California: Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey, and Pinnacles National Park

Big Sur

First Trip to Big Sur – Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Before I moved to California, I was staying in California for 5 weeks for a project for a client, and during one of the weekends, Mike and I rented a white convertible 2015 Mustang and drove up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco up the Pacific Coast Highway 1.

I would highly recommend renting a convertible for anyone who wants to do this. One of my favorite parts of the experience was smelling the strong sent of pine, and the fresh ocean mist. We also had an amazing 360 view to take in all the scenery. There were multiple times I would be looking out at the ocean and see whales jumping.

We stopped to watch the whales a few times, and met some nice people along the stops as well. We stopped in little pull off areas, and in cities like Santa Barbra, Big Sur, Caramel, and Monetary. There were so many people stopped at the sites near the camping grounds.

Oh, I can’t forget to mention that during one of the “boring” parts after Santa Barbra through the desert to the Big Sur, there was a slow car in front of us, so I told Mike to pass him. Oh, don’t you know, 30 seconds later we are pulled over by a police officer and he got a speeding ticket… Oops!

Second Trip to Big Sur – One Year Anniversary Glamping


For one year wedding anniversary, we went Glamping (glamorous camping) at Ventana’s luxury resort, right in the middle of Big Sur’s beautiful ancient redwood forest. Their Glamp-sites have a safari style canvas tent with a king size bed, rugs, picnic table and basket, dinnerware, lanterns, walking sticks, and separate gas and wood-burning fire pits.


They also had a heated bath house with showers and toilets.



Every morning at 8:30AM (Wednesday – Sunday), the hotel offers free yoga in the Loft to help you greet the new day and awaken fully in mind, body and spirit. The hotel has these little cute electric vehicles that they drive you around the campus on, which was really nice!


After yoga, we went to the pool and hot tub for the day and enjoyed some time outside in the peace and quiet. We both read our books, and we had a really relaxing and enjoyable time.


We ate dinner at the Sur House, which is a luxurious restaurant overlooking the ocean. We ordered a four course meal, which was delicious. We had ahi tuna, stuffed summer squash salad, salmon, and a delicious dessert.


The grounds of the resort were beautiful, and Ventana also offered other activities, like wine and cheese with a local artist, an art gallery, and a social house with games (Mike and I played Chess and I WON!).


S’mores are my favorite snack ever, and the resort provided us a s’mores making kit. I really loved enjoying them at the end of the night.



Since it was our one year anniversary, we wanted to treat ourselves to a romantic spa experience. We had the 90 minute couples experience which was a customized bubble bath for two looking out at the redwood forest, and then after that we received 60 minute Ventana Fusion Massages, and both of us thought that the massages were great. Once the massages were over, we received hand made soaps as a gift. It was very expensive, but it was a very memorable experience for our one year anniversary. Also note – If you do not stay at the hotel and you book a spa appointment, they also allow you to stay at the pool for the day.

Other Places to visit in Big Sur: 

Mcway Waterfall

During our babymoon to Carmel Valley (see below), we also took a road trip to Big Sur and “hiked” down to the Mcway Waterfall view point. The hike is less than a mile, so it is more just an easy stroll. The view was so beautiful despite the weather being pretty bad.


We also visited Nepenthe finally on our babymoon (3rd time to Big Sur). In the summer, the parking lot is always PACKED, so it is nearly impossible to get in. Since we visited this time in March when the weather was not great, we were able to get right in. The food was delicious. I wish we would have had nicer weather for the views, but I still am happy we finally were able to check out this famous restaurant.

Bixby Bridge

The Bixby Bridge offers an impressive view of the bridge and pacific ocean from north side. It gets very crowded, and there is very limited parking, so be patient when trying to find a spot. Also, I saw many people VERY close to the edge where they could fall off the cliff. Be smart and safe!



Point Lobos State Reserve

If you keep driving north of Big Sur, you will hit Point Lobos State Reserve, which is a beautiful park on the pacific ocean. You can see whales, sea lions, sea otters, and you can walk around and look in the tide pools and see lots of animals as well. We spent a few hours walking around the many trails and taking in the beautiful views!

Carmel by the Sea

Just north of Point Lobos is Carmel by the Sea, which is a really cute little downtown with many shops and restaurants. We walked around the shops, and then we walked down to the beach to take in the views.

Carmel Valley

Carmel Valley Ranch

Mike and I visited Carmel Valley Ranch for our Babymoon in March 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on lockdown. We were supposed to go to Kauai, Hawaii originally, but because of the outbreak overseas, we decided it was best not to travel on an airplane while I was pregnant, so we canceled and went to Carmel Valley Ranch. If we would have waited one more week, we would not have had a babymoon. Carmel Valley Ranch will always have a special place in my heart as hosting such a lovely babymoon for us, even though we planned it very last minute. The ranch sits on 500 acres, and we participated in as many of the activities as we possibly could. Our trip was super relaxing, even though everything in the news was starting to get really intense. Mike was so sweet and made sure that I was enjoying myself the entire time.

Our Room

We had a lovely room that overlooked the golf course and Carmel Valley. We also had an indoor/outdoor fireplace, and a lovely bathtub on the patio. Mike was so sweet and made me a nice bubble bath every night.


We met with a bee keeper, and put on bee keeper suits, and went into their hive area and learned all about the bees. It was crazy how calm the bees actually were. I was pretty anxious going into this, but seeing how calm the bee keeper was, as well as all of the bees once he pulled them out, I couldn’t pass up a chance to get up close and personal with the bees as well. Bees are so important, so I am so happy there are so many people that are trying to be beekeepers these days.

Garden, Goats, and Chickens

On the ranch, they have a vegetable garden that they use for the restaurant, and they also raise goats to make cheese, and they have hens to lay eggs. It was fun to visit all the animals and talk to the gardeners to learn more about the animals and garden.


All of the meals that we had were delicious. I would highly recommend coming to Carmel Valley Ranch for dinner, even if you are not staying at the hotel. They also have nightly smore’s for everyone to enjoy (my favorite!).


I had a lovely pre-natal massage at the spa. I was nervous how the pre-natal massage would be since I could not lay on my stomach, and it seemed like it would be weird to lay on my side, but the therapist used many bolsters and pillows to prop me up nicely, and it was very enjoyable.


17 Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive is located just north of Carmel in Monterey, and it is a winding 17 mile road that you have to pay $10.50 to enter, and then you can view the beautiful beaches, cypress trees, 5 golf courses, and expensive homes.


Pebble Beach 

We went to Pebble Beach and ate lunch at The Bench, which is right on the 18th hole of the famous Pebble Beach golf course. It was a beautiful day and the course looked beautiful. If I was into golf, I think this would have been AMAZING! I still thought it was really unbelievably beautiful.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is famous, however it costs $50 per person. We did not go inside because we heard very mixed reviews. If they offer a discount, I think it would be worth visiting.


Cannery Row

Cannery Row is very touristy in my opinion with many shops selling the same gimmicky things. It is one of the top things to do in Monterey, but I wouldn’t spend much time here. Apparently there is a famous book ca;;ed “Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck, which is set during the Great Depression about a street lined with sardine canneries that is known as Cannery Row. It still kind of looks like it could be in the Great Depression.

Monteray Fisherman’s Wharf

We visited the Monteray Fisherman’s Wharf because we wanted to buy some sea urchin, but the store was closed for over an hour that we waited there. We were definitely entertained by the sea lions swimming around while we waited!


Pinnacles National Park

Inland from Monteray, Carmel, and Big Sur lies Pinnacles National Park. There is a northern entrance and a southern entrance, and they do not connect; so plan your trip accordingly for which side you are interested in seeing. We visited from the northern entrance. On our drive over, we saw so many hawks!


Bear Gulch Cave Trail

We parked in the Bear Gulch parking lot, and then walked over to the Bear Gulch Cave trail. This is a relatively easy 2.2 mile trail, and the caves are totally worth it if you are not claustrophobic at all. We visited on New Years Day 2020, and on the walk over to the caves, everything was so green. We felt like we were in the hobit! Once you get to the caves, you must have a flashlight in order to see in part of the cave, and you are climbing up through steps with very low ceilings. On our walk back, we saw a bunch of people rock climbing. We stopped and watched them for a while, it was fun to even watch! We loved how unique the experience was.

Condor Gulch Overlook

The Condor Gulch Overlook is a trail that leads to an overlook where you can often see the famous California Condor birds. We walked part of the trail, but since we visited while I was pregnant, I was tired and we did not go all the way. We unfortunately did not see any Condors, but I would love to go back and hike the trail again.


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