Day 22: Pacific Highway Drive Pt2: Big Sur to San Francisco

Big Sur

I woke pretty early, giving myself ample time to explore the rest of the Big Sur section in new light. I back-track on myself slightly, heading to Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 30 minutes further south than the Big Sur Pfeiffer. This provides me with one of the most photographed viewports, revealing a small cove and beach that hide the McWay waterfall.

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After hiking the trail along the cliff-edge, I continue my drive North, which takes me back inland, high into the mountains, before throwing me back out to the coast at Big Sur Point. I meander along the coastline further until I come to two notable landmarks-the Bixby and Rocky Creek Bridges.

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Carmel

By the time I reach Carmel its about 10 o’clock and the rich, retired elderlies (which make up the stronghold of the town) are breakfasting in force in the local cafes. The town itself is pretty awesome; Nothing is commercial, everything is authentic, really artsy and crafted with some of the nicest, luxurious small shops I’ve come across. Rows of flowers and large walkways break up the roads and open out the views down to the beach.

The town was famously once mayored by Clint Eastwood, who owns a small Inn just off the main town road called ‘Hogs Breath Inn.’ I never ventured inside, instead I’ve come to Carmel as it’s the gateway to one of the more famous drives in California, the 17 mile drive.

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17 Mile Drive to Pebble Beach

Before I start the drive, I pull up at the beach, right by the gated entrance to the drive. I take a walk along the sands and marvel at the size and expense of the houses that open out onto the beach, overlooking the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.
I walk up to the beach-side of the 10th hole of Pebble Beach and then continue down to the 9th. This is as far as the beach will take me, but it does provide me with a view across the front 9 holes of the course; I map the course out in my head, remembering the holes on the Tiger Woods game.
Impressed with the relation between game and reality, I head back to the truck and to the toll booth- $20 to drive along the private 17 mile road.

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The drive took me inland, into a dense forest canopy, which hid away the mansions and some of the most expensive houses in America. The houses got even bigger and more extravagant: It must be completely crazy to live in this community.
My first real landmark was Poppy Hills Golf Course which quickly morphed into Spyglass Hills Course- again two more courses from the Tiger Woods game that I was now living. As I passed through Spyglass, I emerged from the forest thicket and back out to the ocean, where the drive continued along the beach-side. The drive is well signed, with numbered posts designating certain vistas. The first one I got to look at was Point Joe- an overlook across the rocky cove into Monterey Bay.

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I continued to Bird rock and Seal Rock- although nice views, both were as fetid as one another. Next in line-Cypress Hill Lookout on the furthest reaches of the Peninsula. This vista provides a view from the tee-off down the par 3, 9th hole of Cypress Hill- one of the most memorable holes on the course. I waited, watched and laughed as two of the four golfers teeing off overshot into the water.

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Driving further, the next 2 miles or so were sheltered with large barriers. These were enforced to protect the seal colonies which were presently breeding. The barriers continued along the peninsula edge, until I reached the Lone Cypress, one of the most recognizable landmarks and the logo for Pebble Beach. As expected, the queues were at their busiest, as busloads of people headed down to capture the lonely tree. I took my photos from the vantage point and then watched as two small rafts floated along the shores next to the Cypress Tree, collecting shoals of mussels from the rocky reaches below.

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Shortly after the Lonely Cypress lookout, I had reached Pebble Beach Golf Club.
I parked up and walked around the hotel and restaurant, which revealed a panoramic view across the famous 18th hole. I then walked to the practice greens and bought a few shirts from the clubhouse, before heading over to the 1st tee.
I don’t know the waiting list, nor how much it is to play at Pebble Beach- as one of the most famous courses, it can’t be cheap- but the people I saw teeing off were all pretty crap- they also all seemed to be Japanese. Only 3 of 8 made the fairway with 1 out of bounds and another 2 in the trees. That being said, it must be quite a lot of pressure to play the first shot- there’s usually a crowd of 20 people watching and everyone’s names are called out as they line up by the tee announcer; I remember yanking my first shot into a car park while playing a course in Portugal- and that was only with a crowd of 5- on a course nothing of the calibre of Pebble Beach.

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Monterey Bay

I looped back around the 17mile road and rejoined Highway 1, to take me up to Monterey Bay. The bay is famed as one of the most diverse bays on the coast, with frequent sightings of whales, sharks, dolphins, otters and seals among some of the marine visitors. Although I didn’t manage to spot any whales, I was greeted by a large pod of dolphins.
I spent a couple of hours, arching my way slowly across the bay, until I reached Santa Cruz. As it was my last stop-off before I reached San Francisco, I parked up and headed down to the busy beach for a few hours.
The beachside is pretty lively- with a large seaside themepark dominating most of the coastal reaches. When the afternoon heat began to turn into a chill, I departed from the beach, grabbed some food and then continued my drive up the coast heading to San Francisco.

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San Francisco

By now it was just coming up to 5pm and once again I had totally forgot about the afternoon fog that usually blankets the coast at this time. It was only 30 minutes after leaving Santa Cruz that I hit the wall of white fog.
Although it was pretty impossible to see anything it was quite a cool, mysterious drive, with the occasional section where I had ascended above the cloud cover, before dropping back into the thick of it.
45 minutes later and I was back in central San Francisco, queuing to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.
I headed up to Battery Spencer and the Hawk Hill vista lookouts, for the postcard picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, immersed high above the clouds. This signaled the end of my 3 week adventure across the Western states of America and with only 2 more days in San Francisco, before I head back to England, its pretty much the end of my 3 months in America. I didn’t expect to explore or see anywhere near as much as I did, nor have even half as good of time as I did. It was pretty insane. One hell of a trip!

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