Monday, November 07, 2011

Hippie getaway

This past weekend, Norman, Lucy and I took a little jaunt up California's Pacific Coast Highway, a.k.a. (to my mind, at least) the Hippie Trail. We had no real goal in mind, other than to get out of town and relax a bit. I had to work Friday morning, so we hit the trail about 12:30. It was raining and chilly, but we were well-provisioned (no Donner Party fate for us!) and equipped with both GPS and satellite radio.

We had a decidedly non-outstanding lunch at Willy's Smokehouse in Agoura Hills -- nothing wrong with it, but nothing special, either. My BBQ didn't even warrant a photo. We drove north towards our night's destination, San Luis Obispo, passing through small agricultural towns. We saw lots of broccoli growing, as well as cabbage, pumpkins, and what had once been corn but was now just dried, brown stalks. One little town we drove through, Guadalupe, seemed particularly hard-hit by the recession -- lots of empty storefronts and abandoned-looking houses. We were perplexed by a sign for the Living Water Church.

"What does that mean?" Lucy wondered.

"It means they drink their own urine," I said. Naturally, I know nothing at all about the Living Water Church.

Guadalupe does have an awesome-looking cemetery right on the highway.

It was almost dark when we reached San Luis Obispo, and even with the GPS, we had a little trouble finding our lodging, Sycamore Mineral Springs. Don't be fooled by the lush photos and spa packages -- this place is a total hippie getaway! Each of the rooms comes with a private natural sulfur springs hot tub, and the emphasis is on "private." Our rooms were tucked away at the back of a building called Harmony, pressed up against a wooded hillside. Lucy's room was called "Y-Not," and she immediately dubbed it the Whore Room. "There has been a lot of sex at this place," she declared, and I don't doubt it.

By the time we were settled and ready for dinner, it was full-on dark; we didn't feel like driving around an unfamiliar town trying to find a dinner place, so we decided to eat at the resort's dining room. Good choice!

None of the menu's entrees really grabbed us, so we decided to share several appetizers for dinner. Above is our lovely cheese plate, which included quince jelly and a piece of honeycomb. We also shared some scallops, foccaccia, and tiny Spanish sausages on a bed of mashed potatoes. We asked our waiter what made the butter, pictured at lower left, so fantastically delicious, and he said it's because it's whipped. That boy didn't know what he was talking about. I think somebody in the kitchen mixed some crack into it before they sent it out.

Mmmm, dessert: creme brulee with a piece of lavender shortbread on top. It was a delicious, very grown-up meal.

The next morning, after Lucy had a close encounter with an Edward Cullen-lookalike who came to her room to "adjust her shower" (or so she said), we went off in search of good breakfast. Lucy had found a likely-sounding spot on Yelp, but we spotted the Madonna Inn from the highway and decided to eat there instead. See? Isn't it nice to be flexible?

Norman and Lucy contemplate the wonder that is the Madonna Inn. I'm sorry, but I failed to take an exterior shot that really captures the rococo pink Swiss Chalet style of the place.

This shot is a bit better.

Breakfast at the Copper Cafe. It's kind of expensive, especially for breakfast, but the food was good and the service was excellent. My coffee cup was never less than two-thirds full.

Mmmm, corned beef hash, poached eggs, and hash browns. One of the bread choices was biscuits, which means two large, crumbly buttermilk biscuits. I was only able to eat one of them and felt bad about leaving the other. They were served with apricot jam, raspberry jam, and honey. I told our waitress that I thought it was cool the restaurant served something besides your typical strawberry jam and grape jelly, and she told us she had just picked her two favorite jams. Talk about personal service!

After breakfast we walked around the inn a bit. Here was the dining room adjacent to the cafe, already tricked out for the holidays.

A tasteful chandelier.

An even more tasteful staircase. A wedding and a baby shower were both taking place that morning so we couldn't wander as far as I might have liked.

Here's a famous sight at the Madonna Inn: the urinal in the men's room. That red light at the right senses when a gentleman has finished his business and stepped back, and it triggers a waterfall down the rocks above. Men were far outnumbered by camera-toting women in that restroom.

One last look at the Madonna Inn: a glimpse at the cake shelves in the bakery. Pink!

Once we got out of San Luis Obispo, we hit Highway 1 and were driving along the coast. We passed through Morro Bay and eventually came to Cambria, which is one of the most beautiful little towns I've ever seen. It is effortlessly charming. I think Cambria was the first point at which Lucy said, "I want to live here. How do you get to live in a place like this?" It was not the last time she said something along those lines, although in Cambria she specified that she'd be willing to stop shaving her legs, let her hair go gray, and get a cat in order to live there. We had two things we wanted to see in Cambria. The first one was the Redmoose Cookie Company.

We never would have found this place without GPS. I'd heard it was in an industrial neighborhood, but that doesn't really describe its location. It honestly seemed to be housed in a large unit in a storage facility. Inside it was no great shakes: a glass counter filled with goods, and a simple table filled with more goods. But, oh! those goods! I bought a package of peanut butter cookies and something called a Naughty Rod, which is a large pretzel rod covered in caramel, chocolate, and other goodies. Norman got some chocolate chip cookies, some root beer cookies, and a couple of Pumpkin Moose Pies, which are sandwich cookies made with pumpkin spice cookies and brown butter and vanilla cream frosting. Lucy got some Cinnful cookies (Y-Not? whore!), O Joy (triple chocolate, coconut, and toasted almonds), and Nutless Wonders (which the owner said, Lucy swears, he named after himself). Yummy! Do visit Redmoose Cookie Company if you're ever in Cambria.

The other place we visited was Linn's Easy as Pie Cafe, which is also a series of fun little shops crammed with edible gifts, kitchen accessories, books, and assorted gewgaws. I had hoped we might eat lunch there, because I hear their chicken pot pie is delish, but we were still so stuffed from breakfast that it was out of the question. We just looked around. I bought some tipsy maraschino cherries in whiskey for my sister Mary, who has become quite the bartender of late.

A raspberry mascot out on Linn's patio. Or maybe it's an ollalieberry. I can't tell the difference.

We kept on driving. The day, which had started cool but sunny, grew ever more overcast, but the three of us didn't mind that at all. Lucy's car has satellite radio and we alternated between the Outlaw Country station and something called The Bridge, which is mellow 70s rock. We heard a lot of Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, and The Eagles on Saturday afternoon.

We drove through San Simeon. I remember hearing that at one time, William Randolph Hearst owned everything as far as he could see from Hearst Castle, perched atop the hills above San Simeon. Damn. We could see the castle on top of those hills, but there was no way to get closer without committing to a tour. It was so far away that, while I could make out some details through Lucy's dad's old binoculars, there was no point in taking a picture. We decided to visit the pier on the beach across the highway from the castle tour's entrance instead.

It's a substantial pier. Hearst probably had provisions shipped in from the wilds of Los Angeles.

Norman taking in, and enjoying, the gloom.

The state of California owns San Simeon and Hearst Castle now, and they have placed some informative signs along the pier for visitors. I read this one and immediately started looking for sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales. All I saw were some seagulls and kelp.

The weather started to get nicer as we wound our way up the coast. And I do mean wound -- the road got curvier and less flat as we made our way north. At one point Lucy looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, "Hey, are you all right?" "I feel kind of woozy," I admitted. My head ached and my stomach felt uneasy. Carsick! Criminently! Turns out, my fellow travelers felt much the same way. We decided to pull over for some coffee. The thought of eating lunch was unbearable.

I can't even tell you where this is. It was more of a wide spot in the road than an actual town. I'm not sure why Lucy looks so peevish.

I wish I could tell you where this is. It was so pretty, and I'd rather remember it as someplace other than the spot where I nearly threw up.

Fortified with caffeine and non-drowsy Dramamine, we crossed the highway to take a few pictures. California's Hippie Highway is gorgeous. This is the view right off the side of the road.

A slightly different perspective.

See? You can shoot the scenery from any angle and get a great picture.

Norman and Lucy. The Dramamine is kicking in! That stuff really works.

It grew more and more overcast the farther north we went. We were driving through stunningly beautiful country but didn't have time to stop, because we wanted to reach Point Lobos before it got too dark. We flew right by Deetjen's and Nepenthe with time only for a longing backwards glance. Next time, upscale hippie hangouts. Next time.

The funniest thing we saw -- well, I saw, anyway -- on the whole trip was just outside Big Sur. It was at one of those scenic points along the road, where it widens so cars can pull over and you can get out and take pictures. As we approached this one, we noticed a bunch of camper vans and old pickups parked in a row. People were waving signs and posters; it looked like some kind of protest. Sure enough, as we whizzed by, we realized it was an OCCUPY BIG SUR demonstration, about as far from a corporation as is possible in the continental U.S. Whether ironic or earnest in nature, it totally cracked me up.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is amazingly beautiful. Norman had come across their website and suggested we visit there. It turned out to be a perfect choice, because Lucy had brought some of her dad's ashes to scatter on our trip, and she could not have found a better spot for her nature-loving father. While she found a quiet cove to liberate her dad, Norman and I wandered the rocks along the shore. I love this witchy-looking spiral someone made of pebbles.

How long does it take, I wonder, to break enormous boulders into sheets and to wear holes through stone?

A cave! It was a little too treacherous to get to.

Sunset over the Pacific at Point Lobos. So, so beautiful. A line of pelicans flew by just before I took this shot, probably right at the moment Lucy was scattering her father's ashes. Her dad was an avid birder, so I like to think of the pelicans as a sort of 21-gun salute.

We continued on our way north. We ate an early dinner at Vivolo's Chowder House in Pacific Grove, a place recommended to me by a coworker who used to work there. She said to try the clam chowder in the bread bowl with the garlic cheese bread. That's what Norman and I ate, and it did not disappoint. Lucy ordered some other kind of bisque in a bread bowl with lobster, scallops, shrimp, and other goodies. She said it was amazing. We split a single, perfect piece of pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. It was starting to rain and getting very cold when we emerged from the restaurant. It felt great to check into our hotel, which is located in historic Cannery Row in Monterey. I got a blaze going in the fireplace in my room and fell asleep to flickering orange shadows.

Here's a view of Cannery Row from the walkway of our hotel yesterday morning. I had a great view of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company from my hotel room -- a surprisingly pleasant sight, although a little out of place in historic Cannery Row.

After a lackluster breakfast at a restaurant next door to the overcrowded one we really wanted to patronize (who knew bacon could leave such a yucky aftertaste in one's mouth?), we headed towards home on the 101. We decided to visit Mission San Miguel in San Miguel. I've been to a few of the missions but never this one. It turned out to be a quiet, contemplative stop that kind of set the tone for the rest of our journey.

This is posted in the Mission parking lot. "A nun must have put that there," said Lucy.

A fountain in the courtyard.

I'm not sure what this is. A bread oven? I would hate to have to stoop over that thing all day.

The bell tower from the cemetery.

Can you spot the typo? These words are carved into wood -- you'd think someone would catch the misspelling before actually digging in with their Dremel.

The inside of the bell tower. I climbed up high enough that I could see over the wall on the right into the cemetery, but I was afraid to go any higher because the steps were mossy and slick. It didn't look as though anyone had climbed them in a very long time. Naturally, Norman later climbed all the way up to the bells.

I dozed off during the next leg of our journey and awoke to learn that an Executive Decision had been made: we were having lunch at Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton!

Sean calls the place Andersen's Pea Soup and makes fun of me for saying Pea Soup Andersen's but . . . well . . . look at the sign! I enjoyed the Traveler's Special, which is all you can eat pea soup and bread. One bowl was enough, thanks. It was delicious.

A photo op for us tourist types.

Can you spot the typo? After lunch we took a little detour to Solvang, the town that smells like donuts. (Or at least it did the last time I was here; this time, not so much.) The donuts in question are really ebelskivers, and we enjoyed a serving of them in a little cafe. Solvang is kind of neat because it's kitschy but seems utterly sincere in its depiction of a Danish town on California's central coast. It's also home to The Hitching Post, where part of the movie Sideways was filmed.

After Solvang we just drove. The three of us barely talked on our way back to Los Angeles. It felt good to sit quietly, listen to Stevie Nicks, and contemplate the universe. Now, of course, I'm ready for another road trip.

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