Californian sunshine, travelling down the Pacific Coast Highway


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Published: July 30th 2015
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After being very busy in San Francisco we opted for a couple of nights in the Napa Valley. If you haven't heard of it, well it's a county full of vineyards. In total there are over 400 so as you can imagine the scenery is green and lush, it's hilly and there are just way to many stops you could make along the way. On our first day in the area we travelled across to the coast to a town called Bodega which is where Hitchcock filmed The Birds. Most of the buildings that were in the film have burned down and only the schoolhouse remains But as I haven't seen the film I can't tell you whether any of the scenery or anything is similar! Onwards and we followed the sea upto a town called Jenner which was just in time for a coffee stop, we pulled over and as there was only one cafe we went in. It was run by a group of hippies, lots of long hair and flowers in fact even one of the dogs had all kinds of flowers, cloths and ribbons around it neck as well as some pyjama bottoms on?? Coffee was good and while we sat watching the ocean a chap started playing guitar and singing which was great, nice way to spend an hour. Back in the car and we followed the Russian River inland to Santa Rosa and then onto Calistoga where we went to one of the many vineyards. unfortunately the Gondola which should have taken us up the hill to the tasting rooms was out of action so we had to be bussed up which was ok. The views were lovely as we sat on the terrace with a glass of vino collapso. We did five tastings in all and it was a lovely way to spend the end of the afternoon, a meal in a Mexican restaurant followed. Off we go again and this time it's Napa, a very nice town, every other shop is selling wine and doing tastings. you can get on a wine train here and there are some very beautiful old buildings and hotels. In the middle of town is a memorial to 9/11, it's made out of the girders from the twin towers and has everybody's name etched on the glass. If there is such a thing as a beautiful memorial, this is one of them. Back to base and make some plans for the next few days.

Well we have begun out journey down the Pacific Coastal Highway back to LA and although you could drive it straight in 7 hours we are taking our time and doing lots of stops on route. Our stop for two nights is the town of Carmel. It's where Clint Eastwood was mayor for two years. He has a restaurant in town called Hogs Breath and has a ranch about a mile out where he has sheep. Doris Day also lives here, she is 92 and is doggy mad. She also has a hotel/restaurant in town which is dog friendly, apparently you would have to be a dog lover to go in as they are everywhere. In fact the whole town of Carmel has loads of dogs. We felt as though we should have hired one to be able to walk down the beach! It's a lovely town, there are so many bars and restaurants, a lovely long beach to walk along which we did yesterday and saw the Dolphins in the bay fishing. Carmel has some funny quirky rules like there are no street addresses. Apparently residents didn't want their little town to become citified so they rejected the house to house postal delivery and have a central one. Many of the houses just have names like Hansel or Sea Urchin and you can't change them as it's bad luck. Another funny little it that if you want to wear heels more than two inches high then you must obtain a permit from City Hall. The permits are free and the law has been in practice since the 1920's to defend the city from lawsuits resulting in high heel wearers tripping over irregular pavements. It is said that the local police do not cite anyone for not having obtained a permit, strange but true. One more fact to bore you with, the selling and eating of ice cream on the street was only made legal here by the mayor Clint Eastwood in 1986! It's an upmarket, expensive area and some of the houses are just beautiful, especially the ones overlooking the ocean but alas too pricey to buy one as they start off at a cool 10 million dollars!! Enjoyed our stay here, it's a cool place to visit.

Before heading on down the Pacific Highway we did the 17 mile drive between Carmel and Monterey Bay. It costs $10 to drive round and for most of it you are driving in forest area, then all at once you see the Pacific and some very picturesque points to stop and take photos, one of which was The Lone Cypress which is one of California's most enduring landmarks. The tree has stood on it's perch above the Pacific Ocean for more than 250 years and although it is now propped up and protected by a little wall etc it is iconic and is the symbol of the Pebble Beach Company. The highlight of this route was the stop at Pebble Beach Golf Club. For any non golfers like me it's one of the most famous courses in the world as it has hosted the Open Championship several times and will again in 2019. It's a beautiful course, the club house is lovely and we went over to the 18th hole and took photos, saw the many crystal glass trophies, photos etc but the views over the bay are just to die for. Moving on from here and we took highway 1 South, along the route was Big Sur, famous for it's many hiking routes, camp sites together with huge Redwood Trees. We pulled in at several points to take photos like Bixby Creek Bridge which stands at 260 feet high and 700 feet long and is one of the worlds highest single span concrete bridges, I know you are all so impressed I know all this useless information!!! A bit further along the road was Little Sur River and a stop at Nepenthe to visit the restaurant that basically sits on the Pacific Ocean. Nepenthe Restaurant is a very large log cabin and has the most wonderful views looking out over the Pacific and down across the bays and mountains, an idyllic place with yummy food and wines to match. The property was owned in 1944 by Orson Wells who bought it for his wife Rita Hayworth, they only had in for three years before it was sold and turned into what it is today. Its a dream drive and anyone that even remotely likes driving should do this route, it's world renowned for being beautiful and it so does exactly what it describes, it delivers wow moments, easy driving and a sense of being at one with the world. We spotted Grey whales, elephant seals, sea otters, dolphins and numerous bird life and deer all in one day. California is way surpassing our expectations, it has everything, mountains, oceans, wildlife, wine and good restaurants, we are in a little place called heaven. On the wildlife front I have to add that the elephant seals are enormous, very smelly and so god dam ugly, but great to see. Whilst looking at them a snake has just crossed the road, aarrrggghhhh!!!

Today we have been to Hearst Castle which sits high on a hilltop overlooking the bay of San Simeon. The castle was built by William Randolph Hearst together with his architect who was a lady called Julia Morgan. Mr Hearst made his vast fortune by owning newspapers, magazines and movie companies. He basically ran the media in America, he even ran a presidential campaign at one point. He had a love and passion for Europe and it's architecture which is obvious when you see the castle also known as the ranch and he spent nearly thirty years of his life constructing it. It's opulent, fantastic, extravagant beyond anything you could imagine, it's just oozes exquisite antiques gathered from all around the world and lavish is an understatement. It has been built in a Mediterranean style mainly a Spanish influence and has the main house, guest houses, gardens pools and terraces. The gardens are full of flowers and so pretty. In it's heyday it played host to guests such as Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Marlene Deitrich and so many others, all famous film and sports stars. We watched a bit of a home movie with everyone dressed in their furs and jewels. It must have been quite something in it's time to see all these famous people milling around in such splendour. I found myself standing on a spot thinking about all those stars of yesterday and how very grand it must have all been. There are different tours to choose from and we went for the grand room tour which included the Refectory where he seated his guests for dinner, the theatre, morning rooms etc etc. the swimming pools both inside and out are something else. He even had a zoo on the hill. It was a very interesting visit and without doubt a good stop off.

Well onto Santa Barbara for a couple of nights. We are staying in the hotel Santa Barbara which is right in the middle of downtown and the beach. It a lovely town with lots of Spanish influences in it buildings. We paraded up and down the main boulevard, checked out some of the many shops and wandered through the quaint old twisty hidden streets where all the little wine tasting shops seem to hide. After walking our socks off we landed in a Mexican bar and ate, fajitas, tortillas and advocado and quesadillas, washed down with sangria and beer on happy hour. What a way to idle a day away. Up early and out to the beach which is a nice long stretch lined with palm trees, it's where the pretty people play volley ball in a bikini?? We walked down the pier and sat and watched the guys all catching loads of fish, mainly mackerel but a bat ray was hauled in and a sea lion kept on trying to pinch the fish that got thrown back for being too small. Loads of people out kayaking, paddle boarding or just jumping the waves and trying to catch an odd one. It is all very chilled out and relaxed and there seems to be quite a lot of backpackers here so there is a bit of a hippy vibe going on. Later we went to the court house which is just a fabulous building, although it looks very old it was only completed in the 1920's and you can climb up the stairs to the top of the clock tower and check out the views right across the town to the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Very pretty. Inside the building the ceilings and the paintings on the walls depicting the history of California are stunning, it's a must do if you come to the old part of town and it's free, yippee!! Farmers market is on with all locally grown organic produce, the fruit and vegetables looked so good I had to buy a basket of strawberries for our breakfast tomorrow. They smell divine and taste lush, mmmmm.

Moving day again today, we are off to LA but first we called in at the mission in Santa Barbara, it is a very old mission and dates back to the 1700's. Unfortunately due to a couple of very big earthquakes over the years it has had to be rebuilt but the building and the church inside are beautiful. Many of the paintings and sculptures in the church are Mexican and were brought to America by the missionaries as a way of educating the Indians as obviously they spoke their own language. Lots of Spanish influences as you would expect and it is still run now as a Parish and has 11 Franciscan Monks who live there. Our guide was a little vague which made the tour a bit repetitive however it was a lovely building and nice to see it and learn about some of it's history.

On the road and we are staying at Malibu which is just a 10 minute drive from Santa Monica, back soon with LA update...................


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