Some people feel that 3D movies offer the ultimate adventure. I beg to differ. A road trip up the Big Sur Coast of California? Now, there’s an actual reality that can put any virtual reality to multi-sensory shame.
While heading north along U.S. Highway 101 through the central California coast, many words come to mind, such as charming, nature, balance, and beauty. But adjectives are one thing and experiencing these qualities firsthand is truly another. There’s nothing quite like navigating the scenic stretch of California from Cambria to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Encompassing a winding, 100-mile span of jaw-dropping chartreuse-colored cliffs, sweeping ocean views, and lush, Cypress tree silhouettes, the voyage along Pacific Coast Highway will leave you breathless.
Since my husband, Ron, and I typically choose the road less traveled, I highly recommend traversing along Highway 101 versus Interstate 5 out of Los Angeles. Yes, this decision will cost you about 30 minutes of extra drive time, depending on traffic, but the memories will be timeless.
We departed Orange County, California, on Friday morning with full intentions to beat the LA traffic. It worked.
But hunger kicked in soon after the 101 merger, so we exited in Tarzana, where we stopped at Hummus Bar and Grill. This Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern-eatery was bustling at lunchtime. And it was quickly clear why. The vast menu offered a variety of vegan and non-vegan entrees and appetizers.
We devoured everything from marinated mushroom hummus, fresh Israeli salad, and tahini-drizzled falafel to fried cauliflower, babaganoush, and Baladi eggplant. Ron didn’t waste any time in ordering the very vegan donut holes with a creamy dipping sauce for dessert. Carnivorous friends, fret not — they offer fish, filet mignon, Kosher food, and kabobs, too.
Green Local Lodging With a German Touch
After we rolled back into our Jeep, bellies stuffed like two Greek grape rolls; we proceeded along our journey to the Big Sur Coast. The six-hour drive had us entering the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea at dusk, my favorite time of day; the azure-colored sky coupled with wood-burning fireplace aromas can soothe any soul. We checked into the Hofsas House, a Bavarian-inspired boutique hotel that offers European elegance with the charm of family-owned-and-operated hospitality.
The Hofsas House isn’t just another picturesque hotel in Carmel; the owners take sustainability seriously. The Hofsas House incorporates a rainwater catchment system and provides recycling bins in every room. The city of Carmel is also on the green bandwagon with a ban on Styrofoam, and being the first city on the Monterey Peninsula to ban plastic straws and plastic eating utensils (unless they are biodegradable or recyclable).
Everything about the Hofsas House is cloaked in warmth, including general manager and owner, Carrie Theis. Her family has served up comfort, style, and views of the Pacific Ocean for over 70 years. The Hofsas House is nestled smack dab in the center of town, making this a sustainable choice for lodging. From art galleries, pubs, restaurants, and coffee shops to wine and olive oil tastings, activities are a just a cobblestone’s throw from your room’s Dutch door. The Hofsas House offers 38 uniquely designed, spacious rooms that include fresh ocean air, sweeping views of the pines, free wi-fi, and wood-burning fireplaces in every room. Our room was well-appointed and donned with a king-sized bed, ocean view, and wet bar. You’ll instantly feel welcome and so will your four-legged friends.
Saturday morning, we met with third-generation owner Carrie, to hear tales of how her grandmother founded the Hofsas House and how she has checked in weary travelers since she was a teenager. While we chatted by the lobby’s copper-lined fireplace, we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of French roast coffee and fresh fruit and muffins from the neighborhood bakery.
Eco-Friendly Shopping in Carmel
Next, we strolled to the quaint village of Carmel, which boasts a rich history and spectacular beauty. We wandered in and out of shops, including a visit to Eco Carmel, a self-proclaimed “general store for all things earth and people friendly!” We couldn’t agree more. Next, was a visit to Trio Carmel for some truffle oil tasting. (Yes, we left with a bottle of black truffle oil and let’s just say, plain popcorn will never be the same.)
After the oil indulgence, we hit the 5th Avenue Deli to grab a vegan picnic lunch: a salad for myself and veggie wrap for Ron. We proceed to the nearby gates to embark on 17-Mile Drive — a must if you are in the area. Everywhere you turn is a sight for sore eyes, from tranquil deer grazing on the Pebble Beach golf course to seagulls perched on rugged, ocean-lined rocks. The air is fresh, the grass green, and the ocean as blue as nature intended. The untouched beauty and respect for the environment are nowhere more apparent.
We proceeded to the at the Inn at Spanish Bay and walked out to the fire pits to enjoy our picnic. Carrie informed us a bagpipe player arrives on the lawn each evening to entertain, but in this case, the early birds did not catch the plaid-skirted worm.
Sustainable Wine Tasting
Late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Carmel to do as any smart tourist would do in wine country — sniff, swish, sip, and savor. First up was the tasting room for Blair Wines, located on the lower level of Carmel Plaza. We met owner, Jeffrey Blair, who made us feel right at home. Jeffrey shared so much knowledge and enthusiasm about wines, and we both agreed that Blair Estate offers some of the best tasting wines we’ve ever had.
Next, we proceeded to the Scheid Vineyards tasting room. While neither of us was familiar with Scheid, it was hard to ignore the vast vineyards on the drive up. But what we didn’t know was that Scheid is a sustainable winery whose eco-efforts include:
- The use of screw caps
- Maintain the integrity of the wine and prevents loss of product
- More consistent seal than cork
- Reusable wine bags
- Versatile, great for multiple uses
- They return bags for new wine orders
- Fabric bags reduce the need for paper products
- Locally sourced products
- Make efforts to sell locally sourced products
- Transaction receipts and wine club signups are all paperless
- The environmentally friendly pulp wine shippers are recyclable and biodegradable
- All empty wine bottles and cardboard cases are recycled
Saturday night arrived, and so did a romantic visit to nearby Pacific Grove to dine at one of the most picturesque spots you’ll ever witness, The Beach House Restaurant at Lovers Point. If you don’t feel the romance here, candles and chocolates won’t help. The food was superb, the energy lively, and the views — spectacular. While the California-inspired cuisine offers something for everyone, we chose our standard vegan fare by sticking with the starters and proceeded to feast on chilled Castroville artichoke, charred Brussels sprouts (sans the chorizo), and arancini.
The night was not-so-young, so we waltzed a block from our hotel to the nearby Hog’s Breath Inn, formerly owned by actor, Clint Eastwood (who also happens to be a former mayor of Carmel). The Hog’s Breath Inn is rich in brick, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and history. We sat by a cozy indoor fireplace (and tried to ignore the hog mounted on the wall above us). We enjoyed a nightcap, heard stories from the bartender, and reminisced about the day’s adventures.
Sunday arrived much too soon, and we had one last stop: the Testerosa Winery tasting room in Carmel Valley Village to meet with local artist, Katrina Kacandes. We met Katrina on a past trip and loved her passion for all things creative, colorful, and Carmel. Her abstract, etheric, and vibrant art incorporates recycled pieces from old gloves to matchboxes and is inspired by the local landscape and ocean. From fairies, fireflies, and fish, Katrina wants you to interpret her pieces the way you see them with your mind’s eye. You can find her work online or locally at the Patricia Qualls Art Gallery in Carmel Valley.
We enjoyed a farewell lunch at the oh-so-enchanting Café Rustica in Carmel Valley Village. The beet salad was superb, but the company and ambiance were the true icing on the cake.
It was time to head home and leave this dreamy adventure as a distant memory and sweet reminder. Life is beautiful. Nature is perfect. Beauty is everywhere. No matter what stresses or challenges life throws at you, don’t forget, there is a world of wonder right under your steering wheel ready to be explored, enjoyed, and experienced.
If you haven’t headed outside looking for adventure recently, it may be time to get your motor running. Even if you weren’t born to be wild, it’s time, my friend, to channel your inner nature’s child.
Feature photo courtesy of Lisa Beres