Road Trippin: Must-See Stops Along the California Coast


People come from all over the world to wind their way up and down Highway One. For me, it just took 12 years of living in California to finally tackle the span stretching between San Francisco and San Diego—but it was well worth it. Here’s a glimpse of my recent trip and my list of the spots not to miss whenever you decide to embark on your own West Coast rite of passage. 

1. Arcangeli Grocery Co., Pescadero

My husband Danny and I had been on the road for less than an hour when our first destination came into view: Arcangeli Grocery Co.,  known for their dozen ways with an artichoke. The artichoke garlic herb bread is what we came for (they promise 2-4 chopped artichoke hearts per loaf), and the three loaves we grabbed were still warm. We massacred the first one in no time flat, and our extra roomy glove compartment made the perfect bread box, letting us nibble on the rest over the following days. 

2. Pigeon Point Light Station

Next up we followed signs for Pigeon Point lighthouse. Besides the gorgeous views, if you go soon, you’ll still be able to get an up-close view of the huge Fresnel lens—which has sat atop the lighthouse since 1872— as it’s temporarily been moved to ground level inside the Fog Signal Building. And it was all free! (Except for the awesome lighthouse t-shirt Danny couldn’t leave without.)  

3. Dream Inn, Santa Cruz

This JDV property was recently renovated by one of my favorites: SF’s Charles de Lisle Workshop. It also happens to boast the best location in town. Its pool deck spills out onto the sandy shore, so following Danny’s chilly, Christmas Eve ocean swim, we were in the hot tub in no time flat. 

Courtesy of Ed Bierman, Flickr

4. Big Sur Bakery

The woods make me hungry, and one of my favorite spots to stop and stuff my face was the Big Sur Bakery. Headed by a pair of ex-Angelenos, the baked goods are divine and the lunch and dinner menus rival those of any celebrated big city eatery. Don’t miss the adorable single-room school house right next door. 

Courtesy Flickr, Mil8

5. Nepenthe, Big Sur

We couldn’t have timed this one better. After a quick wait at the bar, we were sitting outside for dinner with a stunning view of the sun setting into the Pacific. The property is made up of a nearly century-old log cabin, a redwood framed restaurant with organic curves where corners should be, and a sprawling stone patio with an outdoor fireplace and stepped concrete seats. The food is tasty, the wine list impressive and I haven’t encountered a nicer server in years. 


Courtesy of EmDot, Flickr

6. Treebones, Big Sur

I had very few expectations for this trip, but one thing i did know was that I was dead set on staying in a yurt. Treebones fit the bill and then some. Their well-appointed yurts are perched on the hills overlooking the ocean, and the circular skylight in the roof let us watch the stars as we drifted off to sleep. 

Courtesy of Ed Bierman, Flickr

7. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

In the sleepy town of San Luis Obispo, a Disneyland-like compound beckons from the highway. The Madonna Inn’s 110 rooms each have there own “theme” and a wild decoration scheme to go along with it. We stayed in the “Hideaway” room, which was a rock cave meets an ancient bordello. Romantic? Not quite. Hilarious? Totally.  

Courtesy of Big Sky Cafe

8. Big Sky Cafe, San Luis Obispo 

As soon as we sat down and read the menu at this popular restaurant on Broad Street, we were scheming on how to fit in multiple meals here before we left town. Instead, we just ended up ordering what seemed like half of the internationally inspired menu, all of it delicious (Favorite: Mexican Pozole). 

10. Del Mar Motel, Del Mar

Our final destination was the Del Mar Hotel, where every few months we gather with family and friends for a few days by the beach. The upscale city in northern San Diego County is worlds away from my own former SD stomping grounds  (Ocean Beach), but the Del Mar Hotel definitely comes with its own old-school cred. It’s the last hold out on a beachfront strip lined with multimillion dollar homes. This two-story motel (yes, motel) is short on luxury but long on service, convenience and location—it’s about ten steps from your room to one of SoCal’s best beaches. On New Year’s Day, we, along with 200 other feisty folks, gathered on the sand for the Penguin Plunge. At 11 am we all ran full speed into the 50-degree ocean, laughing and hollering and giving thanks for where we live. 


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