After leaving the Santa Cruz mountains (catch up on the road trip here), we headed south onto Highway One. For this stretch, we were officially on the California coast – and it looked incredible. After driving through San Francisco, San Jose and then Santa Cruz, to cruise beside the California coast towards Monterey was an incredible sight. I couldn’t wait to check out the infamous wharf that waited in Monterey Bay. Our plan for today was to visit Monterey, Carmel by the Sea and then Big Sur before we stop for the evening at a ranch in Carmel Valley.
We arrived in Monterey mid-morning, and immediately headed onto the pier to soak up the seaside. Coming from a coastal town, it felt like home as soon as we parked on Fisherman’s Wharf. Seeing the ships docked in the marina, the seals lapping gently in the water (this is not something you’d see at home!).
It felt special to be by the California coast: on the opposite side of the continent than I usually am.
We stopped by Peluca Trattoria for lunch, which was a little Italian restaurant we found on Yelp. Little did we know that as soon as we sat down, we’d notice this was the restaurant used in Big Little Lies! It was like wandering into a dream, and everybody in there was discussing the show. At Peluca, I ordered the gnocchi (a favourite of mine). It was delicious. That said though, I’ve never met a gnocchi I didn’t like. Scott got the chicken sandwich and the portion was much bigger than that of the pasta. While Clare and Kim both opted for seafood (being by the coast) and couldn’t say more great things about their lobster ravioli. We sat there overlooking the bay as the morning sun illuminated the dock and it felt like one of those moments you’ll remember forever. Just bliss.
After finishing lunch, we took to the pier again to pop our heads in the local shops. Stopping by Wharf’s General Store to fill our bags with as much saltwater taffy as we could manage. We spent the majority of our trip afterwards playing guess the flavour with all the pieces, as we’d forgotten them almost as quickly as we bought them. Standing on the pier overlooking the water and the tides, with the wind blowing and people chatting merrily. It was special. It was one of those moments that you look back on. Where your memories are almost tinted with a blur from laughing, and talking and joking so hard. Like you talked the time away.
Before we knew it, we had to jump back in the car towards Carmel by the Sea. We drove through the town of Monterey on our way South, and took in how picturesque it was. Monterey is somewhere I’d dream of returning. To stay a few days and soak in the California coast. The buildings and the tides.
While meandering South, we saw a sign for the 17 Mile Drive – and remembering how desperately we wanted to do it, ignored our sat nav and flew off the nearest exit. The result? Best decision ever. The 17 Mile Drive was exquisite. Meandering through beautiful woodland roads. Out onto the water, across pristine golf clubs and incredible rock formations. We kept pulling over just to soak it all in. These photos Kim and I took at a picnic bench on Pebble Beach. They always make me smile afterwards: I’ve known Kim since we were 12 and she’s one of my dearest friends.
Although the first few sights on the drive took a while to appear, once you’re passing the California coast they start to show up a lot quicker and before we knew it, the drive was over. We had been spat out next to Carmel by the Sea, and so we pulled into our next stop.
Carmel by the Sea stole my heart. It was my favourite town we visited across all of California and Nevada. There was just something that I can’t put my finger on. A serenity to the centre. The businesses and the buildings. It was so picturesque. In the middle of madness yet so serene at the same time. A true small town in the heart of a world famous drive.
We spent as long as we could walking through the streets of Carmel by the Sea, calling into little independent stores. Perusing bookshelves and clothing racks. Admiring the locals and the restaurants. I almost willed myself to be hungry again just so we could indulge in more food. Carmel by the Sea was a true jewel. Nestled within the California coast. Somewhere I’ll dream of calling home.
Before long, it was time to tumble back into the SUV and be on our way. Much as I wish I could’ve stayed, we had places to see. Big Sur was next on the agenda – so we set our sights on Bixby Creek Bridge. The drive through Big Sur is legendary. Famous for the sights. The sounds. The jagged rocks overlooking the soft water. I’m pretty saw my jaw was hanging off for 90% of the trip over there.
Pulling in at Bixby Creek Bridge, my legs shook at the sight. The vistas and the valleys. And more accurately, the drop. It was a long way down. The bridge itself is an incredible awe to behold. Standing strong in the rock face. After a quick shoot (or two), we climbed back in. The sun was starting to set, and unlike yesterday, we wanted to arrive before dark.
The mountains in Santa Cruz had us anxious to arrive somewhere we knew wasn’t lit. Especially at a ranch in Carmel Valley. What had us anxious however, ended up being something we marvelled at. As we pulled into Carmel Valley, with the golden sun dappling over the valley-tops, we were floored by the beauty of our next AirBnb.
This felt further from the California coast than we’d been all day. Although we knew we weren’t that far. Another testament to the incredible contrasts in California. It felt like a world unto itself.
The ranch, hosted by Vicki, had horses on property that you could enjoy the beautiful sight off all day long. They would neigh and chatter together happily. With a huge expansive ground, and beautifully decorated ranch for us to enjoy. As you can tell, we got a little bit excited with our photos in the ranch (but who can blame us!?).
That night, we headed into Carmel Valley for dinner. The town of Carmel Valley is another treasure that I’d love to return to. We spent time talking to locals, enjoying the scenery and basking in the ambience. We visited Cafe Rustica for dinner, where we all indulged in freshly made stone baked pizzas while chatting to the chef. After eating, we wandered through the town and headed into the local grocer to pick up some supplies for the ranch. I couldn’t help myself from stocking up on my favourite Ben and Jerry’s flavour – Chocolate Therapy, which we don’t have in England. While Scott, Clare and Kim picked up more appropriate pieces. Like Pop Tarts and soda.
The rest of the evening passed like a dream. We spent the night curled in the ranch. Chatting merrily, indulging in our purchases and recounting our favourite memories from the trip so far. This was our first road trip. And only the third day, yet we had seen so much.
Have you ever driven the California coast? Where was your favourite stop?
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