Sweet Escape: California Road Trip Part 1

california pacific coast highway road trip

previous postFor real though, it took an amazing and epic California road trip to get me back to blogging. Not because I didn’t have good intentions but getting a full-time gig (see my previous post) where I helped to create content every day kinda took all the juice out of me. But leave it up to sunny and beautiful California to get me so excited that I want to share again. It’s funny how that works, life really does give you a lot to write about, doesn’t it? 

Social media is a funny thing. We’ve all said at some point that we have a love/hate relationship with it. Leave the hate behind for a minute – something really inspiring that’s come out of it for me is seeing so many people’s travels and wanting to jump into my screen and experience them for myself. So that’s kinda what I did.

What sparked the whole thing was first – who doesn’t have California Road Trip on their bucket list, duh? But more specifically it was the amazing Color Factory exhibit in San Fransisco that got the ball rolling. Or rather the end of the Colour Factory experience that got me going. The Color Factory is a 12,000 square feet formerly empty shell of a building which is was full of color experiences in downtown San Francisco by the creators behind Oh Happy Day. Not surprisingly it was a huge success right out of the gate, filling Instagram feeds everywhere with colour. It was hard to ignore, especially for a colour junkie like me. This meant that what intended to be a one month event turned into a 9 month run with tickets selling out each month. So when I got an email saying that April was going to be their last month and the last block of tickets were going on sale, I blindly jumped at the opportunity. I knew work would be done by mid-April but I didn’t have any other plan and had no idea who would join me but picked a random day on the calendar and grabbed 2 tickets. Because YOLO amiright?

So the California Road Trip itinerary began…..

I’ve always been someone that lives in the present. Maybe a bit too much sometimes (read: horrible goal setter). Meh. The upside to that is that I’m not afraid to seize opportunities when they come, or even better, make them happen! So with a Color Factory date confirmed I decided why not add a whole bunch of other amazing places that I’ve dreamed of visiting after watching them pass by in my feed. Before you knew it I had put together a bit of a bucket list California Road Trip with Instagram as my travel guide. 

california roadtrip illustration
Map illustration image via

Now finding a travel buddy on about 3 weeks notice was going to be tricky but I took a long shot and asked my friend Krystin who has a bit more of a flexible schedule & freedom than some of my other friends and luckily was in desperate need of a vacation and to my surprise said yes! Not only did she say yes but she said that she had 100% faith in my judgement and was on board for whatever I had planned. Which was good for her because I basically already had the plan set whether she liked it or not.

There’s soooooo many great stops along the coast in California, it’s hard to decide where to stop but here’s what our exact itinerary looked like for 9 days.

Day 1: San Francisco
Day 2: San Francisco
Day 3: Carmel
Day 4: Big Sur
Day 5: San Luis Obispo
Day 6: Malibu
Day 7: Joshua Tree
Day 8: Palm Springs
Day 9: Palm Springs

We were pretty much always on the go but somehow it didn’t feel like tooooooo much. We would’ve happily taken an extra day an any of these spots but we had time to see everything we wanted.

Another reason this blog post is way overdue is that it’s incredibly overwhelming to edit a billion photos and so many great stops. Like paralyzing. So I’ve divided it up in 2 parts – Part 1 is all about the City & Sea and Part 2 is going to be about The Desert Sun.

Part 1 – here we go! This is the part of the post where I mostly shut up and assault your eyes with colourful travel photos with some brief explanations where necessary and obviously linking to all the details you need to know.

Color Factory (which is just about to open in NYC since my visit) was an overload for the senses, especially for a colourholic like me. There was some kind of colourful surprise and delight around every corner. Most of the rooms were interactive which made it even more engaging. I was walking around wide-eyed with a stupid smile on my face the whole time. More than anything, it was such a (true) sweet escape from the outside world to get lost in such a fun & colourful space and get in touch with your inner child. It was time to play!

Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco

Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco The selfie room. In this room a computer attached to a printer spit out selfies that have been posted on the internet all over the world. Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco We fell in love with the life-size Light Bright.

Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco Scratch and sniff wall anyone? And yes, everything really did smell like what it said. It was right out of a scene from Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.

Caifornia road Trip Color Factory San Francisco It really was immposible not to just let go and have fun…..

Even though we could’ve stayed at The Color Factory all day, it’s actually takes only about 2 hours to go through the experience. We left both insanely happy and also sad it was over. We took the rest of the beautiful afternoon and the next day to wander around San Fran. Both of us had been to the city before so we didn’t feel the need to go overboard doing touristy things. We did do the hop on/off tour bus for the ride and remind ourselves of our fav SF spots then we did some walking and made a little dent in our wallets shopping in the Mission district.

california road trip san Francisco california road trip san Francisco california road trip san Francisco california road trip san Francisco There’s soooo many great areas in San Fran. We were actually a bit overwhelmed with accommodation options. Truth be told. we let our budget help make the decision for us. We wanted something in a good area that was more interesting than a cookie-cutter big box hotel. I found the Hotel Zephir on Booking.com. The hotel is a newly renovated space filled with lots of modern nautical charm and the staff was super friendly and helpful. It was right in Fisherman’s Wharf – which although can be extremely touristy – wasn’t so bad during the week in April. There’s lots of great seafood options nearby on the many popular Piers, not to mention a great seaside view. You’re also just a short walk away from visiting the famous sea lions PIER 39, going on a whale watching california trip, or a trip to visit the historic (and totally creepy) Alcatraz.

Believe it or not, this is only day 2 of our adventure! so much more folks. So we said bye to San Fran, picked up our rental car and hit the road. Next on the plan was road trippin’ down the famous Highway 1 running along the Pacific Coast. I’ve been to California a few times and have never taken this ride and was just DYING to hug those ocean side curves on four wheels.

We drove for a few hours and stopped just outside Carmel for the eve. Let’s be honest – we couldn’t afford to stop right in Carmel. We dropped off our bags in our very modest (but clean) old school motel room and made the 30 minute trip to Carmel just in time for a seaside dinner while watching the sunset and sipping champaign. Unreal right? Pinches were in order.

California Road Trip CarmelCalifornia Road Trip CarmelThe view was definitely worth a million bucks but we actually had a very affordable dinner and was able to walk in without a reservation at prime sunset time. It’s not fancy and won’t win any 5 star dining reviews but if you’re looking for amazing cliff side ocean views without an insane Carmel-size dinner bill then stop by Rocky Point restaurant.

California Road Trip Carmel California Road Trip CarmelThe next day we woke up bright eyed and ready to hit the road again, itching to see Big Sur. To say that the view met our expectations would be a gross understatement. I don’t want to travel brag too much but we honestly could not have asked for a better day. The sky was clear, sun was out, not too hot, traffic wasn’t bad. Perfecto. Like seriously…..it took all my will power not to post 500 pictures that look nearly the same but equally as stunning. But you get the idea…

So here’s the thing – make sure you check the highway status before you plan or take your trip. We knew that there was still a portion of the highway that was closed because of a terrible mudslide from the year before. There’s no detours on this amazing stretch of road so we knew going in that eventually we would hit a dead end and have to turn around and do the exact same drive going the other direction. Poor us.

Upside – we saw this amazing view twice. Downside – this added almost 5 hours of driving to our day because once we got back to Carmel we headed inland to take the highway south on route to the desert.

Before we officially hit the desert, we had a few stops we wanted to make along the way. After a verryyyyyyyyy long day of driving, we pulled up to the famous Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Truthfully I’m not usually one to plan a trip around accommodations but this place deserved the short detour. Despite the name. this amazing place has nothing to do with The Material Girl or Vogue-ing and everything to do with walking into a trippy time warp of a hotel kinda in the middle of nowhere.

For me, I’m usually fine with a clean place to rest my head at night since I spend so little time in my room when I’m travelling. Well in this case, the hotel WAS the destination. I’ve wanted to visit and stay at The Madonna Inn since I first laid eyes on it’s pink kitschiness. Who wouldn’t be sucked in by this over the top pink, girly, gaudy goodness?

So much pink vinyl and faux florals I didn’t even know where to look. And you’re probably wondering about our rooms right? So get this – each and every room is different. And there’s over 100 rooms! Now I won’t lie, I had my heart set on staying in the Merry Room (AKA the glitter room) but it was taken. So we settled instead for Room 104 – The Captain’s Bridge. Ok, it also was more affordable. But truthfully you can’t lose, every room is full of old vintage charm. When was the last time you slept in a hotel with metallic blue walls?!

This is just the interior folks! The exterior was also charming and dripping with details. If you make your way to The Madonna Inn, leave yourself a full day to enjoy and explore the grounds. There’s a pool and (hot pink!) tennis court to kill some time when you’re done gawking at all details. It’s an easy stop not far off the Highway 1 route and well worth the trip.

We woke up the next day kinda sad to be leaving this pink palace but the road was calling! Next stop – Malibu. So here’s the bad news – Malibu was officially the only place we stopped were the weather wasn’t great. Which means not a lot of surfers, not a lot of beach time, and no sunsets or sunrises. The whole place seemed to be covered in fog but what was weird is that less than 30 min drive away it was beautiful and sunny. WTF Malibu?! Looks like your weather is more of a diva that your famous residents.

The good news is that we stayed in the cutest, hippest motel called The Native Hotel. It was the absolute polar opposite of the Madonna Inn. It was minimal, chic and modern with a boho mid-century vibe. We were most definitely not cool enough to stay here but we pretended like we were.

California roadtrip Malibu Native hotelCalifornia roadtrip Malibu Native hotelThe Native is a small hotel with less than 15 rooms. The rooms don’t have TV’s and instead give you a hammock on the outdoor patio to relax and reflect. The rooms are very simple but every element has been thoughtfully designed. I don’t think there is such thing as an affordable room in Malibu but this one was on the lower end of a pricey scale. The only downside is that it backs on to a main road. But these rooms….so zen…dude.

California roadtrip Malibu Native hotel California roadtrip Malibu Native hotel California roadtrip Malibu Native hotel California roadtrip Malibu Native hotel Malibu, your weather was meh but we love you anyway.

And that, my very patient friends who are still reading, brings us to the end of California Road trip Part 1. It’s all about the colourful city, and the beautiful Pacific Coast, with a random stop at a crazy pink palace in the middle of nowhere just to make things extra interesting.

I hope you enjoyed traveling through my eyes and better yet, maybe you were just a tiny bit inspired to think about booking your own road trip down the Pacific Highway. Obviously it’s a very popular route and there’s so many great places to experience along way, this was just a taste.

Want more? Check out Part 2 where we leave behind the ocean and hit the desert for some totally different but equally breathtaking views and fun hotels.

One response to “Sweet Escape: California Road Trip Part 1”

  1. An epic California road trip is all you need to have the time of your life and forget everything about the world. I went on a road trip to LA once with my friends, and it was an excellent time for us. We even went to an escape room and completed it in record time.