Contrary to our Midwestern assumptions, it turns out there are cold, rainy days in California. And they can come in relentless succession. When we left our Airbnb in New Mexico for two weeks of reservation-free wandering up California’s famous Highway 1, the coastal camping trip we envisioned was warm and carefree. Just a few days into our trip, we were knee-deep in the consequences of our own spontaneity: the rainfly on our old tent had a gaping hole, Odin’s doggie bed was a moisture magnet, evening temperatures routinely dipped below 40, and mudslides, as it so happened, are a legitimate concern in this part of the country.
Ironically, we captured none of that. Scores of photos, and yet apparently we were only inspired to take out our phones in those rare moments when the sun deigned to grace us with his presence. Not a single day passed without a downpour, and yet this post will visually perpetuate the very stereotype that led us to sidestep research and bolt straight for the coast.
Not a single day passed without a downpour, and yet this post will visually perpetuate the very stereotype that led us to sidestep research and bolt straight for the coast.
And still, despite our clumsy iteration, we’d recommend this coastal drive to anyone. Perhaps with a bit of weather research first and a more appropriate set of clothes than we packed, but this trip is well worth any upfront effort, or in our case, course correction along the way. Bookended with two metropolitan meccas, California Highway 1 hugs the coastline with stunning ocean views out one window and rolling meadows out the other. Here are our most memorable stops on our climb from Los Angeles to San Francisco on California Highway 1.
California State Parks
Despite California’s immense population, development along Highway 1 is wonderfully sparse. The land seems to have been divvied up between the cows and the California State Park System, which owns more than 340 miles of the state’s coastline. The parks range from small spots for daytime beach access to expansive networks of campsites and trials. Here were our two favorite stops.
Leo Carrillo State Park
The one catch with Leo Carrillo State Park is the price tag. While we were tickled to overhear retired Days of Our Lives stars at the local Starbucks debating which multi-million dollar house to buy next, Malibu’s average income means astronomical prices for everything else: four dollar toiletries suddenly cost ten bucks, the camping permits rivaled our average Airbnb nightly rate, and one of the grocery stores had only valet parking. After a few days enjoying this park between rainstorms, our budget was ready for us to keep moving north.
Hearst San Simeon State Park
Located just five miles south of Hearst Castle, Hearst San Simeon State Park extends from the beach back up into the surrounding foothills. In addition to its extensive hiking trails and elephant seal viewing areas, the park also has two separate campground loops. While the first one is ideal for RV camping, the second is more primitive and tucked back in the foothills. For us, this was the ideal campsite: serene views and few people.
Believe it or not, these photos were taken after waiting out an hour long deluge of rain in the car. Then the skies cleared up, and we enjoyed a long hike and s’mores by the campfire before crawling into the tent wearing every layer we’d packed. Odin, who never gets to sleep in our bed, seemed to be the only one celebrating the cold. Snuggled in between us and buried with blankets for warmth, he couldn’t stop wagging about the family slumber party.
Solvang: The Danish Capital Of America
Sevtap Tasting Room
Neither of us had ever done a wine tasting before, but aside from eating, that seemed like the thing to do in Solvang. We wandered into one of the town’s four windmills, decked out in our hiking boots and rain gear no less, and quietly sat down at the corner of the bar. Our nerves immediately vanished when we met Chelsea.
Upbeat, laid back, she was the ideal guide for wine newbies like us. Chelsea’s explanations made each wine feel distinct, and yet approachable: you could kick back with this and a bag of salt and vinegar chips, this would rock with risotto. She had such a plethora of pairing ideas that one of the other customers challenged her to come up with the ideal Girl Scout cookie and wine combo. Her eyes lit up with the challenge.
The wine itself is the creation of Art Sevtap. This one-man winery boasts delectable creations. As a data analyst, I was delighted to find that all of his blends have exact percentages on the label. When we asked Chelsea why he did that, she laughed. He told me it’s so he doesn’t forget! Of the six red wines we tried, our favorites were the bubbly Mediterranean Nights and the easy-going Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend Yes Dear. If we had a physical home, we’d probably have left this place the newest members of their wine club.
Santé Wine Bar
As we finished up at Sevtap, we asked Chelsea where we should go next. Following her recommendation (and the raves on Google), we walked into Santé Wine Bar later that evening to find her enjoying her own glass of wine with other locals. Her recommendation exceeded every expectation we could have had.
There is a reason all of the online reviews pivot on the French owner and wine-maker, Eric Chamerat. Never before have we been so excited about how wine is made, the difference between the grapes, the history of different varieties. Eric’s enthusiasm for wine is downright contagious, and his wry humor makes it all the more accessible. His personalized tasting provided a window into how each wine was created, and his genuine love for his work triggered admiration not just for his wine, but for his entrepreneurial spirit. When we told him that we had recently started our own business, his face broke into a huge grin. Congratulations! You shall never sleep through the entire night again! He laughed. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it.
All of SWB’s wine is created in tiny batches, which means Eric is constantly experimenting. Frankly, we would have happily sat down with a bottle of any of the wines we tried, but if forced to pick, here were our two favorites. First, there was the 2015 Petite Sirah which was so big and bold we picked up a bottle for dear friends in St. Louis. And then, there was the 2014 Greanche. Never before have we tried a light red wine that had so much flavor. A bottle of this is currently on the road with us, patiently waiting for the next celebration, whenever it decides to come along.
Highway 1 cuts straight through San Francisco, and while the drive triggered a few What’s Up Doc flashbacks (if you haven’t seen this movie, do it!), the majority of our attention was dedicated to avoiding a wreck while driving a stick-shift through the city’s iconic rollercoaster streets. The final stretch of our Highway 1 journey was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, which after a seemingly endless stream of rainstorms and cold nights felt like crossing a well-earned finish line.
Just as we went out of our way in London to see the historical sights of Shakespeare for me, we sought out the tech giants for Jay while we were in the bay area. On our self-guided tour of Silicon Valley, we found the famous Google bikes employees use to get around campus and the Android sculpture park. Yes, these are statues dedicated to operating system versions, and yes, Jay loved it. We finished with a drive around Apple’s campus on One Infinite Loop. An infinite loop, Jay explained, is a programming error. And while he still thinks it’s hilarious that the company was able to choose this name for the road encircling its campus, I’m still trying to understand why a massively influential tech giant would want all their mail addressed to a common rookie programming mistake.
Muir Woods National Monument
Last but not least, we visited Muir Woods National Monument just across the Golden Gate bridge. Here we hiked beneath the coastal redwoods and their mind-boggling height. When we stepped into the forest, we felt like we’d shrunk. Quiet, majestic, with a ground full of clovers, this was another incredible national monument we’re grateful to have visited during our travels.
Back to Airbnbs
By the time we were this far north, cold evenings and incessant rain drove us out of our tent and back into the arms of a local Airbnb. After our tour of Highway 1 from LA to San Francisco, we settled just north for a week in a little town called Novato. Thrilled to have found a reasonably priced Airbnb in the area, we quickly booked it for five nights only to discover when we unlocked the door that we had just set a new record for the smallest Airbnb we’ve lived in. Join us next week for that featured stay!