California Dreaming: Big Sur to Paso Robles

When you google "Big Sur Lodging" there are plenty of options but when you look closer they are usually a.) very romantic and, b.) very expensive.  This would be fine if Alan and I were traveling alone but since that was not the case, it took a little more digging.  Luckily, I stumbled upon the Big Sur Lodge and it was perfect.  Located in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the lodge is a great base for exploring the area.  Accommodations are a series of cabins nestled among the trees and several options are available:  rooms with fireplaces, kitchenettes or both, as well as family rooms (which we had) that sleep 4-6 people.  Our room had a separate bedroom for added privacy and all rooms are without telephones, televisions and alarm clocks!  We dropped our bags and took two hikes that are located right on the lodge's property, one to a waterfall and the other to a lookout over the surrounding hills.  

If you plan on being in Big Sur overnight, make a dinner reservation.  We did not and we were scrambling to find a place to eat.  We decided to just try the restaurant at the lodge and it was (unexpectedly) very good.  The menu emphasizes organic ingredients and sustainable agriculture and has a wide variety of offerings.  There is a kids menu and a really nice beer and wine list, with many of the wines from nearby Carmel and Paso Robles.  They also serve breakfast and lunch as well as having an espresso bar.

The next morning we stopped for breakfast at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant (where I had really wanted to have dinner the night before).  Don't be fooled when you see the gas pumps.  Look up the hill and you will see what all the parked care are really there for.  Delicious pastries and breads, freshly made lattes, and a fabulous view are more than enough reason to sit and savor your morning meal here.  And yes, she did eat that whole cinnamon roll!  

Right next to the restaurant is the Big Sur Charter School, which we all found incredibly charming...

When we planned the trip we didn't want to be in the car for hours on end, and lucky for us, there is plenty to see and do as you make your way down the coast.  Just a few minutes down the road from the Big Sur Bakery is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  An easy 15-minute walk on the aptly named Overlook Trail brings you to the site of the McWay Waterfall House, of which now only a terrace remains, but the view is what is really captivating.  To your left is the waterfall for which the house is named, which drops 80-feet down directly into the Pacific.  

We needed to get to San Simeon for a 1:00 tour but about 7 miles north of there, we had to stop at Piedras Blancas, a rookery, or breeding ground, for the Northern Elephant Seal.  The animals are here throughout the year and the website claims that it is home to about 17,000 sea lions.  There is a boardwalk along the beach that provides a great view of all the activity, from mothers nursing their pups to adult males fighting for prime space on the sand.  

San Simeon is William Randolph Hearst's home, designed by Julia Morgan, coincidentally the same architect who designed Asilomar, the lodge we stayed at near Monterey.  The only way to tour the house is by timed guided tour and there are many different tours on offer.  Based on some online research, we decided the best one for the kids was the Grand Rooms Tour, which is recommended for first time visitors and covers most of the common rooms in the main house, Casa Grande.  Our tour guide was wonderful with the kids and they were in awe that someone actually lived in a place like this.  Among the highlights of our tour was the movie theater, where we enjoyed a short silent film just like the guests of Hearst would have.  Once the tour is over, you are free to roam the grounds and explore.  The setting is as beautiful as the house and it would almost be worth it to just wander around outside and skip the tour.

On the way out, we were lucky to catch a glimpse of a herd of zebras that are descendants of ones that used to part of a zoo Hearst kept at San Simeon.  

Hungry for lunch, we continued on Hwy. 1 to Morro Bay and Taco Temple.  Home to an all-you-can-eat chip station with the most delicious tortilla chips and salsas and specializing in seafood tacos, this was just what we needed after a long day on the road.  A few things to keep in mind:  they only accept cash or local checks and they are closed on Tuesdays.  But if at all possible, stop at an ATM and pass though here on the other six days of the week as you will be missing out if you don't.