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Discovering Myself: A Solo Pacific Coast Highway in California Roadtrip

Updated: Apr 28

In the past, i've always tried my best to have a friend, family member, or significant other help me with cross-country travel and driving. The fear of being isolated in the middle of nowhere, without phone service, and having something bad happen always held me back from going solo. It wasn't until last summer that I decided I was ready for my first solo long-distance trip. I had a few cross-country trips under my belt that I had done with other people, so those helped prepare me for what I could expect and how i can best prepare for this one to go smoothly. There are lots of drawbacks when it comes to solo female travel, but I was ready for the challenge. I drove down the entire coast of California then back to Colorado in the summer months and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

My main motivation for taking this trip was to clear my head and figure out where was next once my lease ended in Denver in October. I had ended a difficult relationship earlier in 2022, and I was confident that there was nothing left for me in Colorado. I just had no idea where I should go next, I thought maybe Southern California would speak to me, but as I drove down the winding coast, parallel to the ocean, I was feeling drawn back to Seattle and the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

My Most Memorable Moment

I arrived to the Big Sur region, a place I had always dreamt of going, to find it covered in an intense, dreamy fog. I never thought I would be taking in this view alone, but I was glad to have Sora there to experience it with me. While looking out to the sea, I could be entirely in my head and also out. It was so surreal to watch the fog obstructing something so massive, and really controlling what you can and cant see or feel.

As I kept driving down the coast, listening to one of Lana del ray's dreamiest albums, i watched as the sun dissipated the fog and revealed views of the waves riding up and down the shore and green hills rolling and glowing with golden light. The sun slowly grew in strength as the hours passed and I kept driving. I continued down the coast, driving alongside the sun setting beneath the horizon. I immediately was taken back to a familiar moment I had while living in Seattle the previous summer, watching a similar sunset that made me feel so warm and content. In that moment I thought about what it would be like to return there. I felt as if my time wasn't finished there and there was some sense of something or someone waiting for me there that I still can't explain or reason. I could feel as if they or it was already there, I didn't really understand it, but decided to think more about that feeling during the remainder of my drive back to Colorado. By the end of the trip, I put in my notice for my lease and told my Seattle friends I was coming back.

a shikoku-ken dog smelling flowers in california

Being Present, 5 Senses

There was no one to tell us where to go or for how long to stay. If I wanted to take an extra few minutes to capture a shot with my tripod, then I did without hesitation. I tend to move pretty quickly with certain things and slower with others.

Having a dog has taught me to appreciate slower moments; Sora loves to take in all her senses in new places. Every type of flower, any body of flowing water, she has to immerse herself to experience it however she can. She gets her paws wet to feel it the water flowing, she takes a sip to taste it, she smells all the lifeforms that have crossed through that form of water, she looks for creatures that might be in the sand, and she listens for the sound of another wave approaching shore. I try to follow her lead and intently activate my senses. I want to remember what it was like to smell the plants and environment, see the colors that make a landscape unique, taste the salt in the air or dry dust in the desert, and record with my camera any sounds of nature I hear. As a highly sensitive person, I tend to easily get overwhelmed with new experiences, so taking time to stop and sit down to slowly take it all in really helps me. If a view is particularly beautiful and the weather is just right, then I find a place to sit away from others and try to feel as present as I can in those moments. We live consistently in the present, with our brains traveling back and forth from the past to the future - but the only true moment we can presently exist in is the one we are in. Traveling can sometimes be the only time people really feel present, and it can serve as a reminder to how important that is.

Driving down the Coastline + Itinerary

Our morning by the sea in Monterey started at this beautiful, dog-friendly coffeeshop in town called Captain + Stoker. They had a unique drink called an espresso spritz, which combines some of my favorite summer flavors. I grabbed our breakfast, Sora got some pets and bacon, and we set out.

At the edge of Monterey, you can take the 17-mile drive (for a small fee) and this brings you to some amazing views of the ocean and colorful flowers. At the end of our drive we grabbed another coffee from a local shop and then checked out some dog-friendly boutiques in Carmel-by-the-sea. Along with some iconic stickers, I found this beautiful maxi dress and just knew I had to buy it to wear for the day. I was trying to kill time to let the morning fog burn off down the coast and I was letting the day take me where it wanted to.

There were lots of people gathered to take photos and see the beauty of Bixby bridge stretching across the epic mountains and dramatic coastlines. The bridge was actually a lot smaller than I expected, and since it was crowded, I drove off to the left a bit (where I hope I can return and maybe hike next time) and enjoyed my coffee with the view from afar, and captured some photos. I didn't realize just how much I had missed the ocean and all it has to offer.

After the Bixby bridge we were ready to stretch our legs and dip our feet into the Pacific ocean, so we stopped by the Pfiefer beach in Big Sur. This beach is dog-friendly and easily accessible off the highway, but you have to pay a parking fee. I have to say the Big Sur forest was really enchanting and breathtaking; it had a unique feel to it that I could easily distinguish from other national parks. I wanted to camp here, but all the reservations were booked, but it's definitely on my list of things to return and do.

a dog at Pfiefer beach in Big Sur

After spending some time feeling the ocean and sand between our toes, we continued down the coast and stopped in San Luis Obispo and I got a salad from Urbane Cafe. The town was so adorable, but the sun was starting to set, so i knew we had to keep driving to get to Santa Barbara at a decent time. In retrospect, I wish I had stayed one night in that town! Our time in Santa barbara was pretty short, but we enjoyed some coffee and walked around the college town in the next morning. After that we headed towards Los Angeles.

I hadn't been to LA in years, but was excited to explore some more again. I also was using this solo trip to find some guidance on where I should move when my lease ends in Denver. I was curious about moving to Southern California which was a big motivator for the trip actually. Seattle was sitting on my mind, but I kept an open mind towards San Diego. We reached out to some of our LA-based instagram friends and met up with a girl and her 3 shiba inus! It was nice to spend time with someone in the midst of a solo trip, especially being able to have someone to go out and get sushi and drinks with! Hearing how a local lives there is always great too. I'm always thankful for the wonderful humans instagram has brought into my life and connected me with.

Some highlights for things we did in LA

  • Walked the Hollywood steps and got a yummy salad on an outside patio and boba!

  • Walked and ate some delicious seafood along the Santa Monica Pier with our IG friend

  • Sunset hike at Griffith Observatory with the dogs, overlooking LA

  • Worked remotely and drank coffee at the Aroma Coffee and Tea (it's rumored you can see celebrities here so we had to give it a try!) and it's dog-friendly on the patio outside

After Los Angeles treated us so well, we made our way down the coast towards San Diego. I had a work call that I had to take, so I searched on Google for a dog-friendly coffeeshop and found a place called The Library Coffee House which allowed dogs inside. It was way too hot outside for Sora, so I needed a place that we could sit comfortably indoors while I took my call.

In San Diego I found an amazing breakfast sandwich and espresso drink at Bay Park Coffee - they had a drink called the "Surf" which combined espresso, coconut infused caramel, milk, and coconuts flakes. Something about that drink just made me connect even more with the vibe of the town. In the evening I went to the Pacific Beach boardwalk for a 5 mile run along the water. Going for runs on vacation is actually one of my favorite activities; it really allows me to imagine what it'd be like to live somewhere, doing the things I do regularly while I'm home. San Diego had such a cool vibe to it, but for some reason I just couldn't imagine myself living there right now. I also took the drone out and did some filming by Sunset Cliffs.

After San Diego, Sora and I headed towards Pheonix/Scottsdale Arizona where it was a scorching 119 degrees Fahrenheit. I picked up Sora from the car and transported her to the air conditioning where she spent all her time in Arizona while I caught up with my childhood friend who lives there. It's safe to say I have no interest in living in a real life sauna.

Last on the trip itinerary was Santa Fe, New Mexico. I stayed in a very small town outside of Santa Fe, but the airbnb was adorable and very safe. In the morning Sora and I got some coffee and a delicious breakfast at the cafe called Dolina Cafe & Bakery. The breakfast was incredible and I got to talk to some other travelers - the perks of having a cute dog to help spark conversations. On the way back to Denver I stopped at a random trailhead to stretch the feet and get Sora some bathroom time. After that it was smooth sailing back to Denver!

Learning to be Self-Reliant on Solo Female Trips

One of the most challenging parts of solo travel for me is not having someone to help when things go wrong. Part of the reason I plan so aggressively is because i'm scared of something unexpected happening and being too overwhelmed to solve it in the moment. Most of my trip went smoothly, since I was prepared and organized, but there were situations where I didn't account for things and had to problem solve in the moment. The trip was completed successfully and safely and that's all I could have asked for with my first solo trip! I highly recommend others to take that leap and try it for themselves!


Hi! I'm Jackie and my dog is Sora. I work remote as an engineer, but I love to spend my free time in nature and by traveling to new places. I take my camera wherever I go, and sometimes my drone.

Somewhere With Sora is a Seattle-based lifestyle and travel blog that provides helpful travel and adventure tips for all kinds of trips, with or without the dogs.

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