Road Trippin’ Down the PCH

By Greg Lennon

After studying at USC for over a year and a half, I have exhausted almost all of Los Angeles’ tourist attractions.  I’ve hiked the Hollywood Sign, journeyed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and been to Santa Monica Beach countless times.  This spring, after buying a new car, I thought I would take my new ride on an inaugural road trip.  The long weekend at the start of the semester was the perfect time.  So I rounded up a few friends, rolled down the top on my brand new (to me) Ford Mustang, and headed up the Pacific Coast Highway for the weekend.

Photo by Jeremy on Flickr

The Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, is one of California’s most storied routes, offering some of the most beautiful views the state has to offer.  The highway runs along the California coast from its southernmost tip in Orange County, all the way to Mendocino County in Northern California.  Along the way, drivers can stop for gorgeous views of the California coastline, as well as various famed attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, The Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

My friends and I started up the PCH late in the day on a Friday afternoon, so we were able to see the classic Malibu sunset as we sped up the highway.  Stopping in Malibu for dinner, we sampled an apparently world famous pizza parlor, then returned to the highway for what would be a long drive.  A couple hours later we arrived in Santa Barbara to fill up on gas and grab a snack.  Santa Barbara is known for its nightlife in the college town neighborhood of Isla Vista, as well as its storied downtown, where we stopped to rest.  After a quick fill up, we returned to the highway en route to our final destination of Big Sur.  As night fell on the PCH, the road grew extremely foggy, making the turns of the twisting highway that much more perilous.  Around midnight, we arrived at our campsite at Big Sur, directly adjacent to a small river, and surrounded on all sides by redwood forest.

Photo by wstera2 on Flickr

The next morning we stopped by a small breakfast café situated just off the highway, which catered to campers, hikers, drivers, and the like.  From there we set off for Santa Cruz, where we would meet up with another friend from my home town who went to school there.  On the way, we passed through Carmel Valley, which offers a series of vistas overlooking the cliffs north of Big Sur, as well as several scenic hiking trails.  Next we passed through Monterey Bay, which houses an expansive aquarium, and a quaint fisherman’s wharf.  After passing through an hour’s drive of coastal farmland, we arrived in the foggy surf town of Santa Cruz.  After meeting up with my friend at UC Santa Cruz, we took a trip to the town’s local aquarium, ate dinner at a local burger joint, and then returned to his apartment to wait out the stormy weather.  The next morning, after saying our goodbyes, we headed back down the coast, this time greeted by bright sunshine.
We stopped in Monterrey for breakfast at the Fisherman’s Wharf, then hit the road for the long haul.  About an hour south of Big Sur lies a series of coastal plains, called home by a large herd of Elephant Seals.  We stopped there to observe the seals, giving me a chance to sneak around the fences to pet the animals.

After a few more hours on the road, we stopped for dinner in the college town of San Luis Obispo, which houses Cal Poly State School.  After filling up at a small pizza joint, we continued our drive back to Los Angeles, working through the world famous LA traffic.  For anyone with some free time, a car, and a few friends to enjoy it with, the PCH can be the perfect weekend trip. Or, since we are now entering Spring Break, why not enjoy this week with a blissful drive up the coast?

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons

Greg is a sophomore majoring in International Relations, with an emphasis in International Politics in Security Studies. As a member of USC’s NROTC program, he will graduate as an officer in the US Navy, where he will serve for several years. Born and raised in Northern California, Greg enjoys running, hiking, and swimming on the weekends.