Adventures Not That Close To Home: San Diego to Vancouver by Car

A lot of Mudders who I know go on fun trips together the summer after they graduate. This is true for my friends, too, who graduated this past spring (and are missed). Luckily, I got to tag along with them for their trip! The trip we decided to do was a long road trip that started in San Diego and went up to Vancouver. Our plan was to do a mix of camping and crashing our friends’ couches. Many of our Mudd alum friends live along the west coast, so we could easily alternate between a couple nights of camping and a night at a friend’s house (which also allowed us to shower every so often). The trip started with 5 of us, and partway through another friend joined. After we reached Vancouver, we went back down to Seattle for a couple days to conclude the trip. While some of the group continued eastward, me and my friend flew back to SoCal to start our summer research.

Here’s a rough map outline of our journey:

A screenshot of a google maps route from San Diego, up the coast to San Francisco, then eastward to Lake Tahoe, then up towards Portland, and ending in Vancouver.

A rough outline of our road trip from Google maps.

Me and my four other friends sit at the tail of a car, smiling because we were about to head out on the trip!

Me and my friends excited to start the road trip.

The first part of the trip was along the coast, which provided a beautiful drive. If you have ever driven along state route 1, you will know that it’s a very winding road with many twists and turns. You might feel like you are going to fall right off the edge of a cliff into the pacific ocean, but that’s kind of the fun part. There are also several places to stop and go out to the beach. We took a quick stop at Leo Carrillo, which is a quiet cove near Los Angeles. It is a state park with 1.5 miles of beaches and, if you come at the right time, tide pools.

A picture of the cove at Leo Carrillo state park. A sandy beach cove is bordered on the right by rocks, while on the left there is a calm shoreline.

The cove we visited at Leo Carrillo was very quiet; only a couple people were there when we arrived, but they soon left and we were alone on the beach.

In California, there is dispersed camping, which is basically just free camping (but no bathrooms). We spent two nights doing dispersed camping on our way up to the Bay, the first of which was near Santa Barbara. It is normally helpful to do a bit of research on where there are available campsites for dispersed camping, but we just decided to risk it. This meant we had to do a bit of driving to search for a spot. This drive, however, was beautiful. We went up a mountain and eventually found ourselves above the clouds right at sunset.

The view from the side of the road near the top of a mountain. The view is above the clouds, which creep into the mountainside. The sky is slightly orange from the sunset.

The beautiful view from the mountain where we were looking for camping.

After camping near Santa Barbara, we drove further up the coast and stopped at Pismo Beach where we met one of our other friends (another Mudd alum). It was a rainy day, but it made the drive beautiful and it made the beach look super quiet and eerie. We spent a while walking along the coast and found some cool shells and other washed up ocean things (my friend Katie knows a lot about marine life, so she explained what the things were that we found).

A view during the drive up to Pismo Beach. The clouds are low and there are lots of rolling hills. The landscape is darkened due to the cloudy sky.

The cloudy sky provided a cool view of rolling hills and mountains on our way up to Pismo beach.

The cloudy Pismo Beach shore. The sky is filled with clouds, and the beach is vast due to the low tide. Off in the distance there are some dark mountains.

Pismo beach was super cloudy and rainy, but the tide was low so it was fun to look for shells and other washed up things.

After spending time on the shore, we went to the town area in Pismo Beach and had lunch. We then were back on the road heading north. After another night of camping and a bit more driving, we arrived in the Big Sur area. We were still driving along the coast, which provided beautiful mountain, beach, and superbloom views.

On the side of the road there was a superbloom. The ground was covered in purple flowers, making it look like a purple carpet. People are standing on a path in the center of the superbloom to take pictures.

The superbloom on the side of the road made the ground look like it had a purple carpet.

A picture taken from the passenger seat during the drive to Big Sur. There are mountains in sight, and the road curves in front of them. To the left the mountains stretch down to the ocean.

The drive up to Big Sur was especially pretty with winding roads and mountain views.

We stopped at Big Sur to see the water and do a short hike.

The beach at Big Sur. Tall cliffs are on the right side, and the sky is super blue with a couple of white clouds. The sand is a dark color from the pebbles, and the water is pretty calm.

The shore we visited at Big Sur.

Eventually, we arrived in the Bay area, where we saw so many friends (all Mudd alums). We all got dinner together, and split up between two of our friends’ apartments to spend the night. Since me and my friend Katie are the early risers of the group, we spent the morning at a cafe together while the rest of our friends slept in.

After visiting the Bay, we started heading inland. This is when I really got bad at remembering to take pictures. We stopped in Lake Tahoe and had dinner by the lake, then stayed with our friend’s aunt and uncle in the mountains.

Continuing north, we spent two more nights camping: one night in Plumas National Forest, and another night near MacArthur Burney Falls.

Several small waterfalls spill out of the side of a cliff. There are lots of evergreen trees surrounding the falls.

The iPhone does not capture natural beauty very well

We stayed at a friend’s house in Portland, where we ate some amazing home cooked food, spent some time with our friend, and showered. Going further north, we camped along the Oregon coast for a night. We arrived at our campsite right at dusk and got to walk about a mile from our site to the beach. This was when I really got disappointed in the iPhone picture capabilities. The beach was super washed out and looked like somebody had lowered the saturation of the entire landscape.

The empty coast in Oregon; the sky is gray and cloudy, and the beach is very clean and empty.

Oregon coast beach

We tried to get up early enough to find some tide pools, but we were unsuccessful in finding them. We spent some time in the small beach town in the morning then began driving again. Our next night was in Seattle, but we were camping. It was the most urban camping environment I have ever been in. It seemed like it was right under a highway pass. There were tons of families camping on the site, and the nearby (5 minute walk) waterfront was crowded until the evening. After Seattle, we went to Vancouver.

Vancouver was the first place where we stayed in an Airbnb. We got to cook food in a real kitchen, went on several hikes, went kayaking, and traveled around the city. The thing that I noticed about Vancouver is how quiet it is. Even for a city, there seemed to be an absence of sirens, car noise, and even conversation. Still, it was a peaceful place to stay for a couple of nights. The most memorable experience from Vanouver was our hot pot dinner. Hot pot is a Chinese cooking method where there is a steaming hot broth at the center of the table, and you order ingredients like seaweed, mushrooms, and tofu to cook in the broth. We were really hungry when we arrived, so we ordered nearly every vegetable on the menu and about five other ingredients. We then noticed a sign that said we would be charged for any extra ingredients over a certain weight (which is smart). As our server started to roll out large carts filled with our food, we realized the challenge we were about to face. It was a tough, but we miraculously finished all of the food.

There are several plates on our table at the hot pot restaurant. My friends are picking up their food to eat from the broth.

My friends try to eat all of the food we ordered at the hot pot restaurant

After our nights in Vancouver, we started going south back to Seattle. This time we stayed with our alum friends who all live in a house together. It was a super cute house and we got to stay a couple of nights. We traveled around Seattle a bit, but we also had a day relaxing indoors. We had a big dinner at a nearby restaurant on our last night; so man of our alum friends live in the area, so it was a big reunion.

Unfortunately, for me and my friend Katie, Seattle was the last stop. We flew back to San Diego where her parents live and had a day to relax and sleep. The next day we drove back up to LA and got started with the rest of our summers!

My takeaways from the trip are (1) the iPhone cannot take pictures of nature very well, (2) it’s a good idea scope out campsites for dispersed camping before going, and (3) do not order too much food at a hot pot restaurant. Overall, the trip was a great time with a perfect mix of camping, sightseeing, hiking, and city exploring. I am excited to see what adventures I will have during my post-graduation trip. But first, I have to finish my senior year.