Take a road trip along the California coast, from San Diego to Ventura

There’s nothing quite like curling up with a good book, especially at the beach. The waves crashing over each other and the cool California breeze made for a refreshing nook all my own.

A shout drew my attention, and I looked over my sunglasses to see my sister Ellie waving at me. “You ever going to put that down and go for a swim?”

I smiled. “Maybe at the next beach,” I said. “I’m pacing myself.”

Ellie winked at me. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Traveling was an important part of our upbringing, and Ellie and I were continuing that tradition with the journey of a lifetime. We were making the quest from San Diego all the way to Crescent City at the top of the state. Many travelers long to take the Pacific Coast Highway trip, but it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. The trip runs in the family, as my Grandma Dawn had taken the adventure once in her youth and moved to Crescent City when she retired. My mother took the drive, too, after she graduated from college. Grandma always encouraged my sister and me to take the drive whenever we would visit her.

She regularly told us she looked forward to the day we made the trek. “I’m only a coast away,” she had said.

Ellie and I were both tied up after my graduation, but we finally made it happen after her graduation this year. We planned for months beforehand, making the necessary preparations. It would be roughly a two-week journey, with stops in coastal towns and major cities along the way. Ellie and I bade our parents’ goodbye in Tucson and hopped into my Mustang convertible, ready for the odyssey ahead.

Some like it hot in San Diego

We had arrived the day before in America’s Finest City and did some sightseeing and a little souvenir shopping at Seaport Village. My Grandma is a big Marilyn Monroe fan, so I couldn’t resist buying her a mug adorned with images of the legendary actress. The very next day, we headed to Coronado Island. Some Like It Hot (1958) is a favorite film of mine, so visiting the Hotel del Coronado was a must. The exterior of the hotel was featured in the film, so I snagged a passing tourist to snap a pic of Ellie and me in front of the facade for Grandma.

We got back in the car and drove south toward Silver Strand State Beach, a less crowded location compared to the beach outside the hotel.

It was at this beach that Ellie nagged at me to take a swim, but reading a book on the beach and enjoying the cool breeze was blissful enough for me.

Our next stop was back on the mainland, so we took the San Diego-Coronado Bridge back to the city. While on the bridge, Ellie captured a video of the glamorous view we had of the downtown San Diego’s towering skyscrapers. It’s definitely a treat to see.

From there, we journeyed to Balboa Park, a sprawling 1,200-acre park featuring 17 different museums and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The zoo alone takes a whole day to explore. We had visited once when we were younger and had spent the entire day immersed in the exotic wildlife habitats. Anytime we’ve visited Balboa Park, we make it a mission to discover something new, which hasn’t been much of a challenge. Ellie is an aspiring photographer, so the Museum of Photographic Arts was a natural choice.

After all, who doesn’t love beach vibes and tan lines?

Get your grub on in San Clemente

“Fancy a little surfing?” Ellie asked the next day as we drove into San Clemente.

“Maybe at the next stop,” I said.

“You said that last time,” Ellie reminded me.

“You asked me to go for a swim. Surfing is completely different.”

Ellie rolled her eyes and looked ahead as we approached Del Mar Street, the downtown area of the city. The Spanish Village By The Sea (as San Clemente is known) was the next spot on our trip.

Ellie and I set our eyes on the San Clemente Pier. Our stomachs growling, we headed to The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar for a little grub. Situated at the back of the pier, it was the ideal location for a bite to eat and some great views. After all, who doesn’t love beach vibes and tan lines? Perusing the menu, I settled on a classic fish taco served with pico de gallo, taco sauce, and tortilla chips. It was perfectly crispy, light, and delicious. Ellie went with the Wagyu burger served with caramelized onion, melted Provolone cheese, and their signature sauce.

The view was perfect for people-watching, as a multitude of tourists walked past our table and beyond to the deck of the pier. After paying, we made our way to the far end, taking in the summer breeze and sights and sounds of the ocean.

Ellie leaned forward, peering down. “I dare you to jump from here.”

I snorted. “I’m not quite ready to get my feet wet.”

“You’re no fun,” Ellie said.

Some like it cool in Ventura

We made a quick stop at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach before making the trek into La La Land. The aquarium is home to more than 11,000 ocean denizens that represent nearly 500 species. Of those animals, it was critical to see one in particular. We couldn’t leave until we visited Ellie’s favorite animal, the sea lion.

Ellie and I got up early the next morning to beat the traffic but found ourselves caught in it regardless. The few times our car was at a standstill, we played 21 questions or cranked up the tunes and sang along.

By the time we passed the main traffic jam around Santa Monica, we started enjoying the views of the coast at a leisurely pace. We stopped briefly at the Malibu Lagoon, where surprisingly, Ellie didn’t nag at me about taking a swim. I continued reading my book, content to relax. I was looking forward to our next destination.

The sun was closer to the horizon as we approached Ventura Harbor Village. While there, I visited Island Packers Gift Shop and purchased a plush of Grandma’s favorite animal, the humpback whale. Returning with my gift, I was surprised to see Ellie with an identical whale. We laughed and hoped Grandma wouldn’t mind having twin whales.

As the day began to die down, we journeyed to the San Buenaventura State Beach, a little ways over from Ventura Harbor Village. Once we arrived, I took off my shoes and my dress, surprising Ellie with a swimsuit on underneath.

Ellie gave me a huge smile. “You ready now?”

“Definitely.”

I ran toward the shore, my feet sinking into the sand. Before jumping in, I let my toes curl, relishing the cool sensations.

“Come on, Aubrey!” Ellie was already soaked from head to toe.

I rushed into the deep blue, the waves crashing forward and swirling around me. The water’s chill took my breath away. I focused on the shifting ocean floor that offered me a gentle pedicure. Within a few moments I’d acclimated to the temperature and tossed myself, back first, onto a wave and floated on the surface that followed. Maybe this was bliss.

If our first leg of the trip was any indication, we had more incredible adventures ahead on our journey along the Pacific Coast Highway.

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