Published: June 2nd 2011May 30th 2011
A traveler sees what he sees.
A tourist sees what he has come to see.
- G.K. Chesterton
On most holiday weekends, we don’t venture out that much. This most likely has to do with Dave and his disdain for all those Americans who take advantage of a long weekend to crowd the roads, hotels and fill restaurants with their noisy children. Americans in general have very little vacation time and would be better off to take their cue from some Europeans, Aussies or Kiwis who seemingly have months off at a time. But we’ll save that rant for another time.
We threw touristic caution to the wind and climbed into the car and took off for the coast of central California, to tell tales of wine, dancing, extreme opulence, The Big Lebowski, and of course…..Bugs Bunny.
Most authors have a story to tell that starts at the beginning, contains a well-developed middle and most naturally, an end. But for the purposes of describing our latest sojourn, we begin somewhere in the middle….because it just seems to make more sense. You’ll just have to bear with us as we start with a fantastic afternoon that
really started with a minimal plan and morphed into one of days that turned out to be nothing you could have possibly planned.
Ever have one of those days? Well, that happened for us in Pismo Beach. We are always looking for places to listen to music when we travel. We had discovered that Harry’s Bar had bands playing at 3pm and 9pm. What a perfect opportunity to sit and listen to music a block from the mightly Pacific Ocean while sipping a cold beer and just hangin’.
We read that John Madden ( sports caster and ex- Oakland Raiders football coach) met his wife in this bar years ago. …so—off we went to enjoy an afternoon of music. We’d been sipping a couple of beers and listening to music for an hour or so when a group of ten people came in and found seats at a nearby table. It was a family group of sons, daughters, mothers, grandmothers brothers, aunts, nieces and the like. Shortly after they arrived the band started playing Susie Q of Creedance Clearwater Revival fame and all of them jumped up and hit the dance floor. We left over an hour later
and they were still dancing. During the band break we had a great time talking with them. The oldest in the group was 84 and three were over 75. It was absolutely fantastic to see older people active and out enjoying life. These old gals had ROCK -N- ROLL in their hearts. You could tell this was not the first time they had done this. They knew how to dance to Tom Petty, ZZ Top and others. Very cool to sit and watch folks just have a damned good time.
A note from Merry Jo—My mother loved to party and these women brought back a flood of good memories of my mother. She would not have gotten up there to dance with them but she would have sipped her Martini and done a bit of a chair dance. I had a tear in my eyes watching the fun this family was having. Mothers dancing with their son, then with their daughter, Grandma dancing with everyone. These are the moments in life that you cannot plan for when traveling but you are just glad that you are there to watch them unfold.
Pismo Beach is the self-proclaimed clam
capital of the world (insert Bugs Bunny reference here) and we had always wanted to check it out because it is used as a reference in many movies. Wikipedia provided us with a bit of Pismo Beach trivia for fans of The Big Lebowski, Bugs Bunny and Dragnet. In one episode of Dragnet, Bill Gannon looks at Joe Friday who is wondering why he wants to retire to Pismo Beach and Gannon replies in a deadpan way, “ the clams man, the clams.” Classic stuff that Dragnet.
Pismo beach was mentioned in the film The Big Lebowski, starring Jeff Bridges, while scattering Donnie's ashes over the sea, "Donny was a good bowler, and a good man. He was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors... and bowling, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of Southern California, from La Jolla to Leo Carrillo and... up to... Pismo."
For all of us fans of Bugs Bunny, you might remember in Ali Baba Bunny, Bugs Bunny and his travelling companion Daffy Duck emerge from a burrow, believing they have arrived at Pismo Beach “and all the clams we can eat.” It’s a classic quote for
Bugs Bunny fans.
We had a nice walk on the beach with our dog. She loves the beach but on this trip she lacked her usual enthusiasm. Miss Lillie is over 14 years old and has been sick recently. It almost seemed like she was trying to tell us the walk on the beach was more trouble than it was worth. She did love the drive in the car—which has always been one of her true joys in life. The Lil always loved the beach and we felt obligated to take her along one more time……
California coastal drives reveal a plethora of small quaint coastal towns. On the surface they are hard to tell apart and yet each are unique in their own way and special to those who chose to live there. Our goal was a 4-hour drive south of San Francisco to San Luis Obispo, California…..only we kept getting side tracked so it took us almost seven hours to get there.
Here’s part of a conversation we had driving down Highway 101:
MJ: Dang, I meant to look up the address of J.Lohr winery in Paso Robles so we could stop on the way
In the Hearst Castle fountain
south. (one of our favorite wines)
Dave: look it up on your new smart phone.
MJ: Ah, yeah, I could do that.
MJ: This can’t be.
Dave: What can’t be?
MJ: It says the winery is in San Jose not Paso Robles. (We had passed San Jose ten minutes ago)
Dave: Are you sure?
MJ: Well that is what it says. Darn it. I wanted to go tasting at that winery. On the wine label on the bottle I’m sure it says it is in Paso Robles.
One hour later……..
MJ & Dave at the same time----!! Look at that billboard. It says J. Lohr winery exit in three miles. (mutual confusion) Cool, let’s go.
As we are tasting some wonderful wines at J. Lohr winery we asked about the web site saying they were located in San Jose. Yes, just as you guessed…they have two locations.
Terrific wines—you should give them a try. The wine tasting was free, unlike their competitors in Napa and Sonoma. A couple of bottles managed to follow us home. Like you didn’t see that coming…….
Everyone one knows about Napa and Sonoma Valley wines. A lesser-known area of vineyards in
California is Paso Robles. Check them out if you are in the area. A nice alternative to their northern neighbors. Wine tasting will spur an appetite, so we headed into in town and lunched in a Bistro along the square. This artsy town is worth a stop.
Dave had never seen the Hearst Castle and it is in the neighborhood so we headed to San Simeon home of the world famous media mogul Randolph Hearst (he of the yellow journalism). Travel hint # 537. Do not go without a reservation. They offer six different tours and they are $24 each. The estate is several thousand acres and the castle has two pools and 165 rooms. Opulence at its finest. The sitting room that guest gathered in before dinner was 2500 square feet. Simply amazing that anyone would have an ego large enough to build this place. It was only one of five homes owned by Mr. Hearst. The tour provided insight to some family history and a couple of scandals. Nothing terribly juicy. After all, it’s run by the state.
3 miles up the road from the castle you'll find a beach full of elephant seals basking
in the sun. They are not very active but it is worth the drive up there to take a look at them.
On our way to the castle, we stopped near Cambria for brunch. This is a darling, quiet beach town that we wish we had stayed in instead of San Luis Obispo. There isn’t much of a town but you have a great view of the Pacific Ocean and for our money, this is all you really need; the mighty Pacific, stunning vistas, and great food. ‘Nuff said.
On our way back to the SF area we stopped for lunch in Big Sur taking a recommendation from our good friends Ralph and Marie to stop at a restaurant called Nepenthe that overlooks the ocean. Good food and great views. We made another stop at the Ragged Point Restaurant which is a restaurant where we sat on a bench fifteen years ago mapping out a plan for our future. All of the things we discussed all those years ago have happened so--- it is a great place for a serious conversation! We’ve come a long way these past 15 years. Wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Basking in the sun
a day at the beach
# 623: if you’re looking to travel from San Francisco south towards L.A., be reminded that part of the road has disappeared into the ocean, so the road is closed some 10 miles south of Big Sur. And the detour is hellacious over the mountains. You have been warned……
We arrived late Monday night. The crowds weren’t too bad, the traffic manageable and we were satisfied that we had seen and experienced some great stuff….once again. Just another great weekend here where Governor Moonbeam rules again and the Terminator is in disgrace. We’re cool with that, after all …..it is California.
There are more photos below