Pacific Coast Hwy Roadtrip: Big Sur & Carmel
As we hit midway on our Pacific Coast Highway roadtrip, we wrapped up our tour of the Hearst Castle in early afternoon and hit the road north toward Big Sur. It’s a pretty long and desolate (not really the best word for it – maybe uninhabited?) road, so make sure you’ve got plenty of gas. But! Before you get too far from the Hearst Castle, stop and take in the site of thousands of elephant seals basking in the sun on the beach. Not to be missed.
But then we were back in the car for a leisurely couple of hours. We had zero cell service (AT&T) so keep that in mind. I definitely wouldn’t want to make this drive in the dark as there are loads of windy roads and absolutely no streetlights anywhere. Take the time to stop along the way at the turnouts and admire the scenery as you go. It really is spectacular: sheer cliffs that plunge into the surprisingly aqua waters below (not unlike the Caribbean, really!). If you’ve ever been to the Mediterranean in parts of Italy and France, you’ll be very much reminded of them as you check out Big Sur.
We’re not big hikers or campers, but I can absolutely see how amazing it would be to do either of those things along the various campsites at Big Sur. Keep in mind, these are not beaches for swimming. Way too rough and rocky.
We stopped at Nepenthe for lunch along the way, and it was the most gorgeous view high on the cliff overlooking the water. Do not miss this – plan on eating a long leisurely meal and enjoy basking in the sun with a drink in hand.
The famous Bixby Bridge is north of Nepenthe. But if you’re coming from the south (like we were), you’ll see a similarly styled bridge and we mistakenly thought that was it. Huh. Looks smaller than it did in pictures, we said. And with zero Internet access on the phone, there was no way to figure it out. SO – lesson learned: research before you go so you can have your plan in place in case you can’t access anything on your phone.
Bixby Bridge is worth a stop. You can park on either side of the highway and step as close to the edge as you dare. It kind of made me a little sick to my stomach to stare down to the bottom of the gulley there. People were climbing all over the rocks and it all looked … dangerous. But breathtaking, nonetheless.
We headed on north towards Carmel to check in at the hotel we’d booked for the next two nights.
IF YOU GO TO BIG SUR
Eat at: Nepenthe
Not to miss: Bixby Bridge
Ok, on to Carmel. Carmel and Monterey are two charming little towns along the coast. We booked the Bernardus Lodge in the Carmel Valley, about 10 minutes away from the coastline, but an easy drive to shops and restaurants. It was the most beautiful, private hotel with loads of style and charm. The rooms are clustered in individual little bungalows and offer high ceilings, enormous bathrooms (those bathtubs – I die) and balconies overlooking the lush grounds. There were several weddings while we were there, and for good reason. The gardens are stunning; curl up in front of one of the outdoor fireplaces with your honey and enjoy the view.
We LOVED Carmel. It’s quirky, beautiful, and stylish with plenty of great restaurants and shops to keep you busy. The architecture is just so crazy amazing – it feels like an old European village, but without the tourist trap feeling that Solvang gave us (sadly). We did the 17-mile drive around Pebble Beach and enjoyed the sweeping (windy) vistas of the ocean. Again, this is not a beach that you’re going to want to lay out on. It was chilly and majorly windy. We did stop at the Point Pinos lighthouse because it was so cute (and we needed bathrooms #truestory). So pack layers – you’ll need ’em.
We snuck into L’Auberge Carmel, a chic and stylish hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It felt very much like Deauville or Honfleur, France.
And not far away, the pretty Cypress Inn (fun fact: it’s owned by Doris Day!).
IF YOU GO TO CARMEL
Stay at: Bernardus Lodge & Spa (also a vineyard), L’Auberge or Cypress Inn
Not to miss: wandering downtown Carmel, touring vineyards, 17-mile drive along Pebble Beach for some major real estalking.
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