The second part of our drive up the California coast started with a stop in Cambria. After a beautiful drive on Highway 46 from Paso Robles, we came upon the cutest little town and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean in Cambria. We found a kind-of-crappy-but-good-enough-for-one-night motel called Mariners Inn for about $80 — a price that couldn’t be beat considering the place practically sat right on the water. Listening to the waves crash at night was delightful.
We had dinner at the Sea Chest, a lovely little seafood restaurant with a great view of the sunset. This place wasn’t cheap, and it takes cash or check (yes, check) only. But it came highly recommended by Chef Brock Kleweno of Yamashiro Restaurant, so we had to try it. Rory had the cioppino, and as he was feeling adventurous, he tried all the shellfish in it, a first for him. I’m happy to report that he is now over his fear of shellfish. I had the scallops and shrimp scampi combo over linguine. Both dishes were delicious, but the portions were generous, so if you’re traveling, you may want to split just one dish.
The next day, we went up the road to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. I forgot my camera on this tour, so I don’t have any photos of the ornate home media mogul William Randolph Hearst built in the first half of the 20th century. But I do have photos of the elephant seals that live about three miles up PCH.
From there, we made our way to Big Sur. But because PCH was closed a few miles up due to a mudslide, we circumvented the closure by going through Los Padres National Forest. It took a long time and had lots of hairpin turns, but once we emerged on the ocean side of the forest, we were rewarded with some some amazing, dramatic views.
We had dinner at Big Sur Bakery, which has a full restaurant in addition to baked goods. We started off with the soup of the day, which was a vegan broccoli soup. It had a nice texture despite not containing any dairy, and was nicely flavorful.
The pepperoni pizza was really interesting because it was topped with scallions. I’ve never had that combination before, and I liked it a lot. I may add scallions to my pepperoni pizza from now on!
The next day we stopped at Pfeiffer State Park. It was gorgeous — beautiful white-sand dunes, huge rock formations — but it was so windy that I was literally pushed back from seeing it all. Rory made it farther than I did, and we managed to get some cool photos.
On our way up the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea, we stopped at Point Lobos State Reserve, which offered a bunch of hiking trails and more pretty views. We saw more sea lions here and some really cool trees.
Carmel is a place I used to frequent as a child. My parents and I would drive up every few years or so, so I was already familiar with the area. But it had been close to 15 or 20 years since my last visit, so it was nice to be back.
Rory and I had dinner at Merlot! Bistro. We opted for the $14.50 two-course dinner — one of the most-affordable meals we could find in an expensive area — and it was OK. However, the roasted garlic appetizer and the house-made sorbets were standouts.
We stayed at the Carmel Wayfarer Inn. This was a great find at $119 for the night, a steal in Carmel. It was a huge room with a full kitchen, king-size and day bed, and fireplace. We liked it so much we wanted to stay another night, but we had to get to Santa Cruz for the screening of Rory’s short film, “Mountain Man.”
Before we left Carmel, we took its famous 17-Mile Drive. After the grandeur of Big Sur, this was pretty anticlimactic. But the Lone Cypress (top) was pretty cool, the mansions along the route were awesome, and these rocks were fun to see.
Last stop: Santa Cruz. Rory was drawn to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk because it reminded him of Coney Island. We rode the sky buckets, even though I was afraid we would lose our flip flops on it. Ha.
Before we headed to the theater for the screening, we stopped at Cafe Campesino, an absolutely delicious Mexican-food stand that specializes in HUGE custom tacos. One is enough to fill you up in one sitting. I had mine with chicken, spicy guacamole, nopales and queso fresco. The best part? They make their own tortillas.
We stayed at the Continental Inn. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but our room was really pretty nice — it even had hardwood floors — and the continental breakfast included make-your-own waffles. Not too shabby for a motel.
I loved this trip up the coast (read about the first part of this trip). I didn’t know much about the central coast, and I’m so glad that we did this trip because I learned and experienced so much. We just kind of got in the car and started driving with just a general idea of where to stop and spend our nights, and I think this made the trip more fun. I used the Kayak mobile app to search for hotels in our price range as we made our way, and it came in very handy.