Road trip report: Big Sur

If you read travel magazines (I do!) or watch travel shows, whenever they talk about the best road-trips/drives in America it is likely that the Highway 1 route between Monterey and San Simeon is going to be towards the top of the list.

This gorgeous, completely unspoiled stretch of road running along the Pacific Ocean should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is an amazing scenic drive with wonderful sites and stops on both ends of the road. I feel blessed to live so close to it.

In the middle of it all is Big Sur which holds a special place in my heart. When my husband and I were dating we spent a lot of time here and I have wonderful memories. It had been awhile since we had done this drive, the last time was a complete disaster.

Luckily our trip turned out beautifully! In fact, I wanted to share the itinerary with you. Granted, if you do this drive there are lots of things to see, and I have done just about everyone, but I want to share my latest trip as it is my favorite itinerary.

We left the San Francisco Bay Area at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning driving South on 101. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about that part of the drive. The intent is just to get to the approach of Monterey as quickly as possible! Once you arrive in the towns of Castroville (artichoke capitol of the world!) and Marina you start seeing (and smelling) the ocean and you can start to get excited.

We passed Monterey. You can spend the entire day just there, and if it’s your first road trip to this area, I suggest you take a day to do just that.

At 9:15 we arrived at our first destination, Patisserie Bechler in Pacific Grove. There is only one exit from Highway 1 for Pacific Grove so you can’t miss it. Believe me, you don’t want to. Why? Because I think you will be missing out on the best croissant in America.

In fact, for me, the best croissant I have ever had does not come from Paris. Nor from France. But from this little shop with an Alsatian baker in the tiny town of Pacific Grove! Before my husband and I moved to France in 2003, we would drive the 90-minutes-to-two-hours about once a month to have the croissants baked at Patisserie Bechler…worth every mile!

Take a look at these beauties! Oh did I mention it is impossible to eat just one?!

patisserie-bechler-croissants
Croissant craving satisfied, we continued south meandering towards our ultimate destination, Big Sur. We passed Carmel, another place you can spend the day in, there’s great shops and restaurants and a lovely beach. Once you pass the Carmel headlands the scenery gets dramatic the roads starts to curve and every turn can catch your breath with its beauty.

You never can tell what the weather is going to be like, fog or no fog, there is no guarantee. The colors that are displayed in the waters range from deep, gorgeous greens and turquoises to blues so dark they are almost black. The green or brown of the cliffs and fields are an amazing backdrop. The beaches, mostly unobtainable, are pristine white, undisturbed by humans (and their tendency to destroy).

You can take a million photos, Mr. Misadventures took 400! Here’s one:

Highway-1-Coast
We spent nearly two hours slowly making our way south, stopping here, stopping there. Smelling the saltiness of the ocean, enjoying the amazing drops and curves. We rolled into Big Sur just before noon, in time to have lunch at our favorite location, the Big Sur River Inn. I have been here many, many times, although it had been two years since my last visit and even longer since I ate a meal here.

There is something for everyone on this property. They are famous for their wooden chairs that you can sit on right in the river. Their food is great and there is jazz and other concerts during the summer. The rooms in the hotel could use an update, but there is nothing better than a weekend here.

One of my favorite things on their menu was an ahi tuna salad, but as it had been years since we had eaten here, I had no hope that they would still serve it. Restaurants change their menus all the time. However, when my husband and I sat down at a table on their back terrace, I glanced at the menu and saw it was still there, like an old friend welcoming me back!

I had a lovely glass of pinot noir and the salad was as good as ever. They have added mustard to the rub they put on the tuna, but it was still good. As usual, I nearly forgot to take a photo (I am a terrible food blogger!) but remembered before I ate the whole thing!

ahi-tuna-salad-big-sur
After a satisfying meal, we continued south to stop at Nepenthe Restaurant. My advice to you is to not have a coffee or dessert at the Big Sur River Inn and have it at Nepenthe at the Cafe Kevah. Skip eating in the main restaurant, it’s got a classic menu that is decent, but nothing exceptional, the thing it has going for is its amazing view. But you can’t beat a coffee at the cafe on the roof, it’s got the same view, if not better!

view-from-cafe-kevah-big-sur
From here you can continue down to Lucia which has another great cafe on the cliff (if you choose to skip coffee at Cafe Kevah). Then you can keep on going to San Simeon and Heart Castle, etc. There is so much to do. We wanted to take more pictures as some of the earlier fog was burning off, so we headed back north.

Having started out early we had beat the rush down, the rush for lunch and the rush back as well. Early bird gets the worm! We took a few more photos including this one of what I think are some of the luckiest cows in the world!

Very-Lucky-Cows
We were back home at 5:00 P.M. happy with our excursion. No matter how many times I take that drive there is always something amazing to see and do. I have spent time on many trips in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel and Big Sur and never tire of it.

How about you? Have you done this trip? Have a favorite part? Haven’t done it, do you think you might want to?

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27 Comments

  1. Cherie
    September 7, 2010

    I visited Big Sur many years ago and that remains one of my most favorite places on earth. (Of course, as a California native, I am still a bit biased towards the state.)

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Cherie, I adore it too! Going to have posts tomorrow and Thursday on Big Sur as well!

      Reply
  2. Julie Roads
    September 7, 2010

    Totally on my bucket list. Amazing pictures.

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Julie, it should be, it is amazing! Next time we see each other I will show you more pics!

      Reply
  3. Jennie
    September 7, 2010

    Andi, Did I understand you correctly that you drove to San Simeon and back in one day?

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Jennie, no we did not go as far as San Simeon this time…just to Big Sur.

      Reply
  4. Derek
    September 7, 2010

    As soon as I started reading this I was thinking in my head, “I hope she went to Nepenthe, I hope she went to Nepenthe!” I LOVE NEPENTHE!

    Looks like an amazing trip. Great photos!

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Derek, love it there, you might be interested in my post on Thursday….

      Reply
  5. cathinunn
    September 7, 2010

    Except for the croissant man in Pacific Grove (which I will definitely have to try next time I’m up there) I have taken that very trip many many times – it is so beautiful!!!

    xxoo 🙂

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Cathi – you MUST try the croissants!

      Reply
  6. Camels & Chocolate
    September 7, 2010

    Yep, you hit all the important spots! And reminded me that I’m long overdue for a return to Big Sur…haven’t been in 18 months!

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Kristin, you should! It is such an easy trip for us!

      Reply
  7. Andi
    September 7, 2010

    I did this drive right before I left California (I was living in San Diego). It was BEYOND incredible. Something I’ll NEVER forget!!! You’re 100% right, it should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @AndiP, I agree!

      Reply
  8. Walker
    September 7, 2010

    I’m ready to hop a plane and fly west. The trip sounds wonderful. I did this trip in 1975 but remember very little. Thanks for the great travelogue, wonderful.

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Walker, oh you MUST re-do it!

      Reply
  9. Maryline
    September 7, 2010

    Yum, love sesame tuna!!
    That view beyond the cattle is simply priceless.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 7, 2010

      @Maryline, so lucky to get ahi tuna everywhere in California!

      Reply
  10. Linda
    September 7, 2010

    I’ve done this route a couple of times. One of the most beautiful places on earth.

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 8, 2010

      @Linda, I totally agree!

      Reply
  11. Carolyn Jung
    September 7, 2010

    I stayed put during my holiday weekend. But thanks to your gorgeous photos, I feel like I went on a little get-away, too. 😉

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 8, 2010

      @Carolyn, isn’t that the beauty of the internet!

      Reply
  12. Amy75
    September 8, 2010

    You’ve made me miss California even more! Definitely have to do this road trip and try that ahi salad. Yum!

    Reply
    1. Andi
      September 8, 2010

      @Amy75, it really is special, but you can do something similar along the west coast of France as well, although it is not a day trip! Although Deauville is…..

      Reply
  13. jen
    September 11, 2010

    i love reading about your adventures, andi.

    Reply
  14. Brittany P
    November 29, 2012

    I have got to do this trip. The photos look absolutely stunning. I have a penchant for tasty ahi tuna, which I don’t get as fresh and as often as I would like as I don’t live near the ocean/sea/(large water?) at the moment. Thank you for sharing your photos and adventures.

    Reply
    1. Andi
      November 29, 2012

      @Brittany, the Northern CA coast is amazing and you’ll find tons of spots for ahi!

      Reply

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