Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Pretty much since the start of planning our trip we had high hopes for the California coastline. It’s a famous must see road trip within itself, a well-known hub for vagabonds and basically a capital for old VW vans. While we didn’t fall into the latter category – the Dodge brand doesn’t carry quite so much nostalgic prestige – we still thought it would be the perfect place for us. In truth, LA wasn’t quite the easy ride we’d hoped for. While we’d loved our time there, it did involve stealth camping – arriving late in a street, keeping the lights off and then leaving early the next morning. It’s a long coastline though so there was still hope!


Californian coast 

Our first stop out of LA was the famous Malibu. What at first looked like a nightmare myriad of no parking signs, we followed some advice and ended up on Zuma beach which is one of the free beaches in Malibu. What a treat! We stayed there for 2 nights with no issues whatsoever and felt comfortable cooking dinner there. We also woke up to a 5* view for free! Malibu is no cheap place to stay and it felt like despite the mechanical issues the van was finally starting to pay itself off.


Zuma Beach

On our first day in Malibu we took a run down the coastline, settled in for a seafront dinner and grabbed an early night. The next morning we headed to one of the better known hikes – Solstice Canyon – which took us to a historic building & waterfall. The hike itself was lovely, with stunning views over Malibu, however the destinations… The ‘historic building’ was around 70 years old, called ‘Roberts House’. We’re probably spoilt with history at home, but it definitely felt like an abandoned house down the road!


Hiking up Solstice canyon


The ‘ruins’ of the 70 year old house

On our second day we decided to give surfing another shot. We’d both enjoyed it in Tofino, but the ice-cold waters of the Canadian Pacific in March definitely affected our time in the water. We opted for no wetsuits and didn’t need them at all. Also we seemed to have improved somewhat since our last attempt – maybe due to the three weeks of windsurfing. Either way it was absolutely brilliant, and while surfing we saw seals, dolphins, sand sharks & rays! It’s definitely something we’ll be doing again, which is useful as it’s a cheap fun sport which we can do pretty much anywhere on the coast.


No pictures of us in the water, but this is us next to your boards!

A quick note on paid beaches. We’d read & heard about this lovely place called Paradise Cove, where holidaymakers with some money flock to for a piece of calm in Malibu. The daily parking charge was $35, however you can simply park on the highway and walk there to avoid the charge which we naturally did! When we got there we were seriously underwhelmed. Granted it was a nice patch of beach, but much smaller than the free beach we’d previously parked & slept on for free – and it was absolutely packed with families (read screaming kids). So we decided to leave paid for beaches for now – at least the private ones. I’m sure we’ll check out some state beaches further up the coast. 


A busy and expensive Paradise

Our next stop was Santa Barbara, the lazy seaside town which a local in Malibu warned us was a retirement hub. It may be true, but we can absolutely see why! We spent our first night on a lovely pull out from a National forest road. Advantages included the stunning view over Santa Barbara, seclusion and cool breeze. Disadvantages included the incredibly steep hill on our way up and a check engine light. Yay – more van problems!


A great camping spot over looking Santa Barbara

We went to get the code read for free and turned out 2 of our 8 cylinders were misfiring. Luckily it’s a relatively quick & easy job to fix so we had an engine tune up the next morning. As luck would have it we were in Santa Barbara during a 4 day festival – La Fiesta so we were treated to one of the largest horse processions the country has to offer. It was fantastic, the main street was absolutely packed with a constant Viva La Fiesta! ringing out. Then we wandered down the pier for some clam chowder – apparently the best on the west coast and it didn’t disappoint. We stuck to the $5 cup of chowder however, and skipped on the $40 crab portions thanks to the money we’d spent on the car again.


Some of the many horses that took part in the parade


Dancers in the Fiesta


Chowder was amazing!

Now we’re just continuing to meander up the coastline, looking for nice small towns & surf spots until we get to San Francisco. I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised that finding a spot to camp has been easy enough. We say this writing from a free spot 50m from the ocean having just seen another couple of dolphin fins. So far so good!


One thought on “Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

  1. Michael Connolly says:

    Loving it! what an adventure you two are on.

    Six out of eight not bad ha ha 🚌🚌

    Stay safe and watch out for sand sharks 🙈

    Lots of love Dad C


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