San Diego: road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway

Los Angeles to San Diego

San Diego here we come!

My cousin, Colleen, and I had just finished a 4 day journey riding Amtrak from New York City to Los Angeles. If you want to read all about that first: click here. We were exhausted and ready to be off the train and on the road. With the first few days of our trip going so smoothly, it was bound to hit some sort of hiccup, right? Our one hiccup on the trip was our road trip starting off a little rocky.

We got off the train at Union Station in Los Angeles, California, grabbed a much needed cup of coffee, and made our way to Enterprise to pick up our rental car. We reserved a Jeep Wrangler months in advance, because if we were road tripping down the California 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway, we wanted to do it in style. Of course, when we got there, they told us they didn’t have one available for us and offered us a mini-van instead. Um. No. My cranky ass wasn’t having any of that especially after sitting on the train for 4 days and being excited about something we reserved months in advance. After a bit of back and forth with the people at Enterprise, we finally settled on a brand new Ford Expedition. Okay, I can deal with that. *Wink*. Crises over. Let’s get on the highway!

Pacific Coast Highway, California 1

Since we were frustrated with how our day started in Los Angeles, we decided to not stick around the city and just start driving south. When we were on the train talking to some of the attendants about our PCH road trip plans, one of the attendants told us “Don’t drive down the coast, it’s a waste of your time…just hop on the freeway it’s faster”. YEAH OK LADY. We obviously ignored her and enjoyed some of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen along that coast. Words cannot even express how beautiful all of the colors are in California. The blue sky and blue seas reflect off of each other to create this mesmerizing sights that you can stare at all day. 

We decided to stop in Huntington Beach for some lunch and to walk around for a bit to stretch our legs and break up the drive.  We parked and took a walk towards the ocean near the piers. One of the piers was absolutely PACKED with people. There was clearly some sort of event going on, but we were too hungry to care at that point. We moved on from figuring out what it was and went to find some tacos, and that’s when we stumbled across Sancho’s Tacos. If are ever in or passing through Huntington Beach, do yourself a favor and stop for a bite here. These tacos were to die for, and I promise it wasn’t just because I was hungry! The atmosphere was awesome here too. The place is pretty small, but didn’t feel crowded at all. There is an old-school vibe to it, which I personally love. The walls and tables are covered in graffiti art and it just adds some fun to the awesome vibes it already has.

Seaport Village, San Diego

We finished our tacos and got back on the road to San Diego. It wasn’t much further of a drive, but we were just excited to get there (and the hotel room to lay on a real bed for the first time in 4 days). We arrived in San Diego and checked into the Atwood Hotel, which is in Hotel Circle. The room was adorable, and had a true Cali feel to it. The colors were tan, white, and blue, and it felt very beachy. We relaxed for a bit and then decided to checkout the Gaslamp Quarter. The Gaslamp Quarter is essentially San Diego’s downtown. It is a lively area filled with restaurants, clubs, and lounges. Nearby the south end of the Gaslamp Quarter, there’s a little outdoor shopping mall called Seaport Village. How could we walk by without stopping in? We shopped for a little bit before grabbing some dinner and heading back to the hotel. We got back to the hotel early and passed out… in real beds!

The next day we had plans to go to the San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the United States! There are over 4,000 animals that call this zoo their home. The San Diego Zoo prioritizes conservation and saving different species from all around the world. We wandered around all day seeing the different animals and just enjoying the day. After a few hours, we got a little lost in this maze that was a zoo. After a bit of lost wandering, we turned a corner and saw a pond filled with flamingos. I remembered seeing that pond when we first walked in so I yelled “Flamingos!” as a sign of relief that we found our way to the front of the zoo. Colleen was [rightfully] confused by what I meant, started laughing, and said “flamingos? Is that a safe word or something?” Another quote for the memory notes!

San Diego Zoo

When we got back to the hotel from the zoo, I had a message in my inbox on Instagram from an old friend from high school, Mike. Turns out he was in the United States Navy and happened to be stationed in San Diego! He joined Colleen and me for dinner that night, and after he invited us back to see the base and ship he was stationed on, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). This was the coolest spontaneous night I had ever had. He showed us all around the ship and then took us up to the top to see the views and just WOW. How many people (who aren’t in the Navy) can say they got to see the San Diego skyline from a naval ship? I bet not too many. We took one more look at the incredible view and said our goodbyes to Mike. It was time to head back to the hotel to get some sleep.

A blurry view from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

We woke up to our last full day in San Diego. We didn’t really have plans for the day but we did have an idea. Tattoos. We looked up a few shops and their reviews to ensure it would be a clean and reliable shop. We finally decided on SD Tattoo. The shop was clean and the artists were all friendly are beyond talented. We showed them our designs and both of our artists knocked them right out of the park. I still love looking down at my arm and seeing it every day.

The first tattoo of my future sleeve!

After our tattoos were all wrapped up, we made our way to La Jolla. We realized we hadn’t been to the beach once since we got to California and that had to change. I needed to stick my feet in the Pacific Ocean at least once while I was there! La Jolla was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. I completely fell in love with California in that moment. I already was starting to from the first few days we were there but this moment solidified it.

After falling in love with La Jolla, we knew we had to go back to the hotel and start to pack our bags to head home in the morning. We stopped at the famous In-N-Out Burger for some takeout. It was my first time having it, and wow it was yummy. I totally get the hype. After finishing my dinner, I sat on the bed as Colleen started to pack up her stuff. I looked up and started to tell Colleen that we could just stay in California and live there. She started laughing, said it was wishful thinking for now, and encouraged me to start packing my bag so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning. She was right. We couldn’t just stay in California without any preparation, but hopefully one day I’ll go back for longer than a few days!

We woke up the next morning and sadly made our way to the airport. I couldn’t believe our adventure had come to an end. We jam packed SO much in our schedule over the last seven days, but I wanted to do so much more. Even though I was sad for it to be over, I am so thankful to have gone on this journey with Colleen. This was the trip we both needed and I am so happy we were able to do it. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it, even the difficulties with the car rental at the beginning!

Have you driven down the Pacific Coast Highway? What did you think? If not, what was your favorite road trip? Comment below!

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