June 9th-June 13th
When we left L.A., it was foggy along the coast and a little bit chilly. This is what the southern Californians call the “June Gloom.” The warm summer air meets the cold Pacific Ocean and creates a thick fog that usually burns off by mid-afternoon. We drove up the coast towards Santa Barbara, making a stop in Ventura to visit the Channel Islands National Park Visitor center. They had an interesting tide pool exhibit and a look-out tower. The view was foggy, despite the sun that was trying to peak through. From Ventura, we continued to Carpinteria State Beach where we had reserved a campsite. The campground was packed and lacking the charm of the forest campgrounds, but it was nice to be near the beach. From the beach, we could see the mountains of the central valley and the oil rigs off the coast. The next morning, we went for a walk along the beach. We stepped in black, sticky tar. We thought it was the result of an oil spill, but found out later that it was from naturally occurring tar pits. I had to scrub the tar off my heels with vegetable oil and soap and had the feeling that I smelled like oil the rest of the day. Yuck!
We continued our trip up the Central Coast to Santa Barbara, which is a pretty little university town. After the town was destroyed by an earthquake, they decided to rebuild it in Mediterranean-style architecture, giving it a certain European charm. We visited the old presidio, the beautiful Spanish-revival county courthouse which also had a viewing gallery on top, the boardwalk and along State Street, the main drag with lots of shopping, restaurants and bars. It was a little chilly; the fog didn’t burn off all morning. On the way out of town, we stopped off at the Santa Barbara Mission, a beautiful mission with some street murals decorating the paved lot in front. We drove up the coast past vineyards and grazing cows, and then headed inland to Solvang, a traditional Dutch village in the heart of California. At the end of a long day of sightseeing, we arrived in San Simeon, at a pretty little campground about ½ a mile from the beach. The late afternoon sun warmed us up while we set up the tent, played cards and made dinner.
We woke up Saturday morning to the habitual chilly fog. It was a good time to visit Hearst Castle which sat up on the hill just above our campground. The Hearst Castle, built by William Randolph Hearst, media tycoon, is another example of the eccentricity of California. The “castle” consists of the Casa Grande, a huge mansion built in the style of a Gothic church, numerous guest houses, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a zoo (at one time) and hundreds of acres of beautiful land peering out over the Pacific Ocean. Just north of the castle, was Elephant Seal Beach, a popular stopping off place for a large, lofty animal. We stopped and watched them lying on the beach, basking in the sun, sometimes rolling over to torment their neighbor, or flopping into the sea for a bite to eat. We went for a short walk in the hills near our campsite before dinner.
On Sunday morning, we woke up, had breakfast and efficiently packed up our campsite. When everything was ready, we looked at each other and asked “where are we going?” We had debated returning inland towards the mountains or continuing up the coast towards Monterey and San Francisco. We finally decided to head to San Francisco, and I made a quick call to my friend Lynduh to confirm we had a place to stay. The drive between San Simeon and Big Sur boasts some spectacular views. We made numerous stops, including a picnic stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We hiked out a short trail to a view of a pristine beach with turquoise blue waters with a beautiful waterfall spilling on to it. Then we continued the trail behind the waterfall where we found the perfect picnic spot with a view of the ocean and some spectacular rocks. From there, we drove to another beautiful beach inside Big Sur. We had to take a long, windy road past numerous private residences before we arrived at a beautiful soft sandy beach. There were surfers braving the cold waters to take advantage of the impressive waves. Late in the afternoon we finally got to Monterey where we had reserved (just a few hours before) a charming little motel for a couple of nights.
Monday, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a world-class aquarium that I had visited several times while living in San Francisco. Monterey Bay and the surround coastline is a national marine sanctuary. I did my scuba certification there years ago in its pristine waters. We spent half the day wandering through the inspiring exhibits of the aquarium, from the sea otters to flamingos, jellyfish to the touch tanks where you can touch bat rays. Many of the exhibits are focused on conservation and environmental awareness. From outside the aquarium, we could see sea otters floating on their backs in the kelp, and seals hanging out on the piers. We walked down the famous Cannery Row, which was made famous by John Steinbeck’s account of the sardine fisheries from the early 20th century. A decline in fish populations brought on the demise of the local sardine industry. Today it’s a center of marine research, conservation and education. Monterey always makes me nostalgic for the time that I spent on the ocean and studying marine biology.
Tuesday, we left foggy Monterey and continued up the Pacific Coast Highway through Santa Cruz (where we picnicked on the beach) and the shores south of San Francisco. The weather was beautiful and sunny, a good omen for our stay in San Fran.