Curbside Road Trips: LA to San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway

porsche 356

Ever since I left the US in July 2014 when my visa could not be renewed, I still had the America bug and I had been hankering to go back. I’d always wanted to do a road trip vacation, and when Brandon told me he had never been to the West Coast, it was settled. I planned out a two week vacation, starting and ending in Los Angeles. I was expecting to see some Curbside Classics seeing as it was California, but I was surprised by the sheer volume of interesting cars.

plymouth barracuda

The trip started in Los Angeles, and during my first day in LA I probably spotted more Curbside Classics than I would have in a month of living in NYC. Sadly, a lot of those cars remained unphotographed including, frustratingly, the first three 1986-91 Cadillac Sevilles I’d ever seen, and have been eager to write up. Other misses included a mint condition Ford Elite that teasingly drove past me twice, a Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport, a colonnade Chevrolet Chevelle, and a Ford Maverick. I did spot this neat first-generation Plymouth Barracuda near where we stayed in Hollywood, though.

chevy camaro griffith park

LA is littered with Accords and Camrys, as I expected, but I was surprised by the sheer volume of Camaros, Mustangs and Challengers everywhere! Speaking of Camaros, I spotted this all-original first-generation right next to Griffith Park Observatory.

chevy camaro - griffith park

I’m curious as to what engine lies under the hood. Is it a humble six-cylinder? It was refreshing to see a first-generation F-Body still being used as a daily driver.

chrysler lebaron town country

Seinfeld fans will appreciate this Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertible I spotted in Hollywood.

ford e series hollywood tour - photo courtesy of LA Tourist

photo courtesy of LA Tourist

I didn’t think to get a photo, but these tour vans caught my eye. They are all just Express and E-Series vans with sheetmetal hacked out. I can’t imagine how much worse they are to drive. Incidentally, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is like LA’s Times Square (albeit less busy). You go there once to see it, and you don’t bother going back.

los angeles van

On the topic of things that are dirty, how about this local business? You have to admire the entrepreneurial mind that conceived this idea. This van was parked across the street from another van bearing the logo of another local business, Vagina Guitars. It must be a family name.

smashed lamborghini

Did somebody let Lindsay Lohan drive again?

ford thunderbird 1960s

I wasn’t expecting to love Los Angeles, but I enjoyed myself so thoroughly that I want to go back and explore the city more. I spotted this 1967-69 Ford Thunderbird around Venice Beach…

porsche 356 2

…and this Porsche 356 on the very same block! There was also a 1973-75 Oldsmobile Cutlass nearby that I neglected to photograph. I have a sneaking suspicion Venice is full of even more treasures. Nice area, too.

cars california adventure 2

No trip to LA would be complete without a visit to Disneyland, in Anaheim. Space Mountain is still my favourite ride, but the Cars ride in Disney’s California Adventure was a lot of fun and has a whole section resembling the movie’s Radiator Springs.

cars california adventure

The neon lights everywhere were gorgeous! The ride itself was a lot of fun, too, as you hoon around in a car and then race other park visitors.


Elsewhere in the park, I spotted this classic car. Can anyone identify it?

disneyland car

Here’s the rear.


After a couple of days, we took our Malibu and headed north along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. As I’m a few months shy of my 25th birthday, I couldn’t partake in the PCH cliché of renting a Mustang convertible. Every second car along the highway is a Mustang convertible. As you near San Francisco, the multitude of rental Mustangs and Malibus become Camaros and Chrysler 200s. I missed an early W-Body Cutlass Supreme convertible, from the ear before they got the squinty front and ugly cladding. I also decided it wasn’t worth crashing my car driving 55mph to take a photo of a 1988-89 Mercury Tracer. Oh, and here is the obligatory photo of Big Sur.

buick riviera 1990s

We stayed for a night in Morro Bay, where I saw this 1995-99 Buick Riviera. Surprisingly, this was not the only Riviera of that era I saw on our trip. I’ve never warmed to the styling of these; they look like a cross between a Beluga whale and a cigar.

saleen mustang

I’ve always loved the look of these Saleen Mustangs, especially considering a lot of tuning-house cars tend to come out looking so gaudy.
lincoln mark viii

I can think of worse ways to enjoy a beautiful morning by the beach than sitting in the leather-lined cabin of a Lincoln Mark VIII.

chevrolet corvair wagon

As we were leaving Morro Bay, I spotted this in a car park near the gas station where we were refueling. A Chevrolet Corvair wagon? It’s looking worse for wear, but it still looks good after all these years. Surprisingly, it wouldn’t be the last Corvair I would see on the trip.


A must-see stop along the Pacific Coast Highway is the magnificent Hearst Castle, in San Simeon. Media magnate William Randolph Hearst employed pioneering female architect Julia Morgan to design an elaborate estate on his family’s old land. Inside it is full of beautiful antique furniture, including 14th century ceilings imported from Europe. The pools are also architectural marvels.

infiniti j30

Our next stop was San Francisco. As expected, the City by the Bay is full of Tesla Model S, and every block seems to have some kind of 1960s-1980s Mercedes-Benz. Interestingly, the city is also full of Infiniti J30s. I spotted several in Los Angeles as well. I’ve always been amused by how space inefficient these were. Despite their midsize dimensions, the EPA classified them as a subcompact based on the interior and trunk measurements!

ford taurus SHO

Speaking of droopy sedans from the 1990s, I spotted this Ford Taurus SHO. The lack of a stick shift is a downer, but this is still one of my favorite American cars of the 1990s.

chrysler new yorker

Meanwhile, the stretched and tweaked and decorated K-Car derivatives are some of my least favorite 1990s American cars. I’ve heard these later New Yorkers be referred to as “Virginia Slims” cars because Iacocca never bothered to make the platform wider. The K-Car may have saved Chrysler’s hide and made Iacocca a media darling, but like Henry Ford, Lido stuck around far too long and lost his touch. These lame duck sedans are proof.

chevrolet celebrity

This neat Chevrolet Celebrity caught my eye in the Marina District, but I couldn’t stop to take more photos…

cadillac seville 4500

…nor could I more thoroughly examine this Cadillac Seville. These temptresses kept appearing when I had no way of snapping decent pictures, and I’ve wanted to write about them for ages. This one would be from 1988-90, as it has the 4.5 V8.

chevrolet lumina apv

This Chevrolet Lumina APV was nearby, looking quite smart. I realise that GM missed the point with the Dustbuster minivans, chasing style at the expense of practicality – after all, they were scarcely roomier than a short-wheelbase Caravan, and had an awkwardly large dash – but they just look so cool. Your mileage may vary; you’re probably noticing I’m a bit of a GM tragic.

chevrolet el camino

Of course, I saw El Caminos in Los Angeles (duh!), but the first one I photographed was here on the Golden Gate Bridge. These don’t catch my eye as much as other cars of the era because I live near a gentleman who imported a 1978 El Camino, and I see it around on occasion. Interestingly, this generation and the 1964-1972 models have been preserved in the highest numbers. Where are all the 1973-77 models?

chrysler 200 desoto cab

I found this amusing: a Chrysler 200 in Desoto Cab Company livery. Seems appropriate now that Chrysler has dropped its upmarket pretensions, although the 200 is an odd choice for a cab given its merely adequate interior dimensions.

acura legend

This Acura Legend I spotted in a parking garage was in mint condition. While these are nice, they look far too close to a contemporary Accord for my liking. The second generation was more desirable.

chevrolet nova 1975-79

While in San Francisco, we went to Twin Peaks, explored Cow Hollow, walked the Golden Gate Bridge and drove along the Embarcadero. Of course, one must always visit the Painted Ladies, also known as “the houses from Full House”. While driving to them, I spotted this beautiful Chevrolet Nova that looked like it just rolled off the showroom floor.

mg midget

Speaking of Cow Hollow, this hilariously named neighborhood is beautiful, upscale and uphill from the Marina District. Here is an MG Midget I spotted there, done up in traffic-cone orange.

buick century

I spotted this post-1988 Buick Century in the Mission District. I hadn’t seen these wheels on a Century before, but coupled with the rich navy blue paint they make this A-Body look smart. I also am a sucker for big Buick taillights, but I am not a fan of how long GM kept the A-Bodies around.

ford thunderbird

The personal luxury coupe market may have been dying by the 1990s, but I saw plenty of MN-12 Thunderbirds during the trip. Most were from the later years, but here is an earlier example of the 1989 Motor Trend COTY that earned program head Anthony Kuchta a brutal dressing down from CEO Red Poling for being overweight. It’s just big boned.

caddy coupe de ville 1980s (1)

San Francisco was the furthest north we drove, but we didn’t just return to Los Angeles. Let’s end this article with two beige Cadillacs. I believe this is an ’87-88 Coupe deVille.

caddy coupe de ville 1980s (2)

When The Boss wrote the song made so popular by Natalie Cole, I guess “Beige Cadillac” wasn’t catchy enough for his liking.

cadillac fleetwood 1990s (2)

You can see how much more substantial this 1991-92 Fleetwood looks, after Cadillac visually overhauled their DeVille/Fleetwood for 1989. The 1985 GM C-Body may have been a marvel of packaging, but they didn’t have much visual presence.

cadillac fleetwood 1990s (1)

Tell me, though: Why has beige been such an enduring favorite color? And this is coming from someone who likes brown cars! Beige just always reminds me of orthopedic shoes and hearing aids.

ford thunderbird 1960s 2

I spotted plenty of Curbside Classics in LA and San Francisco, but the next stops on our journey would yield even more automotive delights as we headed into the desert. Fortunately, we had our Malibu, a more reliable choice than a horse with no name.