Returning from a restful getaway to cold hard reality is never easy. Returning from a restful getaway in California has proven even more difficult. My mom and I spent five days in The Golden State for a much needed girls’ trip. California completely took hold of my heart, making it ever so painful to wrench it away from her when it was time to go home. I’d like to think that I left a little piece of myself there. A piece of my soul that I’ll return again and again to visit.
We flew in and out of San Francisco and spent most of our time in Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Carmel Valley with a day trip to Paso Robles and the Bay Area. At the end of the post, be sure to download my free PDF of Eat+Stay+Play resources and links!
Upon arriving at San Francisco International, we met our SilverCar concierge. This was my first time renting through SilverCar and I highly recommend it. You get a silver Audi A4 every time you rent, with free XM radio, wifi, navigation, and Apple Car Play, which was great to hook up my California Travel Playlist from my iPhone.
We drove from San Francisco towards Monterey, making several pitstops along the way. The great thing about driving Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway or “PCH”) is there are plenty of opportunities to stop for a photo or a picnic. It is such a beautiful drive and having the sunroof down with the Pacific breezes in your hair is pretty much like heaven.
Our first stop was at Pomponio State Beach for a quick selfie and some amazing sun and surf. The waves were crashing hard and it wasn’t crowded, making it the perfect place to enjoy the refreshingly cool breezes coming off the beach. There are plenty of picnic tables available and a small lagoon.
We continued our trek and came across Swanton Berry Farm, a California Certified Organic farm growing a variety of berries and produce. We enjoyed a delicious tayberry cobbler (a berry that is a hybrid of the Loganberry and the raspberry), some fresh coffee, and two pints of just-picked strawberries. Everything was pay by honor system, something I haven’t seen in a long time and really appreciate about the place. They also have a “U-Pick” strawberry patch and some vintage games for kids and the kid-at-heart.
Our next stop was Monterey where we stocked up on some wine, salad, and charcuterie at Trader Joe’s. We grabbed another coffee from Peet’s (we had been up since 4 a.m. so you can understand) and continued to Cannery Row. There are many restaurants and boutiques to check out as well as some beautiful waterfront hotels. If you continue up Ocean View Blvd. you’ll arrive at the John Denver Memorial.
The Point Pinos Lighthouse, the West Coast’s oldest operating lighthouse, is a short drive from there as is the entrance to the famous 17 Mile Drive. Entrance per vehicle is currently $10.25 and it is well worth the fee. This scenic drive is a MUST when visiting the Monterey area. There are 21 stops along the drive, but the two we loved the most were Bird Rock and The Lone Cypress. At Bird Rock, you’ll not only see birds but also large sea lions sun bathing and swimming in the waters. Sea otters are also known to be in the area. The Lone Cypress is probably the most popular of all the stops and is a humbling reminder of nature’s stoicism. It’s awe-inspiring and not to be missed.
Other impressive trees include the stately eucalyptus trees filtering sunlight onto the road through their formidable branches. Everywhere you look is something out of a fairytale land. Pebble Beach is also not to be missed.
Our journey took us through Carmel-by-the-Sea and on into Carmel Valley, where we rented the perfect guesthouse through VRBO. I always stress how much we enjoy “living like locals” and avoiding a traditional hotel if we can. This place was spectacular! Not only were the views amazing but the owners provide everything you need. We enjoyed wine and charcuterie on the deck as the sun went down over the mountains. We made a spinach salad with goat cheese and the fresh strawberries from Swanton Berry Farm. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
We spent the day shopping our way around Carmel-by-the-Sea. The town has a little European village feel, almost as if you’ve stumbled upon Hansel and Gretel’s neighborhood. Boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, and wine tasting rooms line the streets. Our favorite shops included Eco Carmel for all things human and earth friendly (the handcrafted beeswax candles are heavenly), Ms. Fabulous for affordable trendy boutique-wear, and Trio for unique olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
For lunch we ate at The Treehouse Cafe, where they have a shady second story terrace and delicious food (I recommend the Greek salad or the Gyro and the cheesecake). They have a nice wine list and the pour is quite generous.
What’s the best way to end a day of shopping? Sipping on California wine, of course! Just a short drive out Carmel Valley Road is Folktale Winery and Vineyards. This place gets me! As in, bottle up my personality (no pun intended) into a vineyard. The grounds are unbelievably gorgeous and definitely like something out of a fairytale. They even boast unicorn rides (when available) as a perk to their wine club. How adorable is that? But the main event here is definitely the wine. Delicious boutique productions of sparkling brut, rosé, pinot noir, and grenache among others. Also, you are greeted upon arrival with a glass of bubbly. So fun!
Today was a wine tasting day. Carmel Valley Village has many different winery tasting rooms within walking distance from each other. Our first stop was Joullian Vineyards & Winery. The beautiful tasting room has a European cathedral feel with plenty of wine barrel tables and seats. The sunlight filters through the large leaded glass window and there is an intimate courtyard. The wines here are definitely worth the trip. The chardonnay here is light, which I prefer over the traditional heavier California style.
For lunch we picked up sandwiches to-go from Jerome’s Carmel Valley Market, a grocery store and deli with great takeaway options. The made-to-order deli sandwiches were delicious. Make sure to pack a small cooler or soft-sided cooler tote because several of the tasting rooms allow you to picnic. We took our lunch over to Cima Collina where we tasted some delicious unfiltered wines and a very light-bodied but slightly fruity sparkling rosé. We enjoyed our picnic lunch out on their spacious patio under the shade of trees and umbrellas. The staff at Cima Collina is also very friendly and welcoming.
Our last stop was at Bernardus Winery. We tasted 4 excellent wines and enjoyed chatting with other guests at the bar. The tasting associate was very well informed about the different California microclimates and terroir. Wines here are a little higher in price point but the quality is exceptional.
Dinner was at Mission Ranch, a Carmel institution owned by Clint Eastwood. We didn’t see Dirty Harry himself but we did start with a glass of wine at the bar. Arrive early (around 4pm) to get a patio table during happy hour. We dined on the patio overlooking a flock of grazing sheep set against the crashing waves of Carmel Bay. It’s serene, picturesque, and definitely worth doing, even if just for a glass of wine. We started with the locally grown grilled artichoke followed by prime braised beef short rib and mahi mahi, and finished with the bread pudding. Prepare for a food coma! It’s all wonderful.
Since the weather was so nice, we headed to Carmel Beach for a stroll along the water as the sun was setting. Plenty of families and joggers were enjoying the crisp ocean breezes and soft white sand. Put your toes in the water and enjoy a life-affirming moment of numbness. The water is cold and so refreshing.
We took a day trip to Paso Robles to meet my mother’s cousin that I’ve never met before. I’m so glad that I have California family! The drive out of Carmel Valley on Laureless Grade Rd. has spectacular views, so definitely stop for a selfie or two.
We met for lunch at the historic Paso Robles Inn, where guests can enjoy a private mineral spa room with mineral water soaking tub. We next journeyed to our cousin’s property where she cares for, breeds, and maintains Missouri Fox Trotter horses, a few dogs, and some chickens. It was such a peaceful afternoon connecting with these animals and learning more about my family. The Paso Robles area is known for excellent wineries, and you’ll see vineyard after vineyard lining the roadways.
We were so sad to leave the beautiful Carmel Valley but super excited to head back to San Francisco and explore a bit. Our first order of business was to get an early start on the day (it’s about a 2 hour drive from Carmel Valley to San Francisco on the weekend) so we could get some great photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can google some great spots to get breathtaking views but the perfect spot for us was Crissy Field, a former military airfield turned public promenade for biking and walking. After snapping some photos of the bridge, hike up one of the botanical marshes for an elevated view of the bay. The Warming Hut is a great place for a quick bite to eat and a souvenir or two.
For lunch we made our way over to the Embarcadero to Hog Island Oyster Co. The wait will likely be long (we waited an hour) but it is worth it so stick it out. We enjoyed a fried oyster po’ boy and rockfish sliders washed down with a local brew called California Lager. You’ll have excellent water views even from the indoor oyster bar where you can watch the sailboats and shuckers at work. For an after lunch treat, walk a few steps over to Miette for a macaron!
Next we checked out Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to hop on an historic cable car. A comfortable spot for an afternoon glass of vino is at Bluxome Street Winery in Ghirardelli Square. They have indoor and outdoor seating with an impressive view of Alcatraz.
Goodnight and see you soon, California!
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