Last weekend, Bryce and I embarked upon one quintessential American pastime.
Just kidding. We took a road trip down the California coast, from Northern California (our homeland) to Southern California (where people inexplicably put the word “the” in front of freeway names, as in “Let’s take the 405″). We saw the ocean, the mountains, and farm towns so different from the SF Bay Area that we felt as if we’d accidentally teleported to Kansas.
It was a totally different kind of trip from what we’re used to, for three reasons.
1. You may have noticed that we are seasoned air travelers, and we rarely drive anywhere that’s more than three hours away. A road trip is kind of a different thing for us.
2. We didn’t treat it as a break from our working lives; instead of disconnecting the way we usually would for a getaway, we brought our computers, checked our email obsessively, and did the work we would have done at home. You may think that that’s a total waste of a road trip, but we actually really enjoyed it, and in some ways found ourselves more productive, which isn’t a surprise considering that changing locations or routines can boost productivity. Bryce also wasn’t off the clock during this trip—he had a work meeting right before we left, and worked remotely throughout. He also used his company’s VTO (Volunteer Time Off) program to work on the nonprofit he runs.
3. We didn’t have things planned to a tee—there were no restaurant reservations made, no itineraries mapped out. Bryce did have some scheduled meetings with people, but aside from that we winged everything else.
So here’s the recap of our road trip. Everyone buckle up, this is a doozy of a post.
Day 1 (Thursday)
We stuffed our bags and our food supplies into the tiny trunk of Bryce’s FR-S and headed out Thursday morning. I want to take a moment to just say that even though I prefer flying, it was so awesome to not have to sort all my liquids into a quart-sized bag, and being able to bring food supplies and jugs of water was pretty rad.
We stopped in Monterey for hot coffee and tea, and I didn’t take any photos because I was busy shivering. (I’d dressed for LA weather—shorts and a tee—and Monterey was chilly. The locals, bundled up in their sweatshirts and scarves, stared at me the whole time.)
We continued down Highway 1, which runs right along the Pacific coast so you can get smacked in the face with nature’s beauty the entire way. I did my best to take decent photos on my phone out the car window.
The Pacific Coast Highway has many faces—on gloriously sunny days, it’s a smorgasbord of bright, intense blue. On the day we drove down, it was foggy and overcast, and pretty in a moody kind of way.
Sometime in the afternoon we started getting hungry, so we pulled over in Pismo Beach when we saw a park, and had an impromptu picnic lunch with some of the food we’d brought. The park directly overlooked the beach, and by now it had gotten sunnier, so it was the best place to eat and stretch our legs.
After our picnic (and after some seagulls came to investigate our crumbs) we hit the road again and enjoyed winding through the rocky sunlit mountains.
And after a few hours, we knew we were in Southern California when we started to see a lot of palm trees. We Northern Californians have palm trees in moderation, but I’m pretty sure that at some point some Southern Californian version of Johnny Appleseed just went nuts with the palm tree seeds. They were probably drunk.
It was while driving through Santa Barbara, shaking our heads at SoCal’s penchant for palm trees, that we started to experience traffic. We’re no strangers to bad traffic (Bay Area represent!) but we discovered that Southern California, as with the palm trees, likes to be excessive about everything. The closer we got to LA, the worse the traffic got, and once we got into LA, in the early evening, we made a terrible discovery.
We spent about three hours crawling down the freeway, at night when most reasonable cities don’t have rush hour traffic. It was awful.
By the time we got to the place we’d booked through Airbnb at Manhattan Beach, we were super tired. We made a box of mac-n-cheese for dinner, watched an episode of 30 Rock on an iPad, and went to sleep.
Day 2 (Friday)
The next morning, we hopped in the car and headed to Studio City, where Bryce had a few meetings set up. I brought my laptop to a Peet’s Coffee, sat down with a large tea, and tackled several hours’ worth of design work.
No photos of that, because I didn’t think to take pictures of myself sitting at a computer in a coffee shop. My bad.
Then Bryce dropped me off in West LA, where I met up with one of my best friends (hi, Laura!!) We spent some time at Balconi Coffee Company, where I had the absolute best green tea latte of my life.
After that we went shopping at Westfield Culver City. I succeeded in not impulse-buying anything, go me! Though I did try on a pair of jeans that still haunts my dreams. Sigh.
Then Laura and I went to Ramen Yamadaya because we both had a serious craving for some good Japanese ramen. And this stuff delivered.
This ramen, you guys! Super flavorful broth, super tender pork, chewy noodles—so good! Bryce, hangry and tired from battling LA traffic yet again, met us there while we were halfway through and I ordered him another bowl, which the waiter plopped down in front of him in a matter of minutes. We slurped our noodles and Laura, who was a touring Irish dancer based out of Dublin for a few years, gave Bryce a massive list of things to check out on his upcoming trip to Ireland.
After dinner we said goodbye to Laura, and headed back to our rented place at Manhattan Beach. On the drive there we decided to revise our plans, so we packed up our stuff, found a hotel through the Hotel Tonight app (if you want to sign up, use invite code SSU20 to get $25 in credit) on my phone, and drove down to Anaheim.
Now, even though Airbnb is cool and staying at people’s homes is great, there is nothing quite like a hotel. We pulled up, met with a super-friendly concierge who promptly made us preferred members, and then gave us a room on the preferred member floor. That is how we roll.
That night we enjoyed Laura’s cupcakes with hot tea in our hotel room. Seriously, after a long day there is nothing like hot tea, gourmet cupcakes, and a clean hotel room to make everything right with the world.
Day 3 (Saturday)
We spent Saturday in Disneyland. We were just there in August, but Disneyland goes all-out with the Halloween decorations (and it re-themes some of the rides!) so we had to check it out.
Some highlights of our day at Disneyland: standing in line for a half an hour for Mickey-shaped pumpkin beignets (huzzah for blind consumerism!), experiencing the re-themed Haunted Mansion, riding two intense rides in quick succession (California Screamin’, then the Tower of Terror—we felt a little funny after that one), and eating our way through, literally, half the menu in the Carthay Circle Restaurant lounge.
We like food. I think you may have noticed that by now.
Day 4 (Sunday)
Sunday was our “Bye, SoCal!” day. We checked out of the hotel, then spent the morning driving around aimlessly.
For pretty much no reason, we drove down to Newport Beach, where we decided to frolic on the beach a while. That plan got scuppered when we saw that the beach had a $15 admission fee (?!?!) so we cancelled the frolicking and I just snapped this photo out the window:
Good enough? Good enough.
During our aimless driving we started jonesing for some Mexican food, so when we found our way in downtown Huntington Beach, we wandered around until we found Avila’s El Ranchito.
Hunger + really good Mexican food = best lunch ever.
After gorging ourselves on Mexican food and unlimited chips and salsa, we hopped on the freeway and headed back up north.
This time we took I-5, which does not wind along the coast but just sort of stabs up the middle of California, and is much less picturesque. This was the most interesting view on the drive:
The most harrowing (for me) part of the trip came when Bryce pulled over and gave me the wheel. Bryce’s car is a stick-shift, and even though I can drive stick, I’d never commanded a sports car at sixth gear, hurtling up California at 80 MPH before.
Luckily I did just fine.
After a very long and admittedly boring drive, we found ourselves back in Northern California (where there was no late-night rush-hour traffic, thank you very much!).
We stopped in Gilroy for dinner at In-N-Out, because it’s just not a California road trip without the best burger in the world.
After dinner, we got back on the freeway, returned to the Bay Area, and dropped dead from exhaustion.