TL;DR | The coast is every bit as beautiful as we had heard, and having Carolyn with us made it all the better.
We had heard a lot of hype about the California coast; that it is gorgeous, stunning, that you could potentially die on the narrow, unprotected roads...the first two are definitely true, and luckily we cannot speak to the third.
The drive from Yosemite to our next campground was uneventful; we actually didn't even make it to the coast that first day. Campsites around Carmel, Monterrey, and Big Sur are unbelievably expensive and hard to come by, so we camped in Pinnacles National Park, a place none of us had heard of. The major points to note there was that it was very hot, and there were some pretty aggressive raccoons wandering about. One was so aggressive it “charged” Carolyn while we were playing Cribbage, resulting in her taking the light and flashing it into the woods so frequently she missed every peg-scoring opportunity for the next half an hour. The raccoon did not return.
The drive through Carmel and down the coast was as picturesque as we could have imagined; lounging by Pebble Beach (which Emily thought was famous for its pebbles rather than its golfing) and watching dog after dog chase tennis balls through the wind, observing the rugged rock cliffs dropping off into the ocean, and of course conducting a cartwheel contest by the ocean (Emily won, obviously).
A highlight was definitely the elephant seals. There is one beach they simply love, and around sunset dozens of them gather to do… whatever elephant seals do. We never really figured it out, but in observing them it seems that they mostly sleep, roar, fling sand onto themselves, and “fight” in this weird, wiggling fashion. We could have stood and watched all day, but as cute as elephant seals are, they smell extremely bad. In another animal encounter, we ran into raccoons yet again at our campsite in San Simeon State Park. This time they came in packs, were much larger, and really quite frightening as their eyes glowed green in the woods. Carolyn didn’t play a hand of cards for the rest of the night.
We also made a visit to Hearst Castle, the fantastic home of William Randolph Hearst, which is modeled after some conglomeration of Roman, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and who-knows-what else artwork and architectural styles. The grounds are enormous, housing a massive main home, multiple “cabins,” (ornately decorated guest houses) a zoo, multiple pools with marble columns to emulate where the gods might have swam, acres and acres of horse riding paths, and of course a large collection of authentic Egyptian sarcophagi (we were surprised too). This really is a must see if you are in the area, and not just because Alex Trebek narrates a portion of the bus ride to the castle. There was also the added plus that the castle was actually open; because of the massive wildfires plaguing the Big Sur area, the property had been closed for two full weeks prior to allow trucks and other firefighters a chance to use the roads. The smoke was still thick on the day we went, and we could smell burning in the air everywhere we went.
We enjoyed the lack of traffic on the way to LA, and made a brief stop in Santa Barbara for coffee before pressing on. We were fortunate to avoid many of closures due to the wildfires, and everything we saw of the coast exceeded our expectations. Thank goodness we had those views to remember, since we were heading to the heart of urban life: Los Angeles.