Written by: Alexandra Lotzgeselle
As an inherent adventure seeker, it seemed fitting to start 2016 off with a little mini-adventure up the coast- that is, an 8 hour road trip up to the Monterey Peninsula being 30 weeks pregnant and in a car with my husband and my parents. If you take away my need to stop and pee every 90 minutes or so, it was an awesome trip and such a great way to start the New Year! My husband and I drove up the coast to Big Sur, Carmel-By-The-Sea, Pacific Grove (our “home base”) and Monterey the week after we got married, and it was one of the best weeks of our lives. Because we had just gotten married, everyone left us alone and we really got to enjoy our new marriage and the incredible central coast of California. It was so nice to be able to spend a few days up there again, retracing our steps before our son comes this spring and our trips become less frequent. We travel really well with my parents, so it was a bonus getting to enjoy one more vacation with them as well. The trip inadvertently ended up being focused on food, so read on for some great restaurant recommendations if you’re ever in any of these areas!
We left North County San Diego around 5am to avoid traffic. This was a great idea! Even though it was New Year’s Eve, and a lot of people are not working, driving through Los Angeles is always a nightmare so we wanted to try to avoid as much congestion as possible. We did opt to add an extra hour to the drive and take Hwy 1 up. The views are FAR better than any other freeway, and we wanted to enjoy the trip up as much as possible. We stopped in Santa Barbara around 8am and had an awesome breakfast at a little place called Sage and Onion. To be honest, we chose this place out of desperation and convenience because we were hungry and wanting to get back on the road. We were more than pleasantly surprised with how wonderful everything was. The chef and owner is a Michelin star chef from the UK and the menu is simple, but top notch. Even the most basic breakfasts were extremely good. The house made hot sauce and jams were some of the best I had ever tasted. It’s not on the main drag or by the beach, but better than any breakfast I’ve had in the area.We continued up the coast with a brief stop in Morro Bay (for me to pee, of course). While we were only there for about 15 minutes, I would absolutely love to take another trip up there someday. It was an awesome little town with a beachy but unique vibe and I would highly recommend the slight detour if you’re taking the 1 up north. We continued on the 1 and soon made our way to Big Sur. It was somehow more beautiful than I had remembered. It was a perfectly clear day and we drove along not only what has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world, but also enjoyed some two dozen whales jumping and spouting. It was so awesome to see something so special in such abundance, and being distracted by all the whales helped us to forget about all the twists and turns in the road and my father’s insatiable road rage. If you haven’t done it before, make sure to stop at the Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls- both of which have to be seen!They are doing a bit of work on the 1 (and have been since we went a few years ago), so there are a couple little stops, but for the most part it isn’t that bad of a drive. We finally made it to our general location, and stopped in Carmel-By-The-Sea for a late lunch. Carmel is another beautiful city. It is definitely a bit bouji and everything is over-priced, but it is still a lovely little town. It is extremely dog friendly and there are almost as many dogs walking with their owners as there are people. It’s sort of like a beachside Beverly Hills meets La Jolla type town: the stores are all geared towards the very high medium incomes, but no one is rude or too good to be there. The restaurants are definitely all at a higher price point, but we went and had lunch at a little place called The Cottage that my husband and I had gone to on our last trip. Now, this place may scare you away before you even sit down, but give it a chance! It feels like you’re eating at an east-coast grandmother’s house- drab but not dirty. It needs a SERIOUS renovation, and everything is pretty worn and old, but the food is extremely good. They are famous for their artichoke soup, which is certainly not to be missed, but I was blown away by their cesar salad. I consider myself a bit of a cesar salad connoisseur and this was up there with one of the best I had ever had. They actually have a “salad sampler” option on the menu, and after trying my salad it was good enough to make my husband regret not getting the trio sampler of salads!
After our late lunch we finally made it just a town further to Pacific Grove where we were staying. We stayed at The Sunset Inn, again the same place my husband and I stayed at the week after we got married. This place is quaint, comfortable, and extremely under-priced for the location. It is one of (if not the most) inexpensive places to stay at in the Pacific Grove/Monterey area and our base rate was about $140 a night. We were a quick and easy maybe half-mile walk to a beyond gorgeous coastline and even had a fireplace in our room. It’s also less than a mile and a half into downtown Pacific Grove so we were even able to walk to breakfast one day. Very convenient, very quiet, very cute. It’s right across the street from a golf links course dubbed “Poor Man’s Pebble” that overlooks the ocean, and we saw a family of deer grazing right by the walkway every time we passed.
For our New Year’s Eve dinner we had made a reservation at a really great spot called The Beach House at Lovers Cove right down the street. It is right along the cove overlooking the bay so if you go there earlier in the day or during sunset, you are sure to get lovely scenery. The dinner was exceptional and I would HIGHLY recommend every dish we got. My father and I each got the seafood fettuccine, my mother got the filet stroganoff, and my husband got a local and incredibly light fish called Sand Dabs with a pumpkin gnocchi. Everything was outstanding and the price point sits right around $25-$35 per plate.
For breakfast we headed into downtown Pacific Grove and ate at an awesome little joint called Red House Café. It was so great that we ended up having breakfast there on Day Three as well. The café is quite literally in a little red house, so you certainly feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. The breakfast menu has a round a dozen items, and between the 4 of us and 2 days eating there, we got a nice selection of the breakfast menu covered. Everything was delicious and the service was impeccable.
We took it pretty easy on our last day there. We went into downtown Monterey and walked around to some of the shops on Cannery Road. We did not go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium this trip, but I HIGHLY recommend you go. It isn’t cheap- right around $40 per person, but you can easily spend a good solid half a day there and it is a really special place. While walking back to our car, I stumbled into my new favorite shop! Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar could have held my attention all day. They have dozens of different flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegar’s from all over the world in varieties I could have never dreamed of. I know this may sound like an odd thing to be excited about, but once you try their blackberry balsamic, California garlic olive oil, or any other of their incredible varieties, I promise you too will fall in love with this little gem!