Santa Barbara was amaze, but the part of the trip I was really looking forward to was the drive up to Big Sur (It’s the whole reason I planned the trip!), and then onto Monterey for the night. I’ve been wanting to see McWay Falls and Bixby Bridge ever since I found out they existed. I can’t believe I lived in San Francisco as a kid and didn’t know about them. Unfortunately, I made a couple of mistakes on this trip and need some do-overs. Regardless, I would have come back to this part of California because it’s just that beautiful.
A friend recommended that we stop at Hearst Castle. When I was younger, I fantasized about visiting this home (I’m sure I saw it on an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous). I probably wouldn’t have stopped there on this trip if my friend hadn’t said it was worth the time. The two hours we spent learning about the house, it’s history and the owner were all very interesting (Who knew he and his friends were such partiers?!) And that view…WOW. It doesn’t seem like it will be that great when you are at the bottom (I was skeptical), but once you are at the top it’s pretty incredible. Half of the kids (teens) with us liked it, the other half were a bit antsy after the first hour. Regardless, be sure to book your tour ahead of time so that you can commence your tour at your desired time.
**Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals**
Don’t take the first turn-off–you will be tempted because the parking lot is big and it looks like you should go there. If you must stop there, then absolutely stop at the second one too!! The first parking area has a partially obstructed view and you don’t get to see beyond some rocks jutting out into the sea. It was neat to see them sunbathing, and listen to the bull out in the ocean frolicking around. But our friends went to the second turn off, had an expansive view of the seals and even saw a live birth!
The first of the scenic vistas after Hearst Castle, this spot was gorgeous. It has lodging, a restaurant, and a place for fuel. We chose it for the first of many family photos. Next time, I might take some time to take the steps down to the bottom!
There are lots of stops along the PCH, and the parking for McWay Falls can get complicated during peak times but it’s worth the effort to park, get out and see the falls. It is beautiful.
Okay. I missed getting a photo of the bridge and it’s taken me a little bit to get over it. And we were starving (I will explain this later). And very grouchy. So I only got to see the bridge from the car. It was beautiful. The traffic was so bad and parking virtually impossible. We stopped earlier at what I thought was the Bixby Bridge and I was flying high, until I saw the signs for the real Bixby. Similar, but not the same… I will be back to see it though!
Notes (The mistakes I made and what I would change or do differently):
1.When leaving Santa Barbara, (or heading north on PCH and planning to make lots of stops), I should have purchased a picnic lunch from the Four Seasons. The vistas were so beautiful we could have eaten in the car and it would have been perfect. Our only other options were to eat at Hearst Castle or Ragged Point. We chose to drive to the famous Nepenthe for the view. Once we started driving toward Nepenthe, there weren’t any places to stop. Upon arrival at Nepenthe around 3PM, they were already an hour in the weeds and wouldn’t accept any more diners even though they were technically open for business. The well-known bakery was also sold-out. Hence we were all grumpy and grouchy and couldn’t handle anymore site-seeing.
2. We planned to stay in Monterey that night and were planning to eat in Carmel for dinner. Traffic was terrible around 4PM but fortunately the restaurant, Casanova, was willing to take us early at 5PM and it was on the way to the hotel. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were starving or if I am just used to southern hospitality, but I found this restaurant to be just “OK”. We were a party of 8 and were on our best behavior. The hostess wasn’t particularly welcoming and seemed brusque (Maybe we were loud after being couped up in a car for a while?). Anyway, we spent $60 on bread and cheese before we even ordered our meals (breadbaskets were $10 for 4 slices and the cheese plates were $24 each). I am all for fine dining and fine dining prices (the steak was $49!), but this wasn’t fine dining and our food was just average and very over-priced. We sampled a variety of dishes since there were 8 of us. I recommend saving your money, eating someplace with average prices and save the fine-dining priced meals for San Francisco. I will say that my husband liked the sommelier and found him very helpful. Although there are some beautiful natural vistas in Carmel, I wouldn’t spend more time there in retrospect, especially with kids. It’s very “adult”: full of art galleries and coffee shops. While I could spend a day doing that with my husband, it’s not very much fun for an entire family. I am sure this review of my dining experience and the town of Carmel will make me unpopular, but I am just letting you know how I would edit my time in the future.
3. When I do this again, I will drive down from the north… We chose to do this PCH drive starting in LA so that we could spend New Years Eve with friends in San Francisco– I wouldn’t change that. But next time, I would love to fly into SFO, stop at Point Lobos and Santa Cruz, then drive down to Post Ranch Inn for a couple of nights to really explore Big Sur.
Where we stayed:
Monterey Marriott— We only needed a place to stay after a long drive up the coast, without plans to explore Monterey. The next night was New Years Eve and we knew we would need to be in San Francisco. This hotel was a good spot for rest, a delicious breakfast and a nice, clean room. My husband got up early and ran around the bay and enjoyed the flat terrain and views (The next two days were going to be very hilly!)
From a natural beauty perspective, this might have been my favorite part of the trip. I would go back to Big Sur again. I made a couple of rookie travel mistakes, but live and learn, right? And it was all a wonderful experience. Until next time… Happy Travels!