On this Labour day weekend we set out on yet another road-trip, to Central California. California's Pacific Coast is one of the best scenic routes in the country and there is so much to see in this lifetime. Our trip to the central coast has been a very memorable one, we did many firsts, had thrilling fun and saw beautiful places.
We started our drive on Friday afternoon in order to avoid any traffic over the weekend. In less than 3 hours we arrived at Pismo Beach, our first destination. We checked-in at Casa Grande Inn at Arroyo Grande before heading to the coast.
Ocean Blvd in Pismo Beach is a short cliffside road; a beautiful residential neighborhood on one side and gorgeous views of pacific on the other. There were many pullouts and grass parks along this road where we could stop, absorb the views and watch birds. Some of the houses in this neighborhood were nothing like what we are used to seeing around California; very fancy, modern and each with unique style.
Dinosaur Caves Park:
Our next stop in Pismo Beach was the Dinosaur Caves Park at the south end of Ocean Blvd. A nice flowery park overlooking the ocean that can be a quick stop for those traveling the coast. There were benches to relax and enjoy the views, pathways for a brief walk or jog, and play area for kids. There was an unpleasant ocean smell though.
Pismo Beach and Pier:
We spent the rest of our evening at the beach and pier, clicking away. We weren't allowed to walk on the pier because of some ongoing construction work, so we strolled on the beach absorbing the calm and gorgeousness of the ocean. We stayed until sunset and witnessed the most dramatic skies ever, wish cameras could capture the real scene. Pelicans took to the pier casting beautiful silhouettes against the sky. It was spectacular. After sunset, we had our dinner at Mo's Smokehouse BBQ by the pier and called it a day.
Oceano Sand Dunes - Riding in the dunes:
I did not agree to this at the first thought, I was persuaded into it. I was so afraid of flipping over and getting sand into my eyes and nose, so I only agreed to a shared ride. We rented a 2 seater from BJ's ATV Rentals for an hour and what a thrilling experience it turned out to be. There was nothing but sand in all directions as far as we could see. We just loved it. Can't wait to go back sometime, may be a separate day trip just to the dunes.
I have written a detailed post and shared more photos on our Sand Dunes experience.
After returning our OHV, we got in our car and drove right back into the beach. We actually drove in sand right next to the beach. Never thought we would do something like that in our life. Since it was a holiday weekend the beach was packed with camper's tents, RVs and OHV's.
Oso Flaco Lake:
Part of Oceano Dunes Recreation Area, this lake was a few miles south of the dunes. It was a nice easy walk through the woods and a mile long boardwalk over and across the lake to sand dunes and beach. At the end of the boardwalk there was beach access and a viewing platform that offered scenic panoramic views.
We planned to visit Hearst Castle only if time permitted. Since we had few hours before the last tour, we decided to make a stop on our way to Monterey. We regretted our decision the minute we stepped out of our car. It was like an oven outside, one of the hottest days in San Simeon, above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Since we were there already we went in. We bought tickets for an "Upstairs tour" as that was the only one available for our time. Our tour started on a shuttle bus to the castle, with an audio clip talking about the surrounding land, farm and animals. Our guide met us at the entrance of the castle and took us around 4 floors of private bedrooms, guest rooms and libraries. The furniture and decor inside were beautiful and rich in art but most of us didn't really enjoy because it was so hot and stuffy inside. After the tour we checked out the gardens and pools before we took a bus back to the visitor center. Our favorite room in the castle was the indoor pool.
Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the country. To our disappointment that day, hwy-1 past Ragged point was closed due to slides, and there were no signs until we got there, so we had to take a very long detour to hwy-101. But the scenery was beautiful and we got to see a herd of mule deer.
It was very late when we arrived at The Stevensons, Monterey, we checked-in and hit the bed.
One of the main reasons for this trip was to see McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which by then we knew was closed. But we weren't sure how far south of Monterey the hwy-1 was open, so we decided to just drive and find out.
Garrapata State Park:
It was a cloudy morning, and we wanted to enjoy the ocean as much as we could before the sun came out. Our first stop was this beach park with many coastal hiking trails. We parked by the side of the road and hiked the beach trail first. The ocean was rough and loud, spraying mist every time a wave broke at the shore. Surrounding views of mountains and cliffs were gorgeous. We also hiked the bluff trail which is another short trail leading to 2 lookouts.
There were many pullouts along the highway for us to stop and gape at the views. We saw pelicans and seagulls resting at some of the cliffside beaches.
Rocky Creek Bridge:
A historic bridge built in 1932, much similar but smaller than Bixby Bridge. Short descents down the cliff next to the parking area offered better views of the bridge and ocean.
We stopped at a lookout further south as the parking areas next to the bridge were full. It was still a great view along with the beach below and ocean caves nearby.
Point Sur Lighthouse:
There are limited tours to see inside of the lighthouse at very specific times of the day. We didn't take any tours but just loved the views from one of the pullouts on highway-1. The lighthouse sits almost on the edge of a huge rock at Point Sur State Historic Park.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park:
Thats were the road ended, just past the park entrance, and no access to Pfeiffer beach (Purple sand beach). As for most places there was no parking inside, so we parked on the road and walked in, but first we stopped at Big Sur Lodge Restaurant for lunch. Most of the trails in the park were closed due to landslides, only 3 short trails were open, if I got that right. We took the River path for a short distance, but since we have to go back to Big Sur another time anyway, we didn't want to waste much time there. So we exited the park and started driving back up north.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve:
This park has many trails and offered more stunning views of the ocean, cliffs, birds and beaches. First, we parked at one of the small lots inside the park and hiked north on the loop trail, a short and easy hike.
Then we hiked the Bird Island trail. Bird Island trail offered views of closed-off China beach and had access to Gibson beach. As we got closer to the island where we saw not many but few birds resting on the rocks, there was a very strong unpleasant smell forcing us to leave.
We picked up ice creams from Carmel Bakery and took a quick walk around the downtown. You know it is going to be pretty when there are colorful buildings with colorful windows and doors, brick walls, potted flowering plants and bougainvillea. It was very charming with many courtyards and secret passageways lined with boutique stores, galleries, wine sellers and restaurants.
17 Mile Drive:
I plan on writing a separate post for this so that I can share more photos and details about this drive. In short, it was a very beautiful drive with many points to stop and check out; soft white sand beaches, rocky points, cypress trees and golf courses.
Fisherman's Wharf - Monterey:
We were back in Monterey and made our last stop here. Don't know if its just us, we love harbors. There is something about the stillness, especially on a cloudy day or in twilight, we find it very calming and romantic. At Fisherman's Wharf, because people generally rush to the pier, we had no issues getting pictures of the boats without anyone in them. As expected, shops and restaurants at the wharf were very busy and packed. At the end of the wharf, we climbed to the rooftop deck at Big Fish Grill, checked out some nice views of the bay, and more boats.
We checked-out of our hotel and hit the road back home, stopping for more attractions on the way. First, we drove around Cannery Row in Monterey. It was a busy area parallel to the coastline, with many high end hotels and boutiques, lodges, restaurants, bars and shops.
Lover's Point and Ocean trail:
Lover's Point is a green park with a rocky tip into the ocean. We walked on the coastal trail (goes both sides of the park) to the west, saw people climb rocks, kids swimming in the beach next to the park, joggers, divers, kayakers, and resting sea lions. There were many such green parks along Pacific Grove coastline.
Point Pinos Lighthouse:
Our last stop before we left the area. Main gate to the lighthouse was open to allow golfers to access one of the holes of the Pacific Grove Golf Links that was inside the compound. But we were too early, the lighthouse was still closed, so we could only get pictures through the fence.
After driving nearly 3 hours we decided to stop in Morro Bay for lunch. We had delicious tacos at Taco Temple before we headed to Morro Rock. We drove all the way in and parked next to the rock, not the best place to get a full view. Anyway, we walked on the path next to water watching boats go in and out of the harbor, seagulls and squirrels fight over hidden food, seagulls attacking a tour boat, and kayakers. There were many people at the rock but still it was so calm and peaceful. It was a great spot to stretch our legs in-between drives and there were sea otters very close to the bay. What else do we need?
We were supposed to go there on day-2 after Pismo Beach, instead we decided to go to Hearst Castle, so we had to make this stop on our way back. Surely not as popular as Pismo beach, we didn't know what to expect. But we were pleasantly surprised. It was very charming with colorful buildings and beachfront restaurants. The beach was beautiful and the pier there was closed off as well. We checked out some of the shops and got ice creams from Reimer's Candies to get us going.
Racho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve:
We had to go back to the dunes, this one was further south of Oceano Dunes (nearly 20 miles). The road to the dunes ran through farm lands, continued to the dunes and ended at a fenced parking lot near the beach. It was an incredible drive, I can't even explain.
It was a short walk to the water and a fenced bird nesting area to the right. There were hardly anyone at the beach at the time. It was such a tranquil place to be and a great way to end our vacation.