California’s Pacific Coast Highway
December 29 – 31, 2013
I spent the last three days of 2013 exploring California’s Central Coast. I had never been to the Big Sur and figured this was the best time to jump in my car and drive up the PCH since I wasn’t able to plan a winter vacation abroad. Unfortunately, one of my friends got called into work the morning of the 29th, so it turned into a solo road trip but the breathtaking views along the way were worth every minute of the long drive by myself.
Santa Barbara & Solvang
If you’re starting in Los Angeles, stop in Santa Barbara which is known as the ‘American Riviera.’ I just visited the Spanish influenced town a few weeks ago (you can read about my trip here), so I drove straight to Ostrich Land located in Solvang. Solvang is a Danish Village that is definitely worth visiting especially for the bakeries.
Pismo Beach & Avila Beach
My next stop was Pismo Beach. My favorite spot in this area was Dinosaur Caves Park just five minutes north of the pier. The views are stunning and far prettier than the views from the pier. I found this spot literally by picking up a postcard in a store. If I had more time, I would’ve spent more time at Shell Beach or just a few miles north at Avila Beach, a true little gem off the 101. Avila Wine & Roasting Co. was a fantastic spot for some local wine tasting and friendly service. As I continued to make my way up the 101, I stopped at the historic Madonna Inn (one exit north) and ordered a slice of the toffee cake. It was was just as delicious as the gentleman from Avila had described.
Morro Bay & Cambria
I reached Morro Bay just in time to watch the sun set beyond Morro Rock, an extinct volcano cone about 23 million years old. Recommended by the same gentleman who raved about the toffee cake from Madonna Inn, I ate dinner at one of Morro Bay’s best restaurants, The Galley, and then checked into Masterpiece Hotel using the Hotels.com app. The hotel (or motel) was perfect, especially for a solo traveler since you need a keycard to access the building. In addition to the large room with a fireplace, the hotel was decorated with copies of fine art and had an indoor Roman jacuzzi. Morro Bay is a small town and I think this is probably one of the nicer places to stay despite the “motel” name.
The next morning, I stopped at Moonstone Beach in Cambria which known for its mile long boardwalk. This famous spot is great for early morning or sunset walks. I wish I would’ve booked a hotel along the boardwalk. It came up as an option on Hotels.com, but I had no idea what the area was like. I also looked at staying in Cambria, since it is a convenient location to stay for people visiting Hearst Castle. I actually didn’t get a chance to stop Cambria, but I read that it is quite the cute little town with lots of shops and neighborhood restaurants.
Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan on the Hearst family’s private ranch in San Simeon. There isn’t anything else this grand (that I know of ) in Central or Southern California, so be sure to reserve tickets prior to visiting to ensure a spot on a tour. Booking a tour is the only way to see the castle since you need to take a bus up the hill from the visitor center/parking lot below.
After spending about two hours at Hearst Castle, I started on my 4-hour drive up the PCH along the Big Sur to Monterey. The drive should’ve been about 2.5 hours but the roads are windy and there are so many turnouts just begging you to pullover in order to snap that perfect California Coast shot. A few must places to stop are McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, Bixby Bridge, and Nepenthe for lunch/dinner. The road to Pfeiffer Beach (Sycamore Canyon Rd.) is hidden and cell service is limited on the drive, so I had to look at a map very closely before I hit the road. I even passed it a few times!
If I had another day, I would’ve stayed at one of the many hotels located along the PCH in the Big Sur or I would’ve camped if I were with friends. There just isn’t enough time to both drive and explore the numerous hiking trails in one day.
Carmel & Monterey
Using the Hotel Tonight App, I booked a last-minute room at the Spindrift Inn in Monterey once I got cell reception in Carmel. Located right on Canary Row, the Spindrift Inn is a true Bed & Breakfast with character, charm, and great service. Not only did I have a wood burning fireplace in my room and a private balcony, but breakfast was delivered straight to my room the next morning on a silver platter.
After I enjoyed breakfast in bed, I took a morning walk along Monterey’s Coastal Trail up to Lover’s Point Park. Shortly after, I departed for Point Lobos State Park in Carmel. The park is great for hiking/walking through the woods but better well known its gorgeous coves – China Cove and Bluefish Cove are just two of the many located at the park.
It took a few hours longer than the 5-fwy, but I drove back down the PCH to experience the breathtaking views all over again! It took me almost 8 hours to get back to Los Angeles (with minimal stops and no traffic), but I did get to stop at a couple of places I missed on the way up so it was well worth the extra time!
- California Central Coast: Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria (traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com)
- California’s Central Coast: Pismo and Avila Beaches (traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com)