A sudden change in plans caused by a wildfire transformed our original backpacking trip at Big Sur into an exploration of California’s central coast. A mere two days before our trip began, the Dolan Fire started south of Big Sur. Closures weren’t officially announced yet but we knew it would be too dangerous to go to Big Sur. We had reservations booked at Santa Barbara and Paso Robles for the weekend so we couldn’t simply reschedule our trip either.
Thankfully Kevin, a logistics connoisseur, figured something out last minute. Instead of camping at Big Sur, he found a campsite near San Luis Obispo (SLO) conveniently located in the same 805 area code as our other reservations. Our new plan was to loop around the Central Coast; driving up the I-5 to Paso Robles, then down the 101 all the way back home to LA. While stressful to plan at the time, it turned out to be a memorable trip full of delightful surprises and new discoveries!
After getting some quick bites to munch on the next morning, we set off on our trip. Northbound along the I-5, ash painted the sky an orange, pink, and slightly grey hue; only becoming hazier as we followed the road north to Paso Robles. Our face masks now served a dual purpose; protection from Covid as well as protection from poor air quality.
Paso Robles and Templeton were like ghost towns, with very little cars or people in sight. Mixed with the old western architecture and the hazy atmosphere, the vibe was a bit spooky. Our intention was to visit wineries, the Firestone Brewery, and the Field of Light at Sensorio but sadly, most businesses were closed due to the poor air quality. (Look out for these places in a future itinerary~)
Still, we were determined to make the most out of our night in the quaint little town of Templeton where we had our Airbnb. Picking up wine, dinner, and having a cozy night-in at our tiny home Airbnb didn’t sound so bad, especially after the long drive.
We browsed some movies on Netflix at our Airbnb and opted for one of Pau’s favorite chick flicks: A Walk to Remember. We made bruschetta prosciutto bites as a snack following this delicious recipe (ig: @foodswithfrandy) which pairs amazingly with wine.
Thick Ass Rock
After our short and sweet stay at Templeton, we continued south on the 101 towards our camp for the night: See Canyon Fruit Ranch! Along the way, we made a few pit stops that ended up being really worthwhile.
First, was Morro Bay State Park, home of the Morro Rock. This big rock is calculated by scientists to be 23 million years old, formed by long-extinct volcanoes. It was amazing to see such a large formation on the beach, mimicking the look of a lion turtle. (Any ATLA fans out there?)
Around this time we started to get hungry, so we drove to the nearby pier and tried out some local food. Our search through Yelp led us to a popular spot called Giovanni’s Fish Market.
Giovanni’s Fish Market ★★★
Morro Bay, CA
Solid pier seafood restaurant. The fried shrimp and chips were pretty standard, but the (pricier) garlic butter BBQ’d oysters were great. It felt like the garlic and butter were really turned up a notch (which I enjoy).
After our bellies were full, we checked out a local plant nursery called The Garden Gallery. Plant parent or not, we highly recommend stopping by if you’re ever in the area! This plant and gift shop is a joy to browse, filled with rare and unique plants, pottery, and other treasures. Prices were very reasonable compared to how they would be at plant boutiques in Los Angeles.
Plant Tip ?
If you do decide to buy a new plant friend here, be careful to give them adequate humidity once placed in their new home since they’re accustomed to such a humid beach side environment.
Just south of Morro Bay was another state park called Montana de Oro. This park is another gem full of striking rock formations that we highly recommend seeing! We hung out at a small beach here for a while and took in the beautiful scenery. We couldn’t stay too long however, it was going to be dark soon and we still had to set up camp.
Tucked away in a canyon a 5 minute drive away from the beach is See Canyon Fruit Ranch. Though over 100 years old, this family owned apple orchard has retained its special charm. Luckily, camp goers are able to book a stay here through Hipcamp.
On the small road leading to the apple ranch, a comical yellow sign warned us to watch out for tractors. We should have heeded the sign’s warning since upon arrival, the host drove up to welcome us while driving his large red tractor. Paul was so friendly and made sure that we got settled in, revealing to us that tractors weren’t nearly as ominous as the sign depicted them to be. 🙂
As if the apple trees and wholesome vibes weren’t enough, there were a lot of cool amenities just a walk away from our site such as: a playground/games area, a bonfire pit, grills, bathrooms (complete with showers and flushable toilets), and a super cute and friendly goat. You could even buy fresh apple cider and eggs straight from the farm through a simple honesty box!
After we got our tent set up, we had some downtime to chill around the bonfire pit. We met a mom and her daughter (while social distancing of course) who drove down from Oregon and it was really wonderful to hear about their travels together. The daughter had her first backpacking trip at 5 years old! Meeting others and sharing stories with one another are some of the best memories while traveling.
Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and much to Kevin’s excitement, we were having hot pot! We pre-made the broth before our trip and placed the uncooked ingredients into the broth to boil. Once our tummies were full, we got settled in for the night.
A Familiar Place
We woke up the next morning to the brisk morning air and got ready to head off. We said our goodbyes to Paul and thanked him for such a wonderful stay. We bought a jug of fresh apple cider from him before leaving, which he generously grabbed from a frozen stash so it would stay cold during our drive.
Our next destination was a small and quaint little area called Avila Beach. We stopped along the road across the beach, but had to leave shortly afterwards as the beach was a bit too crowded. They were developing new campsites around the area so there’s definitely a chance we might be back!
Fast forward a few hours filled with good jams and yummy snacks, we found ourselves in a familiar place: Isla Vista. We knew ever since we planned the trip that we’d have to drop by Naan Stop on our visit, and so it was the first place we went to.
The owner Sonny hooked us up with heaping spoonfuls of curry alongside extra naan, and after eating at the park we were stuffed. We hustled over afterwards to our stay in Santa Barbara for a quick midday rest (mainly to recover from our food comas).
Naan Stop ★★★★★
Isla Vista, CA
Sonny, the owner, really hooked it up. He recognized Pau as a former employee and had us leaving with extra naan and entrees in tow. We ordered the 2 entree combo with the classics– saag paneer and tikka masala, with a healthy portion of garlic and spicy naan on the side. This is one of the spots we always go to whenever we’re back in IV.
By the time we were ready to head out, it was dark again. An impromptu decision led us to enjoying a quick meal at the Santa Barbara Public Market. We ate the extremely flavorful “Bangkok Street Noodle” soup from Empty Bowl and grabbed ice cream from Rori’s. They were both delicious. After what was probably the 1000th full stomach of our trip, we called it a night.
Goodbye SB (But Not Without Snacks)
The next morning was a bittersweet goodbye. We really missed the vibes in IV and SB, but we were ready to head to our post-grad homes. Before we headed back we grabbed a quick breakfast at Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach. It was located on a small low key beach not too far from downtown SB. After that we headed to another highly anticipated spot for us — Lilly’s Tacos. I know I just said we had breakfast, but we couldn’t resist the tacos. It was a great last sprinkle of salsa on our taco of a road trip.