October 15 2010 by Jason Fogelson
We loaded up the bike, and rode out in the direction of the Pacific Coast Highway, California's Route 1. Due south of the Monterey Peninsula, PCH traces the coast along a stretch known as Big Sur.
Big Sur starts at Carmel, and winds along the coast for about 90 miles down to Ragged Point. For most of that distance, the road has just two lanes -- one in each direction. When you're riding south, your bike is hanging out over the ocean without guardrails or much shoulder. Riding north, you hug the rock cliff face. It's a road without pity, but with great rewards. The views are astounding and dramatic, and the ever-changing conditions mean that the views constantly change, evolve and shift. Riders and passengers with fear of heights might want to find a different route, but for the rest of us, Big Sur is the only way to get from Monterey to Morro Bay.
We had a great day for riding. It was a Monday, so traffic was not heavy with tourists, trailers and motorhomes. We stopped several times at pullouts to take photos, and to marvel at the natural beauty. The toughest part of the ride for me was keeping my eyes on the road, because there was so much to see. We took our time, savored the ride and sailed safely down Big Sur.
Just south of Big Sur near the town of San Simeon is one of California's greatest man-made attractions, Hearst Castle. Now a state park, Hearst Castle was once the home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Constructed between 1919 and 1947, Hearst Castle is a complex of over 56 bedrooms, 41 fireplaces, 61 bathrooms and 19 sitting rooms in over 90,000 square feet. Hearst collected art from the world over, from all periods and styles, and much of the artwork, furniture and decoration from his time is still in the house. Hearst Castle is an amazing place, and it is owned and operated by the California State Parks Department. Tours take 1 hour 45 minutes and longer, and reservations are strongly recommended. You can plan your visit and make reservations on the Hearst Castle website.
We didn't stop at Hearst Castle on this trip. Instead, we proceeded south to the village of Cambria, where our favorite tri-tip restaurant hides. Main Street Grill in Cambria is a barn-sized restaurant where slabs of meat, hunks of chicken and piles of fries are the main fare. Tri-tip is a cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin. In many places, the cut is ground into hamburger, but in the Central Coast of California, it is rubbed with salt, pepper, garlic salt and other seasonings, grilled on rotisseries over an oak fire, and sliced up for sandwiches called "Santa Maria Barbeque." It is delicious, tender and juicy -- give it a try!
Cambria is a bustling little village full of antique stores, galleries, jewelry stores and the like, perfect for a stroll and some shopping after a tri-tip lunch. We found a few nice gifts for friends -- small gifts, because we're on a bike -- then loaded up for the rest of the ride to Morro Bay.
The town of Morro Bay sits on the shore of the bay, directly opposite its most significant feature, the ginormous island known as Morro Rock. The quaint little coastal town is surrounded by state park land, including the Heron Rookery, Morro Bay State Park, Montaña de Oro State Park, the El Moro Elfin Forest and Audubon's Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. It's a nature-lover's paradise, with a cool coastal climate and a mellow vibe.
Right in the middle of it all, we pulled in to the BEST WESTERN San Marcos Inn. We parked the bike, checked in and went to our second floor room. Because of the way that Morro Bay is built into the side of a hill, the view from our second floor balcony was incredible -- all of the coastline, dominated by Morro Rock. It looked like a postcard.
We got cleaned up and rode to the nearby town of Los Osos to one of our favorite local hangouts, La Casita Mexican Restaurant. We've spent a lot of time in San Luis Obispo County, and La Casita is the best Mexican Restaurant we've found, and has been for many years. No trip to the area is complete for Robin and me without a meal at La Casita.
Back in our room at the BEST WESTERN San Marcos Inn, I pored over the road maps, planning our final day of riding. The direct route back to Los Angeles is all freeway, and I didn't want to end a great trip with superslab.
The ride I finally planned was one of the trip's highlights.
Miles ridden: 210
Next: Day Six: Morro Bay to Los Angeles, CA