The following morning we were excited to get downstairs for the Santa Ynez Inn’s coffee and breakfast. They always have a fresh and locally curated selection of fruits, pastries, and yogurt. We took nibbles of a little bit of everything and found our seats in their main dining room. They have a limited menu, but the two or three options they do have never disappoint. I went with their hash and Greyson tried their buttermilk pancakes. Both were so delicious and the perfect start to our day – one that would be taking us back on the road to Carmel.
Prior to checking out, but after breakfast, we both realized that Grey needed to burn off some steam before getting back in the car. The husband was amazing and took him to a local playground where he could get some of the wiggles out and I could enjoy the peacefulness that the Inn provides. So, while the boys were out playing I took my book and went outside to their courtyard area, got comfortable, and dove right into where I left off in The Goldfinch. Having that 30 minutes or so to myself, especially on a road trip where you’re forced to be around your family constantly, allows me the time to rejuvenate and relax before the next leg of the trip.
Dinosaur Caves Park
131 Cliff Ave, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
We arrived to Pismo Beach within a couple of hours – it’s not far from Santa Ynez. Our room wasn’t ready yet at our hotel so we once again set off to explore and find a local playground. Thankfully we were in luck! Right down the road was a really cool playground right off the highway called Dinosaur Caves Park. How did it get it’s name? I had to do some research, but according to the park’s official website the name came from some guy in the 1940s who built a metal-framed large dinosaur and created an attraction where visitors could pay .25 to see the “caves” which naturally lined the beach. Eventually, the residents of this area weren’t happy and filed a petition to shut it down and remove the dinosaur. The attraction closed and the property was sold and eventually the city took ownership and remodeled the land into the park. It’s a pretty funny history to read about, but I’m happy that it’s still an area that can be enjoyed by the public.
The park itself is a great stop-off for those looking to stretch their legs with a gorgeous walk along the cliffs of Shell Beach. This park is also great for walking dogs and, of course, letting the kids play on their pretty impressive playground. Grey particularly loved becoming Spider-Man and climbing up their “spider webs.”
After an hour or so we made our way back to our hotel, The Cliffs, which sits right on the beachfront. The husband booked all dog-friendly hotels for our trip and I was thankful this hotel had the entire ground floor dedicated to pet-friendly rooms. Being on the ground floor makes taking Murphy out so convenient and better yet, there’s no carpet in the rooms! The pool was also located right in front of our room, so naturally Greyson wanted to head straight there once we got settled. For an overnight stay, The Cliffs wasn’t a bad place to be.
The Cracked Crab
751 Price Street, Pismo Beach
Knowing we would be making it to Pismo for a day, the hubs and I planned to have dinner at our favorite go-to seafood restaurant. My husband first introduced this place to me back in 2015 and when I was newly pregnant…like, first trimester pregnant. We were new CA transplants and he planned this whole road trip to take me up to San Fransisco (I had never been). OMG it was the best decision ever. Freshly steamed buckets of crab just dumped on your table…yes, please!
This was also very special for me considering this would be the second time we would be bringing Greyson here. He was just a baby last time and before that he was a tiny little thing in my tummy. Cracked Crab will always be a memorable place and over the years has become quite the tradition on our road trips up north.
After dinner we decided to walk around and make our way towards the pier. I’ve always loved just people-watching and checking out the local stores as we made our way down towards the water. There’s all kinds of other restaurants, surf and souvenir shops, bars, and candy shops to choose from.
Greyson wanted to check out one of the surf shops so we wandered on in. I have to preface this story with the fact that this kid does not wear hats. At all. It’s almost a battle to put anything on his head, actually. With that being said, he found his way over to the shop’s hat section – browsing and weaving in and out through the aisles of clothes and surf boards.
He happened upon a red hat that had the store’s logo on it: a skeleton mariachi that said Pancho’s Surf Shop. He refers to it at his “spooky Santa” hat due to the long beard. To this day this kid doesn’t go anywhere without it – he even wanted to sleep with it on one night! It’s a pretty adorable hat and I’m thankful that he’s finally wearing something he loves and will protect his face from the summer sun.
The Apple Farm
2015 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo
As the sun was beginning to set we headed back to our hotel just down the street and called it a night. The following day we would have breakfast at The Apple Farm, a cute breakfast spot and inn in San Luis Obispo before getting back on the road for Carmel, our final destination.
Also, I watched the movie Destination Wedding starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder an the Apple Farm Inn was where they stayed in the film! So, it was fun to watch after we had visited the restaurant side ourselves.
Things to also do while in the SLO/Cambria area:
- Hearst Castle
- Moonstone Drive
- Every Thursday there’s a massive Farmer’s Market in downtown SLO that’s a must if you’re in town!
Driving through Big Sur
48510 Highway One, Big Sur, California – 93920
When getting back on the road we took the scenic coastline route, which is highway 1 (taking the 101 is faster, but less scenic). While making our way through Big Sur we stopped off at Nepenthe which is a very popular place to rest on any road trip. Expect to wait as they don’t take reservations for parties less than 5 people, but there’s plenty to take in while you wait for your name to be called. It’s possibly one of the best views to enjoy while grabbing a bite to eat.
The famous Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur is also a favorite stop-off for people to take pictures. Be careful, though, a lot of cars like to slow and stop there for the perfect photo op. The show Big Little Lies, which is set in Monterey, features this iconic bridge! See more about BLL below…
After our stop off at Nepenthe we continued our ride up to our final destination of Carmel. It’s such a peaceful and whimsical coast town that’s full of small business shops, cafes, and restaurants. The husband took me here once before while on our trip up to San Francisco and we were excited to finally have an excuse to get back!
We had a room booked at the Monte Verde Inn, which had us in the cutest little cottage. I love that such an adorable place, and within walking distance of town, is pet-friendly! In our two days here I spent quite a bit of time sitting out in the communal patio space enjoying a glass of wine and my book. It was just lovely!
Monte Verde Inn
Between Ocean and 7th Avenues, Carmel, CA, 93921
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA
This aquarium is quite the experience! We knew we wanted to visit considering it’s ranked amongst the top aquariums in the country and Greyson loves animals and fish.
On a funny side-note, after a discussion with my husband about whether or not this was the aquarium featured in Finding Dory, I took to the internet to find an answer. Turns out that the aquarium in the movie is fictitious, however the design is highly influenced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And if you’re a fan of the show Big Little Lies then you’ll know that this is the aquarium that Jane works at.
And speaking of Monterey and Big Little Lies…I just LOVE Sierra’s post that is a complete BLL guide to Monterey. She has an amazing list of spots to visit while in town that were featured on the show, filming locations, or the cafes and restaurants that the ladies dined at.
There’s so much to do and enjoy while in Monterey and I’m sad we didn’t have the time to truly explore it. I’ll definitely have more items to-do next time, though! However, getting to see the aquarium was an amazing time and knowing Grey loved every moment made the visit well worth it!
After our two days in Carmel for the wedding, we packed up the Mini and began our trek home, but first stopping off in Solvang for the night…
Solvang is always such a fun place to visit because of it’s rich Danish heritage. There are shops, cafes, bakeries, and wine bars that line the main street and are home to a variety of culture events throughout the year. Christmas is especially an adorable time to visit, but really any time of the year is a great time!
Wine Valley Inn & Cottages
1564 Copenhagen Dr, Solvang, CA 93463
We stayed at the Wine Valley Inn, which is within walking distance of downtown. It’s yet another pet-friendly inn and I love that the particular room we stayed in was a loft. It made it convenient to have two separate spaces – one for Grey and one for us. After a week together it was nice to have some space that was separate 😉 They also offer cottages, which provide a little more privacy and luxury to your stay.
That night we dined at Root 246 in downtown Solvang and just a short jaunt from our hotel. We were seated quickly out on their patio and although service was a touch slow that evening, the food was enjoyable and their drinks helped us recover from our lengthy drive that morning. What was most impressive was their presentation of Grey’s meal! We ordered him the usual: chicken tenders with a side of fruit. But what made it fun was that the chicken was arranged to look like the plates of a stegosaurus! So fun and Grey, of course, loved it!
Paula’s Pancake House
1531 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463
The following morning we knew that for breakfast we wanted to go somewhere that is a tourist favorite, but has always been a popular stop for us. Paula’s Pancake House is a cute little cafe that is known for their Belgian waffles and French crepes. They also offer up a wide variety of American breakfast favorites, but my husband is quite particular to their Danish-style pancakes. We have been dining at Paula’s for years now and even brought Grey when he was just a baby. So, naturally we continue this little visit every time we find ourselves in Solvang!
1576 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang, CA
On our stroll back to our hotel after breakfast Grey happened upon this cute toy store! He has a knack for finding such places and I am so glad he did! It was bright and full of life with toys, books, games, and art materials for every child, from every background and culture. I was amazed to see such a diverse selection and the teacher in me felt as though I hit a goldmine! ONEder Child is brand new to their Solvang location and also operate an online store, too. Should we ever make our way back up, this shop will definitely make it on the itinerary!
After our 24 hours in Solvang we packed up our Mini one last time and made our way back home to San Diego. Looking back, it was such a fun trip and I loved getting to spend it with my little family – including Murphy. Travel is something we love to do and I enjoy these little moments where we can jump in the car and just, go…
I hope this post gives someone out there a little inspiration, or hope, that even little road trips can be made exciting with the right attitude. We have plenty of trips coming up to round out our year – a trip to Salem in October is the one we’re most excited for. I mean, celebrating Halloween in Salem!
But, until then…