Los Angeles - Highway Number One
Freedom’s just another word for driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco along California’s famous Highway No. 1, a 550-mile stretch of coastal road that leads past gorgeous beaches, magnificent nature reserves and through picturesque towns. Join us for a “road movie” featuring hippies, hitchhikers, entrepreneurs – and ending with the desire that it may never end.
Highway Number One
The sand is still warm, skateboarders whiz across the long shadows on the promenade, and someone is bashing out a tune on a mobile piano. Ice-cream sellers do a roaring trade, while basketball players show off their talents. You feel that special lightness – that mirage of freedom and eternal vacation that makes you keep coming back here. Venice Beach is our first stop-off point on this trip, which will take us from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the next five days. We will be heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway, aka Highway No. 1. To some, the 550 miles we’re about to travel are the most beautiful anywhere in the world.
Los Angeles – Pismo Beach:
Andre, a hippie sporting a bandana, used to be a celebrity on the veranda of Neptune’s Net, a highway diner serving the fastest seafood, just past Malibu. They used to sell T-shirts with his face on them, and guests would love to have their photograph taken with him. “Everything’s changed,” he mumbles through his beard. More and more money is coming into the area these days, the rents keep on rising, and there is less and less space for people like him, he complains.
After this brief interlude, we head north once more: Next to the tarmac, the cliffs fall away sharply into the ocean, and the clouds cling to the rock face. Our already pleasant road gradually turns into the stunning highway you have been promised. With the windows wound down, the warm sea breeze fills our Chevrolet Tahoe and we just want to keep on moving down the road forever.
Pismo Beach – Carmel:
Beyond San Simeon, the landscape turns wild and craggy. The cliffs at Big Sur offer a view far out across the ocean, and deep down into the abyss. There are no diners, no gas stations, there’s not even a food outlet here. Supposedly only about 1000 people live along this stretch of coastline, but it is home to mountain lions, sea otters and condors, too; and the waters off the coast are regularly visited by gray whales. As you drive through low-hanging cloud, crossing structures such as Bixby Bridge and Rocky Creek Bridge, you feel moved to utter a silent prayer that the brakes of the heavy Tahoe won’t fail. Many bikers use this stretch of road, but very few RVs. This is adventurer country, and you feel a numb sense of relief when the road levels off again and you reach the first houses of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
On the real estate pages of the local paper, the Carmel Pine Cone, it is impossible to find a home for under a million dollars. A property close to the 18th hole of the local golf course is currently on the market for 30 million. Carmel is an enclave for the rich and famous. The Mission Ranch, home of former mayor Clint Eastwood, looks like the traditional American dream come true: white picket fences, wide porches, manicured lawns and meticulously trimmed trees. Without a map, you could easily lose your way on the ranch. The breakfast, which is served at the tennis club, consists only of dry bagels and yogurt from plastic tubs, but nobody seems to mind.
Carmel – San Francisco:
A few hours later, not far from San Francisco – with all its classic sights, the Golden Gate and Nick’s Lighthouse down on Fisherman’s Wharf – we pass by three young folk and their dog, sitting by the side of the dusty highway, hoping to hitch a ride. They are Octavia, Eric and Corey from the East Coast. All three are in their early 20s, all have nose and ear piercings, and have been traveling for three weeks. So what’s it like hitchhiking in a group of three, with a dog to boot? “So-so. We got our first ride after only a few minutes. Today we’ve been waiting all day.” How do drivers react? “Some holler strange things at you, but nothing bad has happened to us. People in California are more open-minded than people in the Midwest.” And the cops? “That depends.” Where are they headed? “Los Angeles.” For a moment we are tempted to turn the car around, and drive right back to LA with them.
The Fairmont is a wonderfully old-fashioned hulk of a building at the top of the hill. In the lobby, you cannot help noticing the warmth of the elderly gentleman sporting golden keys on his lapel. Tom Wolfe, 67 and no relation to the American writer, was the first concierge in the USA. “A concierge needs a big heart and a lot of patience,” he explains. On the last few miles to the airport, the car stereo plays Tony Bennett: “I left my heart in San Francisco.” He performed it first on stage at the Fairmont. Bennett is considered by Mr. Wolfe to be the last of the old greats. Once, when Wolfe was really run off his feet, an elderly gentleman had been forced to wait for him, the concierge, for five minutes. It turned out that gentleman was Tony Bennett, the pride of San Francisco.
A hotel with an inviting combination of English country-house style and Asian influences plus eco-friendly accreditation.
The Ambrose: 1255 20th Street, Santa Monica, Tel. +1-310/315 15 55. www.ambrosehotel.com
Nowhere could be more American than this clean, affordable motel right on the waterfront. And with pickups rumbling past the door, you won’t need a morning wake-up call, either.
Edgewater Inn & Suites: 280 Wadsworth, Pismo Beach, Tel. +1-888/248 13 54. www.edgewater-inn.com
You won’t find a better breakfast place for miles. The coffee is strong and black; the atmosphere recalls a surf hut, only tidy.
Splash Café: 197 Pomeroy Avenue, Pismo Beach, Tel. +1-805/773 46 53. www.splashcafe.com
Historical ranch converted into a hotel and restaurant and owned by actor/director and former Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood.
Mission Ranch Hotel: 26270 Dolores St., Carmel, Tel. +1-831/624 64 36. www.missionranchcarmel.com
Luxury hotel-cum-museum that has hosted performances by an array of legendary stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich and Tony Bennett.
The Fairmont: 950 Mason St., San Francisco, Tel. +1-415/772 50 00. www.fairmont.com/sanfrancisco
Busy seafood restaurant, where waiters carry live crabs and lobsters to the tables for guests to inspect.
Nick’s Lightshouse: #5 Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, Tel. +1-415/929 13 00. www.nickslighthouse.com
Photos: LOOK-foto, Jörg Klaus (5), PR