Heading north up Highway 1 you can feel your stress fading away. With the sparking Pacific on your left and green rolling hills to your right, the drive itself is a quiet vacation.
Our destination on this getaway was the Central Coast, and the little towns dotting the coast route.
First stop Cambria. This quaint village offers so much to a visitor. You can walk Cambria’s charming downtown from end to end, perusing its numerous boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
Since we were on vacation to get away from work pressure, we had booked massages first thing at Vyana Wellness Collective. Run by a dynamic mother-daughter team, they’ve collected and combined all the best spa services available. This was more than a massage – it was a total experience! You start with a half-hour sauna, followed by a glorious dry brush foot massage, then a full body massage that seemed to go on forever, replete with wonderful surprises like hot stones, hot towel wraps, aromatherapy spritzes and more. It was the perfect beginning to our relaxing getaway.
Totally mellow, we simply had to cross the street to Robin’s for wine and an evening repast. Robin’s is a Cambria institution. The rustic restaurant with its beamed ceiling, heated patio seats and charming garden offers a mix of Mexican, Thai and Indian fare, all handcrafted from farmer’s market fresh ingredients. And of course they boast a great wine list from Central Coast vineyards. We ordered their special garlic bread to accompany a gorgeous spinach salad, vegetarian lasagna and Robin’s Chow – pasta with fresh vegetables, garlic, ginger and soy.
Fully sated from our massage and meal we checked in to White Water Hotel. Directly across from Cambria’s famous Moonstone Beach, this boutique hotel offered us large comfy beds with fluffy comforters, a huge bathroom and stunning views of the sunset over the ocean framed by Monterey pines.
We were surprised the next day with a complimentary breakfast basket, filled with a delightful morning offering – orange juice, bubbles and pastries. We shared mimosas on the Moonstone boardwalk before we combed the beach looking for the famous moonstone rocks.
Our early morning walk along the ocean sparked our appetites so we headed into town for breakfast at Linn’s, another Cambria favorite. The family-owned eatery has an extensive breakfast menu but we were lured in by their famous ollalieberries – a cross between blackberries and raspberries.
Linn’s started as a produce stand, then evolved into a pie stand and eventually got so popular they had to open a restaurant. Even after a beautiful eggs Benedict and farmers omelette we had to try a small piece of olallieberry pie while Aaron Linn told us of the restaurant’s 45-year history.
The beauty of the Central Coast is its small town vibe, and the locals and families that live and work here. A visit to one famous local – and California royalty – was our next stop up the coast.
Of course I had to visit Hearst Castle – home to a famous newspaper publisher. William Randolph Hearst collected treasures from around the world – including the Hollywood who’s who list at the time – to what he called his “ranch,” or “Enchanted Hill.”
Our visit was made even more enjoyable with our third-generation tour guide, full of humor and insights into the building of the incredible main house and expansive gardens. After our tour we watched a movie of the history of Hearst and building his landmark at the large visitor’s center. We laughed as we caught a lucky glimpse of zebras grazing on a nearby hill, descendants from Hearst’s original zoo on the property.
Since animals were on our mind, we drove up Highway One a little farther to see another California wonder. The Piedras Blancas Sea Lion Rookery is the only one in the world open to the public. You can look down on a stretch of beach where year-round you can see up to 17,000 of these amazing creatures and watch their life cycle from mating and molting to giving birth. It’s incredible to see the enormous males fighting each other over a female a quarter of their size.
Touring Hearst Castle and inhaling all the fresh ocean air made us hungry so a quick lunch stop at Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill was in order. Just down the road from our hotel and across from Moonstone Beach this casual restaurant specializes in fresh seafood – and their clam chowder bread bowl. That and a crab sandwich hit the spot and we were up for more exploring.
Central Coast means wine – and we were up to the challenge. Just minutes from downtown Cambria in a serene canyon is Stolo Family Vineyard. A restored 1800’s farmhouse serves as the winery, and we sat and chilled with glasses of Stolo’s estate-grown pinot noir and chardonnay – cool climate wines, as Stolo is so close to the ocean. Glasses in hand we looked over the expansive vineyards.
Relaxed and enjoying our leisurely pace we poked around Cambria’s shops before dinner at Madeline’s on Cambria’s Main Street. Their homemade French-inspired menu paired with fresh ingredients made for a delightful dinner of mussels, followed by mushroom crepes, enjoyed with a crisp chardonnay. It was probably wrong… but the chocolate truffle mouse cheesecake was irresistible.
Highway One is dotted with small charming towns fronting the coast, so the next morning we dropped down to Cayucos and spent the morning browsing its antique stores (one of my favorite activities of all times)! We stopped to buy goodies from the famed Brown Butter Cookies Company to bring t0 those still slaving away at home.
Restaurants all along the Central Coast take advantage of the fresh produce and offerings of the area. None more than Hidden Kitchen, whose all-organic menu of smoothies and unique blue corn waffles topped with savory or sweet toppings is a draw – evidenced by the packed patio and lines out the door.
We motored down to the next little beach town on our road trip. Avila is another great place to wander and explore the small shops and restaurants fronting the beach. We stopped for an afternoon break of Morro Bay oysters and wine at Senor Lavalle tasting room. They offer not just oyster shucking, but charcuteries and cheese plates to accompany your tasting of their Central Coast wines. The terroir and cool climate produce chards, pinot noirs and the popular sparking pet nat. We enjoyed a crisp chardonnay with our oysters and their amazing house-made vinaigrette.
The ground here, however, produces not only great wines. We checked in to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, famous for their soaking tubs on the hillside above the resort. Each room also has a hot tub filled with the curative mineral spring water. We had a beautiful two-room suite with a fireplace overlooking the rustic and serene canyon. A soak on the balcony with a glass of wine was restorative. We capped out the evening with dinner at the resort’s Gardens of Avila restaurant. Seated in front of a roaring fire we enjoyed the farm-to-table cuisine, with fresh produce, herbs and edible flowers from the chef’s own garden. We nibbled Morro Bay mushrooms and roasted veggies then dined on braised short ribs and shrimp pasta, with a decadent chocolate cheesecake to finish, all accompanied by of course, Central Coast wines.
The Spa at Sycamore offers full packages with yoga and Pilates, a mineral springs soak followed by a spa treatment. You never have to leave the property for an all-inclusive vacation!
But the Edna Valley Wine Trail beckoned, and we were off for an unexpected adventure – a sidecar motorcycle wine tour. That’s right! We strapped on helmets and goggles and got ourselves into a two-person sidecar attached to a huge bike – and sped off to visit some local wineries. It seemed like we flew down the highway with wind in our hair and gorgeous vistas to our right, left and ahead. Edna Valley vineyards were spread out before us as we toured some of the local wineries.
At Claiborne and Churchill we enjoyed the wines offered by the husband and wife winemakers, who specialize in whites, especially dry gewurztraminer. They also boast the first commercial straw bale building built in California, keeping their winery cool.
At Saucelito, the 143-year-old winery is known for its zinfandel with some vines traced back to Croatia. At Wolff we enjoyed the sweeping view of the vineyards while chatting with Elke Wolff about their chardonnays, dry reislings and pinot noirs.
Dinner that evening was at Blue Moon Over Avila, featuring classic French dishes in a charming white-fronted beach café. For the cool evening we started with a traditional French onion soup Lyonnaise, followed by my absolute favorite – steak au poivre, which did not disappoint, and a fresh wild mushroom ravioli. We topped off dinner with a delicious lavender crème brulee.
Every restaurant we visited on our journey takes advantage of the amazing local offerings – from wine to farm-fresh produce, and it shows in the creative and delectable culinary choices.
After all this amazing dining, we woke the next morning to walk the Bob Jones trail just outside Sycamore Resort. This “city to the sea” hiking, jogging and biking paved route winds through the valley along San Luis Obispo Creek towards the beach. It passes Woodstone’s Deli tucked away in the canyon, a combination country mart with great gift items, deli and espresso bar – great for a quick snack or in our case, an early-morning breakfast of fresh pastries and coffee. You can dine in the charming Craftsman building or on the patio overlooking the trail.
We hit the coast road again as our Highway 1 road trip wound us back home. One last stop at the Avila Beach Golf Resort gave us a beautiful view of the Pacific from our outdoor lawn chair dining spot. Their casual public café, Mulligan’s Bar & Grill next to the golf course, offers quick service breakfast and lunch – so after a lighter meal than we’d been having – delicious chicken wraps and lemonade – we were back on the road.
As we headed back down Highway 1 to L.A. relaxed, happy and rested, we brought back a car full of wine, goodies – and great memories of our amazing road trip.
For more information visit highway1roadtrip.com.