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Living on an island, you gain a lot: a sense of peace, self-sufficiency, a communing with nature, deep relationships and perspective on society. But one thing you lose is the endless possibility of an open road—just “taking off,” getting lost, losing your worries along the way.

The mind does expand with travel. Sometimes not knowing where a road leads can be all the freedom you need. That doesn't happen so much when you know the roads you live on by heart, like the lines of your own hand and the curves of your own body.

After three years on my picturesque island, I've been bitten hard by the wanderlust bug. So, when a friend and I mused about a ride up California’s famously cinematic Route 1, I practically booked my ticket before we hung up the phone.

We started in Venice, then made our way up through the snaking hills of bohemian Topanga Canyon. We passed the beloved vintage store Hidden Treasures, but didn't go in. We didn't need to; I had worked there once before in a former life, spending all the money I made on their bounty of vintage silk slips.

We passed through glamorous Malibu, where houses sit high on the hill overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean beyond. We stopped at Neptune's Net, where—on the deck across from the water, where surfers swarmed—my friend ate fresh tuna and I devoured grilled cheese.

Next, we stopped in desert town, Ojai, where he let me drive his 64.5 Mustang convertible until I stuck the clutch, then backed over his sunglasses (and almost him!), while he was trying to fix it. My privileges were revoked.

We took a pitstop on Ojai's main street at small, dark wine bar, Barrel 33, where the gracious barmaid welcomed us like family. Then, we ended the day's drive in sparkling beachside Santa Barbara and stayed in a guest room in a rundown mansion on a hill. There, I snuggled with a Lop Eared bunny named Louis on the balcony and watched the night fall over the city below, its twinkling white lights puncturing the darkness.

The next day, we started early while a light rain fell over the dry, parched land, and we stopped in San Louis Obispo and toured the Madonna Inn (a gaudy, pink tacky-sweet princess paradise, where every guest room is decorated differently). If I was ten years younger and planning a bachelorette party, this would have been the destination.

We hit Morro Bay, famous for its elephant seals and hulking Morro Bay Rock, where the air smelled like popcorn and barbecue, and antique, vintage and health food stores lined the streets beside an open market.

Then, we headed to the main attraction: Driving into the mist-coated cliffs of Big Sur is like driving into heaven. I've done it once before, with my mother and my twin when I was half the age that I am now.

It was on those twisting cliffs that I first learned the power of slowing down and entering a moment to capture it forever.

We once crept so very, very slow along the edge of the world, where the ocean crashed below—slow enough to save the experience in our minds like film we can always rewind.

On that night, the last of this recent trip north, we stayed in the storybook Hansel and Gretel-like town of Carmel at an elegant little boutique hotel, The Pine Inn. We ate dinner at Il Fornaio’s bar in the belly of the hotel lobby.

In the morning, we drove down a cobbled street to the pebbly white sand at the sea, bought jam from a tiny little breakfast place, The Tuck Box, and then started our descent back to LA.

And I was full, with an internal film of the endlessness of the open road, to rewind and play again anytime things begin to feel a little too small or impossible.

By Sarah Durham Wilson

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