Driving Route One through California has been on my bucket list since, well, I’ve had a bucket list. As a lifelong east coaster who quickly fell in love with the west coast, I wanted to make sure I experienced the state outside of the tourist attractions. But, let’s be real, the state in its entirety is quite the attraction. While I could spend days and days detailing each exhilarating and truly stunning moment of our trip, I decided to consolidate our nine day venture into two useful guides. I’ll detail each stop we made along the way and include the top five must sees/eats/dos that should not be missed. Mind you, there is far more than five to-dos to be checked off, but the most magical part of this trek is the getting lost part (if you’re like us…then at least twice) and stumbling on the best vegan cheese plate you could dream up or deserted sand dune beach not marked on any map.
For a little back tracking, my number one girl and I have been known to prefer spontaneous road trips over perfectly curated vacations. (Remember this one?). And while California would be a little less death-defying…or a least we hoped, we knew it would be just as exciting as our past adventures. Since I abandoned the notion of a typical bachelorette party which aren’t really my introvert-self thing, I believed that this would be the best substitute as a last *hoorah* before changing my last name. 10/10 recommend. My extra sweet fiance-turned-husband even purchased our plane tickets to ensure the trip wouldn’t be missed. So, a month before the nuptials, we backed our carry-ons once more, tried to rid ourselves of our east coast vibe and hopped off the plane at LAX!
We landed rather late in L.A. so we didn’t get to do much sightseeing on the front end of our trip. The following morning, we sprinted with glee to the car rental place across the street to pick up our ride for the next nine days. We headed up north through Malibu to Santa Barbara and paused at these noteworthy stops along the way.
Point Dume: A beautiful beach that gave us our first taste of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a cheap parking lot next to the beach. We watched rock climbers scale the cliffs and did a short hike up to the top of the point. Listening to the sea lions lounging on the rocks was well worth the climb.
El Matador State Beach: one of the most beautiful beaches in Malibu. Be prepared to park alongside a busy highway. A number of staircases leads down to picturesque beach with sea rocks scattered in the waves. Even though we didn’t stay and sunbath, it was an excellent photo op.
Acai Bowls: No trip to Malibu is complete without a stop at SunLife Organics. We enjoyed delicious smoothie bowls with all the fixings. It cost a pretty penny, but was one of our favorite meals on the trip.
Mugu Peak Trail: Our last stop of the day was to the Mugu Peak Trail that is right off of Route One. It has two routes to the top of a small mountain that overlooks the beaches. We descended the less steep side on the way up and opted for the steep side on the way down. Be warned, it is very, very steep and we had difficulty climbing down. The trail was only a couple of miles long and the locals we spoke to often complete the hike daily as their workouts. It was a great way to round out day one.
Masa Verde Restaurant: Simply the best vegan meal one could ask for. We didn’t hold back with an appetizer cheese plate, veggie mains and delicious vegan baklava and cheesecake for dessert. A win all around.
San Luis Obispo
After a night in an AirBnB in Santa Barbara that was nothing to write home about, we headed up to San Luis Obispo.
Kayak: We started the day by renting kayaks from Paddle Sports Center in Santa Barbara and headed out onto the water in the morning haze. Knowing we would spend the next few hours in a car, the movement in the morning was great.
Pismo Beach: We began our trek up north in search of the sand dunes we’d heard a lot about. We parked in a seaside neighborhood and strolled the beach, but didn’t really find anything worth visiting again.
San Luis Obispo: If we were to redo our itinerary, I absolutely would have spent more time in this charming college city. We loved the hipster relaxed vibe here. There seemed to be music coming from every corner and enjoyed the little shops and boutiques that lined the city streets.
Morro Rock: After dinner, we escaped out to Morro Rock. While it was described to us as a large rock in the middle of the ocean, it is in fact breathtaking and the perfect place to watch the sunset with some kombucha.
AirBnB: While the city was lovely, the real draw of San Luis Obispo was our AirBnB. Our host had created his own actual bed and breakfast on the back side of his home.
We were greeted by his adorable pups and then led to a beautiful studio room with an open garden. The next morning as we packed up the car, Charles stopped us in our tracks and invited us in for a homemade breakfast. By breakfast, I mean an extravagant feast that put our beloved acai bowls to shame. He normally leaves the breakfast in the open air garden, but because we packed up so early we were able to join him in his home. We indulged in homemade muffins, farm fresh eggs, toast, jam, smoothies and juices. I would truly go back to California simply to spend more time in this home away from home! And let’s be honest, I don’t even get these types of breakfasts at home. You can find this haven here.
Carmel: We got on the road early to make our way up to Carmel, a quaint town located directly north of Big Sur. Due to a landslide a couple years ago, Route One is blocked towards the end of Big Sur so we had to make a detour or three (ah) to finally get in the right direction. This is an important time to make sure you have gas as the stations are few and far between as you head up towards San Francisco.
17 Mile Drive: A must-do on every Carmel sightseeing list, this drive takes your through some iconic sights of the west coast while weaving on coastal roads dotted with mansions. From the most photographed tree (in the world! Who knew they measured such a thing?) to rocky sea cliff views, it’s worth a half day to take in all there is to see.
We stopped in Carmel and strolled through the alleyways towards the beach. It was packed with tourists, but we still found the town to be enjoyable. After a quick dinner, we parked ourselves on the sand and people watched. Temperatures were in the low 70s and it was fun to see everyone wearing bathing suits with a jacket over top. I appreciated their commitment.
Yoga: We stayed in another AirBnB in Monterey so we could easily get to Big Sur in the morning. The location worked well, but we didn’t totally love the neighborhood. We later found a lovely (and safe) part of Monterey so we believe we just ended up on a less-than-stellar street. We opted for an early morning yoga class at Seaside yoga Sanctuary which was heaven! Luckily that was close by.
Simply driving Route One will give you all the adventure you need. We had a couple items on our checklist to see including the Bixby Bridge (which you won’t miss, because you have to drive over it.)
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: We did a beautiful wooded hike here to get the day started. It was a nice hike, but nothing compared to what we would see later on.
Nepenthe: we made sure to stop here on our way south. The restaurant is rather expensive, but the cafe offers the same magnificent views where you can enjoy a coffee and light lunch. Make sure to stay until the fog clears, the clouds seem to come and go.
Partington Cove Trail: A lovely quick hike down to the rocky Pacific Ocean that offers a neat tunnel and wildflowers.
McWay Waterfalls: The most gorgeous hike of the day made even more magical by the pod of dolphins swimming underneath us. A tall waterfalls pours into an aqua-blue bay nestled underneath the trail.
Limekiln Creek Falls Trail: Most people don’t head far enough south to hit Limekiln Park. This was one of the favorite hikes of the day with towering trees and bubbling creeks running through the brush. It helped that it was also the least populated and we could soak up nature without all the crowds and kids.
After spending the beginning of the week heading north, it was time for us to spend one more night in Monterey and cut east. We had big plans to finally try In-and-Out burger and make it to Kings Canyon National Park. Stay tuned for Part Two!