The road to the Cup

By Richard Edwards

Richard Edwards combines his love of cars with his passion for the America's Cup.

Journey's end, looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Toyota. Photos / Richard Edwards
Journey's end, looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Toyota. Photos / Richard Edwards

The plan: Fly from Auckland to Los Angeles, collect a car, and spend three days cruising up the Californian coast to the - hopefully soon-to-be-former - home of the America's Cup in San Francisco.

This is the long way to get there. You can drive in under six hours via the more direct inland route, and Air New Zealand offers a direct service from Auckland to San Francisco - but if you enjoy a good road trip, California State Route 1 is too good to miss.

Especially with the transport Driven had available. It is a year since Toyota launched the 86 coupe on to the world to huge acclaim - a true driver's car, ideal for a road trip for two - just pack light.

In my case the car is a Scion FR-S, from Toyota's youth brand, and specifically its 10th-birthday special edition which adds a unique "Silver Ignition" paint scheme, and LED-lit badges and dashboard.

Ignore the dubious taste of the additions, this is the equivalent of the standard New Zealand 86, with its 149kW boxer engine and six-speed transmission.

It will run a 0-100km/h time in 7.6 seconds but, more importantly for this trip, it will happily run along at 55 miles per hour - about 90 km/h to us Kiwis - all day long in sixth.

Why a Toyota? The New Zealand distributor is the brand most closely associated with the cup, supporting Team New Zealand since 1992.

I joined California 1 at Santa Monica, where it heads away from the city and around Malibu. The road sits mostly away from the beach, behind homes and businesses and, aside from a higher-than-normal population of luxury cars and some interesting homes up on the cliffs, there is little to indicate that this is a meeting place for the rich and famous.

Past Malibu, the highway tracks inland through suburban Ventura County, returning to the coast as the Screaming Eagles Highway, with oil rigs offshore in the distance.

Highway 1 splits from the larger 101 at Las Cruces, but stick with the 101 a little further and get off at Los Alamos, a small town with an amazing strip of historic buildings, before following through vineyards and farms to Pismo Beach - where Driven rested for the night.

Pismo is a fantastic destination in its own right, with a picture perfect main street and pier. In the evening, head to Harry's Bar and Night Club downtown to meet some locals, and enjoy local brews and a band. In the morning, head for Penny's All American Diner for breakfast and bottomless coffee - and a chance to see some of the interesting old American vehicles scattered around Pismo Beach Automotive next door.

After Pismo, head inland again briefly to San Luis Obispo, home of the world's first motel, before heading back to the coast and San Simeon. Just north of here is the mansion of newspaper magnate William Hearst, built in 1919. It is part of a state park and you can only get close with a tour, so book in advance at Hearstcastle.org.

The section from San Simeon to Carmel is world famous, for 200km along the coast it climbs high up and down the cliffsides. Navigation systems suggest you will need around three hours but, with significant tourist traffic, and a vista point every few kilometres to stop and marvel at, give yourself significantly more.

The Scion felt extraordinarily at home here, even if slowed by the legions of Ford Mustang convertibles and Dodge Avenger rental cars. I took the option to back off from the traffic on a regular basis to get clear space to attack the twisty sections - hair-pin turns and aggressive cambers.

Key spots have to be the elephant seals just past San Simeon, the often-photographed Bixby Bridge, and the artist-enclave of Big Sur, which sees the road duck away from the sunny coast into a cool and shady forest, with art galleries, camping grounds and roadside cafes.

The next major stop is Monterey, home of the world-famous aquarium and Pebble Beach Concours classic car show. Cannery Row is a must do, while Fisherman's Wharf is the place to be in the evenings.

From Monterey the highway turns back into freeway as far as Santa Cruz, before again hitting the coast for the final run towards San Francisco. This area is a food basket, with fields of strawberries, pumpkins and artichokes - the latter you can buy deep fried from roadside stores.

North of Half Moon Bay the road's flowing curves pass white sand beaches and crumbling sandstone cliffs. The coastal route finally heads into the city's outer suburbs at a set of impressive new tunnels at Devil's Slide.

I hit the edge of the city surprised, expecting some aches, pains and groans from three-days in and out of a sports car - but no, the car is comfortable, not too noisy and harsh on the back - and aside from rather limited rear visibility, easy to live with.

The highway continues over the Golden Gate Bridge. Again, the Scion gets the chance to climb a coastal cliff road, this time to the Marin Headlands, and a view of Oracle out practising - which they need.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 26 Dec 2014 20:30:29 Processing Time: 509ms