Last week we were in Berkeley and we decided to drive there over two days (luxury!).
There are a few routes between LA and San Francisco, including just hammering up the I-5 the whole way, or going in more leisurely fashion via the 101 then the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We decided on a compromise – we’d take the I-5 about half way there, then head west on the 46 to the PCH. We would stop for the night at San Simeon, near the southern start of the PCH.
The route north along the I-5 took us past the Magic Mountain theme park, and over a quite wide and tall mountain range. On the mountain, trucks would try to overtake each other going at 25 miles an hour, while the rest of the traffic was trying to get along at 65mph+. Going down the other side the trucks had their own special lane, which they were supposed to stay in, but didn’t, and still tried to overtake each other going at 25mph in low-gear. It was pretty chaotic.
The plains on the other side of the mountain featured a lot of bare sand, oil wells in the same fields as grapevines, and smooth brown hills.
For quite a large section of this part of the route we were overtaking military convoys. They were quite literally miles long, and were travelling at just below the speed limit, causing overtaking to take approximately a decade.
Turning West on Highway 46 we were confronted by a long, flat road with a vanishing point. There are signs telling you Daylight Headlights are required, I guess since the mirages are so extreme due to the massive heat. We passed a vast oil field. As we approached the coast the road became windy and hilly, and at every peak we were sure we’d see the ocean in the distance.
We arrived at the Days Inn, San Simeon, in time for dinner and a sunset walk on the beach. It was pretty cold – such a contrast to the desert only a few tens of miles away.
The next morning we took set off along the PCH. We stopped on the way to check out the Elephant Seals. They park themselves on this beach for a few months every year while they moult. The seals get so hot they need throw sand over themselves (see video below). There were some seals in the water play fighting and barking at each other. It was quite an amazing sight (and smell!).
The road was inundated with sea fog for most of the route, so we didn’t get to see many of the celebrated views. But it wasn’t exactly boring either!
Between San Simeon and Big Sur there really weren’t many places for a pit-stop, but because we were ‘on holiday’ we decided to break for coffee at a random roadhouse. When we walked in we noticed everyone was grim-faced, and the room was silent – then we found out why: a filter-coffee and a packet hot-chocolate cost us $7. Ouch!
As we got further north the road wended inland and the sea fog thinned. The density of RVs didn’t however.
Just outside Monterey we spotted a shopping mall/gas station so we decided to stop, rather than fighting with crowds in town. We had excellent fish and chips for lunch, and a zero stress stop.
We then made the final push to Berkeley via the 101, I-880 and the I-580, which was not as stress-free, but was accomplished swiftly.