big sur, Bluebird Inn, California, cambria, carmel, ethernet, Hearst Castle, local dining, monterey, motels, pacific coast highway, road trips, route 1, single girl traveling, tasting rooms, travel safety, Travel Tips, wi-fi on the road
I took a spur of the moment trip to California’s central coast last week—no itinerary, no reservations (at first) and no real idea of where I was going other than “north.” I was just a girl in a jeep. Over the next few days, I’ll be uploading pictures and telling you about some of the amazing vistas, but first I want to tell you that if road tripping to the central coast is in your future, you might want to keep the following tidbits in mind.
- Always bring an Ethernet cable. I know what you are thinking, “but my laptop is wireless enabled and every place has Wi-Fi, and I’m traveling to get away from it all.” Yeah, I thought that, too. I dragged my way too big to be called a laptop (but it is) computer with me because I knew there were some things I needed to get done online, and I wanted to be able to write (and potentially post) from the road. Great intentions. Alas, my computer was never able to talk to any of the establishment’s Wi-Fi set-ups: small motels, cafes or big chain business hotels—it didn’t matter. You know what did finally work? One of the hotels had an adapter box that took the wireless signal and converted it, essentially, to a wired signal using an Ethernet cable. Voila. Even one of the small places I stayed in had an option to plug in, if you had a cable of your own. So, if there is a chance that you will need to upload something and your iPad might not cut it, bring the cable with you. It doesn’t take much room in your bag, and it will save you some frustration.
- Don’t assume that the small hotels/motels aren’t for you just because you are a woman traveling alone. http://bluebirdmotel.com/ Staff was incredibly helpful and the location was perfect—walking distance to some great restaurants and less than 20 minutes from Hearst Castle (which ended up being a destination for me). It’s not glamorous, but it was perfect for what I wanted (and if your budget allows, you can upgrade for things like fireplaces and balconies, etc). I used to joke that my idea of camping was a four/five star hotel. This is still true; however, my budget these days is decidedly “sleeping bag in the backyard.” My solution? For a couple of my overnight stays, I checked into small motels with a family-run vibe. They still had AAA endorsements, but not the big time amenities. They were clean, safe, had friendly staffs and under $100 a night mid-week. One of these places was the Bluebird Inn in Cambria
- Do make reservations if you decide to go to Hearst Castle. This trip was a very “I’m going to go and see where the road takes me” kind of thing. Hearst is a tourist destination that should not be missed—and a lot of people agree with me on this apparently given the number of buses headed up the mountain. Make a reservation. If you can, make the reservation several days in advance for the more popular tours (grand rooms tour is frequently sold out). Keep in mind that the night tours are only in the spring and fall, but all the other tours are open with some advanced planning and do allow you to wander the grounds). Again, if your budget allows for it, the annual fundraising gala is September 22nd, and I can’t imagine how magical that place is at night: http://www.friendsofhearstcastle.org/index.asp
- Don’t assume it will be warm because it is July. I took summer clothing—I live in Los Angeles, and I was staying in the same state, so I didn’t fret overly about packing (I’m a very light packer generally, and packing for this trip took all of 6 minutes). It turns out that Monterey doesn’t tend to get above 70 on even the hottest day. The sun is warm, but the wind coming off the water isn’t, so plan for that, particularly at night. The most useful thing I packed for this trip, other than underwear, was my fleece (yes, even in July).
- Do chat with the locals about food and tour options. I’m not a social person, and a solo road trip sounded like heaven. But the best advice I received during my wanderings was from a local who gave me some great “off the beaten wharf” dining advice. I’m not saying don’t do the touristy stuff because the touristy stuff can be a lot of fun (people are going there for a reason), but chat up the locals in the tasting rooms if you are looking for dining options (more on that tomorrow). You’ll get great stories about the cities you are visiting and some not-so-crowded (and often cheaper) ideas for the day.
Bonus tip: The trip from Cambria to Monterey on the coast highway (1) is breathtaking (particularly if you are afraid of heights, as it turns out I am), but it is under construction. That means it is one lane at least twice during that run. They have traffic lights to clear the cars (because let’s face it, you can’t back up, you’ll end up in the ocean), but it’s slow going. I’m thrilled I did it, but if you need to be somewhere at a particular time, this route may not be the one for you.