The United States is an amazingly beautiful country. I’m trying to remind myself that just because it’s my backyard doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring!
While I was living in Los Angeles for a couple months, I decided not to watch Netflix anymore. When I found out I had a long weekend for Martin Luther King Day, I jumped at the chance to explore “the best coast.”
Driving Highway 1 along the California coast from LA to San Francisco became my first ever solo trip.
I decided to drive up to San Fran in a rental car and fly back since I only had 3 days. I picked up a rental car from LAX, booked my return flight for Monday afternoon and set out for a two day solo adventure.
The trip began in Los Angeles at 7:30 a.m., with my first stop planned for Hearst Castle, built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan in 1947.
It took me a little under four hours to get to Hearst Castle. I’m not going to lie, the drive is a bit monotonous and not very exciting until you hit San Luis Obispo. I only made one stop between LA and the Castle and that was just on the side of the road to take in the rolling waves.
Fun fact about this photo…the number one question I had when I returned from this road trip was, “How’d you take that photo on the car if you were by yourself!?”
Well, an essential for any solo traveler, I hate to admit, is the selfie stick! I snagged my roommate’s before I left and thanks to it, I was able to get shots like this (with an assist from the roof of my rental car). You have to get creative!
In order to go up to Hearst Castle from the visitor center, you have to pay to do a tour. I booked the next tour which cost $25. My tour group was about 40 people and we all climbed in a van and began the five mile, winding journey up to Hearst Castle. The view alone from the top was well worth the money.
On the tour, we saw the living room which was larger than I think any Manhattan penthouse, the smoking room, billiards room, theater and indoor swimming pool. Each room was grander than the last. My favorite was the living room because of its interesting detail.
Our tour guide also told us about the animals that Hearst collected including zebras, giraffes and deer. He said we could still see some of the animals roaming the grounds today. We saw a few deer on the side of the road and all the other tourists on the bus were ecstatic. Apparently they don’t have deer like we do in New York!
After the tour finished, we were free to roam around the garden. The tour from top to bottom took about an hour and a half. As a news junkie and history buff, I am very happy I took the time to take the tour!
My next stop was just up the road to see elephant seals! I am obsessed with seals/sea lions and was extremely excited when I saw what looked like hundreds of them sunbathing right next to the road.
Fun fact: Elephant seals sound like Angry Birds (yes, the iPhone game). All the little babies and they were all squawking at each other. It was amazing. I spent about 15 minutes just watching the seals.
My next stop was Big Sur. I had no idea what “Big Sur” was other than the photos I’d seen on Instagram.
I kept stopping on my drive to A. check out the view and B. see if it was Big Sur. This part of the drive was my favorite as I had no cell service. I was completely alone with my thoughts and Taylor Swift CD. It was the perfect getaway to recharge.
As I was driving, I spotted a bridge which I thought could be Bixby Bridge. So I pulled off (there are tons of parking lot pull offs alone the highway which makes stopping really easy) and started taking some photos. So grateful for that selfie stick!
I continued my drive while freaking out that I had missed this Big Sur place. When I finally gave up on seeing it, I saw a sign for Big Sur in 40 miles. Success!
I was singing “Blank Space” at the top of my lungs with the windows down when I saw a ton of people pulled off on the side of the road. There were probably 50 cars lining the roads. I wasn’t going to stop but then remembered I wasn’t in a hurry so I pulled off. Thank god I did because this was that “Big Sur” place I had seen on social media which isn’t actually IN the town of Big Sur, it’s just before it. If I had waited until “Big Sur,” I would have missed it.
There is a small path you can follow to get down closer to the water or you can stay up above like I did. The sun was just starting to set so it was the perfect backdrop for my photos!
Not long after the Big Sur stop, I saw more cars pulled over on the side of the road. I looked around and realized I had just gone over Bixby Bridge. There were TONS of people taking photos so it was a little overwhelming. And I was too embarrassed to whip out the selfie stick in front of this many people!
The drive is really amazing because you’re blocked in by rolling hills on one side of the highway and endless ocean on the other. All while winding down a cell phone service-less road. I couldn’t have had a better Saturday.
I got to Monterey at about 5 p.m., just before sunset. I checked into my hotel which was slightly more expensive than I wanted to pay but the room was fabulous and a great place to relax after a full day in the car.
After dropping my stuff in the room, I rushed out to catch the last bit of sunset and walk along Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman’s Wharf is very touristy, like the Santa Monica Pier or San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, but much smaller. There were a bunch of restaurants and shops AND more seals, which I was excited about.
The one thing to see in Monterey is the aquarium. It’s apparently one of the best in U.S. and a must see when you’re in the area.
Well, I didn’t actually get to the aquarium. I really wanted to get on the road as I knew I had a few stops I wanted to do before getting to San Fran. I’ll definitely get back to Monterey at SOME point in my life so I wasn’t too concerned on missing the aquarium this time.
In the morning I had an amazing banana and Nutella crepe from Crepes of Brittany at Fisherman’s Wharf. This place is extremely popular in the morning and it took about 30 minutes to get my crepe. There aren’t many tables. About three inside and only a handful more outside so I just took the crepe back to my room and ate it while I packed up my stuff.
I was on the road at about 10:30 a.m. My first stop of the day was Santa Cruz, which was a last minute addition. Even though I’ve seen tons of surfers in Los Angeles, I read that Santa Cruz was a good place to see people surfing as well.
The most amazing part of the drive from Monterey to Santa Cruz were the avocado farms! I saw a sign on the side of the road that said 5 Avocados for $1!! Have you ever seen ONE avocado for a dollar!? I couldn’t believe it. I love avocados and if I had had a way to keep them from getting crushed in my bag over the next two days, I would have stopped.
When I got to Santa Cruz, I parked my rental and walked along the pier. There is an amazing amusement park there right on the beach much like in Santa Monica.
A little further along the coast, there is a lighthouse where tons of surfers go to surf. There were probably 50 or so surfers sharing the water! I had never seen so many in one place. Some were great, some were OK and some were beginners in a surf lesson. All of them were really fun to watch and it was almost 45 minutes later that I remembered I had to get back on the road to my next stop.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
My last stop before San Francisco was Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a little more than an hour and a half outside SF.
You know that ride at Epcot at Disney World called Soarin’ Over California? You are in a makeshift hang glider and you go over Orange County, Napa, San Jose and more before ending at Disneyland. The redwood trees are also part of the ride. So I was determined to see redwood trees in California.
It cost $10 to park my car for the day and I was able to roam around the trails for as long as I wanted. I decided to take the shortest trail so I could make it to SF before sunset. It took about 45 minutes to walk. The redwoods truly are massive. Some of the trunks are as wide as trucks and you can barely see the tops of them.
After Big Basin, I drove up over a hill and had a fabulous view of all the trees and the entire park. Unfortunately there wasn’t anywhere to pull off so I wasn’t able to get a photo.
I arrived in San Francisco at about 4:30 p.m. I couldn’t have been happier I did the drive. It definitely shouldn’t be done in one day if you want to really enjoy yourself and see some stuff. With the places I chose, I stopped about every 2-3 hours or less. If you’re going to do a long road trip like this, you definitely want to make sure you’re taking frequent stops to stretch those hammies! And have a good Taylor Swift CD to sing along to!