A Journey Down the California Coast

March 24, 2018

Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links, but rather my own personal recommendations based on my experience

It’s been 10 days since I returned from my trip to California. As I’m currently looking out the kitchen window from where I sit writing this post, all I can see is white. That’s right, it’s snowing. In late March. And I don’t mean snowing as in a few cute little flurries here and there. No, we’re talking a full-blown winter storm, which wouldn’t be complete without freezing rain, wet and heavy snowfall, and wind. I mean seriously guys, the official first day of spring was March 20th….4 days ago. But, here we are. IOWA ROCKS!!!

Since the weather sucks and I’m stuck inside, I decided to relive my week-long road trip down the California Coast on Highway 1 by (finally) blogging about it. If you’re looking for a condensed version of the trip with our itinerary to help you plan, you can find it here. Otherwise, stick around and keep reading as I ramble on a little more about our adventure.

I flew out of Omaha around 6 am Wednesday morning and had arrived in San Francisco by 11 am. From there, I got a Lyft to the hostel I was staying at so I could drop my stuff off. Check-in wasn’t until 3 pm, but I was able to store my luggage there while I explored the city. I took off on foot with no idea where I was going. I ended up eating at a restaurant called Original Perfect Hamburger, which I have to admit was kind of a strange place. I was literally the only person in there other than two employees. It was like a mix of Chinese, Italian, and American all in one very interesting menu. I ordered the vegetable chow mein, which was prepared right next to me. It was delicious, but it cost me $15! I’m not sure it was worth what I paid, but you live and you learn. After fueling up, I continued to walk through Chinatown and Japantown, and eventually reached the water. After walking along the Bay and checking out some of the piers, it was starting to get dark and I was ready for a shower. I made my way back to the hostel, where I met one of my roommates, Alison. Turns out Alison, who’s from New York, has family in Iowa – small world, right? For dinner, I walked across the street to Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers, a tiny burger joint with only 3 tables and had the mini deluxe burger and fries. SO. GOOD.

On Thursday, I met my best friend and travel buddy (Taylor) at the airport, where we rented a white Nissan Versa for $500 for the week. Turns out, being under 25 and dropping the car off at a different location than we got it comes at a price. After getting that all taken care of, we were off! Well, off to find a place to park the car while we roamed the city for the day. By the time we got the car parked we were both ready to eat, so we decided on Honey Honey Cafe & Crepery where I thoroughly enjoyed my strawberry and Nutella crepe.  fullsizeoutput_18fc.jpeg

Lots of walking, a couple happy hour drinks and calamari at Ciopellis, and some Krispy Kreme later, we were pooped. The AirBnB we stayed at in San Mateo was perfect for one night’s sleep and a shower.

The next morning, after a failed attempt at watching the sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge (it was super foggy so we couldn’t see the bridge), we ate a hearty breakfast at Howard’s Cafe before making our way towards Monterey.

That french toast was seriously to die for

Friday played out to be quite an eventful day with some unexpected mishaps. Heading south, we made several stops along the highway, pulling off for pictures and to simply soak in the beauty. It was time for lunch by the time we got to Monterey, so we stopped at The Warf Marketplace for a quick bite, then drove on down to Carmel. On our way, we did the scenic 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach, which was both beautiful and full of million dollar homes. I think we had more fun oohing and awing at the houses than the views, although both were equally worth the drive (and the money…it costs $10.25 per vehicle). When we reached Carmel, we were more than ready to stretch our legs a bit. Walking up and down the streets of this adorable, quaint little gem of a beach town made for the perfect afternoon before hitting the road again, this time for Big Sur.

This was taken on one of our pull-offs, Pescadero State Beach

Here’s where it starts to get interesting…

Our plan was to stay in San Simeon that night and then backtrack to Big Sur Saturday before moving on. It was a beautiful drive, albeit a little foggy, and everything was wonderful…until it got dark. We had seen a few signs along the way saying the highway was closed ahead and there was no detour, but for whatever reason we decided to keep driving as we assumed there had to be some other way around. Oh was there ever. We reached the end of the road with nowhere to go but back from where we had come from. In need of gas, we stopped at the one and only gas station around that doubled as some sort of hotel and asked the cashier about our options. We had two; stay there for the night or brave a sketchy side road that would take us around the closure and eventually back to the highway. Of course, we chose option two. By then, it was completely dark out and the fog was heavy. This road was unmarked, unlit, had no side rails to save us from the black abyss off the right shoulder of the “road” (cliff), and was reduced to one lane much of the time. I think it ended up taking us an hour and a half to drive 20-some miles of the twisty-turny road of death, then another hour or so to our hotel in San Simeon. But hey, it was an adventure and we lived to see another day.

Pigeon Point Light Station
We pulled off for a picture before driving over the bridge

As you can probably imagine, we decided not to make the drive back to Big Sur the next day, so we cut our losses and moved forward on Saturday. Heading south on HWY 1, we stopped to see the elephant seals shored up on the beach. It’s mating season for these hilarious creatures and there were hundreds of them on the beach below. Moving on, we drove through Cambria, Cayucos, and Morro Bay before stopping in San Luis Obispo to walk around downtown and grab a snack at Mint + Craft.

After brunch we continued down through Pismo Beach, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. For dinner, we had In-N-Out Burger in Ventura and stayed at the Vagabond Inn. We grabbed Krispy Kreme (we may have an addiction) on our way to Huntington Beach, which is where we stayed Sunday night. Malibu was a lovely drive through town before stopping in Los Angeles at the Griffith Observatory. Seeing the Hollywood Sign was our only to-do in LA, so we moved on from the observatory. We had lunch in downtown Manhattan Beach at BrewCo where I had a tasty salad and some of the best sweet potato fries ever! Before leaving for Huntington Beach, we (obviously) stopped for dessert at the Manhattan Beach Creamery – we were not disappointed.

I had ice cream, but these beauties make for a prettier photo

Finally arriving in Huntington Beach, we stopped by our AirBnB to drop things off and recoup a bit before hitting the beach. We spent the next little while walking along the beach and taking in the beauty that surrounded us. There was live music and so. many. dogs. California is crazy dog-friendly – it’s awesome! Then we shared a piece Hula Pie from Duke’s on the beach, while watching the sunset. In case you’re wondering, “Hula Pie is made with Kimo’s favorite macadamia nut ice cream piled high on a chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and more macadamia nuts” according to their website. It was ah-maz-ing.


Monday morning’s breakfast was at Urth Cafeé in Laguna Beach and it was very pleasant. After our bellies were full, we were off to San Diego. Of course, not before driving through Dana point, San Clemente, and Oceanside, Carlsbad, Del Mar, and Coronado. Once we reached our final destination, you guessed it, it was time to eat. Our pick this time was Fat Fish Cantina Grill where I ordered grilled corn on the cob…super difficult to eat at a restaurant, wouldn’t recommend it. However, it tasted great!


After lunch we drove to Old Town San Diego and wandered around, going in and out the shops and stores as we pleased. It was a super cute area! Moving along, we spent time at Seaport Village listening to street music, watching kids fly kites, and enjoying our surroundings. And as you should know by now, we couldn’t leave without dessert, so Gelato Paradiso it was. Yummmm.

I was probably saying “mmmmmm”

After spending some more time wandering and driving around, we were ready to relax a little at our AirBnB. A laid back evening and a good night’s sleep later, we had breakfast at Konito’s Cafe in Pacific Beach Tuesday morning, where I ordered the Big Breakfast #2 (french toast, potatoes, eggs, and an english muffin). It was certainly big and even more certainly tasty. Following breakfast, we walked for quite a while along the beach, dipping our toes in the ocean. It was a bit chilly for us, so we stuck with just toes (wimps, I know). Later on we went to Liberty Station and walked around the indoor public market, then outside along the bay. It was gorgeous and so peaceful!

We then made our way to La Jolla, which ended up being one of my favorite areas. As an unexpected treat, we saw seals and sea lions spread out all over La Jolla Cove below us. I would guess we probably spent an hour just watching them – they are seriously so entertaining! Possibly my new favorite animals, after dogs of course. Once we finally moved on from those joyous creatures, we did some walking around town and stopped in a bookstore to look around. Lunch was at the Burger Lounge, which was delightful. That is, if you scratch the fact that both Tay and I spilled our drinks. Yep, you read that right. Both of us…separately…at different times. Of course, I spilled mine inside, making a huge mess, while Taylor at least had the courtesy to spill hers outside. Oops. Later on, to close out a memorable trip, we got a tasty treat at Boba Bar and Desserts. I had the peanut butter oreo cheesecake puffle and let me tell you, it was goooood.

Boy am I in trouble if Ames ever gets one of these

Bright and early Wednesday morning we were at the San Diego International Airport, where we returned the car that treated us so well and prepared to say “goodbye for now” to Cali. The whole trip was perfect for us, even the not-so-perfect parts. Both Taylor and I are kind of uptight control freaks, so to just fly by the seat of our pants was exactly what we needed.

Don’t worry California, I’ll be back.



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