Santa Cruz to Carmel (45 miles)
The drive along California’s coast from Santa Cruz to Carmel-by-the-Sea is about an hour. Stay at La Playa Carmel, a beautiful hotel whose elevated terrace overlooks its sumptuous gardens, pool and giant chess board.
Daisies, fuchsia, nasturtiums, geraniums, Mexican salvia and many more flowers fill La Playa’s gardens.
Bike around Carmel’s peaceful streets, filled with charming houses with distinctive architecture in a variety of styles and gorgeous gardens. Click here for the story behind Carmel’s fairytale cottages, like those in the two photos, below. Such an interesting story!
Click here to read the interesting history of Carmel Mission (below).
Finished the day with a delicious dinner at fun and pretty Grasing’s
Returned to our cheerful, big room with a fireplace at La Playa.
Carmel to Montecito (245 miles)
The drive along the Pacific Ocean from Carmel to Montecito is five hours along Highway 1. Such a DRAMATIC and BEAUTIFUL coast!
You will drive over the much-photographed Bixby Bridge near Big Sur.
Montecito is a beautiful and rich town with big and diverse houses. Oprah has a house here; in fact, she is the largest land owner in the area. Montecito is the next town south of Santa Barbara, which is pretty but not particularly interesting.
Checked into the San Ysidro Ranch, which was stupidly expensive (cheapest room=$700=ours; no meals included; while pretty, our room was half the size of our $440 room in Carmel) but gorgeous gardens, including an extensive kitchen garden, and nice staff. Jack and Jackie honeymoon-ed at San Ysidro Ranch.
We lay by the pool alone here for three flawless hours…ahhh!
Drive into nearby Santa Barbara, visited its historic Mission, drive down State Street (its main street), and have a little cocktail at the Four Seasons Biltmore.
Montecito to La Jolla (210 miles)
The drive from Montecito to La Jolla is approx. 4 hours down Highway 1. The water is a blue/green and doted with surfers and some paddle boarders…SO California!
The water and beach are beautiful until you get to Malibu…famous Malibu, where the beach-side houses completely block the water views. Seriously claustrophobic. Let’s hope the rich and famous flock to Malibu because there is an enclave of fab houses somewhere there, though they were not evident to us. Plus,we encountered no traffic on our entire drive from Seattle through California…until we got to Malibu. From then on, the roads were more congested.
We stopped by Crystal Cove along the way. Ever heard of it? Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, CC is a step back in time…to the time of luau parties with CEO’s mixing with beach bums and artists beginning in the 1920’s.
Think sunset cocktails in the 46 quirky cottages pieced together in the 1920’s out of salvaged materials…
…in 2001 when the California State Parks department evicted the residents, a proposal for a beach resort met with protests, at which point the parks department restored the cottages to their kitschy 1930’s and 40’s glory, and open 13 of them for overnight stays. Now referred to as the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District you can rent a beach cottage and pretend you are back in its luau party days (click here). Don’t you think this would be fun!?!
On the drive into La Jolla, you will see a reconstructed Middle Eastern desert village (low, one-story huts) up from the beach on the Pacific. It was built for training purposes by one a number of big military bases in and around San Diego, which is 14 miles from La Jolla. We drove through one of these bases (hundreds of acres, on the outskirts of SD) on either side of Highway 1.
We stayed at La Valencia in La Jolla, a peach-colored stucco grand dame. Built in the 1920’s, it hugs a hill in front of the park on the beach. Palm trees, Bougainvillea, flowering hedges, & pots of roses dot the grounds. Lovely, retro-glam pool!
La Jolla is easy to see on foot and nice enough, although its abundance of tacky, tourist-town art galleries detract. Drive to the Hotel del Coronado (where “Some Like it Hot” was filmed) for lunch. The architecture is exaggerated and wonderful, and its location is very pretty but it is too big (600 + rooms). There are lines for the ladies’ room! However, we had a very nice lunch there, looking at the white sand, sparkling blue water, palm trees and people walking by.
San Diego is 15 miles from Mexico and the second largest city in CA.
- The trip from Seattle, WA to La Jolla, CA is 2,165 miles, traveling on Highways 101 and 1. We did the entire trip without interstates, except for a short part where we had no alternative. Most of this drive is on two lanes and uncrowded = a pleasure and probably did not add much to the travel time.
- The people on the West Coast were way nicer and more laid back than those on the East Coast–consistently.
- Surfers are everywhere along California’s coast…true to stereotype!
- Washington, Oregon and northern California (north of San Francisco) have small populations.
- The green of the NW coast is in stark contrast to the brown of the SW coast.
- I can see why the NWesterners are “crunchy.” The natural landscape is so exaggeratedly beautiful (redwoods, mountains, beaches) that their focus is outdoors.
- The most beautiful, polished art we saw on our entire trip was in Western Art & Architecture magazine in our room at Tu Tu T’un Lodge in Oregon. Well-executed “cowboy art” of landscapes and men on horseback and animals. Beautiful, sophisticated horses made of polished redwoods, river rocks and stones, lots of glass.
- For most of our drive north of Malibu, the drivers were much more considerate than those on the East Coast.
- In southern CA, we saw many fields of workers picking crops by hand—back-breaking!
- We encountered little evidence of the history of the West Coast, except for the pretty Spanish missions (churches attached to monasteries) and not many of those.
2 thoughts on “Seattle to San Diego Road Trip (part 4/4): California”
Enjoyed many of these places over the years. Great post, Mimi.
Thanks, Jane! Such a beautiful coastline…and each state is so different from the other.