Welcome back to the California coast! We’re picking up with breakfast at Cass House on day three, and though it’s not as much of a production as dinner, it is similarly delicious and exquisitely presented! The lavender and rosebud tea, made from plants on the property, was really light and lovely.
Before we got back on the road, we moseyed down the Cayucos boardwalk a bit and happened upon this adorable urban farmhouse. I was ready to move in!!
Enough house hunting – our first order of business for the day was driving about twenty minutes up the coast to Cambria, a quaint little seaside town that reminded me of Maine – it smelled like the ocean and pine trees!
Sunset Magazine had recommended the East West Ranch hike (also known as Fiscalini Ranch Preserve), and we’re happy to vouch for that recommendation. It’s an easy one mile loop, but so beautiful!
More otters and seals playing just off shore! We even saw a seal pup nursing – so cool.
With that beautiful start to our day under our belts, we headed just a smidge farther up the road to San Simeon and Hearst Castle. Before we could even turn into the visitors’ center, the wonders began – zebras grazing by the side of the road! They were as casual as could be, and happily mixed with the cattle.
William Randolph Hearst, the owner of Hearst Castle, kept what was at one time the world’s largest private zoo, and though most of the animals (including giraffes, elephants, and polar bears!) had been donated to public zoos, the zebras still roam free!
Hearst Castle itself is one of the few attractions we actually paid for on this trip – most of the rest of our entertainment was provided for free by nature. In this case, John and I both agreed that the fee was worth it. Hearst wanted his house to feel like a European cathedral, and he went to great lengths to piece together whole ceilings and other architectural details from churches and monasteries overseas, so it was really neat to see. We chose the “Grand Rooms” tour, which was an hour, and also included entrance to the grounds. Not a bad view :)
While you did get a good feel for the property, I wished the tour had been much longer – compared to the Biltmore Estate, which we’ve also recently toured, the “Grand Rooms” experience seemed pretty restrictive, as you only visit about four rooms.
Highlights included the jaw-dropping pool, all the beautiful citrus trees, and the movie theater where Hearst and his guests would watch films every night! All fifty seats were velvet chaise lounges that looked extremely comfortable.
After a quick backtrack for lunch in Cambria, we headed a few minutes up the coast to the elephant seal colony at Piedra Blancas. There was quite a crowd gathered at the pull-off, and for good reason – there was quite a crowd of elephant seals! To be honest, they were not the most comely things, between the molting, grunting, and fighting. We only stayed a few minutes, but I did like these guys:
San Simeon was our last stop before one of our longer chunks of driving. The good thing about this trip, though, is that the drive is part of the adventure! We were on a really classic stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, and yes, it is just as rugged and breathtaking and hairpin-y as it looks. And scary – there are very few guardrails! There are, however, plenty of scenic pull-offs, and we helped ourselves to many of them.
Mostly, we were SO incredibly thankful for the weather we had on day three – clear as far as the eye can see! It can be really foggy along the PCH, so we didn’t take this for granted.
While we had plans to make a few stops along the way, we ended up only doing two (mostly because we missed the other trailheads – oops). Up first was McWay Falls, possibly the most iconic PCH view.
A waterfall on the beach?? I mean, come on. Just stunning. This stop was a bit crowded (with good reason, of course), which made our next step even more pleasant in comparison – Partington Cove!
I loved the Partington Cove hike because even though it was just a mile long, you passed through so many different environments. From the road, you hike about a mile down a fairly steep and dry canyon.
At the bottom, the path narrows through Big Sur redwoods, then passes through a 60-foot tunnel before opening into a rocky and secluded cove. A nice family offered to take our picture :)
This was the first side of the cove, where we sat for awhile just soaking in the beauty, an hour or two before sunset.
And this was the second side, which had some pretty impressive waves (not that you can tell from this photo, though):
Okay, people, hang with me here! I know this is an epic day, but we’re almost done. After we hoofed it back up the hill (past the pretty cascade above!), we hopped back in the car for the short drive to our spot for the night, Glen Oaks Big Sur.
We were really lucky with all of our accommodations, but I think Glen Oaks might have been John’s favorite – or at least it was tied for first place with day four’s accommodations. Our home away from home was an adorable little cabin tucked in amongst towering redwoods. It had a fire pit right outside our door and a fireplace inside, as well as heated bathroom floors and a s’mores kit! This definitely wasn’t your standard campground cabin.
The Glen Oaks property was incredibly beautiful – quiet, green, ancient-feeling. The Big Sur River ran between the cabins, and we even saw a mama skunk and three baby skunks walk along the riverbank as we relaxed before dinner!
We finished the day with dinner reservations at the woodsy Big Sur Bakery, which we had heard a ton about. It didn’t disappoint. Wood fired pizza and a delicious arugula salad by candlelight were exactly what we were in the mood for at the end of an adventurous day. Like the rest of Big Sur, the Bakery and Glen Oaks were such a neat juxtaposition of humble surroundings and artisanal style. A magical place, and without a doubt a must-do on the Pacific Coast Highway!
Erin’s watercolors are very much in the style of Rebekka Seale, which I love, because I was fairly obsessed with Rebekka’s house illustrations. Erin loved them, too, and when Rebekka stopped doing them, Erin asked her if she’d mind if she picked up where she left off – and Rebekka gave her blessing, thankfully for all of us!
The giveaway is open until Friday – go here for all the details, then post your photo on instagram to win! Seriously, I don’t know why there aren’t 1,000 entries already.
In the meantime, you should take a look at all of the posts in the Southern Newlywed series — I have been loving them! Just a few of my favorite moments:
I had to restrain myself from re-posting every photo of Erin and Ben’s home tour. It is that good, and the interview is even better. Go read it now, please.
While we considered eating breakfast at Tupelo Junction Cafe or Jeannine’s, we decided getting our day started early was the priority, and our homemade muffins would do. I snacked on mine in our private courtyard, while John took a shower under the blue sky nearby!
Once we had packed up our bags, we drove over to Santa Barbara and wound our way up the Alameda Padre Serra, or APS. Its sinuous path takes you through the foothills to the Old Mission Santa Barbara, with views around each curve. We arrived around 10am, and were surprised to see folks directing traffic – we didn’t expect it to be that busy. Unbeknownst to us, though, we were visiting on the day of an Italian street painting festival!
We poked around outside but couldn’t go in because a church service was in progress. While it would have been neat to attend, we decided to worship at the First United Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, which was also lovely, and in the cutest neighborhood!
For lunch, we indulged John’s taco craving again with a visit to La Super Rica. It’s a very unassuming, very small, and very teal spot, but it also holds the distinction of being Julia Child’s favorite.
We arrived 15 minutes after they opened and still stood in line for about 45 minutes, so make sure you have enough time in your schedule if you’re thinking about going! It was neat to watch the tortilla lady in constant motion behind the window, and our food was delicious (thank you, Julia).
After lunch we left Santa Barbara behind and drove north through beautiful, golden rolling hills. We would have loved to stop in Solvang, Los Olivos, or San Luis Obispo, but we had another destination in mind: Montana de Oro State Park!
The hike we chose (the Bluff Trail) followed the edge of the cliff for about a mile. We were a little bummed by the marine layer that rolled in, but it didn’t block our views too much.
And happily, by the time we arrived at the beach at the far point of the hike, it was all blue skies and sun!!
We had so much fun poking around in the tide pools – they were filled with anemones, periwinkles, and sea urchins! There were also lots of coves and beach canyons to explore, all set against a mountain backdrop.
Before heading back to the car we had to loop back around to take another peek at the cove in sunshine :)
Our last stop for the day was brief, but totally worth it. Morro Bay is the name of a town, state park, and very large rock. It’s about ten minutes from Montana de Oro. We didn’t really know what to do with the very large rock (look at it?), but as soon as we parked the car, we followed the small crowd to the edge of the harbor and saw… otters!! A small pod of 10-12 swimming, playing, grooming, and sleeping. They were unbelievably adorable.
Our accommodations for the night were just a hop and a skip away from Morro Bay, in the tiny, sleepy seaside town of Cayucos. There’s not much in it except for the Cass House Inn – but the Inn is enough. Our friend Meredith recommended we stop here, and I’m so glad she did!
There are only six rooms in the house. We stayed in the Ocean Terrace, and it did indeed have a private terrace with a gorgeous view of the ocean! It also had brown butter cookies upon check-in, and really delicious-smelling bath products.
Since Cass House is only about a block from the waterfront we had time to stroll out onto the pier and through their gardens before dinner. I had never seen anything like the coastal rosemary hedges – they were twelve feet tall!
Though our trip had no shortage of delicious meals, our dinner at Cass House was one of the most memorable. Their tiny dining room (about ten tables) only serves one locally sourced, seasonally inspired tasting menu a night. Many ingredients actually come from their garden, and it includes 14 – yes! – courses, each beautifully presented. Our meal lasted about three and a half hours :) We were full and happy when we went to bed on day two!
Our direct flight to California took off on Saturday, May 24 at 7:30am EST from Raleigh and landed about five hours later at 9:30am Pacific Time in Los Angeles. Yes, I wore my socks :)
We picked up our checked bag and rental car without incident, and headed to lunch! We were planning to grab something simple at John’s Garden in Malibu, but John (my John) really wanted to have tacos in Southern California, so when we spotted a taco place nearby, we jumped. They were good!
Our initial observations about Malibu: we could not believe the number of Ferraris, Maseratis, and Lambourghinis on the road. Also tons of Teslas. We looked, but didn’t spot any celebrities :) Also, the ladies looked a bit… disheveled, but expensively so. I’m not sure I could master that look.
After lunch we drove a few miles up the coast to our first site to see: Point Dume State Beach! Parking was limited, but we eventually found a spot a ways up the road and walked back through an extravagant neighborhood to get to the beach. There were piles and piles of bourganvillea everywhere!
Once in the park, our short hike up to the top of the bluff yielded impressive views, despite the marine layer that had settled in.
We then climbed down many, many stairs to get to Pirate’s Cove.
The surfers made it feel very California. We were particularly intrigued by the passageways, stairs, elevators, and funicular (!) that lead from the estates up top to the beach below. See it there in the middle?
Alas, with no funicular at our disposal, we hoofed it back up to the top.
It really was great to stretch our legs after the flight, but we had plans to visit Ojai before checking into our accommodations for the night and were running a bit behind schedule. Ojai was about an hour’s drive north and inland from Malibu, and by the time we arrived, it was sunny! We didn’t have enough time to do a full hike, so we drove up to Meditation Mount past gorgeous rows of citrus trees. The views were beautiful, and the weather was just perfect – sunny, warm, and clear.
We would have loved to have had more time to explore downtown Ojai, which is adorable (and a little less hippie than we were expecting), but the only stop we were able to make was at Bart’s Books, an open air bookstore. One upside to California’s extreme lack of rain, I suppose?
We were staying in a place we found through airbnb for the night (our first time!), and it was so cute! It was a little studio cottage, on the property of a larger house. It had an outdoor shower and private courtyard, and the host had left us homemade muffins and orange juice!
After cleaning up a bit, we headed to dinner at The Lark in Santa Barbara, just next door to Montecito. We couldn’t have asked for more from our first night – the weather was clear and beautiful, the setting was lively and charming, our food was delicious, and our waitress was delightful.
The Lark has a bit of a Southern flair, and our meal was served one dish after another, family style. We tried deviled eggs with pancetta and jalapeno; crispy brussel sprouts with medjool dates and garum (SO good – we are hoping to recreate these at home!); smoked gouda pimento cheese; a Little Gems wedge salad with blue cheese; and gnocchi with lamb, fava beans, and snap peas.
Our dessert was also amazing – a meringue/custard/lemon tart/fresh fruit concoction. We could NOT recommend The Lark more if you find yourself in Santa Barbara – we both agreed it was one of the best meals of our life!!
We finished the day full and deeply content, strolling along the waterfront in Santa Barbara at dusk. In a happy coincidence, the ocean’s edge just so happens to run parallel to the Four Seasons SB, where Sean and Catherine were married. If you know us, you know that necessitated some Bachelor reminiscing :) We couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin our trip!
I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day about our California adventure, and she asked why I described it as a “once in a lifetime” trip. It was a fair question, especially since I said in the same breath that I hoped we would have a chance to experience a similar trip again! I think I describe it as once in a lifetime because if our recent trip was the only time we’ll have that experience, I’ll have no regrets – we saw everything we wanted to, ate exactly where we wanted to, stayed where we wanted to, and had the weather we wanted. Needless to say, we are grateful. Aside from the weather, our lack of regrets was not by chance, but through a lot of careful planning. So before I get into a full recap, I thought I’d offer a few tips we picked up along the way!
Surveying from the top of Nevada Falls in Yosemite
1. Plan in two chunks. This was our first time planning a point-to-point trip, as opposed to a stay-in-one-place-all-week trip, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, it was a bit stressful! In order to keep the process enjoyable and not get overwhelmed, we found it was best to plan in two chunks:
— 5-6 months out: We opened Google Maps and started a new Google doc, then plotted every town we could possibly visit between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in order. Then, using our initial research, we streamlined our route, chose the towns we wanted to stay in each night, and made our “big” reservations – hotels, flights, rental car. We also brainstormed possible places to eat, things to do, and sites to see in each location. We were pretty wiped out once we had completed this step, so we waited a few months for the next one…
— 1 month-2 weeks out: One day at a time, we filled in each day’s itinerary. We did tons of additional research on each town we were visiting, pored over reviews, narrowed down restaurant options, made restaurant reservations, bought tickets, researched hike trail heads, etc. This all got filed into the Google Doc, too.
2. Gather research. As you may have surmised, we did a lot of research before this trip. I wanted to pass on a few of the resources we used:
— Knowledgeable friends or bloggers. Before any big trip, I always like to check in with my friend Meredith Perdue of Map & Menu! She’s one of the most well-traveled people I know, she’s a great researcher, and she has discriminating taste! Hopefully there’s someone in your life who has a similar skill set :) If not, there is a WEALTH of information on personal blogs – if a blogger you admire lives in the area you’re visiting, search their blog to see if they’ve written about it, or email them if not! Some of my favorite folks who take lots of trips include Meredith, Joanna, Jamie, Jamie, and Jordan.
— Magazines. We like national magazines, particularly Travel + Leisure, and also like to ferret out great regional magazines, like Sunset in the West or Our State for North Carolina. The NY Times 36 Hours series and Design*Sponge’s City Guides are also great resources.
— Pinterest. While a lot of pins of beautiful places lead nowhere, searching the location you’re interested in on Pinterest can turn up great blog posts, articles, and sites to see.
— TripAdvisor and Yelp. John uses TripAdvisor for hotel and activity recommendations and I prefer Yelp for restaurant reviews. Jetsetter is also a great place to find hotels.
3. Bring a dirty clothes suitcase. For our 8 day, 7 night trip, we brought one large checked bag and two carry-on roller bags. Obviously all of the clothes started out clean, but over the course of the trip we converted one roller bag into the laundry hamper, which worked out well to keep things organized.
4. Buy a car charger. For a trip like this, you’re traveling in a car a lot (we drove more than 1,000 miles) and using your Maps app a lot, which drains battery. A car charger is essential.
5. Bring a map. Speaking of your Maps app – a lot of the California coast is very remote, and the cell signal is not always great. If you’re a AAA member, I’d recommend picking up a free CA map from an office before you go for backup.
6. Pack a zip up sweatshirt. The temperature, sun, and wind varied greatly even from stops a few miles apart. We found keeping a zip-up hoodie sweatshirt in the backseat made it easy to adapt to changing conditions on our frequent stops and explorations!
7. Ignore San Francisco weather predictions except in a very general sense. We traveled all over SF in a few days, and experienced many of the something like 36 microclimates known to exist on the peninsula. Plan to wear many layers, as conditions can vary greatly from street to street.
8. Monitor rental car prices. We initially booked our rental car through Priceline in January for about $500 for the week. John checked pricing periodically for the next few months, and we were able to rebook for $270 about a month out! Definitely worth keeping an eye out.
9. Bring socks for the plane. We took a direct flight from RDU to LAX, which was about five hours. I don’t know about you, but when I’m wearing sandals on a plane my feet always get uncomfortably cold, so I brought a warm pair of fuzzy socks in my tote bag. I may have looked ridiculous, but I was very comfortable! :)