10.17.18 / Pacific Coast Highway / California

Road Tripping with Shane Fonner Down the Dreamy Pacific Coast Highway

“A cruise down California’s storied PCH is Bucket List stuff”

Palmiers du Mal Creative Director and friend of A Hotel Life Shane Fonner recently took a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. While many people spend the end of summers traveling abroad, Fonner dove into California culture, visiting quaint towns, boutique hotels, and, naturally, the most scenic landscapes on the West Coast. Check out why this was a “bucket list” road trip below, in his words.

We started in San Francisco with a stay at the fabulously remodeled Kabuki Hotel, set atop a promontory with expansive, panoramic views over Japan Town towards the Pacific (and the Golden Gate Bridge if you’re lucky enough to land a higher floor), and just a short walk from SPQR, a breathtaking Michelin-starred Italian joint with an innovative menu full of fresh local ingredients and not short on panache. From the Kabuki we headed towards the ocean, finding the PCH after some wrong turns and a visit to the grass shop. After going off route for a much needed taco stop in charm deficient but taco rich San Bruno, we were back on the road embarking on arguably the most majestic leg of our itinerary.

Started the road trip with a zen stay in San Francisco’s JapanTown at the newly remodeled Kabuki Hotel.


This may or may not be the Bixby Creek Bridge. We weren’t the only vagrants/provincials who (may have) made this mistake.

The stylish chevron and cozy mod aesthetic in the Cambria Beach Lodge’s lovely reception lounge.

With the Trojan Records 40th Anniversary compilation reverberating through our sexy rental car’s speakers, my wife (founder of LER Public Relations and Creative Director of BLACKSEA) Jane Lerman, and I cruised the precipitous edge of the continent. We arrived in Big Sur and pulled in to Nepenthe, a cliff-side restaurant for a much needed negroni break. GPS suggested we head back and over to the 101, but there was no way in hell we were doing that with a 3 hour drive to Cambria in front of us. (If I could do it again—and I plan to—I’d extend the trip by a bit and spend more time in Big Sur; it’s a dramatic, impactful place.) We forged ahead down the PCH instead. In pitch darkness, with waves gloriously crashing (I’m assuming) hundreds of feet below and perilous roads with neither streetlights nor guardrails, I was growing in confidence. The full moon danced on the Pacific to the right, and an anticipated 3 hours was cut down to 1 hour and 50 minutes of hairpin, death-defying blind turns. We pulled into the Cambria Beach Lodge, a fresh and smartly renovated motor lodge in a town that’s ordinances prevent any new construction.

Jane out for a spin along the coast on one of Cambria Beach Lodge’s yellow cruisers (with basket).

A lonely, cinematic period structure on the lowlands in front of Hearst Castle’s sprawl towards the Pacific.

We woke up with the sea in sight across from Moonstone Beach and grabbed a coffee by HoneyCo Roasters in the neatly done reception area before heading up the hill to Hearst Castle – a place seemingly made just for me. I got yelled at for stepping on the carpet. Edibles. We headed further south to San Luis Obispo, landing at the charming and delicious Granada Hotel & Bistro. The hotel was charismatic and intimate, with noticeable design-y touches throughout. The food was breathtaking – from the kimchi green beans and pickled veggies to the delectable hanger steak, it was top to bottom a showstopper of a meal.

Portrait of the author, pondering the possibility of constructing my own castle, in furry babouche.

I love the timeless feel of this picture despite Jane’s iPhone camera trying to capture the impactful Morro Rock.

California moderne.

Dierberg Star Lane tasting room – Lompoc, sundown.

Retro feel in a village lost to time – The Alamo Motel.

From San Luis Obispo, we headed south towards Lompoc and the Central Coast wine region, dipping in along the way to Dierberg Star Lane’s tasting room before heading over to Los Alamos, a surprisingly cosmopolitan place for a town straight out of a Steinbeck novel. The Alamo Motel was an ideal respite, just across the street from three phenomenal Michelin-quality restaurants and with a market-light canopied fire pit to cut the chill in the crisp air. After an impressive culinary experience at Pico and a drunken old cowboy (Bobby – look him up) writing poetry on a bar tab for Jane, we took off for a pit stop in Santa Barbara on our way to Ojai.

Heavenly vision of Ojai over the mountains coming in from Santa Barbara.

The groovy reception lounge at the Ojai Rancho Inn.

Chief’s Peak, Ojai Rancho’s beer and (phenomenal) wine bar with a livelier than imagined evening pool scene in back.

In my opinion, Santa Barbara is one of those places which are better on paper – it seems it would be great but it’s a little uptight and rigid for my liking. However, the regrettably named “Funk Zone” had some great tasting rooms. I was happy to leave Santa Barbara behind and get to Ojai. Ojai had been overhyped by everyone. Although it’s all those crunchy things you’ve read, it does really have a special vibe. I attended my first yoga class. I meditated. We stayed at Ojai Rancho Inn, which had an unexpectedly chill evening pool scene behind Chief’s Peak, the local wine and beer bar. The room was cozy and quiet despite not being overly renovated, and the location and crowd were killer.

Bob Dylan wrote Blood on the Tracks in Room 13 – The Native.

Obsessed with the robes at The Native. Caftan courtesy of yours truly.

Surfy mid-century – peak Malibu.

Now that we had kicked our relaxation level up a notch, it was on to what was arguably my favorite stop on the trip – Malibu. Back in familiar territory after hitting the final stretch of the PCH before what is essentially LA, we slid into The Native. The Native is tucked away off the side of the highway near the top of a hill, and although there were no ocean views, you knew it was there and that was enough. The Native was groovy, on trend, and rooms were kitted with really hip dead-stock African fabric robes, and we swung in the hammock on our patio with the Dutch door opened and the Dur Dur Band echoing from the speaker in the stylish room. The next day we cruised into Los Angeles, settling in to our trusty cottage in Laurel Canyon, and ended the drive with a compulsory stop at the Chateau for a celebratory negroni.

Ordering a negroni on the Malibu pier – well deserved reward for some fucking grade A cruising down the PCH.

Obligatory homage at the Chateau.

Last rays in Venice.

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