Road Trip Down the California Coast; Birthday Shenanigans (Pt. I)

Big Sur

If you ask my friends, they would tell you that I have a tendency to over-celebrate my birthday.  Celebrations can last a week, with food and libations, of course.  From the end of September to the days leading up to Halloween, I call my friends out to have dinner and lunch and coffee. Narcissistic much? Yes, perhaps. But, any excuse to hang out with friends and eat good food is a good excuse, I say! 

PCH Cliffs

Alas, in October last year, I somehow managed to forget my birthday, mainly due to my mess of a professional life. Luckily, my boyfriend made plans to take me on a weekend adventure as a surprise birthday gift. Hurrah!

I had no idea where we were going. He showed up at my door on that early October morning, and told me to grab my keys and bags. Turns out that my surprise birthday present was a weekend trip down Pacific Coast Highway! 

Pacific OceanPCH - Pacific OceanPCH - Pacific OceanExploring the Pacific OceanThat's Cool

It was glorious.  The weather, unseasonably warm for early October, hovered in the upper 80s deg F as we cruised along.  The views were phenomenal.  Turquoise water swirled below sunbleached cliffs, the sun glittered off the water and rocks, and we sailed above them all!

It was still early in the morning when we left San Francisco. The morning drive down Rt. 1/PCH is misty and bright, with pampas grass waving travelers along. Pampas grass is sadly invasive, but I still thought the fronds were beautiful when backlit by the morning sun; I was driving, so didn’t get any shots of the grass.

Looking at a map of California shows that PCH hugs the coast, skirting edges of various county, state, and national parks, and going through cities such as Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.

We stopped in Santa Cruz first, taking coffee at Verve Coffee. There was quite a wait, and while waiting, we counted 1, 2, . . . 12 Macbooks/Macbook Airs surrounding us. Mostly students, I think.  (How much money is just sitting here, Chris asked. What if a thief just came in and stole everyone’s laptops in thirty seconds and ran out? The lady waiting in line in front of us chuckled. Good question, Chris.  What if a robber came in?  Lucky for them, we aren’t robbers.  But the number of Apple products meant: Hipster checkpoint!)

Looking at the Pacific Ocean

The great thing about this road trip was that we got to stop whenever we wanted. Every turnout point offered an amazing view of the ocean below. There was even a bridge, the Bixby Bridge, which Chris’ company had worked on. The bridge itself is already an incredible feat of engineering, but when Chris described what his company had to do in order to suspend machinery under an old bridge built in 1932 above a nearly 300 ft drop, I was floored.  Engineering is incredible, folks.

Bixby Bridge

We continued along Rt. 1 with the windows down, happily enjoying the sun, the ocean, and good company.

Cruising past Monterey, we meandered through Carmel-by-the-Sea, and into Big Sur, ending up at Nepenthe for a late lunch.

Let me stop here for a moment.

Big Sur is ridiculous. Fantastic. Gorgeous. There aren’t enough words to describe its beauty. The cliffs, hundreds of feet in the air, overlook the aqua blue Pacific Ocean, which spreads as wide and far as the eyes can see. It feels like the place where giants can come to rest and enjoy a view of the rest of the world. (And people apparently get married in droves in Big Sur.)

Anyway. Nepenthe. Gorgeous views. I would recommend stopping by for the view. And maybe a drink while you view the ocean. There’s a café.  If you go to Nepenthe, you should probably stop by the café.

We headed back to Monterey after that. There would be more to see the next day, but that night, we settled in to a stunning sunset and too much clam chowder samples and delicious seafood.

Sunset in Monterey Sunset in Monterey

Part 2 of our trip will come in the next post.  Look forward to it!

Sunset in Monterey

[Photos in the first half taken with film SLR, Canon AE-1; Photos in the second half, starting with the photo of me looking out at the Pacific Ocean, taken with digital SLR, Canon Rebel T1i.]

12 thoughts on “Road Trip Down the California Coast; Birthday Shenanigans (Pt. I)

    1. Haha! Thanks!! 🙂 My boyfriend is a mechanical/aeronautical engineer who works on building bridges. So whenever we go on road trips, I get the inside scoop on each bridge we pass that his company has worked on. It’s given me the best perspective on design and engineering. It constantly amazes me what can be done with great engineering. (And reinforces my regret at not having gone the engineering route when I was in college.)


  1. What a keeper of a boyfriend! My wife and I will be up your way in March for a holiday so this post comes at a very good time. I hope we’ll have time to visit some of the places you mention though I suspect we’ll be exploring the city most of the time.


    1. Haha, I like him, too. Going to keep him around for a while. 🙂

      Where will you be visiting? I know SF pretty well, so if you need some recommendations, let me know! 😀


      1. It’s a belated birthday present to me from my wife. We have no concrete plans so whatever you can suggest besides the obvious in the city. I;m ot sure if well have our own transportation or not but I would like to see Sausalito, Marin County, any hidden things in the city. Thanks!


      2. Happy birthday! And your wife appears to be a keeper, too. 😀

        Hm… There’s a lot to do (mostly eat) in SF. Depending on what kind of food you like, I generally suggest the Mission (Valencia St. around 16th to 18th streets has good food; you also must stop by Tartine for their morning buns– deeelicious!) and getting coffee at Blue Bottle and browsing Heath Ceramics (18th St. and Alabama). Hayes Valley is also an adorable area to explore for shopping and french macarons (Miette and Chantal Guillon). The ferry building farmer’s market on Saturday mornings is awesome, too. 🙂

        Sausalito is fun, and so is hiking in Marin County. You’ll get an amazing view of SF from the Marin Headlands, and you can head out to the Point Bonita Lighthouse for some pretty epic views of the Pacific and of SF.

        I could probably go on forever, but hopefully this gives you a jumping off point. 🙂


  2. I visited Nepenthe back in 1982 to sip wine on the deck to view my very first west coast sunset. So memorable to this day. Thanks for jogging my memory. Beautiful trip down PCH.


Leave a Reply!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s