Last week, Bryan and I went on a getaway to Central Coast, California. We have always heard about Big Sur, but never been there. Since Bryan has max out his vacation days at work , we decided to take a couple of days off for a road trip through Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Monterey to Pismo Beach. PCH runs along the coastline of California. The route was built in 1934 for drivers to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Nowadays, most people would choose other highways over PCH. There are too many turns on PCH and it takes much longer time to travel. However, PCH continues to be one of the best scenic drives in the world.
We first drove up to Monterey. Monterey is a beautiful town with friendly locals and great things to see, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and wild sea otters. And of course, there is our favorite restaurant, Passionfish. It is our must-visit place when we are in the area. We are always satisfied when we came out of the restaurant. Their food is simple, flavorful and clean. Their fish dishes are superb, especially the scallops. If I can be there every week, I would. After dinner, we went back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, we started our day with a big brunch. Since there aren’t many towns and restaurants on that stretch of the PCH, we needed to make sure we are filled up. We went to Katy’s Place in Carmel-by-the-Sea. By surprise, it was some of the best brunch places we ever had. The eggs were perfectly poached for the egg benedict. The sauce was savory and creamy. My Swedish pancakes were just as good. They were stuffed with fresh berries and whipped cream. I have never seen any restaurant that would put out so many berries on one plate. Impressive and delicious!
Time to hit the road!
1st stop: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
It is just 5 minutes away from the city. But man, what a gorgeous state park! Because we were on a tight schedule, we only picked two short trails, Cypress Grove Trail and Bird Island Trail. The stunning cypress trees along the cliffs were incredible. Some of the cypress tress were orange in color, because they were covered by algae. It was unique and different. I was in love with them. The rocks and cliffs were also impressive. We even saw some harbor seals and sea otters (happy dance!). There are so much to offer. If we have time, we would like to spend at least half a day to explore. Bryan and I don’t hike, so I was a little concern before the trip. No worries. These are the easiest trails that even children can do it. Just watch out for poison oaks. They were seriously everywhere and along the trails. Yuck! Good that we didn’t get any on us.
2nd stop: Garrapata State Park
The park is along PCH. We just stopped every once a while and get some pictures. The Garrapata beach is pretty nice, but it was too windy that day. We did a quick walk and moved on. One funny thing was that I almost got ocean water in my shoes. I was bending down to take some pictures and videos with my phone. The waves moved in all the sudden (watch the video). Good that I kind of saw it coming, I quickly turned back and ran and ran. Bryan said if I was 1 second late, my shoes would be soaked with water. Close call! 😛
3rd stop: Bixby Bridge
The world-famous Bixby Bridge! If you don’t know what I am talking about. I guarantee you have seen it at least once on TV for a car commercial. I saw one last week, although I can’t remember what car it was for. We got a few pictures and continued our drive.
4th stop: Pfeiffer Beach
Getting there wasn’t easy. For the last 2 miles, we were driving on a narrow winding road. Many stops and turns. Two things about this beach: purple sand and giant rocks. Even though not every inch of sands were purple, it was still very beautiful. The view of the rock arch and rock formation with the crashing waves was breathtaking. We wish we could stay longer.
Driving through Big Sur was a completely different experience. We were surround by big and tall tress. We didn’t get the feeling that we are near the coast. It was like in a forest. In the middle of the forest, there was the Big Sur Bakery. We made a very needed stop. We were getting hungry and little sleepy. We shared a hot mocha, butter croissant and ham and cheese croissant. Everything was tasty. We got our energy back.
5th stop: Elephant Seal Rookery
The drive from Big Sur to San Simeon took almost 2 hours. There was no phone reception most of the time. The road was curvy. By the time we got to the rookery, it was about 5:30pm. Sun was supposed to set at 6:15pm. We made it on time for some elephant seals’ actions. The seals were too adorable! I love it there. It was a perfect setting to be able to enjoy the sunset with the seals.
With the sun already set, we rushed to San Luis Obispo downtown for dinner. We ate tapas and paella. It was fairly good, but nothing too spectacular. For the night, we stayed at a hotel in Pismo Beach next to the ocean. We had a good night sleep.
6th stop: Pismo Beach Monarch Butterflies Grove
The next day, we went to the close by park to check out some Monarch butterflies. They migrate from Canada and Northern states to escape winter. Pismo Beach is one of the areas that the butterflies like to stay and come back every year. They gather and cluster on Eucalyptus trees. I am scared of bugs of all kinds. I thought I would freak out, but I didn’t. They mostly stayed on the trees and didn’t move, so I was fine with it. If you don’t pay attention, you wouldn’t even know there are butterflies on the tree. They looked like leaves. There are tons and tons of butterflies. The sight was awesome. That makes you wonder the magic of nature.
7th stop: Los Olivos
On the way back home, we passed by Los Olivos. This is a small town near Santa Barbara. It has been blooming in recent years, because they are packed with wine tasting rooms. There are more than 30 tasting rooms within a few blocks. Truly amazing! We have been here once and absolutely fall in love with one particular tasting room, Saarloos & Sons. They have a cupcake shop inside their store. They pair wine with cupcakes. Oh, so good! I’m a horrible drinker. I got tipsy with barely a few sips. But that day, I pretty much finished my 5 cups of wine. My face was burning hot and my head was spinning (see the picture). I can hardly walk out the store. After lunch, we continued our drive home. I was completely knocked out on the way home. 🙂
This was a really wonderful trip. We were so amazed that there are places like that in California. One moment we were in the beach and the next moment we were going through a forest. There are too much out there for us to explore California. We will need to do more road trip like this for sure.
Thank you so much for reading this long post. Hope you are still here by now. If you are interested of doing a road trip through Big Sur, please let me know. I can send you my itinerary, which should be helpful with planning. Have a good weekend!
*P.S. Bryan was the photographer of the trip. He took all these photos.