Magical Monterey, and Homeward Bound!

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January 6th 2009
Published: December 10th 2009
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Tuesday 14th October (Day 50)

Reno - Monterey

We woke up in the morning with the beautiful town of Monterey on our agenda, although we knew that it was the final destination of our amazing trip (which was a little sad). We headed out of Reno for the drive, basically heading back to Sacramento and then on towards San Francisco on the I-80 (the same freeway we had visited the big truck stop, all the way across the country in Iowa). We passed loads of small towns and made it up into the mountains before coming back out into a more desert-like area. After some time we could see what looked like a lake up ahead. We still felt like we were in the middle of the desert, so it was really bizarre. There were loads of huge ships all collected together next to a big bridge, and we wondered how the ships got into the lake. It was only later that we realised it was actually a giant estuary that ran miles inland, all the way from the ocean. The ships we could see were part of the navy and merchant reserve, known at the Mothball Fleet - more than 80 ships remain at anchor here in an area known as Suisun Bay. As we crossed the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, we noticed that the traffic coming in the opposite direction had stopped, and up ahead we could see loads of flashing lights. As we got closer we realised the road had been closed so that a huge police motorcade could travel down the freeway. There were literally hundreds of vehicles, all with their lights flashing - blocks of motorcycles, then blocks of cars, then more motorcycles, etc - the motorcade just went on and on. After a few minutes we saw some especially important-looking motorcycles (if that’s even possible) accompanied by a hearse, and we realised that it was probably a funeral for a police officer of some type. The motorcade was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen - I can’t even imagine that we have that many police officers in the whole of New Zealand. It was quite sad when we realised why they were all there. We estimated that the motorcade went for about 6 miles (nearly 10km).

We were a bit quiet in the car for a while, but perked up again when we made it further south to San Jose. Our destination was getting closer - I was particularly interested in visiting Monterey, as we had heard that the coast there was very beautiful, and most of it was a large natural marine reserve. Not only that, but it was the home of some of the most elite PGA golf courses in the world, and Vaughan was keen to see the area for this reason also. Finally we could see the coast in the distance, and we eventually made it to the coastal freeway - on our right were giant sand dunes, and then the ocean. The sand dunes were so big that the sand was coming out over the freeway (this area is known as Sand City). We already had a map, and managed to get off the freeway to take a few photos of the coast before making it into Monterey - we drove around for a couple of minutes down by the waterfront and got a bit of a handle of the town. It was fairly small and easy to negotiate, with great views from the suburban hills looking down onto the beach, fishing boats and a pier down by the water.

We checked in to our hotel and then headed back down to the waterfront, as it was starting to get dark and we were hungry. We parked the car nearby and took a few photos of the moon rising at the beach - it was pretty relaxed and nice. We could already hear the seals making noise over by the fishing boats, so we took a quick walk down by the marina. We even saw two wild (giant) sea otters swimming in the water. Heaps of families were fishing off the pier, and the sunset was fantastic. It seemed like a really laid back and beautiful town. I already wanted to tell everyone I knew about it! We made it over to the main pier where there were a few restaurants - they all wanted your business, and competed with each other by offering free samples of clam or seafood chowder outside. It was dark by now and the hot chowder tasted so good, as it was actually a little cold down by the water. We wandered around for a while before eventually picking one restaurant that didn’t seem too expensive. We had a really nice dinner there and just relaxed, looking out the windows at the ocean. After a fairly decent day of driving in the car, we were really enjoying the Monterey scenery and atmosphere already. We just wandered around the waterfront some more after dinner, and eventually decided to hit the hay for the night.

Wednesday 15th October (Day 51)


We started off the day with a free breakfast in the breakfast room of the motor inn, although there were quite a few people and not enough seats - we managed to score some fresh strawberries and cereal (and sit down to eat it), so we were happy enough. We headed out down past the waterfront and around the coast along Lighthouse Ave, stopping off for some photos at Andy Jacobson Park before heading down Cannery Row (the old Warehouse District), past the aquarium, and over to 17 Mile Drive, which led into a protected area (kind of like a National Park) when there were several PGA golf courses including Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Links plus a couple of others, as well as some very classy home. The drive was really interesting as we weaved around a small route that alternated between forest and hill views as well as amazing beach and golf course views. It had a really peaceful feel to the area, and there was quite some distance between homes/buildings so that it wasn’t overwhelming to the environment. We stopped at the Lone Cypress where we could see quite far down the West Coast, before heading over to Pebble Beach Golf Links where we went for a walk out by the 18th hole and through the club house area. It was all pretty impressive - the architecture of the houses in the area was really fascinating as well. If anyone is ever visiting California, we would both really recommend a visit Monterey to have a look around 17 Mile Drive, the town, and the coastline in general. Amazing!

After a couple of hours driving around, we decided it was time for lunch so we grabbed a cold drink at the Pebble Beach store and ate a few munchies out in the sun at a BBQ table. It was pretty relaxing. From there we headed back to Monterey (Old Town area) known as Cannery Row, where all the old seafood canning factory buildings still lie - most of them have been renovated into restaurants and a few shops. It was quite an impressive-looking area although parking was difficult. We managed to make it safely into the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which although expensive, is probably the best aquarium we have ever been to. What’s also nice about it is that it’s right on the coastline, so you are next to the wild ocean creatures that live in the protected waters surrounding the aquarium. The aquarium had some fantastic displays and live animals/mammals etc, as well as quite a few activities about the environment - it was really engaging and fascinating, and it was good to visit such a well-kept, exciting and informative attraction. The surrounding natural area just made it so much better, and we exited the aquarium really enthusiastic for the Monterey region. We wandered around Cannery Row and out along the waterfront decking to look at all the restaurants. We ended up staying for a few drinks across the street in an old English-type pub, but didn’t settle in as Vaughan was driving and it was starting to get dark. We still had to get back to Monterey itself so we quickly jumped into an outlet shoe store where we managed to find not just one but TWO pairs of shoes in Vaughan’s giant shoe size - he was stoked! We drove back to our hotel and just chilled out in our room for a while before heading out later for a quick dinner mission. We nearly ate at a Chinese place across the street, but finally decided on Jack in the Box burgers (also nearby) where we bought about 3 of everything, and just took the food back to the room where we had a mini picnic in front of the TV. Our room was quite large and had it’s own kitchen so we had a couple of drinks as well and just spread out for a relax after our busy day. Monterey really was one of the most impressive places I have ever been - we really hope to be back!

Thursday 16th October (Day 52)

Monterey to Los Angeles

Sadly it was the last real day of our holiday, as we headed out of Monterey bound for Los Angeles. We had decided to take the old coast road, rather than the freeway, so we expected a long day of driving. Along the way we saw quite a few interesting things including an orange and smoggy skyline resulting from the California wildfires burning in the area. In some spots the sun was almost totally blocked out by the smoke, and the sky was eerily dark. We saw rural fire-fighters resting and reequipping themselves on the side of the road, and in one spot they even closed the road for a few minutes as a helicopter flew in and landed right by us, with tools for the men to quickly chop down trees to create extra firebreaks. It was really action-packed! Of course, this didn’t detract from the beauty of the area, and the coastline was just as amazing as it had been north in Monterey. We stopped at a beach to see lots of huge elephant seals - they were covering the whole beach, and man, the smell was seriously bad! After getting lost a few times and stopping off for snacks at a gas station, we made it far enough south along the coast that we realised we were getting fairly close to Los Angeles, but that the freeway would be much better to take for the rest of the journey. We got locked up in a bit of evening traffic but managed to make it to our hotel (near LAX airport) as it was getting dark.

We went for a wander up the road to buy some more snacks and drinks, and had to walk under a motorway where there was a group of dodgy-looking people hanging out, but they didn’t bother us. Across the road from the hotel we managed to grab some Subway for dinner - the guy filled the subs with SO much fresh salads and he made them so well that they didn’t burst apart. I’ve never had such good Subway in my life. Vaughan wanted to go back in and tell the Manager what a good employee he had - it was pretty funny and the guy was nice to chat to. We had a fairly early night as we were flying out the next day, so we crossed the street back to our hotel and just milled around before going to bed.

Friday 17th October (Day 53)

Los Angeles to HOME!

Today we woke up after a bit of a sleep in and grabbed some breakfast. We weren’t quite sure what to do with ourselves, as we weren’t flying out until that evening and were kind of in limbo. We ended up driving for about an hour to find a decent mall (since we didn’t have a map or much information about the area), and we did a bit of shopping, with both of us buying clothes to add to our over-packed luggage. We milled around and had some lunch but were both really just waiting to go. Eventually we finished up and headed directly for the airport where we dropped off the rental car and checked in for our flight. Phew - what a huge trip. I still can’t even believe that we did it.

Lowlights - none really, although Denmark wasn’t as good as we had imagined it would be, because of the unfriendly people.

Highlights - almost everything else, especially Boston, the Cape Cod National Seashore, and especially Monterey. Oh, and seeing our friends along the way.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m spent! We had a blast and I hope you did too. This is Toni, signing off.

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