How Not to Road Trip California: Part Two

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series How Not to Road Trip California
  • How Not to Road Trip California: Part Two

Exhausted from spending so many hours in the car the day before, we slept heavily, and the 7am alarm we had planned was a distant memory. We eventually woke up at about 9am, and packed our things in a hurry before heading into town to grab a quick breakfast before we hit the road again. We had considered skipping breakfast for the sake of getting going sooner, and it was a good thing we decided against this plan of action — little did we know that this would be an even longer day than the last.

What’s more, the food was delicious; we ate hot cross buns and freshly squeezed orange juice from Della Fattoria and we took it to eat on a small hill with views of Petaluma and the surrounding countryside, a breakfast which I won’t forget. We were late starting our drive, but it was entirely worth it.

The route we had sketched out was five hundred miles, a journey which would take us over nine hours, plus the time that we would spend at each stop. However, the breakfast and fresh start to the day had clouded our judgement, and we were wearing rose-coloured glasses. Rather than thinking about making fewer stops, or booking a hotel so that we could spread it across two days, we set off as planned.

Our first stop was Santa Cruz, where we took the time to explore the boardwalk and enjoy a few of the attractions on the beach. We were also finally able to try elephant ears, an American fair food which I will definitely be trying to recreate myself in the future — butter, cinnamon, and a whole lot of sugar, what more could you want? The weather was wonderful and the city was even better, and before we knew it we’d spent an hour longer than we had designated and we were even further behind schedule. Our next stop was Monterey, where we ate lunch on the pier, treating ourselves to some of the freshest fish I’ve ever eaten. Again, however, we were enjoying ourselves so much that it took a lot longer than we had planned, and it was gone 2pm when we started on for our next stop — still 340 miles from Los Angeles, and the next stop was the best one.

We had finally made it to Big Sur, the highlight of the California coastline and the whole reason that we were driving rather than hopping on a plane. Big Sur is a phenomenal stretch of cliffs overlooking sea, with views that are unlike any other and numerous vista points along the way with hikes and photograph opportunities, and we had planned to stop at as many as we could. For the first few points we did indeed stop at every one, filling our cameras with exquisite pictures, before we checked the time and realised that it was gone 4pm and we were still six hours away from LA. It was at this point that we realised our plans were impossible to execute — we had wanted to stop at San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, but this would mean staying along Route 101, the much longer and slower road. We decided that we had to be realistic, and head straight from Big Sur to Montebello, where our friend lived, which would take us back onto the I5 and, we thought, get us there quicker and easier.

We were wrong.

We had driven so far along Route 101 that we weren’t able to turn inland for a long time, and by the time we’d reached the point to turn onto the highway, we realised that we were on a road that was taking us a longer way to our destination — Montebello is by the coast, and we were now on a road which was essentially bypassing where we needed to be, and instead taking us through the heaving city traffic.

Cut forward a few hours: it’s almost midnight, we’ve been in the car for about thirteen hours with only a few breaks, and Amy is so exhausted from driving that she can barely see. Our ‘Cali Road Trip’ playlist seems to be mocking us now, as too-happy voices sing about the California sun while we drive — feeling pretty miserable — through the dark, desperately willing the Los Angeles mile counter to get smaller.

Then, finally, we made it to Montebello. We dropped the car off at the airport, our friend picked us up, and suddenly everything changed. We were driving through LA: the endless lines of cars all but attacking each other on the roads suddenly became exciting, the late hour meant that the city lights were blinding, and we pulled up to her house where we were greeted by some authentic Mexican food that her mum had prepared for us, warm air despite the late hour and, best of all, a glorious swimming pool that we couldn’t wait to dive into.

In so many ways, the drive was awful. We’d had setbacks, we hadn’t planned properly and we’d grossly underestimated everything. And yet, looking back, the things I remember from the trip are the views, the food we ate, and our excitement when we finally made it to Los Angeles. If we hadn’t had so many disasters, we wouldn’t have found the delicious restaurants we ate at, we wouldn’t have driven past a field of zebras (yes, zebras), and we wouldn’t have memories that we can look back at and laugh about.

So, all in all, here’s what I learnt from our disastrous California road trip:

  1. Pay the extra money if it will make a big difference. Yes, it hurts to pay an extra hundred dollars when you know you don’t need to, but down the road you might be grateful that you have a few extra hours to spend playing arcade games at Monterey pier.
  2. Be realistic. Work out how much time it’s going to take, then add on a few hours. We knew that the drive from Petaluma to Monterey was six hours long, but we didn’t account for the little things we would find along the way which we would want to be able to enjoy without constantly checking our watches
  3. And, finally: let the mistakes happen. If something goes wrong, roll with it. Just know that it’ll be worth it when you get there, and you’ll make some unforgettable memories along the way.