Camping in Big Sur + Cooking Vegan WITHOUT a Campfire!
[Just a brief warning before we get started: this post is pretty picture-heavy, but I promise they're worth it! Also, I compressed the files but if you have trouble loading the page, try refreshing it. Thanks!]
This 4th of July weekend, Alex, our pup Maddie and I traveled 5 hours north to Big Sur, on the California Coast, to do some camping. Now before we go any further, I'm going to be honest with you: I'm not going to be honest with you. That was confusing. What I mean is that I can't / won't tell you EXACTLY where we camped in this post because there are a few really great secret spots we know of that have remained nearly untouched, even in a state with nearly 39 million people, and frankly, we want to keep them that way. If you REALLY REALLY are itching to go here, I could maybe tell you. If you pinky promise to never litter or start a campfire there and if you send me a super convincing email about what a great environmentalist you are. Seriously. I like this spot too much to let it get trashed by unknowing or unruly campers. Snobby camping etiquette aside, this place was a serious gem. After a 4 hour drive up route 101, one of the most beautiful scenic coastal drives in California, you have to drive an hour up a twisty dirt road to the top of a small mountain (really large hill?) to get to the area we camped in. We found a place where it looked like someone had set up before, then hiked down and up another hill about 500 yards back to get to this primo spot. Lugging the stuff in kind of sucked, but it was so worth it to have our own super secluded, above-the-clouds campsite. Plus, we started our vacation a day before most people so we were lucky enough to have the place almost completely to ourselves until our last day. Also, we had originally planned on a 3 night stay, but the bugs were incessant, our sun burns (being above the protective loud layer and all) were crisp and our poor puppy was chewed alive and sore from hiking so we went home on day 3 instead. Plus, sleeping in your own bed is always a welcome comfort after ANY amount of time sleeping on the ground.
The view from the top of our campsite, looking onto our new favorite purchase: our ENO 2-person hammock. This hammock may be my favorite purchase like...ever. It gave us a comfy place to chill off the ground and under the shade of the trees for most of the day, and was big enough for both of us to comfortably sit inside. We would've loved to have slept there but the bugs were so awful that we couldn't stand it. It provided a lovely view of the clouds and fog that formed in that valley and over the ocean though, and we were happy to have it with us. Below you can see the view in the afternoon, once the fog and clouds had cleared.
Since we arrived in the early afternoon we had eaten breakfast and had a munchie lunch of chips, hummus, and fruit. For dinner, since there no campfires allowed (CA is in a serious drought and as you'll see in the pictures, the land was SO DRY), we brought our Jet Boil. We acquired the JB about a month ago at the REI used gear sale for like $30 (it usually sells for $100ish) and were hesitant that it might not work. On the contrary, after attaching our fuel to the bottom and adding 2 cups of water to the insulated cup, we turned up the heat and literally had boiling water in under a minute. It was awesome. Since we like to camp, we had invested in some just-add-water dehydrated camping meals to test out in the JB so our first night we made up the Santa Fe Black Beans + Rice combo. After added the hot water and resealing the pouch, you wait ten minutes and voila! Dinner was served. We even added a few of our own tortilla chips for crunch, and we enjoyed it WAY more than we thought we would. Definitely pleasantly surprised and would definitely purchase again for camping + backpacking trips.
I way overpacked for our trip (As usual. I have a portion control problem.) but this is what we brought with. Everything was ready-to-eat or a just-add-water type of thing, and we ended up never even opening 2 of the freeze-dried meals, the Daiya mac, the soups or the oatmeal. Being in the sun so much definitely suppressed our appetites, but thats okay. More food for our next trip!
After dinner and a sunset snuggle in the hammock, we (and that adorable sleepy puppy) crawled into the tent for an early night. The next morning gave us a little reprieve from the hot morning heat with a bit of cloud cover. We spent some time in the hammock and then noshed on some cashew yogurt with mango, plums, and granola with a side of chia drink for breakfast. We did bring a small cooler so things like our yogurt and fruit would stay as fresh as possible in the heat and that was a huge help. We also saw our first other campers across the ridge this morning, and realized our complete aloneness was coming to an end so we decided to get out and hike while we could without crowds. After a little yoga-ing to stretch out (warrior pose!) we packed some water and sunscreen and headed out to explore.
It was super dusty and dry on our hike, but well worth the exploration. There were some beautiful vistas and plenty of little shady inlets to stop for water breaks, but after the hike we were dusty, dirty, and exhausted. The temps were in the high 80's and poor Maddie had to be carried the last quarter mile or so home by Alex after her legs started getting super shaky. Poor pup! We all probably drank less water than we should've, but we did our best to recoup through the afternoon. We were pretty pink with sun exposure so we avoided it the rest of the day and camped out in the hammock for the better part of the afternoon.
That night we did another Jet Boil meal, this time heating some Vegetable Phó Broth we found at Whole Foods with black rice ramen noodles. It was quick, easy, and a little boring. I enjoyed it more than Alex but we agreed that next time we would bring some dried mushrooms and maybe some spices to make it a little more interesting.
The sunset that evening was gorgeous, as the sun and pastel clouds dipped behind the thick, foggy cloud layer. It felt like we were at the top of the world. The moon wasn't as bright on night 2 either, so we had a seriously gorgeous view of the night sky filled with stars from our hilltop perch. We look a little silly and sunburned, but it was one of my favorite weekends of the summer so far.
The next morning we woke up to a bright blue, cloudless sky- which meant the sun got hot FAST. We were definitely feeling sunned out at this point, so we each ate a granola bar and some fruit and then started packing up our gear. We didn't have much, mostly we broke down the tent and made sure we left no remnants of our visit, then hauled it all back up to the car. We decided to take our time coming back down the California Coast, stopping to enjoy everything that looked interesting (or yummy!) since we had planned on being gone that day anyway. The next few pictures are from stop on the side of the road out of Big Sur and down as we traveled into San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.
Maddie had never been to the ocean before, and she loved it! Well, kinda. The incoming waves freaked her out a little but she for sure liked splashing around the beach anyway. The drive was lazy and wonderful, and we stopped at least 6 times. For lunch we decided to stop in beautiful Morro Bay at a vegan joint called Shine Café, a small place offering local, organic ingredients, gluten & soy-free options, kombucha on tap, and a menu packed full of goodness. They offered everything from pancakes to soups and salads, jackfruit tacos, sandwiches, and spring rolls. And if liquids are more your style, they also have a full juice bar + offer smoothies and acai bowls, too. Next door to the café is Sunshine Health Foods, the store that started it all. The place is small but packed with fun vegan treats and bulk bin yummies. We loved it. AND we FINALLY found Miyoko's cheeses! We'd tried them them way back at ExpoWest and had been drooling over them since, so when we found both the smoked farmhouse (my favorite flavor) and the double cream chive, I knew I had to get one of each. And while $10 seems like a lot for a product like this, its definitely comparable to other brands and this store was selling them for the same price advertised on Miyoko's website, and of course we didn't have to pay shipping. Score!
For lunch at the café we ordered a trio of jackfruit street tacos, and a tempeh reuben that was packed with veggies + a side salad. Alex loved the sandwich, but I preferred the tacos. I could've eaten like 20 of those babies, no question.
After lunch we continued cruising down the coast for home and stopped at The Farm Stead, a great farm that sold their own organic produce off the side of the road. They offered U-Pick for some fruits + veggies too, but we were just too sunburnt to stay outside any longer than necessary. We grabbed some berries, white peaches, and cucumbers, and headed back out to the car. Once out there we realized that attached to the barn was a table-filled area to sit and munch in the shade, plus some super cute animal friends for company. Maddie made friends with the albino donkey, and we munched berries and relaxed in the shade. Oh - also cute, this farm had a little charging station for vehicles. We loved how eco-friendly they were!
We'll be camping again next week in Maine and can't wait to find more cozy, underutilized camping spots when we're back in California in August. Get out and explore where you live - there are so many great places to see! Just always remember to remove any trace of you being there so awesome places stay awesome for everyone for a long time. Got any great camping spots? We'd love to hear about them! And we're always looking for new things to cook up in the Jet Boil, so suggestions are most welcome. Thanks for going virtual camping with us!