TND Interlude! California Dreaming

October 14, 2013

trip composite2

In between having Dinner not writing about Dinner we disappeared off to California for 10 days.
The impetus for the trip was an invitation to Jes’s wedding (sneak peak of coming material – it was awesome!), and we figured as long as we were flying 6 hours across the country we might as well stay a while and visit with people and act like tourists (although hopefully we were more like enlightened visitors than tacky tourists).

Firstly though, the wedding was fantastic.  It is currently occupying the top spot on my ‘best weddings I’ve been to’ list.  Granted, I don’t think I’ve been to any terrible weddings, but still – top billing for this one.  wedding composite

The setting was gorgeous; at an old fruit packing ranch in the mountains outside of Los Gatos.  The whole event was a perfect expression of the bride & groom from the lemonade and ice tea served in mason jars before the ceremony, to the chalk board order of service, to the homemade jams and pickles that were arranged on every table as take home wedding favors (it’s possible we nabbed more than our fair share, but they were left just sitting on the table, it would have been a sin to let them linger).   The bride was gorgeous.  The groom was dapper.  The ceremony was eloquent, and everyone’s speeches during the reception were lovely.  Plus the play list for the dancing afterwards was one we all wanted to steal.  All in all it was kind of a perfect event.

NB – everything you need to know about Los Gatos can be summed up by the note about the Farmer’s Market which said that there was no bread sold but that there was a fresh oyster bar. 

Okay, back to the touristy stuff.

Last time we were in San Francisco we knocked most of the must-see things in San Francisco off of our list – the cable cars, the Exploratorium, China Town, Nob Hill, etc.  This time around we decided to explore the territory south of San Francisco.  We’re now convinced that California is basically a giant state park filled with mind bogglingly stunning scenery.  Nobody we talked to in California seemed inclined to argue with this perception.

Accordingly we set out after the wedding towards Hearst Castle, driving south through the vineyards of the Salinas Valley to get there.  Along the way we paused to visit the San Juan Bautista Mission and the Carmel Mission (on the way back to SF) – I know that if you’re from California you OD’d on missions when you were in grade school, but since I’m not from the West Coast I cherry picked two that were along the way and dragged my travelling companions with me to visit them.


I hadn’t really processed the fact that because the missions are still active churches they receive no state/federal funding; and you can tell.  Both of the missions we visited had very old fashioned (oh, let’s be generous and call them quaint) museums.  The grounds and buildings were impeccably maintained, and the museums had a certain rustic charm, but were definitely not the high concept modern museum that you might expect from sites that essentially every school child in California is dragged through – everyone we know who grew up in California seemed to have PTSD about school trips to missions and were alternately horrified and baffled that I wanted to visit not just one, but two of them.

Of the two missions we visited Carmel is definitely the more touristy – we got there as they opened, and by the time we were leaving there were 4 tour buses lined up to go through.  San Juan Bautista, on the other hand, is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and I think the only reason we weren’t the only people there was because we went on a Sunday and arrived shortly after Mass.

Many pictures of the San Juan Bautista Mission (on the fault line!) are here, and even more pictures of the highly photogenic Carmel Mission are here.

We also paused on our way down to Cambria to picnic overlooking the vineyards and sample some wine (pictures of the view from Hahn Estates here).  We arrived in Cambria – which we finally placed as looking like the kind of town that you get with a model train set – cute, pint sized, and with deeply non-functional stores – just in time to get dinner.  The next morning we all got up early to to walk along the beach front and watch the fog roll down off the mountains before we took ourselves off to Hearst Castle.

Hearst Composite

Hearst Castle is itself beyond anything I could possibly come up with words to describe.  It’s ostentatious, and over the top, and insane, and really really gorgeous.  I was describing it to people in my office back East as Newport on steroids.  Apparently the National Park staff who work there get to swim in the pools after hours.  We were jealous.

I lack words to encompass the sheer scale and grandeur of Hearst Castle, so have many pictures instead.

After we tore ourselves away from the many splendors of Hearst Castle we drove up Rte-1 towards Monterey.  I’m not usually one for a ‘scenic drive’ for the sake of a ‘scenic drive’, but this is a scenic drive worth taking.  The road – at least between Hearst & Monterey – runs through (along the very edge of – there is no land to the west of Rte-1, that’s kind of the point) a national park which means that there is next to no development along the coast.  There is the very occasional place to stop and get gas, but other than that it is completely unspoiled by hotels or resorts or apartment complexes, and it is amazing.  This drive was made even better because I got someone else to drive that day, which meant that I did not have to twist myself into knots driving the narrow, serpentine, coastal road, and could therefore actually enjoy the scenery.  Sadly my camera battery chose that day to run out of juice, so I have no pictures, but I’m not sure any pictures I could have taken would have remotely have done justice to the sun, and sea, and cliffs.

If you’re curious, it does in fact look like the pictures that google offers up when you search for Big Sur Coastline.


We didn’t see much of Monterey/Carmel beyond the mission – although what we did see of Carmel reminded us irresistibly of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  We did have a lovely meal that night at a place called Passion Fish (http://www.passionfish.net/) – if you’re in Monterey I highly recommend it.  I got to have Dungeness Crab for the first time, and loved it.  I am now sad that I can’t get it more often.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back to the Bay Area.  Quel horreur!

After we got back to the San Francisco area that night – dropping two travelling companions off at the airport for a flight to Los Angeles – my roommate and I met up with the friend who was graciously letting us stay with her and indulged in silly tiki drinks, followed by revelatory Burmese food (like a cross between Indian/Thai/Chinese – we’re on a quest to find some in the Boston area now).


The next day we continued to cement our conviction that all of California is a treasure trove of grandiose scenery by driving north into Marin County and doing a gentle hike through some Red Woods Forests.  I have never seen anything like them before, and while it describes entirely the wrong kind of forest, all I kept thinking as we walked was:

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Introduction to Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We followed our virtuous hike with an evening of decadence.  We started at Bourbon & Branch, which we had been hearing about for years.  It’s a speakeasy – you get a password when you make the reservation – and when you arrive at the non-descript door you give your password and are ushered into a dim  labyrinth of tables and guests (no really, it’s very dim, I wouldn’t have objected to one or two more lights, or a slightly higher wattage on a couple of light bulbs).  There’s no food of any kind, but the drink menu goes on for about 15 pages.  I don’t honestly remember what we got (possibly not unrelated to the 15 page drink menu and the no food), but I do remember that everything was fantastic.  It lived up to every expectation, and if you’re in SF and like a good cocktail you should go.

Slightly unsteadily we walked a block or two to our dinner destination – Colibri which Jes had recommended when I inquired about where we should go after drinking at Bourbon & Branch.  I highly recommend it – upscale Mexican food in a very classy setting.  Nothing we had was bad from the fresh guacamole to start the meal to the crepes with cajeta (caramel sauce made from goat’s milk) for dessert.

The last day we were in SF we went to Alcatraz which was one of the big things I didn’t get to the last time I was there, and were treated to unexpectedly great seats to one of the America’s Cup races, which I wouldn’t have gone out of my way for, but was fascinating to watch since it was happening right there.

americas cup

I hadn’t realized that Alcatraz wasn’t actually in use for very long – it only ever had about 300 prisoners pass through its gates.  It looms so large in the cultural memory that I assumed it had been active as a prison for much longer, but really only for about 60 years.  I think the mystique of being inescapable, and housing a couple of really famous prisoners, has upped its street cred.

Again, entirely too many pictures, are here.

alcatraz composite

We followed the austerity of Alcatraz with a tour of a chocolate factory and a return to the Ferry Building for lunch.  Then we flew home on the red eye and spent Friday attempting to recover from that flight.

And that was our trip.  Too short, but lovely.



One comment

  1. […] « TND Interlude! California Dreaming […]

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