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Cruising California's Coast

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The Perfect Getaway: A BMW and California's Highway 1

2004 BMW 6 Series
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It is a seemingly simple ribbon of black asphalt, wrapping itself along California's coastline, but this famous scenic drive is anything but simple road construction. Stretching 644 miles, the Pacific Coast Highway crosses deep crevasses, protected wetlands and earthquake faults. One section took eight years to build and features one of the highest single-span bridges in the world, stretching 714 feet and standing 260 feet high.

The road is punctuated by dramatic cliffs and sparkling seashores, as well as living natural wonders, ancient windswept trees, brilliant flower fields and beaches dotted with sea lions and elephant seals. While the spectacular scenery is always there, the view of it is not. Often Highway 1 (as it is also known) is mired in thick, billowing fog and, in winter months, heavy rains frequently cause rock and mud slides that can make driving treacherous.

We began our journey near Los Angeles in the summer, hoping the warm days would cause the fog to lift early, resulting in postcard-perfect weather. The hour as the sun begins to set is the most magical of any day along the coast. It is then that the setting sun lights up the shoreline as if it were made of gold. It is this light, what a photographer friend once called "God's light," that makes the scenery even more breathtaking.

As we headed out, Highway 1 could have been the suburbs of any major city, marred with traffic lights and retails stores. Gradually, however, the city landscape faded and soon we were cruising through beachside towns where shoes and shirts are optional and being laid-back is mandatory.

A short drive brought us to Santa Barbara and a night stop at the Simpson House Inn, a gorgeous 1874 Victorian home. Just a five-minute walk from the shops and restaurants of State Street, the Simpson House, with its 11 rooms in the main house and renovated barn as well as three individual cottages, is tucked away behind a tall hedge in a secluded setting. Although complimentary hors d'oeuvres and local wines in the Inn's English garden was as close to heaven as one could get, we tore ourselves away to ride the charming Old Town Trolley, touring Stearns Wharf, State Street's shops and the city's historic adobes.

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