California Road Trip: Day 2 in Monterey, Big Sur & Pismo Beach

Hi Friends!
Welcome back and I hope you enjoyed Casually Coastal’s very first post yesterday! There I shared the details of our first of seven days road tripping down the iconic Pacific Coast Highway (linked below for those who missed it!). I have more in store for you today as I recount our extremely scenic drive from Monterey to Pismo Beach, which was incredible to say the least.

Day 1 in San Jose, Santa Cruz & Monterey

As we took this road trip prior to COVID-19, the hotels, restaurants and attractions featured in my post may not currently be open, or they may be offering limited service. If you use this post to plan your own trip, please verify these important details directly. Also, for those traveling now or planning a getaway in the very near future, please wear a mask to protect the locals and fellow travelers. We’ll get through this pandemic together!

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Day 2: Monterey, Big Sur & Pismo Beach


Wooo! I woke up in Monterey feeling like a new person! Between the lack of sleep, motion sickness and headache I was dragging the first day of our road trip! Big Sur was on the list for today, and I could barely contain my excitement. But first things first – we needed to find coffee and breakfast to take on the road with us. Paris Bakery Cafe fit the bill, and you don’t need to say the words “apricot croissant” twice – I was sold. If you’re going to drive from Monterey to Pismo Beach, you most definitely need the proper fuel. Or at least that’s what I told myself! 🙂

Pastries from Paris Bakery Cafe for our drive from Monterey to Big Sur.
Paris Bakery Cafe, Monterey

Pastries and coffee in hand, we set out on 17-Mile Drive to take in the stunning views along the Monterey Peninsula. There’s a $10.50 entry fee for 17-Mile Drive, which gets you a brochure with a map and unlimited places to pull over for photos. We took in the beauty of all of the landmarks, including The Lone Cypress, Spanish Bay, Stillwater Cove, the Del Monte Forest, and the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Course. Naturally, I was on the look-out for Tiger Woods, but no such luck!

The Lone Cyprus, one of the many stops on our drive from Monterey to Big Sur.
The Lone Cyprus, 17-Mile Drive

After finishing the route along 17-Mile Drive, we passed through Carmel’s adorably quaint downtown. We had a full day ahead of us – 3.5 hours of driving through Big Sur to Pismo Beach, which didn’t factor in any of the many stops we planned on making. Because of this, we didn’t spend time in Carmel but I’d recommend doing so if possible. It looked like they had some great little boutiques and cafes.

Big Sur

I popped a dose of Dramamine, knowing that the drive through Big Sur would be a bit hairy at times. Josh drove the entire road trip (have I not mentioned that he’s the best husband?) and I can sometimes be an anxious passenger. Josh didn’t give me the nickname “Backseat Betty” for nothing! There were some hair-pin turns on stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway that felt like you had about three inches to spare before your car would tumble over the cliffs to the ocean below. If you get motion sick or you’re a nervous passenger or driver, you’ve been warned! The jaw-dropping views make it all worth it though!

Our first official stop was at Bixby Bridge where it was extremely windy and packed with tourists. However, everyone was very respectable about taking their photos and then stepping aside to allow others to do the same. The parking areas were full, but with so many cars coming and going finding a spot wasn’t too much of an issue. 

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
Heed their warning, the cliffs surrounding Bixby Bridge are no joke!
Heed their warning, the cliffs surrounding Bixby Bridge are no joke!

We stayed at Bixby Bridge for about 20 minutes before continuing on with our drive, pulling over at a few overlooks along the way to take more pictures. We stopped at Nepenthe just after 1pm for lunch and a break from the driving. Given that it’s one of the most well-known restaurants in Big Sur, it was packed. For good reason too – perched at the top of a cliff, the views are absolutely breathtaking. The wait for an outside table was about 45 minutes, but we didn’t mind. We grabbed a cold drink and sat in the bleacher-style waiting area overlooking the ocean. Once we were seated, the service was quick. They have a pretty small menu, likely so that they can get food out quickly and turn over the tables as fast as possible.

During our drive from Monterey to Big Sur, Nepenthe was our lunch spot.
Enjoying the views at Nepenthe. All outdoor tables face the Pacific!

Back in the car, our next and final notable stop in Big Sur was at Ragged Point, which I highly recommend. This lookout point has plenty of parking, a gas station and some amenities if you need to refuel your car or stomachs. There’s also a gift shop if you’re hunting for souvenirs. We did the short hike down to the beach and back up. It was a lot of fun and only took about 40 minutes round trip. It’s a steep trail though so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not wearing sneakers or hiking boots.

Ragged Point, one of the highlights on our drive from Monterey to Big Sur.
Ragged Point
Ragged Point, one of the highlights on our drive from Monterey to Big Sur.
Nature Trail down to the beach, with the most beautiful views!
Ragged Point, one of the highlights on our drive from Monterey to Big Sur.
How gorgeous are these views at Ragged Point?!

I would absolutely love to someday come back to Big Sur and spend a day or two hiking. Many of the trails weave through redwoods, along creeks, by waterfalls and remote beaches, which sounds like paradise to me. It was nearing 5pm, so we wrapped up our time in Big Sur and headed in the direction of Pismo Beach, where we had planned to stay the night. From here we had about 70 miles to go and a 7:30pm dinner reservation to make.

San Simeon

While on our drive to Pismo Beach, we came across Friends of the Elephant Seal, in San Simeon. We of course had to stop because it was quite a sight to see dozens and dozens of elephant seals flopping around on the beach. I’m not going to lie though, it stunk to high heaven here so we snapped a few pictures and jumped back in the car! Ha!    

Elephant seals in San Simeone, which we passed as we were heading south from Big Sur towards Pismo Beach.
A beautiful sight, but these seals give off some serious odor!

Pismo Beach

We finally arrived in Pismo Beach, which we mainly treated as a stopover point and a place to sleep. While the beach itself is beautiful, it was too cool to swim at the time of year we visited (September) and there’s not a whole lot to see or do compared to the other stopping points on our itinerary. We checked into the Cottage Inn by the Sea, with no issue and headed to our room. There was no air conditioning at this inn and the room felt very damp with the windows open. To be expected I guess, given their location right on the beach. The room was nice enough and had a fireplace but I’d likely look at a different option if staying in Pismo Beach again. After showering and changing, we walked outside and caught the most incredible sunset just steps from our room.

Pismo Beach sunset
Pismo Beach sunset

After that, we walked over to dinner at Ventana Grill. I had made a reservation and requested a table next to a window, which they graciously accommodated. The huge windows ensured that almost every diner could enjoy the vast views of the Pacific Ocean. The drinks there were so, so good. Be warned though that their jalapeno margarita has quite the kick! No subtle hints of jalapeno in that cocktail!

My adorable husband Josh at Ventana Grille, after the sun had set.
My husband Josh at Ventana Grille, after the sun had set.

Following a great dinner, we walked back to our hotel to sit by their fire pit and to finish planning out the next day’s adventures. Be on the lookout for tomorrow’s post where I recap day three of our California road trip in Santa Barbara!

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California Road Trip: Day 2 in Monterey, Big Sur & Pismo Beach