It has been awhile since I’ve actually explored California, mostly because I assumed I had already seen it all. BUT. I realized that Big Sur was a spot I was missing out on. So, when Lauren came to visit me a few weeks ago, the timing was perfect for a weekend trip. Instead of heading straight to Big Sur, I figured driving along the coast from Santa Cruz was a great opportunity for Lauren to see some of the coastal cities. It made our 3 day weekend feel much longer and in a good way! Oh, and because we had a difficult time finding any reasonably priced hotels in Big Sur, we stayed in Carmel both nights – highly recommended!
Our first stop was in Santa Cruz, about an hour drive south of SF. Having grown up only 30 minutes away from Santa Cruz, I had been many times but I wanted to show the town to Lauren. The main spot to see is the Boardwalk, so we walked along it, had some ice cream, and checked out the beach. Between the beach and the rides, there is plenty to do, but we skipped out on the rides to get to our next spot.
Capitola was only a short 10 minute drive from Santa Cruz. It’s a small and colorful beachfront town, with a bit of a European feel to it. I like that it’s a very short walk (compared to other CA beaches) from the shore to the beach. There are plenty of spots directly on the beach to eat and drink (another CA rarity). We went to the Paradise Beach Grille, which I highly recommend for food and drinks. I would have loved to lounge on the patio and drink beachside all day, but our next stop was calling.
Because we ended up staying in Capitola for awhile, we headed straight to our hotel in Carmel. When we booked our hotel, we didn’t have many options but the Dolphin Inn ended up being the perfect spot. It was a nice little inn, well-maintained, and most importantly, short walking distance to plenty of wine tasting rooms and fun dinner spots. Our two favorite places were ones we hit up on our first evening – Vino Napoli wine bar for a tasty Italian wine flight and Mundaka for Spanish tapas at a lively restaurant.
I have to say, I really did not want to head back to SF. Carmel was so cute and relaxing… I probably could have used a few more days there. But all good things have to end, so after spending the next day in Big Sur and another evening in Carmel, it was time to drive back up to SF. But with a few stops of course. Our first “stop” was the 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach, another coastal town known for it’s great golf courses. The 17-mile drive is the only way to see the town without actually staying there, and has about 20 stops with little known facts and nice scenery. Lauren really liked Seal Rock, where all the little seals were hanging out.
Our final stop was in Monterey. My memory of Monterey was very different than what it is today, which is mostly a tourist town. In the flood of tourists and chain restaurants, we found a hidden gem – A Taste of Monterey where we shared a few small plates (and a beer flight) before heading back up to SF and facing some post-vacation depression. There’s a lot of comfort knowing that all of this is only a short drive away.