic glory I can check out. Unfortunately, it’s been a really bad winter – and mudslides have closed large sections of the One this year. I won’t be going to Big Sur sadly, but I hope to check out as much as I can – before visiting another old friend of mine in Monterey tomorrow night.