Day 21: Pacific Highway Drive: Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Big Sur

Santa Monica to Santa Barbara

I joined highway 1 at Santa Monica Pier ready for a day of driving along the coastal road.
Highway 1 is famed as one of the most spectacular drives- a 480 mile panorama, hugging the California coastline between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
I climbed through the Los Angeles mountains, before dropping into Malibu- where I stopped briefly to take a walk along the beach, before heading further north to Ventura beaches.
I probably would have stayed longer at both beaches had the weather been on point- as it was it was pretty chilly; There’s only so much you can do on a windy beach- so I headed further north to Santa Barbara.
I walked through the town- where buses of Japanese tourists and old retired people made up the majority of the population. I then had a seafood chowder for lunch on the pier, sitting with a load of seals who did nothing but bark for the duration.

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Pismo and Morro Rock

After a small tour around Santa Barbara, I continued further north to the Surfer’s town of Pismo.
By now the sun was threatening to break through the cloud cover and a group of surfers were coming in from the waves to warm up with a few beers at the beach shacks- its certainly a lifestyle that I could get used to- even though I’m not anything of a surfer.
Again I trolled the pier, taking in some fresh air, before continuing to Morro Bay Rock.
Morro Bay is a small fisherman’s town, notable for its volcanic rock that guards the Bay Harbor.

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Hearst Castle and Elephant Seal Vista

After leaving Morro Bay, the road detracts briefly from the beaches, bringing me inland towards a green moorland. I climb through the hills before reaching Hearst Castle in San Simeon, some 30 minutes north of Morro.
From the visitor centre, tours are operated to take you to the castle at the top of the hill. The tour was $25- which I was at first hesitant to pay- but went for it in the end.
Although the price is probably a bit steep, its well worth checking out. The castle grounds are huge, with large pools and Roman pagodas opening out across the hillside. Inside, the walls are garnished in gold, the floors in marble and the ceilings painted to extreme detail. Its a little slice of European culture and is lavish and luxurious to the extreme. The history behind the castle also makes the price more justifiable.
An hour and a half later and I head back to the foot of the castle and 10 minutes further along Highway 1 to Elephant Seal Vista Point- a well signed turn-off along the Pacific Road, that is home to hundreds of huge Elephant Seals.
This is a popular spot along the drive and as many people can gather around the vista as there are seals.
Generally the seals do very little. They just sit, lazily paralyzed in the sand. Occasionally, a pair of males- the size of cars-will battle head to head. Its absolutely one of the weird highlights of the drive and a certain must-do.

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Big Sur

After spending an hour around the beaches with the seals, I drive further north, where things really start to get dramatic.
Gradually, I begin an hour of climbing across the cliffs, before I reach the famous Big Sur section of the drive.
The road bends and warps around the cliff faces, flirting with the rocky sea-breaks below. I had purposely timed my journey, so I would be driving along this section in the evening- with the sunset across the pacific. However I didn’t even account for the evening fog that, rolled in to create an even further enhanced spectacle.
There are vistas scattered all along the drive and provide some of the most incredible overlooks along the Californian coastline.
I pulled into Limekiln state park, just off the highway and trekked some of the cliff walks and beach coves for an hour, watching as the sun lowered towards the foggy horizon. A pod of dolphins came playfully close to the shoreline, attracting an audience of about a dozen people. There are some great looking waterfall and forest hikes at the park aswell, but I was more obsessed with cramming in the coastal hideaways before the sun disappeared. There is also one of the most incredible campsites based here- Kirk Creek Campground. The grounds literally fall off into the sea. I can only imagine what it would be like to camp and wake up here- definitely something to do, if I come back this way again!

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As the sun finishes its shift, I make it to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, high in the mountainside- where I set up camp, head into the village for some dinner and finally get some rest in preparation for the second half of my journey up the coastline tomorrow.
Another awesome day!

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