Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

I wish every morning could start at Dynamo Donuts. With either a spiced chocolate or an orange ginger. Cup of hot coffee in hand, sitting back and taking silly small bites to make them last longer, we ended our San Francisco time savoring the ingenious combination of bacon tucked into a maple glaze and watching pastry chefs make these delectable fried treats. Then it was time to hit the open road.


Our time in San Francisco has drawn to a close and we are ready for the second leg of the trip. We checked out of our hotel, loaded up the car, drove by and waved at Mission Dolores, grabbed the best breakfast possible - vacation (read guilt free) donuts, and drove to Half Moon Bay to visit the tide pools.


Joe had been to the tide pools in Half Moon Bay on a previous visit and I had never been, so we randomly decided to stop since we didn't have to be in San Jose until 11am. Since the man has a memory like a elephant when it comes to maps and locations, he was pretty sure, after a quick check on the magic iPhone, that he knew exactly where we needed to be.


I was wearing slippery flip flops and since this was a spur of the moment visit and it was raining, I stayed on the beach and watched Joe climb all around in the tide pools instead of breaking an ankle and sliding around in my stupid yet cute footwear choice.


I didn't miss much. The pools were pretty much empty and the scenery from the shore and walking around in the harbor seal birthing area, no harbor seals were delivering or even present, and walking up the coast to see the flowers and rocks and the general obscene gorgeousness of Northern California was enough for me.


After Half Moon Bay we hopped back in the car and headed to San Jose on what has to be one of the most gorgeous drives. All rolling mountains, green curvy roads, tiny micro climates of hot humid air followed by foggy cool breezes, we drove up and down hills and into valleys, and arrived in San Jose at the Santana Row Shops to meet our new internet/7 Days/Facebook/Blogger friend, Catie, in person for the very first time.


And of course Murray the fluffiest, friendliest, wiggly dog ever. I think Murray believes he is a teacup poodle as he will throw himself at your legs wanting to be petted and scratched around the ears. This is adorable, but it also involves Murray's long legs and substantial frame. You have to brace yourself for Murray's love.


We shopped and walked and chatted. I bought tiny sushi magnets and a phrenology inspired paperweight and a pair of dangly ear bobs. We had lunch with Catie and Murray and then foisted our continued presence onto Catie and followed her home. We couldn't get enough of this pair. I think having seen each other's photos on 7 Days for the last couple of years, and the power of Facebook and blogging, made it feel like I'd known Catie for years. She is so open and direct and unabashedly herself, that you can't help but act the same way in her presence. No need to warm up to a virtual stranger, we were fast friends. Joe too. We hope she and the Mr. Catie (Andy) will come and visit us someday soon.


After our four hour visit, Murray had an appointment to keep so we needed to clear out. We hopped back in the car and tooled on down to Monterey/Pacific Grove to our hotel, the rustic and comfortable Olympia Lodge. Lots of space to stretch out and there was even a little balcony that if you strained your eyes just right you could see the ocean. (We never used it, it was too chilly at night or too late when we got back.) Being off season, the lodge was almost empty. We crashed in our room, changed into warmer walking clothes, got a restaurant recommendation from the front desk and set off to work up an appetite.


Just a few blocks from the water, we strolled around, got our bearings in the area and made our way across the beach to sit on some rocks at the water's edge, we took a peak at the lighthouse down the way and ogled some of the enormous houses perched along the coast. These stunning mansions lined the water, but as you walked through the more modest neighborhoods of Pacific Grove you could see several homes that were obviously in foreclosure. It was surprising and sad to see these idyllic vacations houses abandoned and neglected. A strong indicator of how hard the California housing market was hit, a lot harder than the Midwest certainly.

We finished our walking tour of the area, headed back to the hotel and went to grab a light dinner at the Sea Witch. Obviously a local favorite, the restaurant was packed with people. Decor straight out of the 1980's, all pastel and beach themed with seafoam green napkins and small tables packed tight with celebratory families, we tucked into some tasty seafood and planned out our next day.



Joe loves tours. I don't know if I can stress that enough. He feels like he gets so much more out of a place when there is an expert to guide him around, ask questions to and share their knowledge. Monterey Bay Aquarium is the perfect place to take a tour. You can spend hours lost among the huge tanks, the kelp forests, the seahorse exhibits or the touch pools running your hands over smooth rays and prickly starfish, but taking a tour adds this behind the scenes aspect that makes the Aquarium that much more impactful.


Otters frolicked and dove for treats, skimming along the glass viewing windows like Olympic divers. They are also champion nappers too. Like that blond beauty up there.


The Aquarium is built on the site of the one of the old canneries so they've kept a lot of the original equipment, carefully restored, in place to remind visitors of the history of Monterey and this area in particular.

Our guide took our group up to the enormous kelp forest and described all the necessary ingredients to keep the kelp alive and thriving, as well as the many failed experiments to start and maintain an exhibit of this size.

Following her through the staff only doors, we took a tour of the medical/surgery wing, got a chance to hold the squid that otters love to eat and saw the enormous quantity of food that otters have to eat to keep up their body weight. Impressive.


We laughed at watching these little birds, common murres, that resemble small penguins, diving into the kelp forest or tucked up together on the side of a small ramp, resting until their next mission.




Corals of all shapes, colors and sizes are grown by staff in these low well lit, humid rooms. When the corals reach full size they'll be transferred into the exhibits. The tour ended at the top of the kelp forest which is open on the roof so that divers can easily access the animals, to clean the tanks and treat any ill animals. I felt a real connection to the Aquarium after our brief peek behind the scenes, watching all the pieces come together, all the staff, scientists, doctors and biologists that make this place run so smoothly and seamlessly. Impressive.


After our tour we took our time at the rest of the exhibits. Jellyfish glowed.


This is my wallpaper on my work computer. I could stare at it all day.



Seahorses resembling Caesar salad floated magnificently.

Rosie got a snorkel and mask.



And the little boy from Up, made an appearance. (Ok, I know that kid is animated in the movie, but he had to be based on this boy, they even sounded the same.)


And more otters jonesing for attention and treats.


My favorite animal had to be the giant octopus though. He came out of hiding, according to the staff person next to his tank, and that is a rare day time occurance. Look at that color and those suckers. He was incredibly fast and so strange to behold whizzing around the glass wall of his tank. These animals are so smart that they distinguish humans from each other even in the wild, need to be entertained with new puzzles and games weekly and can escape their tanks very skillfully if precautions aren't taken.


We wrapped up our visit with a quick lunch and meandered through the rest of Monterey for a bit. Mostly touristy restaurants, ice cream parlours and shops. But it was nice to walk around and try to picture what this area used to look like in it's canning production heyday.


Naturally I had to awkwardly pose next to this quote from one of my favorite writers, Mr. John Steinbeck. He wrote so vividly and accurately about this area that I found myself thinking a lot about the Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden on our long drives through farmland and past produce stands. Other than literary heroes, Northern California is filled with so much fresh produce and lush, fertile farm land that everywhere we drove we saw signs selling cheap artichokes, strawberries and every other juicy fruit or vegetable you could imagine. This truck was brimming over with asparagus. Just waiting to be grilled.


Whale watching was also on the list of activities we wanted to do on this trip, but the weather was too windy on Friday afternoon and they postponed our excursion until Saturday morning. With the afternoon suddenly wide open we decided to head down to Carmel, maybe shop, tour the Mission, and just relax a bit.


While the Mission was gorgeous on the outside, warm and welcoming, the insanely overpriced gift shop and high ticket price made entry into the Mission a definite no this time around. But we stood outside the gates and took free pretty pictures.


Neither one of us was in a particularly consumerist mood, so we bypassed shopping in Carmel and bought a day pass for Point Lobos State Park.


After all of the spectacular sites so far on this trip, Point Lobos is the winner. It has the unbeatable combination of undeveloped coast line, historic whaling sites, plentiful lazy seal populations, wildlife, flowers, and the constant reassuring sound of crashing waves and silent hikers roaming over her cliffs and paths.


After hiking around on a couple of trails, we stopped into the Whaler's Cabin Museum to get a full picture of how this area was utilized in the past and how it helped to grow and develop the local economy.  A small replica of an actual whaler's cabin, the museum was filled with artifacts and details about the whaling and abalone industry of the 1800 and 1900's. Right where we had parked our car, enormous whales were processed and sent on to become fuel, corsets or many, many other commercial products.


I'll just let you take in the beauty from here.







Spending the afternoon at Point Lobos is a reminder for me, once again, of how important spending time in nature is for me. I feel rested, revived and more myself after my cheeks turn pink from the wind and my upper lip is damp from the exertion of climbing up cliffs to look down on families of seals, laying on the rocks, with the cold Pacific ocean crashing around them. My hair blowing around in the wind, my mind at ease with the stresses of everyday life washed away by the bounty and color spread out before me. It was a good day.


Before heading back to our hotel and grabbing dinner and then crashing completely, fresh air is exhausting, we drove that classic 17 Mile Drive through Pebble Beach. I let Joe keep the top down on the car, it was in the low 60's and chilly, but absolutely worth it.




It was rather cloudy and getting dark, but the sun broke through the clouds just in time for Joe to capture a couple of shots of the iconic Lone Cypress. It's reinforced now with a little wall and some heavy duty cables to keep it in place for its next 250 years.


The stretches of coast and cypress trees are unmatched along this drive. Plus the conspicuous consumption is fun to look at. Villas with silly names and many Mercedes along the path.



I love how the heavy, consistent winds along the water have shaped the trees. We finished our drive, thankfully put the top up as the temperature dropped into the 50's, and headed back to our hotel to find dinner.

We parked the car, cleaned up a bit and walked over to An Choi for a little Asian cuisine for dinner. I had a bowl of soup that was warm and light while Joe dove into some Pad Thai. And if you ignored the random Christmas decorations and heavy black leather and metal chairs from 1990, it was a perfect way to end a busy day. There goes Thursday and Friday. Next up: Saturday whale watching boat excursion day followed by the family portion of this trip. It's almost Custer time!