“What about a family road trip?” my dad asked. He and my mom talked about driving down the Pacific Coast Highway after hearing some friends rave about their experience. Both of them expected my sister and me to come along by starting in San Francisco where we picked them up from the airport. Of course, we agreed. With our parents living on the East Coast, their visits were already infrequent. We hoped that by showing them the beauty of California, we might convince them to move here.
I also knew full well that once we assented, we would take over the planning of the itinerary and the scheduled stops along the way. We had three days to cover the distance between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Part 1 of this road trip series will cover our favorite discoveries from Monterey to Big Sur.
First stop was in Butterfly Town, Pacific Grove, for lunch at Red Cafe. The red house in which the restaurant opened was built in the 1890’s and sits as a local landmark on Lighthouse Avenue. Diners can feast on the highly recommended calamari steak sandwich or the dungeness crab cake benedict on the wrap-around porch or within the former living and dining rooms of the house. Sunlight poured into the open windows as we finished our meal that was accompanied by ice cold lemonades and Arnold Palmers.
We wanted to get one hike in before we settled down for the evening. So after looking at different trails in the area, we settled on the Sand Hill and Cypress Grove trails in Point Lobos State Reserve. Even though my parents are not experienced hikers, they found both trails well kept and relatively easy to complete. Both are under a mile, yet we found ourselves spending a couple of hours on foot just marveling and snapping photos/videos of what we saw and heard.
The Sand Hill trail provides absolutely stunning ocean views. There would be moments when the whole family seemed to be lost in quiet thought as we all stared out over the rugged shoreline. In the distance, we could hear the sea lions barking until the noise brought us to view a group of them sunbathing.
The Cypress Grove trail loops through beautiful cypress trees that create wonderful frames for the cliffs, the sedimentary rock, and the Pacific ocean. There’s a red, orange hue that fascinated me about these trees that seem to cling sometimes haphazardly into the earth between the rocks.
Once we finished the hike, it was time to check-in to our room at the Asilomar Conference Center. Originally built as a YWCA Leadership camp in 1913 and located within a state park, the site include a communal dining hall and a social room full of pool tables.
Every guest room on campus is walking distance to the beach. We had a fireplace in our room that we lit after we set our bags down. Hearing the wood crackle under the flames as we recounted our first day on the road was both relaxing and cozy.
The next morning, we took off bright and early to drive deeper into Big Sur after breakfast. There were so many beautiful stretches of road and coast that propelled us to stop and take pictures at vista points along the way. What I remember most about that day’s drive was Pfeiffer Beach. I was warned ahead of time that this beach was very easy to miss. There’s no clear sign indicating when to turn off Highway 1. Luckily, we got tipped off by a park ranger after we had erroneously entered into Pfeiffer State Park. We were to look for the small yellow sign that read “Narrow Road.” That was it. We made a really sharp right at the turnoff and proceeded down an even tinier road that led us deeper into the forest. After 2.5 miles, we passed a plaque that reassured us Pfeiffer beach was straight ahead.
I remembered my mom’s face when we walked onto the beach. Her expression of awe made the entire drive so worth it. Backed by bluffs and situated behind stacks of huge rocks, the beach left us marveling at the strength of the Pacific Ocean waves. Swimming would be dangerous here. The strong waves have carved out the largest rocks over time, creating the cave we see today.
I loved the wild, free spirit of the beach. It seemed to gloat to visitors, “Don’t you dare think about setting up a boardwalk here!”
Check back next week for Part 2 of this road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway 1.