Matt and I had been talking about driving the Pacific Coast Highway with stops along the way for awhile now and I was so excited when we decided to finally plan and map it all out. Just the the other week we headed out to the West Coast to start our drive from San Francisco to LA with overnight stops in Carmel, Big Sur and Santa Barbara!
While we didn’t realize at the time that starting in San Francisco and heading south was the preferred way, we are so happy our plans took us this route as we heard this tip multiple times throughout and after our trip. I will go into details about each place, we typically stayed just one night in each stop, with the exception of San Francisco where we spent an extra night to see friends and family. If you all have any questions on things I have missed, just leave them in the comments below!
– SAN FRANCISCO –
Matt’s aunt happened to be in town for work and was so sweet and able to get us hooked up with the W Hotel, where we stayed for two nights. To be honest, the financial district area isn’t my favorite area of SF, but it is a short walk to the Ferry Building, which is one of the cutest areas to walk around and grab a bite, especially on the weekends.
Due to a 5 hour flight delay, we landed around midnight, and canceled our plans for the first night and just ordered Uber Eats, showered and went to bed. We were excited to start fresh the next day and woke up early (thank you time difference) and headed to the Ferry Building. The farmer’s market was in full swing and we spent some time walking around, tasting different items, and picked up a few local treats for our friends who just made the move from NYC to SF. The farmer’s market in SF is honestly one of the best I have ever seen! Everything is so fresh and I kept saying to Matt how I would come here every day for fresh ingredients if we lived here. While walking around, we also grabbed breakfast at the most incredible spot and is a must if you are in SF! We dined at Boulettes Larder + Boulibar and had the most delicious order of beignets with apple sauce and both had the eggs scramble which was out of this world. Truly, the perfect breakfast to start off the trip!
This was Matt and my second time to SF, so we felt like we already checked off all the touristy things our first trip out and just enjoyed the day hitting up some of our favorite areas this time around. After breakfast we took an Uber to Filmore street for some shopping and also walked up to Lafayette Park to take in the best view overlooking the city.
When lunch rolled around, we met our friend’s at Palmer’s, located right on Filmore street and were able to enjoy a yummy lunch outside. I would recommend ordering a salad if that is your thing, they were so fresh and delicious. Another great spot for breakfast/lunch a few blocks away (that we tried on our first trip out) is Jane on Filmore! Really fresh and delicious for breakfast or lunch.
It happened to be Fleet Week while were were there, so we headed back to our friend’s roof to watch the Blue Angles aircraft show. The planes literally skimmed above our heads and did all sorts of tricks in the air. It was such a fun and unique experience! Once the show was over, it was such beautiful day we decided to grab a drink and sit outside at a local spot called Belga. We ordered the fries to split and munch on as well which were so yummy. By this time Matt’s twin brother had arrived (from LA), so we headed back to the hotel to meet him and change before dinner with their aunt at Pabu. To be honest, I really wouldn’t recommend this sushi spot – not the greatest sushi for the price point, but the vibe was fun and we had a great night out.
The next morning we got up early and picked up our rental car near our hotel and started on our drive up the coast towards Carmel!
– CARMEL –
Matt’s aunt joined us for this leg of the trip and then flew home from Carmel. Mike, Matt’s twin, did most of the coast with us as well! Our plan was to grab breakfast on the road, so we stopped in a cute town called Half Moon Bay and grabbed a bite at Main Street Grill. It was more of a diner vibe and had delicious sour dough fresh toast and egg dishes. From there we drove to Monterey where we walked around Fisherman’s Wharf and grabbed a snack of clam chowder from The Grotto.
After walking around for a bit we started the 17 mile drive . You pay $10 to enter and drive on this road and it takes you along a scenic route throughout the coast on the way to Carmel. There are tons of different lookout points along the way where you can pull over and take a peek and snap a pic. Definitely $10 well spent!
We took our time on this drive and getting to Carmel in general, so when we finally arrived it was early evening and we decided to head straight to Mission Ranch for a cocktail before checking into our hotel. A little fun fact about this spot is that it is apparently owned by Clint Eastwood and he has been been on the property from time to time. It is the most beautiful and picturesque place nestled on a few acres of land with sheep and the most beautiful views off into the distance.
The sun was starting to set and we decided to wrap up drinks and head down the street to the main beach where everyone went to watch the sunset. It truly was one of the most epic sunsets I have ever seen and this picture doesn’t even do it justice!
It was turning out to be such an amazing day and to finish it off we finally checked into our hotel, Hotel Carmel and enjoyed a glass of wine by the fire before dinner. Hotel Carmel used to be a motel that they completely gutted and renovated to be the cutest, chicest, modern hotel. I instantly fell in love with the decor in the lobby and will be trying to recreate some of it in our current place. We loved this hotel not only for its charm, but it was located right in town and walkable to everything. Carmel itself has a bit of old world charm and character, so you will definitely want to spend some time walking around and exploring.
For dinner, we made a last minute decision to give Cultra Comida a try, a local Mexican spot. It was one of the best meals of our entire trip. If you go here, you HAVE to get the queso, guac and do not leave without ordering the churros. It sounds simple and basic, but I am telling you the flavors and dishes will change your life. With full bellies, we walked back to our hotel and ended the night with a nightcap at their bar Brofy’s Tavern which had such a fun vibe and cool decor as well!
While I feel like this post is turning into a where to eat and drink post (ha), I can’t help but but share all the yummy spots we found! Finding great places is something Matt and I put a lot of time and effort into (ok, mainly Matt – I am horrible at it!), but it truly pays off. For breakfast we headed to Katy’s Place which was a super quick walk from our hotel. It was a local spot known for their eggs Benedict (over 20 on the menu) and they did not disappoint! Just an FYI, it is cash only, so make sure you come prepared. At this time, we packed up and headed back out on our drive, making our way to Big Sur.
If looking for a military jacket to invest in, I am loving this option here!
About 15-20 minutes into the drive we stopped to hike Lobos State Park. We ended up parking at Whaler’s Cove and did a big loop of all the trails from here. It was about 5 miles in total and nothing too vigorous, but the views were totally worth it.
– BIG SUR –
You can’t go to Big Sur without crossing over the Bixby Bridge and stopping for photos beforehand. One of the most famous bridges (used in many movies and tv shows), stirs quite the crowd. Once we got into the heart of Big Sur we were told to stop at the Big Sur Bakery for breakfast/lunch. It was around 2:30pm when we arrived and apparently they close at 3pm until the reopen for dinner, so just an FYI when planning. I didn’t know this when I ordered and was waiting to order a treat until after my meal when it was too late. Their food is really yummy and they have a cute succulent garden you can walk through and enjoy your lunch outside.
Just down the road was our hotel, the Ventana. Our biggest splurge on the trip, but 100% worth it! This place is so romanic, beautiful, charming and the best little hidden oasis to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors. Our room had a fireplace in it, which was the perfect touch for their co0l nights and chilly mornings. The hotel was the perfect place to escape, relax and unwind, especially with their heated infinity hot tub!
After we checked in, we enjoyed complimentary wine and cheese, explored the property and watched the sunset from the pool. Afterwards we got ready for dinner and took a shuttle up the road to The Sur House, where we had reservations. Dinner was such a cozy atmosphere, Matt and Mike both loved the duck (not my thing), and it was really nice not having to leave the property and venture out.
The next morning we enjoyed a light bite at the hotel for breakfast before checking out and then obviously had to stop back at the Big Sur Bakery so I could finally try some of their famous treats. The cinnamon roll was by far our favorite, but you truly can’t go wrong with any of the options!
It is no surprise that a hike was much needed after all this indulging, so we made out way to McWay Falls. Sadly, many hikes were closed, but we were able to walk less then a mile to see the falls which are the most well known. We ended up driving a bit and finding another hike, Limekiln Trails, which was through the red wood trees and actually quite beautiful. As much as I enjoyed our coastal hike, it was nice to switch things up a bit with this. All in all I think we hiked for about two miles, so nothing too exhausting.
We hopped back in the car after and continued driving along Highway 1, making sure to stop at various “vista points” along the way. Basically these are landmarks that are recommended and usually have the best views. One of my favorite stops on the drive was in Sam Simeon to see the elephant seals. My mother-in-law had showed me pictures and videos of these huge seals when they were there, but it was so fun to see them in real life. They fill the beaches (sleeping, sun bathing and playing) and are absolutely enormous!
By this point we worked up a bit of an appetite and stopped for lunch at Ventana Grill in Pismo Beach. Nothing special, but it sat right above the water so had a nice view. We were starving at this point so anything would have tasted good! After lunch we finished the rest of the drive until we made it to Santa Barbara!
– SANTA BARBARA –
Once we made it to Santa Barbara we parted ways with Mike who had to get back to LA for work the next day (he picked up a rental car and drove back). Matt and I then checked into Hotel Californian, which is such a beautiful hotel located right in the Funk Zone and the heart of town, steps away from the beach! Once again, I was in awe of the decor and layout of the hotel! The weather was absolutely beautiful and it was just about to be sunset, so Matt and I wasted no time tossing our stuff down, grabbing a glass of wine and headed up to their rooftop pool to relax and enjoy the views before dinner. There isn’t a hot tub Matt passes up, so he immediately got in while I enjoyed just dipping my toes.
We were excited for dinner this night at Hotel Californian’s restaurant, Blackbird. We had read so many amazing reviews and couldn’t wait to give it a try. Once again, the decor and overall vibe of the restaurant was warm and inviting and we sat in a cozy nook in the back corner of the restaurant. Our waiter was absolutely incredible. Matt and I have been learning to go off of our waiter’s recommendations lately and ours hit it spot on with this meal. From the flat bread (a must), to the squid ink pasta, corn ravioli, branzino, scallops and strawberry fields desert, everything was out of this world. There are a bunch of dishes that are smaller plates, which is why we had such an aggressive list of things to try. We were almost too full for desert, but we learned that the restaurant has a separate pastry chef and after hearing about how he created and came up with the strawberry fields desert, we knew we had to give it a try and it was unreal – the flavors were as if you were eating a strawberry in its entirety (stem and all). It sounds weird, but trust me, it was divine.
After dinner, we walked around what is known as “Funk Zone” and popped in and out of a few bars/restaurants. This is a really fun area, that still has an industrial vibe – definitely worth checking out, if not staying in this area.
The next morning we spent walking all around, popping in and out of shops on State Street, checking out the courthouse (what happens on vacation when you are married to a lawyer) and grabbing a few random bites for lunch. We started at a popular taco joint called Lilly’s Taqueria and each had a small taco, which is what they are known for (and pretty much the only this on the menu). We then wanted a bit more of a sit down and relax type of place so made our way to Finnery’s (across form our hotel) and grabbed a few snacks outdoors. The buffalo cauliflower bites and fried brussels sprouts with bacon were so tasty! As always, I left room for desert and we grabbed a cone across the street from McConnell’s before heading back to Hotel Californian to use their complimentary bikes and back all around!
There is a great bike path along the beach that we followed for awhile, but I felt like Santa Barbara was such a bike friendly city all around and always felt pretty safe on the roads. We popped into a few shops we saw on the way home (we biked more inland on our way back), Whiskey + Leather was one of our favorites! Think boho chic, but they also had a really great guys section as well. Before returning our bikes back at the hotel, we biked over to The Lark for a quick drink before driving down to Malibu to meet up with Mike and two other friend’s for dinner at Nobu. The Lark has SUCH a fun vibe, indoor and outdoor seating and whatever popcorn they give you to snack on is pretty much life changing (can you tell I love food?!). From here we went back to the hotel and checked out and started the hour-ish drive down to Malibu. Matt and I grabbed a drink at NoBu last time we were in Malibu and while the food is yummy it is a bit of a scene. But needless to say we had a great dinner with friends and an amazing table overlooking the ocean.
— SANTA MONICA / VENICE –
Our last and final stop on this trip was the Santa Monica/Venice area where Mike (Matt’s brother) currently lives and that is where we stayed. We had been to this area a few years ago when I had a work trip, but it was nice to get back and have more time to explore. Matt and I woke up early and made our way to Great White for breakfast. This spot was right up my alley with an open air concept, yummy lattes (Matt’s shaken iced latte was so good), avocado toast and acai bowls! We fueled up for the day and then decided to try out the local way of getting around, Bird motorized scooters! We had so much fun cruising all around on these things and later realized we pretty much broke every rule there was (such as no bikes on the canals, the boardwalk, etc – opps!). It is such a great way to get to see a lot, especially since we only had one day to explore.
We went out to the pier, checked out the canals and shopped down Abbott Kinney. You can pick up and drop off the Birds anywhere so it was always easy to get form point A to B. Mike gave us a great list of restaurants to try and we were told we must grab lunch at Gjusta and now I see why. You go up to the counter and order, but everything is honestly packed with so much flavor! I ordered the Greek Salad (best I have ever had) and chicken dumpling soup and Matt had the pastrami sandwich. You can then grab a seat outside and they will bring you your order when it’s ready. My mouth is watering just thinking about this meal.
Once we wrapped up lunch we headed back to Mike’s apartment and grabbed a blanket to go lay on the beach and catch some rays. It was great taking advantage of how close to the beach he lives and fully enjoy the west coast weather before heading back east. Before heading to the airport we made two last stops at Neighbor and Other Room for a drink and small bite. I loved the decor at Neighbor, the back area was more open air with a bit of a lounge vibe and Other Room is more of a cozy spot, great for when it’s darker outside.
No trip to the West Coast would be complete without stopping at In-And-Out burger. Matt and I were first timers, so added it to our list en route to the airport! I can successfully say this trip was one for the books and couldn’t recommend it enough! It was so much fun getting to do and see so many different things.