In September 2022 we took a trip to California to celebrate our birthdays and I still feel in awe of the whole experience. And yes, I mean ‘our’ birthdays haha – Connor and I’s birthdays are 3 days apart.
It was his 30th, so we decided to do a significant trip to celebrate the occasion. We also decided it was a great time to visit my college best friend/teammate and her husband (who live in LA) on the front end of the trip.
Since there’s a lot to cover in this post – I’m going to attempt to keep it brief and focus on all the great stops we made from LA to a pit-stop in Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo to Big Sur to Carmel & Monterey.
We drove Route 1 / The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from LA all throughout the Central Coast, and it was nothing short of a dream.
FIRST UP — LOS ANGELES
We flew into LAX, rented a car, and drove to my friend’s home in Culver City (near Venice Beach). We enjoyed such great quality time with them – all while being in one of my favorite places. Honestly, that alone would have been worth the trip!
Here’s everywhere we went:
- Go Go Bird (within Citizen Culver in Downtown Culver City) – The chicken tenders and fries were insanely good.
- Millcross Coffee – Recommended by my friend, this was within walking distance from where we stayed and such a great morning spot. We both loved our coffees and the healthier breakfast options we got – overnight oats and almond butter toast.
- Hiking in the Pacific Palisades – I honestly couldn’t tell you the name of this hike (sorry!), I just know it was in the Pacific Palisades and was pretty mild. The views from the top were obviously worth every step though.
- Malibu Farm Restaurant – Gosh, where to begin. This place is everything! Definitely pricier, but well worth the splurge – for the aesthetic, the views, and the food & drink. So glad they took us here!
- Harajuku Taproom – We sat outside of this cool neighborhood restaurant and loved the sake flights and sushi.
- Great White – On the morning of Connor’s 30th (and the day we planned to leave LA), we kicked things off with breakfast at this super cute restaurant, just a block from the Venice Beach skate park (which we headed over to after eating). It’s right in front of the iconic ‘Venice’ sign that hangs over the street, has a really cool vibe, and such a good breakfast burrito.
- DEUS – This was high on Connor’s list to visit and we had so much fun browsing the store and each found something to take with us. A sweatshirt for him and a cool pair of white joggers for me.
This is a short list because we just pulled off the highway for a quick bite en route to SLO. But it was a very worthwhile stop!
- Downtown – We walked around for probably an hour, taking in all of the architecture and gorgeous scenery.
- Hook & Press – We popped into this really cute spot for some delicious donuts and iced coffee – the perfect treat for the birthday boy.
SAN LUIS OBISPO (SLO)
Our travel agent, Ryan of Corrigan Luxury Travel, recommended that we stop in SLO on our way to Big Sur and I seriously loved it. I also received some great recommendations from my friend (& a former Copy Uncorked team member), Rachel of Scout House. Our hotel (listed below) also had a really helpful local guide on their website that I browsed to help give us the lay of the land.
Ironically, it was super overcast and rainy but it honestly added to the charm and sort of moody vibe SLO’s got going.
Here’s where we stayed & went:
- San Luis Creek Lodge – This was a beautifully quaint and renovated motel-style property. Our room was spacious, had an awesome gas fireplace, a gorgeous (and equally spacious) bathroom, and the staff was so friendly. They even provided a thermos of hot coffee and freshly baked scones each morning. They’d come around and hang a branded tote on your door by 7:30am. How great is that?! I’d absolutely stay here again!
- There Does Not Exist – Shortly after checking in, we were in search of some refreshments and were recommended this brewery. It was really modernized and elevated on the interior and we both fully enjoyed our beers.
- SLO Brew The Rock – Wanting to pop over to another spot, we visited this popular destination (about a 10 min drive from our hotel) and had so much fun listening to live music, sitting outside on the patio area, and chatting with a group of women.
- Granada Bistro – This was the pick for Connor’s 30th birthday dinner and it couldn’t have been more perfect on a dark, rainy evening. It sits inside the Granada Hotel and felt so cozy and inviting. We loved our drinks, meal, and overall setting.
- Scout Coffee – It was still drizzling the next morning, but we “braved the weather” and walked downtown toward this beloved coffee shop. As you’d expect – it had a really creative interior and delicious coffee. Definitely the type of coffee shop you wish you could go to every day!
- Sally Loos – After coffee, we set out in search of a breakfast sandwich, and had also been recommended this wholesome cafe with an emphasis on seasonal, simple ingredients. I had what very well may have been the best breakfast sandwich of my entire life and bought the sweatshirt to prove it.
- Downtown SLO – On our last night in SLO, we Uber’d downtown for dinner and popped into a few stores like H&M, lululemon, and Moondoggie’s Beach Club while we waited for our table.
- Giuseppe’s – Pretty much the Italian restaurant in Downtown SLO, this was well worth the hype. Even on a weeknight, it was buzzing inside, so warm and cozy, and everything smelled amazing. I had a massive bowl of linguine & clams and Connor loved his go-to order — chicken parm.
While staying in SLO, we did a day trip up to Paso Robles (also at the rec of our travel agent) for a day of experiencing Central Coast wine country.
- Adelaida Vineyards – This was our first (and favorite) stop. Our tasting guide, Bob, was so knowledgeable and made it a really enjoyable experience. The property was gorgeous and most importantly, we loved the wine! We purchased a bottle of the Cab & Zinfandel to take with us.
- JUSTIN Winery – While the tasting room was really beautiful, for some reason we weren’t as into the wines? We did love the lunch we had there and enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.
- Tin City – Within this super cool district, we stopped into Olivias de Oro for an olive oil tasting (so good!), Negranti Creamery (sheep’s milk-based ice cream), and Aaron Winery (such a cool little wine producer!).
- Drove the 1 / PCH and stopped at so many lookouts along the way (Ragged Point, Hearst Castle [just to take a peek from afar – not do the actual tour], watching the elephant seals, Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, etc.)
- Nepenthe – After the lengthy drive, we’d worked up an appetite and stopped here for lunch. It’s one of the few legit lunch spots, so if you see it & it’s open, I’d definitely pull over! Plus, as you’d expect, the views are insane.
CARMEL, PEBBLE BEACH & MONTEREY
- Hotel Carmel – We loved the complimentary ‘Champagne breakfast’ each morning (basically a slightly elevated continental), the fire pits where we sipped wine, the hot tub area, and the courtyard-style layout of the property.
- Carmel Beach – A must when you’re in Carmel-by-the-Sea! It’s all public beach access so you can just walk right out to it.
- Brophy’s Tavern – This was our happy hour go-to for an 805 Beer & an Aperol Spritz. It’s technically connected to / affiliated with Hotel Carmel.
- Vesuvio – We grabbed dinner on the rooftop of this lively Italian spot.
- Carmel Roasting Company – Great for a morning latte and breakfast sandwich.
- 17 Mile Drive – This is the infamous road through Pebble Beach with 17 lookouts/stopping points along the way. It’s definitely optional whether you want to get out at each one, but they all offer something different so we certainly did!
- The Lodge at Pebble Beach – After completing the drive, we walked around the golf club and grabbed our new fave – an 805 beer.
- La Bicylette – We met up with my Copy Uncorked clients & friends on 13th Ave of Carmel Beach and they were nice enough to bring these amazing pizzas with them! So we didn’t dine in the actual restaurant but we hear it’s the spot!
- The Blair We stumbled upon Carmel Plaza while walking back to our hotel and wow, it’s so cute! Tons of shops – may of which are wine labels offering tastings, live music, food & drink, and a leisurely crowd. What a place! The Blair was one of the few place still open for a tasting so we slipped in before they closed.
- The Pocket – This was a popular spot recommended to us for dinner. We weren’t starving and it’s on the pricier side, so we basically opted for a very large cheeseboard & champagne.
- Cannery Row – After a few days in Carmel, we headed over to Monterey. We had high hopes but honestly could have skipped it. Maybe it’s because we’ve been to a number of marina/port cities – or because this one felt a bit old, deserted, and dated? (Yeah, probably that.) It was still cool to see as it’s super iconic to the area but maybe adjust your expectations.
- Fisherman’s Wharf – We walked the pier and I’d say the only attraction is the insane amount of seals barking their heads off!
- Folktale Winery – AH, a favorite. Could write a whole post about this place alone! My clients and our travel agent told us this was a must-go, so we did! We went in the afternoon for lunch and a tasting. The property itself is gorgeous and fittingly has this sort of enchanting vibe. The food was standout (we got a pizza & salad) and we loved the wine as well. I wish we were with a group of friends and could have spent the entire day or evening there!
- Carmel Village – After Folktale, we drove further into Carmel Village and realized it’s another hotspot for wine tasting. There were handfuls to choose from, all gathered together in a sort of courtyard type space, and we ultimately landed on Scratch Winery. It had one of the most unique interiors & branding for a wine label that we’ve ever seen. (Think bright colors & patterns and graffiti-style graphics.) The wines were great!
- Toro Sushi – As our trip started coming to a close, we really just wanted to get back out on Carmel Beach. So we spent our last evening grabbing carry-out to enjoy on the sand for sunset. It may have been one of the best decisions of the trip, honestly.
- Stationæry – Our final stop was this delicious cafe (also recommended by a friend). You can tell how much they value hospitality and the culinary experience. Our coffees + breakfast plates were so tasty and beautifully presented. I’d for sure go back here if we’re ever in Carmel again.
Lastly, we opted to fly out of Monterey Regional Airport (rather than making a longer trek north or south to one of the the bigger international airports) to head home. We were able to drop off our rental car and it all worked out great! (Other than a quick repacking of my suitcase to get it under 50 pounds…can you blame me!?)
This was a total bucket list trip, an experience I’ll always cherish, and a drive I hope everyone gets to do at some point in their lifetime.
Questions on any specifics? Drop them below! xx