Category Archives: California

Land of the Free

Well, we’re back on the road again! I’m writing this from the airport as we prepare to fly off to Dublin ((many) pints ‘o Guinness, here we come!). It was a whirlwind two month break from our global travels to do a little more fun stuff back home in the good ‘ole USofA. We came back for some very important events (a couple phenomenal weddings and even a P-town bear week bachelorette), and managed to fit in lots of things we missed whilst abroad. So we thought we’d give you a very brief update on some of the highlights of our trip, as well as introduce you to some old favorites and new finds from our visit to the homeland!

Our trip to the states had us landing in our “home” of Los Angeles. While we have no actual home to speak of (and I mean literally, even our mailing address no longer exists as my parents just sold their home!), our friends were very generous in letting us crash for much of our time (we love you guys!!!). Of course a big highlight for us was getting our LA grub on. While we love all food, Asian especially, we were beyond excited to get our hands on some of our local favorites. The very first day we arrived we hit some serious bases with a breakfast of bagels, lunch of Mexican food, and of course In’N’Out for dinner. Solid.

We also checked out a few new spots. We visited our wonderful friends Jamie and Eric over at their new restaurant: Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese. Delish. And while Greeny is cooking up some fancy and fabulous takes on grilled cheese, it’s really hard to pass up the classic grilled cheese with a side of perfectly seasoned tomato soup. Seriously comfort food at its max. And speaking of Max, we were thrilled to meet their adorable new arrival, Max, who joined the world while we were off in Asia.

I was quickly reminded of just how “LA” LA can be when visiting the new(ish) spot: Kreation on Montana in Santa Monica. No offense, and you all know I defend LA to the death against all those (crazy) haters, but this is one of those places that makes people despise LA. I overheard someone ask the waiter (literally), “Do you have a juice that would make me happy?” (Cue Valley Girl dialect.) Granted the menu invited this (with items like “Energy,” “Relax,” “Skinny,” and “Rosy Aura”), but… I mean. If there was any doubt I had made it back to the wacky world that is LA-LA-Land, I saw one lady pushing her pint-sized pup in a stroller and another carrying hers in a purse. Better yet, while getting a manicure in anticipation of Jenny’s wedding, I overheard the most absurd LA woman that might exist. She was, and I quote her directly now, “an Hermes and Chanel girl” who would “not be caught dead in” other lowly designers’ wears. She complained about her dinner plans for fear of the Paparazzi and proceeded to look at a woman roughly thirty pounds heavier than she and say, “oh my god, you’re so skinny, I’m so fat I just gained ten pounds.” But the best story of all, a friend told me she offered some food to a homeless man and he declined, telling her he was on a raw food diet.

We also joined friends to watch Swingers at Cinespia, the famed movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It was pretty damn awesome. Man, we love LA. We also enjoyed our friends’ pups. And spotting a woman on a pay phone! I’ve not seen one of these in use in ages! (It’s the small things in life…)

See the Practical Info section, below, for some more of our favorite eats along the way and across the country.

But the highlight of LA was for sure Jen and Albert’s wedding. Absolutely stunning. The wedding and the bride! Seriously, how gorgeous was she!? An absolute modern fairytale princess. That Albert is a lucky man, I tell ya. Also, after six months of embracing what my friends now endearingly refer to as my “traveler fugly” phase (OK the really nice ones call it my “natural” phase), I reveled in the opportunity to get fancy and glam and all dolled up. I felt like a movie star.

One of the best perks of quitting your job to travel the world is the time it gives you to spend with your family and friends, and we truly relish this. We flew back east to spend about three weeks with all sorts of family…

…Staying with Alan’s brother Kenny in New Jersey (and visiting some friends in New York while there)…

…Visiting my family in Maine for the final nights in our cottage (which is now being torn down and will soon be completely rebuilt as their full time home) and helping them pack up and move out of my childhood home in Concord, MA. We found some serious gems along the way in that process…

…spending lots of QT with my big bro, Dev, and my dog nephews, Lou and Ryder (I am obsessed)…

…and of course eating LOTS of lobstah…

…and a massive family reunion at Alan’s mom’s house in Longmeadow, MA. It was so lovely meeting these more distant relatives and spending more time with those we already know and love.

We also fit in lots of good old left coast time. Obviously there was LA, but we also drove up to a wedding in Sonoma, and used the opportunity to stop on the way and check out the wine scene in Paso Robles. We spent two nights at a little B&B owned by a very strange proprietor. Long story short, despite the phenomenal location of this B&B, we would not recommend it. Largely because of overpromises (and false advertising!) that were not delivered on, and less so because the property was not as nice and the room was incredibly small. It’s just frustrating to sign up for something that’s detailed explicitly online and then reeceive much less than promised. Even more annoying that the proprietor made a point of talking about the amenities that she later failed to provide. Strange.

Anyhow, the real reason we came was the wine, and that, my friends, did NOT disappoint. We adored the wines here! It’s not pretentious in the way that some might argue Napa and Sonoma have become, and it’s still in fact quite cheap. Tastings are generally $10 a piece, the pours are generous, they credit the fee against purchases, they’ll let you try anything you liked again, and a few places give you a glass to keep. The wines themselves are fairly reasonably priced, though we did splurge on a few bottles. Is there anyone out there who can not splurge on a bottle of good wine by the time you reach your third tasting? OK, it was only our second when I started buying multiple bottles. Must find a home with a wine cellar. I’ll start with just a home. See the Practical Info section below, for some of our favorite vineyards, wines and restaurants.

Also worthy of a shoutout is Destination Drivers, a company that will send someone to drive your car around to the vineyards for an hourly fee. All wine and no drunk driving, yippee! This would in theory work out to be cheaper than the wine tours on offer, that is if you didn’t spend six hours tasting. Oops! What I loved most was the tackle box full of bread and meats and cheeses that they supply to keep you going between tastings. Yum!

After Paso we enjoyed Felix and Amanda’s spectacular wedding at the Kenwood Inn and Spa in Sonoma, and even managed to squeeze in a beautiful local hike with the groom just hours before he wed.

From there, we had a great afternoon in the East Bay catching up with Brian and Kim and Camilo and Hillary and all their kids. Alan and Quinn had a nice scat session. Afterwards I jetted off back to the east coast to help my parents finalize the move, and then attend the last of the wolfpack’s bachelorette parties on Cape Cod. This was my first time in Provincetown, and it happened to be bear week, which happened to be amaze-balls. Of course, the hot pink Lady Gaga wigs didn’t hurt. Congrats KP! So excited for her wedding in the South of France! Stay tuned for the blog coverage of what I’m sure will be nothing short of stunning.

Meanwhile, Alan and D-Bell drove up to Humboldt, then took the PCH all the way back down to LA, and reminded himself how much we love this left coast. Watching the World Cup semifinal games at Patterson’s Pub in Mendocino and then The Tap Room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach were experiences to cherish. Oh California, you beautiful beast, you.

And now, we are in Dublin! Stay tuned for lots of pictures and stories, most of which will likely entail blustering shorelines and big glasses of beer.

Practical Info

We will not try to cover everywhere we ate and everything we did over a couple months in the US. Instead, we will touch upon some highlights. If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Transportation: There are many ways to get from New York to Boston, including flying or taking the train. The cheapest option is usually the bus. We have taken one of the Chinatown buses in the past, but this time friends told us about Bolt Bus. It departs New York from multiple locations; we took the train from New Jersey to Penn Station and then walked the long blocks to 33rd between 11th and 12th. In the 1980s you would not have wanted to be here outside your car that would’ve been bombarded by unsolicited windshield washing, but now it’s fine. For $27 (2 tix), we arrived painlessly at South Station in Boston. And the bus offers WiFi and electric outlets.

Accommodation: We found a great Airbnb place in Santa Monica near 20th and Montana. We were less enthused about Emily’s House in Paso Robles (see Jenni’s rant above), though the location was nice in easy walking distance from town. The Kenwood Inn and Spa near Sonoma is definitely a splurge, but the rooms are beautiful and the pool is super refreshing in the NorCal valley heat.

Food: In LA: Shout out to our man at the helm of Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese on Melrose. Jenni covered this above, and when she was back east I returned and also had the Buffalo Blue. This thoroughly satisfied my buffalo pangs…for the night. Katsuya is something we crave when traveling, so we made a few visits while back. We usually go to the Brentwood branch, but it’s much cheaper if you can schlep to the valley. The happy hour in Brentwood helps to let you afford multiple orders of the spicy tuna on crispy rice and baked crab hand rolls. Poquito Mas is solid mini-chain Mexican. We would not assert the bagels compare to New York, but a fine place to hold you over is New York Bagel and Deli on Wilshire in Santa Monica.

In Santa Barbara: Rincon Taqueria (115 E. Haley Street). Hole in the wall, but good tacos and reminds us of wedding planning.

In Paso Robles: Dinner at Artisan was great. Il Cortile was good but not great. Di Raimondo’s is an excellent cheese shop. While wine tasting outside town, we made an enjoyable stop at Pasolivo for free olive oil tasting. The cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Company were the bomb dot com.

In New York: Late night pastrami at Katz’s Deli. A superb brunch at momofuku ssäm bar…think fried duck and waffles with mascarpone and a raspberry compote.

In New England: Of course we hit the legendary White Hut in West Springfield, plus the new branch in the center of Longmeadow. Mike’s (actually now called Pool Street Market) for lobstah rolls in Biddeford is de rigeur. In addition to the standard trip to Cape Pier Chowder House, I had my first ice cream at Goose Rocks Dairy, and Jenni, Dev and I had a lovely afternoon brunching at Tia’s Topside followed by free beer tasting at the Kennebunkport Brewing Company. Jenni gives a nod to New London’s subs in Concord, where she ate her farewell Concord lunch.

Wine: Paso Robles is known for its Zin, but we actually came away with an adoration for the local Syrahs and Roses. Overall, we were very impressed with taste and value. We tasted at:

  • Chronic Cellars – Nice, fun wines made by the sons of the folks behind Peachy Canyon (which, by the way, sells a solid SUPER budget zin available in LA). We enjoyed the ’13 Kindly Swallows Rose, the ’12 Dead Nuts Zin blend, ’12 Suite Petite Syrah blend (sold out, sadly) and the Tranquilo late harvest Petite Syrah.
  • Kiamie Wine Cellars – We loved the ’08 Meritage and the R’Own Style Blend. You can find their wines at Enterprise Fish Co. in Santa Monica (the Vinocata ’08) and the Meritage at Grill 23 in Boston.
  • Halter Ranch – I don’t have specific notes on this one as we mostly chatted about foods we loved with the friendly lady pouring here.
  • Oso Libre – Loved the ’11 Carnal GSM. Otherwise we were pretty underwhelmed (especially with the whites).
  • Terry Hoage Vineyards – Jenni told them that their rose smelled like armpits, but not in a bad way. As you might surmise, our tasting ended here.

We also tasted at the downtown tasting rooms of:

  • Grizzly Republic
  • Burbank Ranch – Solid wines here. Loved the Syrah “Sunset” and ’13 Grenache “Picnic Meadow” Rose. Runner up rose was the ’13 Syrah “Friends” Rose. Overall, the roses in Paso were dry and superb! The ’13 Arneis “Little Rascal” white was a nice porch wine. ’12 Zin Estate “Fall Colors” and the Malbec were nice as well, and Jenni loved the ’11 Petit Verdot “Wood Pile.”

Other vineyards that were recommended to us, but that we couldn’t fit in were DAOU (supposedly great views), Starr Ranch, Tolo, Jack Creek, Kenneth Volk, J Dusi, Ecluse, Booker and the Treana & Hope Family. Downtown, we had tried to visit LXV, where the couple running it had a wine and Indian food pairing party (so sad we missed it!), and had also heard good things about Pianetta.

May 25 -July, 22 2014

The Final Days: Going (going) Back (back) to Cali (cali)

We took the 10 through Arizona, passing through Tucson just enough to see its traffic and the surrounding mountains (which are quite pretty). We felt real fancy staying at the La Quinta in Phoenix after our recent hotel stays because it had indoor hallways and a room that didn’t smell like vomit! Yay! I refuse to tell you where we ate dinner because it’s embarrassing. But it may or may not rhyme with Schblerger Schming. Two nights in a row. I know, we’re gross. I guess the road started wearing on us.

Anyway, we just crashed at the hotel, and got up early for our FINAL TIME on the road again!!! The on ramp to the 10 west listed Los Angeles as the destination. It may as well have said, “Alan and Jenni – home is this away!” Hugeness. We were super amped for our return “home” and to complete the first major leg of our traveling journey, and here’s how we celebrated:

We got in the car and I played “On the Road Again” for the final time.

Then I played Phantom Planet’s “California.” (We’ve been on the run, Driving in the sun, Looking out for number 1. California here we come, Right back where we started from. California! Here we come!). I’d been waiting to play this song on the ride practically since we left LA in the first place.

Then I played Biggie, “Going Back to Cali.”

Then I played the Eagles’ “Hotel California.”

And then Joni Mitchell’s “California.”

And then 2Pac’s “California Love.”

Wilco’s “California Stars.” (shout out to Barbra & Dave!)

And the Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin.”

Tristan Prettyman’s “California Girl.”

And then RHCP’s “Californication.”

And then I ran out of California songs on my iPhone.

So then we just got excited for our In N Out and Champagne date in LA. (See the joint post we wrote about finishing up our journey here).

Then we got to Brentwood, and it was literally 75 and sunny. Oh, LA, I love you.

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Which brings me to another general observation from this trip – the disdain with which people routinely respond to LA is almost as universal as it is misplaced. Is it jealousy? Ignorance? I don’t know, but what I do know is that Alan and I ADORE this place and it feels good to be home. Not that I’m not excited to leave it again, it’s just so good to know it’s there waiting for us whenever we get back with open arms and sunny blue skies.

We’re spending our time in LA mostly working on catching up on these blogs (new resolution: stay on top of blog posts!!!!!), getting vaccinated like woah, planning what the hell we’re doing in Asia for the next six months, trying to cram six months’ worth of clothes and malaria meds into a backpack, and lots of other loose end tying up. In more fun news, we’re also trying to squeeze in much needed LA friend time, and I was honored to throw a bridal shower for my dear friend Jenny (it was a pink explosion)!

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::lots of pink::
::then lots of blogging::
::then lots of blogging::

Also BIG thank you to our amazing friends Jenny & Albert and Mike & Lauren for letting us crash with you!

Going Home!

We left White Sands National Monument and passed the sharp, dramatic Organ Mountains.  In this area the traffic lights are all horizontal, I guess due to the wind?

Tucson is backed by nice mountains and here we saw our first In-N-Out since leaving California nearly three months ago.  Despite the temptation, we held out for our traditional coming home meal.  La Quinta hotel in Phoenix was a splurge that even had internal hallways!

Friday was the last day of the trip and the excitement was palpable.  Will we make it all the way back with no accidents or traffic tickets?!  In Phoenix we saw our first signs for Los Angeles, confirming the final stretch.  Jenni did a great job deejaying several California-themed songs…of course starting with Biggie’s Going Back to Cali and followed by tunes like Phantom Planet’s California, California Love by 2Pac, Hotel California, etc.

Much of the drive between Phoenix and Palm Springs is very pretty, and south of the 10 near Tonopah is a nice mountain.  I have driven to the Palm Springs area many times but never approached from this direction.  We descended quite a hill down to Indio.

We made it back to Los Angeles at 1 pm, having driven just under 12k miles.  And it was literally 75 and sunny.  We closed with a bottle of Moët, just as we began our first night camping at San Simeon.  For some fun stats summarizing our three-month road trip, see the post here that we wrote at that time.

November 8, 2013 (Friday)

NOR-NorCal (like, real North)

Who knew California was soooo incredibly long!? But what a lovely surprise to me. After Cobbler Hill we still had miles and miles of craggy coastline to enjoy. Driving on after our fabulous stay, we stopped to check out the little town of Mendocino and grab some fixings to cook up for dinner. They sure do have some fresh and delicious food in that neck of the woods. I could have wandered around that tiny provisions store for hours.  Northern California (true Northern California, not NorCal) is full of quaint sleepy little towns that hug the coast. Each town seems to center around the PCH for a few blocks or so and contain only a handful of the most charming shops.

Some WINDY roads though, made me a little sick to my stomach. My motion sickness has gotten worse as I grew up. So uncool. I remember loving those amusement part rides as a kid… now the mere thought of reading my iphone for directions on the PCH is enough to make me queasy.

We stopped at Mystery Hill (World Famous, obviously) to do the road trip thing. I love me some “world’s largest/tallest/strangest” stuff!

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Further on we saw a handful of wild elk grazing in the blackberry bushes. They are beautiful majestic creatures. Santa might consider subbing reindeer for elk at the helm of his sleigh 🙂 It helped that the sun hit the moist air in just the right light as if to spotlight the animals in a magical spotlight. I was jealous of the elk, so indulged in some fresh blackberries myself. SO juicy. MMM.

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::elk eating blackberries::

Mill Creek Campground served as home for us in Del Norte for a night. The camp was moist and lush. Small campsites, fairly crowded, but a nice spot for sure. We cooked bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, and finished the wine we had opened in Mendocino. I have to mention one of the most useful items we brought along with us on the trip: the camo boat chairs. OH MY GOD, I love these things. We bought these at a WalMart in Napa while there for a music festival and desperate for some seating in the hot hot sun. They were all out of traditional camping chairs (apparently we were the last people to have this thought), but what a fortuitous mistake, because the boat chairs are the best thing since toast (toast is so good). We’ve ended up bringing these to the beach, concerts, lake sides, and they make picnic tables infinitely more comfortable. And to think we almost left them behind! But I digress… the best part of Del Norte, BY FAR, was the epicly beautiful hike we did the next day.

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::my man, cooking up some mean cheeseburgers::
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::please pardon the unwashed hat hair. and note the boat chairs!::

After making some oatmeal for breakfast we faced the dreaded daily task of packing up the car once again. Sometimes we feel like its getting easier, sometimes it seems like our stuff fits worse than the day before. This prompted our decision that wherever we wound up next would be our home for two nights. We just couldn’t bear the thought of waking up and folding up our wet tent and stuffing all our things into the car one more morning. The packing tetris game got old fast. More on that later (this post will conclude CA… it’s on to Oregon next!).

In order to get in some much-needed exercise, we drove south about 4 miles to Damnation Creek Trail, located at mile marker 16. We parked on the street, took our daypack and began the 4.2 mile round trip, in-and-out, 1000 feet drop hike to the shore. The trail books and signposts warned of a steep, strenuous trail, but it was not bad at all, and most definitely worth the trip. The path down switchbacks through a dense, moist redwood forest, and when you arrive at the end, you stumble out into the most stunning shoreline view. There is a little rocky beach where you can sit for a while and watch the waves crash into the rugged coastline.

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::Alan inhaling California’s intoxicating coastline::

Back at the car we fixed some PB&J sammies, and then hit the road again in search of a campsite that would work as home base for the next two nights. Onward and Oregon bound!

NorCal

Leaving Hillsborough we stopped to check out the Headlands in San Francisco for some stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge popping out of that majestic SF fog.

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::there she is, peeking out at us::

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::the Headlands. Not too shabby, San Fran::

And the Cali coast winds on…

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::Pismo Beach – beware of the sharks::
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::BBQ oysters at The Marshall Store::
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::”awww” (those of you who witnessed our vows will understand)::

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I could stare at these shores forever.

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On the road again, on the road again. Next stop to lay our heads down was the Inn at Cobbler Hill (a splurge night for us at $175 plus tax). We arrived during wine hour and were treated to a few glasses of Chenin Blanc and some light h’or d’oeuvres on the house. This place is spectacular – phenomenal service, beautiful grounds, and some stunning coastal views along the headlands. In the main area there are chickens hanging out – including one I affectionately named Boots With The Fur – and they even leave chicken feed in little bags in the rooms for you to feed them!

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::feeding the chickens::
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::llama pasture. those dark stemmed pink lily-like flowers are all over northern Cali. any idea what those are called?::

Y’all know I love my animals. There’s also a llama pasture you can walk through. Plus there are 3 little trails on property. One down to the beach… AMAZING. We walked down before sunset, it was maybe a half mile round trip, but down in this little cove you are surrounded by beautiful rocks and a pretty stellar ocean view. We even saw some sea otters (or were they seals?) poking their heads out as they swam around the bay.

We picnic-ed in our room for dinner, enjoying a bottle of red wine we had brought with us from LA, some fantastic fennel pollen salami, local brie and crackers. They also left little fresh baked brownies in the room, and in the entrance area there is a constant supply of free homemade cookies and coffee/tea/cocoa.

The next morning we woke early and walked a different path out to the headlands. Talk about stunning coastlines.

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::amber waves of grain::
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::we saw two deer on the walk in::
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::I could hardly contain my excitement::

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Shortly after we returned to the room we were greeted by staff that delivered a three course breakfast in picnic basket to your door. Fantastic quality. Fresh squeezed organic OJ, Baked local pears with anise-hyssop and berries, Mediterranean quiche, homemade zucchini bread, coffee/tea/cocoa. The basket also included a little note with the weather forecast for the day.

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::breakfast of Mendocino champions::

California Coastin

August 16, 2013 (Friday) – We hit the open road (meaning bumper to bumper traffic on the 101 North) Friday afternoon, August 16, 2013.  Sven (our Volvo C70 hardtop convertible) was filled with camping gear, black tie wedding attire, and everything in between.  Despite this range, we were disciplined enough to take only that which would still allow us to utilize the drop-top and live out our fantasy of rolling like soccer mom gangsta rappers.

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We cut over to Route 1 just before San Luis Obispo and split takeout from the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach.  Fish tacos and a king crab po’boy.  King crab sounds even more oxymoronic than oysters or shrimp when paired with po’boy.  We arrived at our campsite in the Washburn campground of San Simeon State Park at 7:20 pm.  The Washburn campground is set up on a hill about a mile inland from the ocean.  A few of the sites have ocean views, but most do not.  After we set up the tent, I drove down to the ranger station to confirm the water spigots dispensed potable water.  I returned to find Jenni in a mild verbal scuffle with a French family in an RV who claimed to have returned to their rightful site for the evening.  We had noticed some folding chairs in the area (but of course no tent), and perhaps foolishly thought it more likely that someone from a nearby site had spread out for a bit than that the campground would have double booked the site.  We erred, but after accusing Jenni of stealing because she sat in one of the chairs, the other family switched sites.  A small fire blazing in the ring, we popped the Moët to celebrate the first night of the trip.

August 17, 2013 (Saturday) – Left over rolls with butter and coffee sustained us through a “grand rooms” tour of Hearst Castle.  We arrived around 10 am and joined a 10:20 tour with no reservation.  Twenty-five dollars per ticket is steep, but the experience is worthwhile.  It was cool and foggy at the coast, sunny and about 20º warmer atop the hill.

We made a quick stop at elephant seal beach and continued up the coast to a 1:30 pm lunch at Whale Watchers Café in Gorda.  Spaghetti Bolognese and a tuna melt for over $40 is no prize, but options are few and far between on this stretch of Route 1.  After lunch we continued up the coast and cut inland on the 156 to the 101 to save some time getting to Felix and Amanda’s beautiful house in Hillsborough.  We drove to charming, downtown Burlingame with several blocks of shops and restaurants.  Earlier that day, I wondered if I would have chance encounters with friends while traveling.  Less than 36 hours into the trip, we ran into Doug and Tracy on our way to dinner at Urban Bistro.

August 18, 2013 (Sunday) – We woke around 7:30 am and did more research on what to do and where to stay.  Amanda cooked some eggs and we departed around 11 and drove up the hill to the 280 North and over the Golden Gate bridge.  When we left their house it was warm and sunny, but at the bridge is was cool and foggy.  We drove up to the Marin Headlands anyway and were rewarded with some lovely views of the bridge and the city.  Next, we drove through Sausalito and rejoined Route 1.  The road is very windy and hilly at least to Stinson Beach.  Muir Beach was closed for a few months for some reason.  Stinson was quite crowded despite that it was cool and foggy.  There is a little town there, the beach has dog and no-dog sections, and there are hiking trails to/from Mt. Tamalpais, Mill Valley, etc.

We took a quick peek and continued as the road hugs Bolinas Lagoon before becoming inland for a while along Point Reyes National Seashore then returning to the inland coast again at Tomales Bay.  There are many cyclists and bikers.  Tomales Bay Oyster Company was packed with perhaps 100 cars parked on the roadside.  We passed this place and stopped up the road at The Marshall Store which I think sources the same oysters.  There is an indoor counter where you order and the menu, natch, is seafood-focused.  Though there is also a smoker and they serve pulled pork.  BBQ oysters are famous in these parts and that’s what I got, with butter and garlic.  Six large oysters per order for $16, comes with some grilled bread.  The sauce was a little tangy, my dish was tasty.  Jenni got fish tacos ($13) that were grilled and mediocre.  The Allagash White ($3) was not cold enough.  The vibe and location were great, the service was very good, but the execution could be improved.  Around the shack is a little wood deck with some chairs and then there are long wood tables on the road side with chairs facing each other, half to the road and half to the bay.  A couple hundred yards up the road is a place renting kayaks.  The crowd was a mix of tourists, SF’ers, wine country folks, bikers, etc.  It reminded me of a lakeside BBQ because it’s a narrow bay and you can see the other side, and the beach is small.  This area feels like Maine or Cape Cod with more hills, cows and birds of prey.

From there Route 1 heads inland before cutting back to meet the ocean at Bodega Bay.  We saw signs for the Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival the weekend of August 24-25 and that’s probably pretty neat.  Beyond here Route 1 becomes spectacular.  I realize it is heresy to do anything but extol the virtues of Big Sur, but for my money I think I prefer the coast North of Bodega Bay.  It is possibly a touch less spectacular, but far less crowded and feels less touristy.  The town of Jenner was cute, as was Gualala and Point Arena.  While we stopped at neither, John at Glendeven recommended Bones (BBQ) in Gualala and Franny’s Cup & Saucer (bakery) in Point Arena.

We arrived at the Inn at Cobbler’s Walk a little after 6 pm.  This is the sister property across the street from Glendeven in the town of Little River, just a couple miles south of Mendocino.  It is very charming with outstanding service (when they say there is a parking spot with your name on it, they mean it).  The Glendeven is on the inland side and has a reception area with wine bar, complimentary wine from 5:30-6:30 pm, and a little deli fridge with charcuterie.  We bought a delicious fennel pollen salami with Sangiovese wine from Olli Salumeria and a Petite Creme Brie from Marin French Cheese Company that we savored with Raincoast Crisps cranberry and hazelnut crackers in our room with some Peachy Canyon zinfandel. There is a chicken coop, a llama pen, gardens, etc.  The Inn is on the coastal side and also has a main room with coffee, tea, cookies and dining area.  Decor in the common spaces is dark wood and espresso leather.

After checking in, we walked down to a small beach near the Little River Inn (which staff had recommended for a nice meal).  There was driftwood, beautiful coastline scenery, and what seemed to be a sea otter playing offshore.  Our room was reasonably spacious with an angled vaulted ceiling and a fireplace stocked with Duraflame logs.  The weather after Stinson Beach was spectacular, mostly 60s and sunny along the coast.

August 19, 2013 (Monday) – An early morning light hike down to the Mendocino headlands was a delightful start to the day.  There is a narrow dirt path right from the Inn’s parking area through flora including thistle with pine trees.  We passed deer on the 10 minute walk to the coast where there are cliffs and offshore rocks and crashing waves with lots of kelp.  There are a couple wooden benches (not slats, rather a huge piece of wood carved to a bench) and some sea birds.  We walked around and returned to our room for a promptly-delivered 9 am breakfast.  It arrived in a basket containing Jenni’s cocoa, my coffee and cream, freshly squeezed organic OJ, homemade zucchini bread, Mediterranean quiche and baked local pears with anise-hyssop & berries.  This place also does farm to table dinners Wednesday-Saturday for $50++.

We hit the road and stopped at Harvest at Mendosa’s in the center of the adorable little town of Mendocino.  This is a legit mid-sized market with a good butcher (including some products from Roundman’s Smoke House in Fort Bragg).  We picked up ground beef, thick slices of bacon, rolls, oatmeal and firewood.  Patterson’s Pub had been recommended for a casual meal/drink the night before.  The Joshua Grindle Inn is a lodging alternative we had considered.

The town of Fort Bragg is larger with national chain stores and fast food.  Route 1 again becomes very windy and hilly before joining the 101 at Leggett, which is inland and about 30º warmer than the coast.  This stretch of the 101 is also fairly hilly and windy but more like a narrow highway with large trucks.  We stopped at Confusion Hill, a classic old-school roadside attraction that’s been there since 1949.  The gravity house of tilt-induced optical illusions was probably worth the $5 entrance fee.

The 101 becomes a more typical highway and enters Humboldt County.  We did not explore Eureka in depth, but it appears to be a s*#thole.  If I were looking to cast a film about cooking meth, I might exclaim “eureka” upon arrival.  About 40 miles up the coast in Orick, we pulled into the Elk Meadow Day Use Area off Davison Road where we spotted a pair of beautiful Roosevelt bulls and enjoyed some wild blackberries.

A quarter mile up the road at Elk Meadow Cabins there were perhaps 15 females.  We arrived at Del Norte State Park shortly after 6 pm and got a first come spot (#102) at the Mill Creek campground.  Thirty-five dollars is steep for camping, but the site was more private than San Simeon.  Amenities include a bear locker, fire ring, picnic table, potable water, flush toilets and coin operated showers at $0.50 for five minutes.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn we could leave scented items in the car or the bear locker.  At Yosemite, they are adamant that there can be no scented items outside the bear lockers.  I grilled some bacon cheeseburgers on the portable propane Weber and we finished the Peachy Canyon zinfandel and had a little chocolate for dessert.  It was surprisingly warm as we went to sleep before 9 pm.  Up here it rains little in the summer but 10-12” per month in winter.

August 20, 2013 (Tuesday) – The morning was cool but pleasant and it was another gorgeous day.  We cooked some healthy oatmeal type product and made coffee and tea.  Shortly after 9:30 am we drove four miles south to the Damnation Creek Trailhead at mile marker 16 on the 101.  The trail ascends briefly before dropping over 1,000 feet to a rocky beach.  It is described as steep and strenuous.  That is a mild overstatement if you are an experienced hiker, but I imagine the bottom portion could be quite tricky in wet conditions.  We saw several others, but it was not crowded.  It took us 45 minutes to descend, we spent 45 minutes at the bottom and required under an hour to ascend.  I recommend this hike as the coast is rugged and beautiful.

If you’ve enough gas in the tank to hold out for Brookings, Oregon, you’ll save $0.10-0.30/gallon.  You will also continue to enjoy a breathtakingly beautiful coastline in Southern Oregon.

I love the North coast of California.  The coastline is jaw-dropping, there are countless spit beaches with a lagoon/river on one side and the ocean on the other, it is verdant, and not crowded.  Many of the homes are rustic but quite nice looking.

“Things are tough all over, cupcake, an’ it rains on the just an’ the unjust alike…except in California.” Alan Moore, Watchmen

Saturday morning, we woke up and re-packed the car (oi – still work in progress, must organize better), and drove up to Hearst Castle.  We took a tour of the Grand Rooms and walked around pools etc. Pretty incredible place. That drive up the hillside is almost worth the exorbitant entry price ($25 a person for a little tour!!). Saw a “wild” zebra on the side of the road a few miles up when driving away (one of the remnants of the Hearst’s private zoo).

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 ::hearst castle::

We stopped at a few lookout spots along the way, enjoying the spectacular coastlines, though there was much more fog than the first time I’d traveled this road. Bummer. Stopped for lunch at Whale Watcher Café. Completely missable. Totally overpriced and disappointing food (tourist trap! But we were hungry). Want something that is 100% worth the stop? Elephant seals. All day every day folks. Those big love muffs are fun to look at (and listen to!).

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::check out the schnoz on that mister::

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::California’s beautiful coastlines – Big Sur::

A little worse for the wear, we arrived in Hillsborough where we welcomed by good friends for the night. Hillsborough has an adorable little town center that reminded me a bit of a college town. Bopping around the sidewalks, we ran into a work acquaintance of Alan’s – small world already. Had dinner at a little take out spot that had salads and sandwiches. Their home was beautiful and sleeping in that bed was heaven on earth. After camping, packing, moving, sleeping on the floor in our bedroom, oi. We were beat and that was the most comfortable place I may have ever slept.

Man I love California.

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::hooty liked the view too::