California Dreaming on Highway One from San Francisco to Los Angeles

As a teen in the mid-sixties I was heavily inspired by the music of the Beach Boys. 1 balmy evening throughout the summer of 1964 I was awakened from the driving speed of I Get Around with a group I had never heard of blasting in the massive old bakelite valve-driven radio which dominated my bedroom. It was during those times when, contrary to the British government’s wishes, each adolescent was tuned to Radio Caroline, broadcasting illegally from an old coaster moored somewhere out on the North Sea. I had heard nothing like this. It was certainly beyond the play lists of Auntie BBC and her dull Home Service! I was hooked, not just to the vibrant, close harmonies and falsettos of the vocals but from the very pictures the lyrics depicted of sun, sand, striped-shirt freedom and long=legged bikini clad women. Flower power, love-ins, peace movements and the entire Haight-Asbury thing followed. Then, in 1969, Pirelli released their highly collectible California calendar, containing evocative close-up pictures by photographer Harry Peccinotti of amazing sun tanned Californian¬†Los Angeles Sober Living maidens. By modern standards the photos were rather tame, more like snapshots. Nevertheless that calendar re-enforced a longing to see California because it seemed the best place in the world. My vision was of gorgeous blonde California women, a youth culture driving Chevrolet Corvette Stingrays and a wild freedom that seemed unknown to teenage Britain.

For a variety of reasons, OK I’ll be honest… a lack of money, forced me to wait a decade before I was able to realize my dream and from now LA, Carmel, Santa Monica, Santa Cruz and San Francisco had become household names through the lyrics of a constant stream of hit songs by The Beach Boys, Eagles, Jan and Dean and The Mamas and Papas, California Dreaming had become something of a reality. From the time I arrived in the City of Angels aboard a TWA westbound seven-forty-seven and things were every bit as I imagined. Once bitten, I was smitten and pledged to return as soon as I could. But it took over twenty years, but with all the romance still intact, I was moving back. Maybe I’d grow to be an aging hippie still listening to those melodic surfin’ sounds that had continued to push my mind through all these years. Previously I had flown from San Francisco to LA this time I was planning to do things to get real by driving the Pacific route between the two biggest cities across California State Highway One.

Despite promises that the USA lacks culture, nobody can deny that what it does have is spectacle… enormous, mind blowing scenery such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Zabriski Point. California’s Pacific coast similarly doesn’t go begging. It’s where nature competes with itself for excellence along rocky cliff tops that rise and fall against the might of the wonderful sea; mist encrusted mountains against powerful sequoia forests. The Pacific is what the Atlantic lacks. It may be wilder, more belligerent; the breakers tend to roll higher which makes it, occasionally a surfer’s paradise, at others a seafarer’s tomb. California, despite an element of optimistic brashness, has always appealed more for its natural untamed beauty than state the tourism evoked retirement condos of Florida on America’s opposite shore.

Many assert that Highway One is best tackled north to south. Route One beings in Legett where the road clings closely to the sea for almost 150 salt splashed miles as it passes near the giant redwoods in Muir Woods before getting US 101, the Golden Gate freeway, and crossing the magnificent, frequently fog enshrined, bridge of the same name. Most do not bother with the first part, deciding to join the road at San Francisco and ongoing in a gentile pace with a stop or two before reaching the congestion hurry of greater Los Angeles. If you are in a rush, then the 400 mile drive can comfortably be produced in a day although there is very little point in missing the tremendous potential it offers. It’s ideal to stop and linger a while if you’re able to. The West Coast can be cold, often hemmed in by coastal fogs held from the hills, despite this you will still feel at one with the elements and it is best driven in an open-top sports car. I didn’t however, but should have and I regret that I did not!