Wild West Car Trip, pt.4 (Morro Bay to Monterey)

As I mentioned before, I am completely unfamiliar with California. I mean, I’ve seen it in movies and in a jillion pictures, but ultimately I was left to plan our entire trip based on Google Maps and some websites. Everyone has raved about driving up the coast of California. It’s so stunning and amazing and it just sounded perfect. But I forgot that I am me and that I’m terrified of heights and, in particular, cliffs. (When I was growing up we’d drive to my grandparents house in the mountains of North Carolina and I would literally pray for hours that we wouldn’t drive off of a cliff. One year it was so bad that I freaked out before we even left and I begged my mom to please let me stay home in the beautifully flat Midwest. She said no. I would like to say that nothing bad ever happened but one year we did get in a huge accident with the front of our car hanging over the edge of a giant ravine in the Great Smokey Mountains. We all lived but I remain scarred for life.) I am passably functional if I am the one at the wheel, but if someone else is driving, I am lost. I sweat and panic and just about lose it every three minutes.

Much of the coast is not too near the edge. Just within a pleasant view of the ocean. This was what tricked me into going to Hearst Castle with a smile on my face; even as we boarded the shuttle bus that takes you up to the top of a very steep hill. After about five minutes there was nothing but a sheer drop and NO GUARD RAILS between our unwieldy bus and oblivion. The sweat and panicky breathing started but I buried my head in my phone and started texting anyone who would answer me back and get my mind off of our hellish ascent. (If you’re scared of heights, you already know that going up is a billion, jillion times worse than going down.)

Once we got to the top of the hill and everything was flat and I could’t see over any edges, I was A-OK. There were lots of lovely things like this view to take my mind off of the fact that we were on top of a mountain in a seismically iffy area. (You would never guess from this picture that the ocean was about an hour away).


When I was 8 or 9 we came to California and visited Hearst castle. I remember being incredibly impressed with the pool. Sadly, the pool was leaking 9000 gallons of water per day and they have been redoing the entire thing all year. So we were greeted with this:


I wonder if that guy sweeping the tiles likes his job. Does he have to ride one of those shuttle busses up every day or can he drive his own truck?

The indoor pool was still full and gorgeous. It was the highlight for my kids. The whole castle was pretty remarkable. When he was building it it’s a good thing WWI had just ended and William Randolph Hearst could buy up everything in Europe for a song to put in his fancy new castle. All the antiques probably would have been destroyed during WWII anyway if they’d been left in Europe.

Hearst indoor pool

The lowpoint of Heast Castle was the phenomenally overpriced gift shop. Literally nothing less than $15 (oh, excuse me, there were water bottles for $4). The other low point was the fact that they make you use porta potties because there’s a drought. The real bathrooms are only opened on Saturdays and Sundays. They ought to give you $5 off your ticket price for not being able to use a proper toilet!

Once we were done with Hearst Castle, we piled into the car and set off towards Big Sur, which I like to refer to as “Beautiful Death Cliffs”. We had been listening to the audiobook of The Help on our trip and only Minnie and her chicken fried in Crisco was keeping me sane at that point.

So many sharp turns. So many hundreds of feet down.

My kids started to get car sick and my hands hurt from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.  We pulled over long enough to take a couple of pictures but mostly I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Look! I got within twenty feet of the edge!


Finn spent the entire drive telling me which cars he wished he were driving instead of a lame Suburban. Also, he ate a lot of tortilla chips.


The gas costs about a million dollars on Highway 101, if you can find a gas station at all, that is. It’s an incredibly underdeveloped area considering how much traffic there is. We literally saw over forty Ford Mustang Convertibles. I think that must be some tourist bucket list thing, “Drive a convertible up the Pacific Coast Highway. Check!”

We drove as fast as we could until we got to Monterey where I had very wisely booked a hotel. I had planned to stop in Carmel to see some of the adorable Storybook architecture they have there, but after driving through Big Sur I just wanted to lie down and relax and watch TV without anyone talking to me.  We were all crammed in one hotel room so I didn’t get any silence but at least I could take a long shower and not have to assemble a tent. Also, Monterey was downright chilly. I think it was maybe 52°. In late July! Insane!

After a nice sleep in a real, live bed we packed up and hit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This was the one request Arabella made, to go to the aquarium. It’s pretty splendid (and expensive). There were people there speaking every single language. I like watching fish as much as the next person, but I wasn’t particularly excited for this stop. It ended up being a really magnificent experience, though.

Jasper in egg

I don’t why jelly fish are so calming but they are (in a tank. Not so calming in real life). It’s like nature’s Prozac watching them languidly make their way around.

The kids had a great time, despite Arabella looking completely bored. She really loved it!

Monterey is a nice town, although expensive like all other parts of California, especially touristy ones. There were no Costcos nearby so we loaded up on supplies at Trader Joes and headed north.


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