California One north from Half Moon Bay

Someplace as we left Fremont California for Half Moon Bay driving on one freeway and  merging on the right into another, the GPS said – exit left in 1.5 km. I looked at the eight lanes of traffic to my left, took a deep breath and calmly, with a firm grip on the steering, instructed our Red Rosie Outback to start moving. To her credit she stepped up on her toe-points and gracefully made her way across the mid-morning traffic as if she had been doing it all her life. Must have been all the deer she was used to watching for on the sides of our Mayne Island roads in British Columbia. We had decided to take the California One north until it connected to Highway 101. We had been warned that it was slow, windy, car-sick inducing and had great views. It was the latter that made it irresistible.

California coast from Muir Beach overlook south with San Francisco in the distance.

California coast from Muir Beach overlook south by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 022

Though there were impressive moments before this, we didn’t stop along the shoreline until reaching the Muir Beach Overlook.

looking down Muir Beach Overlook California by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 027

The California One is gorgeous but one must keep driving or it would take weeks to complete this section instead of two days.

The first night on California One we stayed at the Valley Ford Hotel in the middle of cow country.

We didn't ride in on a horse but Valley Ford Hotel likely would have accepted us if we did by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 042

The hotel is more like a quaint bed and breakfast these days without the breakfast. But it’s 1864 establishment and history is most evident. We had purchased local cheese and some bread and bananas for breakfast. Coffee was available with filtered water even.  So all was just as it should be.

Besides the old barn directly behind the grocery store…

barn in Valley Ford California by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 036

and the country commuter car…

ranching country by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 034

there was something else that told us before any other factor that we were in serious cow country. Can you guess what it is? Nope, not the dead skunk in the middle of the road that I narrowly missed. Nope, not the cattle guards either. Yes, you got it – the unmistakable aroma of cow manure. But even so, it sure was a beautiful stretch of road.

California one evening light Valley Ford California by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 087

The next morning we continued on galloping up, down and around the ribbon of highway on the ruffled neckline of the Pacific coast. At times, the narrow road has all the excitement of a slow roller coaster.

California One and the sea by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 123

When we would round a corner and see nothing but the narrow curve of the highway and the blue of the sea and sky I really did need to mutter to myself – stay the course Terrill, people drive this road everyday without mishap.

slowly winding along the California one by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 127

We did stop occasionally just to enjoy the view. One of these was at Duncan’s Cove.

Duncan's Cove California by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 109

The other was to eat our packed lunch at Point Arena Lighthouse.

Point Arena Lighthouse California coast by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 138

But mostly, we drove and pulled over frequently to let locals go zipping by on their way to destination that was far more urgent than ours.

We have a two night stop at Howard Creek Ranch Inn, mile 80.49 on California one.

Complete with rubber boots to cross the creek it is a little peace of sixties heaven coming from the rubble of much older roots. We are in a large room on the main floor of the carriage house – the Walden. As I sit at the desk looking out onto the courtyard this morning, I can hear the morning birds, a chatty rooster and the surf which is telling me the tide is in. Breakfast is in an hour at 9:00 am and we will walk one-at-a-time across the bridge that swings over the creek to the farm-house where I have already spotted wood smoke churning up from the chimney of the cook stove and the living room fireplace. When we checked in it was at the farmhouse and then we drove back to the quiet highway and came a cross the bridge then back down a long winding driveway, complete with a deer bounding across the field, coming to a parking place next to the large carriage house. Howard Creek is definitely a defining feature of the property and daily life.  The woodwork is an aesthetic gem in the big building and was done by the owner in what appears to have taken years and is an ongoing process. Terracotta tile floors with bits of blue and Spanish design around the bed finish our room off with comfortable warmth. The bathroom has a large open European style shower and there are patchwork curtains at the end of the bed for privacy and shelter from the morning light. I can hear little bells and looking up there is a herd of goats and sheep coming down the road towards the farm-house. Good morning world!

I have already taken my camera for an impressive walk late in the  afternoon yesterday

hazy California coast mile 80.49 by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 239

and again at sunset.

California coastal sunset by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 439

Today after breakfast, I hope to do some painting sketches as it looks like another fine day here on the coast.  And with my coffee cup empty, so another day begins on our coastal trip. With my painting gear on my shoulder, rubber boots on my feet I head out and cross the creek near the shore.

Howard Creek Ranch by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 570

The blue-green of the sea is mesmerizing. I just stand there for the longest time.

blue green of the California Pacific by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 681

Eventually the surf connecting with the shore forces my camera up.

surf connecting at Howard Creek by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 736

I begin an hour-long reference shoot of these favourite rocks

favourite rocks at Howard Creek beach by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 790

along with the rest of the shoreline.

surf at 80.49 California by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 744

Words cannot explain my full-body of emotions and the rhythmic vibration of the surf in my being. Eventually, I gather enough inner calm to decide where to do a painting sketch. I am unsure of the tides direction so the decision seemed obvious enough. I went up to the lookout.

setting up to plein air paint on beach at Howard Creek Ranch by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 887

Removing rubber boots and socks I set up to work. People come and go behind me with little attention necessary on my part. About 45 minutes later, I call it done.

calling it done morning plein air painting sketch at mile 80.49 California one by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 935

The light has of course already changed and the sea is now slightly washed out in the mid-day light but I am happy with the results of the sketch.

plein air painting on beach at Howard Creek Ranch by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 907

About this point a young boy of around ten years old comments behind me – great job! I turn to look into this earnest face filled with appreciation. He goes on to explain that his art teacher had asked them to paint like Monet and that it was really hard but I had done it perfectly. The fact that he absolutely meant every word that he said and that he somehow had an intuitive understanding based on his own experience as to what was involved in creating this small painting sketch, immediately established a kinship. We chatted for a while about patches of colour and moving light. His sister and father watched and listened with more curiosity than real interest. I wonder if this young lad will someday become a full-time painter? One never knows who tomorrow’s artists are among us do we?

“morning on beach at Mile 80.49 California one” 9 x 12 inch acrylic plein air painting sketch

morning on beach at Mile 80.49 California one 9 x 12 inch acrylic plein air painting sketch by Terrill Welch 2015_03_04 924

So, if you are afraid of heights, or if you truly do get car-sick or frustrated with slow travel then this is not the highway for you. Other than that, I would say do it! I do believe that this section of the California One has become one of my favourite road.

We are home again now and there are large canvases in the waiting in the loft studio to explore more of my experiences. But for the moment, this is enough, more than enough.


What is one of your own favourite stretches of highway?



© 2015 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

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11 thoughts on “California One north from Half Moon Bay

  1. Lovely photos.
    I smelled those cows. I heard those birds. I stood behind you, silently, as you worked. Thank you for taking me with you (through this article), Terrill.
    My favourite stretch of highway is in Iceland. The road is narrow. Cars and trucks drive up and down. How?
    They know how to share. It was quite an experience for this Canadian. : )

    • Oh I can definitely see where this would be a favourite road Leanne. This idea of consciously sharing the road was most evident on the California One as well. I loved when people gave a happy little beep-beep when I pulled into the nearest available pull-out.

  2. Gorgeous pictures and lovely painting! I think I have driven that stretch of road, or at least some of it as we headed to San Francisco a few years back, and again many years ago, but the memories have faded. Would love to do it again. There are many stretches of road I have loved, most recently driving anywhere on the Big Island. the expansive views were wonderful, with the Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa quite spectacular.

    • Oh your choice of roads sounds fabulous Chiarina and I know that these experiences are fresh in your mind. You don’t have to take the California One in and out of San Francisco and you are right, a person can do section of it which is what most people do – even, as we discovered, Californians.

    • Oh I so glad not to have disappointed you on a review of your most favourite highway in the Whole of the United States Laurie! I can certainly understand it being in the top of your list. It sure is a beauty!

  3. I loved this post. We took a similar trip in the opposite direction. The redwoods were definitely a highlight in addition to the coast. I remember many pull offs so the person behind me could go faster than I was willing.

    • We really enjoyed the Redwoods as well Adam but I surprised myself and didn’t take any photographs of these big Giants. Our trip went from Mayne Island in B.C. Canada south toe Fremont California and then North again. A few parts of the trip we did the same highway in the opposite direction but mostly we found slightly different coast roads each way. The pullouts work so well I wish we had more of these on our narrow roads here. I image in the summer when it is busy these highways can feel pretty congested regardless. But we were gone 20 days leaving on the 19th of February and only had one day of heavy rain. Luck was on our side. By the way, welcome to Creative Potager and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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