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The Only Way From L.A. to S.F. 

One definition of heaven: A week, a t-top Camaro, and the Pacific Coast Highway.

Wednesday, Jun 25 2003
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I was skeptical. Images of crystals, drum circles, and creepy naked guys swirled around in my head. But it's hard to be a cynic when you're soaking in a pool built into sheer rock cliffs with red-robed Tibetan monks milling about and a whale breaching in the foamy waters below.

Among the 400 to 500 workshops offered each year are "Advanced Holistic Sexuality," "Gestalt Awareness Practicum," and "Watercolor: A New Beginning." Workshops include accommodations and meals and are fairly expensive. Esalen offers work-study programs, scholarships, and bunk or sleeping bag options for those looking to participate at a lower cost.

Sunset at Big Sur begs for a stop at Nepenthe. Named for an ancient Egyptian drug used to induce forgetfulness and relieve grief, this bar's built on the site of the cabin Orson Welles bought for Rita Hayworth. Spacious terraces are poised to offer spectacular, almost surreal views. We climbed up to the upper deck, drank cold white wine, and watched nature do her thing.

Down the road a spell, the funky, rustic accommodations at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn smack of early bohemia and summer camp. A hodgepodge of rough-hewn, clapboard buildings is surrounded by stands of towering redwoods and purple and white wisteria, and the air is fragrant with the scent of eucalyptus and salt water. Heating is provided by fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and the odd electric heater. There are no locks, keys, phones, or televisions. We fell asleep to the sound of a rushing creek outside our miniature dollhouse cottage.

Guidebooks and locals alike recommend breakfast at Deetjen's, so in the morning we trekked over to the restaurant for fluffy blueberry pancakes with a hint of cinnamon and clove, and eggs Benedict smothered in a superb hollandaise sauce.

After exploring trails at the stunning Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, we set off to meet friends in Carmel. We had a guest cottage booked at La Playa Hotel, one block from the beach. First stop was The Cheese Shop, a Carmel foodie institution with a dizzying selection of cheeses from all over the world; we chose a French beaufort alpage, a Spanish manchego, and a brie-like fromage d'Affinois.

Thanks to the legacy of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Carmel has some outstanding photography galleries. We poked around at Photography West Gallery and Gallery Sur, then beat a hasty retreat out of the too-precious, yuppified downtown and headed for the beach. Sunset glowed pink above the silvery waves and wet Labradors tore up and down through the surf.

When our friends arrived we cocktailed poolside in the meticulously manicured gardens of La Playa, then retreated to the spacious, secluded cottage for dinner.

We parted ways the next day, and Dan and I headed out for our last night on the road. We stopped outside of Santa Cruz at Bonny Doon Vineyard, where we sampled a flight of eccentric winemaker Randall Grahm's unorthodox blends. Grahm is known for both his "excessive eclecticism" in winemaking and a penchant for radical art labels, including one by Ralph Steadman that was banned in Utah. We bought a bottle of Framboise, a lip-smacking, raspberry-flavored dessert wine, and headed to the Costanoa Coastal Lodge & Camp.

Accommodations at Costanoa are comprised of campsites, an assortment of cabins (wooden and canvas), and the more luxurious lodge. We opted for the "Cypress Canvas Cabin" with locking doors, down bedding, lighting, and a heated floor. There are 16 excellent hikes within 15 miles of Costanoa, including Año Nuevo, Big Basin, and Butano state parks. We dropped our stuff and took a brisk hike out to the ocean.

Before retiring, we spent our last evening watching a spectacular sunset over the Pacific at Pigeon Point, a few miles north. On this picturesque spot, a 115-foot lighthouse (the second tallest in the United States) was built in 1872 and retains its original Fresnel lens. Docent-led tours wind up the iron steps to the lens room on weekends. A charming hostel on the grounds, with fully equipped kitchens and an outdoor hot tub, offers overnight lodging. This an ideal spot to observe migrating whales from December through May, and the perfect place to begin or end your trip from L.A. to S.F. via the PCH.

Where to Stay

Hollywood Downtowner Inn -- 5601 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-7191, www.hollywooddowntowner.com. Doubles from $55. Inexpensive central Hollywood location, not for the squeamish.

Madonna Inn 100 Madonna Rd., San Luis Obispo, (800) 543-9666 or (805) 543-3000, www.madonnainn.com. Doubles from $147 .Outrageous kitschy theme rooms like the Caveman Suite with a waterfall, stone ceilings and floors.

Just Inn at Justin Winery -- 11680 Chimney Rock Rd., Paso Robles, (805) 238-6932, www.justinwine.com. Suites $245-295. The ultimate romantic getaway; worth the splurge.

La Playa Hotel -- Camino Real & Eighth Avenue, Carmel by the Sea, (831) 624-6476 or (800) 582-8900, www.laplayahotel.com. Rooms from $160, suites and cottages from $295. Historic Mediterranean-style villa with dazzling gardens, one block from the beach.

Deetjen's Big Sur Inn -- 48865 Hwy. 1, Big Sur, (831) 667-2377, www.deetjens.com. Cabins from $150. Rustic cabins with bohemian charm; stay for breakfast.

Costanoa Coastal Lodge -- 2001 Rossi Rd. at Hwy. 1, Pescadero, (650) 879-1100, www.costanoa.com. Accommodations ranging from camp sites to luxury lodge suites, $30-240.

Where to Go

The Getty Museum -- 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles, (310) 440-7300, www.getty.edu. Reservations required on weekdays. Free admission, parking $5.

Hearst Castle -- 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, (800) 444-4445 or (805) 927-2020, www.hearstcastle.org. Reservations for parking required. Adults $18-24 (varies by tour); youth (6-17) $9-12; free for children under 6.

About The Author

Lisa Crovo

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