Road Trip Through California's Central Coast
I love living in Colorado but every so often I feel very landlocked and need to see an ocean. California is an easy fix here due to quick flights from Denver and some spare Skymiles we had lying around, but where to go? Neither Joe and I had been to Northern California before and after reading a some very persuasive travel pieces, we decided on Big Sur.
I've heard for years that the drive down Hwy 1 down to Big Sur is gorgeous and it's something I've been wanting to do for a while. GPS said it was a little more than a two hour drive, but with all of the photo stops and potential hikes, I recommend giving yourself at least a full day to explore the area. Once you pass Santa Cruz, there are endless, beautiful strips of land overlooking the Pacific.
Our first stop was Carmel, the calmer, slightly more upscale sister to Monterey. Carmel is romantic and down to earth with stunning coastline views. Kind of Sag Harbor-ish with endless boutiques, gorgeous little courtyards and block after block of art galleries that are intended for those in a completely different tax bracket.
The real scenery kicks off once you hit Garrapata State Park. It's jaw dropping. This spectacular shoreline sits at the northern end of Big Sur and everywhere you look is a potential photo op. Trails lead up steep mountains, through the redwood forest and along the rugged coast.
If you're a Big LIttle Lies fan like I am, you'll be thrilled to know that after Garrapata State Park, you drive right over the Bixby Creek Bridge. You'll see quite a few tourists pulled over to take pictures and trust me, join them. This is one helluva photo op. Fun fact: it was right here, at the rivermouth that flows under the Bixby Bridge, that the endangered California Sea Otter was rediscovered playing in the kelp beds and rescued from extinction.
In Laguna Beach, for example, this property, with those majestic views would be littered with hot tubs and Kardashians. Not here. This is ranch country and these gorgeous beaches almost feel like a backdrop. Cattle hang out in these rolling green hills, much on grass and gaze into the ocean. Oprah would be proud of them because they're all living their very best lives.
Now we're into Big Sur and this place needs no introduction. Decidedly one of California’s most rugged stretches of coastline, Big Sur is also the most striking. The area extends over 100 miles along Highway 1’s winding two-lane road and has scores of cliffside campgrounds and romantic bed and breakfasts. While there are super luxe lodging options like the Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Big Sur, we stayed at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, or what I've been referring to lately as Heaven. After finding Deetjen's website, I fell in love with their whole vibe. To start, you can't even book this place online -- you have to call them and book over the phone which is a little cumbersome but makes sense after you read the fine print on your hotel confirmation, where it states that there is no cell service, no WiFi and no TV available on the premises. I was thrilled, Joe less so.
The property is made up of 20 rooms, some with shared bathrooms (no thanks) and each has its own distinct theme. We stayed in Chateau Fiasco which was nestled back among into the forest next to one of the natural gardens that felt like we were staying in our own little treehouse. The rooms are comfortable but trust me, this ain't the Four Seasons, it's rustic. That said, it was so nice to be completely logged off and unreachable. We drank wine on our little deck, played cards and honestly didn't miss my phone for a minute.
Dining options are as organic, fresh and locally sourced as you expect. We had dinner at Nepenthe, a long-standing Big Sur restaurant made from redwood and bricks that the original owners, Lolly and Bill Fassett, made by hand. The Fassetts actually came to Big Sur in the late '40s wanting to raise their children in the wilderness and, as they put it, 'host dance parties under the stars.' I love that. The restaurant is now run by their children and grandchildren and after two glasses of wine and one of their famous Ambrosia Burgers, I can see why generations of Fassetts didn't want to leave.
For breakfast, the Big Sur Bakery is a must. Don’t let the cozy building and the rustic feel fool you—this place cranks out some serious food. Baker Michelle Rizzolo (who trained at La Brea Bakery) and the rest of the tight-knit team create California-style seasonal dishes alongside excellent coffee, flavorful sourdoughs, and pastries that visitors line up for. Come for brunch to try their most famous dish, a breakfast pizza cooked in their wood-fired oven.
Big Sur is an absolute treat. Go there. Go now.