Emma Green, Cabana’s Head of Travel, took a Mother/Daughter road trip up Highway 1. As the leader of our trip planning team, you can bet this was an itinerary worth replicating!
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of taking a week-long mother-daughter trip up the coast of California. Not only was it my mom’s first time in a campervan, her first time in Big Sur, and her first trip on Hwy 1, it was our first ever vacation with just the two of us.
As a frequent traveler (and my mom not so much), my number one goal was for her to have an amazing time and to visit an area that I love and have so many wonderful memories tied to (my boyfriend and I met on a Hwy 1 trip). Another goal was for her to walk away from it with a new sense of adventure and confidence to travel (Spoiler Alert: mission accomplished).
At the end of the week, we sat at The Butcher’s Daughter, and reflected on the trip. We both teared up thinking about the big magic moments – seeing harbor seals nearly give birth on a beach we stumbled upon and driving along HWY 1, and the small magic moments – finding shells on the beach together again, singing in the car, and watching the world around us with a child-like awe that felt reminiscent of many years past.
I put a lot of thought and time into planning a trip that would be special for my mom. I can’t put into words how precious these memories already are, so I hope you’ll go out and create your own. Whether you follow my Hwy 1 highlights or use our Trip Planning to create a route that’s personal to you, I hope your next journey is full of magical moments of all sizes.
Day 1 Highlight: The Process of Hitting the Road
Day 1 is always crazy. I have never once taken a trip and on the first day said, “This is so relaxing!” There are bags to pack, trunks to puzzle, TSA lines, and always an element of the unknown.
After my mom and I checked into our Cabana, we walked over to Trader Joe’s and Target to pick up the last-minute essentials for the trip: groceries, sunscreen, paper towels, and TJ’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups (do they count as groceries?). We leaned into the experience and didn’t rush unnecessarily. The thoughtfulness around snacks played out over the week as we dove into different bags of goodies on different days to keep things fresh.
Day 2 Highlight: Fresh Baked Bread from our Campsite Host
We drove up to Ballard, CA, a small town in the Santa Ynez Valley where we stayed on a Walnut Grove. We opted in for fresh-baked bread, so in the morning we were brought out a loaf of sourdough directly from the oven, as well as a homemade marmalade, which we devoured.
Day 3 & 4 Highlight: Big Sur
Big Sur. There is nothing that beats the beauty of the Central California Coastline. Orange cliffs that run into teal blue water will never stop inspiring me, and it was special to share those views with my mom in real life (versus Instagram).
Day 5 Highlight: Point Lobos State Park
On Day 5 we headed to Point Lobos State Park. At this point we had visited several coastal state parks – all beautiful but starting to mesh in our heads. Point Lobos was simply different. The lace lichen that canopied the trails felt ethereal and we packed in more wildlife sightings than we could ever hope for. We saw sea lions at the aptly named Sea Lion Point and saw day and week old Harbor Seal pups in Whaler’s Cove. Several mother seals were near birth, so we waited around for hours learning more from one of the local naturalists.
Day 6 Highlight: Vineyard Camping
On our last night in the Cabana, we stayed at a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles. I love wine, and I love spending time with winemakers. Each tasting feels a little bit like a history lesson of the area where the grapes grow, and I was excited to bring my mom along on the culinary adventure that is wine.
Our Itinerary, Day-By-Day
- Pick up the Cabana in Westwood, LA
- Drive north on Hwy 1 through Malibu and over to scenic Highway 154 to the Santa Ynez Valley. Enjoy a stunning mix of coastal, mountain, and valley views.
- Stay at Ballard Walnut Grove in Ballard, CA, a small town near Solvang and downtown Santa Ynez. There are two campsites that both include a fire pit, string lights, seating, and are surrounded by walnut trees for privacy.
- Eat and drink in downtown Solvang, a town filled with Danish-inspired architecture, food, and culture.
- Wake up and take a short walk to Bob’s Well Bread for incredible pastries and coffee. Its quaintness will make you feel like you’re in southern France.
- Pack up and head to one of the many neighboring wineries. We chose Rideau next door and were so impressed with their Viognier that we bought a bottle to go.
- Drive north to Morro Bay to stay at Morro Strand State Beach. This state beach camping lot is situated right next to the beach for easy walks to see the “Gibraltar of the Pacific," aka the big rock protruding from the ocean in between Morro Strand and Morro Bay. The rock is the last peak of the Nine Sisters, a group of volcanic mountains and hills that extend from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay.
- Catch an amazing sunset and then fall asleep to the sound of the ocean.
- After a morning beach stroll, head north on Highway 1, or Cabrillo Highway, to Big Sur. Plan for roadside stops all the way!
- Stop 1: Elephant Seal Viewing Area – hundreds of elephant seals line this beach along Hwy 1, about 5 miles north of Hearst Castle.
- Stop 2: Limekiln State Park Beach – While the trails are closed due to recent fires, there is day parking for the very popular Hwy 1 beach. Bring along cash as this spot requires a $10 parking fee.
- Stop 3: McWay Falls – an optional stop for a quick jaunt to a beach waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, an iconic photography spot in Big Sur. Do note that the trails are closed due to fires from a few years ago and this spot gets particularly busy for a small parking lot.
- Stop 4: Fernwood Resort, a gorgeous campground situated in the heart of Big Sur. Select a tent site along the water and you’ll wake up to the sounds of the creek running beneath redwoods. Once you settle in before dark, you can head up to their restaurant and bar for dining or a drink outside by the fire pits. Campsites range from $50-$100.
- Head to Cafe Kevah for cliffside breakfast, featuring stunning views of the coast.
- Drive north over the Bixby Creek Bridge and Rocky Creek Bridge, two iconic bridges to pull over near for photos, and up to Garrapata State Beach where you can see Calla Lily Valley (read more about it here)
- Continue on to Soberanes Point for a couple mile loop hike featuring elevated views of the coast and occasional glimpses of sea lions.
- Head back to Big Sur Campgrounds for a night beneath redwoods.
- Grab lattes from the bar at Big Sur River Inn and relax in adirondack chairs in the middle of the Big Sur River. Wear water-friendly sandals to soak in the most epic Big Sur coffee spot.
- Drive north to Point Lobos State Park, just south of Carmel-By-The-Sea. At this location along the Granite Point Trail, young seals hang out with their mothers by the water. All the trails within Point Lobos offer stunning views of the water and shaded walks through lace lichen.
- Stroll through downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea and then head to Saddle Mountain Ranch, an upscale RV park located about 15 minutes from downtown in the Carmel Valley. Enjoy a swimming pool, lounging by fire pits, ping pong, and more with views overlooking the valley.
- Wake up and head to Monterey for breakfast. Grab coffee and breakfast at Captain + Stoker and then walk to Monterey Bay Aquarium to see even more wildlife.
- Drive south on 101 to Paso Robles for a vineyard stay at Vines on the Marycrest, a Harvest Host just outside of downtown Paso. Head into town for dinner at Les Petites Canailles, a French farm-to-table bistro.
- On the final day, head to downtown Paso Robles for coffee. We chose AMSTRDM Coffee House and then headed south once again on the 101 to LA to return the van and stay one night in a hotel in Venice near Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
For more coastal travel inspiration, check out 7 things to do in 7 days on Highway One.