Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway


Our second stop on our West Coast road trip took us down the Pacific Coast Highway (otherwise known as Highway 1) to Carmel-by-the-Sea. We picked up our car for the next two weeks on our last day in San Francisco, meaning the actual 'road trip' part of the holiday could begin. I was desperate to have the all-American experience, so we didn't leave Alamo until we had the keys to a convertible Ford Mustang. Hilariously, neither of us knew how to turn on the engine – how could an automatic be so hard to turn on?!

Hitting the 101, we headed south out of the City towards Highway 1. With the majority of the roads heading out surrounded by greenery, there wasn't much of a view in terms of sightseeing which gave me a good opportunity to figure out on the map exactly where we were heading. Monterey was our first stop on the map, moving then on to Carmel-by-the-Sea where we stopped the night, then onto Cambria, stopping in Cayucos the following day.

Driving down the Highway 1 with the Pacific Ocean to our right was definitely one of the best drives of the trip, although we hadn't quite done our research properly and came face-to-face with hundreds of cyclists between Carmel and Cayucos. Driving on the other side of the car, on the other side of the road in a vehicle as wide as the lane you're in, whilst trying to overtake cyclists on winding roads was definitely the most challenging thing I've had to do driving but made it all the more fun (and thankfully we didn't hit any of them)!

We were worried before flying out for our trip as wildfire had taken over quite a large area of land, very close to Big Sur. It's worth being aware of this kind of thing as California have had quite a few disasters with wildfire and as we only had a small stretch driving through Big Sur that was extremely smokey, if it was any worse and the road had been closed, we would have had to have taken a detour. This not only would have added a lot of time not factored into our trip, but also would have meant that we wouldn't have been able to enjoy as much of the coast as we did.

In hindsight I wish we'd have spent a little longer driving down the coast, as there are so many little towns and sightseeing points that we just didn't have time to see or do. But as I said to Dan before we left for the trip, this was only meant to be a 'taster' of California to help us decide if we wanted to come back – obviously I'd already decided well before this point that I wanted to go back – 3 weeks was just not enough.  



WHERE WE STAYED

To make the drive down towards Los Angeles a little more tolerable, we stopped a couple of nights along the Pacific Coast. This was probably one of the most picturesque parts of our trip – any view of the sea and I'm one happy lady!

On our first night we stopped at Carmel Resort Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea. These early 1900s cottages are now closed, but they were an ideal spot for somewhere to crash after a long day. I originally wanted to stay in Monterey just up the road, but hotel prices were looking a little bit too much at the time, so Carmel seemed a good alternative for us.

On our second night, we headed down to Cayucos – a coastal resort town in San Luis Obispo County. Here we stayed at Cayucos Beach Inn, a boutique 2* hotel within a few minutes walk of the beach. This hotel was such a pleasant surprise and somewhere I'd definitely book back into. Our large room, fitted with a kitchenette, two double beds and a generous bathroom was such amazing value.



WHAT WE DID

+ Cannery Row, Monterey
If you're in the Monterey area, head to this waterfront street lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. It's an attraction in itself but if you've got the time, take a stroll and take in everything Cannery Row has to offer. Head down at night to see the whole street lit up and be sure to take your camera!

+ Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur Coast
Can we say this is the most photographed bridge in California after the Golden Gate? I'm not sure, but you sure should pull over to witness the views from the bridge, even if not for the architecture of Bixby Creek itself. The best views are across the road from the car park, where you can get some fantastic photos of the bridge with the sea in the background.

+ Big Sur
Big Sur is a stretch of coastline that runs from Carmel down to San Simeon, and if you've got time you're in luck. As well as Bixby Bridge, Big Sur has many attractions that are not to be missed – from the notorious 17-Mile Drive (the most scenic drive you'll do) to McWay Falls, I wish we'd spent more time here.

+ Hearst Castle, San Simeon
When planning our trip, Hearst Castle was something I really wanted to do but wasn't sure we'd have time so I didn't pre-book any tickets (despite reading tonnes of comments online of people saying it's best to book ahead). As we left Carmel quite early that morning, we made it to Hearst Castle in such good time that we thought we'd try our luck. And I'm so glad we did! We had no problems with getting booked on one of the tours and it was such a fascinating place. Palm trees, beautiful architecture and fantastic views, Hearst Castle is very Insta-worthy.



WHERE WE ATE

+ Caffé Mezzaluna, Half Moon Bay
This was a great little find just outside of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay. We were looking for somewhere to stop for lunch and after spotting the sign for Oceano Hotel & Spa, we knew that there would be food not far. As we pulled in to the car park, we spotted the Italian café. I'd definitely recommend this little place as a pit-stop if you're driving down Highway 1.

+ Farm Fresh Produce, Moss Landing
Whilst we didn't actually eat here, Farm Fresh Produce was another pit-stop on our way down to Carmel where we stopped to use the facilities and pick up some drinks and snacks for the rest of the journey. It's a great little place with a coffee shop, and plenty of fresh produce to choose from.

+ Scales – Seafood and Steaks, Monterey Bay on the Wharf
Once we'd booked in to our accommodation in Carmel and freshened up, we took the short drive back on ourselves to go find somewhere for dinner in Monterey. We headed straight for Fisherman's Wharf and walked the pier before settling on Scales. If you're a lover of seafood then this would be the perfect restaurant for you, but unfortunately we found it a little over-priced for the quality of the food.

+ Hearst Castle, San Simeon
We had about 45 minutes to kill before our tour started, so we made the most of the dining options in the visitor centre. They have about 4 different eateries inside so there was plenty to choose from and with outdoor seating too, we were able to make the most of the sun after a couple of days of it being quite overcast.

+ Cafe Della Via, Cayucos
Out of all of the restaurants near to the beach in Cayucos, Cafe Della Via was the one that stood out to us the most. Italian food, mood lighting and wine, what else could you want after a lovely sunset stroll along the beach? The food was delicious and the portions huge. Could not fault the food or the service – highly recommended!



WHERE WE DRANK

Schooners, Cayucos
So far on the trip, we hadn't just been for a drink. With such a crammed schedule, we'd only have a drink with our meal or back in the hotel in San Francisco. As we'd arrived quite early in Cayucos, we still had the whole evening ahead of us. Before dinner we headed to Schooners for a quick drink. A nautical-themed restaurant, Schooners has an upstairs bar area with a cracking view out to sea.

+ Old Cayucos Tavern & Card Room
As we'd gone for dinner fairly early, we thought it was a little too early to be heading back to the hotel. The day had been quite a relaxing one compared to our time in San Francisco when we'd hardly had time to take it all in, so it was nice to be able to make the most of our time in Cayucos by heading to the Old Cayucos Tavern – an amazing bar and card room full of plenty entertainment, from snooker tables to a poker room. Themed like you're in the Wild West, this was a pretty cool setting for a drink or three.





PRO TIPS

+ Be prepared to wait
If you're looking to do a road trip and are pre-booking your car, be prepared to wait for the one you think you booked. Whilst we chose a Ford Mustang when we booked the car online, when we got to Alamo we were offered an upgrade. You might be thinking, 'why on earth did you turn down an upgrade?' But when you've got a dream and a vision, you'll do anything to make sure you get what you want. Alamo had to get one moved from another one of their sites, so don't be afraid to ask if you had your heart set on a particular vehicle. We had to wait about an hour for the car, but it was definitely worth the wait!

+ Buy a SIM Card
At the time of our trip my phone network in the UK, Three, offered their Go Roam benefit. This was absolutely brilliant for me as it meant I could use my phone in America for no extra cost, and as I had unlimited data on my phone plan, my phone could be left with the data on all the time. However, I wanted to ensure we had a back-up or at least an option for Dan to be contactable if anything happened and we got separated. So I found Telaway – a company who specialise in pre-paid SIM cards for the USA. This saved us a lot of money in the long-run as we didn't have to pay for a Sat Nav with our car rental and meant we could make unlimited international and local calls, as well as make the most of the SIM's unlimited data.

+ Take your time
The drive from Monterey down to Los Angeles along Highway 1 is a drive not to be done quickly (although you could argue that our drive was pretty quick). The views of the Pacific Ocean and the winding coastal roads are just stunning, especially driving through Big Sur.

+ Do your research
We were lucky that the cycling tour that was being held down Highway 1 hadn't closed off the road, however if it had it would have been a complete shock and ruined a very important drive of our trip. Also as mentioned earlier on in the post, the California wildfire had crept quite close to where we'd planned to drive so it's wise to ensure there are no natural disasters taking place that could alter your route.

+ Take your ID everywhere
This seems like an obvious one being in a foreign country, but being a 26 year old at the time who looked 16, I was asked for ID in every restaurant and bar we went into in Cayucos. Probably would have been quite saddening if I'd not have had it on me as this was one place I let my hair down for the evening!

+ Fuel up where you can
When we picked up the Mustang it had a full tank of gas, which comfortably got us a full 190+ miles down to Big Sur. We fuelled up for the first time at Gorda Springs Resort in Big Sur. I'd been nagging Dan for a while to fuel up as a just incase and I'm glad we did; this is the last gas station for 40 miles and I like to be prepared for all eventualities.


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