Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway - Part I

Ever since we moved to San Diego, we have had a desire to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. To be honest, I mostly just pictured a highway that ran along side sandy beaches and maybe the occasional rocky outcropping, but the PCH is an American icon, and we weren't going to leave before we saw what made it famous. It wasn't until we were well into the road trip that I started to appreciate the variety that California's coastline has offer.

Although the most northern point of our journey was only a five hundred mile (or so) drive from San Diego, we took our time and covered those miles (there and back) over eight days. Because I like to share details of our travel experiences here on the blog - and I have been asked a number of times on Instagram about the various locations we stopped - I am creating three posts to cover our travels: Los Angeles (Malibu and Venice Beach), the central (or cowboy) coast (Santa Barbara to Cambria), and finally the Monterey Peninsula (Big Sur to Monterey). These three regions are so different from each other that it's hard to believe that only a few hundred miles separate them. When they say that in California you can surf in the morning, ride a horse to have lunch, and then ski in the afternoon, that's not an exaggeration. This is where my husband usually informs me that this is the reason why movie studios based themselves in LA in the early 20th century: movies could be set in deserts, snow covered mountains, and everything in between - all within a few hours of LA. While I don't find this nearly as exciting as he does, it was incredible to watch the landscape transform from beach to coast to cliff to redwood forest, sometimes within just a few hours. So sit back and enjoy the highlights of the PCH from San Diego to Monterey.

(Note: the portion of the PCH that is located in California runs well north of Monterey, but given our time restrictions - and the fact we were traveling with a preschooler - we chose that area as the most logical turn around point.)

Los Angeles

Although the technical start of Highway 1 is near San Clemente, a city just south of Orange County, many guides recommend exploring San Diego as part of your PCH experience. Since we live in San Diego, we opted for the quick route up the 5 directly to Los Angeles (please note that "quick" is a relative term when it comes to the 5). Once there, we made a bee line to pick up the PCH in Malibu. Up first: an "only-in-LA" stop at Malibu Farm.

The restaurant and cafe had been recommended to me a number of times on Instagram, and we approached it just in time for a second breakfast. And not fifty feet into our walk down the pier, I had what I would classify as my biggest celebrity sighting ever. As we were walking to the cafe, Julia Roberts and two of her children passed right next to us. I tried to get my husband's attention as subtly as possible, but he - my film-OBSESSED husband - didn't even notice her. I have to say she was pretty incognito (save for some very ridiculous slippers/shoes that somehow DID catch his eye?), but that face is undeniable. I tried to play it cool while I awkwardly tried to keep up/stalk her, but sadly we parted ways when my brood went into the cafe and her brood went into the shop. After a delicious meal (opt for the cafe over the restaurant if you are short on time or have a five year old in tow - it's excellent) and a little souvenir shopping (how much more appropriate can you get than a Hwy 1 PCH pin for your daughter to start off your trip?), we proceeded on our way. But not after noticing that the price of parking had gone from $10 to $20 in the hour we spent there. Oh, Los Angeles ...

While we are on the topic of LA, I'll briefly fast forward to the end of our journey, where we spent our last night in Venice Beach before heading home.

The picture perfect charm of the Venice Canal District.

If you've read my blog before, you know we really, really like LA, but we had yet to spend any time in Venice. Our last stop included a stay at The Kinney (super friendly staff, colorful and fun decor with loads of social spaces), dinner at Cafe Gratitude (my husband's first experience despite it being down the road from us in San Diego), a sunset stroll around the canal district, and breakfast at The Butcher's Daughter (how cute is this place??). A completely LA, completely perfect final stop.

The best (and only) thing about having an early riser: being the first patrons of picture perfect places like The Butcher's Daughter in Venice Beach.

On the next post, I'll share our experience on the central coast, featuring stops in Ojai, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Cayucos, Cambria and Hearst Castle. Stay tuned!