Today, we’ll be driving south on the famous California State Route 1!
Early wake-up call at the motel
We’re awake at 6am on Friday, May 10, 2019. The time difference has nothing to do with it; our bodies are used to the Pacific time zone. On the other hand, our room-mate is taking a shower, and the soundproofing of the walls doesn’t seem to be the order of the day in this hotel. Then again, that’s part of the charm of these roadside motels. You can hear the cars going by and the planes flying overhead.
Use the Wi-Fi early in the morning
By the way, waking up early allows me to use the Wi-Fi to finish and publish the previous day’s article on my personal blog. The connection is much more stable and the speed faster at this time of day. Yes, everyone’s still asleep!
As I open the curtains, I notice that it has rained heavily overnight. Jason is soaked. Today, as we drive along the California State Route 1, we plan to stop at various viewpoints to take a few shots. After a little over 200 kilometers by car, we should arrive in Cambria, where a new motel room will be waiting for us.
A motel breakfast
But before we leave, I’m going to pick up breakfast at the motel reception desk. As is often the case in this type of establishment, a few pastries are laid out on a small table along with a kettle, a teapot, a coffee pot, a jug of milk and another of orange juice. I serve us a coffee (for me), two glasses of orange juice and take away two blueberry muffins, two chocolate ones, made by the motel owner as well as a croissant (not “home made”). I don’t think we’ll be skipping a meal today.
Back on the California State Route 1!
We’re back in our Mitsubishi, washed by the night’s rain and ready to clock up some new miles at the start of the day. As we turn onto North Fremont Street, it starts raining again.
Just ten minutes later, the downpour has stopped and we’re parked in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a chic, leafy little town with some beautiful oceanfront spots, which we decide to visit. The homes here seem to be inspired by European architecture, with stonework on the windowsills and fireplaces. We like to imagine buying a house here for our old age…
Beach and seashells
We walk along Ocean Avenue to the beach, where we take off our shoes to enjoy the moment and the fine sand beneath our feet. The sun’s rays start to appear and the clouds gradually dissipate. We observe some residents walking their dogs on the beach. They look free, fit and happy. They’re photogenic, and I take the opportunity to snap a few shots in this special early-morning atmosphere. The light is sublime and the moment precious.
Meanwhile, back in France…
We collect a few shells from the beach, which we’ll take back to the Old Continent for our daughters. In the sand, we have fun writing their names on the beach (our daughters, not the shells). It seems a good time to make a WhatsApp call to our children, or rather their grandparents, who will act as intermediaries. We show them the beach and the morning sun as the sun is waning on their side of the Atlantic. After a few minutes on the phone and lots of photos, we leave the beach with some great new memories and get back in our car to head for Point Lobos.
Point Lobos, along the Pacific Coast Highway
About ten minutes later, we entered Point Lobos State Reserve after paying the $10 entrance fee. I’d read some very good reviews of the place. And that didn’t stop Sarah and I from falling in love with the place. By now, we know that Point Lobos Nature Reserve is a haven for local flora and fauna. It is home to up to 300 plants and 250 animal species. It is reported that in December, whales can be seen swimming southwards, while from March to May, they are seen heading in the opposite direction.
The history of Point Lobos
On site, and thanks to the leaflet issued by the agent at the entrance, we also learn that there was once a whaling station and granite quarry here, as well as a coal mine logistics platform. At one point, it was also decided to build a town in place of Point Lobos. Luckily, the land was bought by an owner who saw something special in Point Lobos. He decided to preserve the authenticity and wild character of the land.
It was finally in 1933 that the area was taken over by the State of California. The objective remained unchanged: to preserve Point Lobos. Roads through the reserve are kept to a strict minimum, and we’ll see for ourselves that the most beautiful areas can only be seen on foot.
Our visit to Point Lobos
We park the car in a dedicated parking lot. There are several trails to choose from, the first of which is the Sea Lion Point Trail, followed by the San Hill Trail and then the South Shore Trail. Photographers have deployed their equipment to immortalize the seagulls and other birds. Sea lions stroll below, and when the path leads us to a cove where a few crabs are watching us, we enjoy the unique moment.
We make our way to the Bird Island Trail before turning back to the parking lot. We then take a new path that winds north. This is the Cypress Grove Trail. If the previous trails gave us the chance to see animals, this one allows us to discover the local flora. Once again, the scenery is breathtaking.
Breathtaking views on the California State Route 1
After a few hours here, it’s time to head south again. It’s already 1:15pm. The scenery along Pacific Coast Highway is so beautiful that we make several stops to make the most of the moment and immortalize it with beautiful photos. We stop at the Big Creek Bridge, Hurricane Point View and many others.
You shall not pass!
While we’re trying to get a shot worthy of the name, we walk up a small, winding and very narrow path. I photograph the panoramic view, then we take another route back to the car waiting for us at the side of the road. Here, we see a “no trespassing, private property” sign. We hadn’t seen it before, and yet I’m usually very careful not to set foot on private property.
Watch out for the police!
A sheriff is there, his car parked near our Mitsubishi. Sarah and I look at each other, curious and a little worried. He doesn’t say anything to us… We finally understand that he’s helping someone who seems to have a problem with his pick-up.
On Sarah’s advice, we head for Pfeiffer Beach, a fee-paying beach ($10) in a remote area. At first, I’m skeptical. However, once there, I find a place of great beauty. You can dip your feet in the ocean – it’s cold! We spend a good moment here, watching the waves and listening to the sound of the birds. And then we set off an hour later, still heading south on the California State Route 1.
Ragged Point, my little corner of paradise!
After a few more stops, I’m determined to get back to a special place I discovered by chance during my 2014 trip. It’s Ragged Point, a place very dear to me and where I had a great time watching a sunset with the whales in 2014. Once there, we regretted for a moment not having rented a hotel room here.
Today, as we admire the horizon, it’s the dolphins that come to greet us. In a small garden behind the viewpoint, I explain to Sarah that I had seen a rabbit there. As luck would have it, another rabbit is showing its nose today! Unless it’s the same one, but I doubt it. Incredible! The magic happens and I rediscover the sensations I experienced five years earlier, in the same spot. It’s simply astonishing, and reinforces my attraction to this unique place.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Rookery
As the sun begins to set, we make another stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Rookery. It’s a great place to admire the school of elephant seals lying on top of each other below. The moment is breathtaking and, once again today, the light is just right. The perfect opportunity to take another series of shots.
A little information on elephant seals
A brochure tells us a little more about these elephant seals, and in particular about what can be seen at different times of the year. For example, between the end of March and the beginning of May, the youngest elephant seals, after a long winter at sea, and the mothers returning from their short migration after giving birth, arrive on the beach for a month-long moult. They restrict blood flow in the cold ocean, to protect themselves from major energy losses. This prevents the birth of new skin cells when they’re at sea – something we humans do all year round.
Instead, elephant seals come ashore at this time of year for a good month to grow new skin and hair. For this reason, it’s one of the quietest periods on the beach. This is especially true when compared to calving and breeding periods. However, the young males do spend time fighting with each other, often in the water.
Limited time on site
We take our time to soak up the atmosphere, but keep an eye on the clock: golden hour is coming up and I’d like to be in San Simeon, where our motel awaits, to take some photos on the beach. Luckily, we’re only ten minutes from the pier.
We arrive just in time to park the car before Golden Hour. I take a few photos on the beach. Then I join Sarah, who has already rushed to the pier to watch the magnificent sunset. I capture the last moments of natural light before getting back in the car and heading for Motel 6.
We pick up the key – or rather our card – to our room. It’s time to look for a good place to eat our only real meal of the day. In the end, it’s the nearby Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill.
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill
When we arrived, the room was full. A waitress greets us and makes us wait a few minutes at the entrance. We finally choose a table on the terrace, unaware that temperatures are about to plummet.
Sarah orders a glass of Chardonnay. She accompanies it with Shrimp Pasta (shrimp pasta with onions, capers and mushrooms). As for me, I opt for a Strip Loin Steak (16-ounce Angus steak, Cabernet demi-glace sauce served with mashed potatoes).
Another fine day on the California State Route 1
The evening ends quietly, but not without a few chills from the drop in temperature. After paying, we head back to the motel, exhausted from this superb Californian day.
I can hardly keep my eyes open to write about our experience today on my blog. As for Sarah, she validates tomorrow’s program. In the end, we walked 10 miles (15.6 km) and drove 93 miles (150 km).