Road Trip: Driving Highway 1 from Monterey to Big Sur

Highway One Road Trip: Monterey to Santa Barbara

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We awoke to tumultuous skies and waves crashing just below our balcony. After a near miss on breakfast—Helle and I failed to fill out the room service card out of fear of being too high maintenance; as it turns out, room service is the only way to get breakfast in the Monterey Bay Inn—we were served a delicious display of fruit, yogurt, bagels and lemon poppyseed cake. (Have I really become that blogger who tells you what she ate for her last meal?? I fear I just did.) Helle and I had both heard from multiple sources that we just couldn’t pass on the 17 Mile Drive while in the Monterey/Carmel vicinity, so we did a little anti-rain dance (it worked!) and headed through the heart of Carmel, which oddly enough resembled an Aspen-like ski town, and to the gated entrance to Pebble Beach.


Now, I grew up with a golf-obsessed father, and I don’t know where I thought Pebble Beach was, but Northern California was not it. And as rave reviews as we had gotten on 17 Mile Drive—well, from everyone but our homeless friend in Santa Cruz, who had actually given us the most valuable advice on not to bother, advice which we failed to take, but come on, would you have taken advice from a homeless man who likely never had the $9.25 to make it through the entrance?—neither of us were the slightest bit impressed. Sure, the houses were massive, and the few expanses of beach that were actually located in the area were pretty enough, but all-in-all, the remaining 300-something miles we drove along Highway 1 was much nicer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if passing through the area, save the $9.25 for brunch at Walnut Avenue Cafe instead. We did meet another Crazy during a brief stop for a photo op, and I’d say she’s the spitting image of Lost‘s Rousseau, wild, disheveled hair and all. She was livid about two other tourists disturbing two neighboring sea lions during pupping, for which she called the cops on them and didn’t this just enrage me beyond belief and if not, why didn’t it, it should. I nodded politely, thought how she belonged back in Santa Cruz with Homeless Paul, and jumped back in the car with the excuse that it was freezing (it was — well, for California at least). (And no, I am not wearing denim on denim above; those are yoga pants, people!).

highway 1, california, travel, photography

We were informed by Helle’s antiquated 1999 Danish guidebook, as well as my good pal Wikipedia, that the 17 Mile Drive would take us three hours; we were in and out the gates in less than one, and that’s simply because none of the streets were clearly marked and the community was not unlike a labyrinth of ghost trees and palatial pads. We made our way down to Big Sur, where we spotted a handful of whales playing in the surf nearby. The trip down from Monterey was already taking us far longer than expected—someone here (read: ME) apparently doesn’t know how to budget her time—and it took us roughly six hours of driving time, not including bathroom breaks and picture stops, to reach Santa Barbara. We stopped for lunch at the Yelp-recommended Corner View (two thumbs up; if you’re in the area and need an affordable lunch spot, give it a go) in San Luis Obispo, a quaint, little college town and home to my uncle’s alma mater, Cal Poly (I’d go as far as calling it picturesque or atmospheric, if indeed I exercised the use of those trite Lonely Planet words).

solvang, california, travel, photography

We had been told whatever we do, DON’T STOP AT THE TOURIST TRAP OF SOLVANG, a Danish-settled town in the Santa Ynez Valley. So naturally what did we, a native Dane and former Denmark resident, do? Well, check it out of course. You don’t think we’d pass on a crappy tourist stop, do you? At the very least, we thought it would be entertaining to take pictures and laugh at the fact that 99.9 percent of the residents had likely not been to Denmark, nor could they find it on a map. We found it quite amusing the things they advertised as “Danish,” particularly the clothing stores, which boasted 80s apparel, complete with shoulder pads, with which even Chico’s wouldn’t dare to stock its store. In case you don’t have your bifocals handy, that sign does indeed read “Elna’s Dress Shop Danish Costumes Ladies Wear.” No Danish Lady in her right mind would be caught dead in any of those ensembles. Only in Solvang, kids, only in Solvang.

solvang, california, travel, photography

We finally arrived in Santa Barbara, just in time to take advantage of the last two hours of shopping time, before State Street closed down for the evening. For Helle, who is on the Danish kroner, which is even stronger than the euro, the whole of the United States is like one giant Ross store — only with cheap designer merchandise. I would like to say I just sat back and watched her shop, but then you’d all know I was lying. I did my share of exercising my plastic, including one fabulous find at Anthropologie (photographic evidence to come in following posts), but lucky for me (a non-jeans wearer) and my credit card, Helle was on a mission for luxury denim, so after four visits to different Levi’s stores and a long sit inside Diesel while she tried on every pair of jeans on display, I swore off shopping forever (or at least until we reached LA).

Unfortunately, this was also the same night that MY LADY VOLS WON THEIR EIGHTH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, and still not taking into account the bicoastal time change, I missed all save the last minute that I happened to catch from a bar window. I maintain that we brought them luck by singing Rocky Top earlier in the day, thanks to Helle’s awesome boyfriend, Bjarne, who came to the UT bar in Tennessee with me in 2006 and subsequently fell in love with the Volunteers’ alma mater, putting it on her iPod just for our road trip.

Our boutique inn, the Spanish-style Canary Hotel, was beyond beautiful, and I’d go as far as to say, the nicest I’ve ever visited in terms of ambiance and decor. Not to mention, you can’t beat the panoramic view of all of Santa Barbara from the rooftop pool. Again, a basket of goods and cheese and fruit plate awaited us, so after a delicious dinner at Palazzio across the street—the garlic bread there will change your life (and waistline), on this I swear—we bundled up in our complimentary robes and drank wine to the point of exhaustion.

santa barbara, california, canary hotel

  • April 14, 2008

    As a quarter Dane, I feel it’s my civic duty to visit Solvang. Sadly, it’s also my civic duty to pay taxes and I haven’t done that yet either.

    Sounds like you’re having an amazing trip!

  • April 14, 2008

    we have what sounds like a similar town to solvang here in washington. leavenworth is a little bit a bavaria in central washington. it is home to many wineries and the starting point for amazing hikes – so there is at least a valid reason to visit.

  • April 15, 2008

    I wish I could have read these posts before my trip to California.

  • April 16, 2008

    Road trippen, wrapped in robes, and room service… you live a nice life my friend 🙂

  • April 17, 2008
    just me

    Garlic Bread is all I need to be happy in this world.


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