Fred Wissink finds the best part of a trip to coastal California is the empty road.

It began as a reunion between my three siblings and me, the first in more than a decade. It ended with a classic American road trip through San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and California Wine Country. Connecting it all was California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

Living in Asia I tend to forget how big North America is. There is so much space. Even the major cities have an open feeling to them that you don’t get in Asia. Of course, that feeling is more apparent when you leave the cities and start getting out on the road.

Chasing-Highway-One-2San Francisco, the city that was at the heart of the hippy movement in the 60s, definitely still has some of that vibe. From the graffiti to the food, always feels like something is happening just around the corner, but not in a frantic way. It is very much a “we are going somewhere, but when is not really an issue” kind of place.

I think the same goes for much of California, the parts that I saw at least. Marin County and the small towns of Tiburon, Fairfax and Sausalito have that classic small-town America feel that you find in movies.

Cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is stunning. The Pacific Ocean dips in and out of view and the wind blows strong and clean off the ocean. You can almost imagine yourself driving along it in a 1950s Studebaker listening to the Beach Boys on the radio. Much of the road has that feeling, almost as if it were left in the 50s. Small shops, crab shacks, lighthouses, and scenic reststops punctuate the drive but for the most part it’s empty.

The best part about travelling in California is looking for classic Americana. You know, greasy spoons, diners, oddity shops, that sort of thing. It’s not all that hard to find, you just need to look a little harder. Thankfully California Highway 1 is full of this sort of thing. It’s good to know Americans haven’t let go of these things.

We stayed in roadside motels, and ate in family-owned diners drinking dishwater coffee to go with a 5,000 calorie breakfast before hopping back in the car to drive another 150 kilometres to the next diner with a scenic view — that truly is one of the best things about the United States. Small ice cream shops, smart-ass road and church signs trying to be funny are all part of the adventure.

Another highlight with travelling in the United States is getting to be a tourist. In Europe, to look like and be a tourist is an embarrassing situation. Locals look down on you almost right away and treat you as a nuisance. The idea in Europe and Asia is to try to blend in as much as possible. In the United States, people embrace the tourist. “Where are you from?” and “Wow, I’ve never even heard of that place, what’s it like there?” are genuine questions of curiosity. Forget blending in. In the US, we are on tour.