Top 9 Destinations on the Pacific Coast Highway
First off, I apologize for being MIA, I didn’t realize a whole month has flown by since my last post! Over the past month I took two trips, one of which I’m sharing with you today, and last week I celebrated my boyfriend’s birthday and it’s been busy and fun in the greatest way possible! I’ve also been working on this big post which I am really excited to share with you all, finally!
A couple of months ago, my boyfriend brought up the idea of the driving up California’s Pacific Coast Highway (or more commonly known as Route 1 by locals) with his friend on the way to their friend’s wedding in San Francisco. Having grown up on the East Coast almost all of my life, I had next to no idea what it was or where anything was, but it sounded really cool so of course I said yes! As the trip got closer, I began researching to get more familiar with the drive and it didn’t take long for me to get really excited about the trip!
Only there was one problem that my boyfriend brought up two weeks before our trip- the Big Sur National Park where all the pretty waterfalls and trails were located was closed for at least a couple more months due to mudslides and damages from a storm done on the one bridge that goes to Big Sur! And more recently, after we had came back from our trip, I heard that there was another massive landslide that has caused major road blockage on Route 1. If you are looking to travel Big Sur, you can check the status of the park here.
While I was disappointed to say the least since we had booked this trip months in advance, I was glad my boyfriend brought this to our attention because it sent my researching “skills” into overdrive to see what else we can find on our trip.
Luckily, I realized that California has many other natural beauties to offer.
As they say, sometimes, it’s the journey, not the destination. We had 2 full days to make the drive from LA to SF and while it’s definitely doable, I still felt that it was not enough time to see everything we wanted and at times felt a little rushed. While all that time spent in the car was definitely tiring, everything from the dynamic and truly beautiful landscape, kitschy beach towns, and the incredibly down-to-earth Air Bnb hosts we met during our stay made this trip all-so-memorable. Would I do it again? Absolutely!
From Los Angeles to Monterey, here are my 9 highlights from our trip.
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle, West Los Angeles
We landed around 10PM on a Tuesday and this is where we went right away (they were open till 2AM!). I was introduced to Tsujita 3 years ago and ever since I found out I would be returning to LA, I was itching to get back here! Their noodles are deliciously chewy and curly which I love, and the lime they give you, while definitely not traditional, really gives the broth an extra depth that is truly delightful. What a great way to start our West Coast Road Trip!
2. Malibu Farm Restaurant, Malibu
The next morning, we woke up early and officially started our road trip. I’m not a big coffee drinker-tea, yes, coffee, not so much-but whenever I travel with a group, everyone needs to get coffee in the morning to get their day started and this time was no exception!
I’m a closet fan of the Real Housewives, so I really wanted to check out one of the oceanfront restaurants or cafe in Malibu that has played out numerous drama among the housewives. But honestly, it wasn’t the drama, but the setting itself that drew me to Malibu. It just seemed like a beautiful place to go to.
Luckily, my boyfriend’s friend James was also interested in an oceanfront setting, so once we hit the road we relied on Google Maps to help us find this cute cafe by the water called Malibu Farm Restaurant.
The back patio of this restaurant looked like something out of a Martha Stewart Living. It was gor-GEOUS!
While we didn’t get to eat here, I am so glad we got to stop by and find this little gem. The decor and the view here is to die for and will be back next time to try the food for sure.
3. Santa Barbara
Our next stop on the road was Santa Barbara, a little over an hour north of Malibu. We got breakfast at Sambo’s and checked out the Old Mission Santa Barbara, but driving through the town to get there was actually my favorite part. Seeing streets lined with white Spanish Stucco-style buildings with red roofs through the window of our car made me fall in love with this adorable town. I just wish we had more time to explore!
4. Pismo Beach
After an additonal hour or two of driving, our next stop was Pismo Beach. We found out the boardwalk was closed once we got there, so instead went to get clam chowder at Splash Cafe even though we were already full from breakfast. Among the three of us, we shared one bowl. Decadent clam chowder here (don’t want to think about the calories!) but the Japanese in me kept thinking I’ve had Japanese food that tastes better. Overall, Pismo Beach was a kitschy, cute town but it probably would have been more exciting for us had the boardwalk been open and if it wasn’t so cloudy!
5. Pinnacles National Park
After Pismo Beach, we knew we were going to have to eventually get off Route 1 due to the road being closed by the damages I mentioned in the beginning of the post, so we got off the scenic PCH and took Route 101 inland towards Pinnacles National Park. 101 surprised us in the best way possible. To us East Coast natives we loved seeing all the rolling hills and mountains, pastures, and even herds of cows, and the weather here was so much nicer, which definitely made us all happy.
After an additional 2 hours of driving and $15 entrance fee later, we ventured into Pinnacles National Park, which apparently has become the nation’s newest national park, thanks to the efforts of the previous Administration (Obama, we miss you dearly!). This park has really unique rock formations which are the result of a volcanic eruption from over 20 million years ago. You can easily spend a whole day here exploring the caves and do other scenic hikes, but since we were on a time crunch, we did a 1 mile hike as recommended by the friendly park ranger at the visitor center. The view was nothing like I have ever seen before. It just felt great to be walking around after all the driving! But sooner or later, we hit the road again to get to our Air Bnb in Carmel Valley.
6. Cafe Rustica at Carmel Valley
Carmel Valley first of all is an absolutely beautiful place tucked between valleys in Central California. This place has got some serious VIEWS…
After we checked into our Airbnb, we went to go eat at Cafe Rustic per the recommendation of our very nice Air Bnb host and we fell in love with this spot. Not going to lie, I was tired from all the driving and stopping, plus with the wine, I don’t remember every details, but I do remember the ambiance, the mountain backdrop, and eating delicious meal and drinking wine under a heat lamp. This place made me feel like I was in Carmel heaven and I cherished every moment of it.
7. 17 Mile-Drive, Monterey
The next day, we chose to do the 17 Mile Drive as an alternative to the Big Sur National Park. Admissions to the drive is $10.25 to get in, but being tourists, I was just like take our money. I’m sure the money goes into good use, like maintaining the grounds (that is what I tell myself, anyway).
The 17-Mile Drive is a scenic, dramatic drive along the coast, through some redwood trees, golf courses, and very expensive homes overlooking the ocean. We even saw a mommy seal nursing a baby seal! While you can spend hours here, somehow we ended up zipping by in an hour, getting out only a few times to snap some pictures. One of our stops was at the iconic Lone Cypress.
At first we weren’t very impressed by this tree but then we found out this tree has withstood storms and the sea and has been standing there, alone (or almost alone), for over 200 years. Maybe it’s the Japanese in me that romanticizes nature, but I find these things fascinating and felt deeply humbled. They now have fortification around the tree in hopes that it lasts for another 100 years and I left feeling a little wistful, hoping that it will keep living and thriving forever. But there was no time to be feeling sentimental for too long, as we quickly got back in the car because we had another big stop on our agenda: getting to, or as close as we can to the Big Sur.
8. Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur
Hopefully by this point I really drove home the fact that the Big Sur State Park is closed, but what I did not know is that the road leading up to it was going to be perhaps the best thing I’ve seen out of our trip. I soon saw why so many people come here to marvel at its beauty. I mean just look at this:
I also really enjoyed the scenery at Bixby Creek Bridge, not to mention it made for some pretty cool pictures.
To think that there are even more dramatic scenery beyond the closed gates of the park, made me know in my heart that we will be coming back one day when the park reopens!
9. Rocky Point Restaurant, Monterey
Before heading back into town, we grabbed some quick bites at Rocky Point Restaurant, which was another restaurant recommendation by our awesome Air bnb host. She gave us couple other recommendations which sounded nice but my ears definitely perked up when she said this place has ocean views with floor to ceiling windows and it did not disappoint. You definitely pay for the view, but it is well worth it in my book.
After heading back to the town a bit after, we soon hit the road to San Fransisco for our friends’ wedding, which I will save for another time since I feel like this post is already quite long! I will leave with a Google Maps where I’ve plotted all the spots we hit up so you can see where everything is in relation to one another. For those who have never considered doing this road trip, I really think it should be on everyone’s bucket list. I highly recommend it!