How do we explain Mykonos. Primal? Sensory Overload? A mix of Africa, Middle East, and Greece all in one place? Perhaps a combination of all these things, combined and focused on fulfilling your desires to let go and let loose, through epic sounds, beaches, food and fun. Mykonos has a lot to offer singles and families alike. Before you book your trip, read this blog to hear our take on if Mykonos is worth the hype or if you should opt to go somewhere else for your summer holiday.
What's the Highlights about Mykonos?
Mykonos is an island in the Cyclades group in the Aegean Sea. It's popularly known for its summer party atmosphere. Beaches such as Paradise and Super Paradise have bars that blare thumping music all night long. Massive dance clubs attract world-renowned DJs and typically stay open well past dawn. Iconic landmarks include a row of 16th-century windmills, which sit on a hill above Mykonos town.
It. Is. Expensive.
I'm not sure what we expected coming to Mykonos. We traveled with our 1.5 year old son, and stayed at an amazing 4.5 star cliff-side hotel with a delicious half-board package at their fine dining restaurant on the property. So, we knew we were paying a little more for the luxuries we wanted out of our holiday (great views, an epic pool, and finer accommodations that made it more comfortable to travel with a baby).
We knew vacation would be expensive, but didn't realize just how expensive it would be. It's nearly impossible to get fresh grilled fish for less than $100 EUR/kg. The mark-up here is crazy, and they're largely targeting an international crowd, so they know that people will spend the money. We could have easily spent $1K on food in just one week(maybe we did?!?), and that's literally just eating at some of the normal beach front restaurants on the boardwalks (nothing crazy fancy).
Prices ease up once you actually get into Mykonos Town, and we found some great gems we'll share below under "what we loved." Regardless, if you decide to come to Mykonos, be prepared to spend a lot more than you expected on food, cabs, and entertainment.
It's not as "Greek" as you Might Think
We were surprised to find the entire island centered around tourists. I'm really not sure why we had this idea that by coming to Mykonos, we would have a 'locals' experience. While, yes, there's definitely places to go that feels more local, and we found those gems. But, all in all, the island is 99% tourists, and most of the people we met were America honeymooners, and friends coming to party for a long weekend.
We did meet families too, and again, that is all about where you stay. Our hotel had a good mix of honeymooners and young families, doing a lot of the same as what we were doing (spending the better parts of our day on the beach or lounging by the pool, eating, and in the evenings, going out for dinner)
What we Loved
The Views and Beaches on the Island are Breathtaking
The beaches here are just magnificent. Unlike Crete, where most of the beaches are actually stones, Mykonos has many small sandy beaches, on a dry desert-like rugged island. You can catch water taxis for about 30 eur from one beach to the next. We stayed on Platis Gialos beach. Beautiful views and lots of dining options in this area. It's also really close to the famed Scorpios beach club.
It's a Foodie Paradise
After our trip to Mykonos, I fell in love with the greek salad all over again. We literally made it for dinner every night the entire summer last year. There's a hundred ways to enjoy it, and it always came with a light dressing, amazing fresh feta, and delicious olives. I probably ate this 90% of the time during our trip. Besides great fresh salads, they of course, have great fish, wild caught every day. Like I said before, Mykonos is expensive, so if you want to enjoy a whole fish, you're paying a ton of money (close to 100 Eur). As you venture into Mykonos Town, you'll find more affordable places to eat. There's lots of easy burger and gyro joints all over old town.
Our absolute favorite foodie find in Old Town is To Maereio Mykonos. It's run by two twin brothers, and it's 100% local. Our hotel gave us this tip, and we came back here three times during our stay. It's cheap, I mean locals cheap, and some of the best food on the island for quality and value. We didnt have reservations anytime we came, so it was a bit of a wait. So we ordered a carafe of wine, and sat outside, while Lucas ran around playing in the alley. Don't come to Mykonos and not stop here at least once. You'll thank us later.
Mykonos Town and Luxury Shopping
Mykonos Town is the historic center of the island, and is this intricate connections of small roads, alleys, and beautiful white washed buildings with pops of bright blue everywhere you go. What surprised me most is the amount of luxury shopping you have in Mykonos Town. There's a bus that brings you into the center from any main point on the Island and round trips per day are less than 2 EUR. Cabs are expense here so we definitely recommend taking the bus, which is more like a private coach. We spent hours walking around and checking out larger retailers like Louis Vuitton, to smaller independent designers with flagship stores in Mykonos. It's literally the center of all the fun and partying on the Island.
Everyone who comes to Mykonos town checks out the historic windmills. They're definitely pretty at sunset, but it was too windy for us to spend more than 30 seconds there to take pictures. Be sure to check out Skandinavian bar which leads the nightlife of Mykonos since 1978 and is located right in the center of Mykonos town.
Our Hotel was Amazing
We stayed at Myconian Ambassador Relais & Chateaux–a beautiful cliff-side hotel perched above Platis Gialos beach. It was just a 3 minute walk to the beach, and had the most expansive pool we saw on the whole island. It was a hotel that targeted honeymooners and families, so don't expect a crazy party with a DJ next to the pool. It was perfect for what we were looking for and I highly recommend it to any families or couples looking for a quiet, luxurious place to stay on Mykonos.
If you stay here and want to visit some beach parties, you have to go to Scorpios. Literally, it was the highlight of our trip. It's a beautiful restaurant, that also has a beach party, and it's 25 minute walk along the cliffs to get there from the hotel. We had to carry the stroller up a couple boulders, but otherwise accessibly by foot with kids. The staff all look like they're straight out of a Game of Thrones scene, dressed like Khal Drogo and the Dathrakis. Miraculously, my son fell asleep at 7pm, and stayed asleep, through all the music, while we enjoyed some drinks, and dinner until about 11pm. They have a day party, too, and their panoramic views of the beach are breathtaking. This is mostly an adult place, but kids are fine until about 11pm or midnight, when the restaurant starts to get quiet, and it switches to a pure beach party.
Not far from our hotel on the beach was Branco Hotel Mykonos. We ate here a few times, and I think if we came back without kids, we would stay here. There's a DJ that plays every day on the beach. It's a smaller place, but the views are amazing, and their restaurant is delicious.
Would we come back?
There's so many places to see in Europe, and so many Greek islands to think about. Would I come back? Yes, if I were coming with my husband (no kids!) to enjoy letting go at the most incredible beach parties I've seen in the world.
Is it worth coming for a week with kids? I guess maybe, if you've got cash to burn, can rent a yacht, and explore all the natural adventures and beauty of the island with your kids, then it's totally worth it.
In the end, we are so glad we came to Mykonos. It was beautiful experience and our family really enjoyed all it had to offer. But if you're just a family looking for a warm weather beach escape, beautiful views, amazing hotels and pools, and simple good food, you might get the same experience visiting a different island like Crete, that's more centered around families, and local European travelers, at a fraction of the cost!
Are you visiting Mykonos for the first time? Tag Unbound_Travelers on Instagram to share your experience with us!
Where to go? What to do? Places to eat? We share our experience and insider tips for the most epic road trip across the coast of Portugal from Algarve to Lisbon. Pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable experience.
Algarve, Portugal's southernmost region is a great place to start your road trip as you travel north along the western coast toward Lisbon. If you live in Europe, you'll find quick and affordable flights into Faro (FAO). We've seen direct flights from Frankfurt to Faro on RyanAir for less than 100EUR round, even in peak summer months. If you're flying into Lisbon, just follow this guide in reverse.
Along Algarve, you'll discover one small beach after the next. Views go on for days and the hikes are incredible. Along some of the smaller central and eastern Algarve region, you can find beaches with calm waters; perfect for an afternoon on a Kayak or SUP.
East of Faro you'll find one of the most beautiful beach towns in all of Algarve, Tavira. It straddles the Gilão River, and reaches the sea via lagoons of Ria Formosa Natural Park. Tavira Island is known for its long sandy beaches, and salt pans that attract wild birds. One of the more local spots is Ilha de Tavira, a small island with 11 kilometers of sandy beaches, small food stalls, bars and camping sites. It's a quiet place to enjoy your holiday for a day or two, with minimal international tourism. This area is also known for its nude beaches, so take caution if you're coming with children, or are uncomfortable with that sort of thing.
Algarve's amazing rugged coastline is full of sandy beaches, caves, cliffs and unique rock formations. The Benagil caves are one of the most beautiful caves in the world, and only accessible by boat, SUP, or Kayak. If you have an experienced guide, you can ask about cave diving. Be careful, because tides rise quickly in this area, and currents below the surface can be strong. But if the conditions are right, it will be an unforgettable experience. Always follow the safety recommendations of your guides when attempting any cave exploration. We were exploring the coast via SUP and while cave diving, got hit with an earthquake, that quickly changed the sea conditions. Super scary stuff!
Stay near Porches, Carvoeiro, or Albufeira. For luxury accommodations, considering getting a room at Vila Vita Parc. For budget friendly lodging, try out an Airbnb apartment near the beach.
After a day of hiking, kayaking, cave diving, and lounging around the beach, you have an endless list of restaurants to enjoy, with some of the freshest seafood you'll ever eat. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Ocean, led by Austrian Executive Chef Hans Neuner and named Portugal's Chef of the Year 2009 & 2012. Two Michelin Stars, breathtaking views over the Atlantic, and an amazing tasting menu, makes this the perfect night if you're looking for a once in a lifetime find dining experience. Each course of I'd say 16-18 course/'snacks' has a story, and feels warmly familiar. It's an intimate venue, with maybe 12 tables at most. Reservations are hard to come by, so book early!
For normal, everyday meals, seafood, and great atmospheres, head to Armação de Pêra, a beautiful beach in central Algarve. Every Sunday, Praia Dourada has a beach party with a live DJ, and fresh made bottomless seafood Paella that is to die for! Their Tuna Poke bowls are also amazing. If you don't want to eat in the actual restaurant, they have daybeds on the beach where you can enjoy your food, drinks and chill.
Try the Xarém and Chocos com tinta at Chocos. It's absolutely amazing.
I was also surprised to learn about the delicious Portuguese wines and vineyards. Visit Rolha Wine Bar for a tasting and tapas.
The coast west of Lagos, leading up toward Sagres is one of the most unspoiled parts of Algarve thanks to the national park. Western Algarve is a surfer's paradise, where the coastline meets the fierce waters of the Atlantic. As you travel northwest up the coast, you can explore Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. If surfing isn't your thing, you'll find the most incredible views along hiking trails that will leave you breathless. Also known as the ‘Trail of Tides’, the Pontal da Carrapateira trail along the Vicentine Coast is a good one to do for a leisurely hike with costal views. If you are getting in the water, be forewarned that this coast is rough, and can be dangerous for less experienced swimmers/surfers. Nevertheless, it's probably one of our favorite spots along Algarve, with lots of camping options as well.
Estoril-Cascais, & Sintra
As you make your way north toward Lisbon, consider staying in one of these beautiful resort and historic towns about 30-45 minutes driving from Lisbon's center.
Cascais is a charming marina town, that has a more developed, yet blissfully sleepy feeling about it. The main sights to take in include Boca do Inferno, Cresmina Beach, and Santa Marta Lighthouse. You'll definitely want a car around here because you can enjoy a beautiful, wild costal/mountain road trip to Sintra. If you dont have a car, and don't mind a beautiful walk, step outside of the center of Cascais. Driving or walking past Boca do Inferno will amaze you. This area is a surfers paradise, with lots of well maintained and protected dunes, that have boardwalks for exploring and hiking. You may get lucky to also catch the brave local fishermen hanging on the cliff edges, doing what they do best. It's a sight to behold, truly.
We found that after leaving the resorts in Algarve, we had a hard time finding traditional western breakfasts, with all the fixings (eggs, bacon, fruit, etc.). In Cascais, you'll enjoy snacking at Pauls. Although its a chain, they have a good location, great coffee and tasty pastries. It's also great for an afternoon coffee, too, siting in a beautiful square in the center of town adjacent to the beach. If you have a car, and want to venture into the neighborhoods of Estoril, have breakfast at Zenith Cafe. This was my favorite place in the Cascais area to eat breakfast, and they have eggs! They serve the best pastel de nata, a regional specialty made of custard, and warm gooey goodness! It's amazing, and something to savor while in the area.
If you're looking for good shopping, you will not find it in Cascais. Instead, head to Lisbon.
If you're thinking of overlooking Lisbon for the seaside experience, reconsider! We almost totally overlooked the center, and I'm so glad made our way into town. At a first glance, you'll notice a ton of Graffiti art all over the city. It's historic for sure, but has a touch of trendiness, that I was surprised to find. In the smallest streets, you'll find lively restaurants. And the next amazing restaurant is just around the corner. It's a hilly city, reminiscent of San Francisco. Bring your walking shoes, and be prepared to spend a lot of time on your feet.
Our favorite finds?
If you're not up for walking, pick up a street car taxi. For 20 euro, we enjoyed a 45 minute tour of the city. It was spontaneous, and you can just ask your driver to show you around their favorite spots.
An Epic Adventure
Overall, Portugal is an incredible adventure, for the elite foodies, and backpackers alike. It's still much cheaper than similar costal areas in Europe (Amalfi, Greek Islands, etc.). Everyone speaks great English, and its easy to get around. Overall, its a country rich in culture, history and amazing food!
Are you visiting Portugal for the first time? Tag Unbound_Travelers on Instagram to share your experience with us!
Shakespeare put Verona on the map, as one of Italy's most romantic destinations. In the Veneto region of Northeast Italy, Verona is a charming city that needs to be one of your Italy road trip stops. There's no shortage of places to eat and enjoy the sights. Some are better than others. We went on a mission to find the most authentic and unusual foodie finds in the city. We know you might not have a lot of time to try 30 different restaurants and cafes. So, instead of overwhelming you with a list of names, we focused on giving you three place you need to try for an authentic experience in Verona, with amazing food and drinks.
La Tradition: Wine Bar
Just steps from the Arena, this unassuming wine bar will delight you with over the top cheese and meat boards, small bites, local wines, desserts, and coffees. We stopped in for an afternoon feast, drinks and coffees. It's always packed, so be open to taking your wine and standing outside, too.
PROTIP: If you're looking for a quick and easy place to grab a coffee, stop in here. They have some of the best prices I have seen in Verona, with an espresso at only .90 cent EUR!
La Bottega della Gina: Street Food & Pasta-to-go
I'll never forget strolling along in Verona, and getting hit by the smell of truffle. My nose, literally led me to this gem of a pasta joint. If you want to experience Nonna's home cooking, you have to try this pasta shop. They have some seats, but it's also designed so you can take your pasta to go, and even order in bulk for home cooking, too. Their pasta is all hand made daily, and we had the pleasure of enjoying their truffle tortolini, ravioli, and gnocchi.
#PROTIP: Get it to go, and enjoy a lunchtime stroll through the city.
La Romana Verona: The Best Gelato Ever
You can't come to Italy without trying gelato at least once or twice. There's definitely no shortage of places to try in Verona, and it seems like every corner you turn, there's another shop. I have tried a few, and some seem so generic, overly sugary and just generically mass produced. Not Romana. Besides having an amazing ambiance, the gelato is probably the best I have ever tried in Italy. Locals flood this place, and it's always packed, so if you can't find a table, enjoy walking around the city, with your cone or cup of yummy sweet goodness. Staff speaks great English, and they even let you try a few to sample your favorites.
#PROTIP: Don't count calories, and indulge yourself here. It's worth every sweet bite.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Bamberg is home to some of the oldest breweries in Europe. Remnants of the city date back to 400 A.D., with original architecture in tact as fully livable spaces. If you have a few days to explore what I call one of the most poetic cities in Germany, then read on, and check these "off-the-beaten-path" dining spots from your foodie bucket list.
Okay, this isn't technically a restaurant. But I couldn't talk about the best foodie finds in Bamberg, and not mention it. Part cafe, part college hangout, and part bar, this coffeeshop has a young, hipster, down-to-eart vibe that you just can't resist. Looks are deceiving from the outside, but when you walk in, you're transported into this cosy, and edgy cafe. It even has a wood burning fire on the corner, with a selection of books and magazines you can read.
Depending on who's working, you'll hear music ranging from Latin American, to old school hip hop and R&B, to classic rock and blues. They have the best coffee in town, hands down. It's always fresh, never bitter or burned, and served freaky fast. They have some food items, and it varies by the week. Food ranges from fresh soups, to toasted sandwiches, and a selection of baked goods. It's definitely vegan friendly in both food and drinks, with almond and soy milk varieties, too. Everyone speaks great English, and are always very friendly.
It's also one of the few spots in town with wifi. In fact, I am in here now, jamming to Biggie, and writing this blog. (Shades on, head boppin' ensues)
Little Italy was one of the first places we stumbled upon during our "look and see" trip before our official move to Germany. Their pizzas are what I know and love about Italy, full of tangy and savory flavors from the home made tomato sauce, and fresh ingredients. I also love their pastas, always cooked to perfection. Portions are generous, and would highly recommend their beef carpaccio pizza, salmon entree, and seafood risotto. They are vegan and gluten friendly, and can accommodate to many dietary request. The staff knows English and they also have an English menu, so just ask for it if you need one. Bon Appetito!
If you want to experience Bamberg like a local, stop by Cafe Muller for breakfast or lunch. They have an expansive menu that includes breakfast, pastas, crepes, and other hardy traditional entrees. I love their Ottoman's breakfast, which is basically a veggie scramble, with sheep cheese, olives, bread and a warm beverage. Their Turkey Salad is great too, if you're looking for something light, and healthy. They also have their version of käsespätzle, made with goat cheese. Lucas always loves their crepes, and we get it with applesauce (known as apple mouse), but you can pick from a variety of other toppings including Nutella.
Just don't make the mistake of taking the seat of the many Opas (elderly guests) that frequent the cafe, or you'll get an intimidating stare, which is often amusing, but sometimes frightening! You'll see them seated in the corners enjoying a cappuccino, while playing chess, or reading the paper. They have an English menu so just ask for it if you need one! You can make reservations, but never needed. It gets very busy, but also flips quickly.
Can you say Franconian Thai Food? Yes, this little restaurant offers a unique twist to traditional Asian cuisine, by adding seasonal Franconia-inspired flavors. In the fall, the menu is full of pumpkin based dishes. The summer bring fresh fish into the mix. And you'll always find the menu staples which include Duck, potatoes, noodles, curries, and rice dishes.
For gin fans, they also have an extensive gin list, one of the most expansive in all of Bamberg. In the summer, they open their beer garden and it's super rustic, and an amazing spot to enjoy the summer nights, and a meal. They often have live music outside as well. Tables are hard to land, more so inside than out, and usually require reservations. If you don't have reservations, try an earlier dinner around 5 when they open. They have an English menu, so just ask for it if you need one!
If you have a car and can venture about 20 minutes outside of the city center, you'll find one of the best traditional German restaurants in the area. Located in the foothills of the region called Franconian Switzerland, It's a warm, inviting, and cosy restaurant, with a lovely beer garden. They serve all the traditional German fixings from käsespätzle, to grilled meats, knödel, and a variety of pickled salads and cabbages. With amazing views of the rolling hills beyond the horizon, it's also a lovely escape from the hustle of central Bamberg, and a great place to enjoy a beer or wine during the summer months.
If you've come across this blog, you've probably searched a ton of sites looking for guides to traveling the beautiful coast of California and recommendations. I have completed this drive from LA to San Fran several times. I'll detail all the highlights of a 3-4 day trip and recommended stops, lodging, food, sights, and more.
Regardless of what you do, driving the coast of California will forever change your life and will show you a new beauty unlike anything I've seen anywhere else in the world. Its captured my heart and I am confident it will do the same for you. So buckle up, and get ready for a ride of a lifetime along the PCH 1.
"Driving the coast of California
I have family in LA, so I spent the weekend with them up at Big Bear right on the water. For $60 a night, and being right on the lake, our lodge couldn't have been more perfect. We docked the Jet ski right next to the hotel rooms. Spend the afternoon riding and relaxing, while going off-roading in the evening. We spent the majority of the next day mountain biking. My cousins did have all the gear, but Christian (my significant other who joined me on this journey) and I had to rent full suspension bikes and helmets at a very reasonable price.
Start in Santa Monica
If you're not inclined to spend a few days in LA, make your way to Santa Monica to mark the start of your trip north. For some reason, I am always drawn to Santa Monica on all my visits to California as the landmark to the start of my journey. Spend a little bit of time exploring the pier. There's some cool shopping at the 3rd Street Promenade. Its all very typical and touristy, but still nice and beautiful. The beach is amazing, and you'll enjoy stopping in the area for a couple hours. I would recommend hitting the road early enough to have daylight through your trip to Santa Barbara.
The best part of this drive before getting to Santa Barbara is having a tent/RV, or air mattress, because there are a ton of 1st come first serve, cliff side rv/tent camping that's available. We wanted to stay one night, but we didn't have out camping gear yet. (We ended up buying an air mattress and putting it in the back of the Wrangle. It was perfect for the rest of the trip.)
#PROTIP: Pack Warm Layers
It will be colder than you expect. So pack a ton of sweaters and layers. Big bear was in the 80s in July and no rain at all. But as long as you're on the ocean, its going to be much colder than you would expect.
Journey to Santa Barbara
Expect this part of the drive, until you get closer to Big Sur, to be a little duller as far as scenic driving goes. There's not a lot to see on PCH1 in Malibu, so you can breeze right through. I hear there's an awesome restaurant right on the beach where you're served on the sand, you take off your shoes and you eat barefoot.
The best part of this drive overall is if you feel like stopping to take in the beauty, then stop. There's no pressure for time at all.
Once we got into Santa Barbara, it was around 5pm. The beach was beautiful, some clouds but not many. We are notorious for not booking lodging in advanced. Its part of the beauty of the adventure. Its also a big part of the stress. But we were so lucky to find a treasure, at the Inn at East Beach. Its just a block from the water. They serve locally baked pastries for breakfast that's included in your stay. And its also reasonably priced. The rooms are clean and modern. The manager/owner of the place was so kind to give us advice and show us around, and that made the biggest difference for Christian and I.
One big surprise I had was that most of our hotel rooms did not have air condition. I almost freaked out about that, while my husband, a native German, just rolls his eyes. "Stupid Americans". Surprisingly, the temps dropped so much in the night, so an open window is really all you need for a very comfortable night's rest.
We unpacked and strolled about a mile down the beach until we found a Mexican restaurant that was pretty good for atmosphere, average for food. I should also mention, I was in Mexico the month prior at a pretty high-end resort. We had all the Asian fusion and Italian restaurants our appetites could ever dream of. Not what you expect going to Mexico. But in California, I had the best Mexican food I have ever eaten in my life. So eat up while you're here. Its typically authentic and delicious.
Santa Barbara is a very classy town with a ton to see, including the Mission. Its one of the smaller one's I've seen but still worth the visit. And for $5 admission fee, its well worth it for the tour.
Ride the Dunes at Pismo
As you start to travel from Santa Barbara to Pismo, you'll be going inland for a while. Its still really pretty, with rolling hills around you, but you do get on the highway sometimes, so this part of the trip goes pretty quick.
If Santa Barbara is classy and quiet, Pismo is....well .... rugged, down to earth let's say, and dirty! In the best sense possible. You see lots of tattoos, dirt bikes, and off roading vehicles everywhere. You have more of the tattoo shops, and claims for "the world's best clam chowder." I tend to disagree with that statement, but hey, that's just me and I like my chowder a little soupier. Their stuff is more like a stew.
Since I admittedly, have a finer taste for food, we found a diamond in the roof on Yelp, that offered ocean side dining. This place was quite expensive but an amazing Latin American inspired menu with delicious martinis. Ventana Grill was perfect for a sunset dinner. Christian has their Asada, and he says its the best he ever had, even those he had in Mexico. I had several martinis that rocked my world (in addition to dinner that was also very tasty).
We were here on the eve of 4th of July. All the hotels were sold out, the campgrounds were packed and pretty much sold out too. We lucked out and got in at a campground for $30 a night. We set up our air mattress and we were good to go for the night. I slept really well. Christian got a little cold. But its because I had the sleeping bag. Otherwise, it was so comfortable.
In the morning, we went up on the Sand Dunes in the Wrangler, almost getting stuck a million times. These dunes are a MUST SEE on this trip. Its a natural phenomenon. The sand is so soft. And because its a holiday, it was totally packed with people on every off-roading vehicle you can imagine. Keep in mind, that you need to have a flag, so if you don't own one, they sell them right on the beach. And there's a ton of vehicle rentals too.
#PROTIP: Camp in Pismo
Save a ton of money! We found a last minute camp site for less than $10 for the night, roughing it in the back of our Wrangler.
Pack a Picnic
Christian and I went grocery shopping before leaving Santa Barbara, so we had food for breakfast and lunch. After leaving Pismo, and coming back towards the coast, we found this beautiful wild spot for lunch. We walked at least a half mile to the cliff side. We only saw one person walking by who was fishing further by the water. There were birds all around us, flying in groups and getting so close to us. It was majestic and peaceful. Its moment like that, which make this drive so amazing. Its a very popular drive, so you do see many people on PCH1, but there's a sense of isolation as well. You can easily find quiet stops where its just you and nature.
Hearst Castle, and the Sea Lions
As you continue to drive north, the ride will just get more breath taking with each passing mile. There are a few things you should do, if you've never been before.
You'll see signs to see the Sea Lions before getting to Hearst Castle. Its worth the stop. The sea lions are so cool to watch. The way they move, lay there, throw sand to keep cool, and wobble around. You'll probably spend about a half hour here before realizing you've seen all you need to see and you move on.
By the time Christian and I reached Hearst Castle, it was getting a little later in our day. If you've never done this, I would totally recommend taking a tour of the castle. There's a ton of people everywhere, but the bus ride up to the castle is very pretty. Since the next available tour was not until 4pm, we decided to opt out of taking the tour, and continuing our drive. Christian has never done this drive, so he had no idea how close we were to the best part of the whole trip.
We are so glad we did skip out on the castle tour, because we started to see the tiny winding road around the mountain, the smell of the crisp fresh air, the cliff side getting higher from the ocean, and evening fog setting in. I knew, we were finally making our way to the grandest part of the whole trip, Big Sur. We loved it so much here, we stayed for almost 3 days, part camping, and in part staying in the state lodges.
Photos will only do so much to describe the beauty and majesty that's found in Big Sur. This place will forever change you and will instantly renew your heart. At least, that's what it does to me every time. But I'm a sucker for beautiful nature.
Lodging and Things to See
If you're at all able to, you should pack a tent and make this a camping trip. There are so many beautiful cliff side options to camp on. And nothing beats waking up to the sound of the ocean, wind on your face, and the view looking out into the horizon. You'll be able to find first come first serve, cliff side option along PCH1.
Other great options are staying at the Big Sur Lodge. We learned that if you come later in the evening, they negotiate a better deal. One night, we drove in pretty late and asked for a room. All they had was a 2 bedroom cottage which typically goes for almost $500. We got it for $120.
Eating in Big Sur
As far as dining goes, you'll probably hear a lot of people say they ate at Nepenthe. The food is pretty good, and it does not get any better in terms of a spectacular view. They have both indoor and outdoor dining options. They also have a fire pit overlooking the ocean and cliffs, so its a great spot for just having a few drinks and hanging out. Pack a sweater, because it does tend to get chilly as the night goes on, depending on the time of year you're there.
There's a lot of hiking trails and beaches you can check out when you're there. Just ask anyone in the city, and they'll point you in the right direction. In particular, I want to make mention of Pfeiffer Beach. The road is unmarked so you have to pay attention to the side street to go down. Larger trailers can't get through, but most cars will have no problem. You will thank me for this later. I've posted photo above. It was really one of the most beautiful beaches I've seen the whole trip.
Carmel, Monterrey and Santa Cruz
The charming town of Carmel, once led by Mayor Clint Eastwood, is an upscale town, with quaint shopping and boutiques all over downtown, and a beautiful view of the water. Save yourself the money, and opt out of taking the 17-Mile drive. Its totally over rated. What you will find though, is a ton of cute shopping, beautiful hilly streets, and good eats. I did not stay the night here, but you can certainly find ways to spend your time.
We had a late lunch and kept driving up to the crazy town of Santa Cruz, where you won't have a shortage of people-watching along the board walk. Its a city that reminds me of Wildwood, New Jersey (A town I used to live in for one summer in college). Its got a few small carnival rides and roller coasters and a boardwalk that's filled with people on any given day. Its not my kind of town, but Christian was most excited about visiting this place. He mentioned something about a childhood dream of Santa Cruz, and just had to see it: the logo, surfing, and women in little bikinis (my assumptions of course). I guess German TV really sensationalized this place in the 80s. I did enjoy walking around downtown and doing some surfer girl shopping. I picked up a few cool board shorts, water wear, wetsuit, and more.
Home stretch to San Francisco
To my surprise, the drive between Santa Cruz and San Francisco was absolutely stunning. You're much closer to the water, height wise. (Not as cliffy as Big Sur), the stretch of beaches and sand dunes were amazing and very unique to anything we saw south. It was more magical, because the sun was beginning to set, and added this beautiful glow to the surrounding landscape in addition to the fog rolling in. We stopped off to watch the sun set along the way. The ocean was fierce here, with signs everywhere warning of shark attacks, rip tides and danger. In spite of that, there were many surfers waiting for that perfect wave. We considered staying the night in the lighthouse hostel, but opted for the Day's Inn at Half moon bay. It was nothing fancy, but a comfortable warm room, after several night's of sleeping in the back of the Wrangler.
The next morning, we hit the road to San Francisco and found a great deal on hot-wire.com at almost 70% off the published rate at the Omni in the financial district. The finance district is a great place to stay, if you want to be near Union Square without paying the premium prices of the area. Just know, that after 6 or 7 pm, the finance district is pretty much empty, but you won't find cleaner street than you do here (they're power washed every night!).
Things to note: You would typically thing you could walk everywhere in San Fran, but be careful, as some of the streets, not far from Union Square, get pretty sketchy. Christian and I decided to take a 1/2 mile walk to dinner, and found that to be a big mistake.
Also, get ready for the workout of your life. We went for a walk on our first evening, and I was sweating profusely by the time we made it up just a couple street. The walk down, however, was a lot of fun! I'm not quite sure how anyone in a wheel chair can realistically get around the city, or anyone with a physical disability of any sort. It just doesn't seem possible. But it could be a great way to build some strong upper body strength. Still, it just seems difficult to get around. It could as well be my personal issue (Coming from the plains of Michigan and not used to that terrain at all!)
There's so much to see and do so I'll start listing some recommendations:
We even considered going to Yosemite National Park, which is about 4 hours from the city; very do-able if you have a couple days to spare. I hear its amazing. We decided we did enough driving and stayed put in the city until we flew home.
In summary, regardless of what you do, make sure you go into your PCH1 road trip with an open mind and agenda. If you over-plan, you'll likely miss some of the true gems waiting right around the next curvy road. I'm confident you'll find your way and will enjoy this trip just as much as I have!
We are explorers.
Thrill Seekers. Foodies.