Traveling Highway 101 in California – The Beauty & The Dangers

It was our first wedding anniversary and John and I decided to travel the famous Highway 101 in California. We had never been to California before so we researched the trip thoroughly.

John and I flew into San Diego airport, rented a car and began our journey. California seemed like a paradise to us. The warm, dry climate with beautiful tropical plants and trees. It was simply gorgeous! We felt like we must be close to Heaven!

Later that evening we drove down to a nearby beach and watched the sunset. Afterwards we topped the evening off with a late dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Then we settled into our hotel and planned our trip for the next day.

We woke up early the next morning and had a light hotel breakfast. Afterwards we set out on our trip traveling up the California Coastal Highway known as Highway 101. That particular day was our first wedding anniversary and we were like two young kids again, happy and carefree! We saw the most lovely beaches, and stopped at look out points over the ocean along the highway. To us such beauty and wonder was mesmerizing!

I discovered that California is mostly a desert landscape. It has such history and beauty, with a lovely Hispanic influence.

I felt I could view the ocean for the rest of my life and not tire of it also! It’s lovely blue green waters and aquatic life are beautiful beyond description! The sounds of the ocean are so calming also!

We drove through many famous California towns traveling north on Highway 101. Malibu was just one of the many hip towns along our journey.

Our goal was to drive from San Diego north to San Francisco on Highway101, and stop to sight see along the way. We wanted to film the sun setting over the ocean each night. Of course we were also video taping the lovely inviting beaches and other sights also.

The second night we made it as far as Camarillo, California. We settled into a nice hotel and decided to drive over to a local beach to view the sunset. The map we used showed a couple of beaches about five miles from our hotel, so we started driving towards them. We were in rural orange grove and strawberry field country. It all appeared very nice and peaceful.

We began driving down the main street in a nearby town that supposedly led to the beach. As we drove we saw police doing what appeared to be a drug bust along the side of the street. That was very creepy, seeing people on the ground and being handcuffed with some ominous looking onlookers at the scene. We continued driving a couple of blocks further, and in a separate incident, police cars surrounded a vehicle that had hit a light pole. Police had a man pinned to the ground and were handcuffing other people. The incidents we saw in this small town were so shocking to me that I told my husband let’s just get back to our hotel. That is exactly what we did as soon as we could! We had dinner next door to our hotel that night in a quiet family restaurant.

These two incidents, so close together, on the same street, and in broad daylight, had really made me nervous. Traveling through a new state, new towns, not knowing anyone, or much about the areas we were traveling through. My mental red flags were up, and I suddenly became very apprehensive about our trip!

After a night’s rest we felt refreshed and it was a beautiful day. We hit the road again. The highway led us into the foothills of the mountains for many miles away from the ocean. The scenery was new and different as we drove along. We were once again having a great time, trying to forget the incidents of the previous night.

I could just imagine what it had been like back in the days of the wild west, Indians peeping over a hillside, or cattle being driven along by cowboys. The mountainous, desert, scenery made my mind wonder about the days of old.

Our destination that day was Morro Bay, California. We drove through beautiful Santa Barbara on the way there. We decided it was a city worth stopping at on the way back through to do some sight seeing.

Soon we were back driving along the edge of the ocean once again. That was always our favorite part of the drive. We made it to quaint, lovely, Morro Bay early in the afternoon. We went sight seeing there right away. We saw the famous giant rock formations coming up out of the ocean, and people surfing nearby. The wind was blowing very hard and it was surprisingly cool enough for our jackets. I had had the impression that all of California was sunny and warm. Not true! It is sunny and frigid at times!

We then decided to take a short drive on further north up the coast for a look at some other sights. The scenery became even more beautiful as we drove north. The breakers coming off the ocean onto the beaches were awesome! We saw walrus seals and a beautiful lighthouse. We met some interesting people to visit with at the scenic overlook areas. As we drove north, we saw a heavy fog was rolling in so we didn’t venture any further. We went back to our quaint hotel room and rested a while.

We dined in the harbor at Morro Bay that evening at a wonderful seafood restaurant and met some nice German people sitting at a nearby table. They were touring the west coast on a bus trip. They could not speak much English, but they were very friendly and comical. We communicated regardless of the language barrier.

After souvenir shopping the next morning, we decided that San Francisco was just too far north for these middle aged travelers to go. We decided to slow down a bit and start sight seeing on our way back south toward San Diego on the Highway 101 of course!

Santa Barbara was first on our list of towns to tour on the way back down Highway101. We stopped at the visitor center there and ventured out on the wharf nearby to take in the sights. Of course our video camera was always rolling so we could cherish the scenery for years to come. We met some nice people from California, and we talked a bit about our individual home states. Then my husband and I grabbed a fresh seafood sandwich from a little open air cafe and watched a dolphin swimming near the wharf. Soon it was time to get back on the road and go further south.

My husband was using his new GPS to navigate our routes. John loved the way it took him where he wanted to go. I did not like it because it took us on longer routes to our destinations quite frequently. At times it took us on routes through some derelict neighborhoods

At Santa Barbara we made a wrong turn and found ourselves on a side street just off of the highway. We decided to drive up the block and turn around, to try to get back on the highway. All of a sudden, seemingly out of no where, a large group of Latino men started running at us from the side of the road rushing our vehicle! I started screaming and my husband gunned our vehicle and started on through the crowd of yelling men. They appeared to be very threatening. Somehow my brave husband got us turned around and he sped us out of the situation. As I turned and looked back, the large group of men were shaking their fists and screaming at us. My heart was still racing and I was crying from fear.

We still to this day do not know what that was all about, but it scared me half to death! I immediately got a migraine and my husband and I couldn’t even speak for about ten minutes. We were both out of breath from the shock of the whole ordeal. I was nervous for the rest of our trip in California. After that I began watching the local news at our hotel, and the news media were talking of gangs and gang violence in California as a whole. I was suddenly aware of danger that I had never before expected.

We spent that night in Huntington Beach, California. I didn’t even want to go out to eat dinner. I went to bed early, and I told my husband I was ready to go back to St. Louis!

The next day we took our time and traveled further south. We didn’t stop until we got to La Jolla. We got a nice motel there along the beach and stayed for three nights. We stayed close by the motel, seeing the sights in and near La Jolla. It seemed safe there and the area was very lovely!

I was still shook up from the previous bad experiences, and I stayed close to my husband for safety wherever we went.

The last day of our trip we went to San Diego and toured a battleship. Then we went to Coronado Island sight seeing and had a late lunch over looking the harbor there.

I was very ready to go home the next day when we flew out of San Diego. I said I would never go to California again!

I may eat my words someday and visit northern California. But I would prefer to go there with friends that know the area very well.

I do not know if this was just our bad misfortune or if these frightening incidents happen often to tourists in California and it is just a big, well kept, secret. If you go touring in California or other places near the Mexican border, and out west for that matter, do your homework! Especially on travel safety! Find out everything you possibly can about the levels of crime in the areas you are traveling through. Then learn travel safety precautions and be aware of what to expect. Also prepare for the unexpected!

We have been many other places in a lot of other states, and never experienced this kind of terror or anything close to it that we experienced in California. It was a real adventure in more ways than we ever thought possible!

All in all, we did enjoy the awesome scenery, and brought some good memories along with the bad ones home with us. We had self taught travel experiences that my husband likes to call adventures.

If you are planning to travel, happy trails and safe travels where ever you may go!