Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur

31 Aug

[Continued from Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: San Francisco]

After an awful breakfast at this fake Jewish deli, David’s on Geary Street, across the street from our hotel, Hotel Monaco, we retrieved our sweet, silver Toyota Camry from valet and hit the road.  Just not exactly the right road.  I mean, the road we were on would have technically lead us to our first stop of the day, but singing along in the car…you the hottest bitch in this place…while sipping on my grande, skim, two-pump white mocha, no whip (which I had to stop for, because the fake Jewish deli didn’t even have skim milk!), I suddenly realized my iPhone was sending us to Santa Cruz via an inland highway…what rhymes with hug me?

Wait, STOP!  The whole point of this trip was to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, and that is not what we were doing.  I had a quick conversation with myself rationalizing that we could just stick to the shortest route there and pick up the Highway in Santa Cruz or figure out how to get over there STAT.  I admitted to Chip what I had done, and we both decided we had to find the coastal route, so we re-routed ourselves there by way of Half Moon Bay.  Chip and I had driven from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay several years ago after a trip to Napa, to visit my childhood friend, Melinda, who was the Spa Director at the Ritz-Carlton at the time, so we gave ourselves a pass for missing that portion of the Highway this time.

After reaching Half Moon Bay, we picked up California State Route 1, and I was so, so glad we did, because we passed by some beautiful nurseries with gorgeous flowers, Christmas tree farms and all of these rolling pastures filled with cows.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact I was seeing cows grazing in a pasture WITH the Pacific Ocean on the horizon.  Did these cows have any idea how lucky they were to be there instead of a pasture on the side of Charles Barnett Road in Panola County?   But hey, nothing against Panola County as my parents have a little cabin in the woods there.  I’m just saying these cows had probably never had a sinus infection a day in their life, because they had the privilege of smelling that healing, salty air every single day.

We had decided to stop in Santa Cruz for one reason and one reason only and that was to see the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  What a surreal experience to hear seals barking, waves crashing and music from the 1918 Wurlitzer 165 band organ at the carousel all at the same time.  We walked around for awhile just soaking it all in and people watching.  Oh, how I love watching people walking around drinking their favorite flavor ICEE out of a two-foot tall phallic-looking plastic cup.  I always like to imagine them trying to fit it in their dishwasher or kitchen cabinet when they get back home.  But it had seemed like such a great investment of their $14 at the time!


I am not much of a “rides” kind of person.  I have always been afraid of heights and a bit skeptical of the safety standards of rides at any place other than Disney World.  I prefer to get my thrills by ordering the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings at a nice restaurant and not knowing what I am about to eat next.  Chip was indifferent on riding anything, so we had decided to just get back on the road, but on our walk back through the Boardwalk, there was this one ride that kept tugging at me–The Giant Dipper.


The Giant Dipper is this wooden roller coaster built in 1924 and is a National Historic Landmark.  Seizing the moment before I changed my mind, Chip bought 12 tickets from the closest ticket booth, and we got in line.  As we were crawling into our seat, I turned to Chip and asked him if I was going to die.  He said, “Yes, you are going to be the one person out of 12 who dies on this ride right now.”  The lap bar locked into place.  I had my eyes closed so tight and my heart was racing as we started to climb that first hill and then suddenly…WOOSH…off we went.  I could barely catch my breath before we would tear down the next hill or jerkily round the next turn.  And then, just like that, it was done.  I had tears streaming down my face from laughing so hard.  Riding that roller coaster was the most alive I have felt since Crosby was born.  I dare you to ride a roller coaster with the wind ripping through your hair at 55 mph and not be present in that moment.  It. was. awesome.


I treated myself to a bag of cotton candy, we hopped in the car and continued our drive to Monterey.  On our way, we passed acres and acres of fields filled with artichokes, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and migrant workers.  I had never seen an artichoke plant or avocado tree in my life.  We passed by roadside stands selling seven artichokes or avocados for a $1.  $1?!?  Damn, Whole Foods is raping us!   I wish I could have filled my suitcase full and brought some of that fresh produce home with me.

Monterey is best known for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and First Awakenings for breakfast, but neither of us had any interest in visiting the aquarium, and it was already mid-day, so we simply stopped for sandwiches for lunch and to hit an ATM machine, because between the two of us, we only had $7 cash and knew we needed $9.50 for the toll for the 17-Mile Drive up ahead.

The 17-Mile Drive is a scenic loop through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach largely hugging the Pacific Coast line.  The 17-Mile Drive has four primary entrances, and we entered at Pacific Grove.  We passed Spyglass golf course, beautiful Spanish-style mansions, and other scenic attractions such as the Lone Cypress, the official symbol of Pebble Beach Golf Links.


Since I am not a golfer, I shall refrain from writing about Pebble Beach because I wouldn’t do it justice, but I do know it’s the holy MFing grail of golf courses and Chip was very excited to be there, so I’ll just leave it at that.  Due to our trip incidentally coinciding with the 63rd annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, we were unable to find a place to park at The Lodge that day, so we returned the following morning and dropped a jaw dropping amount on a jaw dropping minuscule amount of logo’d paraphernalia, but Chip and Joe ARE going to look pretty cute in their matching sweat shirts this winter.


I am not exactly a car person either. I have had my driver’s license for 23 years now and have only owned three cars–a Honda Civic named “Peanut” which had no power steering or windows, a Ford Explorer named “Scout” and now a soul-sucking, kid-friendly Subaru Outback swagger wagon–so I shall also refrain from writing about the Concours d’Elegance, but every road and every parking lot was filled with either luxury antique or sports cars.  Did I even get that right??


We exited the 17-Mile Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea and drove around for a bit.  OMG.  What an adorable little town!  Carmel was a mix of downtown Greenwich, Connecticut and the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly in Tennessee.  We stopped at Mission Ranch, this old 1800s ranch restored by Carmel resident and former Mayor, Clint Eastwood.  I have kind of had an old man crush on Clint Eastwood since I saw him in that chick flick, Bridges of Madison County, ages ago.  We found a place to sit outside, but it was early yet for dinner.  The view of the old farmhouses and sheep grazing on the property against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean was so breathtaking and relaxing, we decided to at least stay for a drink.

While we were waiting, I slipped my shoes off, kicked my feet back and forth on the cool grass and imagined that scene from the movie where Meryl Streep had gone into town with her husband and she saw Clint Eastwood’s truck and he sees her and he gets out and just stands there in the pouring rain while the thunder is clapping but then her husband comes back and they all drive off and then they get behind Clint in that old GMC at the stop sign and he hangs the cross necklace she gave him up on his rearview mirror and she has her hand on the door handle just gripping it trying to decide if she should jump out of the truck to go be with him or not, and then our grilled artichoke and two glasses of wine arrived.

As the sun was going down, we made the drive from Carmel to our final destination of the day, Big Sur.  Wow.  Words cannot even describe the beauty of the Pacific Coast along that stretch of California Route 1.  Each turn delivered a breath-taking view of the ocean crashing against the side of the Santa Lucia Mountains.  We understood then that particular portion of the drive was exactly why we had made the trip.  It also made sense to me why every travel guide insisted upon driving the Pacific Coast Highway from North to South.  Other than the South simply being better than the North at least from an East Coast perspective, the folks driving from South to North were on the inside of the highway and could not easily pull over at the many lookout points along the way.


We were exhausted and starving once we arrived in Big Sur, so we drove directly to Nepenthe for dinner before checking into our hotel, Ventana Inn & Spa.


We quickly learned that Big Sur isn’t exactly known for its expert culinary skills at the sparse dining establishments.  The views at Nepenthe and Post Ranch Inn were inspiring but the food itself was underwhelming and ridiculously priced.  We had dinner one night at the restaurant at Ventana, and one of the courses brought to me was so disjointed it was as if someone had handed the chef a basket of mystery ingredients like it was the second round of Chopped.

The most notable meal from our two days spent in the Big Sur region was breakfast one morning at Katy’s Place in Carmel.  It’s a cash only establishment located in the heart of Carmel Village.  I have to give notable mention to the Juevos Rancheros Chip ordered.  The eggs were simmered in fresh salsa, served over what tasted like homemade corn tortillas and topped with a perfectly ripened avocado and sour cream.  I may never order that dish again as it would most certainly be a letdown after savoring this particular version.  My silver dollar pancakes, bacon and poached egged over toasted sour dough was also worth the gluten-induced coma I was in the remainder of that day which was probably best since we just spent the afternoon at the clothing optional pool at Ventana.

Photo not attached and to be continued…

– Sheila


4 Responses to “Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur”

  1. Diana Pelosi September 22, 2013 at 9:03 AM #

    I love reading your blog! Having never done that trip makes me want to so much after reading your experiences! Glad that Chip is feeling so well (hiking 2.6 miles of rough terrain unexpectedly!). I’m not sick but I would have a tough time doing that! I look forward to your
    posts so keep them coming abounding with your infused
    humor! Best of luck with your new job & continued prayers while on this scary journey. ♥

  2. Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch January 16, 2014 at 7:08 PM #

    heading there in March. So glad I found your post – thanks for the tips.

  3. Debbie June 3, 2014 at 5:01 AM #

    Great pictures, great article!! I did PCH two months ago and it was the MOST AMAZING roadtrip of my life!! Greetings from Greece! 🙂


  1. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: San Simeon, San Luis Obispo, Solvang and Santa Barbara | Team Kennett - September 30, 2013

    […] [Continued from Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur] […]

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