After almost nine years of living in California, I finally made some time to visit Big Sur. Living down in San Diego meant that I couldn’t make it an easy day, or even weekend trip, so with a week off between Christmas and New Years I made a mini-road trip itinerary.

Day 1 – Paso Robles

Being that I’m a wine lover and had explored Temecula, Santa Ynez and Sonoma, it only made sense that the first stop to break up the drive would be Paso Robles.

Stay

There are some winery resorts to stay at, but since we were only there for one night we opted to stay in town. Town didn’t have too many higher end options, and their mid to low range options were relatively expensive. I opted to use points for the Paso Robles Inn and was not disappointed. The location couldn’t have been better for staying in town and the room we had was nice (with a very spacious bathroom).

Eat

We had dinner at La Cosecha – Restaurant & Bar. The paella and cioppino were so so, but my mezcal drink in a smoked glass was quite good. The scallops appetizer was delicious. Not my favorite place I’ve ever been, but I’d go back, if just for drinks and appetizers.

Red Scooter Deli – anxious to get on our way to Big Sur, I stopped into this little place for some breakfast sandwiches and cappuccinos. Both were delicious.

Halter Ranch Winery, Paso Robles

Wine!

Of course, the main reason I decided to stop here was for all of the wine. We spent about four hours wine tasting that afternoon. There are about 200 wineries in the area so I know there a lot more to taste, but here’s where we went and what we thought!

Adelaida – I honestly chose this place because it looked pretty in a photo (and because I had decided we would stick to the west side) but was impressed with all of the wines we tasted. It was here I learned about the Mourvedre grape and where we decided to pick up a bottle of Mourvedre wine. They snuck in a little extra wine, port, some walnuts and chocolates too.

Halter Ranch – at this point we decided to let our UberWINE driver lead the way. He brought us down the road to Halter Ranch which was absolutely gorgeous. They just built a brand new building for their tastings. Everything we tasted there was delicious as well and the views were gorgeous.

JUSTIN Winery – we were warned that they had been purchased and turned corporate, and it definitely felt that way. The wines were all pretty great and they had two different tastings you could do. One was more expensive than the other so we split them. (some of the wines overlapped). We didn’t purchase any wine here but ended up buying some merchandise for our friend Justin and received the tastings for free (a $35 value).

Turley Wine Cellars – it seems that most wineries in Paso make a white wine or two just to appease those coming along for the ride who might not love red wine. Well, at Turley we tasted 100% red, and 100% Zinfandel. While they were good, I’d prefer a more diverse tasting menu (and perhaps they do have a more diverse menu at times).

Cypher Winery – our last stop of the day was a smaller winery called Cypher. To be honest, at this point I was pretty tipsy and a little bit more focused on an adorable yellow lab puppy, but I had no complaints and they gave us wine glasses when we left. There was also another winery right next door but they were closed (it was the day after Christmas and a Monday).

Paso Robles

Tip!

UberWINE was great. It can get expensive (averages around $40 an hour) but you have a private driver the entire afternoon. So, if four of you go wine tasting for four hours, what’s $40 a person?! If you’re not doing a pre-planned wine tour or have a designated driver, I’d highly recommend this option as cell phone service was not the best, sometimes non-existent out at the wineries.

Day 2 – Big Sur & Monterey

We woke up bright and early and started our drive to Big Sur. These were the stops we made along the way:

Elephant Seals Vista Point (San Simeon) – early on in the drive we decided to check out the elephant seals – worth a few minutes to check these guys out if you have any interest!

San Simeon

McWay Falls & Julia Pfeiffer State Park – pretty crowded, but amazingly beautiful. Definitely worth the stop.

McWay Falls
Julia Pfeiffer State Park, Big Sur

Nepenthe Restaurant – we had actually been told the food wasn’t very good, and with an hour and a half wait we weren’t very interested, but it was easy enough to order a glass of wine at the bar and take in some gorgeous views.

Nepenthe Restaurant

Big Sur River Inn – we stopped for a late lunch here – a rustic, woodsy feeling place and enjoyed some beers, a burger and a delicious pulled pork sandwich.

Big Sur River Inn

Bixby Bridge – probably one of the most photographed spots in Big Sur, we obviously joined the crowds during golden hour for a few great shots. It was a wonderful end to our drive (until we realized we were on a one lane road of traffic leaving Big Sur and Point Lobos State Park at the same time)!

Bixby Bridge

We then checked into The Monterey Hotel in downtown Monterey for the next two nights. It is a historic hotel but our room was rather modern and again, the location made everything easy.

Still full from our late lunch we opted to do some more wine tasting at Sovino Wine Bar & Merchant and then had a late dinner at a really cool restaurant called Restaurant 1833 (also, delicious!).

Day 3 – Redwoods & Carmel-by-the-Sea

Our original plan was to explore Point Lobos State Park, but after spending all day driving the coast the day before, we decided to find some redwoods instead. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was closest, about an hour drive away, and we wandered around in the cold forest for a while, in awe of these amazing trees.

The park was actually just east of Santa Cruz so we decided to head there for a quick lunch. Santa Cruz has yet to impress me, so after a little bit of seafood we made our way back down to Monterey to drop off the car and yet again, taste some wine.

We spent mid-afternoon to early evening visiting a few wine bars in Carmel (there are about 14 in a couple of square blocks – they actually call it the Carmel Wine Walk By-The-Sea). We picked up a couple of bottles from Blaire Estate and Shale Canyon Vineyards and then were ready for dinner.

It was recommended to us to go to Grasings and it did not disappoint. We managed to snag a table in the bar area during a busy dinner time and enjoyed good drinks, lobster mac and cheese, paella and duck. Definitely passing along this recommendation!

The next day we started our journey home after picking up some more breakfast sandwiches at Caffe Trieste Monterey – it just happened to be across the street from our hotel, but another good (and relatively quick) breakfast spot if you’re downtown.

Can’t wait to explore even more of this amazing state!

Looking for more west coast road trip ideas? Check out what our friends at The Upbeat Path did!