Coast of California Day 3: 17-Mile Drive, Carmel by the Sea, Big Sur, Pismo Beach
Happy Friday, Everyone! Welcome back to the California Coast road trip series. I only have three more posts to go after this one. Luckily, I have a few more trips planned this fall so the travel content won’t come to an end. Oh, and I also vlogged this entire trip, so you can expect that video once all of the blogs are written. The video is so fun to watch because it makes all of these posts come to life. And just like all of my other California Guides, there will be a giveaway!
One of the best, and longest, days of the California Coast road trip was our journey from Santa Cruz to Pismo Beach. The views we witnessed on day three were some of the prettiest sites I have ever seen. I had no idea this was hiding out on the west coast. Sure, I’ve seen photos, but seeing it in real life was surreal, and even more beautiful than the pictures. Today, I’m sharing all of our photos from our trip along the 17-mile drive in Monterey, Carmel by The Sea, Big Sur, and Pismo Beach. Day three was filled with a lot of driving, the type of driving where you feel exhausted at the end of the day. Even though we only went about 100-miles, the twists and turns of the cliffs made it feel like an eternity. But it was the good kind of eternity because everywhere you looked, it was like a painting. Our drive went from sunny beaches, grasslands, to forests within minutes. It was always a fun surprise to see what kind of scenery we were going to experience next. Before you get too far into this blog, make sure to catch up on my previous California travel guides! I’ll link them below.
Lake Tahoe // Napa Valley // San Fransisco to Santa Cruz
We woke up on day three, determined to make it a better day. After the break-in on day two, it had us shaken up and upset at the violation. When you’re on a once in a lifetime trip, it’s important to be able to put situations like that in the past and move forward to a more positive attitude. There was no way I was going to let that get me down when we had the most once in a lifetime type of day ahead of us.
After driving through the town, we headed down to the 17-mile drive. This shouldn’t be a question of “should we” when you’re planning your trip. You do not want to miss out on this scenic drive. It’s your chance to learn a bit about history, see some wildlife, and drive through neighborhoods with homes that look like they are in Switzerland. The 17-mile drive was the perfect way to start our day.
When you’re heading to the 17-mile drive, it’s best to enter at the Pacific Grove Gate. It’s a $10 entry fee, but you can get reimbursed for dining or shopping within Pebble Beach. I ended up buying my dad some pretty cool golf gear there since one of the most famous golf courses is along the 17-mile drive.
When you go through the gate, you’ll be handed a brochure that tells you all about the stops along the drive. There is parking for each spot, or if you wanted to make a day out of it, you could rent a bike and ride along the road.
You’ll recognize it when you see all the stacks of pebbles. It’s called Spanish Bay because, in 1769, Spanish Explorers camped out there to find the Monterey Bay.
As you’re driving the 17-mile drive, you’ll see signs and turn-offs for each destination.
THE RESTLESS SEA
After taking photos at Spanish Bay, we arrived at the Restless Sea. It’s really cool because on the overlook they have telescopes for you to use. It’ll help you look out into the waters for all kinds of wildlife. This is the part of the drive where it’s the most turbulent and the waves crash into each other. If you want to step up your boomerang game, this is the spot!
Point Joe was our next stop!
As Spanish explorers were searching for Monterey, many of them mistook Point Joe as the entrance to Monterey Bay. That mistake caused many shipwrecks. The Point Joe gets its name because of a man named Joe who lived in a driftwood hut there. He used to sell trinkets to tourist. The debate is whether Joe was named for the Point, or the Point was named for Joe! I’ll let you decide 😊
After driving past some of the most beautiful flowers, we made it to another scenic spot!
In the late 1800s, this spot was once a small Chinese fishing village. If you look closely, you’ll be able to see cooking smoke caked onto the rocks from the early settlement a century ago.
One of the coolest spots (in my opinion) was our 5th stop!
If you want to see sea lions and seals, this is your chance! Oh, and I hope you’re not afraid of big fat squirrels because they’ll come right up to your feet. People feed them, so they’re harmless, but it’s a very strange experience. This spot is super loud because the rock is covered in belching sea lions, buzzing birds, and harbor seals. This is the best spot for sea lions to sunbath.
If you’re visiting between November through March, make sure to keep an eye out for migrating grey whales!
Can you guess the name of our next stop by looking at the photo?
The Seal Rock spot is a great area tucked away for picnics, tide pools, hikes, and a boardwalk that’ll lead you to a colorful Gingerbread House. If we weren’t on a timed schedule we would have done the hike. I’m taking note though because I know I’ll be back on this same route one day, and I’ll be exploring to the Gingerbread House. If you do visit, make sure to tag me in your photos of the Gingerbread House!
If you’re looking for the perfect sunset point, Cypress point is it!
CYPRESS POINT LOOKOUT
This is the area where you’ll drive through a neighborhood populated with mansions! Some of these mansions look like they are out of a storybook! Many of them have been standing since the ’20s!
CROCKER GROVE FOREST
Crocker Grove is breathtaking. It’s a break from the scenic water views. You’ll drive past the largest and oldest Cypress trees in Monterey. This is one of the only two native Monterey Cypress forests in the world.
This was one of the prettiest spots, the Lone Cypress. It’s pretty obvious where this lookout gets its name from.
It’s hard to believe that this Lone Cypress has been standing alone on this rocky pedestal overlooking the pacific ocean for the past 250 years. You’ll probably recognize it from the logo for Pebble Beach Resorts from the past 100 years.
GHOST TREES AT PESCADERO POINT
Right next to the Lone Cypress, you’ll be able to see the ghost trees at Pescadero Point. They really do look spooky and kind of remind me of trees you’d see from the Wizard of Oz Set.
Definitely get a brochure and check out all the stops along the drive. We missed a few and skipped out on some trails, but I’m sure they are so worth it! If you can dedicate an entire day to explore the 17-mile drive area, I highly recommend it.
PEBBLE BEACH VISITOR CENTER
We ended our drive at the Pebble Beach Visitor Center. We picked up a few snacks for the road, and read a bit more about the unique history. It’s the Golf Capitol of the world, so you know I had to get my dad a bunch of golf gear for fathers day! Pebble Beach is an amazing place, and they’ve done such a great job keeping it clean and fun for the 2 million tourists that travel there every year!
Our next stop was Carmel by the Sea! It’s basically a village of fairy tale cottages.
CARMEL BY THE SEA
I was most excited to visit this charming town because of all the cute cottages and breathtaking water views. I told Kyle when I got home that I wanted to spend a week here! All of the charming restaurants and shopping areas had me wishing we had more time in a place like this. I think that was the toughest part of the road trip. We had a time frame, and seeing spots like this was a tease when we had to keep passing by. The good thing about it is that I’ll know where I’d like to spend my time the next time I’m on the coast.
After driving around the town, make sure to drive along Carmel Beach to Carmel Point. You’ll be able to see all the views of the crystal blue waters.
If you’re looking for parking, there are placing to park along the street by the beach and around the town. Carmel Beach is a popular surf spot, and it looks like the perfect place to have an afternoon picnic.
After driving along Carmel Beach, you’ll make your way to Carmel River State Beach.
CARMEL RIVER STATE BEACH
This is a more secluded area. After a foggy morning doing the 17-mile drive, it was nice to see the clear skies.
It was time to cozy up with some tea and delicious food for lunch before leaving Carmel by the Sea.
CALIFORNIA MARKET AT PACIFIC EDGE
The California Market at Pacific Edge is in the highlands area of Carmel. Who wouldn’t want to have lunch on an expansive 870-square-foot deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Big Sur Coast? California Market highlights fresh, organic, locally grown and raised ingredients to create the most delicious entres.
Because it was chilly outside on the deck, I ordered hot tea, and they gave us cozy blankets for our comfort. We both ended up ordering their Market Salad, which came with local greens, heirloom beets, shaved vegetables, red quinoa, avocado, pistachios, shallot vinaigrette, and we added crabmeat on top. The salad was delicious and a great way to end our time in Carmel by the Sea!
After leaving Carmel, we made our way across the Bixby Creek Bridge.
BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE
This is one of the most famous bridges you’ll see along the drive. It’s the bridge you see in the intro of Big Little Lies. It’s so scenic and, you’ll even have to pull off when you’re miles past it so you can see it from afar. The bridge was built in 1932 and is the longest concrete arch span on Highway one as well as the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world!
As you’re driving along the coast, you’ll see a ton of areas to pull over at to get good photos. Before we went on the trip, I was wondering how people pulled over since the road is so close to the cliff, but it was nice seeing that there were so many designated overlook spots.
SCENIC SPOTS ALONG HIGHWAY ONE
These pull off areas made it easier for knowing where the good spots to pull over were. You don’t have to do any research online before you drive down because you can plan on pulling over at all the stops along the way. It is worth it to get out of the car and look! You’ll have to be careful when it comes to crossing any roads or pulling off.
Caitlin is going to kill me for calling her out on this one (it’s in the video anyway), but towards the end of our day, we pulled off to look out, and instead of putting the car in drive, she put it in reverse. Yup, that was the scariest moment ever! I’m sure we went half a foot, but it felt like we were about to die. Notes for anyone renting a car, get familiar with its gears! 😂 Other than that, Caitlin was the BEST California Coast, driver.
These are the types of views that make the overlooks so worth it. Don’t get me wrong, the views from the road are breathtaking, but you get the entire picture when you step out of the car. I took about 600 photos of the scenery on day three, so it was very hard choosing which ones to share! Make sure to keep all your cameras charged because you won’t be able to put it down.
We were blessed with the gorgeous weather as we made our way down to Big Sur! The fog in the sky made it look like purple clouds.
NO CELL PHONE SERVICE
Something we didn’t plan for was the fact that we had no cell phone service from Carmel to Pismo Beach. We weren’t too worried about it since there were signs everywhere and as long as we stayed on highway one we knew we were on the right path, but it’s something to consider if you are traveling alone, or need your cell phone for any emergency purposes. Your best option would be to stop at the restaurants or gas stations to use a phone. On our way down to Big Sur, we stopped at Andrew Molera State Park for a quick bathroom break. This is a great hiking area, and so many hikers were gearing up when we got there.
ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK
The Andrew Molera State Park is an excellent designated stop for camping near a secluded beach. I’m not into the whole camping in secluded area thing, but if you’re into that, this is your gem!
Oh, those views!
If you look on top of the hill near the bridge, you’ll see a glasshouse. It’s called the Bixby House!
THE BIXBY HOUSE
It was so neat to see a home with the best views on top of the hill. At first, I thought it was some office building because of the location, but after looking it up, I learned that it was a unique home with the best real estate in California!
It was cool being able to see what kind of weather we were going to be experiencing in the distance.
Pfeiffer Beach is known for purple sand, being extremely dog-friendly, and the perfect place to spend the day. There is a fee to drive down the narrow road to get to the beach, but it’s worth it!
Next stop was Big Sur River Inn for gas, late afternoon coffee, and treats! While we filled up the tank, we stopped into the old school bus outside the River Inn. You could order coffee drinks, pastries, ice cream, and more! I loved the idea of turning an old bus into a cute little cafe.
BIG SUR RIVER INN
For bus stop coffee, it was pretty darn good! It’s also attached to a restaurant and inn if you’re looking for lodging or a cozy place to eat.
We took our coffee and headed to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This is your chance to see the redwood trees, hike along the creek, or camp out. The smell of campfire reminded me of summer nights as a kid.
PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
We didn’t feel like we were in California anymore while walking through this area.
This picture does not do it justice. These trees were some of the most towering trees I’ve ever seen in my life!
It’s hard to keep track of all the bridges you drive over, but each one of them is as breathtaking as the first.
BIG CREEK BRIDGE
After the big Creek Bridge, the roads were winding and more secluded. We could feel the adrenaline rush kick in after leaving Big Sur. We had about twenty miles to go before losing daylight. Going 20-miles on the winding roads took over an hour because of the speed limit. If you’re new to the road, you may notice cars speeding past you, or getting on your tail. Just pull over at the scenic points to let them pass by you. There’s no reason for you to speed up if you’re uncomfortable driving along the cliffs.
By the time we made it to Hearst Castle, they had closed the gates.
We didn’t plan for how long the curvy roads would take us, so definitely do not listen to your google maps while planning out your trip along highway one. The roads you travel will be breathtaking, but be very time-consuming.
Hearst Castle will be on the list for next time!
It was nice to see open land after clinging on by the cliff for the past three hours. Our adrenaline was rushing; we were tired, hungry, and ready to settle into the hotel for the night.
Everywhere you go in California; it’s beautiful.
We made it to our hotel around 8:30 pm. We decided to stay at the Sandcastle Inn at Pismo Beach because it was right on the water, and looked like the perfect place to relax after a long day of traveling.
The hotel has a cafe, oceanfront views with decks on each floor, and it’s in downtown in walking distance to everything. Just keep in mind that this beach down closes most of the restaurants around eight. We were surprised when we got there to find almost everything closed.
We ended up finding a spot that was open across the street.
SEA VENTURE RESTAURANT PISMO BEACH
We walked next door to Sea Venture restaurant to pick up food to go. We ordered salads with salmon and a big box of french fries on the side. We ended the night watching Mama Mia, and falling asleep within minutes.
We were up bright and early for our next day of travels! Our hotel didn’t have coffee available until 8 am, so we walked over to Scorpion Bay Coffee to pick up breakfast and the best coffee ever!
SCORPION BAY COFFEE
I loved their dark roast and regretted not grabbing two cups of it. We also picked up banana and oatmeal there to have before our trip to Malibu! I’m so excited to share my next Californa post with you! Caitlin and I had the opportunity to hang out with the animals at the Malibu Wine Safari! ♥️
GIVEAWAY: how to enter? #1 is the shirt! & #2 is the tote!
All you have to do is select a question below to answer in the comments, and leave the # of the prize you’d like to win! Want to win twice? Leave an additional comment! xo
QUESTIONS FOR YOU!
- What is the last state you road-tripped through?
- Who is your favorite person to travel with?
- Do you live in an area that is frequently traveled to?
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE…