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!

See My City: Point Loma, Part I

As I sit down to write this, I'm not sure I can fit everything that I want to feature about Point Loma in one post. To my surprise, what seemed to me like one sprawling suburb is actually a real highlight of the city of San Diego. It is packed with so many things I love - history, architectural diversity, coastal views, repurposed building sites, shopping, and great food. Where do I even start?


The beginning seems like a good place. Point Loma is where "California began" when Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo landed here in 1542, the first European to do so. A monument to Cabrillo stands on Point Loma, but for those that are less into dead explorers and more into beautiful lighthouses, I would recommend heading straight to the Old Point Loma lighthouse.

The lighthouse was built in the 1850s, although its geographic location and the infamous marine layer rendered it ineffective not too long after that, and a new lighthouse was built in a different location. Fortunately for us, this beauty has withstood the elements and is open to the public. The simple exterior is complemented by an interior that is restored to what it might have looked like in the 1880s. And the star of the show inside? The mesmerizing staircase.

And the views surrounding the lighthouse are absolutely lovely - not to be missed. During winter months, you may be lucky enough to witness the Pacific Grey Whale migration from this vantage point. (Mid-January is peak migration for all you whale watchers out there.)

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

So let's talk about the views. As a peninsula, Point Loma offers spectacular views of both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Sunset Cliffs are named as such for the dramatic cliffs that drop to the ocean below (and, being westward facing, for offering that iconic sunset view). But since photographing sunsets isn't really my thing, I'd rather show you some of the daytime highlights of the area.

The waters off of Sunset Cliffs on Point Loma are well loved by the San Diego surfing community.

The waters off of Sunset Cliffs on Point Loma are well loved by the San Diego surfing community.

A natural arch in the cliffs has become a popular spot for those brave (or crazy?) enough to jump from the top of it into the ocean below. This photographer doesn't necessarily condone such behavior (!), but we did get a little adrenaline rush from watching them do it.

Liberty Station and Public Market

After all that surfer gazing and cliff jump viewing, there's no better place to unwind than Liberty Station. Once the site of a naval training center, the area now houses retail, event, and commercial spaces. The developers envision Liberty Station as San Diego's Town Square, and the urban planner in me gives them loads of credit for what they have done to achieve this. Repurposed facilities with open spaces, a diverse retail and commercial mix with entire sections dedicated to the arts - the future is promising as this site continues to grow.  Here are some of my favorite spots (I really tried not to make them all about the great food that you can find here, honestly).

And that leaves one last topic that I want to highlight (so far) about Point Loma - the historic residences. I will save that for another "See My City" post as it deserves its own space. And if you made it this far, you probably deserve a breather anyway, so I'll sign off for now.