If you live in California, sooner or later you’re going to get in your car and drive from one end of the state to the other. Whether it’s a last-minute getaway or a canceled flight, all Californian’s do it at some time or another. And because we all must do it at some time it creates a situation that brings everyone to the point of dread – traffic.
Since traffic is inevitable regardless of the route, it’s fascinating more people don’t take the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway. At least taking PCH, versus Interstate 5, there’s beautiful coastline to appreciate, and plenty of kitschy spots to stop should traffic become unbearable. Here are a few to experience.
Santa Monica Pier
As you pass Los Angeles, there will be traffic. Fortunately, you will be stuck in what many Angelenos consider the most beautiful place in the area – Santa Monica. And the jewel of “California’s most celebrated beach city” is the famed Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park.
But this isn’t the typical modern amusement park that greets you with high-prices and long lines. It’s a throwback to a simpler time when amusement wasn’t so costly.
Admission to the Park is free, while the rides and games are pay-as-you-go. Its giant Ferris wheel is the world’s first and only one powered by solar energy, which couldn’t be more L.A.
There are plenty of rides and midway games to entertain you for an hour or the day. And when you’re not stuffing your face with fresh spun cotton candy, Dippin’ Dots or their highly-addictive churros, you’ll have a smile on your face from all the joy of children racing about, enjoying their youth, and the adults reliving their own.
If breezing along on the roller coaster along the shores of the Pacific doesn’t wash away all the stress you felt sitting in traffic, then venture onto the games next and find the “Whac-a-mole”. Put in a coin and envision that driver who tailgated you for ten solid miles, then simply “Whac-a-mole”. Therapy should be so fun.
Just like California, you’re going to fall in love with Pacific Park at first sight. And after spending a little time there, you’re never going to want to leave.
Moss Beach Distillery
If your stomach starts growling louder than the traffic, you may want to get a bite to eat and something cool to sip. Check out Moss Beach Distillery.
This beloved distillery is formerly a speakeasy named Frank’s Place which was built in 1927. It served as the perfect location for ships to easily unload illegal booze onto the beach under the cover of night to vehicles waiting to drive any booze that didn’t make it into Frank’s cellar, up to San Francisco.
Thankfully, long after prohibition ended Franks Place, now called Moss Beach Distillery, has remained. Pull up and find a spot out on the patio next to a local or fellow PCH traveler looking for relief from traffic. Out there you can take in some live jazz and sip wine from one of the nearby vineyards. It’s dog-friendly, kid-friendly, and the food is award winning.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of whales tossing about, seals sunbathing on the beach below or maybe even former customer and resident ghost, “The Blue Lady”. She is a former customer who allegedly roams the distillery. Her story has been documented on the television shows “Unsolved Mysteries” and most recently “Ghost Hunters”. Maybe one of the distillery’s friendly staff will share their story of their interaction with “The Blue Lady”.
Speaking of ghosts…
Winchester Mystery House
Why this place isn’t a must-see for everyone taking a trek through northern California is a mystery in and unto itself. First, some quick backstory.
When gun magnate William Wirt Winchester died in 1881, his wife Sarah not only inherited his vast fortune, she also discovered that her home, according to her, was “haunted” by the souls of all the people killed by Winchester rifles. So on the advice of her “medium”, she moved to California and built a new home dedicated to the sole purpose of providing refuge to the souls who haunted her.
Sarah didn’t just build some sketchy roadside hostel to appease those spirits. She constructed a Victorian mansion of redwood, with 161 rooms, that includes 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms, hallways that lead to deadends, and hidden passageways. There is even a séance room.
The Winchester Mystery House is worth venturing off of the PCH even if there isn’t any traffic. But of course, there will be traffic. So check it out. And there is no shame taking the day tour instead of the night tour if you’re faint of heart.
The Madonna Inn
As night falls and the taillights ahead begin to look like blurry you may decide to call it a night. While there are plenty of national hotel chains with their rooftop views of a parking lot, for a truly unique experience check into the Madonna Inn.
A landmark, family-run hotel on the central coast, the eclectic Madonna Inn prides itself on the fact that not one of its 110 rooms are the same. We’re not talking about bed size or an available kitchenette. Literally, no two rooms are designed the same, so each comes with its own unique theme and name to match.
There’s the American Beauty, Antique Car, The Buffalo, The Morning Star, and The Barrel of Fun room, just to name a few. Some have fireplaces and rock showers. The Love Nest, favorite for people coming back, is accessed by a trestle bridge and has a staircase to a private viewing tower so you can peer out the window and view the cars on the freeway below, still inching along, bumper-to-bumper.
Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
Sometimes frustration, especially caused by traffic and long car rides, calls for nothing more than a bit of beauty and serenity. There is no better place to find peace than Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. And while California is blessed with miles of coastline we often take for granted, one would be hard-pressed to find a stretch of beach as beautiful as Pfeiffer.
Even if you don’t recognize the name, surely you know Keyhole Rock, as it has shown up in millions of photographs making it one of the most recognizable spots in California. Yet, the beach is still one of our best-kept secrets.
The entrance, while unsigned, is not hard to find. Just one mile south of the Big Sur Station on PCH is a road that will take you down a beaten path, where the smell of ocean water will replace the stench of whatever snacks you stored away in your car for the road trip.
After parking, it’s just a short stroll down to the water’s edge, where you’ll find something that was so hard to come by just moments earlier – peace. No more honking horns, aggressive drivers and oddly enough no crowds like many public beaches in our beautiful state. You can simply kick off your shoes, dip your feet in the water and exhale, as the sun dips behind the Pacific.