April 13, 2018

The Complete Central California road trip Guide –– what to eat, drink & do.

When calling something ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’, chances are that statement isn’t actually true, but in this scenario I’m pretty positive it is. All joking aside, I DID grow up in Los Angeles and traveled up to Central California at least once a year for family vacations as a kid, and once I hit thinking-about-where-to-go-to-college age, I was “early-decision” sure I wanted to go to Cal Poly SLO.

As I inched closer to completing my 30th time around the sun, I knew I had to plan some sort of epic trip. A trip abroad came to mind (which is still happening – stay tuned) but I also dreamt of driving up the coast I know so well, yet still have so much more to explore and learn about. What was even better is that my boyfriend (Randolph) had never made a trip much further north than Ventura. The thought that I would get to share in his first experience of some of my favorite places on the planet made me even more excited to plan the trip. Our road trip lasted a full week and we stopped at 3 locations. I’ve found that I need at least 2 days per location in order to settle in and experience any place adequately. Obviously this can change depending on the size and amount of things to do wherever you are going.

It’s kind of ridiculous that I drove up the 101 on the way to and from Cal Poly for 4 years, oh and all those aforementioned family vacations – and I’d never ventured to Ojai! Now that I’ve been, I’m already thinking about going back to explore more. Unfortunately a couple of the places I wanted to eat weren’t open the days we stayed – so be sure to fully investigate when you’re booking.

When I first saw Caravan Outpost while browsing Instagram, I knew it was exactly where I wanted us to stay in Ojai. When we stepped foot onto the property, we were welcomed by one of the owners at the front desk, located in a large metal building that houses a shop with very California-esque items and even some vintage finds to browse! The grounds were complete with 11 Airstreams and perfectly curated with succulents, palm trees, communal tables, and a bonfire pit adorned with chairs draped with colorful blankets – which turned into a communal cooking and s’mores-roasting space in the evening. I would definitely recommend staying at Caravan Outpost if you enjoy meeting other people during your travels – or even if you don’t, but I think it’s nice to have the option! We were able to enjoy one night around the bonfire roasting s’mores and chatting with fellow travelers, before it rained the majority of the next day. It was perfect staying at Caravan Outpost in the rainy weather – I enjoyed the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the Airstream – literally my ideal white noise.

BONNIE LU’S – Located on the main drag, we found the perfect diner for a straight up American Breakfast. We shared Buttermilk Pancakes & Biscuits with Sausage Gravy + Bacon, obviously.

FOOD HARMONICS – We stumbled upon this spot for lunch on the day we arrived. This is a healthy AND delicious option! Our Salad Bowl & Avocado Toast + Rosé were the perfect light lunch.

THE NEST – This spot was raved about by multiple people, across all meals. We ended up going for dinner – R got the Steak Frites (which I was lucky enough to get a couple bites of) & I got the Burnt Ends Pizza – basically a Brisket Pizza! *drools thinking about it*

OJAI DONUT SHOPPE – As it was raining cats and dogs on our way out of town, we decided to grab donuts. R ran inside and grabbed me an Apple Fritter the size of my face and he got a Vanilla Frosted Cake Donut with sprinkles. We stopped for coffee at Beacon Coffee Company and ate our donuts inside.

A couple months before I was due to travel to Ojai, my friend Caroline of Love And Loathing LA made a trip up the coast, documented it all on her instagram stories and then wrote a blog post about her Weekend Getaway Guide To Ojai. Unfortunately, a couple of the food spots she recommended were the ones that were closed when we were in town, but Bart’s Books was a successful first stop when we got into town! After my first glance on Caroline’s story, I knew we had to check it out. I could have spent hours there, getting lost in every corner of the shop. I ended up leaving with a book about California Wildflowers and Randolph got a couple books too! You can also bring books in to sell to them.

Definitely take the time to wander down the main street and don’t be afraid to venture off down some side streets and into Libbey Park – there were so many adorable houses and other hidden gems to discover. Be sure to check out  the bike path that runs parallel to the main drag. Caravan Outpost has bikes you can take out for free!

The day we arrived we decided to pick up supplies at the grocery store to cook dinner one of the nights – I love that we had the option to cook in our cute little Airstream – and lunch for our hike, which actually ended up being enough for us to pack a lunch the day we headed to our next destination.

When we looked at the weather forecast the day we wanted to go for a hike, it looked like instead of raining ALL day (as it had originally looked), it would start around 3 PM, so we made our sandwiches and went on our way. R found a hike on the AllTrails app, which we use often back in Los Angeles, and while traveling. We did the Signal portion of the Signal to Firebreak Rd to Valley View Loop hike. It is an area that was affected by the fires late last year. You can see how devastating it was, but it was seriously beautiful seeing all the green plants popping up in place of the burn areas because of the recent rains. While we were hiking, it sprinkled a bit, but we had plenty of time to pause, take it all in, and snap some photos. When the rain started to get a bit heavier we decided to start heading back down, but we stopped under a perfectly placed rock that shielded us while we ate our packed lunch. This was one of my favorite moments of the trip, so perfect in its simplicity.

We hit the road again, on the way to Big Sur. It was raining pretty hard a lot of the drive. We had to drive the back way into Big Sur, since there was a landslide awhile back just south of Gorda, that added 13 acres to the coastline – apparently they will likely be dealing with this for another year before the highway is fully passable again. Despite the circumstances, and what some would consider an inconvenience, it was pretty cool entering into this magical place through a windy back road, that seemed as if it were a secret. Big Sur, is unlike any other place I have had the privilege to set foot in, and every time I think it might be beat out by a new location that I visit, nothing compares. Yes it is breathtakingly beautiful, but there’s also something about the energy there. I’ve always felt drawn to it, since the first time I visited as a kid many years ago.

I had also been dreaming of staying at Treebones Resort, since I can remember. I booked The Nest for 2 nights, months before the trip. There is also a place where you can pitch a tent in case it is rainy, since The Nest is open to the elements. As previously mentioned, it was raining on our way to Big Sur. The weather didn’t only not let up at all the first night, but it got worse before getting any better. When we got to Treebones, we spoke to the staff at the front desk about what they thought about us staying in The Nest. The futon we would be sleeping on had been soaked through after multiple days of rain. After speaking with them, R and I stepped outside for a bit (the rain had let up momentarily) weighing our options when one of the staff members, Dave came up to us and asked if we were the ones who booked The Nest for the night. He told us about a couple other accommodations that may be available and said he would be happy to take us around to them after the front desk checked availability for us. The Tree Hut and Tree House (apparently they don’t always list these ones on the website so I would definitely call or email to inquire) were both open for the night, so Dave drove us in a golf cart to check them out. We opted out of staying in The Nest as planned and figured it wouldn’t be much fun camping either. We decided The Tree House was our best option, complete with a fireplace and cozy bed for the gloomy stay ahead. Our first night, was SO windy and rainy, we were beyond grateful to be in a warm dry place.

Regardless of the weather, we ended up walking to the lodge for dinner. We shared a Caesar Salad, Lasagna, and a bottle of wine. Everything was delicious, but the Date Cake for dessert, was spectacular – it may be the best dessert I’ve ever eaten.

The next day, we grabbed complimentary breakfast back at the lodge – yogurt, housemade granola & peanut butter, frittata, toast & jam, hard boiled eggs, waffles, coffee and orange juice.

As you can see, the weather did end up clearing up some, but on our first full day in Big Sur we found out there was a new rockslide North of Treebones that they wouldn’t have cleared until the next morning. I was a little disappointed and worried that we might not be able to make it further up the coast as planned. By around 3 PM R practically dragged me out of The Tree House for a little adventure. I’m grateful for this about him – he gets me moving and exploring more often, whether it be a walk around the neighborhood or a bike ride to the beach. He looked up a hike along the 8 mile stretch of highway we were able to explore at the time and off we went to Sand Dollar Beach Trail. We parked in the lot (be sure to carry some cash as most of the lots charge since they’re part of the State Parks and may only take cash) and headed out to the bluffs. After exploring that area a bit, we continued North, passing over quite a bit of water and by some waterfalls created by the recent rains. The view was beautiful and we eventually ended up amongst some cows that just stared at as, probably wondering what the heck we were doing. We headed back out straight towards the highway where there were stairs up and out of the fenced-in cow area. Since the two rockslides caused the highway to be blocked, the only traffic coming through would be coming from that magical road we came in on. We probably saw one or two other cars on our walk back to my car. We took this opportunity to walk down the middle of Highway 1, because when else would that be possible or even near safe again? Probably never. I obviously don’t suggest you do this in any other circumstance!

After we got back to the car, we drove the few more miles up to the road block to see if perhaps it had already been cleared. It wasn’t, but on the way up I could see the clouds pulling back from the horizon. I was beyond excited, because R would finally get to see that epic coastline I’d told him about so many times. We pulled over at a random vista point and the view was spectacular. After taking it all in, we headed the rest of the way to the road block, then back down to the Southern road closure. The closure is right after Whale Watchers Cafe. R suggested we get out and check out the place. I can’t even count how many times I’ve driven past this spot and never stopped. We ended up grabbing an early dinner and I’m pretty sure we made our server’s day. I don’t think they get much traffic with the closure. We shared Clam Chowder in a bread bowl & a Tuna Melt. Both were seriously delicious, so if you’re in the area I highly recommend stopping in and grabbing a bite.

After dinner we headed back to Treebones just in time to enjoy the sunset. The rain had pretty much stopped so we decided to explore the grounds. There is an Organic Garden that you can walk around and explore on site, along with tons of other corners of the property. We decided to visit The Nest that evening, since we figured no one was staying in it because of the rain, but we really wanted to see it for ourselves. We climbed up the ladder and sat for a bit to take in the breathtaking view of the ocean as the sun was going down. We will definitely be booking it sometime in the future, preferably in the Summer. Afterwards, we went up to the lodge and grabbed a book and a couple games to play back in our Treehouse. The night was still pretty windy, so we just wanted to stay cozy. We lay in bed and read a book about birds of North America (yes for real, lol). After learning all we could, we closed the book and were about to get to sleep and I had the urge to pull back the curtain – the sky was clear and there was literally NO wind. Everything was still for the first time since we stepped foot on the property. We hopped out of bed as quickly as possible, bundled up in numerous layers and headed outside to our Adirondack chairs facing the ocean. That view of the stars, silhouette of our treehouse, the moon and its reflection on the water was hands down the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Obviously sharing the moment with someone you care deeply about, who appreciated it as much as you do, had something to do with it too. Moral of the story: Get outside. See as much as you can. If there is any semblance of a clear sky, look up!

What could have been a disappointing leg of the trip with rain and unexpected changes, ended up being so perfect in it’s imperfection. When we could have gotten frustrated, instead we took it as an opportunity for unexpected adventures. I am definitely learning to do this more often, with R’s help.

The next morning, we ate our complimentary breakfast, packed our bags and were on our way – so grateful that the rock slide and road block were cleared. The drive from the Southern end of Hwy 1 near Treebones up to Bixby Bridge is the most stunning! Our first stop was Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where McWay Falls is located. It’s a waterfall flowing from the mountains, over a tree covered rock, into the perfectly green-blue ocean.

For lunch we headed to Nepenthe. The views and ambiance of this place never get old. If there’s a wait at the restaurant, put your name in – grab a drink at the bar, take a seat on the steps outside amongst the cushions or walk around the building to take in the view. Must Order: Roasted Garlic & Goat Cheese. I also ordered the Smoked Salmon Plate and R got a Burger + a side of fries! After grabbing a bite, be sure to head downstairs to the Phoenix shop. I always browse the jewelry section at the front of the store and have bought multiple rings from the artist, Julie Shaw.

Last stop on the way up the coast was Bixby Bridge. It’s such an iconic and epic view and worth a few extra minutes. We continued up through Carmel on our way to San Luis Obispo.

Having attended Cal Poly and spent 4 years in SLO, I will always have the urge to visit. I actually hadn’t gone up and stayed overnight since I moved out after college – it’s usually just a stop on the way to or from another destination. We ended up booking a place at the SLO Brew Lofts. It was complete with a kitchen, dining table, living room, bedroom and gorgeous bathroom. It was plenty of space for the two of us to relax and move in for a couple days.

After settling in for a bit, we headed down for dinner at SLO Brew. If you attended Cal Poly when I did or before, you probably remember Downtown Brew, which eventually turned into SLO Brew. The new SLO Brew has relocated and is a beautiful space with seriously delicious food!

SLO BREW (now called The Carrisa by SLO Brew)- A neighborhood brew pub located in the heart of downtown. Doubles as a music venue and complete with a creekside patio. We ordered the Brussels & Bacon and Sausage, Pretzel, & Fondue to start. These are absolute MUST orders. I got the IPA Battered Fish & Chips and R got the Steak special for our mains.

KREUZBERG – This was our goto breakfast spot in SLO while we were in town. R walked over to this cute cafe, inspired by a very artsy area in Berlin the first morning we woke up in SLO. He grabbed us some pretty epic Breakfast Sandwiches and the next morning we stopped in for pastries and coffee before heading on a hike. I highly recommend the Coffee Cake!

SLO BREW ROCK – SLO Brew Rock is where all of SLO Brew’s beer is brewed, named after the ginormous rock that sits in front of the place. It is very family friendly – complete with games, lots of tables and chairs and space to roam. Not to mention the tasty brews and food. I highly recommend ordering a bunch of food to share and getting a beer flight or 2! Be sure to get the Deviled Eggs and any of the Tacos. You can also get the Sausage, Pretzel, & Fondue here if you missed it at SLO Brew!

FIRESTONE GRILL – If you take no other food recommendation of mine in SLO, at least go to Firestone Grill. It’s hands down the best Trip Tip I’ve ever had. I basically had it weekly in college. The meat is tender, bread is toasty and buttery, and the BBQ sauce is perfectly sweet. I literally dream of this thing. Be sure to order a side of fries as well, the season salt is bomb!

There is so much to explore in SLO – from hikes, to wineries, to breweries, to the beach, and so on. One of the mornings we headed towards Pismo Beach for a hike – Cave Landing & Pirate’s Cove. We ended up just hiking along the coast, around the cave, then down to the beach. I believe if you do this whole hike, it is up a pretty steep hill. After hiking we got ready for the rest of the day – went to SLO Brew Rock and Chamisal Vineyards. Chamisal is ALWAYS my go to place to go wine tasting in Edna Valley – complete with a tasting room, a patio and gorgeous hills full of vines. If you’ve got more time to explore the vineyards, be sure to check out some others.

MY OTHER FAVES: Claiborne & Churchill, Baileyana

That same evening we wandered down Higuera and off some of the side streets to explore a bit. It was so fun to find some spots that I didn’t know existed. Curio was one of my faves – cute and affordable secondhand clothes, accessories, and some house items. We also walked along the creek and through the Mission. There is so much to explore downtown, so throw your walking shoes on and get out there!

I hope you enjoyed this travel diary & itinerary post! I had so much fun recounting everything we did. Definitely leave a comment if you have any further questions, to share your favorite spots up the CA coast, or if you take any of my recommendations. I would love to hear from you!

Happy Road Tripping,

Miss Foodie Problems


  1. Christine

    April 18th, 2018 at 5:07 AM

    Love it! Some of my absolute favorite places in Southern California! Adventure is so good for the soul! Looks like you had a wonderful trip.

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, I love to have a home base in such a food-focused city. Whether I am traveling out of the country, around the US, or exploring the culturally diverse expanse of LA I feel at home while meeting new people, eating new foods, and expanding my outlook!