Road Trip to Monterey + Big Sur

It’s difficult for us to plan vacations and weekend getaways because we often don’t know Jackson’s weekend schedule until a week or two prior. But when we do, we go hard.

One of the trips on our California Bucket List was driving up the 1 (that’s California talk for HWY 1) and hiking in Big Sur. I’ve wanted to see the iconic McWay Falls ever since we moved to California.

We packed up the car and left as soon as I got off work on Friday. With a full tank of gas and plenty of snacks, we set out on our weekend adventure.

A couple hours into the trip we stopped to see the elephant seals in San Simeon. As odd as it sounds, it’s like seeing a bunch of giant potatoes washed up on a beach—in a cool way.

In the same area, we could see Hearst Castle from the road. We didn’t have enough time to check it out, but the size alone was magnificent!

The further north we drove the bluer the water became and the curvier the roads got. Thank goodness Jackson was driving! Between the tight turns, tall heights, and beautifully distracting views, I would have been a goner.

The radio was off most of the drive. The scenery out the front window was all the entertainment we needed.

We stopped multiple times to take in the panorama along with many other cars doing the same.

After five hours of driving, we reached Monterey. We pulled into the no-reservation campground we planned on snagging a spot at only to see the dreaded “Camp Full” sign.

Plan B. We had no plan B, but what we did have were rumbling stomachs. We drove downtown to pick out a restaurant and said we’d discuss plan B there.

We walked down the main strip and stumbled upon a hopping burger joint called Sur Burger. Jackson order the Ruben Burger and I got the Common Ground Veggie Burger—a quinoa, brown rice, chick pea, portabella mushroom, oat, sweet herbs, cashew nut, lentil, garlic spices patty topped with tomato, arugula, avocado, and spicy vegan aioli. The food was INCREDIBLE!

As we ate we looked into other campgrounds in the area. As it turns out, there’s not many campgrounds in Monterey, and the ones that are there book fast. We switched our mentality to hotels. And what do you know, nearly all of those were booked too!

Our road trip adventure became an even bigger adventure. We decided we were going to car camp! A friend of ours did this recently, although she probably had a nice fold-down-the-seats SUV, and it inspired us to do the same with the given circumstances. We had all the blankets and pillows we needed and tried to get comfortable. Thankfully our tired selves fell asleep fast, but we both woke up every couple hours to try and get comfortable again.

I’m not sure if it was being cramped in the car or our natural circadian rhythm, but we were rearing and ready to go at 7 am. This worked to our advantage as it gave us an early start to our day.

First stop: Coffee! We love checking out different coffee shops when we visit a new town. Captain + Stoker had a sweet vibe and an even sweeter vanilla latte.

After we downed the coffee, we set out on a peaceful four mile walk along the coast. We watched icy blue waves crash into rocks the entire time. It was the perfect start to our day—and a great way to stretch out our legs!

Next, we drove to Carmel, a cute little town nestled on California’s coastline. We stopped by the beach to soak in the most beautiful sunny day and frosty sea.

We saw a bunch of people carrying Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting cups so we hopped on the bandwagon for coffee #2 of the day. I got another vanilla latte while Jackson tried the jump start, a shot of espresso and coffee.

Because there’s literally zero service in Big Sur, we planned out the hikes and stops we wanted to make and took diligent notes so we’d know where we were going along the winding roads.

Once the caffeine kicked in, we were ready to hike. We got to Big Sur lodge and threw on our hiking packs. We set out on a two mile hike and crushed it in under 45 minutes.

While we were looking for another hike to do in the park, a fellow hiker suggested Buzzards Roost, a four mile loop to a panoramic view of the valley and ocean. We hiked through the redwoods with an intense incline toward the top. The map said it takes two hours to complete, and we finished in just over one.

After powering through those two hikes, we were ready to hop back in the car to our next destination—McWay Falls. With zero cell service in the Big Sur area we solely relied on our screenshots and mile estimates of the waterfall’s location. It took us four stops before we finally arrived at the right one—the one with the most cars of course—but it was well worth each previous attempt to finally see what all the fuss is about. And trust me, it’s worth fussing over.

The trail to get closer was closed due to fallen trees, but even from the top it was gorgeous.

We soaked it up as much as we could before getting back in the car. Once we got moving, we decided we were all hiked out and didn’t want to drive on the curvy roads in the dark so it was time to head home.

We stopped in San Luis Obsipo for dinner at Fireside Grill. A friend of ours had talked this place up multiple times, claiming they have the best tri-tip sandwich around. We pulled up and the place was jam-packed—always a good sign. Jackson ordered a tri-tip sandwich and I got the grilled chicken sandwich because it had sprouts and avocado on it. If I see sprouts on the menu, that’s the item I’m ordering.

When our number was called Jackson ran up to get the food, coming back with a big basket of seasoned fries, a mound of tri-tip between two buns, and a chicken sandwich sans chicken. I don’t like to be picky, but when you’re missing the main ingredient it’s totally acceptable to send it back. Jackson brought it up to the front and they were baffled! Never had they missed such an essential ingredient and plopped a piece of chicken between all the other toppings. To be fair, there were so many toppings, I could easily see how they missed it.

We split the sandwiches so each could try the other. They were BOMB! We loved them so much we’re already considering a trip up to SLO for a day of hiking followed by Firestone Grill.

Although we were completely satisfied with our dinner, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy a new ice cream place. One block over we found Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. We sampled a few fun flavors such as Jake + Coke and Motor Oil (Dark chocolate and Kahlua ice cream) but settled on Root Beer Marble. It was the cherry on top to an adventurous day.

We finished the last stretch of our road trip by jamming out to The Greatest Showman soundtrack. The same CD we listened to five times on repeat on our trip to San Francisco last year.

We pulled into the driveway around 9 pm. As much as we love our adventures, it’ll never get old coming home to Santa Barbara.