A Quick Trip up the California Central Coast
By Dawn Garcia
At the beginning of this summer, I decided to do something rather spontaneous. I figured all the topics I’ve covered, the food I’ve enjoyed, and the cities I’ve been to, in fact everything I’ve written about has been planned out. It was time for something totally off-the-cuff – to just get in the car and drive up the California Coast – during one of the busiest holiday weeks of the year no less: the 4th of July. I wanted to see what was possible if and when any of my readers decided to take a last minute trip during a busy time. And so, the journey began.
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At the beginning of this summer, I decided to do something rather spontaneous.
I figured all the topics I’ve covered, the food I’ve enjoyed, and the cities I’ve been to - everything I’ve written about has been planned out. It was time for something totally off-the-cuff – to just get in the car and drive up the California Coast – during one of the busiest holiday weeks of the year no less: the 4th of July. I wanted to see what was possible if and when any of my readers decided to take a last minute trip during a busy time. And so, the journey began.
I traveled with one of my nearest and dearest, starting in Santa Barbara and we met up with friends at the Hungry Cat.
My friend and her husband (eagerly awaiting the arrival of their son – she was due in 3 weeks!) were hungry and happy to eat, so we ordered up some tasty treats (though many she couldn’t have as a mommy-to-be).
We started with oysters: Blue Point. Large, delicious, sliding off of the half shell with such provocative ease, a half dozen just didn’t seem enough.
Little Taste of Heaven
The Pug Burger
I then order my favorite Hungry Cat item: The Pug Burger with Applewood Bacon and I opt for the quail egg atop.
Oh sweet meat, how good you are!! I’ve yet to have a bad meal here. Start with some bubbly or one of their hand-crafted cocktails and be prepared to leave well fed and happy.
After that it was time to head North for a stop in Cambria before arriving in Big Sur for the 4th. The drive up the 101 -with the ocean at your left, and the green mountains on your right -travels over narrow roads that touch your soul with their exquisite beauty. There’s nothing quite like it. We stayed at the Cambria Landing Hotel.
Eat at Hungry Cat – Order Oysters to start, ANY cocktail, and order the burger with bacon and quail egg. Trust me.
Stay:Casa del Mar. (Affordable) | Agave Inn (Totally different location for the curious traveler) |Spanish Garden Inn (For the Boutique lover of true Spanish style)
Visit State Street and pub crawl (highest end pubs you’ll find!)
Tip: Don’t expect to do it cheaply! Enjoy State Street, do some pub crawls, rent a bike and stroll along the water, check out the Mission, do some Saturday shopping, and if there’s time make sure you get to the original Freebirds in Isla Vista. Get a burrito (they used to be $4.75 and while “inflation” has taken effect, it’s still a fun local thing to do).
CAMBRIA LANDING INN
We arrived just after 11pm, and picked up our keys at a neighboring hotel that stays open for late arriving check-ins. We park, unload the luggage and find our room is adjacent to the rooms with the hot tubs - a feature I desperately wanted to enjoy. But the hot tub hours ended at 10pm, so I slump and pout in disappointment, wash my face, put on my pajamas, and fall into the bed. The window is cracked and the sound of the ocean crashing against the Cambria rocks lulls me to sleep.
Taking in the gorgeous scenery of Cambria Landing
Tip: Arrive before 7pm if possible so you can check in, enjoy the restaurant just a stone throw away (there’s only one), walk on the ocean path, and get in enough time to hop in the hot tubs. There are two but they close at 10pm. Also, pre-order breakfast if you’re heading out early the next morning.
Do: Visit Hearst Castle and the herd of wild zebras - yes, really. Check out the beach and the sea lions sunbathing. Stay along the coast and stop at Morro Bay. Cambria also houses some of the cutest shops, has wonderful little art galleries, and boutique hotels that are worth looking into.
Onto Big Sur for the 4th of July extravaganza! We stopped for drinks and a bite at Nepenthe which has one of the most beautiful views of the coast and Big Sur.
Glorious green trees span the hillside, giant rocks line the coast, and just past them is the great big blue. After some bubbles and another dish with bacon (heck, I’m not counting ANY calories on this trip), we’d stayed all of an hour, and decided not to attend the event. While Big Sur is where I’ve escaped to write more than once, and is home to two of my favorite stops – Henry Miller Library and the Hawthorne Gallery (both worth seeing) – this trip I made the choice to keep driving. Turns out we decided to keep heading towards Monterey but we did enjoy a brief stop in the area that has always provided me (and Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller) with inspiration.
Big Sur Sunset
Tip – To Eat: Nepenthe and Ventana Inn Restaurant
See: Henry Miller Library, Hawthorne Gallery, Big Sur Food & Wine Festival
Stay: Lucia Lodge (I took a writing sabbatical here, quaint and simple), Ventana Inn (Luxury)
Monterey is one of the loveliest cities in California.
Stopping here on the way to Los Gatos (a rather spontaneous decision), we ate at a restaurant that left an absolutely unforgettable impression: Restaurant 1833. Arriving just as the kitchen closed on the 4th of July, bellies literally aching with hunger, I begged to be fed and thankfully – and to my delight -restauranteur Tobias Peach saved the day.
He walked us through the restaurant, decorated with the charm of romance and the curiosity of California history – with a touch of a little intriguing darkness - and sat us upstairs.
Let the Feast Begin
Compliments of the house, he sent out a shot of Mezcal to commemorate the evening and then well, the feast began.
I plan on returning to do a proper review but let’s just say NOTHING lacked the sublime factors I look for in cuisine and every single dish was divine.
Tip: Start with Bubbles or Mezcal and work your way through an impressive wine selection and a menu prepared by the deliciously talented Chef Levi Mezick (you will want to remember this name!). Try as many menu items as you can. You mouth will guide you, your palate will thank you, and your entire being will embrace you.
It is my first time in Los Gatos, and I have to say this is one truly quaint and wonderful town.
Restaurants, art, an easy going appeal…this is a great stop. We explored the town, indulged in the cafes, the bars, and the intrigue of a town named after CATS!
Despite calling only two hours before arrival, the Hotel staff at Hotel Los Gatos & Spa really did everything they could to accommodate us. This hotel is modestly priced, has impeccable service, the charm of Spanish architecture, and they took great care of us during our 3-night stay. Beginning with a beautiful lobby and the staff who were there smiling at near midnight, my first impression was pretty great. This is a little gem in the middle of a town that I will definitely be returning to.
Relax or Explore?
The room was spacious, with a beautiful terrace window (or full balcony depending on the room) and a fridge stocked with everything.
The courtyard, lobbies and entrances have such rich colors and beautiful detail you won’t want to miss any of it if you can help it.
They also offer live music, a well-planned menu, wonderful bartenders, and a pool is stocked with towels and water. While we spent most of our time wandering the city, I have no doubt the on-site Spa is nothing short of wonderful.
To Do: Explore! Explore! Explore! There is so much to see in this town. Amazing restaurants, gorgeous terrain, friendly locals, random bars, and the best pottery spot I’ve found Petroglyph!
Enoteca, Los Gatos
The Grand Finale
Having spent the last five days bathed in the sweet wonder of bliss, it was fitting that our final stay was in the truly beautiful Intercontinental The Clement Monterey.
Hotels are my weakness and are the one realm of hospitality I hold to the highest standards. The moment we drove past the Cannery Row sign, it was clear that this final stop on our adventure was going to be utter luxury. There is sophistication and there is near perfection.
When I first heard of Hotel Clement, I looked into the property and I knew this was not the standard “chain” hotel. It was a place where one goes to bask in beauty, swim in bliss, and revel in natural wonder.
The Intercontinental The Clement Monterey
We were greeted on arrival by the valet and made our way through the crisp whites and warm woods of the lobby to the reception desk.
We were told our room was almost ready and so we decided to stroll over to Cannery Row and grab a bite to eat. Nothing fancy, just something yummy. We walk to Chart House and the food is decent. Nothing exceptional but it’ll do.
My friend, in celebration of being on our last leg of this excursion, orders a bottle of cuveé and we happily toast, sip and look forward to getting into our room.
Once we finish eating, we stroll along the wharf and soon make our way back, almost like impatient kids waiting for Christmas, and get our room keys.
Up we go!
Top floor, corner room, and it is breathtaking. Simple and very zen-like with tones of whites and walls of seagrass, a bathroom bellowing luxury with an oversized jet-stream rectangular tub, a shower with multiple heads, dual sinks, and a large opening with shutters (for privacy when needed), and a view that spans the entire ocean. The bath leads to the ocean (visually speaking).
Outside the bedroom was a balcony and there, well, there we had the most unforgettable experience! We had a friend … a seagull I lovingly named SAM.
Sam was cool. Not a pest. In fact he was sweet – and I hand fed him and he would leave and only return when I called his name! REALLY!! I wanted to adopt Sam.
This really was the perfect finish to our trip. Every aspect of this room oozed quiet sophistication, romantic serenity, inspiration, and sublime calm.
I could have spent an entire week here – and probably would have finished my screenplay in record time! I was at total peace.
Nothing was too over-the-top, the quality was well thought out. The simplicity was nothing short of wonderful. While it is certainly a luxury hotel, it never once felt pretentious or awkward. In fact, it was exactly the opposite.
The only thing I wished I could have done, looking back, was to dine at the C Restaurant for dinner. While I did go for brunch, I think the dinner menu would have taken me somewhere lovely.
I have to thank Cathy Faber who made this stay one of the best I have ever had. The architecture of the room, the soothing shades of white and gray set the tone for a night of serene calm and understated luxury.
Tip: Go to The Monterey Bay Aquarium (most beautiful Aquarium I have ever been to), and give yourself a few days to really enjoy everything Monterey has to offer.
Make friends with everyone – they’ll be your friends for life. Stroll Cannery Row. Do dinner at the Sardine Factory and be sure to order gelato.
Come with a willingness to relax… you’ll see sea lions frolicking on the shore, sea otters playing in the kelp, and find yourself blissfully content.
And stay at the Intercontinental The Clement Monterey!!!