Helen Truszkowski heads to Big Sur, California, for an all-American road trip in true vintage fashion
Built by prison labour over 20 years, Highway 1 cleaves to the edge of the American continent like no other road you’ve ever driven. The worst landslides in California history a year ago closed several points along this iconic route. Ferocious winter storms dumped more than 60 inches of rain, destroying a huge chunk of the Pacific Coast Highway and creating 15 more acres of coastline. Following $54 million worth of repairs motorists are back in the driving seat.
Dubbed the PCH, this road-trip is at its most captivating between Santa Barbara and Monterey: the stretch of road you witness in car ads and movies, with toe-curling turns and stomach-clenching cliffs that plunge into the frothing ocean below. At neat and tidy San Luis Obispo (incongruously) a graffiti mural dubbed Bubblegum Alley has been recycling used gum since the sixties. Here 15-foot walls are encrusted with multi-hued wads of the stuff.
On past Morro Bay, you wind past acres of soft green farmland studded with cabbages and cows. The cute town of Cambria boasts a cluster of small-town cafes, old-fashioned candy shops and mom-and-pop novelty stores. Home to Moonstone Beach, you can hunt for treasure – amethyst, gypsum, rose quartz and milky moonstone.
Beyond Cambria the landscape is wild and dry, with red-tailed hawks wheeling in the pale blue sky above. At Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery pile upon pile of vast, bizarre battle-scarred elephant seals crowd the shoreline, vying for privacy.
Heading north the jack-knife road skirts the sheer cliffs vibrant with wild sage, lavender and thyme, orange California poppies and plumes of blue lupins. The drive from here to Big Sur is a lot like riding a slow-motion roller-coaster. Sandwiched between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the untamed Pacific Coast you hit white-knuckle, hairpin-bends. Here the scenery doesn’t whizz by in a blur, but instead looms larger and more breathtaking round every bend. Onto Monterey, one time capital of Spanish California, the city itself is cool, calm, understated and justifiably proud of its state-of-the-art Monterey Bay Aquarium.
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