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Sunday, December 23, 2012

California Coast Road Trip - November 2012 - Big Sur, San Luis Obispo and South to San Diego

Here's the last installment of the posts from our late November 2012 California Coast road trip. 

It was a pretty nice evening in Monterey on Tuesday, but when we got up on Wednesday morning it looked a lot different. A storm had moved in over night, and this was the view from our hotel room on Wednesday morning. A few minutes after I shot this all of the color went out of the sky and everything went gray and rainy.

We were not going to let a little, well okay, a lot of rain and wind keep us from finally getting to drive down the Big Sur coast. I've lived in California my entire life, and I've only been along this stretch of highway once, when I was 16 and riding in the back of a big motorhome, not paying any attention to the scenery. Heather and I have tried to do this drive three times in the past, and each time something has come up when we got to Carmel, and we put it off.

It's about 90 miles from Carmel to San Simeon, along a stretch of CA-1 that is considered to be one of the most beautiful coastal roads in America - through an area known simply as Big Sur. The road is only one lane each direction, with steep drops to the rocks and surf below. Some of the bridges date back to the early 1930's. The best views are had driving north to south, and that also is good during a storm since the falling rock and debris generally hits the northbound lane first. CalTrans did have a bunch of road-scraper trucks out, and they did have some things to scrape up in places.

The wind was fairly strong, blowing the water sideways across the roadway much of the time, so we didn't get all that many pictures. We didn't have a hotel room booked in advance for Wednesday night, so we were under no pressure to get anywhere specific. We could just drive until we felt like calling it a day, and if the road got closed, we would figure something out. Our tentative plan was to get to Morro Bay, and in the end we wound up going all the way to San Luis Obispo, just under 140 miles for the day.

The Bixby Creek Bridge on CA-1 is said to be one of the most photographed features on the West Coast. It's 714 feet long, and was built in 1932 of steel-reinforced concrete.

There are several vista points along the road, and we pulled into each one of them. We could tell that the views from each were pretty spectacular. Sometimes we could see them, sometimes not so much. Keeping raindrops off the front of the lens in the heavy wind was a challenge.

If you look really close you can actually see the headlights of a southbound car in the center of this next shot.

The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse was not open for tours on the day we went by, but we did stop to get a look at it from a distance. Opened in 1875, it was originally 100 feet tall. At the end of 1948 an earthquake caused enough damage that the top 30 feet had to be removed.

Continuing our journey south, we found the Elephant Seals at Hearst San Simeon State Park. Even though it was raining we had to get out and watch them for a while.

We stopped to check out the old village of San Simeon - it didn't take very long. The yellow paint of the old school house stood out nicely against the fog.

We stopped for lunch in the little town of Cayucos, and found a place that makes really good browned butter cookies.

One of our original ideas had been to spend Wednesday night in Morro Bay. It was very quiet in town, and once you've seen the rock there isn't much else to do. We decided to keep going to San Luis Obispo for the night. 

The picture I took of the rock from inside Morro Bay looked even more bland and boring than this one, which I got with a long lens from north of town. At least this shot has some action in the form of rough surf.

On Thursday morning we walked around downtown San Luis Obispo for a bit, and checked out the Mission and the little creek that runs through the middle of town. The Mission was built in 1772.

We continued heading south, and made a brief stop in Pismo Beach to check out the Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo State Beach. Heather and I first stumbled into this place by accident during our January 2002 coastal road trip. There were actually a lot more butterflies that year, but even in this relatively light year it's still impressive. The grove is primarily eucalyptus trees, with a few cypress mixed in. On Thursday the butterflies were favoring the cypress.

I wonder how long it took them to count all those Monarch butterflies.

South of Pismo Beach US 101 turns inland for a while, getting back to the coast at Gaviota. We stopped to check out part of the old coast road, the no-longer-used bridge at Arroyo Hondo, built in 1918.

The old bridge runs right between the Amtrak bridge and the current coast highway.

Even though we had planned to stay out until Saturday afternoon, at this point we decided that it wasn't going to stop raining anytime soon, and that we would just drive back to San Diego on Thursday. It was early enough that we figured Los Angeles traffic would not be too bad (relatively speaking anyway), and we could stop for an early dinner south of L.A. to let the Orange County traffic calm down.

We wound our way through Los Angeles, and made one last stop for dinner at The Fish Company restaurant in Los Alamitos. The seared ahi tuna with roasted asparagus was pretty good.

As usual, we had a great time on our road trip. This one lasted 7 days, covered about 1,300 miles, and took us from San Diego to as far north as Point Reyes and back. We drove the Santa Fe instead of the Xterra, so we stuck to pavement, but we really did see a lot, met some nice people along the way, and had some great meals.

You can scroll down through the blog for the rest of the posts from the trip, including one devoted specifically to pictures of the Chancellor Hotel duck taken at various spots on the drive south. Because it has taken a while to get all of these road trip blog posts up, you'll come across a few tigers and other zoo animals, and even a trip to the desert mixed in between the posts.

Click here to see more images from the Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and road south to San Diego, from our November 2012 California Coast Road Trip.

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About Me

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San Diego, California, United States
About me . . . When I'm not working I like to be out exploring and photographing. I do this blog just for fun, and to be able to share these images with friends. I hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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All of the content and images on this site (c) Frank B. Baiamonte. If you would like to use any of these images please contact me via email at to discuss terms of usage. Note that images from the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are not available for commercial usage. You can also see more on my Instagram page @frankbaiamonte.

Header image: Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Cibola, Arizona. End image: Downtown San Diego, California skyline from Coronado Island. Profile picture: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, by Heather Baiamonte.