On the Road Trip

How About an Epic Honeymoon Drive Along California's Highway 1?

by Anna Petrow
All photos by Anna Petrow.

The trip of a lifetime: A leisurely drive on one of the most scenic roads in the world. 

Chalk it up to a newlywed in rose-colored lenses, but driving up California’s Highway 1 was the dreamiest honeymoon experience — though it would be equally fabulous with friends or as a solo trip. From LA to SF, the stops are charming and delightful, and the backdrop — a rolling landscape of grapevines, perilous cliffs, crashing waves, and endless blue sea — is nothing short of epic.

This is how we did it.

Pro tip: Rent a fun and photogenic car.
Start the trip off right in LA at The Maybourne.

LOS ANGELES

The City of Angels has so much going on — but before we officially began our 500+ mile journey, we gave in to the quiet luxury of The Maybourne Beverly Hills. The total makeover of the former Montage hotel (minimal color palette, cool California furnishings upholstered in linen and shearling) includes additions like a secretive cigar bar and lobby cocktail lounge featuring a hand-carved marble waterfall bar. We loved the sapphire velvet banquets, 100-year-old olive trees in massive terra cotta pots, the impressive pizza oven, soaking in the spa’s intricately tiled mineral bath, and taking in the panoramic views of L.A. Dedicated patrons of the old Montage will still be able to enjoy The Terrace, with delicate dishes like sweet corn agnolotti in truffle butter sauce.

Nearby, beloved LA gems abound: Sugar Fish is just across the street, and South Beverly Grill is a few blocks away. Did we unanimously agree that the SBG artichoke was the culinary highlight of our honeymoon? Perhaps. What can we say, we Midwesterners are easily wooed by California produce.

Coastal views are epic out the gate.
A delightful taco scenario at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara.
Night falls.

SANTA BARBARA

To keep things relaxing, we broke up the trip into small sections. In Santa Barbara, the restaurant darlings of the city still prevail on the main street, which is closed to cars and lovely for a pedestrian stroll – but we enjoyed exploring the up-and-coming area aptly named “The Funk Zone” by the artists who made it cool. We grabbed a coffee at artfully decorated Dart Coffee Co., stopped at Topa Topa for a beer flight on the patio, and peeked into adjoining Fox Wine Co.’s tasting space, a good place to start trying out many California wines. Funk Zone Art Collective sells locally made candles, jewelry, and prints.

Back on the main strip, we had small Asian plates at Sama Sama and an alluring array of Turkish treats at Lokum. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara provided the ultimate day of lounging in a poolside cabana (with plenty of space for chowing down on fish tacos in peace). A sunset dinner at the hotel restaurant Angel Oak offered prime views of the sun dipping below the Pacific, and the sommelier-selected special wines by the glass (and Coravin preservation system) meant we could taste the good stuff without breaking the bank.

Personalized stationery and a picture-perfect room at San Ysidro Ranch.
Garden of earthly delights.

Eye-catching, inside and out.
Margaritas and mini golf.

MONTECITO

The shortest leg of the trip; the most decadent stop on the tour. San Ysidro Ranch is steeped in history — it’s been a destination for travelers since 1893 (Winston Churchill in 1912, Laurence Olivier in 1940, Jackie O and JFK on their honeymoon in 1953). Yellow finches and hummingbirds dart in and out of the lush rose gardens, lemon trees hang heavy with fragrant fruit, towering pine trees in the background give way to tiny water lilies below. The cottages are a splurge of a lifetime and the amenities are out of this world. We loved the private hot tub and outdoor shower, impeccable landscaping and decor, and darling custom touches (we came home with stationery emblazoned with “The Mulvihills in Residence at the Churchill Cottage”). The pool, carved into the Santa Ynez mountainside, has beautiful views and excellent watermelon mojitos and blood orange margaritas. Just below it is an impressive mini golf course you can approach with a Scotty Cameron putter.

Dinner at the Michelin-honored and Wine Spectator-awarded restaurant was included in the stay at Ysidro. Yes, even the $240 caviar. The restaurant is a sight in and of itself — you can make a reservation even if you’re not staying at the property. On the ground floor, trees are studded with twinkle lights for a magical effect; up above are views of the ocean. All in all, it was one of the best meals of our lives.

Autumn at the vineyard.
The line-up at Field Recordings.

PASO ROBLES

Much more laid-back than its Napa/Sonoma counterparts, Paso Robles has a reputation for unique wines and unique labels, like Field Recordings. Their tasting room is part of Tin City, a tiny town chock-full of tasting rooms that makes it easy to bop around and try several wineries, all in the course of an afternoon. The Fableist is in a more traditional setting, and from the deck you can get a view of the entire farming operation. With a slight shortage of places to stay for the night, we hunted for a hotel gem and found none shinier than Geneseo Inn. Situated on the grounds of Cass Winery, each “room” is actually a shipping container with a ridiculously comfy bed, roomy wine fridge, piping hot shower, and a private deck (it’s more glamorous than glamping). There are electric bikes out to ride through the vineyard, archery classes, and horseback riding. The fire pits were blazing in the evening, and the charcuterie and Cass wines rolled out for happy hour. Breakfast was delivered right to the door, which we enjoyed on the terrace as the fog rolled in from the hills.

Breathtaking sites at every turn.
Little gems found in town: Social Hour (left), and La Bicyclette (right).s-

CARMEL

Next stop, the beautiful Carmel Valley. Bernardus Lodge & Spa is the quintessential valley stay – its own vineyard wraps around the entrance, and we were greeted with a glass of their delicious sauvignon blanc upon check-in. There’s a spa, heated pool, infinity hot tub with mountain views, and bocce on the sprawling lawn. They let you swap your rental car for the property’s Mercedes-Benz convertible, perfect for the scenic 17-Mile Drive along the coast, a foray into Big Sur, or a simple drive through the rolling hills of Carmel Valley. Their namesake tasting room in town is the perfect gateway to Valley wines. Lucia Restaurant takes advantage of the large chef’s garden, with seasonal offerings and the region’s best wines. We had a lovely tasting in Georis Winery’s cactus garden.

Of course, we spent time in the charming Carmel-by-the-Sea as well. This motel turned bed & breakfast The Hotel Carmel is cozy and cool, and for the location and amenities, the value cannot be beat. We got a kick out of the common area with a hot tub and fire pit, and breakfast was ready each morning in the lobby. It would be easy to spend a day looking at the straight-from-a-fairytale cottages in town, but I’m glad we took a break to lunch at La Bicyclette for perfect pizzas and shop at Social Hour, a store aimed at helping you host the best – you guessed it – happy hour. At dinnertime, we settled in under the stars at Casanova, a family-run restaurant that mentors youth through culinary arts.

Golden sunset at Half Moon Bay.

HALF MOON BAY

The landscape got more wild as we made our way farther up the coast. Half Moon Bay, known for its Scottish Highlands-esque cliffs and impressive sea swells, also has beautiful pastoral scenes. Roadside fruit stands dot the highway, and the quick stop at Harley Farms in Pescadero was more than worth the drive for the creamiest, most delicious goat cheese I’ve ever experienced.

At the iconic Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, we just simply stayed put. We found no reason to leave the meandering walking paths and breathtaking beach. At sunset each night, a bagpiper made his rounds, providing a moody and memorable backdrop for our evening cocktails by the fire. For dinner, we settled in with an ocean view at The Conservatory and ordered the signature pumpkin soup (a recipe we’re still trying to recreate at home) – and came back again in the morning for the sunrise view and a green juice.

Hello, San Francisco!
Proper mixing and matching at The Proper.
Dialing up the luxe at The Ritz-Carlton.
Quintessential Bay Area paint job.

SAN FRANCISCO

The last stop on our trip. My favorite city in the world; I have enough recommendations to fill a guidebook. The brilliantly appointed Proper Hotel has me itching to redecorate my entire home in their eclectic, colorful style. I love Charmaine’s, one of the only rooftop bars in the city, a lively scene with vibrant flavors and stylish patrons. The Ritz-Carlton in Nob Hillis sophisticated and romantic (and its location, at the top of the hill, makes it great for walking around and gawking at beautiful houses). Here are a few more from my short list: Tartine Manufactory for a morning bite, Valencia Street for unique boutiques, a lazy afternoon at Dolores Park, a tiki cocktail at Smuggler’s Cove, and a fantastic Michelin-starred dinner without all the frills at Octavia.

The long and winding honeymoon road has ended, but we’ll be back soon for more Pacific Highway views. Truly no words can describe the awe of seeing the great California landscape change over the many miles we traveled — I hope you’ll hit the road and see for yourself.

Get on the road already!

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