Driving California: LA to Monterey

by Pavel S.

2 people, 800 miles, 3 days

We left LA for Monterey during a heat wave and my girlfriend, Ksenia, and I needed fresh air. So we booked Flavius’ Porsche 911 and got out of town! Unfortunately, PCH was closed and we had to take 101 and a series of long freeways that aren’t that much fun, so we built our own route. It’s much more fun if you ride along small local roads and see beautiful wineries, fields, and even mountain rivers and bridges.

Our route was approximately the same mileage as taking 101 would be, but a bit longer because of all the curvy roads and hundreds of spots to stop and catch our breath. Upon arrival, our goal was to visit the most highlighted spots from the Emmy-winning TV show Big Little Lies.

After getting out of LA, we took 101 up to Santa Barbara and then turned up to 154. The first stop, Cachuma Lake is an artificial lake, but that doesn’t make it less beautiful. They have cabins, an RV park, and spots for group camping right on the shore with a stunning mountain view. Usually it’s $15 for the whole day, but the ranger was nice and let us stay for a bit and take some pictures for free.

Less than an hour’s drive away was our next stop, Solvang. It’s a well-known village with Danish-style architecture and businesses. You can try the best pastries in one of the coffee shops, stop by local shops with ceramics and wooden souvenirs, and visit numerous European art galleries. It’s a small, cozy town, where everything is walking distance, so park your car and enjoy the atmosphere of Denmark in the heart of California.

Our next stop was San Luis Obispo. They have stylish coffee shops with a great food scene, and city has a very different feel from LA. Small, walkable streets and green trees all around. We stayed for lunch at one of the authentic cafes, tried locally roasted coffee and moved on.

On the final leg to Monterey, we decided to ditch 101 and take a shortcut on local roads. Even Google wasn’t sure if we should take this road, but our hopes were fulfilled! The small curvy roads were perfectly designed for Flavius’ Porsche! Along the way, parts of the road were only one lane, and lined with fields and wineries.

We arrived in Monterey Bay almost by the night, and decided to take a night walk through the city. The local shops, restaurants, and busy streets were especially beautiful at night. A lot of the hotels face the ocean and the rooms and restaurants have great ocean views.

Cannery Row is the biggest attraction in Monterey, and got its name from the fishing industry and sardine canneries that use to dominate the area — made famous in John Steinbeck’s book, Cannery Row. The urban styled, brick buildings of the old canneries are now storefronts, restaurants, and entertainment sites for tourists, but with preserved style and architecture.

The next day in Monterey, we stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf — it was full of sea lions. We heard them from our hotel, but couldn’t figure out where they were! Finally we discovered their place and there were tons of them, playing in the water or chilling at the pier. You can enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants on the wharf, all of them have fresh seafood and dishes on display. It was so cool because we’re so often lost when trying to chose just by reading the menu! The different shops on the wharf make local sweets and candies. The sea salt homemade caramels are a must-try, and our bike/walk along the coast was perfect!

We had to visit 17-Mile Drive. It’s a private road on Pebble Beach in Pacific Grove with coastal access, cypress trees, golf courses, and mansions. It cost $9 to drive the road, but it’s worth every penny! You’ll find a parking spots every mile for amazing beaches, forests, and scenery. Take a breath, open the window and enjoy the view. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, you can also walk on the rocks and beautiful beaches. You can watch whales, sea lions, otters, and dolphins depending on the season. At the end of the drive, we found a golf club with a variety of cafes for some snacks and coffee with a view of the course.

Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most popular and well-known destinations in California, so we couldn’t miss it. Even though PCH was closed, we were still able to go see the bridge and then turn back around. We never regretted this 60 mile journey. The breathtaking view, ocean breeze, and stunning scenery looked great up on our camera!

On our way back to LA, we tried to catch the sunset on PCH in Malibu, but we were little bit late, so we were only able to catch the last rays, and take a breath by the ocean before returning home. The nature and landscapes change so rapidly and California’s variety opens up in so many ways. Even though we’d only traveled in California, we felt like we’d been in so many different states and had traveled for a longer time.