Being from Southern California, I often forget the diversity and variety of landscapes that can be found across the state. In the media, we are regularly reminded of palm trees and Hollywood, but the spotlight is almost never shining on the less popularized Northern California. If you were like me, you watched HBO's hit series Big Little Lies and imagined yourself in Monterey, sitting with a large cappuccino with Leon Bridges playing in the background. Ever since watching the show, I've wanted to make another trek up north, adding Monterey and its charm to my travel plans.
In order to take as little time off from work as possible, we left mid-afternoon on Friday, with plans of returning Monday night. A long weekend allowed plenty of play time, generous driving time, but something that also qualified as a "quick getaway."
Friday, March 9
Our mother-daughter trip made its first stop in San Luis Obispo, another city I'd heard great things about. There were several options for dinner, but ultimately to appease both of our palettes, I chose Novo Restaurant and Lounge, a cozy and mildly upscale spot with adorable creekside patio seating. Between the intelligently placed heating and twinkle lights, we were definitely in vacation mode. I ordered one of the night's specials, grilled mahi, and we split a creme brulee.
After dinner we explored downtown before getting back on the road. We picked up some novelty sodas at Rocket Fizz, took photos at Bubblegum Alley, then I fueled up with coffee from Kreuzberg Coffee Company. Although our visit was short, I would definitely come back. SLO has a quaint, cozy feeling to it - the kind that invites you in for a warm drink and takes advantage of your budding nostalgia.
We arrived in Carmel a couple hours later, grateful to be reunited with friends, some of my favorite dogs, and a comfy bed!
Saturday, March 10
With no real plans and a healthy desire to explore, we ventured into an area of Carmel full of unique shops, good food, and picturesque buildings. Carmel has a unique ability of transporting you out of your typically Californian state of mind, and into a place much more whimsical, with a lot more soul than the coldness in Los Angeles.
We found street parking and then explored, walking up and down the shop-lined streets and discovering secret corridors. We didn't have an agenda or specific plans. It was refreshing to be spontaneous; our only restriction was time - we had a dinner reservation and had to freshen up before then.
One honorable mention in the shopping category is The White Rabbit. I was drawn in by a bright red "SALE" sign, but what I stumbled upon was worth a visit even without a sale. The White Rabbit is every Alice in Wonderland fan's dream. The shop is whimsical and your real-life chance to fall into the rabbit hole.
Instead of staying in Carmel for lunch, we decided to go to Monterey, specifically for some seafood and some famous clam chowder. A quick 15-minute drive whisked us away from fairytale Carmel and to the picturesque sea town of Monterey.
When we arrived, it was gray, raining, and mostly devoid of people. Parking wasn't particularly challenging (there is a structure near Fisherman's Wharf), but it's a little old fashioned. After you park, you are supposed to walk over the parking tenant's booth to get a ticket.
PRO TIP: PARK IN THE STRUCTURE, BUT MAKE SURE YOU WALK BACK TO GRAB YOUR TICKET FROM THE TENANT. OTHERWISE, YOU WILL PAY A $12 FEE FOR A LOST TICKET.
We walked over to Fisherman's Wharf and had lunch at Old Fisherman's Grotto. Through the brief research I did, I read that they claim to be the originators of "Monterey-style clam chowder." Long story short, their chowder was AMAZING.
We asked for a window table, with a view of the pebbly beach. It was the perfect backdrop to enjoy our fresh seafood. Old FIsherman's Grotto has a classic, old glamour feel to it, with its polished mahogany and classic carpet.
This restaurant will not be your cheapest option, but we left completely satisfied with our food, service, and the view we were offered. If you have the time and the budget, I do recommend eating here.
PRO TIP: STOP BY WATER AND LEAVES FOR A HOT TEA, BEFORE HEADING UP TO THE OBSERVATION DECK NEARBY.
After taking in some views, we headed back to Carmel to rest, freshen up, and go to dinner at Fandango.
SUNDAY, MARCH 11
Today was aquarium day! I finally had the chance to visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, a place I'd heard so much about. After a church service in the morning, we headed back up to Monterey for our aquarium adventure. A friend was generous enough to let us use her guest passes, but I suggest purchasing tickets ahead of time online.
The aquarium wasn't too crowded, so we were able to enjoy every exhibit and outside patio with ease. I don't want to give away too much, but the aquarium is definitely worth a visit. Its conservation efforts are more than evident in the surrounding wildlife and stunning crystal clear waters.
For lunch, we ate at The Restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of food on the menu, the wonderful service and spectacular view we were given. The window seat we sat at even came with small binoculars so we could observe the wildlife during our meal!
Although it seemed blasphemous to consume seafood at an aquarium, I couldn't help myself and ordered moules frites while I enjoyed the view. We also finished off with a tres leches churro flan, which was wonderful!
We continued venturing through the aquarium, and we spent quite a bit of time on the outdoor portions. The sun was shining, so we absorbed its warmth while we listened to the waves nearby.
We then grabbed ice cream at Revival Ice Cream before checking into Carmel Mission Inn, having dinner and calling it a night.
Monday, March 12
Before we started our journey home, we had breakfast at The Barnyard, which was adjacent to our hotel. If you can, I recommend having breakfast at From Scratch. The coffee was great, the food was even better, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect last meal in Carmel.
PRO TIP: STOP BY AND PICK UP SOME PASTRIES AT LAFAYETTE BAKERY. YOU'RE WELCOME.
During our drive home, we took the I-5 instead of the 101 (which we drove on the way up). The drive was less scenic in a traditional sense, but we did get to stop at Blackwell's Corner about halfway down. Blackwell's Corner gained its fame by not only being one of few roadtrip stops in the area, but also by its history - it was James Dean's last stop before his tragic death.
If you get to stop by, pick up some of their seasoned nuts, veggie chips, and more. They're fabulous snacks for a drive, and you will be able to find. some pretty unique things you won't find in many other places.
Overall, it was a much-needed weekend getaway in some of California's greatest hidden gems. Southern California may be praised for its palm trees, celebrity culture, and glamour, but there are so many parts of California that are often overlooked, and yet they possess a magic not commonly found.
Until next time,