Welcome back to Alice and Matt’s honeymoon trip in California. You can read Part 1 here if you missed it, but for those of you still with me, we are heading to Yosemite National Park…will we see any bears?!
Day 9 – Monday – Drive day
We weren’t in any rush today as we were moving on to Yosemite, so we spent the morning shopping in San Francisco city centre followed by a leisurely lunch. It was dark and quite late when we (finally) arrived in Coarse Gold on Hwy 41 to our air B&B but Holly and Dan our hosts were so welcoming it made the long drive instantly forgettable. We were greeted to a beautiful, heavenly family home (seen in the photo below) in the mountains, with a roaring log fire and a glass of red wine waiting. We didn’t need anything as we weren’t hungry but Holly was fully prepared to rustle us up something to eat had we asked. We sat up chatting and relaxing with Holly who gave us map and detailed information for our trip in to the national park for the following day before falling into a lovely cosy bed to rest up for a busy following day.
Day 10 – Tuesday – Yosemite National Park
Before I get in to what we did do, I just want to say; had I not been pregnant we would have done a LOT more in Yosemite but as we were I had to take it easy. If we ever go back I would certainly love to hit the mountain biking trails or do a lot more of the harder walks and hikes, but I guess that’s for another time.
We stuck to the valley in Yosemite which is the most densely touristy part as it has the big things people want to see such as El Capitain, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Tunnel View. We arrived in the park via the South Gate (we drove in) which meant we passed Half Dome and Tunnel View just during the drive into the Valley. There’s plenty of parking nearby these vistas so it’s perfectly easy to hop in and out the car for the obligatory viewing and photo taking.
We next stopped at Vernal Falls and walked up to the view point (you’ll need a raincoat here as the spray and mist gets you VERY wet!) but it’s very impressive and worth the slippery steps to get up. Oh, top tip wear sensible shoes such as walking trainers, even walking boots if you’re planning on doing the big walks because although all the routes in Yosemite are marked out they are natural footpaths with rocks and uneven parts in places. Plus the weather is very changeable in the Park as it’s so mountainous it comes with its own weather system. Just be practical; coats, light layers, carry a water bottle and be prepared for the fact it can get really cold in later afternoon / evening.
From then on we drove to the main Valley floor car park and hopped on and off the shuttle buses which took us to all the big must see sights.
Just a few helpful tips, we bought sandwiches from Ralegh’s supermarket on the way in to the park (delicious, properly handmade in front of you, no pre-packaged nonsense here) and ate dinner at the Southgate Brewery on the way home. This place is great if you love craft beer and meat.
Oh and we didn’t see a single bear. I’m still disappointed.
Day 11 – Wednesday – Sequoia Trees and (more) driving
This morning we spent a few hours looking at some giant Sequoia trees in a massive forest near to our Air B&B in Coarsegold. They were magnificent and completely awe inspiring – but between you and me after Yosemite the day before I was a bit tired and achey and tree-d out really so wasn’t too fussed, so it was back in the car to drive to Santa Cruz. We stopped about half way in Los Banos to go to Mr Taco because our Air B&B host totally raved about the fish tacos…maybe I just don’t get Mexican food but I thought it was all a bit meh, however, Los Banos has plenty of other restaurants including all the big diner chains so you’ll find food and somewhere to stretch your legs. We arrived in Santa Cruz early evening and checked into the Carousel Beach Inn. The motel was nice enough (clean and tidy but basic) and really conveniently located, but I hated this one night stay because we had the neighbours from hell who kept us up all night long drinking, screaming, shouting and arguing so in my memory it was just an awful experience! We did have some amazing apple pie from a diner called Gilda’s which was perched right on the edge of the water with amazing views of sea otters and seals playing though, so that kind of makes up for it.
Day 12 – Thursday – Santa Cruz in the sunshine!
We were staying at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn for this night which was just across town so we left our luggage in the car as we couldn’t check in until the afternoon and walked into the city to explore a bit. After a good mooch about and some shopping we stopped at the Bagelry to pick up some lunch as this place was recommended in our guidebook. My goodness it did not disappoint! (So much so we went back the next day too). Gorgeous, freshly baked (proper) bagels and a fillings list so massive I was overwhelmed by choice. Don’t miss this if you go to Santa Cruz. We took our lunch back to the board walk and ate it on the beach. By this time in the day the clouds had vanished and it was a gorgeous, hot sunny day. We decided to check in and spend the rest of the day poolside to make the most of the beautiful weather. The Dream Inn is a fantastic hotel and our room was just beautiful. We had the most amazing sea view (I mean seriously nothing is more romantic than waking up to dolphins outside and the lovely sound of waves crashing together) this would be the most perfect honeymoon hotel. The pool area is fantastic for some tan time, the bedrooms are massive and well decorated and the whole feel of the hotel is just so pleasant. Staff could not have been more friendly or courteous and the restaurant is amazing. I would certainly recommend this hotel and I would happily go back in an instant. Speaking of the restaurant, we were treated to an exceptional three course meal here and it was DIVINE. Even if you don’t stay at the Dream Inn try to book in to the restaurant (called Acquarius) as it was delicious and definitely not one to miss. I’d certainly say it was one of the best meals of our entire trip, and I’m still raving about my deconstructed S’more dessert now to just about anyone who will listen!
Day 13 – Friday – Drive to Monterey
We left Santa Cruz early after scrambled egg bagels from the Bagelry to head to Monterey and the world-famous aquarium. This was something we both wanted to do and we got there early to make a full day of it. It’s an amazing aquarium (although a little lacking in sharks for my liking) but it really excels with ‘experiences’ such as penguin feeding, otter feeding and the huge deep sea attraction and you can really spend a whole day here. We went out of season so I can’t really comment on the crowds as we were mainly just joined by school parties, but I would assume in high summer season it would be a lot busier. I would also avoid weekends and go mid-week if you can. For our two nights in Monterey we were staying at The Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa which was exceptional. This hotel is like a classic American hotel, old fashioned (but certainly not dated) it’s traditional in terms of décor which might not be to your taste if modern and minimal is your thing – but we loved it. It was quaint, charming and oozed elegance which was just what we wanted after a load of white motels without any character. It’s got a brilliant spa on site (which sadly I didn’t get time to visit) and also an amazing restaurant. It seemed to me though this place came alive at night with couples drinking cocktails on the water’s edge and dancing to the live jazz musicians in the bar.
Day 14 – Monterey
During our final day in Monterey we decided to do ’17 mile Drive’ as it was recommended by the concierge who bought the bags to our room. However, this was after an exquisite and rather decadent breakfast in bed at the hotel. Naughty I know, but our honeymoon was seriously nearing the end and we wanted to make the most of those special newlywed bliss moments while we still could. If you can afford to it is well worth the treat, if not a quick wander into town will find you plenty of cafes and diners to breakfast at. But back to 17 mile Drive…It’s a scenic drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove along the Monterey Peninsula which means you get breath taking coastline to the right and very high class and expensive looking mansions and golf courses to the left! It’s most certainly an affluent area which you realise pretty quickly as you drive into the gated community to begin the Drive. The Drive itself doesn’t take long to do in terms of mileage but there are loads of scenic vistas, hidden coves and gorgeous beaches to stop at along the way. If you don’t have a huge breakfast like we did, pack a picnic and use it as the perfect opportunity to find your own secluded cove to stop mid route and wile away a few hours. The views are sensational. Our end destination was Carmel-by-the-sea, a gorgeous little town as famous for its shopping as it is for its former mayor; Clint Eastwood! And my oh my is the shopping good! I could have happily spent my life’s savings in this teeny little seaside town but luckily Matt dragged me away down to the beach instead. We spent a lovely few hours soaking up the late afternoon sun on the beach, me oogling the surfers, Matt taking arty photos before heading back to Monterey. We did pull over to watch the sunset too on the drive back, which was gorgeous.
Day 15 – the long drive home
So this was our last full day in Cali (so sad) and even worse we had to spend it doing the looong drive back towards LA. We knew we’d be enjoying our last and final night in Santa Barbara and wanted to soak up the last night’s hotel as much as possible so we were up with the lark to leave Monterey and get on the road. We didn’t have breakfast, fully intending to stop for brunch at the Madonna Inn again on the way past. Well, brunch didn’t happen as it was more like lunchtime by the time we got to the Madonna Inn (and I was about ready to eat my own arm off) but I did have an amazing salad followed by the best peach pie I have ever eaten . I won’t go on again about how much I love the Madonna Inn as I know I did previously but seriously do not even think of going to CA without going here, even if you just go to eat and have a look around it will be so worth your time!
Our last night’s hotel was a real special treat as we were staying at the Four Seasons, Biltmore in Santa Barbara. I don’t know if I can adequately find enough adjectives in the human language to describe just how much I loved this place, other than to say it was without a doubt the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in. It was absolute honeymoon heaven and a real dream come true moment to have stayed there. We were treated like royalty or maybe celebrities from the moment we arrived, with staff going above and beyond in every circumstance, and the hotel (well more of a village complex really) was so luxurious. The grounds are spectacular it’s easy to get lost in the magic and beauty of this stunning place. One of the things that has stuck in my mind still, even 5 weeks later is how gorgeous the gardens smelt! The rooms were exquisite, the spa and pool gorgeous, it had everything and more you would expect from a luxury hotel but it still felt down to earth and homely. It wasn’t corporate or business like at all – our stay was simply perfect in every way! The only downside is that we only had one night there, not two weeks.
We spent all afternoon poolside soaking up the last of the holiday sunshine before getting dressed up in our finery for our last (we made it a good one) dinner out. We started with cocktails at Tydes restaurant (just across the road from the hotel) before walking into town to Tre Lune, an amazing, intimate Italian restaurant with a sensational menu. The hotel is located in the town of Montecito which is an incredibly wealthy place. This is a moneyed playground with notable celebrities who all have homes here, so it follows that dinning out is a high-end affair. Expect amazing food in all the restaurants, but with prices to match. We didn’t care too much as it was our last night and this was all about treating ourselves, but it’s worth noting so it doesn’t come as a surprise!
Day 16 – Home time *sad face*
We chose to stay in Santa Barbara for our last night as it was only just over an hour outside of LA so it would be convenient to drop the hire car back and get to the airport. We weren’t flying until 9pm so we had most of the day to enjoy Santa Barbara. We breakfasted in Montecito at Jeannine’s restaurant with some farewell pancakes before heading into downtown Santa Barbara for a look around and some last minute shopping. I absolutely adored Santa Barbara it’s so laid back; it has a really cool bohemian feel about it and beautiful backdrops. You’ve got the Pacific Ocean one side and Santa Ynez Mountains the other. It’s often referred to as the American Riviera and with its previous Spanish period you can really sense the European feel. I could have easily spent an entire week here but with heavy hearts we knew we had to go home. The remainder of our day was your usual life admin tasks of driving back to LA, dropping the hire car off and heading to the airport. One thing I will say is that you need to leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport as LA traffic is always abysmal. Even if it’s just a few miles of driving it will take you a lot longer because of endless traffic lights and jams! An uneventful flight followed and before we knew it we were back in London to rain and the exhaustion of travel. Glad to be home to our little dog Daphne, but not glad to be heading back to work the next day.
My final thoughts…
People kept asking which were my favourite places we visited and I’d happily say; Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, Carmel – by – the – Sea and Santa Barbara. I’d go back to all of these places right away in a heartbeat.
I realise there’s a lot of info to take in here and even so I really haven’t managed to cover everything we did! If you want any more details or if you’re planning a similar trip and are looking for tips / advice on specific places or travelling to California please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The majority of the photos were taken by my awesome husband Matt of The Retreat photography aside from a few foody photos which we took on our Iphones.
Thanks for reading (if you made it this far!) Alice & Matt xx