Los Angeles To Carmel & Monterey The Driving Destination For The Travel Blogger
The car is packed, fueled up and the sun is out again.
It’s top down time!
I’m jumping in the convertible and making the 300-mile journey from Los Angeles to Carmel and Monterey. It’s a road trip I love to make, one of the best in all the United States.
My path takes me along the California coastline – the views from Oxnard to Santa Barbara are spectacular, right along the Pacific Ocean – through Paso Robles with wineries on either side of the highway and past the golden rolling hills (and even more wineries!) as I roll into Monterey County.
In the interest of time, I take Highway 101 and not Pacific Coast Highway (plus parts of PCH are are closed due a bridge being out in Big Sur).
The trip takes seven hours, which seems like a long time, but I put on my traveling music (Jimmy Buffett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the B-52s) and with that scenery it passes remarkably fast.
The only stop I make is somewhere north of Santa Barbara for lunch. I pack a sandwich and sit down at a picnic table at either Refugio State Beach or perhaps in the Danish-replica near-fantasy town of Solvang.
My first day’s destination is always Salinas, about 20 miles from Monterey Bay. I go there because I have friends, Gary and Evie, who put me up for the night and serve me wine. Lots of wine. You see, Monterey County has tons of wineries, my awesome friends belong to several local wine clubs and they can never drink all of that wine on their own.
Salinas, by the way, is the home of John Steinbeck and the Steinbeck Museum, Laguna Seca racetrack and is close to where Janis Joplin (“Bobby McGee”) lost the man she had been with since being busted flat in Baton Rouge.
“One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away…”
I can certainly relate to that because I, too, once let someone special slip away somewhere near Salinas. She went right through my fingers like a slippery wine glass. (It’s a bit ironic, perhaps, that our first trip together was to Monterey.) And while I definitely messed up and wish I had it to do over again I would not, as the song says “trade all of my tomorrows, for a single yesterday to be holdin’ her body next to mine.”
The next day, I skip down to a boat slip in Monterey Bay and say hi to “Gary’s Island,” my friend’s sailboat.
While into Monterey, I usually pop into Peter B’s Brewpub with its excellent food, outdoor fire pits and one of my favorite blonde craft beer lagers. Another favorite spot is the revamped Jacks’ Monterey, which has a shrimp scampi dinner so good it’s practically worth the trip all its own.
Of course, only a fool would come this far and not go into neighboring Carmel. My place to stay there is the wonderful family-run Hofsas House, where second-generation owner “Aunt Carrie” as I call her, is there ready to greet me like, well, a real aunt you only see every so often.
This particular trip, I added the Carmel Food Tours to my agenda, which is an excellent walk through the nooks and crannies of this European-style village for bites of food at local restaurants and stores and, of course, wine!
For more food, I went to dinner at a Turkish restaurant, Artemis Turkish Kitchen, which was as good as it was intriguing.
And as if Carmel, Monterey and neighboring Pacific Grove don’t provide enough spectacular coastal scenery, there is Big Sur, a remarkably close drive (less than half an hour) from Carmel.
And oh yeah, there’s the wine. While there’s fantastic wineries in Carmel Valley about 20 minutes from town, I often prefer to pop into any of the dozen-plus tasting rooms right in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Tip: get the Carmel Wine Walk pass; when you can get tipsy simply stroll back to the Hofsas House.
This is my great California coastal road trip adventure. And instead of growing old, it keeps growing on me.