The California Coast is one of the most beautiful places here in the US, and the best part about it, it is so easy to get to. Weather you opt to fly into LAX, which I highly advise not doing so (I mean, get it together LAX), or take a more scenic and ambitious route of driving, you can be to the coast in just hours, of course depending on where you are coming from. I mean it when I say don’t fly into LAX, literally fly into anywhere remotely close to the state and I promise it will be better than that. Drama aside, it is easy to get to the CA Coast where all off your sunshine dreams will come true. Except for the one time you actually go and it rains. That is how it went for me at least. I was just unlucky, but the fact of the matter is, they are and have been in a drought for what seems like decades to me, so you will most likely get sun when you go.
Keegan and I, well mostly just me, decided for Spring break we would drive down the coast and hit some of the best (and most instagrammable) spots. Poor Keegan sometimes just gets drug along on these trips due to me assuming he wants to go…I would give him the option next time but he keeps harping on this wild idea to go to Antarctica and I’m really not thinking that is in the budget or something that is even possible 😉 Just did a quick expedia search and they don’t offer Antarctica packages so I’m thinking we might need to forgo that idea.
It was a very last minute trip I must say. I ended up getting a new car around mid March so that is what initially sparked my idea of doing a road trip, aside from the fact that it would be cheaper and better on the liver than going to Mexico or something that normal college kids do. So, ambitiously, I planned our california coast road trip in just under two weeks. Granted, I have done this trip in the past with my mom and grandma, so I had a little bit of an idea of the best places to stop and see.
Tips To Know Before Your Road Trip
- If you are coming from seattle, it is QUITE the drive, let me tell you. I would suggest for everyone to fly into San Francisco or Sacramento and rent a car from there (plus you will put all those miles on their car and not your own).
- Map out the roads you want to take before hand. We wanted to take the scenic route, Highway 1, most of the way down which takes a significant amount of extra time to do so. Maps or Google Maps won’t even give you the option to choose Highway 1 most of the time because it takes that much longer, so do your research before you leave.
- Beware of tolls. California has quite a few toll roads which can be easy to miss if you don’t choose “avoid tolls” on your maps app or know where you are.
Below I am sharing our jam packed itinerary along with parts of the original literary that had to be skipped due to the rain or lack of time, since we were only traveling for a week. I have organized this post as if you are starting in Sacramento, like we did, and then begin making your way south.
I only suggest this IF you have never been. I actually would suggest making this a separate trip, but I am throwing this in there because it is on the way and if you don’t plan on coming back to California anytime soon, it would be worth stopping. You can check out my “Where to Eat, Drink, + Play in San Francisco” post for recs.
We drove through Monterey but many people love stopping and walking around here and getting lunch!
Among one of the most famous golf courses in the world! It is right in between Monterey and Carmel (about 5 minutes to Carmel) and is home to 17 mile drive which is a MUST.
17 Mile Drive
Tt is the most beautiful drive through the trees and greenery, the golf course, and right down to the ocean. It is the perfect juxtaposition of land and sea. There are a few restaurants in Pebble Beach as well as a whole resort. I had been eyeing The Bench and dreaming of having a glass of rosé out on the patio overlooking the golf course and the ocean but unfortunately when we did 17 Mile Drive it was pouring sheets of rain so we opted for The Gallery instead. If you have the chance to go, have a glass of rosé for me! Note: 17 Mile drive costs $10ish but if you eat lunch at any of the restaurants there you will get reimbursed.
Carmel was our choice of stay for the first 2 nights of our trip. It is so quaint and quiet and the perfect destination after driving several hours. Don’t expect to be staying out late here, it is a sleepy little town with so much character. Keegan and I loved it. Perched right above the water, we were close enough to hear the ocean, but you can only see it when you make your way down.
Our first night we stayed at Hotel Carmel which was adorable. It was formerly the Dolphin Inn but they took over and completely refurbished the place with traditional cottage-style architecture and a totally modern seaside feel. They have a beautiful garden area with fireplaces, cozy seats, and twinkling lights where Keegan and I enjoyed reading our books and sipping on wine. They also have a beautiful hot tub that was steps from our room. Our room was beautifully furnished and even had a fire place which was so cozy on the rainy morning we woke up to. Two of the best parts of Hotel Carmel was their wine hour in the evening where we got to sample local wines and their morning bagel bar with all different kinds of spreads. I will be forever dreaming of the pesto bagel spread they had!
Our second night in Carmel we stayed at La Playa Carmel which was once a luxurious mansion built in 1905 by an artist as a gift to his wife, a member of the Ghirardelli family. For over 100 years La Playa Carmel resort has been known as the “Grande Dame of Carmel.” HOW COOL?! It seriously feels like a mansion and the grounds are exquisite. It is steps away from the beach and features meticulously tended gardens, intimate patios, secluded courtyards and a tranquil terrace swimming pool. I think the best part was the ocean view from our room. I didn’t want to give it up! They also had wine hour, milk and cookies before bed, and a beautiful breakfast with options of omelets, fresh fruits, meats and cheeses, and many other yummy options.
I would have been beyond upset if we would have been in Carmel without going to Seventh & Dolores. This restaurant isn’t like the rest in Carmel, almost as if it doesn’t fit in, but in the very best way. It was super bright, trendy, and upscale, something you would expect to see in San Francisco or LA. Funny enough I found them on Instagram and I am SO glad we decided to go. The cocktails were amazing, I got a martini with a steak wrapped olive…HELLO, that is literally me in a drink. The food was to die for, and the atmosphere was perfect. If I have to suggest one place to eat in Carmel, this would be it.
This was our first stop we made when we made it to carmel because we were starving! Turns out it’s the local’s favorite italian style pizza restaurant for lunch and dinner.
Keegan and I go running to anywhere that say Japanese infused. Flying Fish Grill is a seafood restaurant with a Japansease flare. This was our choice of dinner for the first night and we weren’t disappointed. If you are a seafood lover, this is your place!
This was the biggest bummer of our trip. Big Sur was one of the parts of the trip that I was looking forward to the most. We intended to do it up until the night before when we realized part of Highway 1 was closed due to a landslide and with the rain and extra time it would have taken us, we decided we would have to skip it this trip. BUT, if there is one thing you do on your coast road trip, this would be it. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It will take extra time to get further south if you take this route, however it is worth it. Even when I was younger I remember how beautiful it was.
I mean, it’s a must, right?
Beverly Hills & Rodeo Drive
The ever famous Cabana Cafe that all the cool instagram girls go to…you can’t just not go! Note: they don’t take reservations on the weekends and they made it seem like there would be no way we could get a table so we showed up 10 minutes before they opened…literally no one was there and we got the first table. More people came in later but there was no wait.
Being a tea fenatic, I had to go out of the way to make a stop at Alfred.
We didn’t make it to Santa Monica this time, however it is a must stop on your road trip!
Funny story, all I wanted was a picture with the sign. Turns out it was packed when we got there so we illegally parked, ran down the street to get these shots and ran back to the car just in time before we got a ticket. The things we do for photos…
Thank you Sorelle for this yummy recommendation! We just went for a lemonade after shopping and I think it was the best I ever had!
Okay, the best vintage store hands down! I am not a vintage kinda gal, but this store totally peaked my interest. I found a pair of sunglasses, jeans, and a skirt! A must stop when in HB
Our first night in Laguna we stayed in the cutest little beach house hotel. It features chic coastal décor and vintage furniture to create the look and feel of an open, airy beach cottage. Our room was very spacious and had a view of the ocean on the back patio and a view of the pool deck from our front windows. I have to say, the pool was beautiful and at night they had lights hung up that I just wanted to stare at for hours-it was just the perfect scene. They also offered wine hour and late night milk and cookies.
Our second and third night in Laguna was spent at our favorite out of all of the hotels, which is a big statement because we absolutely loved them all. However, we loved this hotel so much we ended up staying an extra day and that wasn’t planned. If you know me, I don’t deviate from my plans, so when I say that, know this was the place to be. It may have had something to do with the double doors that opened up onto our patio that had a sweeping view of the beach and ocean…plus the sun started coming out! Our room was very big and even had a couch which would be perfect if you were traveling with more people. I wish I would have been able to enjoy the pool, but it just wan’t quiet warm enough to lay out. They had a nighty wine hour and late night milk and cookies to top the day off.
I think this was the highlight of my trip. Mainly because it was one of the only sunny and warm days but it had the best food and atmosphere. The Deck is a restaurant that is quite literally a big deck right above the beach. We soaked in the sun and enjoyed the yummiest food. HIGHLY recommend.
I found this cute little outdoor restaurant for lunch one day just from browsing around IG. Turns out it was vegetarian which would not have been Keegan’s first choice, but it was still very tasty!
Temecula Wine Country
We were actually supposed to make our way out to Temecula however we ended up staying in Laguna instead. I have heard amazing things about their wineries so I would highly suggest making your way out there if you have time. I will have to come back and do this soon!