Note: This Highway 1 California road trip post is sponsored by Ecolab.
Travel in 2021
I’ve loved road tripping the past two summers. Last year it was all about treading lightly as we were in the height of COVID-19. This year, our 18-day road trip from California to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in June only made me want to travel more, but at the same time, the news from day-to-day is a roller coaster.
A Highway 1 California Road Trip through Big Sur to Monterey
Because Highway 1 through Big Sur closed several times the past few years due to landslides, it had been at least a decade since I had driven the iconic highway. I thought it was time to change that before the next rainy season possibly shuts things down again.
I took a three-day / two-night road trip from Ventura to Monterey and back along Highway 1. It’s around half an hour faster to travel inland, but then I’d miss some of the best coastal scenery in the world. Where’s the fun in that?
I LOVED this quick trip, fitting in as much as possible. But not everything went right. Here’s how I planned this trip, everything I did, and what didn’t quite work out.
I booked this trip on a Monday night and then left Tuesday morning – embrace the spontaneity! I had two priorities when it came to selecting accommodations: 1) the hotel is committed to a higher level of cleanliness; and 2) it’s situated in a walkable location (a must I’ve learned after visiting Monterey several times). Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa fit the bill as the location has earned the Ecolab Science Certified™ seal and was near all the sites and restaurants.
Cleanliness has never been more important to me, especially when traveling. I wanted to feel confident in my hotel choice and that the location was committed to clean – from the products being used to the behind-the-scenes practices.
I stayed mid-week so the tourist destinations would be less crowded, more enjoyable, and less expensive than the weekends.
With a hotel booked, I looked into activities – specifically those that were outside and adventurous. The activities that immediately jumped out were an ebike ride around 17-Mile-Drive and Pebble Beach, and a whale watching excursion. I booked both online – the whale watching for my first night (a sunset sailing) and the ebike ride for the next morning.
Driving to Monterey
I planned my departure so that I would arrive in Cambria, one of my favorite small towns, around 11:30 am to beat the lunch rush. I parked in a public lot and walked to Robin’s – recommended by an Instagram follower. After a quick lunch (the lamb burrito is great), I got back on the road heading north.
If you’re only going to travel one direction on California’s Highway 1, I’d recommend traveling north to south. Virtually all pullouts are on the west side of the road, so it’s a lot easier to stop when you’re heading south. Knowing that I would be driving the highway back down the coast, I only stopped a few times heading to Monterey.
One of my stops was at Bixby Creek Bridge, the second most famous bridge in California. This is also the only exception to the north-south guidance, as the easiest parking is on the east side of the road just past the bridge.
I also stopped whenever the view was just too good not to photograph! This is one of my favorite pictures.
My attempted stop at Pfeiffer Beach was a failure. The beach looked stunning, so I mapped to it. There’s virtually no signage at the road and then there’s a two-mile very narrow road to the beach. I made it one mile down the road before a person heading the other way told me that there was a three-hour wait for parking. So I turned around and drove on to my hotel.
Casa Munras Garden Hotel and Spa
I mentioned Casa Munras and its Ecolab Science Certified seal above. In addition to adhering to the highest standards of cleanliness, the hotel is simply a great place to base in Monterey. I loved the location. When a follower recommended Alta Bakery for breakfast, I looked it up and it was only a four-minute walk from my room! The staff at the front desk had a lot of Monterey recommendations for me, parking was easy, the pool was great, and my room was perfect.
A Two-Day Monterey Itinerary
The Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace
After checking into Casa Munras and finding out that my sunset whale watching was cancelled due to high winds, I walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf and quickly found myself at the Old Monterey Farmers Market, which stretches down four blocks of Alvarado Street on Tuesday evenings. In addition to fruit, berries and vegetables, there were countless street food stands, arts & crafts and even a walk-up COVID-19 vaccine table. If you’re planning a Highway 1 California Road Trip, you may want to time it so you’re in Monterey on a Tuesday!
Whenever I’m somewhere new and there’s street food, I head to the stand with the longest line. It’s a good indicator that the locals like that one best! In this case, there was an Indian food vendor with maybe 20 people in line. I purchased dinner and found a place to stand up and dine along Alvarado Street.
The Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf has restaurants and shops, and it’s where whale watching excursions and harbor cruises leave from. My whale watching was cancelled, but I still walked all around the area – a perfect place to watch the sun go down (the last time I would see the sun for a day and a half).
An Ebike Ride Around 17-Mile-Drive
I had never been on the 17-mile Pebble Beach loop, and I thought a bike ride sounded like a great way to see the area. I booked through Big Sur Adventures, met up with Rob our guide and eight others near Cannery Row, and we set off towards Pebble Beach. I’ve been ebiking in Europe several times but never before in the US, and this was fun…and social! We stopped often, and there was a half-hour break at the Pebble Beach Visitor Center where we relaxed, snacked and talked. I’d recommend this for anyone 10 and over who can ride a bike – the biking was very easy (the ebikes do all the work) and there was very little traffic.
Cannery Row isn’t my favorite area as it always feels a little too touristy, but I walked around, looked for otters and sea lions, and had lunch at the fisherman-owned, non-touristy Sea Harvest Fish Market, recommended by Rob the bike guide.
One of Monterey’s top-rated restaurants happened to be at my hotel – convenient, plus knowing it had earned the Ecolab Science Certified seal made me feel confident dining there. Reservations for Estéban typically fill up well in advance, but I managed to get a table at 5:45 p.m. on my final night in Monterey. I brought a book with me but ended up talking with the hostess most of the time while waiting for my food. The empanada and the coca were excellent!
After my failed attempt to visit Pfeiffer Beach, and the clouds and rain present for most of my trip, I wasn’t planning on seeking out another beach. But a follower on Instagram highly recommended Carmel Beach, so I picked up croissants and coffee from Lafayette Bakery in Carmel when they opened at 7am and drove to the beach. Parking is easy that early! I sat on a bench overlooking the beach and enjoyed breakfast, and then walked up and down the beach with my coffee. So glad I went since the sun finally came out and the beach in the morning was absolutely perfect.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
When I checked into Casa Munras, Bob at the front desk said that his favorite place to hike near Monterey was at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. So after Carmel Beach I drove over to Point Lobos, arriving just after they opened the gate at 8am (entry is $10). I drove the standard loop through the reserve, stopping frequently and hiking the marked trails I saw. Such a gorgeous setting! I highly recommend visiting early in the day as most of the trailheads and overlooks have small parking areas.
Driving South on My Highway 1 California Road Trip
From Point Lobos I headed south towards home, but I was in no hurry. I stopped whenever the view of the coastline was particularly stunning, I hiked at Garrapata State Park, and then I headed to McWay Falls. At Point Lobos I talked with a woman at the Whalers Cove overlook who, after learning that I was driving south, brought out her phone to show me all of her favorite stops along Highway 1. One that jumped out at me was McWay Falls. She said to look for a line of cones near the road, park and view the falls from the road. I did that, but then I turned into the parking area (parking is free if you’ve already paid to enter Point Lobos the same day) and I walked out to the main overlook. I’m posting photos from both areas below so you can decide whether the free overlook is sufficient or you want to pay $10 to park. It’s a short, easy hike if you do decide to pay to park.
I then drove further down the coast and found a turnout with a great view where I stopped and ate lunch (I had purchased a sandwich from Lafayette Bakery), and talked with others who were also enjoying the perfect scene. Then I drove home, completing my north-south road trip in roughly seven hours, including hiking stops.
What I Skipped
There are a lot of famous sites between Cambria and Monterey. Some I visited on this trip, but four notable ones that I skipped were:
Hearst Castle in San Simeon has been closed to visitors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elephant Seal Vista Point
Also in San Simeon, the Elephant Seal Vista Point is usually crowded, but well worth a stop at least once since it’s fun to see dozens of elephant seals lazing on the beach and occasionally waddling into the ocean. I’ve been several times with the kids.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium
Likewise, I’ve visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium many times with my kids. It’s one of the world’s great aquariums, but I wasn’t tempted to spend $49.95 and several hours visiting again solo. I highly recommend a visit if you’ve never been. Buy tickets in advance (they often sell out) on their website.
I’ve visited Carmel a lot over the years, so I didn’t explore the town this time. Definitely recommended.
Throughout my travels, I’ve come to discover that there is a difference between “clean” and “Scientific Clean.” A “Scientific Clean” is deeper than just shiny surface or a fresh scent – it’s advanced cleaning and disinfecting products, combined with repeatable practices and periodic check-ups, that help businesses deliver a higher level of cleanliness. A higher level of cleanliness is one that makes me feel more confident as I get back to the moments and places I’ve been missing.
And it’s for exactly that reason that I look for establishments that have earned the Ecolab Science Certified seal.
Ecolab Science Certified
I’ve written about the Ecolab Science Certified seal a lot the past two years. It really is a great way to feel confident that any hotel, restaurant, grocery store or other business that has earned the seal has committed to a higher level of cleanliness – it brings the same scientific cleaning expertise used in hospitals to the places you eat, stay, shop and play. When you see the Ecolab Science Certified seal, you know they:
- Use the broadest product portfolio proven to kill the COVID-19 virus as well as other germs. This includes hospital disinfectants and food-contact sanitizers like Ecolab’s Sink & Surface Cleaner Sanitizer, proven to kill the COVID-19 virus in just 15 seconds.
- Implement protocols created to support a higher level of cleanliness informed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and developed by Ecolab’s team of food safety and public health experts, backed by decades of experience helping keep hospitals, restaurants and hotels clean.
- Train their employees on current public health and food safety cleaning and disinfecting practices.
- Are subject to independent audits by Ecolab specialists to verify practices are being followed and products are being used correctly. They receive additional support and training to resolve any gaps.
Before the Ecolab Science Certified program, it was difficult to feel confident that an establishment adhered to a higher level of cleanliness before booking. Now even before we arrive, we know there will be science-based products and practices behind the surfaces!
This post is sponsored by Ecolab, the global leader in cleaning and disinfecting expertise for commercial environments. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn how they are using scientific expertise to deliver a higher level of cleanliness. To view a list of some of the businesses that have earned the Ecolab Science Certified seal, visit sciencecertified.com/partners/.
All photos and text are mine. I planned every element of this Highway 1 road trip, including choosing activities and restaurants, and did not receive media discounts.
A Highway 1 California Road Trip: Your Turn
Have you taken a Highway 1 California Road Trip? What did you like best? What did I miss? And if you made it to Pfeiffer Beach, what’s your secret? 🙂
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