A road trip through Monterey, Big Sur, Santa Barbara and Venice Beach

My final few days in California were tinged with sadness. We’d done so much over the past few weeks and I felt like I’d been travelling for months and couldn’t imagine going back to ‘the real world’. I’d got back into the backpacking way of life and felt like I could carry on for years.

(I’d been travelling with Trek America and you can read my Trek America Westerner 2 blog posts here.)

During the last two days we travelled from San Francisco to LA for an iconic Californian road trip.



Our first stop was Monterey, a pretty little seaside city filled with markets, ice cream shops and chocolate shops.

Monterey was pretty but I wouldn’t recommend stopping for more than a couple of hours. Grab a bite to eat, have a wander along the coast and stock up on sweet treats for the rest of the journey.

Big Sur

We soon entered Big Sur State Park where the dramatic scenery had up stopping for photo ops every 10 minutes.

Big Sur

The Travel Hack | Big Sur Road trip

Big Sur road trip

Elephant Seals

My favourite stop during our road trip was to see the Elephant Seals. If you’re driving yourself and you’re worried you might miss them, don’t worry, you’ll definitely smell and hear them.

These huge blubbery seals stink like nothing you’ve ever smelt before. Hundreds, if not thousands, of elephant seals line the beach at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They’re honking and flapping and playing and sleeping along the beach and snuggle up together to keep warm.

A small crowd will be gathered near the beach to watch the seals. You’ll notice half the people will be smiling and cooing like they’re the cutest animals they’ve ever seen while the other half will be looking on with disgust, holding their noses and covering their mouths to mask the smell.

Big Sur Elephant seals

Elephant seal

Elephant Seals

San Luis Obispo

We were unlucky with the weather so rather than camping we decided to stop at a nearby city and stay in a small motel. We stopped in San Luis Obispo where our leader went to uni so he was keen to show us around. The city was named as the USA’s happiest city in America by author and researcher Dan Buettner. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a tourist city with lots of attractions, it’s just a small, friendly university city with lots of great bars, cafes, restaurants and places to hang out. The views are pretty flipping incredible too!

Ocean Views USA

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is another pretty seaside town and if I told you I’d like to retire here it will tell you a lot about it. (Yes, I’m already on the lookout for retirement options!)

The pace of life here is idyllically slow. Take a stroll along the beach, go sailing in your yacht, enjoy a seafood lunch at one of the many restaurants lining the beach then grab an ice cream and walk along the pier.

Dolphins at Santa Barbara

Palm trees in Santa Barbara

Boats in the ocean at Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara coast

Venice Beach

Santa Barbara and Venice Beach may be less than 100 miles apart but they couldn’t be more different. Santa Barbara is relaxing and chilled while Venice Beach is pure bedlam.

It was really windy the day we visited meaning the beach was pretty much out of bounds due to all the sand whipping around so we spent our time exploring the shops, skate park and markets that line the beach.

If you’re into people watching then Venice Beach would be a dream come true. It’s filled with hippies, tramps, goths (yes, they’re still around), punks, skaters and just about every freak and weirdo you can imagine. Each shop along the beach is pumping out music which compete with buskers and tramps who are all desperately trying to be heard. Bladers and skaters whizz past while vendors bustle past attempting to sell just about anything under the sun.

Venice Beach

Windy Venice Beach

Colourful buildings and grafitti in Venice beach

Multicoloured ice cream

Venice Beach sign

Venice Beach street art

From Venice Beach it’s just a short drive back to Los Angeles where our whole adventure began just two weeks earlier. We had one more night in LA before flying home to London.

This road trip was part of my final two days with Trek America. I took the Westerner 2 tour from LA to San Diego, Lake Havasu, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park and San Francisco.



Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (13)
  1. Gorgeous photos! This road trip sounds incredible. The beaches look divine! I love road trips as long as I get to stop at every beautiful sight and take a photo. 🙂

  2. Hey Monica!
    It looks like you had a great time! I love Big Sur-to this day it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen.

    I have to kindly disagree about only spending a few hours in Monterey though…I lived there for a year and there really is so much more to offer than the tourist traps of Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf. There is some awesome hiking very close by, like Garrapata Park, Toro Park, and among others where you can hike high up and have a wonderful mix of forest and ocean views. Also, Carmel is a quaint little town with great food and quirky shops to peek into. Then there’s Point Lobos…I could go on…I truly loved it there!

  3. the wino & her fiance will be honeymooning in california, and i have a feeling it’s going to set off a new obsession with the west coast for the lazy travelers! also, that venice beach ice cream cone: yes please.

  4. Having literally just returned from 2 weeks in California, this post made me miss it SO much! Interestingly enough, I did not go to any of these locations, which shows me there is SO much more to see and do! 2 weeks are not enough!

  5. Hey Monica

    Thanks a lot for shearing.I love Step away from the smartphone blog post, so much………..Since I started blogging I have exactly the same problem as Ashley from Thither & Thither.

  6. I’m startled by how lightly you dismissed Monterey and the Monterey Peninsula. By every measure, it’s considered a world – class destination: breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife, a world’s best aquarium. A national park (Pinnacles) and a national marine sanctuary, and the location where more birds were seen from a single spot in 24 hours than anywhere else in the United States. Great dining, award- winning wines, the longest continuous running jazz festival in America, as well as an international Bach festival. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the literary and artistic dimensions: home to John Steinbeck, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Miller. I hope you’ll take the time to linger on a return visit. There’s a lot to experience.

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