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After a brief interval, let’s get back to the road trip!

For ease and for budget, we said goodbye to our first rental car when we arrived in San Francisco. We spent five amazing days exploring The Golden City, and then it was time to get back on the road.


San Francisco to Santa Cruz.

We are back on the road again following a lovely 5 Days in San Francisco. From our accommodation in North Beach, we caught a bus and a train to San Francisco airport and an Air Train to the rental car building, where we picked up our new car from Enterprise. We drove from the airport to the coast, making our first stop in Half Moon Bay just as the rain began. We grabbed lunch from the Half Moon Bay Bakery and enjoyed our sandwiches, pastries and cookies down at Poplar Beach.

The rain came and went as we continued our drive south. We pulled into Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park as the rain began to ease, and here we were treated to a beautiful rainbow. We made a pit stop at the Swanton Berry Farm. Sadly we couldn’t do our own strawberry picking as they only run this on the weekends, so instead, we treated ourselves to a cider and a pie. A couple of minutes down the road, we stopped at Shark Fin Cove. We didn't climb down to the beach, but we did walk around the cliffside and along the old railway track.

It was nearing sunset by this point, so we drove the final stretch to our destination for the night – Santa Cruz. We checked into our hotel and made it down to Santa Cruz Wharf in time to watch the end of the sunset and watch the sea lions play in the water below.


We only spent one night in Hotel Solares, but it had everything we needed for our stay. The room was large, had good amenities and was clean. Free parking was included on site. The area was quiet and felt safe. There was a pool area, which we didn’t use being there in winter, but it looked very cute lit up with fairy lights at night. The included breakfast was some fruit and bagels. The lift was out of service when we were there, but we are no strangers to carrying our luggage upstairs.


Santa Cruz to Monterey.

With such little time in Santa Cruz, we were up early to make the most of our morning. We woke at sunrise – and what a beautiful sunrise it was. Clark went for run along the coast, all the way up to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at Lighthouse Point. Bec enjoyed the sunrise from the hotel window, opting to exercise in the warmth of the room instead of the 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit) outside. We packed up, grabbed a quick breakfast from the hotel and checked out. For coffee, we went to a café called 11th Hour, and as Clark exclaimed as soon as we left the café, “best coffee we’ve had in the US so far”. We walked Pacific Avenue, admiring the buildings, checking out the stores and of course, stopping by the bookstore (and maybe leaving with a couple of gifts). Before leaving Santa Cruz, we drove to the Wharf one last time, which was surrounded by sea lions, pelicans and seagulls, all enjoying their breakfast.

Just before lunch, we drove 15 minutes to Capitola Beach. We walked along the esplanade, the beach, the wharf and admired the rainbow buildings of the Venetian Court Residences. There were plenty of options for lunch, but we ended up at My Thai Beach and shared a delicious plate of chicken spring rolls and a beef pad see ew.

We drove the rest of the way to our destination for the night – Monterey. We checked in to our motel and drove to the historic district of Cannery Row. We explored this area for an hour, then drove over to Fisherman’s Wharf. By this point the sun had set and the full moon was lighting up the sky. We had no idea what we felt like for dinner, so we drove to the beautifully lit up Alvarado Street and ended up at MidiCi for pizza, pasta and a glass of wine.


This motel was a short drive from the main streets of Monterey. It was one of the cheaper locations we stayed at on our California road trip, which really helped the budget. Our room was a decent size, clean and included basic amenities. The area was quiet, but we could hear people in the neighbouring rooms and footsteps from the room above us. The heater warmed up the room fast but was very loud. We didn’t keep it on at night, but we had plenty of layers to keep warm while we slept. Overall, it was a budget motel, but was safe, clean and gave us everything we needed for the one-night stay.


Monterey to San Simeon.

We had planned to start our day of scenic roads on the 17-Mile Drive. However, when we checked the weather in the morning, it reported that in the late afternoon, the bad weather would return. We did not want to rush the end of our day, so we ended up skipping the 17-Mile Drive, as sad as we were to make that decision. Instead we drove straight to Carmel-By-The-Sea. Entering this cute town felt like stepping into a fairytale. We grabbed a coffee and breakfast from Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. We enjoyed our coffee wandering the streets, checking out all the adorable architecture and beautiful fairytale-inspired houses. The farmer's market had just opened, so we took a quick lap around the stalls before jumping back in the car and heading to Scenic Road. The name of this road is exactly what it is. The road hugs the coastline, passing peaceful beaches, amazing houses and gorgeous vista points. We spotted dolphins and seals at Carmel Beach and once we got to the end of Scenic Road it was time to jump back on Highway 1, bound for Big Sur.

Big Sur was a point in this road trip we were both incredibly excited for and it completely lived up to our expectations. At every bend and every pull over there was a new and exciting scenic view of the California Coastline. From uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean to tree tunnels, rivers, towering redwoods, mountains and bridges, this drive really has it all. We stopped multiple times along the road. Too many times to list in a blog. Some of our favourite spots were Bixby Bridge, Great Sur Vista Point, Partington Cove, the vista point before the Seaview School turn off and Big Creek Cove Vista Point.

We had also planned on stopping by Hearst Castle, but we spent so much time exploring Big Sur that we decided to go straight to our motel, where we checked in just before sunset. The motel was right on the beach, with seating, games and fire pits for guests to use. We watched the sunset from this area, had dinner at the hotel restaurant, Cavalier, and enjoyed some wine to end a beautiful day.


This motel, located right on the beach in San Simeon, was an unexpectedly great find for our road trip. We chose this place as it was more affordable than the surrounding towns, and it really worked out in our favour. The best part is undoubtedly the location. There is beach access right from the back of the motel and they have seating, games and firepits that they light at sunset. The restaurant had a range of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The staff at the hotel and restaurant were very lovely. Our room was nothing special, but it felt clean and safe and wasn’t too bad for a short stay. There are rooms with ocean views as well. We would definitely recommend this place as an ending or starting point for driving Big Sur.


San Simeon to Morro Bay.

We had a nice slow morning by the beach, not in any rush as our next location was only a short drive away. We had breakfast at the hotel and played a game of giant chess down by the beach. We checked the weather forecast and noticed that this was likely to be the last blue sky day we might get for our California road trip. There was a stop planned for the following day which we thought would be much better on a sunny day, so we jumped in the car, drove past our destination for the night and headed to tick off some places on our list further south.

First stop was San Luis Obispo to see the Mission founded in 1772, the Old Town District and stroll through some shops on the main streets. We drove out to the coast to have lunch at South Palisades Park in Pismo Beach. After lunch, we drove a few minutes to the spot we had been eager to get to today – Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. We parked in the street, grabbed our backpacks and hiked across the sand to the picturesque dune site. It felt like we had left the US and stepped onto another planet. In all directions, all you could see were sand dunes. The sun was shining, and the temperature was a beautiful 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit).

We spent over an hour at the dunes and walked back to our car just as the sun was beginning to set. We grabbed some food from Slappy’s Chowder House, which we had thought would be a snack for the drive, but the portion was so generous it ended up being our dinner. We stopped at a Wholefoods to restock on fruit and snacks and then checked in to our motel for the night in Morro Bay.


This motel was nothing special but provided an affordable and comfortable place to stay for one night. The staff member who checked us in was very friendly and helpful. The room was small but seemed clean and had all the basic amenities we needed. There was plenty of parking, and the area felt safe. There was a bit of noise in the room from the running fridge, the highway and our neighbours. It definitely could have been worse, but if you are noise sensitive, we would recommend bringing earplugs.


Morro Bay to Santa Barbara.

We headed back to Pismo Beach first thing this morning to see the places we had missed yesterday. The cold, rainy morning wouldn’t stop us from walking along the beach and the pier. The World Para Surfing Championship was in full swing when we arrived, so we watched the surfers and cheered with the Australians. We got a coffee and a maple bacon doughnut for breakfast (healthy, we know) from Surfside Donuts. Once we had finished our nutritious breakfast, we drove to the Monarch Butterfly Grove, which was a major highlight of Pismo Beach for us. In winter, the butterflies migrate to the coast and this grove in particular, hosts some of the largest numbers of monarch butterflies during this time. It was a truly beautiful sight, watching them flutter above us and land on the paths at our feet.

From Pismo Beach, we drove to the Danish Village of Solvang. Driving into town felt like we had been transported to a different continent or the set of a movie. Everything is Danish, from the architecture to the food, and it felt even more special experiencing the town in the full Christmas spirit. We had to search for quite a while for a car park as the town was buzzing with people when we arrived. We walked the streets, explored the shops, visited The Book Loft and the Hans Christian Anderson Museum and ate delicious pastries. With such perfect timing, the rain returned just as we were on our way back to the car. We drove in the pouring rain to our destination for the night – our motel in Carpinteria, just past Santa Barbara.


Sandyland Reef Inn

We stayed here for two nights. Continue reading below for more information.


Santa Barbara.

The last day of our road trip has sadly arrived. Thankfully we stepped out of our motel room to a sunny, blue sky. We went to Caje for coffee and sat in the sun in their beautiful courtyard. As we were enjoying our coffee, a strong gust of wind blew through the courtyard, and we turned around to see a dark rain cloud making its way towards us. Within seconds the sunny skies were gone, and the rain began. However, just as quickly as it had started, the cloud continued south, leaving a beautiful blue sky behind.

We drove to the Old Mission Santa Barbara and the Mission Rose Garden. We came back Downtown to explore the County Courthouse and admire the amazing view of Santa Barbara from the Tower. Then we drove down to the beach, walked along the coastline and up Stearns Wharf. After our walk, we were ready for lunch, so we headed to the Public Market and ate at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar. We then explored the El Presidio de Santa Barbara.

At sunset, we returned to the beachfront, where Clark went for a run and Bec went for a walk. We were treated to one last incredible sunset for the end of our road trip, and we soaked up every minute of the pastel-coloured sky from the palm tree-lined beach. We grabbed an easy, budget dinner from Wholefoods and returned to our motel to pack ahead of our travel day.


We chose this motel as our options for budget accommodation in Santa Barbara were limited. This motel was a short drive away from Santa Barbara, so you definitely need a car. We upgraded to a King Room to have a microwave, as the other rooms only had fridges. The room was spacious and clean. There was plenty of parking, a laundry and a pool. The motel is along the highway and near a train line, so there is a little bit of noise around, but we didn’t find it too bad at night.


Our road trip may be over, but our time along the California coast is not. We drop off the car at our next destination – Los Angeles.


When planning our travel destinations, we pin our bucket list of sites to see and recommended places to eat and drink on Google Maps. We are then never lost for ideas when travelling, and can easily share these lists for our friends and family to use as well.

Click here to see our Google Maps for Our California Road Trip Part 2.

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