A two and a half hour ride west from the desert brought us to the California coastal city of Marina del Rey. We explored the marina area walking along the waterfront parks, beach and piers. The weather was cool and overcast, but nothing could dampen our spirits because we had a great visit with relatives that we had not seen in several years.
Heading north, we took a slow coastal drive to enjoy the beach vibe. We passed Santa Monica, Malibu and even glimpsed graduation at UC Pepperdine on our ride. We stopped in Santa Barbara to walk on the pier and meander through the downtown. Our next stop was a little further north and a tiny bit inland, Solvang. This is a charming Danish village. All the buildings are in a Scandinavian style and the shops, museums and restaurants offer authentic Danish items. We sampled Aebleskiver (Danish pancake balls), covered in raspberry sauce and powdered sugar and a delicious almond filled pastry ring, the original Danish! There are plenty of other activities besides eating, including an Ostrich farm where you can feed the birds just outside the downtown area.
As we headed back to the coast, we passed through San Luis Obispo and noticed several peaks that looked volcanic. A quick Google search revealed that in fact, there are nine such mountains between SLO and Morro Bay and they are referred to as the Nine Sisters.
The town of Morro Bay has two very distinct landmarks. There are three smoke stacks from a now shuttered natural gas plant and a vey large dome-shaped rock. The stacks will be removed by 2030, the rock will remain. The Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo named Morro Bay’s landmark “El Morro” (Spanish for crown-shaped hill) in 1542. Morro Rock is a long-extinct volcano. Today the rock is a bird sanctuary and home to the protected Peregrine Falcons which nest there. We listened to live music and seals compete with each other as we ate delicious seafood. After, we walked around the cute shops.
Over the next several miles there were more charming towns and beaches including Cayucos, Harmony and Cambria.
Cows and sheep began dotting the landscape and we noticed many ranches on the mountainside of the highway. We turned at the San Simeon exit to tour the Hearst Castle. Now part of the California State Park system, this magnificent home has an incredible story. The main house was constructed over 30 years and has more than 130 rooms,
Shortly after San Simeon is a small beach and vista point that is home to Elephant Seals. These giant seals fill the beach to mate, calf and relax depending on the time of year. We were amazed at how many were hanging out, and learning to swim.
As the Pacific shoreline changed to a more rocky and rough edge, the mountains also changed. The San Lucia Range looks more carved. The highway climbed and serpentined offering tight turns and sweeping views. We stopped at many pullovers to take in the views. It felt like we were driving through a painting. Ragged Point, Gorda, Big Sur and Carmel by the Sea all offer great views and possible whale sitings (we didn’t see any). The highway levels out at Monterrey where we left the PCH to head into town, and enjoy the view from the bay.
The drive north on the PCH was memorable. It will not be the last time we take this ride.