After spending many months sheltering in place, we decided it was time to hit the open road and experience California’s Pacific Coast Highway, also known as PCH or Highway 1. Pacific Coast Highway is known for its breathtaking natural beauty and runs along the coast of California for about 600 miles. The highway is designed so travelers can experience the many flavors of the Golden State, from Big Sur’s magical forest to quaint Danish-inspired beach towns like Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Several major cities in Texas offer direct flights to SFO, and a nonstop flight is around three hours. The expansiveness of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) was the perfect antidote to my land-locked blues and is an experience that makes the world feel truly abundant.
A Day in Half Moon Bay
We started our coastal journey in Half Moon Bay – a quick 20-minute ride from the airport. On the drive, we were greeted by rolling hills, expansive farmland, and a hovering forest. As we made our way toward the Pacific Coast, the rejuvenating bursts of eucalyptus immediately seeped into our technology-fatigued souls.
Before entering the charming downtown, we stopped by Monsoon Himalayan Cuisine for a delicious meal owned by a Nepalese family. The vegetarian combo meal is packed with delectable spices and is the perfect way to nourish yourself after a flight. Afterward, we strolled through the charming downtown, including coffee shops painted with jazz music, wine shops with bartenders telling familiar stories to their out-of-town guests, and artisans woodworking along the road. Next, we rented bikes from Bike Works and biked to the family-friendly Half Moon Bay State Park’s Coastside Trail. Half Moon Bay is home to 20% of all North American bird species, and the trail is an excellent place to watch several different bird species dancing in the air with the harmonious backdrop of the ocean recycling waves.
Once we realized Northern California is colder than we initially thought and were ready for a warm cup of hot chocolate and s’mores next to a fire pit, we made our way over to the famous Half Moon Bay Ritz-Carlton. The expansive property is situated on the California coast and offers over 260 rooms. Timed an hour and a half before sunset every evening, the hotel has bagpipe players ceremoniously bidding adieu to the sun each evening, with hotel guests relaxing under serape blankets on Adirondack chairs around the firepit. The beautiful restaurant Navio has floor-to-ceiling windows of the ocean should visitors want an indoor sunset viewing experience. Their menu boasts several options from Smoked Ocean Trout to Striped Bass for seafood lovers. Impressively, they have also designed a great tasting menu for vegans and vegetarians (however, we recommend requesting this in advance). They also have a non-vegetarian tasting menu that can be coursed with wines.
After swimming at the hotel pool in the early morning, we made our way to the cozy breakfast nook to take in one final ocean view. Be sure to try one of the Orange Chai jams with your breakfast croissant from Small Batch Jam Company, born out of Pacifica. The restaurant also offers fluffy omelets to mouth-watering pastries; the sunrise breakfast view was a great way to power up for the drive ahead.
The Fairytale Village of Carmel-by-the-Sea
We then hopped on Pacific Coast Highway, making our way toward the town famously known for having Clint Eastwood as Mayor and actors like Bill Murray frequenting the town during Car Week each year. The Danish-inspired village is so picturesque it doesn’t feel real. We stopped by the Rise and Roam Bakery for organic coffee, a warm, buttery croissant, a gluten-free carrot ginger muffin, and artisan pizzas. Feeling full, we were ready to take in the natural beauty of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where we hiked 6.7 miles and saw breathtaking views, endangered archaeological sites, sea lion sightings, and an abundance of flora and fauna. This 6.7-mile trail (with shorter hike options) makes the trek from Texas absolutely worth it.
Once the hiking fatigue set in, we checked into the Candle Light Inn before heading over to watch the sunset on the beach (with more bagpipe players!). The quaint and cozy hotel is ideally situated just a few blocks from the town center and boasts a fireplace, a jacuzzi tub, and lovely touches like Vivaldi playing from the TV.
For dinner we tried Seventh and Dolores which is in a beautiful building that was originally a bank. Head Chef Raymundo Jimenez Aquino brings California cuisine front and center with dishes like the asparagus and burrata appetizer. Vegans can indulge in a steakhouse experience with their Vegan Bourguignon, made of portobello mushrooms, cashew polentas, and fine herbs. Meat eaters can choose from a selection of fine steaks to charred octopus.
The breathtaking Morro Bay
The next day, we made our way to Morro Bay, known for its enormous (and sacred) volcanic plug Morro Rock, which was formed 23 million years ago and stood proud at 581 feet. The town is extremely low-key, and the population barely surpasses 10K people. We decided to stretch our legs from the long drive and walked along the Embarcadero to watch the magical sunset by Morro Rock. Afterward, we stopped by Tognazzini’s Dockside, which offers freshly caught fish or a veggie burger and fries. One of the best parts of the trip was the iconic Landing at Morro Bay, where we woke up to the beautiful sounds of the birds and the gentle wake-up call of a light foghorn.
Seaweed Foraging in Cayucos
We ended the trip on a high note with a seaweed foraging adventure in Cayucos with the Marley Family. This experience is absolutely worth the stop as you kick off your shoes and walk around barefoot at the base of the ocean learning about different types of seaweed. The host, Spencer, gathered our seaweed collection and cooked us warm ramen with fresh seaweed over a fire to be enjoyed on the beach at the end of what felt like a meaningful and long overdue reunion with Mother Earth.
Cover Photo from Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea
Sima Thakkar is a nonprofit Content Strategist and Online Learning Producer and is also the founder of Good Indian Girl. She has spent the last 20 years working and volunteering for a global network of NGOs and is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School.