San Diego to Carmel A California Coast Road Trip

There are many ways to do a California coast road trip depending on what you want to see and do. However, if you like wine, food and the ocean, I’ve got the perfect road trip for you!

My boyfriend and I decided to take an end of summer trip from one beautiful beach to several others because when you live in Southern California and are dating a surfer, you do as such. I’m definitely not complaining. We started out in Carlsbad and made our way north, ending our trip in the picturesque town of Carmel By the Sea.

We took four days on this trip. Obviously, I wish we could have gone longer, but if you just have a long weekend to take a trip, it’s definitely doable.

Day 1: San Diego to Santa Barbara

Now, to do a road trip the right way, you have to take the 101. There’s no if ands or buts about it. Some of the most stunning views are the stretch from Ventura to Santa Barbara so make sure you have your camera ready! I however, did not. I was too busy starving because I forgot car snacks. Don’t ever forget car snacks.

  • Check the surf at Rincon. Like I mentioned before, if you date a surfer, you do as such. Rincon is known for waves that seem like they never end which makes it a popular location for many professional surfers. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot one!
  • Lunch at Pickles & Swiss. This little deli made Yelp’s Top 100 so I knew we just had to try this gem! Our sandwiches were quite delicious! What stood out the most to me was that their bacon was actually CRISPY! Nothing worse than getting a sandwich with bacon and it’s sad and precooked from SYSCO.
  • Check in to The Harbor House Inn. This little Inn is so cute! All the rooms are decorated differently and you can actually see pictures of your particular room on their website before booking!
  • Take advantage of the free bikes offered at The Harbor House Inn and take a cruise along the boardwalk. Just don’t ride it on the pier, you’ll get yelled at…
  • Dinner at Santo Mezcal. I LOVE Mezcal and I LOVE Mexican food, so this was a match made in heaven for me. Their shrimp empanadas are amazing and their Mezcal Shrimp was delicious! If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, they have a sister restaurant called Los Agaves which has some similar menu items.
  • Explore State Street! If you’re looking for a more casual sports bar, try The Neighborhood. They even have beer pong in the back room. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, try Test Pilot. They have a menu of fun drinks, Tiki Bar style!

Day 2 Santa Barbara to Solvang

Solvang was just a quick 45 minute drive north of Santa Barbara. We took the Chumash Highway to get a little change of scenery and drive through the beautiful foothills.

  • Lunch at The Succulent Café. Their cheese and meat board was AMAZING. That, and a glass of local Pinot Noir, I was one happy girl.
  • Walk the streets of Solvang! The buildings are so cute, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Switzerland.
  • Wine tasting at SevTap. Thanks to The Blonde Abroad, we decided to check out this cute tasting room. The owner was really nice and accommodating. He played a little bit of Spice Girls, JT and Britney while we tasted his red selection. If you name one of your wines after a popular Spice Girls song, I automatically like you.
  • Check out the ever popular Mortensen’s Danish Bakery and get some goodies for your drive to Carmel By The Sea!

Day 2 Solvang to Carmel By The Sea

Next stop is Carmel By The Sea. The land of picturesque homes and fine dining!

  • Check in to The Carmel Village Inn. This little Inn is at the very beginning of Ocean Ave (the main drag) so it was an ideal location! This property has actually been taken over by Plump Jack and will be undergoing renovations this year. I’m already excited to go check it out once they’re complete. Plump Jack is known for their boutique hotels and delicious wines!
  • Dinner at La Bicyclette. This restaurant was a gem! We shared a salad and one of their infamous wood-fired pizzas. We ordered the mushroom pizza and decided to add pepperoni. We were hesitant to do something we would normally do at our local pizza joint at a fine dining establishment but our wonderful waiter overheard our discussion and confessed he does the same thing so we knew we were golden!
  • Walk off dinner with a walk down to the ocean. Our waiter recommended we take Seventh St down to the ocean rather than Ocean Ave for more to see. And let me tell you, the houses here are so cute. I felt like they were all occupied by fairies, actually I know they are, how else can they be so green and have so many gorgeous flowers blooming?
  • Listen to some live music at La Balema. If this is Carmel’s idea of a divebar, then I’m at a loss for words what to call them back home. They had a banjo player playing and he had the crowd rocking! Oh and guess what? They had a mezcal drink! The Mexican Mattress. Get it. That is all.

Day 3 Carmel By The Sea to Monterey

You just can’t go all the way to Carmel and not drive the 15 minutes to The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

  • Explore the beautiful Monterey Bay Aquarium. Tip: Bring your student ID if you for some reason kept it like I have, and get $10 off admission! Make sure you’re there for all the feedings. Those were my favorite to watch and the commentators gave some really interesting facts.
  • Lunch at the legendary 19th Hole at Pebble Beach! Sit down and get yourself a huge burger and a pint of their local draft and you’ll be the happiest little clam. There’s also a restaurant downstairs that overlooks the course that looked beautiful but we opted for a more traditional clubhouse meal.
  • Check out the 18th green! No wonder this is the #1 public golf course in the world, this place is what golf dreams are made of. Next time I have $500 to spare, I’m coming back and playing.
  • 17-mile drive. Looking for more of the classic northern coast views? Look no further, on this drive you’ll get all the views you’ve ever dreamed of. We didn’t do the whole drive, for lack of time, but we went a few miles in and then turned back around to head back to Carmel. I can only imagine what this drive would look like on a sunny day. I’d imagine pretty dang dreamy.
  • Head back to Carmel and if you’re able to fight off the mid-day nap, head out to a couple of the wine tasting rooms around Carmel. We stopped at a couple but Scheid Vineyards was my favorite.
  • Dinner at Little Napoli. Holy moly guys. Best Italian food I’ve had in a while! Their infamous garlic bread was top notch as well as their veal scapolini. Pair that with a couple glasses of Super Tuscan and you’ll be on cloud nine.

Day 4 Carmel By The Sea to Carlsbad

  • We woke up early, packed up, had some complimentary breakfast at the hotel and headed off for one last lap around Carmel Village before we headed home. Make sure to walk down a few hidden alleyways, you’ll never know what you’ll find at the end! And if you’re an art lover, there’s tons of art galleries to roam around as well.
  • Lunch at High Street Market and Deli in San Luis Obispo. Ok, hands down best damn sandwich I’ve ever had. I got the Dutch Punch and heyoooo I’ll never be able to enjoy a regular sandwich ever again.
  • Check surf at Rincon, because as you do.
  • Check surf at C Street in Ventura because you’re desperate to find a good wave. California isn’t known for having that great of surf in the summer. Poor guy, he really tried this trip. Bless him.
  • Drive into Carlsbad and go straight to your favorite poke bowl spot, PokeWan, get your order to-go, go home and reminisce on your fabulous 3-day weekend!

Hope you enjoyed reading about my 3-day coast trip as much as I enjoyed living it! Please let me know if you give this a try or if you’ve done something similar. Always looking for a new way to explore the California’s coast!

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