Elephant Seal Pup, Las Piedras Blancas, CA

San Luis Obispo to San Francisco – a harem of seals

jennisheppard Blog, Travel Leave a Comment

Big Sur coastline, CA

The fog rolls back for a few seconds to reveal the beautiful Big Sur coastline

I awoke to Day 3 of our road trip on the floor of the homely but cramped Hostel Obispo room we were sharing between five. Actually, “awoke” is a little misleading as I’d not really been to sleep all night. And I was gagging for a rocket-powered coffee.

Fog parfait

Thankfully, I had Linnaea’s Cafe  to sort me out. More like a community gathering place than a moneymaking enterprise, the cafe’s friendly baristas happily supply a myriad of organic, Fair Trade coffees and hearty but healthy breakfasts for the chronically under-caffeined. The high quality local artwork adorning the walls is interrupted only by a friendly sign asking customers not to bring in food from a nearby Subway, because “Subway won’t pay our rent – we’ve asked.”

One tangy granola parfait and indulgent raspberry latte later, we hit the road. And got lost. Instead of heading straight for the coast-clinging Highway 1, we detoured along Route 101 and rural highway 41, before eventually hitting the elusive Highway 1 at Morro Bay.  Too much detail you’re thinking? Maybe not. Highway 41 wound through thick forest and rolling hills, passing avocado farms as eagles soared overhead and chipmunks diced with death on the hard shoulder. On a day of some disappointment, it was worth a mention.

Because as soon as we hit the coast, the inevitable fog engulfed us. We ploughed on, hoping this enforced myopia would clear before we embarked on the treacherous switchbacks and sheer drops of the Big Sur coastline.

Snoozing seals

Elephant Seal Harem, Las Piedras Blancas, CA

Elephant Seal Harem, Las Piedras Blancas, CA

And then through the mist, like an army of sleeping snozzcumbers, a colony of elephant seals emerged. Apparently, this bizarre legion had annexed Las Piedras Blancas, a long, narrow beach about 50 km north of Morro Bay. By the shore, a harem of about 60 elephant seals cows grunted loudly, rolling around, kicking up sand and resting alongside their pups. In the misty ocean, several noisy elephant seals bulls reared their giant snouts out of the icy water, battling each other for the cows’ affections.

Admittedly, the surrealism of this beastly gathering was enhanced by the persistent fog. But my patience was wearing thin. As we powered on round scenic switchback after scenic switchback, our view of the supposedly spectacular Big Sur coast was precisely nil.

Most of the time, we couldn’t even see the cliff edge, let alone the ocean beyond. A few momentary breaks revealed a pod of dolphins here, a rockfall there. Isolated rows of mailboxes dotted the route, servicing unseen outposts of civilisation.

Tight for time

Our desire to actually see something got the better of us when we reached Point Lobos State Park, a craggy outcrop of rocky beaches and coves 11km south of Monterey. But time was again our enemy and after a quick wander around the sandy moonscape of the protected headlands, we knew it was San Francisco or bust.

Sadly, due to our ridiculously tight schedule, we had no time to look around Monterey, famed for its diverse marine life and popular aquarium. But it is worth noting the excellent Wild Plum Cafe, where we filled up on a scrumptious feast of organic, sustainable and homemade food. The juicy Mediterranean Tacos, drenched in sundried tomato relish and pesto salsa, revitalised my flagging spirits.

A few hours of hard driving later, San Francisco lay ahead of us, gleaming in the sunset. And I needed another latte.

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