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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

California Highway #1 Hits: The end of the ride

We began our journey on central California’s Highway 1 the first week of April in Pismo Beach, and just hit the finish line in Monterey. So many of you had questions, many about where to stay and eat, so let me fill you in.

Remember that Pismo is 3 hours up the road from Los Angeles, and Monterey about two hours south of San Francisco.

A funky seaside town with the biggest, widest, most walkable miles of beaches, including a section two miles away (Oceano Dunes) that let you drive on the sand. (Use it or lose it—the California Coastal Commission voted to end the practice, and the issue is currently in litigation.)

Photo highlight: Those great sunsets set against the Pismo pier.

Stays: Kon Tiki Inn, where every room (really) has an ocean view. During the spring, summer and much of the fall, the Kon Tiki tends to be sold out, even mid-week, due to a heavy influx of visitors from the Fresno area. Suggestion: book now for 2023 and get a room reserved!

Eats: We like Brad’s, an old-line fish and chips house downtown. Hoagie’s and the Splash Cafe are local institutions known for their chowder and sandwiches while Old West Cinnamon Rolls has a line out the door at all times.

The largest city on Highway 1 (even bigger than Monterey) that’s home to all those Cal Poly students and retirees, SLO, as it’s called, is surrounded by miles of bike and hiking trails and is the gateway to the Central California coastal towns just up the way.

Photo highlight: Bubblegum Alley is a longtime institution in downtown SLO where people pin their gum to the wall, while Terrace Hill offers a beautiful overview of the valley.

Stays/Eats: The overly pink, gaudy, Las Vegas in SLO institution that is the Madonna Inn. It has to be seen to be believed. Eat at the Madonna’s Copper Cafe and try the Pink Champagne cake.

The tiny town dominated by a huge rock and great views. An over-abundance of motel rooms makes Morro usually lower-priced and easier to find availabilities than other beach communities.

Photo highlight: the Rock.

Stays: Estero Inn. Delightful waterfront hotel that has kayaks and electric boats available for use. Being on the water is a great way to experience the Bay.

Eats: Giovanni’s Fish Market. I’m not a seafood fan, but most visitors to Morro are, and local restaurants cater to them with locally captured fare. Giovanni’s, in the center of town, always attracts a crowd.

Tiny beach town with a western theme, and a great view of the Morro rock eight miles down the way.

Photo highlight: the Pier

Stays: Shoreline Inn is right on the beach and affordable.

Eats: Sea Shanty. There are nearly 40 years of hats hanging on the ceiling, you can get an amazing grilled cheese sandwich and a generous assortment of pies. And speaking of pies, wait until you see Cambria.

Just up the road from Cayucos, and 20 minutes south of Big Sur, the small town of Cambria has some of the best beach walking and views on the coast. Hearst Castle is just up the road, along with roadside zebras and elephant seals.

Photo highlight: Moonstone Beach, the 1 mile paved walkway overlooking the rocky coast. Best sunset spot: Leffingwell’s Landing, which is where Moonstone ends.

Stay: There are dozens of small motels across the street (a really, really short walk to the beach). We liked the Fireside Inn.

Eats: Linn’s is the place that specializes in pies that you’ve heard me rave about. They have four locations in a town with less than 3,000 people. Read Ruth’s take on it here:

Ninety miles of windy, rocky coast with tons of great hikes. Get out of your car and enjoy it.

Photo highlights: Keyhole Rock, view from Nepenthe and Bixby Creek Bridge.

Stays and Eats: I love the Big River Inn, which is about a 15 minute drive from Bixby Bridge south, and just up the road from Pfeiffer Beach, home to Keyhole Rock. The rooms are woodsy, rustic cabins and there is a river across the street which you can wade your feet in, courtesy of chairs provided by the hotel. A restaurant there serves guests and motorists and you can buy really expensive gas while you’re at it.

Charming European style village with cobblestone streets and gingerbread houses, with killer views of the rocky coast.

Photo highlight: Sunset, as seen through a cypress tree on Scenic Road.

Stays: We weren’t crazy for our Carmel lodging during the trip at the Carmel Inn & Suites. (When your wife tells you the next morning that she couldn’t sleep because she heard the guy next door snoring through the paper thin walls, you know you’ve got a problem.) My friend Lynne from the tourism center recommends Hofsa House, a little gingerbread style abode in the center of town.

Eats: “Eat, laugh, live and love are the title of the book of Dametra,” says the website for the Dametra Cafe, where you get great mediterranean food, and some live music that erupts into spontaneous dancing. A must visit!

We didn’t stay overnight nor eat in Monterey, but did visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, arguably one of the best anywhere. Highly recommended.

ICYMI: The Highway 1 series


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