Central California Coast – Pacific Coast
Hi Fellow Hipsters,
This is Virgin of Ocean Beach, CA, formerly of SF, LA, Santa Cruz and Seattle (see my postings for these cities). If you’re new to California – welcome to my native state! One thing I totally recommend for the nature-loving hippie is the coastal drive between Santa Barbara and the Monterey Bay. I know this turf like the back of my hand, having hitchhiked this route many times and having picked up even more hitchhikers. Because there’s WAY too much to talk about in terms of highlights, please forgive a quick-and-dirty summary of the treasures I know as a native to these parts. I’ll take a south-to-north approach, from Santa Barbara to the Monterey Bay.
Arroyo Burro Beach – within Santa Barbara city limits, check out feeding dolphins here just after sunrise. Very cool.
Tajiguas Beach – unmarked surf spot about 15 miles north of Santa Barbara, on Hwy 101.
San Onofre Beach – nude beach between Refugio and Gaviota Beaches, on Hwy 101.
Gaviota hot springs – lukewarm but free and undeveloped hot springs right at the Lompoc/VAFB turnoff, on Hwy 101.
Jalama Beach – surf spot about 6 miles south of Lompoc, on PCH 1.
Guadalupe – along PCH 1, hike out to the awesome Guadalupe sand dunes via Oso Flaco Lake, which itself is an awesome wildlife viewing area at certain times of the year. The Far Western Tavern in town is a cool place to get a drink.
Nipomo – If you want a super-cheap, hippie-friendly but no-bullshit hostel to crash at, near Guadalupe, check out Bill’s Farm Hostel.
Halcyon – between PCH 1 and Hwy 101, this is a tiny artist community in a very politically conservative area, just south of Arroyo Grande, with a good-vibe general store.
Pismo Beach – on PCH 1, then on Hwy 101: I can’t in good conscience tell you a technically illegal way to access this, but find your way to the “Dinosaur Caves” during low tide; they’re very groovy especially at sunset. And near the beach border of Pismo Beach and Grover City twice a year, you can marvel to the incredible monarch butterfly migration. In nearby Shell Beach just a couple miles north of Pismo there are amazing views of colonies of wild birds on small islands just offshore.
Morro Bay – If you drive off Hwy 101 toward Morro Bay, across the road from a golf course you’ll notice an unmarked uphill road. This leads to Pirate’s Cove, a nude beach that has an awesome view of the Pismo Beach-Guadalupe area. There are two natural hot spring resorts near here – one cheap and one expensive, depending on what you want. If you like SUPER close encounters with wildlife, you can get close to California sea lions near the end of the Morro Bay pier.
Piedras Negras – on PCH 1, just a few miles away from the horrifying Hearst Castle monstrosity, in mid-January you can witness some of the most incredible wildlife viewing I’ve ever seen in the entire world (and I’ve been on five continents, including backpacking in Alaska, snorkeling and diving in the tropics in the Atlantic and Pacific, and doing safaris in East Africa): a HUGE colony of elephant seals fighting, mating and giving birth. It’s totally free, and just a few feet away from the highway.
Salmon Creek – on PCH 1, a few miles north of the “Ragged Point” tourist rest stop, which is just a little bit north of Piedras Negras: look out for the tiny sign to this at one of the many hairpin turns along the highway. It’ll be worth it. The water’s freezing but the scene is gorgeous, particularly in non-summer months (due to water flow). Nudity OK!
The “Big Sur” drive in general: Basically on PCH 1 you’ll be so blown away by infinite spectacular vistas between Ragged Point and Carmel, it’s not even worth my writing about it. You’ll need to do your own homework regarding serious meditation retreats and isolated camping beaches along this route. But here are a few major touristy suggestions for first-time visitors: the Lucia Lodge (if you have the cash); the Esalen hot springs (spectacular cliffside natural hot springs with a view of the ocean, only open 1-3 AM to the public, best on full moons); the relatively affordable upstairs cafe section of the Nepenthe Restaurant (with an amazing view, especially at sunrise); and if you’re not bugged out at paying money to drive through the neighborhood of America’s ultra-rich, the “17-Mile-Drive” in Carmel/Monterey is simply unbelievable in terms of natural beauty.
North of Monterey, feel free to check out my posting on Santa Cruz, which is one of my favorite urban environments anywhere. And north of there, check out my posting on San Francisco, which is hands-down my favorite big city on earth.
Hope you enjoy this hippie-oriented tour of my native turf! You definitely don’t need pharmaceuticals to be blown away by all the natural beauty, but as an experienced mind-expansion veteran I can tell you it doesn’t hurt!