During our legendary road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway in June of 2012 we encountered so much beauty and wildlife! The rugged landscape of Big Sur was perhaps the most picturesque area, but today I want to talk about some of the wildlife we encountered. Our trip was northbound and you can watch the whole thing here, but the real fun begins right after the town of San Simeon in California’s Central Coast. When you look to the right you will see the Hearst Castle in the distance, on top of the hill. You will drive about four miles further north and you will encounter a beach which happens to be an elephant seal rookery, near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse. Check out the video next.
Further north after Big Sur, you will pass by historic Monterey and it’s fabulous aquarium. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is most famous for the jellyfish exhibition and for being the location used for the Sausalito Cetacean Institute in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I found the penguins particularly funny, especially this exhibitionist couple who could not wait until the aquarium closed to do their business.
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We’ve left our harts in San Francisco. Now it is time to continue north. This is Road Nomad, Episode 6, Beyond San Francisco.
We begin with Wine Country. On this particular occasion we visit the Hess Collection Vineyard in Napa Valley, a little off the beaten path, but well worth a visit, not only because of the quality of their wines but also for the beauty of the state.
Our next stop is Domaine Chandon, established in 1973 by Moet et Chandon of France, it specializes in sparkling wines. Moving on.
We were here once before, back in 2008.
On that occasion we passed by Sonoma Valley, on our way to Napa Valley, stopping at VJB for some fantastic Chardonnay.
Next we visit the V. Sattuy Winery for a fabulous tasting. The also have a very well supplied deli market, with a great assortment of cheeses and other stuff. But the highlight of the trip is Sterling Vineyards, located on a hilltop. We take the aerial tramway to the top.
From the estate the views of the valley are fantastic.
There is a very informative tour on the art and science of wine making… and did I mention the views?
Back in the present, we pass by St. Helena.
We also visit Calistoga, but it is passed 5 pm and all the wineries are closed, so we continue north. Tonight we are sleeping in Clearlake. In the evening we get to see see the 4th of July fireworks from the hotel. Unfortunately all I have is the iPhone to shoot the video and, well, and some drunken companions.
We are driving around the lake. Clear lake is the largest fresh water lake that is entirely in the state of California. The lake is supposed to be very popular for watersports, but we haven’t seen much of that, in fact the whole area looks kind of deserted. Wrong time of the year maybe?
The next town is called Nice… I wonder if it is pronounced Nice like its French namesake.
A little further, to the northwest we encounter smaller Lake Mendocino, which is bustling with activity.
Going back south towards Santa Rosa, and Petaluma. Our next destination is the TWiT Brickhouse, home of the TWiT network, which stands for This Week in Tech. It’s founder, radio host Leo Laporte, started podcasting back in 2005 from a table at the 21st Ammendment Bar in San Francisco during MacWorld. Now broadcasting live on the Internet from his multi-million dollar studio, I’d say he’s got this online media business figured out. He’s inspired many people to put original content online, myself included.
Let’s listen in.
I’m streaming the show on my iPhone with a few seconds of delay. The studio was partially financed by the sale of these sponsorship bricks, which give the studio its name, the Brickhouse. Unfortunately we have to go. Watch Leo at twit.tv.
Going back to San Francisco there is one more thing… as the late Steve Jobs used to say. Let’s pay a quick visit to Silicon Valley. We visit the obvious, Google, the Hewlet and Packard Garage, the Apple Garage where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple and we also visit the Mother Ship itself. The have a store where you can buy t-shirt, mugs and other stuff. But the gem is without a doubt the Computer History Museum. The exhibits are very extensive from the first calculator, the abacus; to the early pocket calculators, classic video games, the Altair, the Apple I, the Apple II, the original IBM PC, early digital gadgets, failed robots… so much stuff… I’m in heaven! Last but not least: the Babbage Difference Engine, and early mechanical calculator, designed by Charles Babbage in the 1800. The machine couldn’t be fully built until the year 2000, and lo and behold, it worked!
We get a lengthy explanation of how this incredible machine works, so I’ll leave you with some of that although I will post a longer version, nearly uncut, so look for that if you are interested. We are saying goodbye to California for now. As always thank you for watching and see you on the road.
We’ve been driving all along the Pacific Coast Highway. Now we reach a city that in my book ranks up there with all the great cities in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to San Francisco.
We begin our tour of the city on the high ground. We drive up to Twin Peaks, the second highest point in the city to get a commanding view of San Francisco. From up here you can see the whole Market Street, all the way from the Embarcadero to the Castro. The bay bridge on the east, downtown, the Russia Hill, a little further Alcatraz island… at the west end one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate. Wow. Its like being at the Eiffel Tour in Paris, you can almost see everything, at least most of the city.
Down we go through the steep hills of San Francisco. We make a quick stop to check in at our hotel, and taking advantage of the good weather we go out again. It is our intention to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get a view of the city for the other side of the bay. It was lucky we went to Twin Peaks earlier as it is now covered in fog. We are on the summit of Hawk Hill, probably, hands down the best view of the city and the bridge.
We are treated to the most beautiful sunset as the shadow of the mountain makes it way through the city below. The moon shines on, the lighthouse turns on, and the sun disappears behind the mountain leaving the city bathed in the alpenglow. We end the day in Sausalito, with this beautiful view of the city at dusk.
Good morning San Francisco. Today we are taking the tour of Alcatraz Island and its famous prison. We decide to walk to the pier, which takes about half an hour. The morning stroll gives us a chance to admire San Francisco’s unique architecture. We’re ready to board the boat. The Alcatraz cruise leaves from pier 33, near the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, which you can see in the back. The cruise offers outstanding views of the San Francisco bay. We are approaching “The Rock”, as the island is also referred to.
After a quick orientation we take a very informative guided tour of the former prison. This is the first known photo of Alcatraz, from 1853. We begin appropriately with the morgue. It is all under renovation, so there is noise and many areas are not accessible supposedly for our safety. We learn how the typical cell used to be, and also about famous inmates. The tour includes testimonials from guards and former prisoners. We step out to the recreation yard. Part of the punishment was having this great view od San Francisco, they could see the life outside, some nights the could even hear the sounds of the city if the wind was right, so close, yet so impossibly far, inaccessible, forbidden. I’m telling these guys had it rough. Back inside we are in the “D” block, solitary confinement. This is where the most dangerous inmates spent their days, and nights. We learn about the battle of Alcatraz in which a group of inmates took a bunch of guards hostage. Let’s just say it didn’t end up well. There are still grenade marks on the floor. More cells, more history, some prisoners read, some learned music, some took up kneading. We get to see administration building. Once again a great San Francisco view. We also learn about the many escape attempts and the ingenious methods and tools used to that end. We finish the tour at the dining block, the last menu. Alcatraz closed on March 21, 1963. The tour is of course much more extensive than what we can show you here, so we encourage you to come to San Francisco and explore “The Rock”. We are doing some outdoors exploring ourselves. The island is breeding home to many species of birds, some of which are protected. The flora is quite diverse as well.
We head back to the mainland. Our next challenge is climbing the Filbert Steps of Telegraph Hill to reach the top of Coit tower for another commanding view of the City. The climb is quite challenging. We take the elevator to the top. The 360 degree view of the city is spectacular. I take advantage and create this panorama. There is a statue of Columbus at the foot of the tower.
We zoom in on Lombard Street, which we will visit later, but right now we are going towards Columbus Avenue, for lunch at Chinatown. We pig out at the House of Nanking, fully recommend it, and then walk around a little more all the way to the Transamerica Pyramid. There is this restaurant called the Stinking Rose where everything is cooked with garlic, even the dessert. Talk about bad breath. And that’s it; we take the bus to the hotel and literally collapsed. Sometimes you need a break from your vacation and we did just that.
On the next day we drive to Silicon Valley. We visit the usual, the Google campus, the Computer History Museum, the garage where Apple was founded, and another famous garage, that of Hewlett and Packard, considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley, and finally the mother ship itself. But I’m going to save all this for another episode. Let’s go back to San Francisco.
We arrive at Golden Gate Park hoping to be able to see the Japanese Garden, but it turns it is already closed. So, we walk around this area a little bit, and continue exploring. Golden Gate Park, is over 1000 acres, 20% larger than Central Park in New York. It was conceived and built in the late 1800. In 1903 two Dutch style windmills were built to pump fresh water to the park. One of them has been restored. After visiting the Dutch windmill, we reach Ocean Beach, which runs all along the west coast of the city. There’s the Cliff House, the Camera Obscura, and the Seal Rocks.
Driving along the streets we arrive at Alamo Square, famous for its postcard view of San Francisco. Kodak moment, if I may perpetuate the cliché. We continue roaming the city, through Japan Town. We drive down Lombard Street, famous for being the crookedest or most winding street in the world. We’ll be back here. As night falls, we continue driving around. We pass once again by Chinatown. Then we stumble upon AT&T park under the moon, just at the end of a Giants game. Yes, the t-shirt guy is eating fried chicken. We also pass briefly by the Castro, the United States largest gay neighborhood. A virtual roller coaster ride takes us back to our hotel. Our hotel is the Travelodge Golden Gate, cheap, but very well located right on Lombard Street.
In the morning we do Lombard Street one more time, this time however we are lucky enough land a parking spot, with the California Cruiser on the steep incline so we can admire the view of the street from the bottom. Next we go downtown to ride on what must be the last unsafe, hence fun, mode of transportation in the civilized world: the cable car. We are standing at the Powell Street terminus. To this day they still turn the car by hand, like in the olden days. Enjoy the ride! This can not be safe.
San Francisco is one of those cities which have character, which can not be confused with any other city. Unique architecture, steep hills, cable cars… After our joyride along the hills of San Francisco we arrive at the Fishersman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. The area is full of shops and street entertainment. And of course there are the famous seafood stands and restaurants. There is also the famous Boudin Bakery, self proclaimed the original San Francisco sourdough French bread. Established in 1849 by French immigrant Isidore Boudin, it combined French techniques with the prevalent sourdough. Although it has changed hands along the years it is still and iconic place in Fisherman’s Wharf, and I must say they have a great publicity scheme.
After all this fun it is time to take the cable car back. We end our ride by Union Square. One of the city’s oldest establishments, John’s Grill, famous for the classic movie the Maltese Falcon. Time to leave, we cruise down Market Street.
Our next destinations, Napa valley, Clearlake, the Twit Brick house and Silicon Valley. Stay tuned and as always, see you on the road.
First, we explore the nearby small city Carmel by the Sea, mainly the sea part. We arrive to the beach.
Later we visit Mission Ranch, owned by Clint Eastwood. That’s is the place where we really wanted to eat the night before, instead of the tourist trap, but we called ahead an found out we couldn’t make it on time as it closes rather early. Later we found out that Dirty Harry himself had been entertaining the night before. What a fail… but moving on.
Let’s visit world renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. Its main exhibition is the Jellies, featuring all kinds of exotic Jellyfish. Let’s admire these fascinating creatures.
Of course there are many other attractions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium like these giant fish tanks displaying sea life in action. There’s avian action too. Fishing birds. Another great exhibit are the sea horses, or hippocampus. Such an exotic species. Some of them can even disguise themselves and plants. Fascinating! In the main lobby there are life size representations of sea creatures. Another highlight of the aquarium is the penguins, very funny little guys. Of course not all penguins know how to behave themselves in public. And with that we say goodbye to Monterey and it’s fabulous aquarium.
Back on the road we continue due north.
We make one last pit stop at Half Moon Bay for a late lunch. Famous lobster roll at Sam’s Chowder House.
And that’s all for this episode. We are headed towards San Francisco, but that city deserves it’s own special show. Until then, see you on the road.
Previously on Road Nomad we flew from Miami to Los Angeles, California and visited many of the famous landmarks. Then we took off on the Pacific Coast Highway, passing by Malibu, crossing paths with the Google car, paid a quick visit to Santa Barbara, and tasted wines at Solvang. Today we continue due north. Enjoy.
At San Luis Obispo, we get back on California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway after our Santa Ynez valley wine drinking detour.
We arrive to Morro Bay. Originally named El Moro by Portugese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillos because the big rock resembled the turban worn by North Africa’s Moorish people, however morro also means pebble or rounded rock in Spanish, so either origin works for me.
The main industries are tourism and fishing and the town’s most striking feature is the Morro Rock, a reserve for endangered species the peregrine falcon.
We are hungry for some seafood and this place looks nice enough. The clam chowder was good.
Anchor memorial park. The park was developed as a memorial for fishermen lost at sea.
We continue or journey north.
We arrive to the town of Cambria, which features a pretty interesting dwelling, The Nit Wit Ridge. It is a house built out of junk, thousands of found object by one man, Arthur Harold Beal over the course of 51 years. It is considered a fine example of folk art, actually a historic landmark. A poor man’s Hearst Castle. We’ll see the real Hearst castle soon enough.
We stop every few miles to admire the scenery.
And that is the famous Hearst Castle, built by newspaper millionaire William Randolph Hearst as his private paradise. Probably worth a visit but not this time. We prefer to hang out with the elephant seal at their private beach near piedras blancas. Apparently, according to the park ranger on site, these are adolescent male seals just playing and getting ready for mating season.
Back to the car. We approach the Big Sur, where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. We are treated to some of the most striking landscapes this coast has to offer.
We are about to cross Big Creeck Bridge, an impressive double arched bridge.
Further north we stop at another vista point overlooking the MacWay Rocks, near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Our next stop is the Big Sur Coast Gallery & Café for a much needed espresso, snacks, and local beer, and of course to stretch our legs.
Next we cross historic and iconic Bixby Creek Bridge.
We are finally arriving to Monterey California, as supposed to Monterey, Mexico. This one is spelled with only one “r” instead of the two on the one south of the border. Monterey was the first capital of California both under colonial Spain and Mexico. It also had the first theater, brick house, public school, public building, public library, and printing press in California. We have dinner at what looks like the local tourist trap, the Fisherman’s Wharf, at this Italian place called Isabella’s, not bad though. As the day ends and the moon, rises we say good night.
On the next episode we will visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, famous for its jellyfish exhibition and more… Also the set for the movie Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home We will pass by neighboring Carmel and the place where we really wanted to go eat. And eventually we will make it to San Francisco.
Until then thank you for watching and see you on the road.
Oh, Venice Beach, what a place! Great for people watching and I guess it could be a bit of a culture shock for some people with all the medical marijuana being pushed and all the different colorful characters. This is the famous boardwalk, where all the action is. Souvenir stores, medical marijuana clinics, tattoo shops, street performers, scam artists, restaurants and bars… Yeah, that’s Venice Beach for you, fully recommend it for a summer afternoon stroll.
A short drive north is the Santa Monica Pier, especially beautiful at sunset. There is a famous amusement park and the beautiful pacific coast: Santa Monica Beach. There are also a bunch of performers, some ok, some not so good. The ferry’s wheel steals the show.
Time to get one the road.
We are cruising along Malibu with its lavish hilltop mansions. Here we have a fortuitous encounter with the Google Street View car. Towards the north end of Malibu we approach County Line Beach, a very popular spot for surfing. Let’s check out the surfers doing their thing. We reach the Emma Wood State Beach Campground in Ventura County. This looks like a great campground and in our future life as fulltime RVers we shall definitely pay a visit. Our next stop is Summerland, and Summerland Winery for a well deserved wine tasting after such a long drive. The offshore oilrigs are also quite a sight. Our next pit stop is historic Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is quite picturesque. We decide to take a walk along the pier. There is this guy solar carving. The weather is perfect, one of the reasons why Santa Barbara is called the Riviera of the west. We are not going to be here for long, as our goal lays further north, but this place is definitely on our to do list next time we come to California. The most notable landmark we have missed is the Spanish Mission.
We get on the road again as it is our goal to reach the town of Solvang, in the Santa Ynez Valley. We learned about Solvang through the movie Sideways, mostly about two best friends on a road trip of this area drinking wine and breaking hearts. The restaurant the Hitching Post was also made famous by the film.
Solvang, which mean Sunny Fields in Danish, was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes. There are plenty bakeries, restaurants, and merchants, but lets not kid ourselves here, the reason we came to Solvang is to taste wine. There are plenty of tasting rooms featuring the best Santa Ynez Valley wines. We spend the next hour walking around, sampling delicious pastries and fine vinos. However there is absolutely no nightlife in this city as everything closes at around 5:30pm. That’s our cue to drive to neighboring Los Olivos for dinner at los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant also featured in the aforementioned movie. As the sun sets, it is time to call it a night, and get back to our hotel the King Frederik.
We are back on the road, the most scenic portion of the Pacific Coast Highway coming up ahead. In our next episode we will continue on our journey north as we get closer, and closer to our final destination San Francisco. Until then, thank you for watching and see you on the road.