California Road Trip:
“Watch your step,” my partner Ken says to me as we walk from the car onto the cliffs lining California’s iconic Highway 1, a gorgeous though sometimes treacherous stretch of asphalt running right along the far edge of the rough-hewn Central Coast. You can hear the violence of the oddly named Pacific crashing somewhere down below. But up here all you can sense is the sweet light and the briny mist of yet another perfectly golden afternoon.
We’re making a rather mechanically gutsy road trip in my 1974 MGB convertible. We have the vague idea we might stop at a winery or two to pick up a few bottles of something local for the weekend, but our plans are fluid so we pull over to take in the view.
Our destination is Cayucos, an under-the-radar beach town and a secret favorite of mine. It’s a sleepy place that seems trapped in a simpler time – a single strip of pavement that runs in fits and starts at the very edge of the sand. It’s lined with antique stores, surf shops, and kitschy seafood shacks – all of them throwbacks to a 1960s California surf culture.
The car is behaving, and I’m eager to get back on the road, hoping to catch the sunset from Cayucos’ charming wooden pier. But the view from here is too tempting. The chance to stretch our legs and feel happy to be alive wins out for the moment. We find ourselves standing on the edge of the world feeling both minuscule and powerful.
The quality of the light reminds me of when I lived in Santa Barbara, the gateway to the Central Coast and an hour south of here. I would drive my convertible up and over the Cachuma Pass. It was a terrific way to leave the Santa Barbara coastal haze behind, vaguely hungry for a little adventure and a lot of food. Back then, Highway 154 meandered over the mountain and slowly drizzled down into the Santa Ynez Valley. It was there in the valley I’d pick up chewy, meaty sandwiches stuffed full of Santa Maria-style tri-tip barbecue served with a side of indigenous pink pinquito beans. I could make the two hour round-trip to Mattei’s Tavern past bean fields and pumpkin patches, enjoying the chalky bluffs of the Santa Ynez River and still make it to my retail job at the mall before noon.