Big Sur and Beyond: Our Day Trip Adventure Guide

By Peggy Tierney Galvin, Director, Account Services

We at Nadel Phelan are aggressive work-hard-play-hard types, meaning we commit as heavily to the Central Coast lifestyle off-hours as we do to client deliverables when we’re on the clock.

Fortunately for us, living and working in Santa Cruz means we’ve won an absurd lifestyle lottery, with Highway 1 snaking off both north and south towards gorgeous day trip adventures.

We wanted to share some day trip ideas that we’ve curated for our clients when they visit our offices. Because what’s the point of coming to one of the most beautiful places on earth if you keep it all business?

Between San Francisco and Santa Cruz

  • Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay is just south of the little harbor town of Princeton Landing where the Mavericks surf break is. It’s a roadside diner opened by a San Francisco Michelin-starred chef who wanted to do something a little more relaxed. The food is amazing and they have cans of rosé: https://www.dadsluncheonette.com
  • Further south on Hwy 1 is Pescadero, an old Portuguese fishing village (hence the name) that is now a hip, tiny stop-off with a funky coffee shop, a beautiful woodworking gallery and Duarte’s old famous saloon. The gas station on the corner has a hidden taqueria that sells some of California’s best tacos (according to the NYTimes!) – grab a couple and drive over to Pescadero State Beach to watch the waves.
  • Further south on Hwy 1 is Waddell Creek State Beach, popular with kiteboarders. Keep going to Davenport and stop for a tasting at Bonny Doon Vineyards. More than a few of us are regulars.

Between Santa Cruz and Carmel

Obviously the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and obviously sipping a beverage overlooking the 18th hole at Pebble Beach. Both are worth the hype. But there’s so much to do on this stretch of coast.

  • If you’re looking to get up close and personal with the wildlife of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, consider stopping by the Elkhorn Slough, renting a kayak and paddling into the estuary. You’ll see otters, native birds and jellyfish drifting in the current. Afterwards, congratulate yourself for burning those calories by diving into a vat of cioppino at Phil’s Fish Market.
  • Fans of military history should tour the Presidio in Monterey, the former capital of Alta California. Today the Presidio is managed by the U.S. Army and is home to the Defense Language Institute. Afterwards, scoot over to Alvarado Street Brewery, a stunning refurbished space housed in an old bank, for a burger and a pint.
  • If you want to bypass Monterey altogether, drive straight to Refuge in the Carmel River Valley. A heavenly retreat-style spa plucked straight from Sunset Magazine, Refuge offers a wide selection of hot tubs, firepits, steam rooms and saunas, along with cold plunge pools to reinvigorate oneself post-steam. It’s amazing as it sounds.
  • Finally, a leisurely stroll along Carmel’s Scenic Road is obligatory, and is breathtakingly luminous close to sunset.

Between Carmel and Big Sur

  • Have lunch with a view at bluffside Big Sur mainstay Nepenthe and pick up a souvenir for bohemians of all ages at its arty Phoenix shop.
  • Pull over at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and spend an hour or five in some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere. On the forest side, explore winding trails through redwoods and fragrant bay and madrone. On the beach side, take a picture of iconic McWay Falls spilling into the lagoon’s turquoise waters.
  • If your stay allows for it, stop for an overnight at Deetjen’s. A true Big Sur original, the inn is nestled deep in the woods with cozy rooms and pristine views. And it offers a great opportunity to unplug: no TVs, no cell coverage, no Wifi and no internet.
  • Plus, an overnight trip affords you a true local’s experience: Esalen’s hot springs, open to the public between 1:00am and 3:00am. Lay back and soak in the sound of the Pacific crashing beneath you and watch the stars wheel overhead.

Of course, this is just a taste of the many wonders that our clients can discover just a short drive from our office. And what keeps the spirit of innovation and creativity going better than exploring new landscapes and imagining new possibilities?