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  • Melissa Ewing

My 11 Day California Road Trip Itinerary

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Written By: Melissa Ewing

Summer 2022

I wanted to do a road trip along California's Pacific Coast Highway for years! I made plans in 2020, but COVID messed that up. Things finally came together two years later for the trip of a lifetime! This California coastal road trip itinerary will take you along the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego with a stop in Paso Robles along the way. It's the result of years of off and on research and my own personal experience. Hopefully it will inspire you and provide some ideas. If you're thinking of taking a California coastal road trip, do it!

A few initial notes and tips:

  • I traveled solo, but this trip can apply to a group.

  • The drive along the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and San Diego is around 600 miles and takes approximately 10-12 hours without stopping. There are lots of ways to break up the trip.

  • I opted for an 11 day trip because I wanted to make several stops without rushing. The trip time worked great for me (could have gone even longer!), but the trip could be less days with with fewer stops.

  • I opted to drive North to South down California Highway 1. One advantage includes having ocean views on your right. It’s easier to pull off the road to take in the sights. If you’re driving North, there will be a lane between you and the ocean.

  • A road trip is super fun with a convertible! But plan accordingly because trunk space is really small! Also, I joked about packing scarves to wear while driving, but there is actually a reason! Be sure to cover your scalp / part lines to avoid painful sunburns.

  • If you’re flying in to start your trip, I recommend waiting to buy tickets or reservations for the first day until you get out of the airport. Many unexpected things can happen, such as delayed or canceled flights or longer than expected wait times in picking up a rental car. No need to have the extra stress of worrying about being anywhere by a specific time that first day.

  • I took all the photos and videos in this blog using my iPhone except for a couple photos taken by kind people using iPhone. I own the rights to all photos and videos in this blog.


DAY 1: San Francisco / Sausalito

My California road trip started in San Francisco with a one-night stay across the Bay in Sausalito. San Francisco’s hub airport makes it a great destination for travel from US cities and car rentals. There is also a LOT to see and do in the San Francisco area. I recommend spending at least two days. I had to limit my time to one day because of scheduling issues but will be planning another trip in the future! The next trip will include a day trip to Sonoma or Napa Valley.

  • Tip: Research car rental agencies. I selected Budget to save money, but their lines were longer than other companies at the SFO Airport. The SFO Airport Budget requires all renters pass through the general line even if preregistered (took me almost two hours!). Other than the initial wait time, my rental experience was smooth.

Once I got my snazzy black Chevy Camaro Convertible, the roadtrip was on!

Things to Do and See in San Francisco

  • Straight to the Gate Access: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

  • Fisherman’s Wharf / Pier 39

  • Alcatraz

  • Golden Gate Park for views of Golden Gate Bridge

  • San Francisco Cable Car

  • Ferry to Sausalito / Muir Woods

  • Day Trip to Sonoma or Napa for Wine Tasting

Things to Do and See in Sausalito

  • Sausalito Boardwalk

  • Downtown Area

  • Marin Headlands

  • Muir Woods

Where to Stay in Sausalito

  • The Inn Above Tide

Straight to the Gate Access: Golden Gate Bay Cruise provides a great introduction to San Francisco by seeing many famous landmarks while enjoying a ride on the water. This one-hour sightseeing cruise departs from Fisherman’s Wharf, a popular waterfront area. The cruise includes views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Sausalito. You may even see sea lions, dolphins and whales along the way! Tickets start at $38 and sell out, so check ahead for reservations.

Before or after your cruise, be sure to walk around Pier 39, a popular part of Fisherman’s Wharf. It offers a lot to see and do in one place. There are amazing views of the Bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as shops, restaurants and amusement activities. The area is very clean, and I felt safe and at ease walking around. My absolute favorite thing was seeing tons of sea lions lounging on the dock! One of my goals for the trip was to see sea lions, and Day 1… mission already accomplished!

While on Pier 39, I recommend lunch or dinner at Fog Harbor Fish House where you can enjoy fresh seafood and views of the Bay. My seat inside was perfect – a table by the window overlooking the sea lions lounging in the Bay with Alcatraz in the distance. The service was great, and the food was delicious. I had a glass of a California Chardonnay and for my meal the Petrale Sol, a pan-seared sole with spinach, fingerling potatoes, pesto cream sauce and capers. I ate every drop!

  • Tip: Park in the deck across the street and bring your ticket for a credit!

My next destination was Sausalito, which is only a short, scenic drive across the Bay including passage through the Golden Gate Bridge which is an experience. You can pull over at a Vista stop for amazing photos.

Sausalito is a charming and quaint seaside town with gorgeous views of the Bay, San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was one of my favorite stops on my trip. fI had reservations at The Inn Above Tide. It was recommended by a friend who travels a lot and said I absolutely must stay there. Right he was! I wanted to stay two nights, but they didn’t have availability when I was making plans. Lesson learned was plan well in advance because they have limited rooms and stay booked. The Inn Above Tide sets itself apart by being on the water. I love this hotel. The staff is super friendly, and the lobby has cute nooks where you can sit and lounge. The rooms are modern, clean and nicely decorated. The best part of my room was the window view and balcony over the water! Just amazing. The views cannot be beat.

The Inn Above Tide offers a complimentary daily wine and cheese reception to guests. Also amazing! Due to COVID precautions there was no reception in the common area when I visited, but as a substitute the hotel delivered wine and snacks directly to guest rooms. Silver linings! I enjoyed wine, cheese and fruit on my room balcony watching stunning views of the sunset. In the mornings, the hotel offers an impressive continental breakfast with fruits, pastries, casseroles, and other breakfast items. This was one of the most memorable stays of my trip even though just for one night.

For activities near the hotel, be sure to take a walk along the waterfront Sausalito Boardwalk and the downtown area. In addition to marina and ocean views, you will see picturesque architecture and lush gardens among the public areas.

I recommend several restaurants in walking distance of The Inn Above the Tide. The Spinnaker serves American-Continental cuisine and sits directly over the water with panoramic views of the ocean, Sausalito, the San Francisco skyline, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge. Scoma’s Sausalito floats out over the Bay and is known for its seafood dishes. Poggio is a classic Italian trattoria with a lively atmosphere and nice patio area. Each of these restaurants are neighborhood favorites. For breakfast, brunch or lunch Fred’s Coffee Shop is a great choice.

It was a perfect first day for my roadtrip!

DAY 2: Carmel

This was an active day for me! Before heading South to Carmel-by-the-Sea a/k/a Carmel, I took a short trip North of San Francisco to Muir Woods National Monument. It is a MUST DO activity even if you don’t want to venture deep into the forest and just want to park and walk a little way in to see massive redwoods and majestic nature. Some redwoods are nearly 1,000 years old and stand taller than 250 feet. Muir Woods has capacity limits, so make sure to reserve a parking time online before you head out. Parking includes hadicap and large vehicle options. On the weekends buses provide round trips from nearby locations. As for entry tickets, you can save time by purchasing online or pay at the park.

  • Tip: Go to the park early before the crowds. Plan for at least two hours here.

There are a variety of trails ranging from easy to moderate to more challenging. The trails are go and come back rather than round trips. It helps to review a trail map before you visit to have an idea of what you may want to do. I didn’t, so was a little wary, but the trails are well marked. I actually took the recommendation of a female hiker I met to follow the Dipsea trail to the cliffs overlooking the coast. She had an app showing the elevation changes of the trail and encouraged me by saying “you can do it!” She also said we don’t realize what our bodies are capable of until we test them, so with that I set out on my path.

Along the way, in addition to redwoods, I saw lots of wildlife including deer, small lizards, and a wild turkey! There were several different vistas along the trail with different types of vegetation (not all redwood forests). When I reached the coast, the payoff views from the cliffs made the trail worth the effort! I almost continued the trail down to Stinson Beach but had limited time and was a little concerned how steep it may be. My total hike time ended up over 2.5 hours and was very energizing.

After leaving Muir Woods, it was time to head South down the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea in the Big Sur area. This drive has breathtaking ocean views. Monterey is only about 10 miles from Carmel, so either one could be your home base for lodging. I prefer Carmel.

Things to Do and See in Monterey/Carmel

  • Monterey Bay

  • 17-Mile Drive

  • Point Lobos State National Preserve

  • Carmel River State Beach

  • Carmel Beach Boardwalk

  • Ocean Avenue

  • Wine Tasting in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea

  • The Normandy Inn

Where to Eat in Carmel:

  • Porta Bella

  • Dametra Café

  • Mission Ranch Restaurant

I took a quick stop in Monterey to see the wharf and stretch my legs. After walking around a bit, I moved on to 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, which is just outside Monterey. This is another MUST DO activity! Pebble Beach is a gated nature enclave of beaches, coastal cliffs, rocky coastlines, forests, golf courses, and exclusive residential homes. There is a car entry fee of $11.25 that allows you to access a 17 mile route through the enclave. In addition to gorgeous scenery, you’re likely to see sea lions, birds, and sea otters near the shoreline. It is also home to the famous Pebble Beach golf course where deer often graze among the golfers.

Upon entry, you receive a helpful brochure and map outlining stops of interest along the route where you can park, walk around, take photos, or sit and enjoy nature’s beauty. You can stop as little or often as you want with no time constraint other than the daily closing time. Many stops have benches or picnic tables, so consider packing a lunch or snack to enjoy. There are also bike and trail paths.

The first part of the route offers forest views, but the main draw is the coastal side. The white beaches, blue and turquoise water, and rocky coastline provide absolutely stunning views of nature. I stopped at almost every point of interest. If nothing else, make sure to stop to view the Lone Cypress standing tall among the coastal cliffs. It is believed to be at least 250 years old and continues to weather the elements.

Finally, before you complete the tour and exit, park and walk to the Pebble Beach Lodge. Once inside, go to “The Bench” lounge on the lower level to enjoy the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean and a Pebble Beach golf course hole. It’s a lovely atmosphere for a glass of wine or beer overlooking the beautiful scenery! For golf lovers, as an added feature you will see monuments and memorabilia honoring prior golf champions as well as boutiques.

After leaving 17-Mile Drive, it was time to head to Carmel and check into my room at The Normandy Inn. Carmel is a small, charming seaside town with an emphasis on art, beauty and history. It has the feel of a village with fairytale cottages and art galleries throughout its downtown center. There are also boutiques, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and white sandy beaches. Note many of the stores don’t stay open past 5pm or so.

The Normandy Inn was a great home base for my stay. It’s a charming European style inn located in the town center and convenient to the beach. The accommodations are spacious, the staff is friendly, and there is an outdoor heated pool with the feel of a Mediterranean villa.

You need dinner reservations for most popular restaurants. I recommend Porta Bella which is steps away from The Normandy Inn. This restaurant offers al fresco dining with a great ambiance. As a solo diner, I was warmly greeted, and the staff treated me well and checked on me frequently which I appreciated. As a bonus, a guitarist played music walking around the restaurant. I ordered a glass of DAOU Reserve Chardonnay, one of the wineries I hoped to visit in Paso Robles. For my entrée I ordered the Lemon Dijon Garlic Chicken with vegetables, whole grain mustard sauce, and golden Yukon mashed potatoes. It was absolutely delicious and a fantastic dining experience. I would definitely go back.

DAY 3: Carmel

Today was another active day in Carmel and the surrounding area. I started early with a drive to Point Lobos State National Reserve which is a short drive from Carmel’s city center. This is another MUST DO activity! The views and sights here are nothing short of amazing. The park has hiking trails, tide pools, and plenty of places to enjoy a packed lunch or snack.

Go early to get a parking place within the park – it gets busy quickly! I got there at the 8am opening, and there were already cars lined up waiting for the gates to open. When I left the park, cars were parked along the roadside far down the highway. You can still enter the park that way, but I enjoyed parking near the shoreline as it made for an easy walk to shore and remembering where I parked when it was time to go.

For an easy trail with nice views, I recommend Bird Island Trail. Some of my favorite photos were taken there. I preferred the South Shore over the North Shore (although both are great). The reserve also has trails away from the shoreline with thick vegetation and forests which is an interesting contrast from the open trails along the coast. I challenged myself by doing a trail run after reading runners recommend Perimeter Trail as a running bucket list. I ran/walked most of the loop trail which was thrilling to do.

After Point Lobos, I went back to my hotel to change clothes for the rest of the day then headed to Mission Ranch Restaurant for lunch. This is another restaurant that countless people had recommended to me, and it lived up to the hype! The restaurant is just outside the Carmel city center located on a picturesque ranch with views of grazing sheep as well as Carmel Beach and the ocean in the distance. There is also lodging. Clint Eastwood (also a former mayor of Carmel!) saved the ranch from development. For lunch I sat outside on the patio overlooking the ranch and had a relaxing experience. I ordered a glass of rose and had the Cobb Ranch Salad which was a generous portion and very flavorful. I enjoyed the lunch and would definitely go back.

Afterwards, I returned to the city center and parked off the Carmel Beach boardwalk to explore the beach area. The water is a gorgeous blue color with wide beaches of soft, white sand. As a Southern girl, I found the water cold, but there were people swimming. It is a nice beach for laying out. Next up was wine tasting!

There are a lot of wine tasting rooms in Carmel! There are also nearby vineyards in Carmel Valley. I signed up for the Carmel by the Sea Wine Walk, a free mobile guide for navigating the tasting rooms. You sign up, get a mobile guide sent to your phone, and can redeem offers at participating tasting rooms. The wine walk did not include most of the tasting rooms I had on my list, but it’s worth checking out. Some tasting rooms require reservations, so check ahead for any you really want to visit. But with the number of tasting rooms in walking distance, there are plenty of options!

  • Tip: Most of the pours are generous which is awesome but pace yourself and stay hydrated and don’t go overboard!

1st stop: Caraccioli Cellars Tasting Room

I had one of my favorite tastings at Caraccioli Cellars Tasting Room. I got lucky as a solo walk-in, but generally you need a reservation. The tasting room is sleek, intimate and cozy with a lounge atmosphere offering bar seats, couches, and small tables. Caracccioli is a family-run winery which produces 100% estate grown wines from their Escolle Vineyard. They focus on small lots, with each wine showcasing a unique expression of Escolle. A surprising fact is this winemaker produces reputable sparkling wines which is unique for the area. The Brut Cuvee and Brut Rose are flagship wines and very popular. They also produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Syrah. I loved everything I tasted and could have bought many bottles, but their prices are higher plus I was working with limited suitcase space. I chose a bottle of the 2019 Pinot Noir to take home. (And it was just as good at home!).

Caraccioli Cellars Tasting Room has an active wine club. While I was there many members came in to pick up orders and enjoy a tasting. I’m now considering trying a membership for a year. Members receive 2 shipments a year of 4-6 bottles with each shipment approximately $200 plus shipping (15% off retail). There are various club options to cater to your preference of wines.

2nd stop: Albatross Ridge Tasting Room

Hands down, Albatross Ridge Tasting Room was the most elegant tasting room I visited! It is open and airy with a modern style and sizable seating area including tables and a bar. It was lively and crowded, and I got lucky again as a solo walk-in with a spot at the bar. This tasting room offers a variety of flights as well as traditional glass pours. The winemaker produces small batches using a minimalist approach with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as a natural rose.

I really enjoyed my tasting. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable about the wines. I ended up buying a bottle of the 2020 Cuvee Beaudry Chardonnay to take home. What struck me the most about this Chardonnay was the floral notes. It is unique and different from other white wines I tasted.

3rd stop: De Terra Tasting Room

To be honest, I just did not enjoy my experience here. The reviews I read were very positive, so it was on my short list of potential tasting rooms (and also a participant on the Wine Walk). But the atmosphere didn’t connect with me nor did the wines. I stayed for the tasting but later regretted not moving on to another tasting room. The wines to me tasted average, and the atmosphere was sterile and commercial. It was time for a temporary break from wine!

4th stop: Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn

One of my friends who gave me several recommendations for my trip told me I had to visit Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn and order a dirty martini (one of our cocktails of choice). An interesting piece of history about the property is it was co-owned by Doris Day, and Terry’s Lounge was named after her son. The lounge oozes old Hollywood glamour with a retro vibe and Moroccan inspirations. Walking inside felt like stepping into an older, simpler time, and I had what felt like a magical experience. (The fact it was my last stop before dinner may have also had something to do with that vibe.) I made several friends at the bar and enjoyed my one dirty martini for the trip. Coming back here next time I visit!

If you’re out wine tasting (or even if you’re not), Dametra Café is a great restaurant for dinner. It’s a lively Mediterranean restaurant in the center of town with musical entertainment and delicious food. It is consistently busy, so plan ahead for reservations. I enjoyed the chicken kabobs. I got the fried calamari appetizer because it was raved about in reviews, but it was a little too bready for my taste (but very popular).

DAY 4: Big Sur

I was really excited about this day of my trip because I had reservations for a cottage at Big Sur Lodge within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park! My check in wasn’t until 4pm, so I had most of the day to enjoy activities in the area. I called ahead and pre-registered for check-in which put my cottage near the top for cleaning and a possible earlier check-in. The front desk was also very helpful in suggesting things to do during my day out and about and suggested Bixby Bridge, Andrew Molera Park, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. (Also Point Lobos, but I had already checked that one off.)

Things to Do and See in Big Sur

  • Bixby Bridge

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park / McWay Falls

  • Pfeiffer Beach

  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

  • Nepenthe Restaurant and Phoenix Store

Where to Stay in Big Sur

  • Big Sur Lodge (reasonably priced lodging)

  • Ventana Resort (luxury lodging)

Driving the Big Sur portion of California Highway 1 is definitely a bucket list item! I put the top down on my convertible and headed out for a drive that thrilled me with its gorgeous views of sea cliffs overlooking the ocean but also terrified me. I’m not big on heights, so driving over cliffs and being close to the water, combined with the winding roads, kept me gripping the steering wheel. I admit I also froze most of the way, but I ignored the freeze because the drive was so beautiful (and I was afraid to stop!). There are stops along the road where you can pull off for photos and take in the views. I was amazed when I saw Bixby Bridge, but no pulling over for a photo for me. Sometimes it’s enough to be in the moment.

  • Tip: Cell service is really spotty in this area so make sure you have at least a general plan before hitting the highway!

For my first stop, I drove south past Big Sur Lodge to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park which is home to McWay Falls. There is a $10 park fee. Many of the trails were closed due to repairs, but the overlook trail to McWay Falls was open. That was the main draw for me. This trail is easy and accessible, and the views of the falls and cliffs are breathtaking. I would like to try one of the other trails once they reopen. It is definitely worth a stop here even with many trails closed.

My next stop was lunch at Nepenthe restaurant. Everyone I asked for recommendations mentioned this place. I can now attest no trip to Big Sur is complete without a trip here! The restaurant sits on a mountain top right off California Highway 1 with beautiful views and a friendly, laid back atmosphere that really captures the eclectic and outdoorsy vibe of this portion of Big Sur. There is also an interesting history. The prior owners wanted to share the property as “no individual can own it, it belongs to everyone.” A student of the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright designed the striking architecture using redwood and other native materials.

Everything about my visit was relaxing yet invigorating. Nepenthe does not take reservations, but I did not have to wait long for a seat on the deck with mountain views and sights of vibrant blue birds in the nearby tree branches. I ordered the “The Famous Ambrosiaburger” with tossed salad and a glass of the Monarch Challenge Rose. It was lovely lunch. I would eagerly return here anytime I visit.

Before leaving Nepenthe, make sure to check out the Phoenix store which is located in the same complex. It offers unique and eclectic souvenir and boutique items and features beautiful, handcrafted jewelry and wares from local artisans.

Next it was time to check in at Big Sur Lodge! This stop was a rustic adventure in a redwood forest and opportunity to unwind from technology. The cottages have no TVs, phones, or other electronics, and quiet time is 10pm-8am. Wifi and cell service is poor. You can purchase wifi, but I challenged myself to live life unplugged…at least for one day!

Guests of Big Sur Lodge receive a complimentary day pass to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The front desk staff is incredibly helpful in providing suggestions for things to do in the area. They publish a handout with nearby hiking options and attractions. I love you can stay here with access to lots of activities without driving. The main building has a store, restaurant, and patio bar. The store has grocery items and just about any essential you may need plus cute gifts. They even stock a nice selection of full and mini size wine bottles to enjoy at your leisure. I bought a mini bottle of bubbly to enjoy fireside in my cottage.

As for lodging, the outdoor vibe is no-frills campground. I had flashbacks of my younger summer camp days. But inside the cottages are cozy and roomy with vaulted ceilings! They have an outdoor deck and some include kitchenettes and/or fireplaces. I loved my fireplace cottage.

After I got settled in, I spent the rest of the afternoon hiking in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The best thing was it was all in walking distance! First, I did the Valley View and Pfeiffer Falls trail. It was more challenging than expected in terms of steps and tricky roots. My parents would have had a hard time on this trail, but it was fine for me. Second, I did the River Walk, which is an easy and scenic walk along the river bank. Finally, I did most of the Buzzards’ Roost trail. I almost got to the highest peak but held back because the final leg looked very steep, and it was getting late in the day. I didn’t feel comfortable pushing ahead as a solo hiker not knowing what to expect with little to no cell service. I got a great leg workout and decided to stop while things were good and head back! Back at the cottage, I enjoyed my mini bottle of sparkling wine fireside and went to bed satisfied.

The one thing I didn’t get a chance to do but recommend is Pfeiffer Beach to see the purple sand and rock formations on the beach (and take photos!). It would have been dark when I returned, and I did not feel comfortable driving on the roads after dark in my convertible. Had I stayed two nights I would have gone. Next time!

DAY 5: Paso Robles

After leaving Big Sur, my next destination was Hearst Castle in San Simeon. This is a MUST DO! Originally I included this stop when my parents were going to join me because it was the thing my mom most wanted to see. This stop is for everyone! The photos don’t do it justice. Until you witness in person it’s hard to appreciate the scale and opulence of Hearst Castle.

I looked at day tour packages for the Hearst Castle and wineries in Paso Robles, but ultimately decided to do my own plans. The tours are convenient but not necessary. This is especially so for Hearst Castle since it’s a California State Park and easy to make reservations through the Hearst Castle website. Tickets start at $30 for adults for the Grand Rooms tour, and there is an ADA option for guests with mobility issues. The Grand Rooms tour is the perfect amount of sightseeing.

Advance recommendations are recommended, but if you get a reservation, don’t be late! The reservation time is when the bus leaves to drive you to the top of the hill, and you don’t want to miss it. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and includes an interesting narration about the purchase of the land and history of its use. In terms of mobility issues, the only part of the regular Grand Rooms tour that involves stairs is the very beginning of the tour outside. This segment is doable for those with mobility issues who don’t rely on walking aids such as a wheelchair or crutches, as there is not a rush to move up the steps. If you have concerns then choose the ADA tour and reserve ahead of time.

The Grand Rooms tour is surprisingly entertaining and more than I expected. The guide adds stories of old times and makes the guests feel like they are back in time visiting during the Hollywood golden age, sort of a “day in the life” approach. The history is interesting, and the sights are magnificent. Fun fact: William Randolph Hearst enlisted the help of architect Julia Morgan to execute his vision which turned into a project spanning 28 years that never finished!

After leaving Hearst Castle, I stopped at nearby Cambria for lunch because the tour I almost signed up for included lunch and walking around here on the agenda. After parking, it didn’t take long to decide I did not want to spend a lot of time here. My first restaurant choice was not open, and the town seemed a bit dead other than some cute antique and vintage stores which I did enjoy. Time to move on to Paso Robles!

Things to Do and See in Paso Robles

  • Wine Tasting at Vineyards

  • Tasting Rooms in the City

  • Downtown Area

Where to Eat in Paso Robles

  • Fish Gaucho

  • Thomas Hill Organics

Where to Stay in Paso Robles

  • Adelaide Inn

I love tasting wines and expanding my “wine vocabulary,” so I included a stop off the coast in Paso Robles because of its growing wine country reputation with more than 200 wineries and tasting rooms. Located off the Central Coast, Paso Robles is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The diverse landscape produce more than 60 grape varieties including syrah, grenache, mourvedre, roussane, petite syrah, viognier, grenache blanc, sauvignon blanc, clairette blanche, zinfandel and cabernet. By far, the wineries outside the city are the highlight of a visit to Paso Robles. The scenery is beautiful, the atmosphere laid back and unpretentious, and the wines very good. Plan ahead and make reservations. They fill up! Budget your time for 2-3 vineyard visits for each day.

For lodging I stayed at the Adelaide Inn for its convenience to the downtown area and dining options in walking distance. The rates are reasonable, and the staff is friendly. There are some interesting amenities such as a koi pond, outdoor pool and hot tub, a BBQ and a micro golf putting green. Note the hotel is set up as a motor lodge, and there is no elevator so if you have accessibility issues make sure to request a lower level room. The rooms inside are modern, roomy and comfortable. While the hotel is convenient to downtown, it’s not a great place for walking downtown. I did it a couple times, and it was a bit of a hike which I didn’t mind but sections were not ideal for pedestrians. Plan to take an Uber downtown especially at night.

I didn’t have time to visit any wineries my first day, so I decided to check out the downtown area which is the center of action with tasting rooms and restaurants. I chose Serial Wines Tasting Lounge because the name sounded familiar. It is a fairly new tasting room, and I loved the distinct ambiance and décor – very modern and stylish with the feel of a lounge bar. It was the middle of the afternoon and not very busy which made for a personalized experience (this tasting room stays open later and attracts a later crowd). I enjoyed all the wines I tasted and was impressed by the staff’s knowledge of the winemaking process. They listened to my feedback in making suggestions to suit my tastes. I ended up buying a bottle of wine to take home. While I was there, I realized my favorite local wine bar sells some of their bottles which is how I recognized the name! It’s amazing how things come together sometimes.

I highly recommend Fish Gaucho for dinner. This restaurant specializes in Mexican cuisine and has an interesting twist on flights by focusing on flights of tequila! I never knew there were so many different styles and varieties. I ventured out with the Tequila 101 flight. It was interesting to compare and learn more about how tequila is made and what can influence the flavors. For an appetizer, I ordered the Morro Bay Guacamole with house-made warm tortilla chips. So yummy! For my entrée, I ordered the Flat Iron Carne Asada with sauteed tomatoes and onions, jalapeno mashed potatoes, chive oil, micro greens, served with flour tortillas. Again, so yummy! I ate it all and left very satisfied!

DAY 6: Paso Robles

Today was my day for touring wineries in Paso Robles! I learned the hard way reservations are required for many wineries. Despite being last minute, I got reservations for two wineries I really enjoyed: Tablas Creek and Calcareous Vineyard. I also learned it can be tricky getting Uber rides to and from the wineries. The reason is two-fold: the wineries are spread out around Paso Robles and some drivers don’t see it worthwhile to incur travel time that can’t be charged to the customer, and the hills (which make for beautiful landscapes) make cell coverage spotty. I chanced it and had no problems, but it did make me anxious! With more advance planning I would consider a local travel van. Some offer private tours and others offer seats, but they generally require advance reservations. Going this route means less worry.

1st stop: Tablas Creek

I loved my tasting at Tablas Creek. The vibe is chill and comfortable. I sat at a table with an umbrella on the patio overlooking the vineyard. There was no rush, water was provided for hydration, and the staff was helpful in explaining the wines in the flight. One fun bonus was getting a few extra pours to sample wines from different years of vintage to compare to wines I enjoyed in my flight. It was interesting to taste the same wines from different years and find them so different! So much can influence a vintage from the soil to the weather that year. The experience was educational with no pressure. In the end, I bought several bottles including a cute 375 ml ½ bottle to enjoy on my trip.

2nd stop: Calcareous Vineyard

I enjoyed Calcareous Vineyard for the stunning views and appetizers they offer to accompany wine flights. I ordered a cheese tray with my wine flight and found it delicious. It was good to have some sustenance to counter the wine tastings from the afternoon. It was a nice visit and there was no feel of rushing, but this winery did have a more commercial feel.

After my winery tour, I returned downtown for dinner at Thomas Hill Organics. I was seated in an interior tropical courtyard with a nice atmosphere. The staff was very friendly and treated me great as a solo diner. The menu is limited and regularly changes. I ordered the Strawberry Pangetta (a bread salad) and a glass of Sea Shell Rose. The salad was so fresh and flavorful. The seasonal burrata on the menu also sounded very good and looked great on other diners’ tables. Initially I planned to try an entrée, but I was satisfied after my salad so decided to stop there. It was just right!

DAY 7: Los Olivos / Santa Barbara

After Paso Robles, it was time to return to the coast. I missed it! My next stop was Santa Barbara, but on the way I stopped in Los Olivos in Santa Ynez Valley for a reserved wine tasting. It is a little out of the way but totally worth the stop. Los Olivos is a charming historic town with an impressive collection of wine tasting rooms within walking distance plus casual dining, art and shopping. There are also nearby vineyards to visit. If you are staying in Santa Barbara for more than a day, it also makes a great day trip to do a wine tasting stroll in the city or explore vineyards.

I only had time to visit one tasting room and selected Stolpman Tasting Room. It was recommended by a good friend and my favorite local wine shop back home. So I had to check it out! Stolpman is a family run winery that produces natural wines from vineyards in Ballard Canyon. The tasting room features estate wines and has a chill, relaxed and comfortable ambiance with a shaded outdoor patio and hanging lights. $20 tasting fee is waived with the purchase of 3 bottles (which I did). Water is provided for hydration which is a treat traveling in California. I really enjoyed the tasting, and the wines are very good. My favorites are the Rousseau, Uni, L’Avion, Syrah, and a special tasting I had of a pricey Syrah. Most bottles are reasonably priced, and it’s hard to find the estate wines elsewhere.

After my pleasant time in Los Olivos it was onward to Santa Barbara! The drive to Santa Barbara on Highway 1 has great scenic views. Santa Barbara was a last minute addition to my trip but turned out to be one of my favorite stops. It is a quintessential California beach town with palm trees everywhere, gorgeous white sandy beaches, and a laid back, cool vibe. I definitely want to return and spend more time here on a future trip.

Things to Do in Santa Barbara

  • Stearn’s Wharf and Santa Barbara Harbor

  • Downtown Santa Barbara

  • Wine Tasting Rooms

  • Funk Zone

  • Beaches

  • Runs on Beach Route

Places to Stay in Santa Barbara

  • West Beach Inn

On the way into Santa Barbara, I stopped for lunch at Boathouse Hendry’s Beach. This was one of my favorite meals of my entire trip! I seriously can’t say enough good things about this place. It is a laid back beach bar and restaurant with a surfer vibe. The prices are reasonable, and I enjoyed my table on the outdoor patio with great views of the ocean and beach. The beach-inspired cocktail menu fit the setting and was a nice change from wine tastings. I ordered a Strawberry Jalapeno Shrub (vodka, homemade strawberry jalapeno shrub, lemon and soda). At first, I was skeptical of the jalapeno, but I loved this drink. (As a side note, during my trip there was a definite “jalapeno” trend with cocktails and I’m here for it!) For my meal, I ordered the Grilled Chicken Salad with guacamole, black beans, grilled corn, cilantro, tortilla chips, tomatoes, cucumber and queso fresco served over mixed greens with tomato basil vinaigrette. Wow! This was one of the best meals of my trip. It was so flavorful. Everything tasted fresh, and it was a healthy yet satisfying option for dining out. As I am typing, I am craving that salad again. I also got a slice of Cheesecake to take “home” for dessert later. It was a lovely and peaceful lunch experience with no rush. Eating here really set the tone for my time in Santa Barbara!

I was pleased with my hotel, West Beach Inn, a reasonably priced boutique hotel located off the shore facing the ocean. It’s convenient to the beach and many local attractions such as Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor, West Beach, the Funk Zone, wine tasting rooms, shopping and dining options. The newly renovated rooms are clean, comfortable, and spacious, and my room had a large balcony with a view of the harbor. The hotel has plenty of free parking and a lovely outdoor (heated) pool and whirlpool area. Bonus features include a daily wine and cheese hour (fun!) and continental breakfast. The hotel also offers guests a free bike rental coupon for rides on the nearby Cabrillo Bike Path. Great casual vibe and not pretentious.

Stearn’s Wharf is a well-known destination close to the hotel. It has beautiful views of the ocean and shoreline. The beaches are wide with soft, white sand and palm trees as far as the eye can see. The Funk Zone is a short walk away, and I decided to visit Margerum Tasting Room for a wine tasting at the recommendation of one my friends who was reliable on other suggestions. The tasting room has a European feel with a large, covered patio and friendly atmosphere. The wines were good, and they offer small plates.

I timed my afternoon to return to West Beach Inn for the wine and cheese hour! It was fun enjoying a glass of wine and snacks around the pool with other guests. I took a glass back to my room and enjoyed it on my balcony overlooking the harbor with my cheesecake dessert from the Boathouse! I enjoyed my stay at West Beach Inn for the convenience and quaint, comfortable, cozy atmosphere.

DAY 8: Santa Barbara / Santa Monica

Today was the day to head South to Santa Monica and Los Angeles area. First I felt like a local with a run along the Beach Route in Santa Barbara. This Route follows the coast and is great for a run, walk or bike ride. It is well maintained with scenic views of the shoreline. In the mornings there is a lot of bustling activity.

On the way out of town, I stopped in Montecito to visit Rosewood Miramar Beach at the recommendation of a friend. The hotel is only minutes from West Beach Inn, and I timed my drive to get there around 11am since my plan was to have a drink at the outdoor bar. I paid $20 valet for parking my car and $24 on a cocktail, but the hotel is really something else! Just driving up to the stately entrance and walking into the lobby is an experience. Upon stepping inside, I was amazed at the beauty of the hotel. The bathrooms are gorgeous, and the grounds are beautifully landscaped. Literally everything about the hotel is elevated style and beauty. I couldn’t help but be a little envious of those who can afford lodging here…but enjoying a drink at the bar was the next best thing.

I was the first guest at the Beach Bar and got a cute little table overlooking the ocean and beach. It was so scenic and peaceful. I ordered a Sunset Margarita…incredibly yummy. I could have easily stayed there longer and continued relaxing in the environment. But I had places to go and more things to do. Before leaving, I walked out onto the beach for a short walk along the shoreline to see the ocean and nearby beach houses where supposedly famous stars live. I see why. In addition to the serene atmosphere, the sand feels incredibly soft and oddly didn’t stick to my feet when wet. Maybe one day I will stay at the Rosewood Miramar Beach and enjoy the full experience.

Next stop…Santa Monica! I chose Santa Monica as my home base while visiting the Los Angeles area because I love the vibe of Santa Monica and its location by the ocean. If there is anything this road trip confirmed for me (as if I didn’t know it already) it’s that I love the ocean and coastal towns.

Things to Do and See in Santa Monica

  • Santa Monica Pier

  • Santa Monica State Beach

  • Tongva Park

  • Original Muscle Beach

Where to Stay in Santa Monica

  • Oceanview Hotel

  • Shore Hotel

I have stayed at Oceanview Hotel and very much enjoyed it. For this trip I chose its sister hotel, The Shore Hotel down the street on Ocean Drive. I loved The Shore Hotel! My oceanfront room was gorgeous with a balcony overlooking the outdoor pool and ocean. As a bonus, the hotel has poolside food and beverage service. The hotel staff is very friendly and helpful.

Santa Monica Pier is a must do while visiting the area. It’s an iconic landmark with great views along the pier of the ocean as well as the shoreline and Santa Monica mountains in the dstance. It’s bustling with activity and has dining, shopping, outside entertainment and amusement rides to enjoy as well as access to the beach. Most of the shopping is fun souvenirs and beach wear but there are also some local artist booths. The original Muscle Beach is also a short walk away, and actually has parallel bars, uneven bars, and ring swing for use! Also nearby is Tongva Park with walking paths, gardens, waterfalls and interesting sculptures.

Third Street Promenade is a popular destination. It’s a four-block pedestrian area that runs down Third Street from Wilshire Boulevard to Colorado Avenue with many shops and activity. A lot of stores closed since my last visit pre-COVID, but it’s still a busy commercial area. On Wednesday mornings there is a farmers’ market.

If you’re looking for a place to lay out and enjoy the beach with amenities and people watching, the Annenberg Community Beach House is a unique community oceanfront property on Santa Monica State Beach with a pool and beach area. It looks like a cushy private club, but it’s a public facility with reasonable entry fees. The property was originally developed by William Randolph Hearst and his architect of choice, Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), for actress Marlon Davies. The Beach House combines elements of the historic estate with new amenities. There is no membership fee. Most amenities are free, and pool access is $4-$10/day. On certain days there is adults only sunset pool access (check the website).

For casual dinner, a great option is takeout from Joe’s Pizza for New York style pizza to eat at your room or on the beach. I enjoyed the pizza on my balcony with my Tablas Creek Estate 275 ml bottle I got earlier in the trip. It was perfect! After dinner, the sun was starting to set, so I walked out to the beach for sunset photos. Sunsets on the beach are incredibly beautiful.

DAY 9: Los Angeles / Santa Monica

Things to Do and See in Los Angeles

  • Griffith Park / Griffith Park Observatory

  • Runyon Canyon Park

  • Hollywood Walk of Fame

  • Rodeo Drive / Beverly Hills

Today was LA day! My first destination was Runyon Canyon Park to start the day off with a hike. I also recommend hiking the hills at Griffith Park to the top where Griffith Observatory looks out over the city. You can see great views of the Hollywood sign. Since I did that hike before, I wanted to try somewhere new. Runyon Canyon Park was a perfect choice because it’s near Hollywood and a hot spot with famous actors. I decided to get the full LA experience by taking the Metro to Hollywood & Highland which is close to the park entrance. Another bonus about The Shore Hotel is the short walk to the Santa Monica Metro station.

The Metro is cheap and convenient but can take extra time. The total trip time from Santa Monica to Hollywood & Highland was a little over an hour including one transfer. I didn’t mind the travel time but was nervous about getting off on the right stop. I downloaded a free transit app which allows you to input a destination and track your path. It was very reassuring until I realized how much power it was draining from my phone! I forgot to pack a charger and hoped my phone would last the day since I knew I’d be taking lots of photos.

  • Tip: Have a backup battery charge for your phone when you’re going to be out all day!

From the Hollywood & Highland Metro stop, Runyon Canyon Park is about a 10 minute walk. A bonus is the Metro stop lands you at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a classic tourist destination. It’s an LA sightseeing must, and you may want to linger in the area a bit. The Dolby Theatre (where the Oscars are held) is also nearby and offers tours with interesting Oscars history. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is another popular destination in the area where you can see handprints and messages of famous Hollywood stars in concrete outside the entrance.

After some sightseeing, it’s on to Runyon Canyon Park to feel like a local! I could tell I was heading in the right direction when I saw crowds of people in workout clothes. Some were holding yoga mats, and everyone was dressed to be seen. Once inside the park there were different trail options. I opted for the East Ridge Trail “energetic” counter-clockwise route for a challenge. I had on sneakers and felt ready. Wow! I wasn’t expecting the trail to be such a challenge! One half of the path was sandy dirt with steep climbs and narrow walkways over tall heights. The payoff was beautiful views of the city. I marveled at the fact some men were running this trail! They had to be regulars, but still…I followed the loop the full distance until I ended back at the start of the trailhead.

After my hike, I felt energetic and alive. Next up was Beverly Hills, specifically The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. When I called they had no available reservations but informed me they allow walk-ins at the bar between 3pm and 5pm. Originally I planned to take the Metro, but I was concerned about my phone battery and didn’t want to risk using the transit app again (which I had deleted by this point) or worry about getting off at the wrong stop. Had I been with anyone else, I would have taken an Uber. But I had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy on my own, so I decided to walk down Sunset Boulevard in the direction of Beverly Hills and enjoy the sights along the way. I figured I could stop anytime along the way for lunch, drinks, or change my mind about taking the Metro or an Uber. The walk is not for everyone (and perhaps not most people), but I enjoyed it. It gave me a chance to see different neighborhoods along the way and things that can be overlooked in a car.

When I saw the famous Beverly Hills sign it was like a mirage! I couldn’t believe I made it. The Beverly Hills Hotel, home to The Polo Lounge, was soon in my sights, but I had time to spare before the walk-in period. Will Rogers Memorial Park across the street from the hotel was the perfect spot to relax! It's a small park but very beautiful and peaceful. A highlight is the pond in the center where turtles and ducks swim around and sunbathe on the rocks. In the midst of all the city activity, this park is an oasis. Another plus is the on-site public restrooms which are well maintained. I came prepared with a change of clothes since I knew I’d be hiking and walking around. The park is a nice opportunity to pause and reflect in nature without the distraction of email, news or social media.

The Polo Lounge

I should explain my determination for visiting The Polo Lounge. Almost 17 years prior I visited Los Angeles for the first time. It was a fairy tale weekend where I attended the Emmys. One of the highlights was dining at The Polo Lounge which was nothing short of magical at the time. I was curious if the location would still hold its allure for me. I can say The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Polo Lounge are still as nostalgic and beautiful as I remembered!

It was interesting walking up to the Beverly Hills Hotel on foot among the valet of fancy European cars. But I walked with confidence. Walking through the hotel lobby, I felt transported back in time to the days of old Hollywood glamour. At The Polo Lounge, I was greeted by a friendly host who treated me like a VIP. Despite being a walk-in, I didn’t have to sit at the bar and was seated at a table overlooking the courtyard patio with a white tablecloth and floral arrangement. The hostess also assisted in charging my phone while I was there. Hooray! Nearby a gentleman played the piano. The staff wore formal attire. I felt special and took it all in. I ordered a cocktail called “Pretty in Pink” with Grey Goose Le Citron flavored vodka, raspberry, pineapple, lemon, and club soda. It was divine – fresh, juicy, with a flower garnish. Bread and butter are complimentary, and let’s just say after a taste I fell off the wagon of avoiding bread! All the food that came out to tables around me looked amazing. The menu prices are a bit steep, which I expected going in. I ordered the Chicken Tortilla Soup as a late lunch. It was just right and really good!! It has a smoky taste and was the perfect amount of nourishment for lunch without being too heavy. Diced avocados finished off the taste. I would definitely order again. It was the perfect lunch, and one of the best cocktails I have EVER had!

It was also nice no one rushed me even though I was dining solo and not ordering a lot. In fact, the staff was incredibly attentive throughout my time there and treated me like a special guest. I had a starstruck moment when Al Pacino walked by my table with a man who appeared likely his agent and took a seat just a few tables away. I kept my composure, and it was probably good I didn’t have my phone or I would have been tempted to request a photo. I figured that would be “gauche”. After savoring the experience, eventually it was time to move on.

Maybourne Hotel

I stopped at the Maybourne Hotel in Beverly Hills at the recommendation of my aunt who raved about the hotel. The hotel is in Beverly Hills close to The Polo Lounge and steps away from Rodeo Drive. It exudes stately European charm with several different restaurants and bars: The Terrace (outside patio bar); The Maybourne Bar (a cocktail and wine bar); The Maybourne Café (garden café); The Cigar and Whiskey Bar; and The Rooftop Pool. I opted for The Terrace which overlooks the lawns of Beverly Canon Gardens and has the feel of a European piazza. It was a beautiful day to be outside, and I enjoyed a glass of wine amongst the scenery.

After leaving The Maybourne Hotel, I returned to Santa Monica for dinner. I opted for an Uber and had a quiet, relaxing (and quick!) ride back to Santa Monica. At my hotel, I regrouped and made a reservation for Blue Plate Taco located right next to the Shore Hotel. What a fun experience with amazing food and drinks! I ate outside on the patio where they have several gigantic heaters on the ready when it’s chilly. It was windy so everyone (and anything loose) was blowing around. For my entrée, I ordered a BPT Steak Bowl with sweet soy marinated steak, red onions, cilantro and tomatillo salsa along with avocado, black beans, farmer’s market veggies, and a side of black beans. I also ordered a Hibiscus Margarita with jalapeno salt around the rim (yum!). I ate and drank every drop. While there I enjoyed picturesque views of the ocean and watched the sunset. Had it not been so chilly and windy, I would have stayed longer. The staff was friendly and attentive, and the atmosphere relaxed with no rush. I would definitely return the next time I visit. Back at my hotel room I finished off the night watching Beverly Hills Cop on TV which was so appropriate!

DAY 10: San Diego

Things to Do and See in San Diego

  • Coronado Beach

  • La Jolla Cove

  • Whale Watching Boat Tour

Where to Stay in San Diego

  • Inn by the Sea at La Jolla

Before leaving Santa Monica, I acted like a local again with a run along the Santa Monica Beach Path. The path is well maintained and scenic. There was a surprising amount of early morning activity including beach volleyball, runners, cyclists, walkers, and roller bladers. Next it was on to San Diego!

My first stop in the San Diego area was Coronado Island to visit the historic landmark Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Beach. The hotel was originally built in 1888 and has hosted celebrities, royalty, Presidents, and many tourists. The property has expanded to include village rentals that feature living/dining areas as well as kitchens, fireplaces, balconies and terraces.

To get to Coronado Island, you drive over San Diego Coronado Bridge which extends 2.1 miles over San Diego Bay with a vertical clearance of 200 feet to allow ships to pass. It is very long and high with amazing views! You can also reach Coronado Island by water taxi or the Coronado Ferry from the San Diego waterfront to Ferry Landing.

Coronado is a popular tourist destination. It is a little too busy for my personal taste, but the advantage is having a lot to see and do within walking distance. I paid $25 to park in a nearby parking deck and walked among the crowds towards the backside of Hotel Del Coronado facing the beach. The hotel is massive with several bars, restaurants and lounge areas. It has the feel of a little city with signs pointing out directions to various locations within the property. Access to and from the hotel and beach is fluid and easy.

At the Sun Deck, I ordered a Spicy Strawberry Sun Burst cocktail (Tanteo Habanero Tequila, Lime Juice, Agave, Strawberries) to take to the beach. (Again, the sweet and spicy trend!) It was so yummy. The beach has soft, white sand and a wide area for lounge chairs as well as a cluster of large rocks near the shoreline. I enjoyed people watching while sitting on the rocks. It was the most people I saw congregated in any particular area during my trip. It was a little overwhelming, but I also felt a buzz of excitement from the crowd.

My next stop was La Jolla By the Sea where Inn By the Sea boutique hotel was home base during my San Diego stay. Having not visited San Diego before, it was hard deciding where to stay. I did a lot of research before choosing La Jolla. It has a more relaxed and laid back vibe and only a short drive to other San Diego attractions. La Jolla Cove is also a big draw, plus there are boutiques, restaurants and beaches. I would stay here again if I returned to San Diego.

Inn By the Sea is convenient to La Jolla attractions. From the outside it looks a bit outdated, but the inside is renovated and modern. There is a heated pool which is nicely decorated and guest lounge off the pool area with complimentary coffee and vending machines (but no continental breakfast).

I spent my first afternoon walking around the area and exploring La Jolla Cove. La Jolla Cove is a beautiful coastline area with picturesque views and sea lions in close proximity to the shoreline. In the afternoon there are artisan booths around the Cove. There are also smaller beaches where you can walk down to sit on the beach or wade in the water. Many tourists were bold in walking onto cliffs to get photos of sea lions despite the ropes and signs warning to stay away from sea lions and their pups not to mention the treacherous angles. When I got home, I read about a woman being chased by a sea lion protecting its pup and was not surprised given how bold people were when I visited. I got great photos without having to risk life or limb and without agitating any wildlife.

After walking around the Cove and downtown area I stopped at George’s at the Cove. It is on the shoreline with amazing views of La Jolla Cove. Because I had no reservation, they only offered me a walk-in seating in the bar area. However, it turned out to be almost as good as the regular tables. The bar area overlooks La Jolla Cove with great views and the only difference is it’s not directly by the windows. I had a glass of wine and enjoyed my time. On the way out, the Mila boutique next door caught my eye. I wanted to buy a birthday gift for my sister so I stopped in for a look. Of course I didn’t find anything for her but something for myself! When the owner caught me checking out a maxi dress, she suggested I try it on. Normally I don't like to be fussed over, but I went with the flow. The dress was reasonably priced and a perfect fit. I bought it! (Side note: when I wore the dress back home, it got rave reviews, and everyone wanted to know where I got it!)

Next I trekked to The Taco Stand, a popular local taqueria and hangout. I read great reviews so wanted to check it out. This is a very casual restaurant with inside seating and outdoor patio tables. I came prepared expecting a long line (you order and pay at the register before sitting), but did not expect to stand in line as long as I did! It ended up being around 40 minutes, and several times I questioned why I was waiting so long for tacos. At some point I had invested enough time that I had to stick it out and see whether the place lived up to the hype. So was it worth it? Yes, the food tasted fresh and authentic. I’ve had tacos just as good or better back home, but it was a fun experience. I took my tacos plus chips and guacamole back to my hotel and enjoyed on the balcony watching the sun set. I opened one of the Stolpman Syrah bottles I bought earlier in the trip. It was a fun and relaxing evening.

DAY 11: San Diego

I love a good farmer’s market or outdoor festival, and on Sundays in La Jolla there is an Open Air Market from 9am-1pm with over 120 vendors. A cool thing is all proceeds benefit children’s programs at La Jolla Elementary. It’s a popular attraction for locals and tourists and worth a visit.

My main activity for the day was the San Diego Whale Watching Cruise. I was excited about going out on the water and possibly seeing whales in person. If you do the cruise, do as suggested and dress in layers to stay warm! I wore a long sleeve boat shirt and shorts. It was chilly, and I wished I’d worn pants! The cruise sails on a replica of the “America” schooner that beat Great Britain’s best to win a European boat race in 1851 that later became known as America’s Cup Race in honor of the American invention. The cruise departs from a channel which is fairly shallow until the BIG dropoff about 6-9 miles out where whales hang out for food. Our group was skeptical but hopeful we would see whales. It seemed a long time before we reached the “deep blue sea” – maybe an hour out? Then we waited. The crew ran round the deck looking for whale sightings and enlisted the help of the group after educating us on signs. I still wasn’t sure I would know when I saw one. Then suddenly people starting shouting “whale!”. Then whales were everywhere!! We had whales all around our boat. It was cool and majestic seeing these large creatures in action. The blue spray characteristic of blue whales was obvious in the water. Photos do not do justice to what we witnessed. It was exhilarating, and everyone on the boat felt bonded as we yelled in excitement. I loved the tour and highly recommend it. When do you get an opportunity to see whales up close and personal?

The cruise lasts several hours, so it was afternoon when I made it back to my hotel. This was my last night, so I decided to take a shower and clean up more than normal for an early dinner. I chose to end my trip with a return to George’s at the Cove. I had a temporary feeling of disappointment when online reservations were closed for the day. I called the restaurant and explained I was a solo diner on my final night, and they worked me in. Yeah! Once there, I was seated in Level 2 at one of the window tables overlooking La Jolla Cove. It was a perfect night. I ordered the “Ego Boost” cocktail which came out with an adorable flower garnish. The drink has rose infused mezcal, Alpe amaro, violet liquer, and lemon which translates to delicate with a kick. For my entrée I ordered the Swordfish with grilled vegetables. It was SO GOOD. The fish had a crusty texture and not too heavy or too thick. I loved the grilled vegetables which included asparagus (one of my current obsessions). The flavor of the dish burst in my mouth. Just delicious. I ate almost every drop. This may sound dramatic, but it was the best swordfish I can remember eating in recent memory. I ended with another Ego Boost cocktail instead of dessert. I had been pretty conservative with drinks since my wine tasting in Carmel, so I felt I deserved to be a little extra on my last night.

After dinner, I enjoyed walking around La Jolla Cove again and watching the sea lions. The Cove is so peaceful and beautiful. Walking back to my hotel, I felt content yet wistful knowing it was time to return to regular life the next day. What a trip I had!

DAY 12: Departure

I didn’t count today because it was a travel day. I got up early and headed out to the airport which was an easy drive. The car rental return is located separately from the airport which I didn’t quite appreciate, but I left early enough to allow for delays. Returning the car was straightforward, and there are bus shuttles to transport you to the airport terminal.

Until the next journey! Ending with some inspiring videos in the meantime..

Restless Sea at Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive

Blue Whale Sighting on Whale Watching Cruise

A lady bug for luck!

© Melissa Ewing, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any material in this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to, all photographs and videos in this blog. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Ewing as the author with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Julia Fleischner
Julia Fleischner
Aug 17, 2022

I felt like being on the road with you, Melissa, while reading :-) Super nice detailed report, loved the hotel and restaurant recommendations. I've done parts of the Pacific Coast Highway/US1 a couple times, mostly with focus on the the Southern part (LA - San Diego). There are a lot of cute beach towns to explore on this part, which I can let you know for next time ;-) After reading your itinerary I definitely put the Northern part (SanFran - LA) on my bucket list again, especially with time to explore some of the wineries you mentioned and Santa Barbara.

Melissa Ewing
Aug 18, 2022
Replying to

Awww thank you! You always have great trips so I will definitely remember to ask you about Southern California and more beach towns to explore when I go again! Because I will definitely be going back! You will love the Northern part of the state as well. Thanks so much for reading and your feedback!


Aug 15, 2022

Wow!! First if all I commend you for a solo road trip in California. I love the pictures and the narration makes me feel like I’m right there with you. What great memories💞I plan to go to California for a road trip in 3 years and will definitely use your travel experiences to help plan my trip.

Melissa Ewing
Aug 18, 2022
Replying to

Thank you so much and glad to know my experience may inspire you in some way! California is such a beautiful state you will love traveling there when you go!

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