33: Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, & Half Moon Bay

Before you read, I did travel this summer (2020) and did so as safely as I felt comfortable. For everyone, this is different. My stance has been to not make judgments on others at least aloud. 🙂


After leaving SLO and Paso Robles, I decided to skip Big Sur (Highway 1) and take the 101 through Salinas (see John Steinbeck). It shaved an hour off the drive (a little over 2 hours).

I checked into my AirBnb, which was literally a charming bed and breakfast out of the “Gilmore Girls” in the town of Seaside, next to the more expensive Monterey.

I made reservations at Folktale Winery in Carmel Valley, which literally just opened up reservations for non-members. I ended up ordering a bottle of wine that would take me the next few days to drink and pizza (partnered with local bakery Rise + Roam).


Since the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium wasn’t open, I decided to go kayaking. I went kayaking last month and felt pretty comfortable. Remember, I can’t really swim! Two hours was a little long and I was fine until we went further out and I got sea sick. I ended up kayaking back to shore a little early. My companions, aside from the wacky hippie instructor, was a group of 8 early 20-somethings who were a fun time but not at all experienced with kayaking.

I headed back to land and walked around the dreamy town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. I went on a media trip here years ago and have the best memories of the picturesque fairytale town with little alleyways and greenery climbing on the buildings. I picked up short rib fries at Brophy’s Tavern, which I proceeded to eat on a bench by the side of the road.

Unpictured: Coffee from Captain + Stoker before kayaking where I got a bag o’ beans.

I only stayed in the Carmel/Monterey area for a night and then it was off to Santa Cruz! I made a pit stop in Capitola on the way. It was rather disappointing – the Victorian homes were more trashy than regal and the town was packed yet few people wore a mask!

That night, I just hung out in my suite in the woods in Felton, California, a 20 minute drive from Santa Cruz. I definitely preferred it! Not only did I wake up to a beautiful view, Felton isn’t void of people. Rather, there were lots of homes and not vacation homes! People actually live up here and it greatly reminded me of… Asheville, my love. (If you don’t know, I lived in Asheville, North Carolina for six years and have the best memories of it.)


I didn’t think about all the Bay Area people who would drive down to Half Moon Bay so my plans for biking on the Coastal Trail was out. There were no more bikes available! Instead, I found a quieter beach, Montara Beach, a little north of Half Moon Bay. There are so many beaches to pick from! I walked around to admire the flowers and made my way down. The weather was perfect – 67 degrees – but the water was numbing. I spent a couple of hours there hanging out before I got lunch at The Barn. I got the chicken sandwich!

I decided to move a little after by walking 4-5 miles on the Coastal Trail, starting at Dunes Beach and back.


Ah, here’s the nature you’ve been waiting for! I drove 25 minutes to Big Basin Redwood State Park. The drive itself was magical. I decided on the 7 mile out and back hike, but as I suspected, it was one-way due to COVID. I ended up hiking >11 miles. Thankfully most of it was easy and I only saw 8 people on the trail, but I was definitely tired trying to run past them.

I treated myself to sushi after since I hadn’t eaten and then The Penny Ice Creamery. They had sweet corn and blackberry, which is an amalgamation of my favorite corn almond from Magpies Soft Serve and birthday cake and blackberries from Salt & Straw! The Penny is famous for its toasted marshmallow fluff topping!


On my last day, I stopped by Companion Bakeshop for a pastry and then Cat & Cloud Coffee for some sustenance before embarking on my last adventure.

A friend told me about another magical hike at the Land of the Medicine Buddha in Aptos, a little further south. I chose to do the 6 mile loop, going through what I think was a mile-long patch with poison oak slowly. I ran into a banana slug so it was all worth it, plus the redwoods give the best shade and provide the ideal environment for forest bathing (look it up!).

I made one last stop at Marianne’s Ice Cream (unpictured oatmeal cookie dough) before driving 6 hours home. I made a stop in SLO, taking a detour, to get shrimp pad Thai from Thai Boat (no bean sprouts please!) and since the traffic was finally light enough, I had to stop for Magpies’ birthday cake ice cream pie. I ate half and the other half made it home!

And cliche as it is, TAKE ME BACK.

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