November 25 – December 2
For Thanksgiving, Bijan and I had requested 8 days off from work, in the chance that we would be able to fly home for the holidays. Unfortunately, flying home was not in the cards this year, so we decided to use the time to travel up and down the California coast instead.
Bijan’s cousin Megan invited us to her house in Torrance for a little Thanksgiving get-together. We drove south along the coast (the longer but more scenic route) the morning of the holiday and spent the night at her house. She made a delicious meal with all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods and we caught up and played cards and watched Mrs. Doubtfire (pups included).
For our remaining stretch of days off, we decided to make a trip up the central coast to Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula. We have wanted to camp in Big Sur, but with the massive wildfires in the area this past fall, some of the state parks and all camping areas have remained closed. We opted for hotel rooms for our trip this time around.
We left SB on Saturday morning after packing up our things, and headed north on Route 154 over the Santa Ynez Mountains, through the valley, past the vineyards all dried up and an exhausted yellow-brown at this point in the season. Our destination for the night was Morro Bay, with a few planned stops along the way.
Our first stop was at the Pismo Preserve for a morning hike. Pismo Preserve sits on a hill overlooking the Pismo Beach and has trails meandering through the ridges above US 101. We did a short hike with Charley and took in the views in the area.
Once we had our fill of hiking, we drove over to San Luis Obispo (SLO) to grab a sandwich and salad for lunch. We walked around town for a bit and went into a dog boutique, where we got Charley a few bones for the road! We hit the road once again for Biddle Ranch Vineyard, an adorable farmhouse on a large vineyard and surrounded by mountains. We each got a glass of wine while playing our new favorite card game, Five Crowns (Bijan won), and Charley enjoyed hanging out and chewing on her new bone.
Our final stop of the day was Morro Bay, where I had booked a hotel room for the night. Morro Bay is a quaint seaside town along Route 1 that is characterized by it’s most distinguishable feature, Morro Rock. Sitting at the foot of the harbor, this 576 foot tall rock was formed 23 million years ago from the plug of a volcano, and is one of nine volcanic plugs that extend from SLO to Morro Bay. We made our way to Morro Strand State Beach for the sunset. The beach was covered in sand dollars, and the wet sand was so cold our feet went numb. We enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the beach and walked the beach and took some photos. The sunset took place in front of us, seemingly at the same time that the moon rose directly behind us.
After sunset, we made our way to the Sandpiper Inn, where we dropped Charley off and headed out to the main strip on the harbor to find a place to eat. We woke up early the next morning, as we had our long drive up the coast and we wanted to enjoy every minute of it. We were up early enough to see the first ray of sunlight hit Morro Rock in the harbor. It’s not often that we are up for sunrise, but it felt good.
We grabbed breakfast and coffee at Top Dog Coffee Co. in downtown, and hit the road. Having fond memories of our last trip north along the coast, we were looking forward to setting out. We made our way up Route 1 through San Simeon, and past the Cavalier Beach Resort, where we stayed the last time. We absolutely loved our stay at this place and still talk about it to this day, but it was not in our budget this time around.
The first stop on the coast heading north is the Elephant Seal Rookery, where you can see hundreds of seals basking on the beach. There weren’t quite as many seals as the last time we were there, but there were some massive ones. The seals look like a bunch of big blobs or rocks laying on the beach. Every once in a while, they will toss sand with their flippers, or make a barking or farting noise. They are fun characters to watch. Elephant seals can be up to 20 feet long, and are not quite as cute as harbor seals – they are actually pretty funny looking. We snapped some photos of this cute little photogenic harbor seal below:
We continued up the coast, stopping at some of the spots that were familiar to us from the last time we made the drive, where it begins to look like the mountains are falling into the sea, and the water turns a deep blue/turquoise color (my favorite color). Much of the drive takes you up and down cliffs along the ocean with tight winding turns. The best part of this drive is the journey, with every turn, there are more beautiful vistas in every direction.
Of all of the places we have been, this coastline may be our favorite spot. Here, you don’t have to choose between the mountains and the ocean, there are 3,000+ foot mountains beside an insanely beautiful and rugged coastline, gorgeous trees, plants and wildlife. Along the west coast, Big Sur’s Cone Peak is the tallest coastal mountain in the lower 48, at 5,155 feet tall.
We stopped at Sand Dollar Beach to walk Charley. It sits in a cove with sea stacks jutting out of the water and huge waves. There were a lot of surfers out, so we hung out and watched them catch some waves.
Continuing on our way, we stopped at one of the famed spots of Big Sur, Mcway Falls, for a few photos, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Vista Point, which provides an endless view of the mountains down the coast. A breathtakingly beautiful spot.
For lunch, we made a stop at Big Sur Bakery for coffees, a sandwich, and a delicious cream-filled donut for the road. With full bellies, we stopped at Pfeiffer Beach, a windy, rugged beach with sea stacks and rocks jutting out of the water, waves crashing on and between the rocks. This beach also has purple sand, caused by the minerals that wash down from the mountains and onto the beach when it rains.
We continued on our drive, setting out to find a good spot to watch the sunset. We pulled off on the side of the road, set up our chairs, and snapped a few photos while taking in the golden glow.
After sunset, we drove to Monterey, where we checked into our hotel room at the Inn at the Bay, grabbed some pizza and ice cream, and then turned in for an early night.
The following morning, we woke up and grabbed some breakfast and lattes at what became our go-to breakfast spot, Alta Cafe, which played music that seemed like it came directly from one of our Spotify playlists, and had an adorable back patio seating area.
We drove to Point Lobos Natural Reserve for a walk (unfortunately, this was not a dog-friendly activity so Charley had to sit this one out). Point Lobos is a peninsula on the coast just south of Carmel, with hiking trails and is a preserve for many plants and wildlife. The landscape consisted of beautiful cypress trees and rugged coastline, with craggy rocks battered by swirling and crashing turquoise water. We saw lots of pelicans, vultures, and harbor seals that call Point Lobos home.
In the afternoon, we picked Charley up from the hotel and headed for the town of Carmel for some exploring. We grabbed lunch and walked around this adorable and ritzy little town full of art galleries, shops and restaurants. The architecture was puzzling to us, with miniature Swiss-looking huts abutting new-age modern cafes.
After a nap on Carmel beach, we drove down to Garrapatta State Beach for the sunset. We saw some of the biggest waves either of us had ever seen with dolphins jumping in and out of the waves. We admired the fall colors in the shrubbery and the incredible coastline that stretched beyond the end of the beach.
We topped an incredible day off with a meal from Wedo’s Tacos food truck in the Dust Bowl Brewing Co. in Monterey.
The following day we grabbed some grub at Alta Cafe again and then headed for the mountains on the coast. Charley wasn’t able to join us for this adventure, either, as the hiking trails in the state parks along Big Sur do not allow dogs.
We pulled into Andrew Molera State Park, and started our hike up the East Molera Trail, heading for a ridgeline high above Route 1. The trail weaved along switchbacks up the side of the ridgeline at a fairly steep slope, providing views of the coastline and surrounding mountains.
After about 1.5 miles of hiking, we made it to the end of the trail for us, however, there is a patchwork of trails you can continue on that lead deep into the park. We sat to take in the view, while Bijan enjoyed the beer that he hauled along in his backpack. We took a few trail offshoots to take in all of the scenery before headed back down from the ridge. We didn’t see any other people while hiking, had the entire trail to ourselves. It was a quiet that we hadn’t felt in a while since we have not been doing as much hiking lately, and it felt good.
After completing our hike, we picked up Charley and headed to Cannery Row in Monterey to find a spot for lunch. Then we went south back to Carmel to do the 17-mile scenic drive through Pebble Beach.
The drive weaves through prestigious golf courses and along beautiful coastline along the southwest portion of the Monterey peninsula. There are stops along viewpoints of the coast to explore and take pictures.
Wednesday morning, we had one last breakfast at Alta Cafe before hitting Route 1 south for the scenic route home. Here is one last photo from the road!
We feel blessed to be able to experience amazing places like this! I am sure we will be back to Big Sur again someday!