Let me start this post with a public apology to my mother. If you have or haven’t been following my travels over the last few years, you will have come to know that a lot of my trips have been father-daughter trips. And somehow, over the past 22 years of my life the mother-daughter trip never came to fruition…until now! A little bit of sun, hiking, good food and conversation, this long overdue Mother’s Day/girls weekend/Memorial Day/mother-daughter trip landed us in the stunning Big Sur and Point Reyes.
Type ‘Big Sur’ in Google and you’ll be bombarded with postcard-esque photos of California’s central coast; rugged cliffs, blue waters, and surging waves flowing together in seamless harmony. I’ve heard recommendations from friends and family who went there, but had never gotten the chance to go down myself. In the least clichè way possible, it was everything I could have dreamed of and more.
You definitely need a car to experience Big Sur. Apart from the physical distances between each location, the best part about driving down the coast is the feeling of the ocean breeze playfully blowing across your skin, music blasting out the windows while the sun shines down through the open rooftop as the sun kisses your skin; pure bliss.
You can go one of two ways; north to south or south to north. Highway 1, California’s longest state route is just over 655 miles, but Big Sur is the roughly 90 miles stretching from Carmel to San Simeon. Either way you go, plan ahead as there is limited service throughout and as you get deeper into Big Sur, accommodation can be spendy during peak times so it’s best to stay at one end or the other.
Since we only had four days, we decided to go north to south, spending two days and one night in the Big Sur area. We arrived in San Jose late afternoon, rented a car, and headed straight to Carmel. Our Airbnb in the Carmel Highlands was so lovely, and is a terrific option for staying in Big Sur without breaking your bank account. There’s a reason it’s called Carmel-by-the-Sea, point in case that the city is literally blocks from the Carolina blue blanket of calm and serenity. After a sunset beachside stroll, La Bicyclette is a romantic, European bistro to grab dinner and settle in to town’s modern charm.
The next morning we woke up bright and early, had a hearty breakfast at Katy’s Place, jumped in the car and started our journey south down Highway 1. In addition to all the stops on the previously mentioned map, some of our favorite hikes/stops were the Valley View Overlook trail at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which gives you a great sweeping scape of the luscious valley and the Beach Trail at Andrew Molera State Park, a sweet walk (through a creek) leading to a secluded sanctuary of beach. Due to the recent California floods and fires, be sure to check on the California Parks and Recreation website to know ahead of time which trails are open and closed.
Back in town after a long day’s excursion, we decided to treat ourselves at L’Escargot that served country fresh French cuisine in a quaint and intimate setting, to note the frog legs, warm homemade bread and butter, and soup du jour were fantastic. To end the most perfect of days, we watched the sun set along the stunning 17 Mile Drive, which proves an equally stunning sunrise to run in the morning (half marathon training or not). The cost to drive it is about $10 and is completely worth it. Apart from the sea otters, tide pools, and beautiful seascapes, 17 Mile makes it on my list as one of the most scenic coastal drives I’d do over and over again.
To me, Santa Cruz is personified in a bronzed, Californian that rides gnarly waves on the beach and says ‘dude’ every 3rd word. In other words, it’s a laid-back, local-loving coastal town with beautiful sandy beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean juxtaposed with the cozy, damp redwoods huddled together in the cool of the mountains. It’s a small city with a lot of character that all can enjoy.
One of the iconic spots in Santa Cruz is the more than 100-year-old boardwalk that is the classic seaside attraction. Founded in 1907, it is California’s oldest surviving amusement park that offers a variety of games, rides, attractions set alongside neighboring volleyball courts, a sandy beach stretch and ocean waves to swim in.
If you’re in the city, downtown Santa Cruz offers a wide range of shopping and events, highlights including watching an independent film at one of the cinemas, listening to some jazz music on the street or learning to salsa dance at Palomar Ballroom. For the nature lover, definitely visit the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to walk through the acres of giant old-growth redwood trees. The Henry Cowell Redwoods are located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a little less than 15 minutes away from downtown Santa Cruz and engulf you with forested beauty perfect for fishing, hiking, and camping. Another fantastic option for getting into the woods and exploring nature is the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, also just a few minutes past the outskirts of Santa Cruz.
My brief time in Santa Cruz has left me with two eats to put on one’s checklist: Taqueria Santa Cruz and West End Tap & Kitchen. Taqueria Santa Cruz is a complete hole-in-the-wall, mostly fit for late nights and cheap eats, but their carne en su jugo is like the pho of Mexican gods. I don’t know what made it so good, but I would travel back just for it. Just as lively with equally delicious food, West End Tap & Kitchen is a Californian gastropub and tap that serves up yummy eats *cough the burger cough* to grab with friends and family in a fun, local setting.
My only memories of this town are when I used to pass through for skating trips. Then after, there were a few trips around the area touring colleges and not much else. Nonetheless, there are a few recommendations that I thought I should throw in even if one is passing through. As it deems fit, the seasonal outdoor Toyota Ice Rink is fun activity for everyone with an exciting rink layout. For kids under the age of 10 (or adults that act younger), the San Jose Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a fun is a small 16-acre zoo and amusement park to play on miniature sized toys or watch an animal show. On a sunny day stroll around the small yet charming Municipal Rose Garden for a sit, chat with friends or even picnic. If you’ve got money to spend, have dinner at incredible, three Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa hidden within the quaint streets of Los Gatos.
This city deserves a post of it’s own, but for time’s sake, here’s a short recap of what I know and love.
Biggest tourist draws but also must-sees include the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Painted Ladies, Haight-Ashbury, Nob Hill, Botanical Garden, Chinatown, Mission District and of course the San Francisco Bridge (whose best viewpoint is on the north side). Whenever I win the lottery and move to San Francisco, I plan on living in Hayes Valley. It’s the hotspot for healthy eats, hipster boutiques, and one of my favorite ice cream places so that’s really all I need. Since we didn’t spend too much time in San Francisco this trip, dinner was the main event before our trip ended and until I make it to Saison, The Progress is where I will be going to in SF.
I have been to a lot of restaurants around the country and world, and asking me to pick one restaurant for one night in San Francisco is like asking me to find a needle in a haystack, near impossible for a foodie like me. After deliberation and filtration, I decided on The Progress for a local, yet semi-gourmet dining experience. The Progress comes from the James Beard Award-winning State Bird Provisions team and chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski that know what they are doing. With a fun write-in menu, everything from the grilled abalone with yuzu-seaweed butter, to the coal-roasted mushrooms and puffed black rice-crusted trout, are dishes I dream (and still dream) about.
One question: How have I lived my whole life thus far without having visited Point Reyes?
In all ways topographically and geographically different from Big Sur, yet equally breathtaking and radiant, my skin and soul were glowing while visiting this area of Northern California. Point Reyes National Seashore is a large protected cape abundant with rolling hills, peaceful meadows and jaw-dropping seaside cliffs that is a haven for hiking, exploring and wildlife. Whether you want to learn about its bountiful history, indulge in wholesome, organic, good-for-you food, relax among stunning flora and fauna, or just immerse yourself in the most majestic scenery, Point Reyes is sure to leave you in complete awe.
Our first meal was at Saltwater Oyster Depot, a farm-to-table neighborhood restaurant focused on sustainable farmland and seafood, local foragers and thoughtful food that highlights the simplicity and realness of the surrounding community. If there is one restaurant you should go to in Point Reyes, both my mom and I highly recommend Saltwater.
Per recommendations of our lovely Airbnb cottage, we woke up the next morning and headed into town for our West Marin Food and Farm Tour. West Marin is a region known for some of the country’s best artisanal and organic food, and our tour gave us an authentic look and taste into what is being done there. There are few different tour options you can choose on depending on their schedule, from which we chose the Flavors of West Marin Tour. Cheese-tasting, bread-making, honey wine-tasting and more, our tour guide Alex was a jewel and extremely knowledgeable about the local agriculture and food practices. Again, this is the one activity that lets you truly experience the culture and community of food in West Marin that I would recommend to all. When you are finished with the tour, take the time to walk around the shops in the center of Point Reyes Station, like Ink.Paper.Plate, Coyuchi and Palace Market.
In the afternoon, we hiked out to the end of Tomales Bluff from the Historic Pierce Point Ranch. Follow the trail through the Elk Reserve (and see elk!) though be careful as in recent years parts of the end of Tomales Bluff have collapsed. There are so many amazing hikes in this area that I could spend a whole week here and still not do them all. If you have the extra time and you love the outdoors, there are hikes and bike paths galore to spend additional days exploring. Though a little bit pricier and reservations are necessary, dinner at the highly-rated Sir and Star was a delightful meal to end the day with.
The next morning, we stopped by the adorable Inverness Park Market, combined our goodies from the day before and had a lovely brunch before heading out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Operating hours vary so check ahead of time and visit when the stairs down to the lighthouse are open. If you get there early enough, there is a cute picnic table at the top of the stairway to bring your brunch and munch on while at the isolated tip of beauty.
Every Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekend, there is an event called Open Studios, whereby the name describes the event itself; a couple dozen of local artists open their houses and studios to the public for viewing and purchasing art. Anything from wooden sculptures to watercolors to jewelry can be found among these studios and it’s nice to see and support the local art community.
After a magical trip with my mom, if there’s anything I learned from this trip is that one; simplicity and rest make a heart full, and two, my mom’s the best! So thank you mom, for being a person of humility and comfort, and yes, another trip is in session, by no means excluding California.