For my 25th birthday, I got to go to one of my bucket list destinations in the U.S., Big Sur, CA. My boyfriend and I stayed in Carmel Valley and got to check out Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Pebble Beach, and Monterey in just 4 days! It was the perfect weekend getaway filled with hikes, wine tasting, exploring, and relaxing by the beach! We flew into San Jose Airport (SJC), which is the closest large airport to Carmel/Big Sur, but it is still about a one and a half hour drive. A rental car is a must since the airport is far and you will need it to get around the area. Be prepared for cool temps, even in July, it was high of 65 most places along the coast and a high of 80 in the valley. Here is my suggested itinerary and must see places:
Where to Stay:
We decided to stay at Carmel Valley Ranch which was about 12 minutes inland from Carmel-by-the-Sea and had a vineyard, golf course, and resort style pools. Our room even had a fireplace and outdoor soaking tub on the private patio overlooking the course and the mountains. We got a great deal on it by booking with Hyatt points! It was perfectly located to everything we wanted to do and had tons of activities, restaurants, and amazing amenities on the property. They even have goats roaming around and make their own goat cheese and honeys on the ranch. If we didn’t stay there, some other great options were Mission Ranch (more affordable), Ventana Big Sur, Treebones Resort and Post Ranch Inn (all pretty pricey boutique hotels/glamping). Another great affordable option if you’re up for more adventure, would be booking a cabin or campsite at one of the many state parks in Big Sur.
Where to Eat:
There are so many amazing places to eat in this area! Here were a few of our favorites! I am also celiac and have a gluten allergy, so I found as many gluten-free friendly places as possible!
What to Do:
In Carmel besides the obvious of going out to eat, you can stroll the cute town and check out the historic buildings and cottages that line the streets. There are so many art galleries, boutiques, cheese shops, candy stores, and wineries to stop by. Some tasting rooms to check out are Silvestri, Manzoni, and Albatross Ridge. If you’re in Carmel, you have to do the 17 Mile Drive (or at least part of it). It’s about a $12 entry to stop at any of the locations along the drive. We mainly wanted to check out Pebble Beach! The world renowned golf course was beautiful and so cool to walk around! It is a public course so you can play, but at a steep cost of over $600 for a round. Another semi-obvious thing to do in Carmel, is check out the beach! During summer, Carmel and Big Sur get a lot of fog (especially in the mornings) so if you’re wanting a sunny beach day the best time to visit is September-October!
Carmel Valley Village was located just a few minutes inland of our hotel. It is a cute little town in the mountains surrounded by vineyards and wineries! Most of the tasting rooms and vineyards are reservation only, so make sure and book those ahead of time! We went to Folktale Winery, Holman Ranch, Albatross Ridge Tasting Cottage, and Joyce.
Since we didn’t stay in Big Sur, we had to do everything in one day. It’s do-able, but definitely tiring! It was about 3hrs round trip of driving to all the spots and back up to Carmel Valley. We did a lot of shorter hikes since we wanted to make so many stops, but still ended up hiking/walking over 8 miles that day! Here is the order of stops I recommend doing if you’re coming from North to South:
We went to Monterey for the day on our last day since it was on the way out and we had a late afternoon flight. Monterey is known for whale watching, the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, and being in the show Big Little Lies. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to check out the aquarium, but if you do it’s one of the best in the U.S. so definitely recommend trying! We walked around Cannery Row, filled with shops and restaurants, then headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. We ate at Cafe Fina, a quaint local restaurant on the pier known for their fresh seafood! We had the seafood paella that was amazing and plenty of food for 2 people! It’s about 1 hour 20 minutes back to the airport from there, so we had to head out shortly after lunch.
Overall, it was such an amazing trip and we already want to go back!