If you’re craving wide-open spaces, pristine uncrowded beaches, sun-kissed vineyards, winding coastal roads, and golden sunsets, don’t delay. Pack up the car, and explore Central California. While the world adapts to safe travel during COVID-19, road trips may just be the solution for the adventure and freedom you crave with the safety you need. Road tripping helps you reconnect with feelings of spontaneity, optimism, and fun while giving you the flexibility to safely stay away from crowds.
Experience joyful moments along magical coastlines. Savor farm-fresh cuisine and sip organic wine. Meditate amongst pine trees and bliss out in nature once again. Here’s where and how you can safely get away, breathe, and feel expansive on a magical road trip through Central California.
Explore Monterey County
The northernmost tip of Central California, Monterey Country has one of the most scenic coastlines in the world. Once you arrive, the best way to explore is actually to get out of your car and onto an e-bike.
Mad Dogs & Englishman offers brisk morning e-bike tours of the 17-mile stretch, where you’ll pedal past the Lone Cypress and Del Monte Forest and take in the deep blue hues of Spanish Bay. Follow your guide to the beach, where a sumptuous wine pairing picnic curated by Carmel Food Tours awaits you.
Spend the night in picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea at the boutique 12-room Tally Ho Inn boasting private, flower-filled decks and ocean views. Then dine at neighborhood restaurant Stationæry, featuring a seasonal menu from Monterey & Santa Cruz County farms and an extensive natural wine list. All seating is outside in a quintessential English courtyard setting.
Just a half-hour inland is Carmel Valley, a relaxing wine country getaway surrounded by the sun-kissed Santa Lucia Mountains. If day-tripping, stop at Massa Estate, I.Brand and Family, and Joyce Wine Company tasting rooms for a flight of elegant, organic, and sustainable wines.
Unwind at Carmel Valley’s heavenly vineyard resort, the three-time Forbes Four-Star rated Bernardus Lodge & Spa. Nestled within 28-acres of vineyards, fruit trees, organic herbs, and vegetable gardens, this sanctuary even boasts an apiary of 180,000 Italian honey bees, whose delicious honey is featured in the kitchen, bar, and spa.
Sophisticated ranch-chic rooms open up with high ceilings and ample patios from which to count the stars as the resort’s botanicals release their sweet scents into the night air. The renowned spa is open, offering private alfresco body and facial treatments.
Dine on an elegant patio with garden views at the signature restaurant, Lucia, with famed Chef Cal Stamenov at the helm of the French-inspired menu. In the recent past (when we could dine inside), the chef’s table was a favorite amongst mission-driven Hollywood stars the likes of Leonardo di Caprio, who signed the wall.
Next head to Big Sur, the very southern tip of Monterey County, where a rugged coastline creates majestic views like iconic McWay Falls. Although Big Sur is a well-known destination, there’s a way to access the road less traveled: hire a guide. Big Sur Guides match you with a local who customizes a tour based on your interests. You’ll learn about the area’s quirky past, its even quirkier residents and its medicinal forest plants, and enter a rare and sacred fairy ring of redwood trees.
Travel the Highway 1 Discovery Route
The definition of SLO CAL, the Highway 1 Discovery Route is full of outdoor adventure, wildlife viewing, adorable beach towns, sustainable wineries, and sea-to-table cuisine.
Make a reservation at the tasting room at SIP-certified Tolosa Vineyards, in the volcanic hills of Edna Valley. Cold winds from the Pacific whip through, creating perfect conditions for clean and elegant expressions of Pinot Noir grapes. Relax under the shade of olive trees and soak in vineyard views while you savor Tolosa’s signature 1772 wine flight. Or be one of the very first to try its Single Vineyards Futures flight.
Stay the night in Cayucos, a small surf town that feels like it belongs to a quieter, simpler time. On the Beach is a lovely 14-room hotel with ocean views known for its gourmet breakfasts. Relax in your room with a cup of fresh coffee, and nosh on an artichoke quiche while you wait for morning clouds to dissipate.
Dine at the nautical-casual Schooners, with its daily menu of sustainable seafood and an impressively long list of farm-fresh veggie sides. The open-air top deck is the perfect place to catch the sunset and safely people-watch along the boardwalk.
A quick 20-minute drive from Cayucos is a historic gem, Cambria. It marries a quaint village feel with awe-inspiring ocean views along the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which stretches for a mile along the Pacific. Here, Terri Harrington, owner of Tulu Yoga, guides seekers on a private Meditative Yoga Walking & Nature Bath. First, hike down a gentle forest trail that opens up to reveal sweeping ocean views. All the while, Harrington leads you through mindful expansion exercises and a series of gentle yet soul-searching questions. Sessions end with a cleansing and energizing meditation to release and clear energy blocks.
To nurture your newfound zen, Cambria Pines Lodge is the perfect tranquil getaway. Nestled among 25 acres of Monterey pine forest and dotted with wildflower gardens, each room is more like a private cabin with a cozy, rustic feel. A twilight dinner at Robin’s on its garden patio is simply magical. Watch stars and planets pop into the night sky as you dine on locally-sourced, globally-inspired dishes.
Discover Santa Maria Valley
South of Cambria, between the Sierra Madre mountains and coast, is unpretentious Santa Maria Valley. With pristine beaches, rising-star wineries, and world-class oak-grilled barbecue, it’s a local’s secret destination that’s quickly gaining popularity.
Start your day with an early morning walk over Oso Flaco Lake to the impressive Oceano Dunes, which open onto San Luis Bay. Stop for a coffee and healthy breakfast at Willow, in charming Nipomo. Next, swing by the Luffa Farm for a quick tour.
Known for their champagne-method sparkling wine program, SIP-certified Riverbench Winery on the banks of the Sisquoc River has a charming en plein air tasting room. For fragrant yet dry brut bubbles, try the Blanc de Blancs or the Cork Jumper Cuvée.
For a late organic lunch (and yes, more wine tasting), make a reservation at Presqu’ile, (pronounced press-KEEL). This modern architectural gem of a tasting room sits atop a hill with vineyard, garden, and ocean views. Family-run, its French chef took full advantage of the mandatory closure to plant an organic garden, which she harvests from daily to create Mezze Picnic platters perfectly paired with a wine tasting flight of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Pace yourself, though, because you’ll want to taste Santa Maria BBQ at the iconic Hitching Post in Casmalia or at The Swiss downtown. Think oak-grilled artichokes, asparagus, and mushrooms sizzling over the open fire. When you crave BBQ done right, Santa Maria is the place to get it.
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