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October 15th 2015
Published: January 2nd 2016
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North on the PCH from Santa Barbara to Little River

Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay to San Simeon to Ragged Point, Lucia, Nepenthe Big Sur to Carmel, Monterey, Mill Valley, San Francisco, Sausalito, Muir Woods, Bodega Bay, Elk and Little River, CA.

10/15/15 Day 8 Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Hearst Castle, Cambria, San Simeon

Early this morning we enjoyed some fresh cappuccino provided by our hostess on the little terrace at our Santa Barbara Airbnb, accompanied by the delicious rugelach we bought the night before at Trader Joe’s. The morning was cool after last night's much needed rain so we packed up and drove the Alameda Padre Sierra or APS. The APS or “The Riviera” (as it is locally known due to its resemblance to slopes along the Mediterranean coasts of France and Italy) separates the Upper and Lower Riviera. The homes in the Upper Riviera have the best ocean views and generally have larger homes however I would take any home perched on these hills overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific if I could afford it. We left the land of the privileged and drove back down to the edge of town to finally tour the Santa Barbara Mission, the 10th of the missions established by the Spanish Franciscans. Padre Junipero Serra, founder of the first nine missions, died just one month before the Santa Barbara Mission was founded in 1786. According to the local history “Santa Barbara, like San Diego and Monterey, was listed on the Spanish maps of California long before the arrival of the Franciscans.” A sign on the wall of the mission states: “In 1782 the Spanish government established their claim to the land for the King of Spain and offered protection to the missionaries.”

The original purpose of this Mission was the Christianization of the Chumash Indians. The Franciscans accomplished this through economic incentives and just plain curiosity of the Indians. We purchased tickets for a nominal fee to walk through the grounds and the many buildings on a self-guided tour of this “living Franciscan Mission”. Like the mission in San Juan Capistrano, there were historical artifacts and rooms that were left as they would have been found in the 1700s but this museum was more in-depth in its representation of the past. The church's architecture design was taken from The Ten Books of Architecture, written by the Roman architect Vitruvius around 27 B.C. The cemetery dates from 1739 to the present and contains the burial sites of both early Santa Barbara settlers as well as Native Americans. There are skull carvings placed over the church doors to indicate a cemetery location. The original stone lavanderia located in the front of the mission near the fountain (that was still pumping water) was used by the Native Americans for washing.

There was still so much to see in Santa Barbara, I now wished we had chosen to stay another night here as well as a night in San Luis Obispo. Next time. Before leaving Santa Barbara in the gloomy drizzle we drove through the historic town. In 1972 the town Planning Commission and City Council voted that the present building heights be maintained or reduced. This well thought out decision is one of the main reasons that Santa Barbara is so attractive. I only wish this idea was implemented in my own town of Sarasota, FL.

On our way out of town we drove past the Santa Barbara City Hall. The current Spanish Mission Revival building was built in 1924 after tearing down the original because it was damaged in an earthquake and the space was no longer suitable to house the town council.

We headed north out of Santa Barbara driving through the winding and often narrow roads of Hope Ranch where vistas and homes were a constant head-turner. Most homes were constructed to blend in with the oak woodland and chaparral giving this area a great deal of tree canopy and unique appearance which makes this the perfect place for the We many horse paths and horse ranches in this area.

We left Santa Barbara late in the morning and arrived in San Luis Obispo just in time for lunch. I had read several reviews about the Big Sky Cafe on Broad Street and of course needed to confirm it was as good as was reported. It was. This cafe offers “fresh market cuisine” and 20 local wines by the glass. We started with moist cornbread muffins and I heartily recommend the Chilled Sesame Ginger Noodles with Shrimp. My husband had Buttermilk Fried Chicken Salad and almost licked the plate clean.

After lunch we walked around Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the 5th mission founded by Father Junipero Serra. Again, the local Chumash Indian tribe helped to construct the new Mission, this time in 1772. Spanish soldiers had called this area “the valley of the bears”. Remembering this, Father Serra sent out a hunting expedition to feed his hungry flock, further securing the friendship of the Chumash. However, there were other Indian tribes not happy to have the European settlers here so they burned down the newly constructed buildings. New construction was started using adobe and tile structures, more impervious to fire. nearly a century later the Mission became the first courthouse and jail for San Luis Obispo County. Today the Mission stands in the center of the town as an historical reminder of the many people who formed this town.

From San Luis Obispo we picked up Highway 1, (Highway 1, PCH and Cabrillo Highway are all same road) and drove north to Morro Rock, a State Historic Landmark in Morro Bay our next stop, and it was a brief one. The rock and scenery is an iconic feature along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). It is a bird sanctuary, home to nesting Peregrine Falcons and is therefore off limits to climbers. Morro Rock was named by ‘El Morro’ (Spanish for crown shaped hill) by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo. The rock is actually the remaining peak of one of nine volcanoes off the California coast and is one of the most photographed sites on the PCH (reason enough for me to go). Morro Bay is an historic fishing village but is now full of shops, motels, and restaurants bearing little resemblance to the working village it once was. I considered this stop a quick “photo op” and since it was foggy and drizzling and there were no shops of interest, I did just that. I quickly photographed the site then headed north to Cambria to scope out restaurants for tonight’s meal.

I had made a reservation two months ago for a 4PM tour of Hearst Castle, the last tour of the day. Reservations were strongly recommended and even on a middle of the week at the late day tour there were still a good number of visitors waiting for tickets. We boarded the bus (no cars are allowed up to the castle) and listened to a narrative discussion of the history of Hearst Castle by none other than Alex Trebek of Jeopardy fame. On the drive up to the castle Alex informed us about Hearst’s cattle ranch surrounding the mansion and the creation of the “castle” by architect Julia Morgan for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst between 1917 and 1947. Hearst named the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”) but most often referred to it as “the ranch”. I am not sure where the term castle comes from but it refers to the group of mansions built on the top of his hill. Hearst built his “castle” on 250,000 acres with 14 miles of coastline inherited from his mother Phoebe Hearst in 1919. Hearst’s intention was to create a mystery as one approached the castle over the 5 miles of switchbacks from San Simeon below, only to get glimpses of the castle along the way until it was fully revealed at the top. I was impressed by Hearst’s choice of a female architect to design his treasure. Surely Julia earned every penny for her work with Hearst as he often changed his mind about the size of a room because of a recent acquisition that would need to be installed causing an architectural and or design change.

Our tour was of the downstairs of the Grand House or Casa Grande. The Grand House, 68,500 square feet in size, was comprised of 38 bedrooms, 30 fireplaces, 42 bathrooms and 14 sitting rooms, and this does not include the large great room, the grand dining room, the theater and “support rooms” such as the kitchens and accommodations for staff. Enough to entertain his closest friends such as long time lover and actress Marion Davies, as well as many others in the entertainment industry including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gretta Garbo, Barbara Stannic, Louis B. Mayer. Other notables include Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge, NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker, Hedda Hopper, Charles Lindbergh and George Bernard Shaw. His guests were invited to spend many days at the castle and could have breakfast informally in the dining room as they wished but Hearst insisted that his guests get outside to enjoy the air and exercise during the day and to return for dinner punctually. He did not set the table with elaborate tableware and china and usually served meat from his ranch alongside mustard and ketchup bottles (on the dining room table).

During your stay as a guest here you would likely be informed there was a showing of a premier of a movie or a movie starring one of the guests. All would be invited to his theater for the remainder of the evening. Interestingly Hearst Castle was the inspiration for the “Xanadu” mansion in Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane, a fictionalization of Hearst’s career.

The beautiful outdoor “Neptune” swimming pool was empty, not because of the water shortage, but because they were restoring the pool. It was still quite a site to see surrounded by the “Neptune statues” with the mansions above and the ocean far below. The indoor Roman Pool with its own white statues startling against the gold and blue mosaic tiles was filled with water allowing reflections of the (real) gold and midnight blue tiles in the water below. As we were leaving the gardens, and the mansions we passed the outdoor tennis courts and horse trails, there was little that Hearst did not provide for his guests.

We rode the Hearst Castle bus back down to reality, then checked into our motel “Sands By The Sea” overlooking the water. This motel was clean and surprisingly modern, a good bargain on our long exploration of the California coast. We changed for dinner and drove 10 miles south to the sweet little town of Cambria where we had looked at a few of the recommended restaurants a few hours before. We had settled on Linn’s Restaurant before our Hearst Castle tour (because my husband couldn’t resist the pastry display at the entrance) making reservations so we wouldn’t miss out! Linn’s started out as a farm fruit stand, morphed into a bakery and then a restaurant. I can see why. The food was generous in portion and of course I had to try the Hearst burger, from beef raised on the Hearst ranch. We stuffed ourselves with local wine and burgers then we “had” to try their famous ollalieberry pie with whipped cream. Ollalieberries are a cross between a loganberry and the youngberry (which is a cross between the blackberry and the raspberry or dewberry hmmmm). It was so good we decided to get a big bottle of ollalieberry jam to bring to Dave’s cousin in Santa Rosa.

By 8:30PM we were headed back to our motel room. I couldn't go to sleep that early so I walked to the beach were the hotels had already lit their three bonfire pits. I found a chair and sat (with my jacket on) enjoying the warmth of the fire, the smell and sound of the ocean and the many stars that dazzled the sky. It was a perfect end to a long day of exploration.

10/16/15 Day 9 San Simeon, Big Sur

We woke early in the morning to heavy fog and mist. It was still early when we headed over to our breakfast at the Cavalier Restaurant (included in our room price) hoping that by the time we were finished the fog would have lifted. Since the fog had not yet lifted after breakfast, we packed the car and drove a few mile south to Moonstone Beach where I searched for the elusive moonstone as well as jasper stones and agates. Very few large stones remain but I managed to find a few tiny moonstones as well as numerous colorful stones to weigh down my carry-on bag.

The fog lifted soon after so we drove back north to San Simeon at the base of Hearst Castle to see the Hearst Ranch Conservation Easements along the Pacific. The sign there said: “Old San Simeon Village is an integrated part of the Hearst Working Cattle Ranch”. I never saw anything that resembled an “old village”, it looked like one massive Hearst enterprise. I will say that Hearst Ranch is maintaining native grasses and plant diversity to enhance and improve the landscape, water quality, wildlife habitat and of course best practices in grazing their beef cattle on their 80,000 acre ranch. A long pier juts out into the ocean from their public accessed beach. A dichotomy on the Hearst Ranch are the beautiful (non-native and relatively invasive) rainbow eucalyptus trees found near the beach on this ranch, very near Sebastian’s Store and Cafe and the Hearst Ranch Winery. From the pasture by Sebastian’s there is a fabulous view of Hearst Castle in all its splendor on top of the hill. We had better plans for lunch later on Big Sur, plus we had just eaten albeit a light breakfast so we skipped the food and wine offerings at Sebastian’s to head north.

Next stop: Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery mile marker SLO 62.4. Located approximately 4 miles north of Hearst Castle on Highway 1 (also the Pacific Coast Highway, PCH, and Cabrillo Highway) you will find a small parking lot on the left and you when you get out of your car you will be rewarded with the barking of hundreds of seals. In 1990 only two dozen elephant seals were found residing in this cove, the following spring 400 more seals arrived. This year the count should be more than 17,000 when the adults arrive later in November! October is reportedly a good time to view the seals and we were pleased to see the beach literally covered with barking “tubes of toothpaste”. While we were there we only saw the juveniles in varying stages of maturity. Those with more pronounced proboscises were practicing sparring with each other to be ready when the time comes to fight for their mates.

A fenced-in boardwalk for viewing is available free of charge to safely photograph and observe the seals. From the boardwalk you are still quite close to the beach habitat where the seals reside and the slight elevation provides a great view. Docents, representing the Friends of the Elephant Seal, are usually available with information and fliers to answer any questions you might have about the seals and their habitat. We learned that this seal rookery is an ideal location for recently weaned pups to learn how to swim. This sheltered cove has wide sandy beaches and shallow rocky areas that break dangerous waves as they come in from the ocean. The females will return to give birth between December and February. That should be a raucous, noisy event!

You can see Point Piedras Blancas Lighthouse from the at the northern reach of the cove. We had hoped to tour the lighthouse but were told it was not open on the day we were there, however as we stopped to photograph the lighthouse from the road, a small caravan of cars went through the gated drive and proceeded up the long road to the lighthouse. I was tempted to push through but decided it just wasn’t worth it.

Instead, equipped with two excellent maps I had saved from my 1997 solo Big Sur drive, we proceeded north beginning our two day exploration of Big Sur where the drama of the California coast really begins! You could easily drive Big Sur in a couple of hours but if you have the time, take a few days to truly explore and enjoy this amazing coastal road. At first glance Big Sur seemed to rise out of the morning mist, sometimes in the sun, sometimes fully engulfed in the fog. The changing weather added to magic and intrigue to the rugged beauty of this coast. I planned lunch at Ragged Point Inn but since it was only twenty minutes north of San Simeon I wanted to take my time, stopping frequently to photograph the beauty of the curving coastline with the power and majesty of the mountains that meet the sea. We arrived at the beautiful Ragged Point Inn around noon, just in time for lunch. Dave and I sat on the terrace and shared delicious fish tacos with a cajun aoli while we watched butterflies and hummingbirds dance among the flowers below. After lunch we walked around the inn’s paths positioned to enjoy the incredible views of Big Sur from the inn’s property. Before we left I made sure to stop in the resort’s gift shop where I purchased a lovely glass hummingbird for our Christmas tree. We could have spent several hours relaxing on the grounds of this beautiful resort, once part of the huge Hearst Ranch, but we were pulled north with many more vistas to see and appreciate before Lucia, our destination for the night.

With two excellent old maps and one new map, and prior experience in Big Sur, I still missed the turn for the Salmon Creek Waterfall I had found carefully marked on my old maps and vaguely indicated on the new map. There was a trail marked by the side of the road but with both of us recovering from surgeries we were not in hiking mode for this trip. I did remember an easily accessible view of a waterfall by the side of the road but it remained elusive to us. Still, I knew there were many more sites and stops worth exploring in Big Sur.

I had stopped years ago at Jade Cove, marked only on two of my maps, and was determined to walk the beach looking for more of the smooth black jade stones. The stones are hard to find because there are many black stones on the beach but none as smooth as the California jade. I later found out that black is not the only color of the California jade, (technically jadeite, often called “The Stone of Heaven” and more commonly found in green!) Apparently most of the California jade is harvested from the rivers, not from the ocean, but years ago my daughter showed me the “black jade” she had found up and down the mountainous coast of California. She was the one who had spurred me on in this quest. Continuing north on route 1 as it snakes its way between mountain and sea, I pulled off many times resolutely photographing as many turns as I could in order to enjoy and share the views after I returned home.

It was late afternoon when we reached Lucia Lodge, our destination for the night. Lucia Lodge is not cheap. You pay a hefty price for the view, not for the cottage room, which is fine but basic. The reason we are there is for the view and the whole Big Sur experience where I think we succeed. Perched overlooking Big Sur it is a unique grouping of cottages with incomparable views of the coastline and mountains in Big Sur. Dave was quite tired and needed a rest so we checked into room #1, our cottage facing the ocean. I made reservations in June for our visit to Lucia Lodge in October and the two cottages with the best views had been already booked. But this room suited us just fine, especially since we spent most of our time either enjoying the view outside or dining in the main house (with great views) or asleep in the room.

While Dave took his nap, I spent a few hours hiking and photographing the coastline in the constantly changing light. I was amazed at how often the mood would change with every nuanced cloud or passing tidal fog that gave way to bright sunlight. As afternoon changed to evening I could feel the temperature drop causing me to frequently add more layers to my already layered outfit.

At dusk we walked to the main lodge, located on Highway 1, for our evening meal. Lucia Lodge is open to the public for lunch and dinner but only serves breakfast to those who stay at the lodge. Even though the resort was sold out, the dining room was fairly empty with only two other diners when we entered. Lucky for us a corner table with incredible views was available. The windows were open affording an unobstructed view of Big Sur and with the windows open we could hear, but not see, the seals who swam below us in the crashing surf. But even with our layers of clothing it was so chilly we had to close the windows to be able to comfortably enjoy our meal. Dave chose “tri-tip" beef salad and while I had salmon on an Asian salad with avocado, almonds, cabbage and cucumbers with too much wasabi sesame dressing. The meals were just average but then we came for the view and the food was an aside so no complaints from me.

The sun was setting at 7:45 giving us plenty of time to enjoy the view with our meal. By the time we walked up the hill back to our cottage the temperature had dropped considerably. We both had our layers tightly zipped and wrapped because after dark with ocean breezes these Florida wimps were fighting off the cold. We walked with flashlights in hand on the now less traveled Highway 1 because the road is quite narrow and we were in dark clothing. I was glad that we had our flashlights with us to help us see where we were going and it also served to warn oncoming traffic of our whereabouts.

10/17/15 Day 10 Big Sur, Carmel, Pebble Beach, Monterey

There is nothing like the mountains and the ocean to induce sleep. We both slept comfortably through the night. At 7AM we were socked in with fog so we dragged our feet as long as we could before Dave’s craving for coffee and food overtook reason. Layered up for the brisk morning air we walked up the road to the lodge for breakfast. Again, not many people were in the dining room so we were able to sit in our corner window. I was surprised this corner was available since I thought it to be the best view in the dining room. But I was not about to question that. The continental breakfast was a self serve buffet of hard boiled eggs, fruit, toast or English muffins, yogurts, juice and coffee. Basic fare but the misty mountain ocean view was spectacular!

I was glad that Dave was finally relaxed enough to linger a bit at this resort to take in the experience of Big Sur. With breakfast and coffee and a good night’s sleep behind him he and I hiked a little around Lucia Lodge. We had hoped to spot whales or dolphins but the only thing we were able to see were a few fishing boats out in the distance. The sun began to break through between 9:30 and 10AM sparkling on the ocean below and warming us up as we sat on the bench high above. There were still more sites to take in before lunch (always thinking of food) so we packed up the car and (I reluctantly) left for our next destination on this Big Sur Tour.

Sadly, Dave’s head injury did not allow him to truly enjoy his California experience. I am sure he would have rather been behind the wheel driving the 85 miles of Big Sur’s tight turns and stunning scenery but I didn’t want him behind the wheel because 1. he recently had brain surgery! 2. he wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty while he was driving and 3. I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the scenery while he was driving (I would be white-knuckled praying we wouldn’t be hit or hit another car or cyclist).

Speaking of cyclists, there are an abundance of these crazy people riding along the highway in areas where there frequently are no shoulder areas forcing the cyclist into the highway even on tight switchback turns! And you can never tell when you round a turn if you are going to be forced to move over for a cyclist. Several drivers have reported incidents of close calls when driving Big Sur. In March of this year a small car driving near Lucia crashed into a sign, struck dirt and then plunged over the side of the cliff to the beach 300 feet below. One motorist reported trying to get around a bicycle that suddenly appeared in his lane around the bend of a tight turn while at the same time a truck was in the opposite lane. In this case no one was injured but it was a close call. In August of this year a debate was held regarding the banning of bicyclists on Highway 1 until there is a safe lane devoted to bicycles. I can’t imagine the road closures and construction required to build these “safe lanes” but I do know that as much fun the cyclists have riding Highway 1, the danger they impose to themselves and other vehicles is very real.

Lucia is approximately at the half way point of Big Sur, another reason to stay here if you plan a two day visit. I had already circled intended Big Sur destinations on my maps (be sure to have hard copies of maps because your GPS and cell coverage is almost nonexistent.) Better rested, today Dave was up for more stops than yesterday but I didn’t want to push it. McWay Waterfall was our first stop at Julia Pfeiffer Beach, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (not to be confused with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park that is 12 miles north). There is a $10 fee to enter the park (good to know: once a fee is paid for a California State Park it is good for any other park in the same day) but the parking lot was already full at 10:30AM on Saturday so we, like most people, parked along the highway. It is pretty safe to park in the road but there are only a few shoulder pull-offs and if your tire crosses the line between highway and shoulder you will get a hefty fine if you are caught. Fortunately there was one space remaining where we were able to “safely” park. This is a nice place to get out and hike either Mc Way Canyon, or the coastal path. If you do park inside the park, there is a tunnel under the road giving safe access and avoiding the traffic on the road. There are also bathroom facilities that are free just inside the park.

Dave and I hiked the coastal path easily accessed down some stairs to the winding Waterfall Trail. There must have been some overzealous hikers or big storm washouts since 1997 because now there are wire and wooden fences lining the walkway and newly built up cliff supports that were not there before. Still you have good views on the paths of the ocean and waterfall. We walked, stopping repeatedly for photo ops, until we reached the terrace of Waterfall House, the former residence of Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. Helen and her husband Lathrop became friends with Julia Pfeiffer Burns who was the daughter of a Big Sur pioneer family and farmed this land. In 1962 Mrs Brown gave her ranch to the state of California to use as a state park dedicated to the memory of Julia Pfeiffer Burns. Plaques and signs displaying this history were placed alongside the terrace. The clouds lifted and the sunlight was brilliant on our walk back. With the sun backlighting the pampas grass that grows at the cliff’s edge it out to be perfect lighting to set the golden glowing grass against the deep blue-green ocean below but not so perfect looking into the sun with Mc Way Waterfall cast in shadow but I didn’t have the whole day to stay with the changing light.

We left the park and headed north but with three maps highlighting different locations I was soon so confused that I simply relied on road signs, that were equally confusing. Since Dave was not really interested in hiking I only stopped the car for photos and to stretch my legs passing on the Partington Canyon Trail to the sea at Partington Cove. Nepenthe is only 30 minutes north of Lucia which I why we lingered so long after our early breakfast to have time and room for another meal (with a view)! There are cheaper places to eat at Big Sur but not with a great view. Nepenthe Restaurant was our destination for dining with a view. Some will say, and I would agree, that it is a tourist trap, but it is a tourist trap with very good food (for a price) but you only do this once…if twice pack a picnic lunch. It was a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon, and did I mention this was a touristy place, and Saturday? We had to wait half and hour for a table with a view, which on the whole was not too bad but for my impatient husband it seemed outrageous. But then he was hungry. I was glad for the wait because despite my bad knee and the numerous stairs to get up to the restaurant, I spent the half hour down in the gift shop perusing the beautiful jewelry and craft options offered for sale.

True to her promise the hostess seated us on the porch with a wonderful (I think best) view possible of Big Sur. The service is not fast, but then why would you want it to be? You came for the view didn’t you? Shopping always works up an appetite so when the menus arrived we were ready to order. I ordered an amazing caprese salad and Dave had Manhattan clam chowder and a salad but we split a large decadent chocolate cake that I “somehow” forced down with my iced cafe au lait. The warm sun shone brightly and after that lunch I was tempted to find a place to take a nap but we had miles to go before I slept so we paid for our check and headed north.

We passed on Andrew Molera State Park because it was a 20 - 30 minute flat walk (1 mile) on Creamery Meadow Trail (loop) to the beach, which usually would not have been a problem but Destination Dave had Pebble Beach on his mind and all else would not satisfy. Plus there was a $10 park fee, you had to cross a small “river” and there were reports of poison oak along the trail. So our next actual stop was the well named Hurricane Point to get a good view of Bixby Bridge a bit north on Highway 1. This point is windy because it is so exposed but it allows for great views up and down the coast. We also passed on Garrapata State Park that has two miles of beach front where sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters are frequently seen but then Dave said we’ll see them in Monterey, let’s keep moving. So we did.

I insisted on getting out to stretch my legs on this northern most stop on Big Sur so Dave reluctantly agreed paying the $10 entry fee to Point Lobos State Park. It was very busy, with many busses and cars and little parking options. Point Lobos is very close to Monterey so I should have thought this through that on a Saturday afternoon in a location much more populated than I am used to, there would be crowds. We drove around looking for spots to park with little success until we finally found a place with open views of the ocean and a place to park the car. I will say Dave was right on this one, it could have been a pass.

We were back on the Mission trail once more, this time in Carmel. Mission Carmel is an active Catholic parish but charges a fee to tour the mission. It was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at this National Historic Landmark, one of California’s most important heritage sites. There is a small museum in the forecourt of the Basilica with interpretive displays depicting the history of this museum. A cell where Saint Junipero Serra lived and later died is carefully preserved inside the Mission. Of all the nine Missions Father Serra worked and lived in, he called this Mission his home. Four days after Pope Francis proclaimed Junipero Serra a saint, a few Native Americans, upset that Serra should be so honored, vandalized many non-Indian graves as well as statues of Father Serra. The Native Americans who did this said they were protesting the fact that Father Serra shared responsibility for the suppression of their culture and the deaths of many Native Americans in California under Spanish rule and therefore should not be canonized.

The California Missions were created by the Catholic Church in order to control the coast so that ships from Spain would remain safe as well as bring the Native Americans to the Catholic faith. Father Serra converted about 5,000 Native Americans before his death in 1784. “Franciscans saw the Indians as children of God who deserved the opportunity for salvation, and would make good Christians. Converted Indians were segregated from Indians who had not yet embraced Christianity, lest there be a relapse.” Father Serra was buried at his headquarters here at Mission Carmel, just outside of Monterey.

It was getting late so we left to check into our Victorian Monterey Airbnb to change for our dinner at The Bench at Pebble Beach. We only had a 10-15 minute drive from where we stayed to reach our 6:30PM reservation at The Bench, but since it was getting dark and Dave wanted to spend more time at Pebble Beach than the 17 Mile Drive approach, we went directly to The Bench, saving 17 Mile Drive for the next day. It was a beautiful, albeit chilly evening so I am glad I had reservations inside rather than on the terrace. Even with the fire pits, this Florida couple would not have been comfortable outdoors. Our table was right by the window, as requested, we a wonderful view of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links. I know that Dave was thrilled to be there but I wished he would have been able to play a round of golf, but still, he was finally happy. I was happy (and relieved) that our dinner and our waiter, Jason, were both excellent. We shared a house special appetizer, a minted tomato falafel, a side of roasted beets in horseradish sauce and a large
Cannery Row, MontereyCannery Row, MontereyCannery Row, Monterey

Just beyond is the Monterey Aquarium.
mushroom flatbread pizza. Because Jason recommended a great pinot grigio and guided us expertly through the dinner offerings, we listened to his advice about dessert and were glad we did. We finished the meal with a memorable caramel creme chocolate dessert that definitely did not disappoint. After that meal (and many previous meals) I felt we should walk home but of course, we didn’t.

10/18/15 Day 11 Monterey, Carmel, Half Moon Bay, Montara, Mill Valley

We woke the next morning in our well appointed Victorian Airbnb only to find we had no electricity. Anywhere. We knocked on our host Joy’s door and she had no idea what was going on but could tell that there was no power on her street. Hungry and anxious for coffee, we packed up and drove into Monterey to find that they too were without power. A transformer had blown in Santa Cruz and there was talk that over 55,000 people would be without power for a long time.

We felt like there was “no room in the inn” when we went from hotel to restaurants that were either closed or in the case of a hotel, could only take care of the people who were staying with them. We had parked next to one little coffee shop in an alley who offered the coffee he brewed on his emergency back up pot but could offer no hot food, so we had our coffee, ate a banana and shared a muffin before walking down Cannery Row to the Monterey Aquarium. As I suspected the aquarium did have their own power but what I didn’t know is they also had a restaurant (of sorts).

Part of the benefit of the Airbnb was that two tickets to the Monterey Aquarium were included in the cost of the room. What I didn’t factor in was that on a Sunday there would be large groups of children at the aquarium, even at ten in the morning. Over the summer Dave and I had watched the Big Blue Live special on PBS that was filmed at the aquarium and in Monterey Bay (if you haven’t see it, it was wonderful.) Dave had been excited to see all this in person but sadly the noise from all the children inside the aquarium gave him such a headache that he was unable to enjoy the visit. I had been here before and couldn’t wait to see it again but tried not to spend more time than was necessary. We didn’t stay as long as I would have liked but long enough to see the sea otters get fed, spend some time at the Kelp Forest exhibit, watch the beautiful dancing jelly fish and see the amazing Open Sea galleries with a school of 3000 sardines that swim in fascinating swarms against the endless current in the toroidal tank. I was mesmerized. We walked outside on the terrace facing the ocean to see if we could spot any whales or otters. We did see a large number of kayakers and boaters also looking for sitings. There was at least one otter who popped up on his back with food in hand close to the kayakers.

We left the aquarium and walked Cannery Row back to our car to experience the famous 17 Mile Drive, said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world, through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. 17 Mile drive winds through the Del Monte Forest and along the ocean passing three golf courses, The Links, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach as well as numerous mansions and of course the iconic Lone Cypress tree. I was looking forward to photographing the “Lone Cypress”, said to be 250 years old and one of the most photographed trees in North America. I had read that this tree had been in a fire and for the past 65 years of its life was held together with cables. What people will do for an iconic tourist attraction… Meanwhile Dave was hoping the electricity was back on so he could enjoy lunch at Pebble Beach. Even though there were way too many people out driving the 17 Mile Drive, Dave didn’t mind going slow if he could look at golf courses along the way, that is until he got hungry. I did find the cypress (along with a bus load of people), but by now Dave had no patience for my photo ops, he was really hungry. Alas, still no power in Pebble Beach so it was off to Carmel-by-the-Sea!

We had heard that Carmel had power so in hopes of finding a late lunch we set off in that direction, passing the Carmel Mission on our way into the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, proclaimed as one of the top 10 destinations in the US by Conde Nast. This little town has a European flair with unique shops and restaurants that made me wish I could spend the entire day here. It was crowded with people by the time we arrived (after 2PM) but we found parking, a miracle I do believe. Most restaurants had a long line but we found that we could walk right into the Carmel Bakery and order from the counter. There are a few tables inside but it was pretty noisy especially with the big screen TV behind us but the food was good. I had a delicious broccoli and cheddar soup with a caprese sandwich while Dave had a chicken Caesar salad. Ironically the pastry was just OK.

Not surprisingly, Dave was in his Destination Mode, still suffering with his head ache, so we were back on the road to the Monarch Grove at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz to see the Monarch butterflies in their migration. This park claims a temporary home for up to 100,000 Monarchs and they begin arriving in mid-October, leaving in mid-February. I think our GPS brought us the long way because we seemed to repeat our movements. It took a lot longer than expected and it was nearing dusk and very windy when we finally arrived at the beach, and entrance to the park. Because it is a California State Park there is a fee and combined with the lateness in the day, the long walk in and the fee for a quick look, Dave was not about to stay. Sadly we pushed on towards San Francisco.

This is one part of the trip that I didn’t thoroughly research. I remembered being at a Monarch sanctuary around Monterey years ago but neglected to look further than Santa Cruz that repeatedly appeared on my online research for butterfly migration in California. My memory failed me. It was actually in Pacific Grove where I had seen hundreds of Monarchs clinging to trees. I was so impressed that I really wanted Dave to see this. Thinking back now, I remember seeing a sign for butterflies when we were on the 17 Mile Drive. I realize now that it must have been for the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary, and that must have been where I was in 1997. The Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary is tucked away next to the Butterfly Grove Inn in Pacific Grove, not far from Sunset Drive and 17 mile drive. It is free and open year round. The best time to see the butterflies is from October through February. And we were there in mid-October…so close. If only.

As it turns out we should have taken the time to see the butterfly migration, whether in Pacific Grove or Santa Cruz because on our way to San Francisco we ended up sitting in traffic in the rain in Half Moon Bay for over 2 hours while people streamed out onto Highway 1 from the annual Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival! I saw no one directing traffic as we sat helplessly creeping along, covering about 1 mile in those 2 hours. All the places we could have been, things we could have done, kept running through my mind. I looked on the GPS to find a way out of this but we were literally trapped with no road to take to get out of this mess. If you find yourself anywhere near Half Moon Bay at the time of the Pumpkin Festival, take it from me: change your plans! Avoid Highway 1 at all costs!

By the time we escaped the Pumpkin Traffic it was 8PM and it was dark and raining. And we were hungry. I called Nancy, our Mill Valley Airbnb host to tell her where we were and that we would be late. We then proceeded to look for places to eat along the way. Each time we saw a place it was too late to turn until we saw La Costanera, a restaurant in Montara, just south of San Francisco. It was on the same side of the road, looked nice from the outside and there were cars there so it seemed a reasonable place to stop. Hey we were hungry, almost anything would be reasonable at that hour! It turned out to be an upscale Peruvian restaurant that was very noisy inside. We had a horrible, inattentive waiter who was not clear about the menu at all. We thought we had ordered a stir fry with fish but it turned out to be something other. And the calamari was like rubber. To add insult to injury the meal was quite expensive. Oh well at least there weren’t too many days like this on our trip.

We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge in the dark (not in the plan) and fumbled our way through dark streets and tight turns to finally arrive at our Airbnb in Mill Valley. Our room was way too small but at least the bed was a good foam mattress where we quickly fell sound asleep.

10/19/15 Day 12 San Francisco, Alcatraz, Mill Valley

We decided to stay in Mill Valley for four good reasons: 1. We would avoid the hassle of driving and parking in San Francisco. 2. We planned to go to Muir Woods the day after our visit to San Francisco which made staying north of the city a smarter move. 3. The inexpensive ferry ($2.50 for seniors each way) from Larkspur to San Francisco was so convenient on both ends. 4. The ferry provided us with beautiful views of San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, all included in their low fare. And did I mention insanely reasonable?

Despite our late arrival the night before, we rose early to catch the 8:40AM Golden Gate Ferry from nearby Larkspur, a little town in Marin County, to San Francisco arriving in San Francisco at 9:15AM. We didn’t have time to eat before the ferry (and there wasn’t anything good that was easily accessible nearby). Luckily we had planned on eating at Pier One, the San Francisco Ferry Building, where we landed. I had read about the numerous great food offerings at the Ferry Building but was surprised at the quality and diverse offerings. From Gluten-free to Mexican to Asian, seafood, cheeses, coffees and cafes, choosing among them was not easy. We grabbed some gluten free sandwiches at Mariposa Baking Company #32 in the ferry building that did not taste gluten free at all. I still remember how amazingly good their food was! If you are near the Ferry Building this is the place to go for an amazing selection of food stalls that won’t put a hole in your wallet.

We brought our sandwiches with us and began our hike to Pier 33, our terminal for the ferry to Alcatraz. It was a warm and sunny day, the first time I wasn’t cold when visiting San Francisco! Because of past experiences, and warnings that it could be chilly on the ferry and on the island, I was dressed for cool if not cold weather, like most of the people in line with us. Fortunately I had dressed in layers and as the sun beat down I quickly removed my jacket and wrapped it around my waist where it stayed for most of the day. Sunscreen, sun glasses and hats are a really good idea here.

I was told to book the tour of Alcatraz months in advance, because they sell out quickly. If you want to actually get on the island and enjoy the free tour of Alcatraz it is really important to book your trip from the National Park Service website, the only place you will find Alcatraz Cruises, ($29.25 for seniors) the only ferry that stops at the island of Alcatraz. There are other ferry companies that cost more and only cruise around the bay without stopping at Alcatraz. Don’t be fooled unless you don’t want a tour of Alcatraz. You can buy last minute coffee, water and some snacks at the ferry dock but you may not bring it on the ferry.

The 10 minute ferry to Alcatraz, also known as “The Rock,” provided yet another enjoyable opportunity for me to photograph the iconic views of San Francisco Bay. The prison is built high atop this rocky island, a steep climb from the ferry dock. Since I was about two weeks out from knee surgery I took advantage of the tram to the top of Alcatraz, a good choice if you have a difficult time climbing hills, however once inside the prison there are many stairs to climb. We were pleased to find out that the park system provides excellent free audio tours (located just inside the prison) including a special hearing assisted device that even my hard-of-hearing husband could clearly hear, however you do need to ask for this device. The audio tour identifies the men who lived and worked at Alcatraz, their routines and living conditions. Some of the voices you will hear in the audio tour are the actual voices of correctional officers and inmates who lived on the island.

Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary in operation from 1934 to 1963. It was “home” to some of America’s most hardened criminals including Al “Scarface” Capone, “Birdman” Robert Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and James “Whitey” Bulger. I strongly recommend that you watch the movie Escape From Alcatraz before you visit. Many of the inmate’s cells who escaped from Alcatraz in 1960 were highlighted in the Cellhouse Audio Tour. Having recently re-seen the movie we were much better able to step back in history to relive the accounts and locations of the escape.

You could easily spend the entire day at Alcatraz but we still had a lot of ground to cover in San Francisco so we took the return ferry around 1:30PM, then walked from Pier 33 to Pier 39 to have lunch at Fog Harbor Fish House. This lovely restaurant overlooks the sea lions on Pier 39 and has amazing views of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the bay of San Francisco.

While we were dining we enjoyed watching boats ferry passengers around Alcatraz. The food was excellent! Dave had his fish and chips while I think I had the better lunch, a delicious and fresh Dungeness Crab salad. Was it touristy? Yes. But it was within walking distance which is an important thing to consider when you don’t have several days to enjoy SF.

The Fog Harbor Fish House is located near an information center where we were able to pick up excellent maps and directions for bus routes. Equipped with information and more ideas we walked down the stairs to see (and hear) the famous harbor seals lounging on Pier 39. From there we walked up to Fisherman’s Wharf and on to Ghirardelli Square to share a cup of dark chocolate ice cream (forgoing their famous hot fudge sundae).

From Ghirardelli Square began to walk off the lunch and ice cream on Bay Street to Hyde, where we waited for what seemed an interminable time for a streetcar to stop and pick us up. We later discovered that the old San Francisco Cable Cars are not really a mode of transportation so much as they are a tourist trap. They don’t often stop enroute but instead begin and end at major destinations and charge $7 for the ride. Since we were only going about two blocks we decided to hoof it. But what a climb! They were three of the steepest blocks we ever hiked. We climbed huffing and puffing past Russian Hill Park, stopping frequently to photograph the tightly packed Victorian houses and peekaboo view of the bay as often as possible on the way up. We finally made it to Lombard Street or “Crooked Street” so I could show Dave what I had driven years ago. Lombard Street is a one way street on top of Russian Hill with eight very sharp turns intended to reduce speed on the hill’s natural 27%!g(MISSING)rade which was too steep for most vehicles. Some claim this is the most crooked street in the world. This famous street has been featured in many movies like Vertigo but Bullittt and Herbie the Love Bug, involved chase scenes on this unlikely street with a 5MPH speed limit!

The Powell & Hyde Cable Car (the one we tried desperately to catch) stops at the top of the block on Hyde. It did stop after we reached to the top where some got off and others clambered to get a photo of the steep road. If my knees were not so bad I would have walked midway down the crooked street for a better shot but instead we walked down the straight leg of Lombard to catch a bus to the stately Palace of Fine Arts Theater near the beach at Presidio. The Palace of Fine Arts was built as a testament of survival after the 1906 earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco. In 1915 eleven beautiful buildings influenced by Roman architecture, were built to house the World’s Fair, a grand exposition that would honor the completion of the Panama Canal. Millions of people came to see the exposition but after the fair was over the impressive buildings were to be demolished. A group of individuals lead by Phoebe Anderson Hearst created a preservation league to save the site. Today the Palace of Fine Arts Theater stands as a reminder of how San Francisco rebuilt the city from the ashes of their devastation.

I left Dave to enjoy the park while I walked to Presidio Beach to get another photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge. I found dog walkers, kite flyers, sailers and kiteboarders out in the bay adding color and action to my photographs. It was pretty chilly at this hour so I was glad to have the jacket I brought along. I walked back up to Dave who was waiting as patiently as he knew how. We walked up a few blocks to catch one of two buses that would take us back to Pier One through the colorful and always fun Chinatown and Union Square.

It was dark by the time we reached the ferry building. We knew we could count on getting a ferry since they ran until 10:30PM, the question was do we eat in San Francisco or in Larkspur. We ended up on the 7:20PM ferry to Larkspur to look for a restaurant in Mill Valley, near our Airbnb. What we didn’t expect to find was a ticket for our car in the parking lot. I had used my handicap sticker to park because my knee was really cranky in the morning. We later learned that the handicap spot we chose was for annual payers. We need to learn to read!

We were glad to find Patti Ristorante and Bar on the Redwood Highway in Mill Valley. This casual restaurant had views of Richardson Bay. If it had been light out we would have been able to enjoy the views of Mt Tamalpais but since it was dark we simply enjoyed our delicious thin crust margherita pizza and wine looking at the twinkling lights reflected in the bay. After dinner we managed to find our Airbnb despite the sharp unsuspecting turns in the dark.

10/20/15 Mill Valley, Sausalito, Muir Woods, Mt Tamlpais, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Once again we woke up to fog. After our Pete’s coffee we left Mill Valley and headed out to Golden Gate National Recreation Area that has some of the best views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. But sadly it was still too foggy (and chilly) so we left to have breakfast with plans to return later in the day.

Dave had not been to Sausalito but I remembered this cute little artsy town on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and wanted to share it with him. With its many parks, shops and restaurants I thought it would be the perfect place for a bite to eat before heading into the forest. We found the Caffe Tutti, a little coffee house near the ferry pier to be just what we were looking for. This small restaurant, despite it’s size, tended to cater to tourist groups, especially from the Hotel Sausalito, likely because it was reasonably priced, which suited Dave just fine. But since it was accessible to parking and a nice stroll along the waterfront it seemed the a good place to eat. After our continental breakfast we sat on a bench to watch sailboats and ferry boats ply their way through the bay. Sausalito is also home to many houseboats which consists of a little community of its own north of town.

I thought Muir Woods would be a good introduction for Dave to the California Coastal Redwood Forests so off we headed into the old growth redwood forest so beloved by naturalist John Muir. Muir Woods National Monument is only about a half hour drive north of Sausalito but many more emotional miles away in its retreat from civilization. These coast redwoods (sequoia semperviron) beauties thrive in fog and are taller than the Giant Sequoia (Sequoia dendron giganteum) found in less humid parts of California like Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The trees in Muir Woods are certainly stately and cathedral like but they are just a hint at what is to come later on when we arrive in the Avenue of the Giants…but back to Muir Woods. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt declared this land a national monument at the request of Congressman William Kent who recommended the land be called Muir Woods in honor of conservationist John Muir. Muir was a naturalist, author and environmental philosopher dedicated to the preservation of wilderness in the United States. He was one of the earliest advocates of the national park idea. In 1903 Muir went camping for three days with President Theodore Roosevelt. This event is considered by some the most significant camping trip in conservation history. I for one am eternally grateful for the resulting national park system.

By mid morning, Muir woods was already perking with young and old would-be conservationists. Once inside the forest all conversation was reduced to a hush. A quiet reverence and respect for these old trees was somehow imbued on everyone who entered.

Dave and I walked along the paths occasionally sitting to better enjoy this enchanting woodland. Some paths are paved and others are made of raised wood to protect the sensitive roots of these ancient trees beneath. Redwood Creek usually flows through Muir Woods but today, due to drought conditions, the creek was silent. This creek, when it flows, originates high atop nearby Mt Tamalpais. I could see that Dave was tired and hungry so we finished our walk and headed to the park’s restaurant for some soup and sandwiches (and while Dave finished his meal, I shopped for woodland memorabilia. After lunch we got back in the car to drive to see what was at the top of this mountain.

Mt Tamalpais, locally known as Mt Tam, is a 2,571 foot peak rising above Marin County and the San Francisco Bay. Our car climbed up tight switch-back roads (more tightly wound than any I had yet to drive) through deep woods with occasional sunlight filtering through, then suddenly we rose above the forests into oak woodlands and open grasslands that, once at the top, provided spectacular views of San Francisco, the East Bay, Mount Diablo and the Farallon Islands 25 miles out to sea. Dave was pleased to watch some ships passing by out to sea.

We were told there was indeed a “top”, or accessible peak, to Mt Tam but with very poor signage we, and another couple, were unable to find it. We flipped a coin and drove on intent on finding our way down the mountain and back to Mill Valley. We began descending through what I believe was the “Panoramic Highway”, all I can tell you is there were more tightly wound steep switchbacks with beautiful views alternating with open mountain range, seascapes and finally more redwood forests. Somehow we ended up at Stinson Beach on route 1 where I felt Dave, who had been bouncing and twisting up and down the mountain on rough roads for over an hour and a half, had earned a banana ice cream (organic of course) at the beach’s pavilion.

As we progressed back towards Mill Valley on route 1 (again some crazy tight turns) in between gasping as trucks would surprise us rounding the corner, we were able to enjoy the late afternoon sun as it sparkled on the water and and cast warm shadows on the surrounding hillsides. We made our way back to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for a last view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. The wind had picked up and the temperatures dropped but we were happy to see the bright red-orange bridge sparkle in all its glory with the deep blue bay and the tall buildings of San Francisco in the distance. This time there was no fog and the iconic view was truly incredible.

When the sun had finally set and there was nothing more to photograph Dave reminded me that he was hungry so we drove back to Sausalito to have dinner at Bar Bocce, a local favorite on the water with an active bocce court. This is not a tourist trap but a terrific restaurant with an outdoor fire pit, a view of sailboats and houseboats in the harbor. The restaurant was intimate yet openly comfortable and packed with lots of friendly locals out for a casual meal. We sat under a canopy by the fire having drinks while we waited for a table. By the time we were seated we had memorized the menu and ordered right away. We split an amazing kale and pecorino cheese salad and I had the best eggplant parmesan ever. A delightful couple sat next to us making our evening all the more enjoyable.

We ended our day back at the Airbnb with another glass of wine, friendly conversation and then, blessed sleep on a comfortable bed.

10/21/15 Mill Valley, Muir Beach, Bodega Bay, Elk, Little River

This was a more relaxed morning with only a few major stops along our 3 hour journey north to Little River and Mendocino. After coffee at the Mill Valley Airbnb, we were ready to hit the road by 9AM. I was beginning to get used to the very tight turns on Highway 1 (PCH), but I never got used to the anxiety about what I might run into on these very blind corners. I frequently stopped to photograph vistas at the pullouts along the way until we pulled into Muir Beach a quiet cove tucked into the coastline 3 miles west of Muir Woods. This area has a secluded beach and a scenic (uphill) trail with reportedly breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Marin coastline, but since we were now the walking wounded, we chose to walk the beach wishing we could afford one of these beautiful hillside homes overlooking the bay. But we didn’t linger long, we soon were off to our next destination: Bodega Bay, but on the way we thought to check out Point Reyes…

Point Reyes Lighthouse is part of the National Seashore and only 10 miles out from route 1, but at least an hour out to the point and back, especially in bad weather. Before committing to see the famed lighthouse we stopped at the Bear Valley Visitor Center to see what the weather was out on the point. For us, on route 1, it was clear, not foggy and not windy, however we were told that Point Reyes was socked in with fog, not surprising since it is the second foggiest place in North America, hence the famous lighthouse. The deer we saw at the visitor center pranced around the parking lot as we left for points north on Highway 1.

I had promised Dave lunch in Bodega Bay, the movie location for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror movie The Birds. We blew right by the road sign to Bodega, thinking we were wanting to go to Bodega Bay. Well, as it turns out the film was also made in the little village of Bodega one mile from Highway 1. This is the town that featured the soaring white church and the Potter Schoolhouse made famous when Suzanne Pleshette, the teacher, and her students ran from the school screaming down the hill as they were being chased by a murder of crows wanting to peck them to death. The now famous St Teresa of Avila Catholic Church with its very recognizable brilliant white spire sits (one may say forebodingly) atop a hill on Bodega Lane. The schoolhouse is just a little behind the church.

An effigy of Hitchcock stands in front of the Bodega Country Store (BCS) at the bottom of the hill, that actually seems more like a museum than a store. It is surely worth taking a moment to enjoy all things Hitchcock inside from photographs of the filming of The Birds to actors who played in Hitchcock movies, and memorabilia of Hitchcock himself. The BCS claims to have the largest collection of Alfred Hitchcock memorabilia so if you are a movie buff or a Hitchcock fan I am sure you won’t go wrong with a stop at this unique store. The BCS offered crab cakes, oysters and chowder but not a lot of seating so we headed into Bodega Bay for our lunch overlooking the harbor.

There are a small number of restaurants in Bodega Bay so to be sure we chose the right one we asked at the Bodega Bay Visitor Center on our way into town. Fisherman’s Cove Restaurant was the resounding choice and we were very pleased with the results. There was a bit of a line to order food when we got there but our order came out quickly from the well staffed open kitchen. This restaurant specializes in fresh local oysters from Tamales Bay. They also have Dungeness crab and hormone-free meats, organic vegetables and homemade sauces. You had us at oysters! While we waited for our meal I walked outside to watch a man shucking oysters. He did have a protective glove on and a sharp knife in the other. He was grinning from ear to ear as he was teaching me his trade while I photographed him.

It was a bit chilly outside for us wimpy Florida birds so we ate our delicious oyster poboys perched on bar stools overlooking the bay while other diners ate outside off of picnic tables. As we ate we were trying to remember the parts of The Birds that were filmed in this bay. Likely it was the arrival of the Tippi Hedren, the socialite arriving at the dock of the little fishing village with her birdcage in hand. Regardless, it was a very enjoyable stop triggering loads of movie memories for us both.

Back in the car, well sated with our oyster lunches, we drove north on the PCH along the beautiful, rocky Sonoma Coast. Pampas grasses, mountains, the deep blue ocean, white cliffs and wait, more cyclists riding along the road. At least when I met these riders the curves were more gentle and the roads more open giving both rider and driver ample opportunity to see each other. We blew by Jenner and the sea lions, totally missing the sign: “Coastal View”. We missed the seals but saw ravens, wild turkeys and a California quail. A friend said to stop in Gualala claiming it to be a charming little place to stop on the way but I don’t recommend it. It may have been charming back in the day but for us it was too modern and had nothing remotely charming about it.

Point Arena Lighthouse on the other hand was well worth a stop. This historic and scenic lighthouse at 130 miles north of San Francisco, is surprisingly situated on the closest point of land to the Hawaiian Islands in the Continental United States! In addition the Point Arena Tower, at 115 feet high, is the only Pacific West coast lighthouse that you can climb to the top offering breathtaking views of the Mendocino Coast from the top. Worth the climb. That is if you get there before it closes. I think we missed it by about 15 minutes but in our condition a climb like that would have been a challenge anyway. When open, they offer guided tours but if you really want to experience a lighthouse, you can, for a fee, spend the night in the historic keeper’s home vacation rentals, open year round.

Our friend who recommended Gualala made good with a recommendation to visit the tiny town of Elk, once called Greenwood, in Mendocino County on our way to Little River. This adorable throw back to life in this region brags a population of 208. At least what we saw from Highway 1, was the “charming” I thought we would find in Gualala. Elk Store is a real country store that is a deli, sells groceries, wine, gifts and gives great directions.

We had been told to stop here for some amazing views. The owners in the little store pointed us in the direction of many great views but also said to stay here awhile, hike the beach trails and stay out of “$pendocino”. We followed directions and hiked along the cliff side, treed coastal trail with wonderful views of the ocean, but I didn’t think this was the view we had been told about. It wasn’t. Just a bit further north on Highway 1 is a cemetery on the left, and also a dangerous curve. I turned into the tiny area before the cemetery gate to photograph the well known view that put Elk on the map. But turning around to get back on the highway turned out to be a much more dangerous event than standing on the curve to take photos. We survived with trucks honking and heart beating wildly and continued intact until we safely reached Little River.

After a long day of driving and touring we reached Heritage House in Little River, our destination for the night. Heritage House was the primary location used in the 1978 film “Same Time Next Year” with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. I have always loved this time travel romantic comedy and it had been a longtime goal of mine to visit Heritage House where the movie was filmed. The shell of a cottage here at Heritage House was used in shooting the exterior portions of the film. That cottage was built on a temporary foundation overlooking the Pacific Ocean. According to wiki, after filming was completed, Universal paid for the shell to be relocated to a permanent foundation and the interior was outfitted with the studio furnishings. The cottage became a popular romantic getaway, so popular in fact that the Heritage House eventually partitioned the cottage in half and added a second bathroom to the opposite end. One half of the cottage was called "Same Time" and the other half called "Next Year".

A gazebo sits on a point overlooking the ocean where, as memory serves me, there was a bench where Alda and Burstyn sat. Dave and I walked out to the point at night and again in the morning to experience the romantic setting for ourselves taking our time to stroll the bluffs high above the ocean. We had dinner in the resort’s main dining room but the food and service did not live up to its expensive “farm to fork” cuisine promise. But our room couldn’t have been nicer with a private porch
Sunset at Heritage House, Little River.Sunset at Heritage House, Little River.Sunset at Heritage House, Little River.

Location for the film "Same Time Next Year".
view of the ocean, working fireplace, heated stone floors in the spacious bathroom and a comfortable bed, we were more than pleased.


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