In the 3 days after I left Palm Springs, I stayed at a new super cheap hotel each night as I quickly made my way toward the Bay Area via Indio, Ventura, and San Simeon. While I've generally had good luck on this trip with inexpensive places, my run was clearly over.
In Indio, the hotel manager, apparently tipsy, used his key to open the room door next to mine at 10 pm, believing it was empty and that he could sleep there. The irate gentleman occupying it set him straight and learned a valuable lesson about using deadbolts.
The manager banged on my door to see if it was empty or not. He apologized profusely and went on his merry way after we both yelled. I shoved a chair under the door handle just in case.
In Ventura I slept in a straight-up ashtray. I am not a germaphobe in the least, but this place was absolutely vile. I'll leave it there [insert full body shudder]. I didn't feel unsafe in either place, just annoyed and completely disgusted.
In San Simeon I stayed in a clean, tidy, thoroughly bleached establishment that cost $20 less than the other 2 and felt like a palace. The guy cleaning rooms next door was yodeling love songs in Spanish and he was terrible, but he was happy, so I was happy.
Staying in terrible places for a couple of nights pushed me out into the early mornings, ready to go as the sun was rising, hungry for a view of the wide open sea, a stretch of green grass, anything to erase the creeping dread of a hotel room that couldn't be made to feel clean, never mind like a temporary home.
I ate breakfast and lunch perched on rocks in the rain and in the sun, peered over cliff ends to watch the waves crash below.
Getting from Point A to Point B should always be done on secondary roads unless you have to get there right this minute. California's State Route 1 is well worth the time and effort. I've driven sections of it before and was so happy on this trip to have a chance to slow my pace and trace the switchbacks to each tiny town along the way to my next destination.
I was able to stop whenever I felt like it (every 15 minutes) to take photos, stretch my legs, explore a local beach or check out a town. Harmony was particularly charming; it's technically a town (population something like 15) and a bit of a tourist gimmick, but there is a dairy, a pottery, and skilled glass artisans, as well as beautiful gardens. I purchased some handmade marbles for my collection.
At San Simeon I was hoping to see the elephant seals, but the whole place was covered in a pea soup fog in the morning, so I puttered around on the beach for a bit before pointing my car toward Salinas on Route 101. I had to skip Big Sur because of ongoing damage and repair of landslides, and felt lucky to have seen it before.