The long way to LA

In the future, a proposed supersonic train could propel passengers from San Francisco to LA in a mere 35 minutes. But if you’re not in a hurry, one of the world’s most beautiful coastal journeys is yours to explore. We take the long way to LA in the S90.


Los Angeles is a city that likes to impress. A city that delights in making the unimaginable possible. But even so, it’s still hard to imagine a future where you will be able to travel the 380 miles from San Francisco down to LA, those two titans of the US west coast, in a mere 35 minutes.

But this could become a reality if the plans for the Hyperloop – a supersonic train that will travel through a vacuum at warp speed just above the surface of the desert floor – comes to fruition. You’ll be in Hollywood before your coffee gets cold.

And yet, what if you actually want to take your time, to consciously decouple from a world that always seems to be in a hurry? To set off on a journey to discover new places, people and experiences in your own time. A journey where the destination and when you arrive isn’t as important as the drive itself, the memories made and the stories gathered. We’re tracking the route of Hyperloop, but we’re not setting out to break any land speed records. Instead, we’re indulging in the luxury of a journey to LA and enjoying one of the world’s most beautiful drives along the route.

Sunrise is the best time to start a journey, the early morning light easing you into the day. We take a meandering route out of San Francisco that takes us to the viewing platform of Twin Peaks, two hills towering 282 metres above the city, to watch the sun rise above the city below. Even at this hour, we are far from alone here, with sightseers and fitness fanatics joining us to drink in the view. In the distance, the familiar sounds of a city coming to life are a signal for our departure.

After closing the door of the Volvo S90, the hustle and bustle of San Francisco is put on mute. The S90 is my sanctuary, a place of calm seclusion that contrasts with the energy and intensity of the city outside. From Twin Peaks it’s a straightforward enough drive down to meet Highway 1, the iconic coastal road that stretches much of the length of California. But from here on in, the scenery dramatically changes.

The guidebooks say you can do the journey down to Tinseltown in a day, but we’re in no rush. Our first overnight stop is the enchanting beach city of Half Moon Bay and the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel where, from the well-tended terrace, I watch a spectacular Pacific Ocean sunset.

The guidebooks say you can do the journey down to Tinseltown in a day, but we’re in no rush. Our first overnight stop is the enchanting beach city of Half Moon Bay and the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel where, from the well-tended terrace, I watch a spectacular Pacific Ocean sunset.

Dynamic, like the landscape. Relaxed, like the mood

Further south the landscape becomes ever more magical. The road hugs the bluffs alongside the ocean for mile after mile, a seemingly endless run of photo opportunities through prehistoric landscapes of cliffs and hidden sandy coves down below. There’s so much to savour. Time feels like it stands still. The journey towards and beyond the poetic Big Sur is punctuated with regular stops to appreciate the view.

As the route changes from rollercoaster-like bends that snake around cliff faces to lower-altitude roads that flow effortlessly across the landscape, there is ample opportunity to put the S90 into dynamic mode. This sharpens the steering, gives quicker gear changes and adjusts the active shock absorber and air suspension for a sportier drive. And with the flexible super- and turbocharged T5 petrol engine, effortless acceleration is a given. From comfortable cruiser to performance car, the S90 excels at multiple roles. After an overnight stop at the small and charming town of Avila Beach, a relaxed surfer’s hangout almost midway between the two major cities we are travelling between, the aftermath of a landslide forces a change of plan. We leave the coast and head inland towards the Mojave Desert.

Using Pilot Assist, the S90 cruises serenely on the arrow-straight roads, past the Mojave Air and Space Port where Virgin Galactic plans to send paying customers into space, and near the desert plains where Virgin is testing Hyperloop One on a 500-metre test track. California has always been pioneering country but it’s a different kind of gold they’re prospecting now.

Revelling in the pleasure of the drive

It would be quicker to jump onto one of the many interstates connecting with LA but we decide to continue into the Joshua Tree National Park where we stop for the night. Here, the late evening sun creates a beautiful interplay of shadow and light across the granite boulders that are dotted around this arid landscape. The next day we continue our journey to LA, using the scenic Rim of the World Highway. After several hours of driving, the S90 ably proves its merits over such a long journey. I disembark feeling as fresh as when I started. And as I take in LA street life from the boulevard, I catch a glimpse of the S90 parked up outside a stylish boutique hotel, its distinctive Mussel Blue paintwork sparkling in the southern Californian sun.

I reflect on the journey we’ve had together. There’s a current trend for slow food and slow fashion. Taking time to do things properly, to fully appreciate life’s little luxuries. And driving through the modern metropolis of LA, this city of supreme confidence, there’s little doubting its ability to embrace an era of supersonic transportation. But if you’re not in a hurry, I can think of no better way of taking the long way to LA than I have just done.

You might, one day, be able to do the journey between these great cities in 30 minutes, but it will never match the pleasure of driving there.