A couple of weeks ago, I turned 30, which meant I was feeling very introspective. I tend to get sentimental around my birthday, mainly because of one that I had five years ago. At 25, I had no idea that I was about to launch a company – this one, actually – or that I’d manage to find the kind of peace and contentment that I’ve found in the past five years.
I attribute my growth over these years to large amounts of self-work and reflection, think Brené Brown on repeat, and setting intentions. When I was in my late twenties, I set the intention of living openly: with an open mind, an open heart, open hands and open eyes.
I felt like the shift of a new decade also meant the shift of a new intention. My one request for my birthday was that I be somewhere fun with the three people who I love the most: my parents and my husband. Talk about something that, at 25, seemed like an improbable ask (the husband part, I mean).
We were supposed to go to the Galapagos, but due to some unforeseen health issues, had to table those plans. Instead, we decided to visit Northern California – specifically Big Sur and Carmel.
As we drove around the beauty of the area, I couldn’t help but continue to roll around this idea of my intentions for 30 in my mind. I’ve been hyper-focused lately on the fact that I overcommit and over-schedule myself (I just finished Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus, which I’d recommend for anyone who shares this same problem). While in the Bogota airport a few weeks ago, we wound up behind this man who was just wandering around aimlessly and the thought hit me: what would it be like to wander?
I’m not sure that I’ve ever done it before. I have always, always, been working toward a direction or a goal or a plan or a date on the calendar. It’s always what’s next? Not ever, what’s now?
I want to change that in my 30s, and Northern California was a great place to start the practice.
We began our trip at Ventana in Big Sur, a gorgeous Alila property (which Jeremy and I are big fans of after our time at Alila Uluwatu in Bali). This adults only resort is nestled on top of the cliffs of Big Sur, giving glimpses through the clouds at the open ocean. The property itself has a lodge-like feel to it, which is perfect for the surrounding nature. Evergreen forests line the views of the suites, where you could spend hours just lounging in the hammocks.
The main clubhouse is the perfect place to socialize, enjoy a board game, or just turn off. Without a calendar or agenda, that’s exactly what we did. Every night, as part of the resort experience, Ventana serves a complimentary wine and cheese tasting (anyone who knows us knows that if there’s a cheese tasting, we will be there). Every day, we enjoyed driving around the area and taking in the breathtaking views from Highway 1.
This is also where I learned of a newly discovered fear that I have, one of cliffs. Specifically driving alongside them, which is a pretty necessary part of the Highway 1 experience. We would pull over at the designated areas along the road (none of which had guard rails) and I watched as my three loved ones would nearly dance along the edge of the cliff.
By “I watched,” I mean, “I watched from the car.” My knees would literally start locking up if I got out. I did better when we were driving on the opposite side of the road. So, note to self: if you have a fear of heights, you’ll enjoy going North on Highway 1 much more than you will going South.
That morning, we visited Big Sur Bakery, which housed some of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. Succulents grew wild, which was encouraging to me that, perhaps now that I’m 30, I should give the idea of raising a succulent another go – meaning, I’m the only person on earth who has managed to kill these supposedly non-killable plants. Don’t even ask me about our last beta fish. #RIPMac
Strolling slowly among the flowers with my mom, talking about each one and how beautiful they were, felt like a good first step of wandering with no agenda, of taking in the world and the people around me at that very moment.
Later that day, we stopped by the famed Nepenthe for lunch with a view (I feel much more stable taking in cliffside views from the comfort of a building that’s known for its hamburgers) and by COAST for dessert with a view.
After our time in Big Sur, we headed North (yes!!) to Carmel. That morning was a bit drizzly, and I posed the question, “I wonder what people do on this terrifying highway when there’s fog?”
Around that time, we turned the corner into the thick haze of fog for miles. I stopped asking questions after that.
We stayed at the lovely Carmel Valley Ranch, which is about a 15 minute drive from downtown Carmel. The Ranch, with its rolling fields and golf courses, located in an expansive, green green green valley, is just beautiful. While it was under the same overarching management company as Ventana (which was just acquired by Hyatt), it could not be a more different property or experience. It’s excellent for families in particular, with their beekeeping experience and nightly s’mores.
When we checked into Carmel Valley Ranch, my Mom stopped to point out a little bird splashing in the fountain beside us. If I could learn from anyone on how to stop and smell the roses, to really enjoy the little things, it would definitely be my Mom. “Slow down,” is a mantra she’s been telling me most of my life. I’m starting to get it now.
While in Carmel, the only exact plans we made were on my birthday: a half day experience of Downtown Carmel with Carmel Food Tours. This was a huge hit. We visited seven different local establishments, noshing on everything from Guiness-braised short ribs at Anton and Michel (where we later returned for dinner) to dusted calamari from Grasings to tiramisu at Cantinetta Luca. We also learned the super cool story of the 5th grade founder of the Carmel Honey Company.
After our tour, we ventured back in the rental car and did another perfect, leisurely drive: the 17 Mile Drive that loops around the famed Pebble Beach, an absolute must do while in the area. I remember back on our first trip to Blackberry Farm when we did the Cade’s Cove drive, I rushed through it like it was a racecourse. My mom had looked over at me and asked if I knew the point of the scenic route.
I didn’t, but I’m starting to.
I’m looking forward to discovering more of this world with the fresh eyes of someone who can wander, not just someone with direction. California was an excellent start to that. If you’re ready to plan your next trip to Northern California, or if you’re just ready to wander somewhere – anywhere! – you’ve come to the right place. Fill out our Request a Trip form to get started!