If you grew up in California, chances are you've taken a roadtrip up the coast—it's a beautiful drive with tons to do along the way. Last month, during the long weekend, Matt and I went to celebrate our year anniversary, and I thought I'd write up a post for anyone thinking about making the trip themselves.
We started from my place in west LA and drove up to Monterey for the aquarium.
We stopped for lunch at Cold Springs Tavern in Santa Barbara, about 2 hours north of Los Angeles. It's not in the main town area, but a windy drive into the woods, so I debated if the stop was worth it—but it turned out to be a VERY charming old place.
It was pretty packed with both locals + tourists, and we ordered chili, tri tip sandwiches, and a stack of onion rings... which were the best onion rings I think I've ever had. The chili and tri tip are supposed to be their specialty, but we thought they were nothing special. Outside of the main restaurant, you can order large slabs of tri tip, which looked and smelled amazing, so maybe that's more the way to go.
There were also some old dudes playing live music outside of the bar portion.
Point Lobos State Reserve
Continuing up the coast, you'll hit Point Lobos, a beautiful and leisurely walk around the coast. I'd recommend getting there early and parking along the road outside the entrance (otherwise you have to pay a $10 cash fee). It's a popular spot and gets crowded.
You can hike through here for a few hours, and it's all relatively flat. There were plenty of things to see—sea lions, wildflowers, and a tiny museum that goes through the history of the area, which used to be where they gathered abalone.
Finally we pulled up into sleepy Carmel Valley, where our Airbnb was located. Our host, Bill, was a super chatty older man who was really excited to share his town. I'd highly recommend staying with him if you're looking for a relaxing getaway.
The inside of the cabin was fine (and very spacious) but the real star is the backyard. There's tons of flowers and seating and a HOT TUB! All of this overlooks the valley and is pretty magical.
The Wine House
There are tons of good restaurants and tasting rooms around Carmel Valley, but Matt and I only had time for one—The Wine House. We had seen their outdoor patio from the street, and it seemed cute and chill.
To be honest, we were a little weirded out when we first got in there, as it was not ethnically diverse at all (which I didn't think mattered to me much, but I'm used to LA). However, the wine was good, the meat plate was good, the beer was good, and we soon settled in and just enjoyed the ambiance. They have games like cornhole and bocci ball there, plus a full menu.
Fun fact: Matt witnessed a fight at the bar. Some of the bros had too much wine and one rushed at another.
This place is right next door to Joyce Vineyards, a local establishment, and they also serve Joyce wines. After we were done here we went across the street to a convenience store to buy snacks for the night, and we saw the same bottles of Joyce for sale at a much lower price—so if I were to do this again, maybe just take the wine back to the airbnb and enjoy Bill's beautiful backyard!! Twice the view and half the drama.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Matt loves sea creatures and we were both really excited for this aquarium. It's huge, and really crowded! Although I think it's comparable to the Long Beach Aquarium, they did have some really cool animals that you don't get to see in SoCal.
Parking was really hectic, but we ended up at Second Street and Dewey, which is a neighborhood .3 miles away, and there were plenty of spots on the street.
There are plenty of outdoor patio views, which were calming breaks from the crowds inside. We spent around 2.5 hours at the aquarium total, and I think we saw everything!
This is the touristy shopping area right outside the Aquarium. It's a super cute street and we ran into the Gee family. We didn't stop here long, but I can see how it'd be fun for families.
Vivolo's Chowder House
For lunch, we stopped at Vivolo's Chowder House, which was delicious. It was on the way back to our car, too, and nicely removed from the main crowds in Cannery Row.
We got chowder in a bread bowl with the garlic cheese top (WORTH IT) and fish & chips. The chowder was soooo good, highly recommend. Also, they let you draw on the tables here :)
The next morning we stopped at Hearst Castle, a weird old mansion that some very rich guy built in the 20s—30s. I purchased tour tickets online, which I wouldn't recommend. It didn't end up being that crowded (even on a holiday weekend), I had to pay an extra online fee of $8/ticket, and it made us feel a little rushed getting down there at a specific time. We did the Grand Rooms tour, and walked around the grounds ourselves afterwards.
Our tour guide was great and the building was pretty cool. I don't think I'd go again, and I don't completely love Hearst's taste (he just really liked being rich), but it was worth seeing once.
For dinner, we stopped by Jocko's, a famous (and reasonably priced) steak place. It's pretty casual and manly and I never would have tried it if Matt wasn't with me—but it was good! We had to wait about an hour, but there was room at the bar and the game was on, so it wasn't too bad. The locals were really friendly to us, and the regulars gave us suggestions.
Matt ordered the large Spencer, which was super tender and perfectly cooked. The portions are HUGE, so share or be prepared to take home leftovers.
It was a relaxing, romantic, easy trip, and I hope this guide helps you! There's so much more to do on the Cali coast that I didn't include this time, but it's a good place to start.