Monday, August 17, 2015

Highway 1: Cambria to the Bay Area

If there is one thing I have learned from planning road trips, it's that the drive to and from the final destination is half the fun. On our recent trip to San Luis Obispo, we decided to make a day out of our drive home and head up Highway 1. This option is definitely longer than the alternate route along Hwy 101, but there are so many beautiful spots to stop along the way that it almost feels like another vacation.

Our first stop of the morning was Centrally Grown in Cambria. This relatively new spot along the Central Coast is sure to become a must-stop for visitors and locals alike. The grounds feature edible gardens, lawn games and sculptures along with hand-crafted chairs and fences that are pieces of art just on their own! Our kids loved running around in all the open space and there was so much room to explore that we didn't feel like we were getting in anyone's way.

Rule #1 for ladder golf: Stay hydrated.
Centrally Grown features a market place with a deli, coffee bar and local produce along with snacks, cheese, wine and beer. Pretty much everything you need to enjoy a relaxing picnic in the garden! We arrived early, so we stuck with coffee and a loaf of their ginger bread. While we were enjoying our breakfast in the garden they were warming up the pizza oven and it definitely made me wish we were staying for lunch.

Really yummy!

A short drive down the road from Centrally Grown are the Elephant Seals in San Simeon. I had heard that this was a stop you had to make but I was still surprised by how much we all enjoyed it! The pictures really do not do the experience justice. The noises that the seals make is something you just have to hear in person and the same can be said about the way they flop themselves along the sand. The kids loved this stop and were screaming and laughing as the seals barked. Definitely a place I would like to return to during breeding season when the male seals fight one another to show their dominance.

Our next destination was McWay Falls which is about an hour and a half drive from the Elephant Seals. The falls are probably one of the most photographed destinations in Big Sur so parking can be a bit of a challenge. The good news is that you can view the falls from the highway! We found parking just up the road from the entrance to the short hiking trail, but chose to just take in the views from the highway (which runs parallel to the trail but a little higher up). The colors of the water are so spectacular along the coast and getting to see the waterfall was a nice treat that required minimal effort on our part.

Our last stop for the day was Big Sur River Inn, located just 30 minutes up the road. I was initially hesitant at making this stop since we were driving on 4th of July and I knew there would be crowds. Thankfully most of the people were eating at the restaurant when we arrived and we were able to grab some snacks from the General Store and head down to the river. This stop was SO worth it, even on a crowded holiday! The kids both loved the novelty of sitting in chairs that were in the middle of a river!

By this point in the day the kids were ready for a nap and we got lucky with some very light traffic for the last leg of the trip. Overall the longer drive was definitely worth it and it gave us a great sneak peak at what Big Sur has to offer.

A couple other ideas for stops between the Bay Area and Central California (including some tasty Mediterranean food just off the freeway in Monterey):

Last minute getaway to Carmel and Monterey

What are you favorite stops on Highway 1?

Details: The drive along Highway 1 from Cambria to Berkeley is about 5.5 hours without stops. There are great places to stop all along the way so I would plan on making a day of it. We left Atascadero around 9:30 and got home by 5:00. 2 coffees and a loaf of ginger bread was $9 at Centrally Grown. Snacks at Big Sur River Inn were $5. We packed sandwiches and snacks for the family the night before, so our costs were minimal.

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