A USA Road Trip (Part 3): Santa Cruz to Los Angeles

Our quick visit to Santa Cruz ended with an awesome breakfast and walk along the coast to a lookout point where we hopped a fence and sat out on the rocks watching the surfers do their thing – it made me even more excited for learning to surf in Costa Rica!

Santa Cruz, ocean, surf
On the rocks in Santa Cruz


Then it was time to jump back in the car and start making our way south to Los Angeles. Road trips are pretty much my favourite thing ever and this one had the added bonus of being right next to the ocean the entire way, so it was awesome to just be able to sit in the car, have the tunes blaring, and look out at the incredible vastness of the sea.


ocean, sea, road trip, view, california
I love those sea views

Our first little stop was Monterey, where we went for a walk on the beach, dipped our toes in the sea and ventured out onto the pier, super excited when we saw a sea otter just chilling out, doing his thing.

sea otter, monterey, california
Mr Sea Otter

As we drove, we made quite a few of these little stops, as you always should on a road trip – the whole point is to explore places you didn’t even know existed. We stopped at an incredible place called Monastery Beach, along the Carmel river, and ran around like loons in the waves before getting back in the car, barefoot and happy, to continue south.


beach, monterey, california, road trip
Double Trouble on the beach

We drove past places along the coast that were more astoundingly beautiful than I could have imagined, places like Garapatta and Rocky Creek Bridge, where the water was so blue it looked like it had been photoshopped.


beach, california, road trip
Beach Life


It was when we reached the famous Bixby Bridge (you know, the one where the bridge just seems to appear out of the rocks), that it really started to hit home for me that this was it, this was the road trip I’d been dreaming about since I first read Jack Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’, imagining cruising along the coast, looking out at the sea and pondering life.


Bixby Bridge, big sur, california, road trip
Bixby Bridge

And that’s just it, isn’t it? Road trips and adventures are about seeing new places and meeting new people, yes, but they’re also a chance for you to assess your life and who you are from a different perspective, to think about how you fit into the world. I was doing a lot of that as we drove, eyes trained on the ocean, marveling at how it stretched as far as the eye could see, in every direction, knowing that it continued far beyond what I could imagine, until it reached land on the other side of the Pacific.


monterey, life, road trip
Pondering Life in Monterey

By the time it got to about 2 o’clock, we were pretty hungry, having bypassed the more expensive tourist eateries along the Big Sur. We eventually came across this little place called the Lucia Lodge and stopped for a lunch with perhaps the most incredible view over the ocean that a lunch has ever had.


View, lunch, Lucia Lodge, california
Lunch with a view

Our next stop was a random and excited screech to a halt when we saw a sign for elephant seals. And oh my, elephant seals did we see! There were hundreds of them, all along this beach, sleeping and wriggling and barking and playing, totally undeterred by all the people watching and taking photos. We enjoyed their entertaining interactions for a while, providing commentary on the seals’ every movement, until I think we may have been annoying the other bystanders with our witty quips.


elephant seals, california, road trip, highway 1
Sleeping Elephant Seals

Back in the car, and on a bit of a time crunch now, we passed incredible looking places like Morro Bay and Pismo, distracted by their beauty for long enough that we missed the exit ramp for Highway 1 and ended up on the 101, not where we wanted to be, as it went inland, the whole point of our trip being that we stayed along the coast for as long as possible.


road trip, selfie, california
Road trip selfie

At this point, we had absolutely no choice however, but to stay on the road we were on and just try and find a sign that directed us back to the 1. Easier said than done it seemed. Apparently, signs pointing to the 1 just don’t exist, and we had to do a little GPS trickery to get back to where we needed to be (or so we thought), eventually finding ourselves in a random town called Lompoc, stuck in ridiculous traffic, thinking, oh crap, we probably should have stayed on the 101. We still had 55 miles to go before we even reached Santa Barbara.


sunset, wing mirror, road trip
Another day, another sunset

But finally, just as we were starting to lose all hope of making it to where needed to be, we caught a little glimpse of the sea, and then we were right back alongside it, just in time for (once again) one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever experienced. We stopped to take some photos and go for a cheeky nature wee, then we were back on the road, trying to make it past Santa Barbara before it got too late… We still had about 30 miles to go!


silhouette, sunset, california, ocean
Silhouettes at sunset

Finally reaching our destination goal of the day, we found a Motel 6 just outside of Santa Barbara and totally crashed out for the night, exhausted from the driving and the pure elation of the trip as a whole. In the morning we rose early, keen to get to LA before the crowds and had an easy drive into Santa Monica, past incredible beaches and even more astounding houses. As we drove through Malibu I found myself thinking, um, excuse me, but why don’t I live here? I think it was that moment I made a new life goal for myself… One day I want to live in a house where the doors open right out onto the beach, with the ocean as my back garden. The beach just makes me happier than anywhere else.


beach, ocean, highway 1, california
Morning beach stops

Finally arriving at our last destination, Santa Monica, at around 8:30am, we parked the car at the beach and wandered to my favourite shopping street, 3rd St Promenade, for breakfast. We spent the rest of the day bouncing between the shops and the beach, walking all the way down to Venice, perusing the boardwalk for fun people and things, and getting food before it was time to find the car in the (now very full) parking lot and make our way to the airport.


road signs, ocean, california, road trip
We travelled a long way to get here!

We said a sad goodbye to Fee, who was heading back to the East Coast, returned Caleb (the car), with an impressive extra 938 miles added to his name, and took the shuttle to our terminal, where we checked in, waited and readied ourselves for our long flight to Costa Rica!

And that was that. Our West Coast adventure had come to an end, and I don’t really think there are words that can adequately describe how much I loved it. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is everything you ever imagined it to be and also it’s like nothing you ever imagined. It’s the dream, the fantasy, the holy grail of road trips, and it by far surpassed every single expectation I had.

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