Driving north and west from Santa Barbara to Monterey, this route follows the El Camino Real Road and CA 1 as it winds its way through the core of coastal California. Following this course, the ocean is always on your left so you can't lose direction. But with the beauty that surrounds you, you may lose your heart south of San Francisco. Sunsets anchored by acres of blooming flowers are rivaled only by those setting over rolling vineyards, or melting into mammoth rock formations along the shore. Romance doesn't linger in the air, it permeates it. Along the way, you'll discover plenty of reasons to pull over into a small village, stroll along a sandy beach, or be mesmerized by the mystique that dusk brings to Monterey's Cannery Row.
Stop #1: Paso Nuevo
Foodies and oenophiles know about Santa Barbara, but so should shoppers. Shopping at its best can be found along the winding pedestrian walks at this outdoor mall, anchored by major retailers and Santa Barbara's main thoroughfare, State Street. Small shops offer wares from crystal, jewelry, and children's clothing, like This Little Piggy Wears Cotton, to souvenirs, books, and flowers. The area brims with fountains, colorful arches, and casual al fresco dining spots.
651 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Stop #2: Clairmont Lavender Farm
Walk through rows of lavender plants on this five-acre farm and then watch as 100% organic lavender oil is made using a copper still. This distilling demonstration is free. Once a horse farmer, the owner switched passions to flowers and grows enough product to stock a boutique of all things lavender—essential oils, candles, sachets, and personal products like shampoos and conditioners for people and pets, too.
2480 Roblar St., Los Olivos, CA 93441
Stop #3: Tangent Winery Tasting Room
Grab a chair at this tasting room before 5:30pm or miss prime sunset seating. Outdoor tables, chairs, and chaises are lined up every day at the restored Independence Schoolhouse-turned-tasting room for Tangent's crisp Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines, and Baileyana's (its sister brand) Pinto Noirs and Syrahs. The schoolhouse, now painted a creamy yellow, is set in the 2,500-acre Edna Valley, part of the Central Coast appellation.
5828 Orcutt Rd., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Stop #4: 17-Mile Drive
Located in the Del Monte Forest, 17-Mile Drive curves between Carmel and Pacific Grove, with the ocean on the right and multi-million dollar estates and world-famous golf courses on the left. Of the five entrances, the one at Pacific Grove (accessible via Sunset Drive) is the most popular. The route is free to bikers and pedestrians, but drivers must pay a per-car fee. Note that motorcyclists are prohibited.
Along the way, numbered pull-offs have intriguing names like Spy Glass Hill (#12). Be sure to look out on the rocks for Lone Cypress (#16). This very wind-swept tree, a symbol of Pebble Beach, is estimated to be more than 250 years old. Ghost Tree (#17) is near Pescadero Point, where signposts warn of "large unexpected waves that will sweep people off their feet."
CA Hwy. 1, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, CA 93953