Passion Passport Team Summit Sunset at Garrapata State Park

About a month ago, four members of the Passion Passport team convened in Monterey, CA. With each of them hailing from different locations across the US, the Monterey adventure was a great way to connect and explore together. Four personalities and a rental car for a week resulted in a memorable journey in one of California’s most iconic landscapes.

Passion Passport Editor, Jessica Schaffer, caught up with the team to learn exactly what the got up to on the coast of Northern California. 

Jessica Schaffer: Where are you from and what landed you in Monterey? How long was the visit?

Zach Glassman (Founder): Our group descended on Monterey from all parts of the country. I’m based in New York City, Jack Callahan is in Maine, Kyle Peters makes his home in San Francisco, and Mike Branscum in Portland, Oregon. Jack has been on board in a full time role for nine months, while Kyle and Mike are the most recent additions to our team at Passion Passport. We had five days to explore both Monterey and the surrounding area, as well as head down to Big Sur for a camping trip.

Passion Passport team summit kayaking in Monterey

Passion Passport team summit Monterey coastline

JS: Let’s back up. Can you give us some background on the team and how you all ended up working together at Passion Passport?

Kyle Peters (Design): Zach is the reason the rest of us are here on this amazing team. He founded Passion Passport as a passion project, pardon the pun, to give travelers a place to connect about the emotions, challenges, and growth we all experience through travel. Everyone on this team started their journey with Passion Passport as members of the community: Jack got involved through our TBLI campaign, Mike was a photo challenge winner, and I well…I just loved the content and have been following the growth of Passion Passport since my travels in Asia last year. We are all here because of the connection we feel to the Passion Passport mission and the community. I could delve into all of our backstories and skill sets but I think the one thing I keep going back to, and think is so exceptional about this team is that no matter the background of the individual, we will help each other in any way we can, whenever we can, because we are all so excited in helping this community grow.

JS: Give us a run-through on the trip. Where did you go, what did you do? Any recommendations?

Mike Branscum (Partnerships): We arrived in Monterey during the early afternoon and checked into the Portola Hotel. Once settled, we quickly rented kayaks and paddled the afternoon away in the bay. The vantage point of Monterey from the water is quite impressive! One quickly feels the history of Monterey as a cannery town. The older buildings and factories still stand, though occupied by various businesses including the world class Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The next day was spent in Monterey as well. We enjoyed some delicious coffee as we caught up with work. After lunch we made our way toward the ocean and were blown away by the extremely vibrant purple ground cover and exotic plants that clashed with the rugged coastline. Many photos and expressions of wonder later, we sped toward Los Lobos State Park to catch the sunset. That place is incredible! The approach trail in the trees was lit up by the soft, evening sunlight creating a fairytale effect. Upon reaching the point, we were blown away by the rugged, rocky coast line. The day culminated in a delicious farm-to-table dinner and a solid night’s rest.

Passion Passport team summit hiking in Garrapata state park Passion Passport team summit Jack resting on fallen tree

The following day was another spent in Monterey. We visited the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium during the first half of the day and hiked Garrapata State Park leading into sunrise. Though we slightly underestimated the intensity and timing of the hike, the trail and its surroundings make for a great experience just outside of town. You really get the feeling of being the only people in a massive landscape. This day ended with a fresh mediterranean dinner before nodding off with excitement for the weekend ahead – Big Sur!

Passion Passport team summit Mike climbing fallen log

A weekend in Big Sur is a weekend to remember. We climbed high into the interior and found ourselves a secluded campsite. With no cell signal and surrounded by nothing but wilderness it was time spent reconnecting with ourselves, our surroundings and each other.

JS: You mention the aquarium. Does it live up to the hype? What was your favorite part?

ZG: I loved the aquarium—I went in with high expectations and those were exceeded. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to explore it. Our schedules were a little bit packed and made for a pretty quick visit. I most enjoyed visiting the jellyfish. The very dimly lit rooms and the majestic movements of the various types of jellyfish were hypnotic, mesmerizing and soothing. I could have spent hours watching them in their habitat.

Monterey Bay Aquarium jellyfish exhibit Monterey Bay Aquarium school of fish

JS: So you made it to Big Sur for the weekend. First time? Tell us about the experience

Jack Callahan (Partnerships): It was my first time, but the rest of the team had been there before. I’d heard so much about Big Sur, whether it was through reading Kerouac or Henry Miller, seeing photos, or just hearing stories from people who had been there before. But as I found on the drive through the park (a leisurely drive through from north to south takes about an hour and half) the scale was so much larger than I was anticipating. The highway clings to the side of the mountains as they drop straight into the water, and when you’re on the road it seems like you’re high above the waves breaking beneath you. When we got our campsite, however, the road could be seen snaking along the coastline and it appeared to be running right down along the water. From the top of Prewitt Ridge, where we were camping, we could see the slopes rise out of the water and continue past the road, up into the fog where we camped, and higher still.

JS: Most people think of Highway 1 and the coastline when they think of Big Sur. What does the interior have to offer?

KP: Most of my time spent in Big Sur has actually been hiking away from the coastline. Big Sur’s amazing topography makes for the perfect place to go hiking through all sorts of terrain. The steep inclines make it so that one minute you are walking through a heavily wooded valley floor, the next you are on an exposed ridge that can see down the coastline for miles.

The Limekiln trail is one of my favorite short hikes and I think the perfect day hike to see as much as you can in a short period of time. Yes, the hike starts at a beautiful rock covered beach, but once you head inland the trail leads you through some of the most vibrant green areas I have seen in California. The Limekiln trail breaks into three different pathways, all worthy of spending some time meandering down. The first takes you to what was once a fully functioning lime kiln, still standing along the water’s edge yet overgrown with moss from years of neglect. The second path was a complete surprise the first time I wandered down it and is my favorite, leaving you in awe at the end of the trail staring up at a 100+ foot waterfall.

Walking along Big Sur fire roads near Prewitt Ridge

JS: How were the crowds. Any tips on avoiding them?

MB: It is true that many people visit Big Sur, and for good reason. It’s easily one of the most impressive stretches of coast lines in the world. But there is only one road from which to view the entire thing. During peak season you can bet on traffic, full campgrounds along the highway and crowds of people taking photos at the many iconic viewpoints.

With that said, however, Big Sur is vast! If you can find a road to take you inland, away from the coast, you’ll find yourself at the top with sweeping views not only of the coast but of the beautiful land that stretches down to the Pacific Ocean. Better yet, it seems as if few people make the trip inward so you can bet on more privacy as you explore rugged landscape and pick out an unmarked spot to camp all for yourself.

Passion Passport team summit in Big Sur

Team member Mike Branscum hiking through the redwoods in Big Sur

JS: So, what did you think of Monterey. Will you be going back?

JC: Monterey was spectacular, and was the perfect home base for trips down into Big Sur. Mike and Zach spoke to the draws of the Aquarium, Point Lobos, and Garrapata State Park, so I can only echo their sentiments. Each day, we fueled up with coffee at Acme Roasters and recollected about our adventures over great meals at Yafa in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Restaurant 1833 in Monterey. Whether you come for the golf, the food, or the ocean, explore the area because you’re sure to find a second, or third, reason to come back again.

The Passion Passport team looking at the Big Sur coastline