Our drive towards the Pacific Coast Highway starts in Oakland and takes us through the seaside towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, and along the swirling mountain roads of Big Sur.
It’s a holiday weekend, so cars fill the road to head south towards California’s central coast or maybe as far as Los Angeles, where the beaches are warmer. We join the slow crawl of vehicles on the highway and drive for about 3hrs to reach Monterey, testing the limited tolerance I have for driving in traffic.
Whatever annoyance was brewing in me on the drive dissipates as soon as we step out of our parked car and onto Cannery Row–a charming street that faces Monterey Bay. Vines of pink bougainvillea creep around doors and spill out of second-floor balconies. Wine bars and restaurants prop their doors open in invitation, and perhaps, to let the cool sea air in.
When we stop for lunch, it’s at Hula Island grill. Large thin palms hang over us on the outdoor patio and provide partial shade from the midday sun. Our table fills up with ice-cold cocktails and plates of delicious Caribbean-inspired food: strips of jerk-seasoned pork with white rice and slices of overripe sweet plantain.
After lunch, we walk along the beach, people-watching and taking photos until it’s time to get back in the car and on the road to our next stop–Big Sur.
We leave blue skies in Monterey, but the blanket of gray that covers Big Sur is gossamer-thin in some parts and beautiful, instead of gloomy. Silver-colored clouds hang low enough for me to think I can touch them. Below the cliffs, the Pacific Ocean is as blue as the sky would have been without fog.
We make careful stops along the coast, park our car in designated safe spaces built near the edges of cliffs, and walk out towards the ocean. A smile plays on my lips when I think about how my dad, who is averse to heights, would react to a photo of me near a cliff’s edge: surprise and then admiration.
An hour later, we turn the car around to drive North towards Carmel-by-the-sea. A town that looks as idyllic as it sounds.
As we amble along its narrow streets, I note details that make this place beautiful to me. The staircase patterned with tiled mosaic, string lights illuminating the patio of a rooftop restaurant, the same rooftop, bordered with flowers overflowing from their planters, and lavender bushes growing wild and purple on the side of the street.
When we leave Carmel, it’s dark, except for the outdoor street lamps casting a pale yellow glow on the sidewalk, bright enough to lead us back to our car.
Good to Know
- The roads that take you through Big Sur are narrow and winding, so make sure you’re confident driving on these types of roads before you set out.
- I recommend planning out your stops in advance. You don’t have to stick to your plan strictly but it’ll help you manage your time; especially if you’re on a day trip like we were.
- Park in the designated parking spots, and try not to stay at each stop for too long as parking spaces are limited, and like you, the cars behind you might also want to stop and enjoy the view
- Cloud cover like this is normal in this part of California, but as we did, you can still enjoy the view without clear skies and sun. So don’t be discouraged if it starts getting gray on your drive.
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All photos shot on iPhone 12Pro
Same Footprints, Different Sands