In part one of this mini non-Disney trip report, I broke down how a trip up or down California’s Pacific Coast Highway could feasibly be added to a Disneyland trip before eventually running down all we did in San Francisco. This section is all the hits, baby! None of those boring details that might be useful to you, instead I’m just going to talk about seals, cliffs, some amazing food and other fun things. That’s the hard sell to keep you reading! You can tell I’m excited because of the exclamation points.
Once in Monterey, it was around dinner time so we headed down to Old Fisherman’s Wharf and walked around there. The area has a number of affordable hotels, including the Arbor Inn where we stayed, that are about a mile away from the Wharf. It’s walkable but we opted to drive that night as exploring both that and Cannery Row were of interest and there wasn’t much time.
I actually preferred Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf to San Francisco’s. It felt a little less touristy, albeit still a little kitschy. It was fun to explore the shops and there were a number of dining options. We ended up eating at one of the seafood restaurants down there and it was pretty average. After spending a little more time there, we were off to Cannery Row.
We both ended up wishing we’d spent more time in Cannery Row and probably would have done dinner somewhere there if we did it all again. The very next morning we went back down to that area to walk around some more. Monterey used to have a giant sardine canning industry that was a boon to the city. Now those canning factories are gone but the district has become a shopping and dining area with some very extravagant hotels thrown in. It’s a beautiful area and feels more organic than Fisherman’s Wharf. Walking between the two took about 15 minutes and is lovely, right along the water.
Frequent readers of this blog know that I enjoy food, maybe a little too much. I haven’t mentioned much in the way of dining yet but that changes with our next day in Monterey. I’d read about a Paraguayan bakery called Café Guarani near Cannery Row so we went there for breakfast the next morning. It did not disappoint and remains the best thing I’ve eaten in months. We ordered a Ham and Cheese Empanada to share because we had lunch plans in a few hours. It came with homemade Chimichurri and was absolutely phenomenal, both decadent and filling. After eating this, we ordered two more to go for breakfast the next day along with a few bakery treats. If you’re in Monterey, go there.
Monterey is known for their aquarium which seemed to be very busy. Unfortunately, we didn’t make time for that but it was easy to spot the sea life throughout town. Like you can see in Finding Dory, there are seals laying on rocks throughout the town. It’s a very funny sight to see a large seal on a rock that’s far too small for him or her. There are plenty of places to see a whole pod of seals, including just past Cannery Row along the water.
After enjoying the sea life and a few shops, we headed out for lunch in Carmel-By-The-Sea at Toro Sushi. Carmel had a number of little shops to walk through and seemed like a ritzy, small beach town. Toro Sushi is a recently opened restaurant that serves very fresh fish. We ordered Chef’s Nigiri and a roll and enjoyed both of them immensely. Toro is a beautiful restaurant with simplistic white walls adorned with décor that honors Japan. There’s a cute fireplace and a window in the ceiling to let in light. I wouldn’t say the design outshines the food but it’s close. I would highly recommend a meal here.
Our last while in Carmel and Monterey was spent on the famous 17 Mile Drive that takes drivers along the oceanfront and through Pebble Beach Golf Course (and about five other beautiful golf courses). Along the way, there are 17 sites to stop at and enjoy the beauty. Really, there’s more places to stop than that but the 17 are marked and part of a brochure that you’re given upon entry. It costs $10.75 to get into the drive and it’s a very well spent $10.75.
The first few miles of the drive are nothing to behold but once down by the ocean, the views are spectacular. It’s hard to pick just a few highlights as it’s all striking. My favorite stops included walking along the boardwalk at Spanish Bay Beach, Bird and Seal Rock, The Lone Cypress, and Pebble Beach Golf Course. We were on the drive for just under 3 hours but could have probably spent all day on it, hiking around or enjoying more of the golf courses. On a personal note, walking down to see the 18th green on Pebble Beach was surreal after seeing it on TV and video games so many times. It was a perfect way to cap off the time in the beautiful Monterey area.
- Cafe Guarani
- Cannery Row
- Seals and other sea life!
- Toro Sushi and shops in Carmel
- 17 Mile Drive
Drive Through Big Sur
From Carmel, we got back on the Pacific Coast Highway and headed south with a destination of Morro Bay. It’s about 120 miles from point to point but will take at least 3 hours thanks to slower roads and a number of places to stop along the way. This was my favorite portion of the drive, winding through Big Sur. There’s the vast Pacific to the west and the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east. The road rises and falls, climbing the cliffs of those mountains that offer sweeping views of the highway and ocean.
Not far from Carmel-By-The-Sea is the famed Bixby Creek Bridge. The bridge is showcased in a few pop culture items including the theme song to HBO’s Big Little Lies. There’s a little turnoff just before the bridge (if headed south) that offers incredible views of the canyon below, the bridge’s iconic structure and the cliffs rising above the ocean. This is one of the must-see stops on the drive.
There are plenty of other highlights along the way and don’t be afraid to stop any time you see a turn off. I’ve never been to Ireland but the sudden cliffs reminded me of many films and photos I’ve seen from there. Through Big Sur there’s also state beaches to stop at as well as lighthouses and little restaurants along the way. A little further down the road is Hearst Castle, which was unfortunately still closed due to the pandemic while we drove through, and a beach full of Elephant Seals. Stop for both of those things!
Winding through the curvy cliffs of Big Sur is reason enough to make this long drive. Every turn and every incline offered a new unique view. It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been!
Big Sur Highlights
- Bixby Creek Bridge
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Hearst Castle
- Elephant Seals
I won’t be writing about Morro Bay as much because it was more of a place to stay overnight than anything else. There are a number of budget hotels in town and it’s very easy to pull off the highway and enjoy a night there. We thought our meal that night was just fine and the waterfront area was pretty.
The easy highlight of Morro Bay is the giant rock called, and this might shock you, Morro Rock. This natural rock sits out in the middle of the water and has a little road that connects it to the town. You can walk or drive out to the rock and enjoy the views. It’s an outstanding sight and was easily my favorite part of the town. If you feel like driving a little further then Pismo Beach is down the road another half hour or so.
We’ll finish off this guide/trip report with part 3, talking about Santa Barbara and Malibu. Let us know any thoughts or questions you have in the comments down below. Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney. If you enjoy our content please subscribe to the blog (via WordPress or email) and like our social media pages. You can find all of those things on the right side of this page. Have a great day!