Pacific Coast Highway (1)

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Road Trippin’ on Pacific Coast Highway

Day 11.  “You, me, the kids and the radio.  We’re set.  Let’s hit the road!” I winked to my husband, Euben, both of us excited to get our road trip started.01

There are a few ways to go by land from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the most direct would be to take the inland roads; and the longest but most scenic, and I’d say, most thrilling would be that of Pacific Coast Highway.

My family, we find pleasure in road trips – something that’s compulsory for the curious and open-minded .  And so we knew we had to take the longer, more scenic route.  We’ve allotted two days for this adventure that many travel books refer to as one of the road trips of a lifetime.

This legendary road is called a few names – Pacific Coast Highway or PCH, Highway 1, California 1, and in some parts called by its local names like Cabarillo Highway or Big Sur Highway.  We followed Fodor’s Travel advice, “Just follow the triangular signs that say ‘CALIFORNIA 1’.”

our road map with an overnight stay at Cambria

This route truly had all the elements to make for an exciting road trip.  I told my husband and kids towards the end of the second day that HWY 1 could evoke a whole range of emotions – from happiness to excitement and wonder, and then to suspense and fear.  It was a thrilling ride, to say the least!  The twists and turns, the sudden descends, the slim roads that hug the mountains and which had “Risk of Erosion” signs every few meters, were enough to make our stomachs turn and stop our breaths.   But coming out of the dense fog and the sight of the ocean always gave a sense of relief and feelings of gratitude for the beauty in front of us and the fact that we were still alive and driving LOL.  So let me now give you the details of our road trip…

Part 1

1st stop: Santa Monica Pier


Santa Monica Pier is just 14 miles (22km) west of Hollywood Boulevard. It is a good starting point if you are coming from downtown LA.

There were lots of things going on at the pier even on a chilly winter morning.

There was a street musician serenading the tourists with his rendition of the Christmas carol, ‘Oh Night Divine’.04

There were lovers on the bench (ahem), and lovers holding hands…05

Lovers people watching…08

And a kid wishing Pacific Park was already open that morning.09


Santa Monica is coincidentally the end of the legendary Route 66, and the boys being fans of cars and Cars, the movie, had to hug the sign before hitting the road again. 11

After a quick stop at Malibu Beach to withdraw some cash and gaze at the Pacific Ocean, we were ready to drive further up to Santa Barbara.  We planned on driving along the coast but our Garmin nav system directed us to another route instead.

The scenery drastically changed from the wide, open, blue ocean to a dry, isolated, hilly landscape.12

We found ourselves driving along Malibu Canyon Road but were kind of thankful to Garmin because we liked this view too.13

We even stopped for a few pictures.15


Towns started to emerge and the signs indicated that we were on the roads of Camarillo along HWY 101.16

The coast appeared again as we entered Ventura and we knew we were halfway to lunch – to Santa Barbara.56

There’s the Pacific Ocean again.17

2nd stop: Santa Barbara

At Santa Barbara, we explored Paseo Nuevo which has a decent collection of shops and restaurants.  It was actually a good place to stop – relaxing and not crowded. 18

We had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and after that walked along State Street in search of my and Euben’s hazelnut lattes and the kids’ hot chocolate.

at State Street

After a few relaxing hours in Santa Barbara, we were back on the road to our next stop, Morro Bay.  To cut our driving time shorter, since we were running behind our schedule, we followed Highway 101, instead of HWY 1, until San Luis Obispo where we would get on HWY 1 again.

The hydrangea blue sky that afternoon allowed us to see the gorgeous Santa Ynez mountains as we sped along the highways of Santa Barbara.


I couldn’t help but wonder how far or how near we were from the Neverland Ranch of Michael Jackson.

Santa Ynez mountains

Evening comes early during winter and so at 4pm, the setting sun was already turning the sky into a kaleidoscope of colours – orange, pink, blue, purple and deep violet.

It was lovely to see the sun setting over the sea…


…the mountain23

…and over the causeway as we approached Morro Rock.24

3rd Stop: Morro Bay25

Morro Bay is 108 mile (173km) from Santa Barbara.  It is a seaside town in San Luis Obispo County which is known for its beaches and of course the Morro Rock.  This rock is a massive 581 ft volcanic neck (hardened magma) which is just off the shores of Morro Bay and connected to the town by a causeway.

It is home to a number of bird species including this Pacific gull which accompanied us that evening in the rock as we gazed on the town of Morro Bay.26

We watched a couple of surfers as they stuffed things back into their car, already done for the day.  We watched tens of birds coming back to the ginormous rock beside us, as if claiming it for the night.  But it was too cold for us to linger and so we did not object when Euben suggested that we head back to the town.27

A bit of the sun was still there, so we took the chance to walk a bit more around the town,28

before we finally we made our way to our last stop of the day, Cambria.

4th stop: Cambria

Cambria is a quaint town midway of LA and San Francisco and just 23miles (37km) north of Morro Bay.  There were a number of motels and inns in the area, both in the town centre and along Moonstone Beach.  We choose one on Moonstone.  It is true what many travel guides say, Moonstone is for the romantic souls.  And you have to check google out to see what I and they mean, or better yet, make Moonstone Beach a stop on your next road trip.

Our lodging for the night was Sands Pebbles Inn located in the heart of Moonstone, just off HWY 1 and right in front of the Pacific Ocean. The inn was super pretty, inside and out.  The lobby was cozy and it looked familiar that it was like entering our own home.  The reception area was like a big living room with a Christmas tree standing tall beside the fireplace.

Photo credits:

Photo credits:

When we entered our room, the boys immediately lighted our own fireplace and sat beside it.

warming up on that cold December evening

The room had 2 comfortable beds, a small round table and chairs, a small pantry with microwave and fridge and a big bathroom.  Those white wooden windows in the picture can be pushed to the sides to make way for the view of the Pacific Ocean that was just outside our room.  We loved this inn a lot, too bad we could only stay for one night.

daddy driver raising his tired legs after a day on the road

Around 7:30 in the evening, we drove maybe 5 km to reach the town centre, to feed our grumbling tummies.  I can’t remember the name of the restaurant we ate in, but we really appreciated their willingness to accommodate Joaquin’s food allergies.31

Joaquin certainly enjoyed his fried rice, and Euben and Benjamin their steaks.32

The night was quiet and dark in this side of California, but because of the Holidays, the streets were illuminated by the Christmas lights from the small shops.33

I wanted to enter this Amphora shop so badly.  I could see from the windows that they have nice things inside, but my kids were dragging us to go back and sleep already.  I couldn’t blame them, it was a long day and tomorrow we would be on the road again.

To be continued… 


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