The drive from Southern California to Northern California can be a long one, but if you plan well, it can be a lot of fun and very scenic.
- Travel tip: The road trip from Southern California can take you 6 to 8 hours depending on your starting point in SoCal and also what time you leave. The best time to leave is around 6:00-6:30am on the weekdays so you will miss most of the commuting traffic. Using the 210 Freeway through Pasadena may help to cut down on heavy traffic in downtown Los Angeles. It will put you on the 5 Freeway south of Six Flags Magic Mountain.
As you pass by the last reminders of Southern California, the Grapevine and Tejon Pass beckon you to drive up its mountain grades, like fortress walls to a castle, to emerge on the other side to the Central Valley. With flat land to the east and gently sloping rolling hills to the west, agriculture and livestock thrive here. On this trip, trucks filled to the brim with ripe oranges headed north to either be packaged in crates or juiced.
A great place to stop for lunch is Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant in Coalinga, CA. The Harris family has been in the farming industry for over 100 years. The family started with cotton and over the years added grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Harris Ranch is also California’s largest cattle feeder, fed beef processor, and beef marketer. The facility in Coalinga is an inn, restaurant, and country store. This would be a great place to stay if you’re planning to go further north to Oregon or Washington. The scent of meat cooking and smoking on a barbeque in front of the restaurant lures you in. The Country Store is a great place to look around for locally produced wine, olive oil, sauces, jams, and the like. They also sell fresh and tempting bakery items. There is also a variety of beef cuts available for purchase for your home cooking and grilling pleasure. This would be great if you are RVing, camping, or staying somewhere with a kitchenette or grill.
- Travel tip: If you own a Tesla, there are charging stations available at Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant. The location is perfect - mid-point between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Harris Ranch Restaurant showcases the West’s Best Beef like no other.
- Be adventurous and start your meal with an order of Mountain Oysters. They are tender, deep-fried “bull oysters” served with cocktail sauce. Normally served sliced, Harris Ranch cuts it into chunks so it looks more like popcorn chicken. The texture is like fine grind sausage, but tender. The taste is a little beefy but more like a combination of liver and kidney or chicken gizzard. The batter on the outside is light and crisp. The cocktail sauce adds a sweet and tangy flavor. Once you start eating them, it’s hard to stop. Rating: 5/5
- Side Caesar Salad is crisp romaine lettuce tossed in Caesar dressing and topped with asiago, parmesan, and house-made croutons. The portion is a good size for a side salad. The dressing has a little too much mayonnaise. It needs more garlic and anchovy to power through. Rating: 3/5
- Clam Chowder (Daily Seasonal Soup) is very thick and rich. It has an almost savory custard flavor base chocked full of clams. A cup is good enough if you are also ordering an entrée. A bowl would be a meal in itself, maybe paired with a side salad. Rating: 5/5
- Hickory Smoked Salt & Brown Sugar Rubbed Ribeye with Whiskey Butter is a 14 oz. ribeye steak served with your choice of potato and farm fresh vegetables. The steak is grilled perfectly to order with a soft and tender texture. The rub is a tad on the sweet side, but it pulls the natural sweetness of the beef out to the forefront. The whiskey butter is heavenly! The fresh vegetables (spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and broccoli in this case) were cooked to perfection. Garlic mashed red skin potatoes are average – needs more salt and garlic. Rating: 4.5/5
With a stop at bakery to pick up some pastries (for after dinner) and then the restrooms (which are very clean and well-maintained), it was time to get back on the road. The drive from Coalinga to Carmel is hilly and curves west towards the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you’ll pass through Hollister, home of the Northern California Renaissance Faire. Another familiar aroma will be sensed – garlic. Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world and home of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, is the city next door. As you merge onto California Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), the fresh sea breeze comes through and you just want to take a deep breath to get it all in.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a quiet beach town with a good mix of small inns, fantastic restaurants, shopping, and residential areas. Ocean Avenue is the main street through town. Drive slow as there are a lot of pedestrians and almost everyone has a dog or two. This town loves their fur-babies and visitors are welcome to bring theirs along as well. Only a few blocks from Ocean Avenue on San Carlos Street, Hofsas House is a quaint inn with European charm. Rooms above street level will have a fantastic view of the ocean either from their window, balcony, or through their dutch door. Upon check-in, whales passed by and greeted Carmel with spouts that glistened in the afternoon sunlight. All of the rooms are unique, but here’s what you might find in a spacious 2-queen room:
- 2 queen beds with comfortable mattresses and lots of pillows
- Cable TV
- Telephone with voicemail
- Bathroom with shower, vanity, hair dryers, and beautifully scented shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soaps
- Comfortable upholstered chairs
- Table and chairs for in-room dining or use as a desk for business
- This particular room had a wet bar nook with sink, microwave, coffee maker, mini refrigerator
After a long drive, it was time to relax with a bottle of local wine and cheese. Open up the windows and the top of the dutch door to let in the beautiful ocean breeze. You’ll also have the best seat around to catch the sunset and the rainbow of colors that refract in the ocean water as well as the sky.
Everything is Carmel-by-the-Sea is a walk away. After a day of driving, the last thing you want to do is jump back in the car. Taking a stroll down San Carlos Street, there are an amazing amount of restaurants once you reach the Ocean Avenue. A historic Comstock-style building (right out of a fairy tale) is PortaBella Restaurant. When you open the “beautiful door”, the aroma of Italian, French, and Spanish cuisines will delight your senses. The setting is casual yet intimate. The service is impeccable. They want to make your experience as memorable as possible. PortaBella also welcome your fur-babies as well, not just under the table, but seated with you like a part of the family as they should be regarded. Most of the dogs around town are very well-behaved. One well-behaved fur-baby sat between his parents in a booth as they had dinner. It was so cute!
- Start your evening off with a bottle of 2012 Chalone Vineyard Chardonnay. Tasting notes: slightly sweet aroma; slightly sweet citrus flavor, yet slightly acidic on the palate. Food pairing: Porcini-Crusted Dayboat Scallops, Paella Valenciana, and Filet Mignon aux Poivres. Rating: 4.5/5
- Porcini-Crusted Dayboat Scallops with Bosc pear, syrah essence, pear tomatoes, and herbed savory biscuits. The scallops are perfectly cooked with a sweet sea water flavor. The pear and tomatoes add a slight sweetness to balance out the sweetness. Rating: 4.8/5
- Paella Valenciana is shellfish, chicken, chorizo, and organic vegetables simmered in saffron rice. Beautiful presentation with vibrant colors. Seafood, chicken, and chorizo are cooked to perfection. The seafood is sweet and plentiful. The chicken absorbs the flavors from the saffron rice and vegetables. The sausage adds a porky goodness and without being too oily. Rating: 5/5
- Filet Mignon aux Poivres is a three-peppercorn crusted filet mignon served with a vegetable terrine and potato galette. It is perfectly cooked to your precise doneness (in this case, medium rare). The potato galette is a fancy thinly sliced scalloped tender potatoes artfully layered with a creamy sauce. The vegetable terrine is a perfectly cooked vegetable packet, similar to a lau lau. Rating: 4.5/5
- Crème Brulée served with seasonal berries (in this case, strawberries). It is creamy yet light like pastry cream. Luxurious enough to be piped into an éclair. The sugar crust is bruléed to a golden brown excellence and shatters like glass. The portion is generous for two so no spoon fighting necessary. Rating: 5/5
After a fulfilling meal at PortaBella, take advantage of a leisurely stroll back to Hofsas House as Carmel-by-the-Sea starts to roll up the sidewalks. Be cautious with your footing as it can get very dark, very fast and sidewalks may not be perfectly flat due slopes in the street and such.
If you did happen to pick up some pastries from Harris Ranch, make a fresh pot of coffee when you get back to the room. The cream horn and éclair are the perfect ending to a perfect day. As the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach gently lead you to deep sleep, a new day at Big Sur and Monterey is just hours away.
For more information:
24505 W Dorris Ave
Coalinga, CA 93210
+1.800.942.2333 or +1.559.935.0717
Hours: Sunday through Thursday from 7am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 7am to 10pm
On San Carlos St between 3rd and 4th Ave
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
+1.800.221.2548 or +1.831.624.2745
On Ocean Ave between Lincoln and Monte Verde
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Hours: Daily from 11:30am to 11pm