Car Review UK takes in the sights and sounds of California along the Pacific Coast Highway
YOU’LL smell them before you see them! I took the message with a pinch of salt.
But as you stroll round a corner from Avenida de la Playa in the chic suburb of La Jolla on the outskirts of San Diego, the stench hits you with the force of a sledgehammer.
Californian Sea Lions are attractive creatures, if very noisy as they bask and bark along the rocky La Jolla Cove, and freely swim next to bathers only a few yards from the beach.
But they stink, really stink – to the point that you wonder how people sipping cocktails on their balconies in the million dollar apartments that fringe the waterfront can bear it for more than a few moments.
This region of Southern California, a mere 20 miles from the Mexican border, is renowned for having the best climate in the USA and to be fair the wind needs to be blowing in a certain direction for the sea lion odour to do its worst.
Otherwise there’s no finer point to start a California road trip than this strip of coastline boasting extraordinary natural beauty and blessed with a vibe that blends the French Riviera and Med with the rugged grace of the Americas.
La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya) is a polished gem with plenty to explore from the upmarket shops, classy eateries, underwater park with its diving and snorkelling to the seven caves once used for smuggling whisky to San Diego during Prohibition.
When you are in Southern California, a trip to San Diego is a must – the historic Gaslamp Quarter, Petco Park (home of the Padres baseball team) in East Village, Little Italy and the USS Midway on the harbour-front are also essentials.
And if you prefer a 15-minute ferry crossing to the two-mile drive across Coronado Bridge then the peninsula of Coronado beckons.
Here the vibe is more like an exotic island escape, even though downtown San Diego is just across the bay. Buses around the ‘island’ are free, the beaches are pristine and you can grab an Americano and gelato and soak up the sophistication.
Prices may be on the high side but no visit is complete without a stroll round the Hotel del Coronado, one of the world’s grandest resorts when it opened in 1888.
Facing the Pacific, The Del has been visited by presidents, world leaders and has been featured in a dozen movies including Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe.
Driving on American roads is something to which you quickly become accustomed – just get used to being overtaken on both sides and procedures like priority at junctions and being able to turn right on a red light.
The north-south Interstate 5 with its multiple lanes, especially around the world’s most traffic-clogged city Los Angeles, the driving is either mental or non-existent.
It’s the easiest way though to reach State Route 1 and the gorgeous scenic vistas afforded along the Pacific Coast from the surfing beaches of Dana Point through to our ultimate destination of San Francisco and beyond.
First though, a little about the car. Did we go for the ubiquitous pick-up truck or live the American dream with a Ford Mustang? No, it was something with more of a heart full of soul.
Coincidence, of course, but the Kia Design Centre in Irvine, Orange County, is where several of the Korean brand’s best loved models are devised. It’s also the home base of my namesake, senior designer Mike Torpey.
Mike’s the man who styled the original Kia Soul from 2010, a car he still drives, and worked as part of the team responsible for the latest Soul variant the Turbo.
So packing four people’s worth of paraphernalia into the boot of the Turbo model he both recommended and provided, we set off on a journey that saw us drive 1,400 miles in just under three weeks.
Los Angeles by automobile can be done in a day so long as you park up a few times and explore on foot – Hollywood Boulevard with its walk of fame – is a must.
Otherwise it’s case of fleeting glimpse as Rodeo Drive, the Chateau Marmont, Doug Weston’s Troubador club, the Whisky a Go Go and Mann’s Chinese Theatre flash by, though it’s hard not to linger amidst the opulence of the Hollywood hills and Bel Air.
And before leaving LA via Malibu, a visit to Santa Monica and its fabulous beach is essential.
There’s a real old fashioned fairground vibe along the pier, which was built in 1908 and marks the western end of the historic Route 66.
So we join the hordes of day trippers, holiday makers and locals on the Hippodrome carousel then mingle with the in-crowd for a browse round the upmarket shops along Third Avenue Promenade before heading north – on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Next time: Los Angeles to San Francisco.