Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California

Driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Big Sur

On the road…

You know how every time I take a vacation, my body thinks, “Oh, great, Amber’s giving me some time off: I think I’ll fit in a quick illness?” and I spend the first few days of my trip coughing and wheezing and generally feeling like death warmed up?

That kicked in on our last day in San Francisco, during which I also got me a migraine. So I was REALLY happy to be getting up at the butt crack o’dawn in order to go and pick up our rental car and then drive down to L.A. That’s why I’m wearing jeans and a hoodie in all of these photos. I’m just going to get that out of the way upfront, so you can all start laughing at me. I WAS COMFORTABLE, OK? And ill. And, you know, keepin’ it real. Ahem.  Luckily, though, I didn’t have long to wait for our first stop, which was just outside the city:

Visiting Googleplex in Mountain View, CaliforniaThe Googleplex. Yes, we did that. We went to an office complex and we posed outside it with our cameras while wearing tourist sweaters. (Well, one of us, anyway.) And at this point I’d just like to say a quick thank you to all of the Google employees who laughed, but did not jeer at us, as they walked by.

Now, my pet hate right now (and for quite a few months, actually) is when people declare themselves to be “geeks” just because they use Facebook, or like very mainstream movies or TV shows. (“I can’t wait for Eastenders tonight. I’m such a geek, lol!”) But I must confess, Terry and I did feel just a tad geeky* to be visiting the Googleplex, which is probably a little bit bigger than my hometown.

Google Street sign in Mountain View, CaliforniaThe thing is, though, Google basically OWNS me. They’ve been more or less paying my salary for the past few years. (Yes, Google, YOU paid for all those shoes!) So it seemed wrong to just drive by and not, you know, stop to say hello.

“They’re going to HATE it when they find out we were here,” I told Terry. “They will probably ban me from the internet or something. Especially after I steal that bike over there.”

Google bicycles at Google HQGoogle provides these little bikes outside its buildings, which staff can borrow to get around the complex. I was slightly worried that I would, indeed, be banned from the internet or something when they found out about the two seconds I spent sitting on this one, but then I realised that THEY ALREADY KNOW. Because Google knows everything.

Anyway, having spent just a few minutes looking at the headquarters, we jumped back in the car and hit the road: specifically, the Pacific Coast Highway, or Big Sur.

Our original intention had been to take Highway 1 all the way to L.A. but in the same way that my decision to take a plane trip has the ability to make volcanoes erupt, my decision to take a road trip caused a section of the highway to become impassable due to a landslide. I should really just stay at home, huh?

We still managed to drive all but around 60 miles of Big Sur, however, and wow, is it beautiful. It’s also a really, really slow road to drive on, because every mile or so you have to pull over to look at the view:

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, CaliforniaBixby Bridge, Big Sur, CaliforniaOur next stop was  Carmel-by-the-Sea. (Actually, we stopped there before taking the photos above: I’ve got my photos out of order.) My mum has wanted to visit Carmel ever since Clint Eastwood was its mayor, and honestly, I thought we were going to have to leave her there. It’s one of those picture-perfect little towns which almost doesn’t seem real. If you told me Carmel was a Disney attraction, I’d probably believe you.

The picturesque little town of Carmel-on-Sea, California

Visiting Carmel, CaliforniaThe Hog's Breath Inn, Carmel, CaliforniaWe had lunch in the famous Hog’s Breath Inn (once owned by Mr Eastwood himself), and then we were back on the road.

We took Highway 1 as far as we could, and then cut right across the mountains, in an act of lunacy that I still look back on with amazement. The views were breathtaking. I mean that literally, by the way: we actually thought we were going to die. However, we reached the valley beyond safely, and settled down for several long hours of driving.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with the American road, and the idea of the road trip. In fact, a large part of my dissertation at university focused on the symbolism of the road in American literature, so I always look forward to long road trips with no small amount of excitement, imagining that I will be just like Jack Kerouac, having crazy adventures, meeting tons of “characters”, and feeling the poetry of the road.

Which is stupid of me really, because, for the past few years now, I have been completely unable to spend any amount of time in a car AT ALL without falling instantly asleep:

ROAD TRIPThis photo was actually taken the following week, on the way to Disneyland, but it could’ve been taken anywhere because this is how I roll, people. I fall into a doze leaning against the window, and then I suddenly jerk awake, convinced the car door is going to spring open, spilling me out onto the highway. Then I rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. And oh yeah, I’m wearing TWO hoodies in this one. We quickly discovered that our rental vehicle had ISSUES with the aircon in that, anywhere we went, the people in the front would be so hot they’d be starting to see mirages, while those in the back would be so cold they had to wear everyone’s sweaters at once. And by “those in the back” I mean “me”. And by “our rental vehicle” I mean “every car I’ve ever travelled in, ever.”

So, basically, this stage of the journey was less like On the Road, and more like being stuck in a car for hours with nothing to look at but a field of wheat. I tell a lie: there was actually plenty to look at. We saw oil fields. We saw military bases. We saw the most beautiful mountains and hills. We saw little one horse towns that looked like movie sets. We didn’t take photos of any of them, because by that stage we were all just staring straight ahead of us with glazed expressions, wondering when the hell the road would just END, already. My poor mum, meanwhile, had a killer headache, and had also started to feel car sick somewhere on those mountains, so she got to spend the rest of the journey trying not to throw up. Fun times!

It was all worth it, though. Because after almost 400 miles and many, many hours, we arrived at The Best Holiday Home in All the Land.

But that’s another post for another day.

“What’s your road, man?–holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”

– Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Note: not really.

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  • I’m glad I’m not the only one who falls asleep in the car. I can’t fall asleep in bed, but put me in a car and I’m gone… Apart from when I’m driving it of course, that’d be plain dangerous.

    July 6, 2011
  • I love reading of your adventures, and you look lovely even when you’re dressed in jeans and a hoodie. 🙂
    Keep ’em coming please. I think we’re all holidaying vicariously through you.

    July 6, 2011
  • Loving that bike. Carmel looks so pretty, I’ve wanted to go there for a while too, and my parents went there as well last year so now I’m super jealous of everybody! I really want to do a roadtrip of America one day, from the east to west or something it’d be amazing. As long as I’m not driving road trips always seem exciting to me!

    July 6, 2011
  • LOL! I can so relate! I’m dreaming of a big road trip, too, but I simply neglect the facts that a) I also sleep a lot on long drives, b) I like reaching my destination more than the journey and c) I like to unpack my stuff everywhere I go! 😀 Well, I guess that’s why they call it “dream” – you can be your ideal self there 😉

    About the geeks, OH YES. It is one of my pet peeves that so many people call themselves nerds or geeks or dorks if they’ve said something REMOTELY scientific. I don’t even call myself any of that, and I earn my living as a scientific researcher, am on the way to a doctorate’s degree, love both Star Trek and Star Wars (and Sci/Fi in general), earned a nationwide medal in a foreign languages contest at school and can assemble a computer from its parts. And I have had prescription glasses for 25 of my 30 years now. DUDE 😉 Ok, I’ll stop now. I’m talking myself into a rage 😉

    Relatable Style

    July 6, 2011
  • maz aka MallyMon


    I did that road trip in Nov 01, just two months after 9/11. Spectacular scenery but everything and everyone Stateside (including we travellers) felt a tad sad. But you didn’t mention that Doris Day lives in Carmel! It was lovely when we were there, all decorated for Christmas. It’s a pretty place anyway but was really lovely just after Thanksgiving. I searched everywhere for Doris but must’ve just missed her – completely forgot about Clint… Must do that trip again, especially as Golden Gate Bridge was so security-fied at that time we weren’t allowed to walk/cycle/run anywhere in the vicinity and armed guards were everywhere. I had always dreamed of strolling across but it wasn’t to be then. Soon, though, I hope!

    July 6, 2011
  • Terry


    I just realized I really want one of those Google bikes! 😀

    July 6, 2011
  • I love that you visited Google! That’s awesome! And the PCH…I did that drive once too. Too bad it was with my ex-husband. Maybe it’s time for a do-over!

    July 6, 2011
  • hahaha so cute of you guys to visit google, i kinda would do that too 😛

    ou and I love Carmel, it is ABSOLUTELY beautifullll there!!

    July 6, 2011
  • Cate


    My husband’s aunt & uncle live not far from Carmel (they used to live in Carmel not long ago). My husband & I visited them a few years ago and we took a trip to Carmel and that adorable sweet shop, where I bought a ton of candy. If you go back to Big Sur at any point, I highly recommend the restaurant Nepenthe. It’s right on the side of the mountain, and the view of the sunset from their porch is amazing.

    July 8, 2011
  • The thing about California is it’s such a *long* state to drive down. I’ve done it once, as part of a cross-country move that started in Washington state. Took I-5 and CA 99 down to I-40, though, so I didn’t see the ocean. I should totally re-do it someday, when I’m not alone in a car loaded down with all my earthly possessions.

    July 10, 2011
  • Amy


    Ahh! As a reader and fan for YEARS, I am so happy to see you come to my hometown of Mountain View, even if it was just to visit Google! If you ever come back, try to latch onto a Google employee so you can eat in one of the famous cafeterias. The food really is amazing.

    July 11, 2011