On our last day in Bend, we packed up in record speed (when you only have what fits in your car, it makes unpacking and packing a very manageable task – and if you’re interested in reading HOW the heck we packed for an open-ended amount of time as nomads on the go, read this post). Our ultimate destination for the next month was San Diego, but we had a week to get there.
This is the route we chose, as well as what we learned along the way. If you’re looking to make a trip like this, don’t hesitate to reach out! We learned so much and our itinerary changed quite a bit from what we initially set out to do – but learning to be flexible is something I’m actively working on and embracing, and that’s what this trip was ultimately all about!
We first intended on driving from Oregon directly to Sonoma for a day of wine tasting before going down the PCH, but I ended up with a breakthrough case of COVID the last week in Bend (thankfully, nothing terrible, and I’m so grateful that the biggest symptom was the inconvenience of a 10-day quarantine). I didn’t have my sense of smell/taste back, though, so we opted out of a wine tasting and the trip to Sonoma.
Instead, we drove through Crater Lake and on over to Oregon’s coast for a full day there. One major pro of choosing this was just seeing the incredible beauty on the coast of Oregon. We went on some pretty spectacular hikes, saw gorgeous sunsets, and discovered jaw dropping views that we had all to ourselves.
The major con was that it increased our drive time down to Monterey, CA quite a bit. I still don’t think I’d trade a shorter drive for not getting the views around Gold Beach.
If you end up staying around this area, we loved the Taylor Creek Lodge Bed and Breakfast. It’s run by a lovely couple who makes you feel so at home. A super relaxing two-night stay just next to the beach made it exactly what we needed to rest well knowing that there were going to be some long drives ahead of us.
We did the Cape Sebastian Trail super early in the morning and ended up running most of it. In August, it was still 45 degrees in the morning but we quickly warmed up by running. Wear layers – and pants are a good call since there’s a lot of brush around the narrow pathways of a lot of the trail. We were warned about poison ivy and we’re going to risk it. I wore pants and long sleeves and even though I was super sweaty by the end of the jog (it took us about an hour total out-and-back, including a stop on the beach at the bottom of the trail) but the layers were worth it.
We brought lunch up to Otter Point where there was literally no one out, so we hiked around, found a spot to enjoy lunch, and climbed around the sandstone rock formations.
Finally, we took a near-sunset hike down to Secret Beach. It’s just a half-mile trek down, and it emerges out on a couple stretches of the beach where you can find a nice cozy spot for yourself. This beach ended up feeling the least “secret” of all the places we were, but still – there were about 5 other couples/groups out the entire time we were.
It took us about 10 hours to get from Gold Beach on the southern coast of Oregon down to Monterey, California. Although we did cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, we opted for the more efficient route down versus taking Highway 1. It ended up being a good call. It was so foggy for our entire drive, there were stretches we couldn’t see one car length ahead of us, and we likely wouldn’t have enjoyed many of (if at all) the cliffside views from the PCH.
We also did this drive at the start of Labor Day Weekend. We sat through a good amount of traffic coming into Monterey, and that was only our first run-in with other gobs of people. People were everywhere all weekend long. After a month of finding hikes and gorgeous views and only seeing 1-2 other people on the trail the entire time we were out, this was definitely something to get used to. Once again, we pivoted from our original thinking about our time in Monterey and Carmel. We realized we might not get to do quite as much as we intended, so we let go of those plans and let whatever flowed just happen naturally.
I only have one anecdotal experience with each of these spots but I’ll share what I learned, what I can’t wait to return to do, and what I’d do differently next time around.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is so lovely. It’s a wonderful spot that has lots of trails, all pretty accessible. We got there around 9:30 am I thought there was quite a long line to get into the park, and it was tough to find parking. I would say if you’re going to go here, grab a coffee and a scone on the way, and get there closer to 8am when it opens. Although, the second morning as we were driving past Point Lobos right around 8 am, there was an even longer line waiting for the park to open, so just be mindful that lots of others may have the same idea (we were also there on a weekend so that plays a big factor, I’m sure).
If you’re a big hiker, you can absolutely find the more moderate to difficult trails to hike around at all distances along the coast from Monterey and on down past Big Sur. We elected to go with this one from All Trails. The route it takes you is one big loop that connects a few trails. We spent more time walking along the beach (if you opt to climb around and through the kelp and driftwood that’s washed up on the beach, you’ll make it to much less traversed stretches of the beach – we walked for a good 45 minutes here before hopping back on the trail).
A little more about the trail at Andrew Molera State State Park: The trail as marked on All Trails had us taking the route in one direction, but I might have preferred to go on the trail in the reverse direction. The way we went, taking the trail to the beach, then doubling back to the Bluffs Trail, Panorama Trail, then the Ridge trail, had us working HARD with the views of the ocean to our backs. I will say, I was proud of the hike. I was sweatier than I’d ever been on a hike before, and the view from the top was pretty epic. But then heading down the Ridge trail, we had all the views in the rear view mirror and it kind of just became a race to get back to the car. I think we would have enjoyed the whole experience of the 8 miles more if we hiked up the Ridge trail (yes, lots of uphill still, but with so much beauty still ahead of us) and then been able to just take in the Panorama and Bluff trails as the downhill view-filled easy stride on the back half of the large loop. Just my two cents!
We ate lunch in Nepenthe. The Nepenthe Restaurant had, of course, a 2-hour wait BUT with scenic panorama views and plenty of seating outdoors to enjoy that view from while you wait. Totally worth it in my book.
We ended the day with a hike just before sunset down at Partington Cove. It’s a half-mile down to the cove, where you can explore along the rocks. Because Stephen and I are who we are, we decided to race back up to the top along the half-mile steep path we traversed on the way down. EXHAUSTING.
The biggest thing I learned from this day is to not leave at sunset. It seemed as though every other car along the Pacific Coast Highway was ending their day of hiking or beach time at the exact same time and we sat stop-and-go traffic, making our travel time back to our hotel an hour extra. Even so, I’ll take stop-and-go traffic here over elsewhere ANY DAY…
Outside of hiking, we did have our bikes because they’re with us everywhere we go, so we biked from Monterey to Carmel and took some detours around to get some extra vantage points of the golf courses around. And, hot tip, biking the iconic 17-mile is free – and going slower by bike allows you to really take in the views (and the gorgeous homes) along the route that hugs the sea.
Part of our lessons learned was that we can’t do everything. We saw some gorgeous views and thoroughly enjoyed our time just walking around, but we tried to do A LOT in two short days. We didn’t leave ourselves enough time to wait for dinner (lots of places are just first come, first serve). Both nights we ended up bagging dinner after getting there too late, waiting too long, and ultimately opted for sleep over food 😆.
But hey, that just gives us a reason to come back! And after a long few days, seeing lots of beautiful places and covering lots of ground from Wednesday – Monday over Labor Day Weekend, we were so ready to land in San Diego!