Prior to moving back to NYC to begin culinary school (February 2016), I wanted to leave California with a bang. Mom and I decided to plan a girl's coastal road trip from Monterey to Pismo Beach, and back again. Having completed my last day of work on January 15th, I had merely days to pack up my apartment and head south to San Diego, where I'd meet my folks.
On Tuesday, January 26th, Mom, Lucy (my pup) and I flew an Alaskan Airlines "puddle jumper" from San Diego to Monterey. *Did you know? Alaskan/Horizon Airlines serves free regional beer and wine (from the Pacific Northwest) on some flights. Once we arrived, we rented a car and drove to Carmel - a mere 10 minutes from the Monterey airport - and checked in to the Carmel Country Inn, a charming bed and breakfast where we would stay for the night.
After unpacking a few essentials, we decided to walk to town and shop. And, because Carmel is incredibly dog-friendly, Lucy was welcomed in to every store; not to mention restaurants with outdoor seating AND our hotel.
Among other baubles, Mom fell in love with this 5-carat sparkler. Luckily, we were running late for our dinner reservation, so she couldn't pull the proverbial trigger...
Dinner at Il Tegamino (my favorite restaurant in Carmel):
Because of Carmel's proximity to the water, I ordered the fresh swordfish for my entree, while Mom went the "carb route" and chose the house-made lasagna.
After a fabulous meal, Mom and I walked back to our room and went to bed in anticipation of an early morning drive.
We meandered our way from Carmel via the coast/Big Sur en route to Pismo Beach. This incredibly scenic and breathtaking journey took approximately 3.5 hours (roughly 200 miles). Upon arrival, we checked in to our hotel, the outstanding Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa, where our "room" featured a kitchen, dining area, living space, not one - but two - bedrooms, and a sizeable balcony overlooking the grounds and the marvelous Pacific. Wow!
The next morning, we woke up late and decided to get spa treatments. After all, we weren't leaving Pismo Beach until the following day. Post our rejuvenating hour plus-long massages, we spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling the beach walk, sipping cocktails and noshing on fresh seafood, and admiring the gorgeous views of the Pacific.
Heading northbound up the coast, we drove to Cambria in anticipation of visiting the Hearst Castle. (<--- If you click on the link, you will find a picture of the famous Neptune Pool with the following caption, "Visitors have a rare opportunity to see the white marble floor of the empty Neptune Pool while it undergoes restoration. The pool was initially drained because of leaks, but the action was also part of a larger water conservation effort at Hearst Castle during the current severe drought." Sucks, right? Right. And that was the exact same dismal view that Mom and I saw. Now I don't know about you, but isn't the only reason that people visit the damn Castle to see the Neptune Pool??)
So, while the outdoor pool was an atrocious disappointment, the indoor pool pretty much made up for our buzz kill...
With all of the land in which the Castle is comprised, there is a ranch and a winery bearing its name. So, when our tour ended, Mom and I couldn't help but stop at the tasting room to sample some of Hearst's namesake wines. We both fell in love with the 2014 Petite Sirah, and left with a few bottles to enjoy for the remainder of our trip!
After a short drive to Cambria (just 15 minutes from the Castle), Mom and I checked in to our home for the night, the quaint Blue Dolphin Inn.
For dinner, we went to the Black Cat Bistro, where we enjoyed local wine from Paso Robles, handmade bread with rosemary butter, cheese-stuffed fried olives, and locally-caught seafood.
The next morning, we woke up early, grabbed coffee, and strolled along the vast beach path. It was absolutely breathtaking!
We took to the road mid morning and headed back towards Carmel; only this time, via the highway, which made for a quicker journey (2.5 hours). We arrived at our next "home" just in time for lunch, the grand Carmel Valley Ranch! It was immediately clear why Conde Naste Traveler chose this as their #1 resort in Northern California!
Famished from our journey, Mom, Lucy, and I were seated at a prime two-top at the resort's Valley Kitchen Restaurant overlooking the heated outdoor pool and sprawling grounds. With bubbles in her hand and a glass of red in mine, Mom and I toasted to our amazing California adventure and to the fact that there was even a food menu for dogs!
Lunch began with house-made Kennebec (potato) chips and caramelized onion dip...
For my entree, I chose the Monterey Bay Salmon Salad. It was delightful!
After two glorious nights at the Ranch, Mom and I really didn't think it could get any better. For our final night in the area, we headed to nearby Holman Ranch, where we - and few other folks in media - were treated to an afternoon and evening of wine tastings and pairings, a tour of the ranch and property (including an olive grove, organic vineyard, plus horse stables and boarding facilities), and elaborate meals and snacks.
Although the guest rooms are not available to the public, per se, you can rent them for your party if you host an event on the property. I can only imagine how fabulous and special it would be to get married at the Ranch and have all of your friends and family be able to stay onsite.
Have you been thinking about making a trip up/down the California coast? If you've already been, did you go to any of the towns or sites that visited? I'd love to hear from you!
Until we eat again,
The Lunch Belle