“It was the opportunity for an epic road trip, but time was limited, and the ever-changing weather threatened to ruin part of it, if not the whole thing. Suddenly, a raucous exhaust note came from around the corner, booming off skyscrapers. It was our ride, a feisty little Italian.”
2016 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio – Tiny Car – Big Trip – Huge Fun
The idea was born while chatting with Dad over the phone late one night. Him and I have lived apart for the last 10 years, and although we try to see each other as often as possible, sometimes life gets in the way, or at least that’s our excuse. Nonetheless, this time we agreed to do something more than fun, perhaps, epic!
The plan was for Dad to fly from his home in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, to San Diego, California, where I’d be visiting for the Kia Sportage media drive. Once relieved from such duties, we’d leave San Diego and travel north to the mighty Yosemite National Park. The following day we’d continue our journey to the city of San Francisco, enjoy great sightseeing, and fly home the next morning.
Three Iconic Cities, Two Days, One El Niño
It was the morning of. Dad had flown in the previous night, bags were packed, breakfast had been eaten, and just as we expected—El Niño had arrived. While all of California welcomed the much-needed double-digit rainfall, it forced us to make considerable changes to our route. Yosemite reported heavy rainfall and warned for possible landslides, so it was axed from our itinerary, and so were other nearby attractions. Instead, a scenic drive around Borrego Springs desert, and a day’s excursion to Los Angeles was added.
Still, we weren’t completely in the clear. The thunderous weather was rolling south from San Francisco, and quickly, so it was time to get going!
The valet driver pulled up in a 2016 Giallo Moderno Perla Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio, held the door open, and said, ‘Safe travels”. I smiled…
I got behind the wheel and quickly shut off the engine. Why? Because I wanted to start it up and surprise Dad as he loaded his suitcase into the trunk. I turned the key, and the mighty Abarth came to life. Dad looked at me, I looked at him. It was at that moment that we both knew it’d be a heck of a trip.
Fiat was kind enough to let us borrow a brand-spanking new Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio for our journey, and although I knew it’d be a great fit for our adventure beforehand, I didn’t realize that it’d be Abarth itself that’d become the main attraction of our trip.
The Fiat’s charming and iconic exterior was accentuated by a gorgeous “Pearlescent Modern Yellow” (Giallo Moderno Perla) paint color, and the anthracite 17 inch sport wheels and Abarth side graphics let everyone know this little guy meant business.
Business it meant, with its aggressive fender flares and widened front and rear bumpers, but it was the dual exhaust tips, and the burly and intoxicating exhaust note they produced, that truly got everyone’s attention, an attention that was magnified with the top down.
The Fiat’s 1.4 liter turbocharged engine produces 160 horsepower, which on paper may look rather dismal, but thanks to clever ECU tuning, a perfectly matched 6 speed automatic transmission, and roughly a 2,500 pound curb weight, this hot little Italian accelerates, turns, brakes (and sounds) like a baby-Ferrari.
The best part? A dead even 30 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg on traffic-infested streets.
San Diego – Borrego Springs – Los Angeles
We quickly left the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, and headed toward the desert. Not only were we trying to hit the open road before rush hour, but also enjoy as much sun and dry weather as possible.
The change in scenery and vegetation from San Diego to Borrego Springs was nothing short of breath-taking. Palm trees gave way to shrubberies, which then gave way to massive boulders, which then turned into sand and cacti.
The long and sweeping roads gave way to tight, narrow and obnoxiously fun canyon roads, with incredible views afar, though always with massive drop-offs as reminders to not push your luck pretending to be Ayrton Senna.
The warm and arid conditions finally allowed us to put the top down, and enjoy the al fresco cabriolet experience. We even encountered some impressive road-side art, which although uncommon, it made for awesome photos!
After absorbing the beautiful surroundings, and stopping for a quick bite at Julian Pie Co., we set our sights on the City of Angels.
We were lucky enough to arrive into the city before rush hour climaxed, and we headed straight to where every gear-head visiting Los Angeles should—The Petersen Automotive Museum.
The iconic ‘Pete’, truly lived up to every comment I’ve ever heard. The stunning new facade was only an appetizer to the mind-blowing sheet metal found inside. Although the entirety of the museum’s inventory was impressive, it was Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1954 Mercedes Benz racer that truly won my heart, though the silver McLaren F1, and all-carbon fiber McLaren P1 were beyond impressive.
After feasting our eyes on the finest automobiles, it was time for our bellies to feast on the finest Chinese food. Off to Chinatown we went!
Los Angeles – San Francisco
The GPS said it would take roughly six hours from L.A. to San Francisco, but considering the late night hour, we chose to crash at a motel near Sequoia National Park to recharge our batteries, and go all-out the next day…
It was here. The nasty weather had finally caught up to us. We woke up to rain, fog and a chilly 45 degrees that made us long for San Diego’s coastal climate. Nonetheless, we fired up the Abarth, which I’m convinced woke up the entire motel with its cold-start growl, turned on the heated seats, and we ventured back onto the tarmac.
The following four hours were filled with mountains, cows, wind-mills, and drizzle that would turn into heavy rain and back into drizzle every few minutes. It was this stretch of highway that made us appreciate the Fiat’s comfortable seats, nicely padded steering wheel, and a surprisingly well insulated cloth top.
At highway speeds, the suspension was firm and reassuring, yet supple enough to absorb minor surface imperfections, even though there were nasty stretches of road that not even a Rolls Royce could’ve smoothed out. The funky and powerful BEATS sound system kept us entertained when the scenery became monotonous, plus it did a good job at covering up the exhaust drone at 75 mph.
By the time we reached the Golden Gate City, the weather had drastically gone south (not literally), and what once was “inconvenient” weather, was now plain awful. It sucked…
We crossed into San Francisco through the Bay City Oakland bridge, taking full advantage of the tunnels to create 2nd and 3rd gear exhaust ruckus—it would’ve been a sin not to. With Sport mode activated, and the shifter set on manual mode, the Abarth played absolute music to our ears!
We were finally in town, and we were hungry, so it was time for lunch. To our surprise, the only place where we found parking was, Chinatown.
Thanks to Google’s recommendation, we headed into Z & Y Restaurant, which was rated #1 for spicy Chinese food in San Francisco, and the long line of people out the door vouched for it. We waited for a table, and it was well worth it. Seriously well worth it…
Unfortunately, time was ticking away, and our next day flights were looming closer and closer. We hopped in our yellow chariot once again, and battled Friday traffic in the pouring rain to Vista Point in Sausalito, where we were able to snap the journey’s trophy—a Golden Gate Bridge selfie!
After realizing the life-long dream of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge (though in my dreams I never pictured it with strong winds and face-smashing rain), it was time to head back into the city, check-in to our hotel, change into dry clothes, and head over to the vibrant Pier 39 for our boat tour.
About a block away from our hotel, was the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf—Pier 39.
We took advantage of the convenient (and reasonably priced) covered parking, and we hurried over to “Blue & Gold Fleet” to join the evening tour at the very last minute. By this time, the weather was even nastier, and we second guessed boarding a ship headed into open waters, but we figured the Captain and his crew knew best.
What I’m convinced is a dazzling tour; weather permitting, was basically the complete opposite. The mixture of fog, rain, and strong winds, made for big waves and a shortened and rocky tour, though getting close to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge was still a-ma-zing!
It was humbling to witness such legendary structures from up close, and hear incredible facts and stories about them through the speakers, courtesy of our experienced tour guide. Though it was the nearby sea lions that offered comical and senseless advice…
We returned to shore a bit wobbly, but we were safe and sound!
After a long, rushed, and action-packed day—it was time to relax, kickback and enjoy a nice drink and delicious seafood. After all, we were at the Fisherman’s Wharf! (Media Info and access to Pier 39’s entertainment was complimentary to facilitate this review)
The alarm clock went off at 4:45 am, so it was time to fire up the Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio and listen to its drool-worthy exhaust note one last time. We packed up, headed to the airport, and boarded our metal birds back home.
All in all, we covered a massive distance in just 48 hours. We visited some incredible sights in three of the most popular cities in the country and even the world, and we did so in a heck of a cool car.
But by far the best part of my trip, was that I did so with the person that gifted me the love for traveling—my Dad.
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