California – can you handle it?
There are few better ways to embark on the Porsche Travel Experience California than with a visit to the Porsche Experience Center. The city of Carson, near Los Angeles, is the home of Porsche Motor Sport North America – and also where you can join the instructor-led driving programme on its in-house 6.5km (four miles) test track. It sparks your synapses over a series of handling circuits, a high-speed straight, a kick plate and even a low-friction section dubbed ‘Ice Hill’. This part of the Golden State – famous for its beaches and obsession with cars – serves as the perfect appetiser for a tour of California in a Porsche.
Driving the Highway of Dreams on the Porsche Travel Experience California
The Los Angeles conurbation is criss-crossed by miles and miles of tarmac. Traffic? It’s something of an occupational hazard for all drivers here. But we are leaving all that behind at the wheel of our Porsche. Ahead, to the north of the city, is a legendary road that winds its way 1055km (656 miles) up the western coastline of California. Highway 1. The Pacific Coast Highway. Or PCH for short. We head through Santa Monica, then Malibu, taking in scenes that we have seen on TV and movies – ones that have been playing out in our heads for our lifetime, suddenly become reality. The sunshine is on our face. The salty ocean air of the Pacific fills our nostrils. Around every corner yet another photo opportunity reveals itself, causing us to settle into a delightful, serene state. We set off on the long haul ahead, ready to conquer San Francisco.
The first stretch northwards is dotted with palm trees and white villas, steep cliffs and spectacular views. We then reach Santa Barbara, capital of the American Riviera. Here Spanish colonial architecture, churches, squares and fountains lend Mediterranean flair. A real gem in a floral setting – perfect for a stop and a short sightseeing tour to get us back in the mood for the upcoming asphalt adventure and the surf of the Pacific that thunders against the rugged rocks below us. Just after Gaviota we start to turn inland. For a while, the luminous blue of the ocean is replaced with the lush green of the forests. You’ll never get bored of your drive on the Porsche Travel Experience California.
Big views on the Big Sur
Pretty soon we enter the most impressive, visually arresting section of the PCH – Big Sur. Ahead of us lies the world famous Bixby Creek Bridge. Opened almost 90 years ago, at a height of 80 metres, the bridge’s open arched construction spans a gorge just made for a widescreen shot. Fortunately, there are many bays where you can enjoy the unique panoramic view in peace. Then we hit the rugged coast again, the low-end rumble of the Pacific below becoming ever more apparent. The cliffs become steeper, the road winds its way along the coast in even more thrilling, with its narrowing hairpin bends. Here we are breathtakingly close to the Pacific. You stop to get your camera out, head back into your car – and five minutes later another stupendous view causes you to pull over yet again, another memory to be captured.
Portly elephant seals sunbathe on the beach. Surfers ride the rolling waves. Deep, cavernous canyons plunge below. Both ocean and coast are protected at the Point Lobos State Reserve, which is particularly well-known for its sea otters. Sadly, there were no whales or seals to be seen today. However, our endorphin levels are almost at the limit anyway from the drive on the incredible Porsche Travel Experience California.
A drive along Highway 1 isn’t complete without a stop in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A charming small town of winding streets and half-timbered houses, this settlement of 4000 people is associated with Hollywood royalty in the shape of legendary actor Clint Eastwood, who was mayor here for a time during the 1980s. These days, you can try traditional American cuisine in the restaurant of his Mission Ranch Hotel & Restaurant – a breakfast of huevos rancheros or waffles is a must – while enjoying the view of Carmel Bay and Point Lobos. Every year in August, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey (known for its association with that great chronicler of Californian life, John Steinbeck) just a few miles away, are the focus of the world’s most exclusive automobile meeting. Sports car fans from all over the world meet for Monterey Car Week and the famous Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. A trip along the famous 17-Mile Drive, past Pebble Beach Golf Course – home to seven golf majors over the years – and Cypress Point, is just as important as a visit to the Laguna Seca circuit with its famous corkscrew bend, one of the greatest stretches of racetrack anywhere, a little inland.
To Silicon Valley and on to the Golden Gate
It’s around 200km (120 miles) to San Francisco from this point. Along the way participants on the Porsche Travel Experience California head through laidback Santa Cruz, a coastal city with a counter culture vibe, cool villas belonging to Silicon Valley’s high-tech millionaires (and billionaires) and its famous sea lions cavorting down on the pier. We soon spy the skyline of cosmopolitan San Francisco in the distance and not much longer we are in the city itself where, in 1967, one of the great cultural revolutions began – the Summer of Love. The Haight and Ashbury districts on which it was centred are just a few metres from Golden Gate Park. We tour the colourful Mission District, taking in the Flower Power and Latin American murals before heading on to the winding, photogenic Lombard Street. Its steep gradient and flora-lined carriageway gives it a unique charm in a city seemingly full of glorious sights. Speaking of which, the Golden Gate Bridge is calling us.
The bridge is a majestic final destination for our trip and is simply spectacular in fine weather. It’s not just the most famous landmark in the city, but probably the whole of California. We get our first close-up look of it from Fisherman’s Wharf, before crossing this 2,737m long (8,980 feet), orange-red architectural masterpiece on one of its six lanes. It is best to do this early in the morning, before the infamous San Francisco fog creeps into the bay.
This is the best way to enjoy this iconic engineering marvel, which has defied sea spray and strong winds since it opened in 1937. Up here, even getting stuck in a traffic jam would be fun. What a grand finale for our exciting Porsche Travel Experience California journey this is.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.