If you long for expansive expanses, pristine, uncrowded beaches, sun-kissed vineyards, winding coastal roads and golden sunsets, don’t hesitate. Pack up the car and explore central California. As the world adapts to safe travel during COVID-19, road trips may just be the solution to the adventure and freedom you crave with the security you need. Road driving will help you reconnect with spontaneity, optimism, and fun, while also giving you the flexibility to safely stay away from the crowds.
Experience joyful moments along magical coasts. Enjoy farm-fresh cuisine and a sip of organic wine. Meditate between the pines and treat yourself to nature again. Here’s where and how to get away, breathe, and stretch out safely on a magical road trip through central California.
Explore Monterey County
Monterey Country, the northernmost tip of central California, has one of the most scenic coastlines in the world. Once you arrive, the best way to get out of your car is to get on an e-bike.
© Mad Dogs & English
Mad Dogs & Englishman offers brisk morning e-bike tours on the 17-mile route that will take you past the Lone Cypress and Del Monte Forest and soak up the deep blue colors of Spanish Bay. Follow your guide to the beach for a sumptuous wine pairing picnic curated by Carmel Food Tours.
Spend the night in picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea at the 12-room Tally Ho Inn, with private, flower-filled decks and ocean views. Then dine at the neighborhood Stationæry restaurant, which has a seasonal menu from farms in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, as well as an extensive natural wine list. All seating is outside in a typical English courtyard.
Just half an hour inland is the Carmel Valley, a relaxing wine country holiday in the middle of the sun-drenched Santa Lucia Mountains. For a day trip, head to the Massa Estate, I. Brand and Family, and Joyce Wine Company tasting rooms for a flight of elegant, organic, sustainable wines.
© Bernardus Lodge & Spa
Relax at the heavenly Carmel Valley Vineyard Resort, the triple Forbes Fourus Star Bernardus Lodge & Spa. Nestled in 28 hectares of vineyards, fruit trees, organic herbs and vegetable gardens, this sanctuary even offers an apiary with 180,000 Italian honey bees, whose delicious honey is offered in the kitchen, bar and spa.
Sophisticated, ranch-chic rooms with high ceilings and large terraces from which to count the stars while the resort’s botanicals release their sweet scents into the night air. The renowned spa is open and offers private outdoor body and facial treatments.
© Bernardus Lodge & Spa
Dine on an elegant terrace overlooking the garden in the typical Lucia restaurant. Famous chef Cal Stamenov runs the French-inspired menu. In the more recent past (when we were able to dine inside) the chef’s table was a favorite among missionary Hollywood stars like Leonardo di Caprio who signed the wall.
Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash
Continue to Big Sur, the extreme southern tip of Monterey County, where a rugged coastline offers majestic views like the legendary McWay Falls. Although Big Sur is a well-known travel destination, there is one way to get on the lesser-traveled road: hire a guide. Big Sur Guides will match you with a local who will customize a tour based on your interests. You will get to know the bizarre past of the region, its even more bizarre inhabitants and its medicinal forest plants and step into a rare and sacred fairy ring made of redwood trees.
Travel on Highway 1 Discovery Route
The definition of SLO CAL, the Highway 1 Discovery Route, is full of outdoor adventure, wildlife viewing, charming beach towns, sustainable wineries, and ocean-to-table cuisine.
© Duane Hall
Make a reservation in the tasting room at SIP-certified Tolosa Vineyards in the volcanic hills of the Edna Valley. Cold winds from the Pacific whip through and create perfect conditions for clean and elegant expressions of Pinot Noir grapes. Relax in the shade of olive trees and take in the views of the vineyards as you enjoy Tolosa’s signature 1772 wine flight. Or be one of the first to try out his Single Vineyards Futures flight.
© Highway 1 Discovery Route
Stay in Cayucos, a small surf town that feels like part of a quieter, simpler time. On the Beach is a lovely 14-room ocean-view hotel known for its gourmet breakfasts. Relax in your room with a cup of fresh coffee and enjoy an artichoke quiche while you wait for the morning clouds to clear.
Dine in the nautical-casual schooner with its daily menu of sustainable seafood and an impressively long list of farm-fresh vegetable sides. The open-air upper deck is the perfect place to catch the sunset and safely watch the people on the promenade.
© Highway 1 Discovery Route
A short 20-minute drive from Cayucos is the historic gem of Cambria. It combines a quaint village feel with sweeping ocean views along the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which stretches for a mile along the Pacific Ocean. Here Terri Harrington, owner of Tulu Yoga, guides seekers on a private Meditative Yoga Walking & Nature Bath. First, hike down a gentle forest path that opens up and offers expansive views of the ocean. Meanwhile, Harrington guides you through mindful expansion exercises and a series of gentle, but soul-seeking questions. The sessions end with a cleansing and energizing meditation to loosen and remove energy blockages.
Cambria Pines Lodge is the perfect place for a peaceful vacation to cultivate your newfound zen. Each room is set in 25 acres of Monterey pine forest and is dotted with gardens of wildflowers. It is more like a private cabin with a cozy, rustic feel. Dinner at dusk with Robin on the garden terrace is simply magical. Watch the stars and planets soak into the night sky as you savor local dishes with global inspiration.
Discover the Santa Maria Valley
South of Cambria, between the Sierra Madre mountains and the coast, lies the unpretentious Santa Maria Valley. With pristine beaches, rising star wineries, and world-class oak BBQ, it’s a local’s secret destination that is rapidly growing in popularity.
© Visit Santa Maria
Start your day with an early morning stroll across Oso Flaco Lake to the stunning Oceano Dunes, which open onto San Luis Bay. Take a break for a coffee and a healthy breakfast at Willow in charming Nipomo. Next, swing past Loofah Farm for a quick tour.
The SIP-certified Riverbench Winery on the banks of the Sisquoc River is known for its champagne-style sparkling wine program and has a charming open-air tasting room. For fragrant but dry breeding bladders, try the Blanc de Blancs or the Cork Jumper Cuvée.
For a late organic lunch (and yes, more wine tasting), make reservations with Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL). This modern architectural gem of a tasting room sits on top of a hill overlooking vineyards, gardens and the sea. The family-run French cook took advantage of the mandatory closure to plant an organic garden, which she harvests daily to create mezze picnic platters that go perfectly with a wine tasting flight of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Make yourself comfortable, however, because you want to try Santa Maria BBQ in the legendary Hitching Post in Casmalia or in the Swiss city center. Think of artichokes, asparagus, and grilled mushrooms sizzling over an open fire. If you are craving to grill properly, Santa Maria is the place to get it.
Find Donna on Twitter and Instagram.
Based on bio-authority
The eight best wine hotels in Italy
The four West Coast resorts for hot spring lovers
The ultimate guide to wellness in the Swiss Alps