A short guide to L.A. in five streets – 4) Pacific Coast Highway 1

Big cities often are like non gated prisons. You have the feeling that to get out of them is a tough struggle. At least this was my impression when I lived in London and often I feel the same when in Paris or New York. In Los Angeles it isn’t the same. You get out of it reasonably quick and you are soon really out into almost untouched wilderness be it desert, mountain or beach. Today, let’s get out of L.A. and take the legendary Pacific Coast Highway 1 – well, a short stretch of it – and drive for some 25 highly scenic miles from the Santa Monica Pier to the beginning of Ventura County. And when you are out on PCH – either for a short ride or for a long trip north to San Francisco – never forget that the road is the destination.

From Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, we drive down the California Incline and we are on PCH 1.  First stop just passed the Reel Inn Fish Market and Restaurant – they say they fry Nemo – in a small parking where on saturdays you can meet the Longboard Collectors Club. They hold a fantastic little market where they sell everything about  and for surfing: films, books, posters, swimsuits and wetsuits, t-shirts and shiny and colored longboards signed by the best champions of the 1960s and 1970s. And those who sell are old surfers themselves, you can read it in the rides of their faces.

Soon we are out of L.A., we cross the Malibu city limits and we pass by the Getty Villa, a museum about the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. It is a sort of big neo-palladyan villa but come on who cares about museums on PCH? I honestly don’t. More interesting on the left side, the Duke’s Barefoot Bar: young crowd of surfers and beach people, cocktails, beers and great fish tacos on a terrace by the sea. Malibu has not the shape of a city. It is a stretch of homes, small restaurants and shops, malls, foot massage and yoga stalls between mountains and sea. After the Sport and Fishing Pier, Malibu Country Market is a quite well built mall, apparently extremely good for shopping. In there, the Japanese restaurant Nobu Malibu, a good spot for stars who want to see ordinary people who want to see stars. The huge lawn of the main campus of Pepperdine University is unrealistically green. This is just an unbelievable place for studying, with a dramatic view on the ocean. Then you read that the University is  religiously affiliated with Churches of Christ and promotes christian values and you realize that there is no perfection in this world. It is almost close to perfection Malibu Seafood and Patio Café. They catch fish and seafood, they sell it, grill it, fry it for you. So what’s wrong? Well, you have to bring your own wine or beer and you have to know it before. However it is definitely a great place where to eat your lunch. Just skip Paradise Cove, a gated private beach and restaurant where you have to pay a fortune only to park your car. It’s not worthy especially because we are about to enter in the most spectacular section of this ride. PCH goes up to Point Dume – great views – and then down to Westward Beach and Zuma, a long, wild, windy and open beach. It is one of my favorites, quintessentially Californian and last year we saw whales passing by in their annual migration. Now the colors are even more intense, the dark blue of the ocean, the white and yellow of the sand, the green, the flowers. It is an explosion, the power of nature. There are spots for surfers everywhere. You recognize them because of the cars parked in bunches along the street. They are there, waiting for the right wave in their black wetsuits. From far they look like seals. At the same time, pelicans dive deep into the ocean and come out with their prey. The coastline now changes, more rocks and smaller beach. Still spectacular like El Matador and even better El Pescador. We are in Ventura County now, no more houses, higher and wilder mountains. The landscape is more dry and dusty and less green. We get to the long Thornhill Broome Beach, but the real attraction here is the huge and steep sand dune on the right side of the road. It is tough to climb up to its peak. You’ll be rewarded with a great view.

It is time for us to go back, but the Pacific Highway 1 continues its long trip north to Oxnard, Santa Barbara and then Carmel, San Francisco up to its end near Legger in Mendocino County. At least this what maps report. I am sure that PCH 1 – which started near Dana Point in Orange County – continues instead towards Oregon and up to Seattle and then Vancouver, and through Yukon and the very north of Alaska. Because the road is the destination.

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