Ever since I read Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur in college, I’ve wanted to travel down the winding Pacific Coast Highway and see the redwoods and majestic views. During my 20s, I lived in California for almost two years and never made the trip, which I’ve always regretted. Well, earlier this summer, I decided that Labor Day weekend would be the perfect time to finally have this experience that I’ve been dreaming about for over fifteen years.
1. Lunch in Carmel
We flew out to San Jose last Thursday and drove down to Carmel, where we had lunch at Dametra. The restaurant was a recommendation from a friend (and also #1 on Trip Advisor), and it lived up to the hype. The decor was a charming mix of Mediterranean and Californian style. We sat down at 3:00, and it was busy but not crowded. Our waitress recommended a local Chardonnay and the Greek platter, both of which were delicious. My lunch was probably some of the best Greek food I’ve ever had.
2. Pebble Beach
After lunch, we walked around picturesque Carmel and picked up some wine and beer for our hotel in Big Sur. We drove North along the coast just enough to see Pebble Beach and stopped to take some photos of the view and gnarled trees.
3. Pacific Coast Highway Drive
Then we began our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur. We noticed a lot of activity on the road both from tourists and also firefighters who were working to contain the wildfires in the area. Both of us were mesmerized by the views but also by the bridges which were constructed during the 1930s.
4. Glen Oaks Roadhouse & Motor Lodge
Our first two nights, we stayed at Glen Oaks in Big Sur, which is a 1950s roadside inn that has been completely remodeled in an updated version of California Mid-Century Modern. We stayed in one of the Adobe Motor Lodge queen suites (I tried to get a cabin, but no luck). It was small, but comfortable, with a queen size bed and fireplace. The bathroom was modern, with a big walk-in shower, and a small window. Dark bathrooms in hotels are a pet peeve of mine, so I was very happy with this one. Each room also had a small patio with two chairs and table, screened from the parking lot with native plants and succulents.
The Roadhouse restaurant, which is also part of the hotel, was located right across the road. We ate there both mornings, as the food was really good. Keegan had a delicious chicken fried steak one morning, and I had the breakfast sandwich. The food was simple but very tasty. They also provide coffee and fresh, housemade donuts to guests of the hotel, which were still warm and soft and not overly sweet.
There was a short trail behind the Roadhouse that led down to the Big Sur river. We took this walk twice, just to get a little exercise and see the redwoods. We were lucky to have a trail close by that was open because all of the neighboring parks and trails were closed due to the wildfires.
5. Hearst Castle
On Friday, we intended to drive down to McWay Falls and take the short walk to see the waterfalls, but it was so foggy that we decided to drive down to Hearst Castle. The castle was a little touristy, but I enjoyed hearing about the history of the castle and taking photos of the view and some of the finishes.
We saw some of our best views driving north back to Big Sur that afternoon. We stopped to see the elephant seals and then several other times just to take in the landscape and the ocean. We thought we would check out the waterfall on the return trip, but it was a total tourist trap nightmare with cars parked all along the road.
6. Cocktails & Lunch at Nepenthe
We had a late afternoon lunch at Nepenthe, which was also a recommendation from a friend. The view from our table was amazing…like sitting in a tree house with a clear sight line to the ocean. I highly recommend visiting Nepenthe just for the experience, though the food was good too.
7. Dinner at Deetjen’s
That night, we ate dinner at Deetjen’s, which was my runner-up hotel. I didn’t take any photos because it was dark when we arrived, but the vintage interior was incredibly charming. The service was impeccable, and the food was equally delicious. Keegan had the paella and I ordered the fish special, which came served with a wonderful coconut sticky rice. Unfortunately, we were so full that we had to skip dessert.
On Saturday, we left early after a second Roadhouse breakfast and got to LA to stay with our friends by around 3:00. We had a quick lunch in Santa Barbara, but nothing too exciting, since it was fairly busy with returning college students, their parents, and tourists. We spent the next two days in LA with our friends and had some great meals and drinks. The return trip on Monday morning came way too early, and now we’re back to reality again.
I wish I had appreciated California more when I lived there. The weather is perfect, and I love being so close to both the ocean and the mountains. There’s no shortage of delicious food, and as a designer, I appreciate all of the shops and access to resources that are so hard to come by in the Midwest. I would definitely do Big Sur again, but I would probably opt to stay in Carmel instead.