Let me start out by saying that I grew up on the East Coast. It will always be home…. but I’ve gotta just state for the record: I now understand the whole “West Coast Best Coast” mumbojumbo. “They” aren’t lying. It’s amazing.
Our love for the West Coast was so obvious that I’m pretty sure we have our families terrified that we might move. (moving on).. 😉
This road trip was a total bucket list item for both myself and my husband… and it didn’t get planned nearly as early as I typically would have, but that just made it even more exciting- even if my travel agent brain was on overload.
The trip basically happened on a whim, when a pre-planned work trip to the Caribbean was canceled last minute due to the disruption of Hurricane Matthew. So, with 5 days already free and a sitter for our fur babe in place we decided to “just go.”
So… we did.
And let me tell you, the trip was even more amazing than I could have ever dreamed. The sights. The smells. The food. The WINE. I just can’t stop re-playing it all in my head.
One reason this trip is so amazing is that it’s not just a bucket list item for those living in the US, it’s a bucket list item for so many people around the world. Cruisin’ around the PCH (AKA Pacific Coast Highway AKA Highway 1) in our Jeep rental seriously felt like a dream.
“Where did we start?” “Where did we stop?” “What did you do??”
Well hey, thanks for asking! I was just getting there.
We flew out of Chattanooga, TN (PTL for small and easy airports) then stopped in ATL before heading to San Francisco.
DAY 1: SAN FRANCISCO
First stop after we deplaned was to pick up our rental. Originally we had booked a standard car, but when we asked if they had any Jeeps available for a low upgrade cost and they said “yes” we couldn’t resist. We walked down the line of rentals until we came up to our red 4-door Jeep Wrangler and were totally okay with looking totally touristy because the roof would be off and our wind-blown hair would blind us from all the haters.
Speaking of wind-blown hair….
Backing up for a second to our first meal. I mean, how could we not? IN-N-OUT…I can still taste the greasy deliciousness.
Okay, now back to the bridge. I had seen so many pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, and obviously in the opening for every “Full House” episode so I thought I would know what to expect, but as you’re driving over such an iconic landmark you can’t help but feel giddy. The bridge was so majestic. Even with the clouds looming in the background. We just kept saying “wow”.
More for my Full House fans…The Painted Ladies! We actually put on “Everywhere you look” while we stood there gawking at these beautiful houses (which people do actually live in) which totally satisfied the inner-child in me who grew up loving Full House. SO. COOL. To stand there- it felt a little surreal.
One of my personal “to-dos” in this city was to ride the cable car. I loved finding out that they are still very much used for transportation for locals in the city. I planned on taking a super cute photo of me hanging off the side…but I soon realized that the men who run these cars are VERY serious about safety and stress that it is not a ride. Respected. But still sad my photo-op wasn’t going to happen.
So I settled for a less impressive photo later that night on our way back up. But you get the idea- the cable cars are so cute and such a fun way to get down to Fishermans Wharf from many pick-up locations. We started at Powell Station.
DAY 2: WAKING UP IN PACIFICA…
After our day in San Fran we decided to drive down a bit and spend the night in Pacifica…making us really close to Highway 1 for an easier start the next morning. So we stayed at a hotel on Rock a Way Beach, and woke up to this breathtaking view…
We had decided early on that we wanted to “eat as many meals with water views as possible”…so we walked upstairs from our hotel lobby and ate breakfast with this perfect view:
(I mean seriously…does it get any better than ocean front views eating french toast?!) Answer- heck no.
After breakfast we were on our way and headed to Santa Cruz. We stopped along the way at one of the vistas (overlooks) and got a few pics with our whip for the week (I realize no one says whip… but I do so just go with it). I mean if chokers and flared jeans can come back, so can old school slang words.
So in Santa Cruz- We parked, walked the Pier- got lunch at one of the many choices right on the pier overlooking the water, then walked and a bit of the boardwalk (it was closed since we weren’t there on a weekend).
After our stop in Santa Cruz we were headed to Carmel- our stop for the night. We couldn’t help ourselves and pulled over multiple times along the way to explore a few spots we thought would be awesome. Mission accomplished.
One of our favorite spots was Panther Beach… you can get a glimpse of why:
We spent so much time at vistas and taking pictures that we arrived in Carmel a little later than planned, but we were still in time for sunset, so it could’ve been worse.
As we drive through the little town and pull up to our Inn for the night it’s obvious that the town of Carmel-by-the-Seas is easy to love.
We were walking distance to the beach and pretty much all of the restaurants and shops which was amazing. The one thing to note about this cute little town though… everything shuts down by 9pm. Seriously. I felt like I was back in college with quiet hours. Thankfully we were so tired from the day we ended up zonking out by 10pm anyway.
One random detail I loved were the succulents… they were HUGE and they were EVERYWHERE. If you care at all about plants you will love this place even more. (I have a black thumb… but succulents are less easy to kill so we get along better).
DAY 3: BIG SUR AND SANTA BARBARA
So day 3. We had A LOT to tackle. I mean, Big Sur in itself deserves at least a full day… and we wanted to explore a bit of Santa Barbara (which we only got to do at night-its on our list to re-visit)- because even in the short amount of time we spent there, Santa Barbara became one of my personal favorite stops. The fact that it’s known as the “American Riviera” may have helped.
Big Sur & Bixby Bridge
The light rain actually made for amazing pictures- this one… #nofilter
This drive clearly isn’t for the faint of heart…
One spot we were told we HAD to stop was Nepenthe’s in Big Sur. The rain wasn’t going anywhere, but neither was the view- so we stopped for an early lunch (and wine, duh). The views from this place were stunning. Super pricey, but we knew that ahead of time so it didn’t dampen our experience. Pictured below is “Phoenix”- the gift shop before heading up the stairs to the restaurant.
After lunch we had a ton of miles to cover, buttttt at least the views were OMG worthy-
One stop we didn’t anticipate- we couldn’t resist! How can you not stop to see
hundreds thousands of elephant seals sun bathing? Love that we stumbled upon “Point Piedras Blanca”.
Later that day we made it to our home for the night in Santa Barbara.
The Inn we stayed at was perfectly located near State St. and the “Funk Zone” which is a really cool area with restaurants, bars, wineries and shops- highly recommend. We were also a super short drive from the pier which is always a bonus.
Was a tad obsessed with the entrance to the Inn. It’s just so CUTE.
Wine tasting at 11am? #yesplease
DAY 4: Morro Bay and LA
There was one main stop we wanted to make en route to Los Angeles- Morro Rock… it was such an amazing spot with a beach, tons of surfers and the main road lined with places to stop for food or drinks. Doesn’t take long to drive down and admire for a bit if you have the time- take it.
After another few hours on the road, we came to our hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Ate a quick lunch at a local pizzeria nearby and then headed to Hollywood Blvd. and Rodeo Drive. We barely scratched the surface in LA and we didn’t see anyone famous (lame) but we never had a shortage of options for places to explore- which was a plus.
Hotel pool that we never used. At least it was pretty.
View from one of the main buildings on Hollywood Blvd.
How could I not? ‘TCL Chinese Theatre’ break to see who’s hands matched with different celeb…
Looked up very little as my eyes were focused on the ground looking at all the STARS.
We stepped out of the car on Rodeo and literally said “it even smells expensive.” I had fun window shopping since the stores were closed. Probably not a bad thing since I don’t even like paying more than $50 for a pair of boots.
DAY 5: SANTA MONICA PIER & MALIBU
Our last full day and we had a lot to do. We headed to the Santa Monica Pier after breakfast for a quick stop. The beach was huge- so wide..and even with mild weather (mid 60’s) there were people on the beach, and tons of surfers further from the pier.
After Santa Monica we shot over to Malibu for brunch, and we both instantly fell in love. We didn’t have a ton of time left to explore but we walked the pier and the beach for a bit and that was enough to hook us. Totally on our list to return.
Brunch spot- Malibu Farm.
I think we fit in here. 😉
Once we pulled ourselves away from Malibu it was time to head out. As in back up the coast. Yes, we drove it again. Except this time we didn’t take Highway 1- we were inland and took Interstate 5.
Why the heck would we do that? Well- that’s a travel agent secret and you’ll have to ask me to find out. 😉
Even though we weren’t looking at the coast, the landscape was still beautiful… just on a different scale. We drove through soooo many vineyards (I was tempted to jump out a few times), tons of farm land, an actual cowboy hoarding cattle, and so much more that my mind can only remember through photos. The drive ended with us back in San Fran- but not before seeing a rainbow or two and a beautiful sunset.
If Highway 1 wasn’t already on your bucket list…I hope it is now. And when you’re ready to start planning that bucket list trip- you know who to email for the best #vacayvibes.