Hey, here’s a fact for ya: California is really far away from New York City.  It’s easy to forget this.   Anyone can chug a margarita (or four) at Sammy Hagar’s restaurant in JFK, pass out on the plane, and wake up the very next moment in the Golden State.   I don’t recommend that, because 1. Sammy Hagar’s is gross and 2. your bladder will explode on the plane (the other Golden State), but also because there is too much America you’ll fail to see.  There is seriously a lot of incredible stuff to experience inside the coasts of this country.

I contemplated this as my pops and I rolled into Santa Monica at sundown in my Ford Mustang at the finale of our Route 66 journey.  We had just ticked a box on our bucket lists by driving the Mother Road.  It was an accomplishment, for sure, but it still felt like the tip of the iceberg faced with the sheer depth of the United States.  It was just one road.

No time to celebrate, though.  We shot down to Irvine, visited my brother Jason and his family, and the next day it was back on the trail with Jason taking my dad’s place in the car.  I had already covered 3,650 miles, and it wasn’t even half of what I would log before I got back to Brooklyn.  San Francisco, here we come, via the beautiful coastal California State Route 1.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3253 Well, we thought we would hit the coast.  But after doing some business (oil changes, visiting some friends) around Los Angeles, we found ourselves heading north on The 5 (in California every highway is “the” something).  Realizing we were not going to make the coast by sunset, we decided to just enjoy the drive through Los Padres.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3258 My brother getting some seat time in the Mustang.  If you’ve been reading this series from the beginning, you might remember him from the classic photo of the two of us posing in 1987 in front of his ’68 Mustang.  I might remember him as the guy who wrapped bubble gum around my head as a child.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3269 The nagging feeling that we were missing a great drive on the coast disappeared completely when we found ourselves on a terrific rural highway at sunset.  Damn, California.  You’re just beautiful everywhere.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3356 Had to stop for some Mustang photos along rural Highway 166.  The light was just too good.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3382 puppyknuckles-8-California-3404 Our loose plan was to get to San Luis Obispo for dinner and a hotel, but after calling around we learned that the whole town was sold out of rooms.  Well, shit.  We at least need dinner.  Yelp to the rescue (again).  The restaurant we found was a gem: Jocko’s Steakhouse in Nipomo.  Casual, basic decor, full of locals, and considering the ridiculous amount of food we were served, a bargain.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3397 All wood fired steaks.  This dude was maaaaaaaybe hitting the sauce a little bit while manning the grill.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3399 Whatever homeboy’s doing back there at the grill, it’s working.  I was delivered a Fred Flintstone sized hunk of beef.  Happy.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3424 Before we left some guys wanted to show us how to do a pretty lame burnout.  I responded by taking an even worse picture of it.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3429 We solved our hotel dilemma by going a few minutes south to Santa Maria, where there is a Best Western that is owned by this cat.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3472 The next morning we were excited.  A whole day of driving up the coast in a Mustang.  I had done some of this drive before, but usually in the conveyance of some awful vehicle like a 15-passenger van full of rock band gear.  It’s a cool feeling to have your own car for such a great piece of road.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3499 California State Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, mostly follows the natural shape of the coastline.  That means tons of tight turns and elevation changes.  Also a surprising array of conditions, from sunny and hot to foggy and cool within a few miles.  It’s stunning.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3436 Having drank huge coffees, Jason and I were bouncing around inside the Mustang like pinballs when we saw a sign that said Elephant Seal Viewing Area.  Stopped the car, saw a huge crowd, heard some distant, alien beast screams, and were kind of shocked to see a beach full of these guys.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3442 Elephant seals are so weird.  One minute they are laying there prone, the next they activate and start howling this guttural moan, trying to chew each other’s faces off.  Not gonna lie, I’m a little jealous of this lifestyle.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3469 Saw this friendly little VW bus in the parking lot.  What’s up, New Jersey!  Bonus points to the RV for the hilarious dog decal in the window.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3433 Boni’s Tacos in Cambria, CA was another Yelp find.  There is no way without the internet we would ever have found this super tasty taco joint.  It was literally in an industrial park.  But all the locals seem to come here and I love finding shit like this.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3431 Around the corner from Boni’s was a car restoration shop with this lovely army Jeep outside.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3524 The Pacific Coast Highway is amazing, but you have to get used to this.  A lot of traffic.  Some people are cool about moving over.  But some people are clueless.  Patience is a virtue out here.  Still, we got plenty of killer GoPro footage.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3542 And it’s worth stopping to take in the views, too.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3479 My bro, busted in mid-selfie.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3484 puppyknuckles-8-California-3548 We made it to San Francisco as night fell.  Here’s home sweet home.  Nice, eh?  Was an Airbnb apartment that would be big enough for me, my girlfriend Margo, and my brother.  Wasn’t too snazzy, but got the job done for less than a hotel.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3572 We went down to the Mission district to hook up with my cousin Elizabeth and her boyfriend Brian.  They’ve lived in San Francisco for years.  Saw these dudes in the skate park on the way to the bar.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3596 Sweet Firebird on the street in the Mission.  I think this is my favorite Firebird body style.  And style points awarded for the black steel wheels and raised letter tires.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3657 It was an awesome hang in San Francisco.  We went to dinner, then to one of Liz and Brian’s favorite dive bars and played table shuffleboard, way too many beers deep to not make up our own rules.

puppyknuckles-8-California-3711 It’s always great to get shown around a city by those who live there.  Thanks again for a great night, Liz and Brian!  (pictured above)  Tomorrow, we explore San Francisco a little more, then Margo and I hit the road and push further north towards Point Reyes.  Stay tuned!