Soak up classic ocean views while you cruise along California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Stop for a seaside bowl of clam chowder in Morro Bay, rest your weary head in Big Sur’s magnificent Redwood Forests and taste award winning stinky cheeses in Point Reyes.
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Heading north from SoCal we took two weeks to hit 20 unique spots around the coast including a daylong side trip through Paso Robles wine country to grab a case of Justin and a photo with the San Andreas Fault Line. Figure in a couple extra hours of drive time especially since this demanding road comes with a twisting shoulder workout that begs for a leisurely pace and countless stops for Instagram opportunities at each incredible view point along the way.
1. *Destination Toilets* Madonna Inn – San Luis Obispo
The Madonna Inn is a famously garish landmark that begs you to stop by for an unusual potty break, cheeky western murals and an 8$ slice of pie but beyond that, you had better be willing to shell out a thick stack of your hard earned cash to stay in this kitschy train wreck of all things PINKtastic. Try asking the front desk if you can tour one of their uniquely themed suites and imagine yourself here in its heyday.
Before you head out pay a visit to the men’s waterfall urinal or the ladies red leather water closets near the bar, they are possibly the most interesting toilets along Highway 1.
In contrast with the kitschy visions of the Madonna Inn, you’ll find a far more dignified experience at the Hearst Castle. Not so much a castle as it’s name implies, but rather the largest mansion in California and a national historic landmark with more than 90,000 square feet of eye popping luxury. To make this stop on your next coastal drive, reserve your tour tickets in advance (allow at least an hour in between tours) and download the Hearst Castle mobile app for insider info at your fingertips. Yes, those are ZEBRAS grazing along Highway 1, belonging to the estate’s original zoo.
3. Morro Bay
Stop for the night at the pet friendly BayFront Inn with perfect sunset views of Morro Rock. The rooms are smallish but clean and modern with a colorful pair of chairs outside every room and a raised viewing deck to enjoy a glass of wine with the incredible views.
Walk across the street to grab a fresh bite of seafood dockside and end the night with a sip at the wine bar. Then plan on waking up to a hot seaside breakfast at Frankie & Lola’s Front Street Cafe steps from your room.
4. Paso Robles
In the mood for a 35 mile side trip (each way), hop on beautiful Highway 41 North to Paso Robles. Join the Justin wine society and with a little planning ahead, arrange to stop by Winery to pick up your wine club order, take a complimentary (club members) tour of the wine cave and enjoy a special glass at the tasting bar.
If fancy wine ain’t your thing, head right over to Chronic Cellars and grab a case of their delicious Sofa King Bueno or Richardo Grande. The day of the dead artwork on the labels will please your eyeballs while their grape juice makes your tongue and your wallet happy.
Want to make it a half day adventure, add another 40 miles on Highway 41 North and you’ll find the Jack Ranch Cafe, home to the James Dean Memorial.
Jimmy had just wrapped filming on Giant and was headed to Salinas to race his new Porsche. Authorities concluded that the shiny silver paint of his sports car reflected the light of the setting sun obscuring the view of the other driver. The actual crash site is just down the road near the y-intersection of Hwy 46 & Hwy 41.
Just a little stretch further down the road and you’ll find tiny Parkfield, the earthquake capitol of the world.
Check out the Parkfield Bridge to see the San Andreas fault line for yourself, then grab a bite at the Parkfield Cafe and fret about their motto “Be Here When It Happens”. Now hightail it back over the mountain range, the same way you came and jump back onto Highway 1.
Okay, we were super wary about actually venturing inside this recycled trash-art-castle with the creepy murder house vibe.
So we chickened out once the tour guide arrived in a classic serial killer van that looked like it was a perfect match parked out in front of the the #AntiHearstCastle.
Affordable, pet friendly State Park lodging in a beautiful setting with in room fire places and wild life running amok. Wake up to Bambi outside your window and packs of wild turkeys roaming the grounds. It just so happens that there’s an app for that! Download the Free Turkey Calls app, plug into your car speakers and roll down your windows to have an informative chat with the pack. Our pooch was certainly concerned when the whole bunch of them turkeys turned on a dime and headed straight toward us. #GoodTimes
9. *Bucket List Tip* Glen Oaks – Big Sur
Surrounded by redwoods, this retro motor lodge popped up onto our radar shortly after this trip so its officially at the top of my list of places to stay when we go back thru Big Sur. Reserve their suite with two amazing wood fired claw footed tubs stationed side-by-side on your private outdoor patio for al fresco starlight bathing. Pricey, but a total bucket list item if ever one.
Found along a shaded hair pin turn on Highway 1, Deetjens is a truly rustic lodging experience with a tight compound of wooden cabins expertly wedged into the redwood forest with an amazing must-stop restaurant.
We hit them up for breakfast on a perfectly rainy morning and since the power had just gone out we were treated to a comforting meal by candlelight.
A destination since 1949, this restaurant serves up incredible ocean views, tasty brews and a good burger.
Check your sunset times and plan on dinner with a view. There’s also a gift shop and plenty of parking but don’t forget to dress in layers to keep the chilly ocean winds at bay while lounging at this classic cliffside location.
Not your run of the mill light house tours.
Check out this place for Moonlight Tours running April thru September with special event tours on Halloween and Ghost Hunts for the brave ones.
Meet at the farm gate, look for the gaggle of padlocks on the west side of Highway 1.
Started by rich doctors? Of course it was. They’re a real bunch of smarty pants too, charging a 10$ fee just to drive through.
Yup, we’re suckers who ponied up the money for a selfie with California’s most photographed tree, the Lone Cypress. Super fancy micro-palaces will make your wallet cringe along this drive with incredible forest and ocean views plus world class golf and plenty of affluenza afflicted squirrels, if you’re into that kinda thing.
San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission is considered the most romantic mission in California so we had to do a drive by and sure, it’s pretty for a mission but romantic?
I don’t think we’re qualified to speak to the romantic nature of Catholic Missions but it made for a nice educational break in the driving.
“Beware of the Mudflats Killer when the tide goes out!” That was a little bit of helpful advice left for us in the guest book at this impossibly romantic cottage located in the heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Just FYI, some places look incredibly romantic in photos but are actually very scary when arriving late at night, especially on Halloween eve.
Imagine two city slickers driving through the foggy seashore on a two lane road under the cover of darkness without any street lamps to light our way and pulling up to a 75 foot dock with a wrap around deck and a tide that has gone out to uncover a mushy swamp of mud and horse tails surrounding our romantic rental.
After a restless night of investigating every creaky wooden dock sound and the constant pitter patter of critter feet outside, the morning arrived and the cottage filled up with warm and cozy sunlight while birds lined up on the deck outside our curtain less wall of windows and all was well again. So lesson learned. #DontArriveLATE
16. Olema Farm House, Marin Sun Farms & Bear Valley Visitor Center – Point Reyes
On the way into town we stopped in for a late dinner at Olema Farm House. We opted to eat in their more casual bar environment with access to the same menu, since we weren’t feeling the restaurant vibe. The next morning we hit up Marin Sun Farms for a 6 pack of farm fresh eggs, a beautiful piece of steak from their butcher counter and some fresh cream top milk for a homemade breakfast back at the seashore cottage. Check out the visitors center and take a short walk for another photo op with the San Andreas fault line.
308 Step down to the light house on a rocky outcropping which means, 308 steps back up those same stairs. Good health is a must for this adventure and try to make this an earlier stop to avoid some of the stronger afternoon winds which make it a real fight to manage the stairs.
For your safety the park rangers will close the stairway to the lighthouse when windy conditions exceed 40 Mph. Beautiful drive along country roads to get here and a good amount of exercise just getting to the stairway. #WorthIt
For a little something different, open up a map and get off the main highways to venture off on a side trip over to Calistoga to grab some legit mineral water and visit California’s very own Old Faithful Geyser where we found a bunch of lazy fainting goats that didn’t faint anymore. Apparently they are used to people trying to spook them so they quit doing their jobs.
You can also feed some ornery llamas while you’re there. Tourist trappy yet fun, just like the tree you can totally drive through but not.
Heading into Napa Valley’s neck of the woods, eschew convention and grab yourself a pint of Pliny the Elder at the Russian River Brew Pub. If you plan right and luck is on your side, hit them up in February with all the other beer nuts for the annual release of their triple IPA Pliny the Younger.
A must stop! Reserve your spot for their cheese making tour and tasting at the Tomales Bay Foods location in Point Reyes Station. After your cheesy seminar order up a couple of their local specialty sandwiches and stock up on hard to find fresh cheeses, like the Paneer (Amaaaazing) for a picnic back at the seashore.
This is one spectacular road trip that you can definitely take over and over again without ever feeling repetitive. Just change up your lodging, dining and seasonal looky-loo stops for a whole new enchilada each time. So keep this bucket-list drive in your back pocket, a prescription for relaxation when you need to slow down and getaway from the hoopla that is Southern California.