Friends Reconnect on a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

The author (left) and her friend Michael enjoy the patio at Roblar Winery and Vineyards.

The author (left) and her friend Michael enjoy the patio at Roblar Winery and Vineyards.

Story and photos by Megan Snedden

Megan is a California-based writer and photographer. Follow her on Instagram or on her travel blog.

Once stricken by grief, a world traveler returns the gift of kindness on the way to Big Sur.

When the phone stopped ringing, a palpable absence filled my house. For the first time in weeks it was quiet, but not serene. In the silence, the reality of grief started to creep in.

After unexpectedly losing my dad when I was 25, I felt alone in a sadness I thought no one would understand. Coincidentally, the more broken I felt, the more appliances around the house stopped working — except the doorbell.

During this time, my childhood friend Michael would ring the bell and then greet me with a big smile that gleamed brighter than the metal toolbox tucked under his arm. Of course, no one could fix what I felt was truly broken, but his simple offer to make house repairs alleviated my stress. Beyond that, he was the friend who kept coming over to sit with me when other people had moved on with their lives.

Still a good friend to this day, Michael taught me that the simplest of good deeds can make the greatest difference to someone else. Inspired by this idea, once I got beyond the initial grief of loss, I started an acts of kindness movement to benefit others in similar ways. I’d always wanted to pay it forward to Michael, and during a long weekend this year, I finally got my chance.

Michael had moved to Los Angeles a year ago with his husband, and we both needed a break from the city chaos. I knew the perfect way to help us restore balance: escape the city for a road trip up the coast. The dramatic scenery and iconic stops on the way to Big Sur have always helped me clear my head. Plus, I knew there were many places north of Los Angeles that Michael hadn’t yet experienced. So, I whisked him away.

Starting our adventure, we drove through the early morning mist of Malibu and the Pacific Palisades where surfers drifted about the popular ocean breaks. I was surprised when Michael told me he had never found the time to see this part of town before.

Santa Barbara Memories


Later down the road, droplets pelted the windshield as we stopped for breakfast at Summerland Beach Café. Afterward, the fog held as we pulled into Santa Barbara, my former college town. It’s the kind of place where you always run into someone you know while getting an oat milk latte at Handlebar Coffee Roasters. At the coffee bar, a friend of mine welcomed Michael to town for the first time with a hug.

To work off breakfast, we scaled the steps inside the clock tower of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. From the top of the lookout, the panoramic view of the city and the Santa Ynez Mountains made us feel alive. Our ears rang from the cacophony of the tower’s midday bell ceremony.

After perusing State Street, we navigated away from the coast, up state Route 154, and over the hills that lead to the Santa Ynez Valley. As we gained altitude, the cool gray conditions cleared and transitioned to warm sunny skies.

We opened the windows to let the breeze blow through the car and turned our music up. Although Michael had politely offered to drive, I was happy to see him relax for a change because he is usually the person doing things for everyone else. As we drove along, he kicked back in the passenger seat and tapped the song’s rhythm on his knee.

Michael turned to me and said, “I really needed this.”

Cruising the Pacific Coast Highway


An hour later, we pulled off the road to Roblar Winery and Vineyards where we enjoyed a sumptuous cheese and charcuterie platter with local smoked Gouda, artisan salami and goat’s milk cheese. Outside, we took in the region’s rolling golden hills dappled with oak trees.

By the end of the day, about 150 miles north from where we started, we arrived at our hotel, the Inn at the Pier Pismo Beach, in time for sunset on the rooftop. Last time Michael was in Pismo Beach was as a kid, and he broke both arms by falling off his bicycle. Meanwhile, I remembered getting a regrettable ear piercing here when I was a teenager. We felt excited to create new memories in this place. As the sun went down, we sat by one of the hotel’s rooftop fireplaces in our robes laughing about the guests that pointed out how comfortable we looked. We were the only people wearing robes in public.

Saturday morning, after a quick breakfast burrito on the Pismo Beach Pier, we wound our way along California’s Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, again with the windows down to let the ocean air and sunshine run through the car. Two hours later, we arrived at Limekiln State Park to go hiking.

Due to recent mudslides, many other trails and sites in Big Sur were closed down. That, however, afforded us ample time to trek to the Old Limekiln Ruins and also make it to Limekiln Falls. Michael likes history and was excited to see the ruins. In the late 1800s, miners extracted limestone from the hills and fed it into the kilns to produce lime. This formed a main ingredient in the concrete used to construct buildings in San Francisco and Monterey.

By the late evening, the sun still hovered above the horizon, so we cruised north to the Restaurant at Big Sur River Inn for burgers on the wooden deck beside the water. We realized it was already after 8 p.m. before we started our one-hour descent back down the highway to our cabin at Gorda Springs Resort.

That night as we sat on the porch, I squealed when a star shot across the sky.

“Make a wish!” Michael said. We sat for a moment in silence.

On the way back Sunday, we stopped at Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara to listen to live bluegrass music and eat tri-tip sandwiches. I watched the smoke dance in the light rays that shot through the forest canopy as we wiped barbecue sauce from our fingers.

Since we started our trip, the temperature had risen by 40 degrees. The surprising contrast reminded me of another thing Michael gave me: hope that conditions will always change. When we had left Los Angeles, feeling glum in the presence of cold foggy skies, we didn’t expect to see the sun come out. Somehow during the trip, the light found its way through the gray and followed us back to the city. Returning to the reality of our everyday lives, we felt renewed, if not optimistic about how things here could unexpectedly change for the better.

I know from our experience together that the future holds many simple good moments like these despite life’s challenges. At least, that’s what I wished for when I saw that shooting star.


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