California mini road trip: from San Francisco to Carmel

Last week, I published here on the blog a post about our trip to San Francisco – if you have not seen, just click here to check – and I mentioned that I would still publish another post about our mini road-trip (only 2 days) – we left San Francisco on Saturday morning and visited some towns. And I asked Ana, my friend who lives in San Francisco and organized all our mini road trip, to write this post, after all, she knows the area much better than me.


We checked the weather all week – the weekend had to be sunny and warm! It had to be perfect. And it was! Our short road-trip down the coast of California, San Francisco to Carmel, with a stop in Santa Cruz, featured pleasant weather, pleasant temperatures, beautiful landscapes, an amazing hotel, and lots of laughs.

Pacific Coast Highway (also known as Route 1, Highway 1, or California 1) is known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world. It is a really unforgettable trip! As we live in San Francisco, my husband and I always drive to any town in Southern California. There’s no way to be tired of so much beauty! We’ve done the most famous route – San Francisco / Los Angeles- twice, with over 350 kilometers of beautiful and breathtaking landscapes! For this mini road-trip with Laura, we would not have a lot of time, so, we decided to do the  San Francisco / Monterey / Carmel, Carmel / Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz / San Francisco route.

We left San Francisco on a Saturday morning (around 10 am) and the first thing we did was to make sure that the GPS was telling us to follow the route on Highway 1. Our first stop happened about 40 minutes later:  a breakfast at Joe’s in Half Moon Bay (family size portions! The grilled cheese & ham – is quite large and comes with a lot of fries). As we didn’t have a lot of time, we didn’t stop at any beach in Halfmoon Bay and follow the route.

Our second stop was at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, a cute lighthouse with a most beautiful landscape, in Pescadero, a small town 50 miles from San Francisco. We took some pictures and decided to continue straight our way to Monterey. Good to know that the lighthouse is also a hostel.

Pescadero / Monterey path had many charming views and we were kind of sorry for not stopping, but we still had enough distance to go and we were happy to appreciate everything from the car.

We were kind of hungry when we arrived in Monterey and we decided to have lunch. We had no idea where to eat and we started searching on Yelp for a few options. Bingo! We found a place with delicious Mediterranean/ Lebanese food and affordable price (Paprika Cafe, $25 per couple). And there was a beautiful and delicious bakery next to the restaurant. Take note: The Perfect Crumb Bakery worth an after-lunch coffee with a freshly baked brownie.

After lunch, we drove to the Lovers Point Park, located in Pacific Grove in Monterey County. The Lovers Point is a park on the edge of the beach where you see everything: families gathered barbecuing or picnic, parents and children surfing, people with their boats, many taking the opportunity to stay in the sun, and even more people admiring the beauty view. The seawater is crystal clear and is a great place to get lost in time.

From Lovers Point to the entrance of the 17-mile drive, a road connecting Monterey to Carmel, was just 5 minutes. As the name suggests, the road is 17 miles and is all composed of bucolic landscapes, small beaches, golf courses, and stop points.. Remember that to get into 17-mile-drive by car you have to pay $10 in cash. One of our stops was to see The Lone Cypress, one of the most intriguing spots, because this cypress grew lonely on a cliff, and is more than 250 years old. Many tourists stop to take pictures with this rarity, a lonely tree and a blue sea, and weave theories about how the cypress is still going strong on a rock at sea. We also stopped at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, built-in 1919, a place that today is a golf resort club that receives high-income guests, but which is open to the public for visitation. The resort’s restaurant is also open to the public and offers a breathtaking view of the Pacific.

After our tour through 17-mile-drive, we were in Carmel, another charming beach. It is impossible not to love the streets of Carmel, where you will find many charming restaurants, art galleries, renowned shops, local shops, an organized small and beautiful town. Carmel is to behold! We took a break for coffee and pastries at the traditional Carmel Bakery, the oldest hotel in town (in operation since 1899), in addition to being located in the oldest building in the city too.

We walked a little bit in Carmel, we entered some shops and headed to Santa Cruz, a beach town located midway between Carmel and San Francisco, that is, the return trip has already started in the evening of the first day. We had a great surprise when we arrived at the hotel (Casablanca Inn) when we found out that our rooms were facing the sea (is there something better to sleep with the sounds from the sea?). We dined at Santa Cruz in a restaurant in which the highlights are dishes with seafood, The Crows Nest.

Sunday was also a sunny day! We walked a bit through the center of Santa Cruz, we had brunch at a place called Lulu’s Pacific (another tip! The bacon bagel is delicious!) and then we went to the beach in Santa Cruz, which has an amusement park.

Capitola was also part of our plans. Despite being a small beach and often forgotten by tourists, I wanted to show Laura the colorful houses facing the sea, which are actually part of a hotel, the Capitola Venetian. With romantic houses, flowers in the windows, and many beach shops, Capitola is a mix of rustic beauty with a European touch.

When we got back in the car to our return trip, I felt sad. It is hard to see our beloved friends back home, especially after so many happy days! And today I write this post with great nostalgia and already crazy to repeat everything!

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