I really love the California central coast. I don’t know whether it’s because the grey skies and craggy ocean side rocks remind me of growing up back in Scotland and taking road trips to the seashore with my parents.
So when my wife came up with an idea of heading north to see some friends I was totally on board! It was only a four day trip with two of those being non traveling days so I tried to pack in as many stops along the way as I could. I decided to pass on some tips I discovered when researching the drive north.
Leaving behind the chaos of Los Angeles, we drove north on the U.S 101 freeway until we reached San Luis Obispo. This was where I made the switch over to Highway 1 and continued on the coastal route. The scenery changes dramatically, justifying my love for the area. Our first stop for the night was Cambria, a quiet town full of tiny shops selling art and crafts and people sending friendly head nods in your direction. The drive from L.A. to San Luis Obispo took about four hours and then another 45 minutes to Cambria.
We stayed in The Cambria Landing Inn which is situated right on the shores of Moonstone Beach. As soon as you cross the small road in front of the Inn, you’re on the beach. I highly recommend the Inn and we were greeted with a warm welcome from Chris at the front desk. The room with two queen beds was really comfortable and the perfect size for the four of us. One thing I would say is, don’t pay too much attention to reserving a room with a “partial” ocean view. If you can score a front room with a full view then definitely go for it, the view is amazing and I loved hearing the ocean as I was falling asleep. The partial view doesn’t really merit the extra cost in my opinion. The service was fantastic and I can’t wait to return. The Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill is right next door to the Inn where we had lunch, it’s family friendly with a decent menu and three star food. Sitting outside on the patio right next to the ocean gives this place a special touch that the other eateries in town don’t have. We ate dinner at The Indigo Moon Cafe in downtown Cambria, and with four stars on Yelp we expected quality but found it to be very disappointing.
After only one night in Cambria, we were back on the road to San Ramon. We spent another night as guests of some friends and that was so much fun. Both sets of kids had a great time and it was sad to hit the road again a day later. We were about an hour away from our next destination, St Helena which is about 15 minutes north of Napa. This was our second visit to the Napa area and it was fun to recognize some of the wineries we visited many years ago. We stayed at The Wydown Hotel, a small boutique style hotel with a great personal and homely feel to it. Again we were met at check-in with friendly staff (now do you see why I want to live here) and were made to feel right at home. The room was huge with a good sized couch bed for the kids.
We were too early for checking in at The Wydown, so we drove a mile or so on Highway 29 and ended up at the V. Sattui Winery. A really busy place, but plenty of room to move in the gardens and great for kids. Seating is all around outside and you can grab a full picnic bench if you’re lucky, or use one of the many half upturned wine barrel tables to eat at. The food seems to have gotten better since my last visit. We ordered ribs and mozzarella caprese with the most insane chunks of roasted garlic. But the mind blowing porchetta sandwiches left me speechless…and messy. A bottle of V. Sattui Family Red was perfect alongside the lunch. Afterwards we only had time for a short stroll on the main street before visiting some more friends back in Napa, so we grabbed some local cheese and a huge berry peach pie from The Model Bakery and off we went for another great get-together.
Our last stop was for breakfast and I had to visit Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. It’s on the way back south from St Helena towards Napa and is a must stop. We arrived around 8am on a Monday morning and it wasn’t too busy at all. I wish the same could be said for Keller’s restaruant next door which I here has a significant waiting time for a reservation.
I knew the baked goods would be good but I wasn’t prepared for how good the quiche was. If you ever visit, order a slice and you’ll never call another regular quiche by that name again. It’ll be more like an egg pie or custard pie, the Bouchon quiche was unbelievable! We sat down outside with some coffee cake, scones and the butteriest flaky croissant pastries you’re likely to find outside of Paris and watched the morning unfold. I sipped on my coffee thinking about the long drive back home and leaving behind such a beautiful place.
We’ll be back Northern California with more time and a bigger appetite, see you soon.
A special thanks to Christina from Dessert For Two who steered me in the direction of some great places!