Prologue: We started our first California excursion in 9 years with a flight from Philly to LA with a stop in Denver. If you never had the experience of flying into Denver, you should try it once. The turbulence on approach, caused by winds coming off the Rockies, will give you several opportunities to re-examine your religious faith and fire off a quick Act of Contrition (assuming you are Catholic)! But other than losing in Scrabble to my better half on the plane and being constantly ridiculed for losing tiny plastic travel Scrabble letters due to fat-finger-itis, it was an uneventful flight.
The objective of our trip was to help my brother, Pat celebrate his retirement. Pat’s spousal unit would be our hostess and co-guide throughout our excursions, which would include a jaunt up north to the Monterey Peninsula to play two rounds of golf at the Pebble Beach Resort, followed by a leisurely drive south along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Day One: Sunday … Woke up in the Shirley Temple Room. ‘Twas a delightful repose! But I can’t get used to rolling out of bed at the civilized of hour of 9:30 PDT (Suffering from reverse jet lag!) to find out I have only 30 minutes until the Eagles game comes on! Sweet mother of Chuck Bednarik! I barely get a toe-hold on my caffeine intake and I’m supposed to be pumped up for game time!?! Who lives like this?!?
Day Two: Monday … Up at oh-it’s-still-dark hundred hours (a repeating theme throughout the trip), but frankly you have to be up early to beat the LA morning rush-hour traffic, which was already extremely heavy going into the city at 6:30 as we headed out. Can’t imagine what that looks like at 8:00!
As we head out of the city, the scenery begins to change.
Hills everywhere … houses perched on ridges, homes hanging from steep hillsides … hills in dry, brittle browns spotted with squat green trees … steep vertical slopes rising rapidly from winding roadways …
Quaint Danish architecture
We stop in a neat little village called Solvang, which touts itself as the Danish Capital of America. Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers looking to escape midwestern winters, the town sits in the Santa Ynez Valley and consists of shoppes, bakeries and restaurants, many in buildings of bright, colorful Danish design.
Ate breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House
. Great coffee … Have the Danish pancakes, they are fantastic … the size of dinner plates but thin, light and delicious!
Did the touristy thing for a while, then climbed back into the car for the sprint up Rt 101 to Carmel. Our plan was to hit the Monterey Peninsula quickly, and enjoy the coastal sights on the return trip south.
obligatory Danish windmill
And so we made our sprint northward …
Vineyards … everywhere vineyards … signs labeling types of wine made from specific grapes … farm country … dry, barren hills give way to green cultivated fields set on valley floors … fields of produce worked by bent figures and large machinery … trucks full of lettuce, a trailer filled with butternut squash … dust clouds rising from fallow fields being prepped for planting off in the distance …
The number of vineyards is perhaps the biggest change I noticed from our last visit almost a decade ago. In addition to the acres and acres of vines, you must – of course – have hundreds of outlets for wines. And so it appears that the state’s official past time is now Wine Tastings!
As we approach Carmel, an ominous sign … a thick ocean layer blocks out the sun along wide swaths of the nearby coast.
We get into Carmel, which is situated just south of the Monterey Peninsula, at mid-afternoon and check in at the Mission Ranch Resort
, which was preserved and renovated by Clint Eastwood – actor, director and Carmel’s former mayor. The resort is absolutely gorgeous, ten buildings in rustic design with incredible views of Point Lobos, the Carmel River and the Pacific. You can enjoy these views from the restaurant and expansive patio (great for late afternoon cocktails) that overlook a large meadow complete with its own herd of grazing, well-mannered sheep.
View from near the Mission Ranch restaurant patio
Dinner at the restaurant that night was excellent! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the duck, but everyone clearly enjoyed their meals. The service was excellent; the drinks strong; the atmosphere cozy, relaxed and pleasant.
One very nice amenity at Mission Ranch is the complimentary breakfast, served in the tennis court clubhouse. Nothing fancy, just good, basic continental breakfast fare.
: A Tuesday … Played Pebble Beach
! (Click the link for a detailed description of that golf experience!) What a day! We were reprimanded for wearing our hats inside The Tap Room
, the renown post-round watering hole that sits less than 100 yards from the 1st tee. Although the ambiance is impressive, the food was not much better than your average 19th hole found anywhere. I hear the chili is very good, but I’m not a chili guy.
Carol (left) enjoying the atmosphere at Pebble Beach Lodge
Wednesday … Played Spyglass Hill … another amazing golf experience! If you ever go, you HAVE to play Pebble Beach for the history, scenic beauty and extraordinary golf holes. But the best golf course – condition wise, for playability, and for the average golfer – is Spyglass Hill
! (A later post will be dedicated to playing Spyglass. And will be linked here
Meanwhile, the women folk spent the day shopping, having lunch and enjoying a splendid afternoon in Carmel, where they were greeted by from a local canine representative (right).
That evening we drove up to the town of Monterey (situated north of the peninsula) for dinner and general touristy activity. Cannery Row is your typical tourist magnet, dollar sucking locale; but every travelers’ haven has one. We ate at an unremarkable sports bar-type establishment after we had hit the Pebble Beach (discount) store, which is a great place to find PB clothing bargains once you have recovered from the sticker shock of shopping at the Pebble Beach pro shop.
You guessed it … Thursday! Our Pebble Beach experience
- Pat’s too sexy for his car; Too sexy for his car; Too sexy by far …
was coming to a close … until the someone brought up the Lexus freebie! Apparently, if you stay at the PBR, you get a free excursion in one of their available Lexus automobiles. And since it was a cool, 50-degree overcast day along the windy peninsula coast we opted – of course – for the sporty Lexus convertible coupe!
So we took a leisurely joyride around the most scenic parts of the 17-mile drive. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the Monterey Peninsula must have the highest golf course-per-capita rating in the U.S.! But it’s the ocean scenery and dramatic sea cliff topography that makes the area truly unforgettable.
Rocky, forbidding beachfront … roiling surf … waves crashing over partially submerged rock formations … placid tides choked with clumps of kelp … trees bent permanently landward by ocean winds … beautiful homes perched on open hillsides … others hidden by steep drops and dense woods … spectacular ocean landscapes framed by a softening fog …
Rocky shoreline along 17-mile drive
It wasn’t the best day for amateur photog work, unless you like barren, rocky sea beauty cloaked in fog. As you wander along the drive there are ample opportunities for picture-taking or just staring at the kind of scenes you do not have on the east coast south of New England.
The iconic symbol of Pebble Beach
Eventually we came upon the iconic symbol of Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress well-preserved on a treacherous-looking outcropping of rock jutting out into the forbidding sea. It serves as the symbol of Pebble Beach Quality, so it says on the corporate-looking signs posted at the entrance to its viewing area. The fact that the tree is basically held together with anchored cables and duct tape – you would think – might suggest they find another symbol of Quality. Just sayin’ …
Once we were finished with that Lexus POS, it was time to hi-tail it off the peninsula and return to our mundane daily lives. But along our meander down the Pacific Coast Highway, we would spend a few relaxing days in Cambria, which will be the subject of our next California post!
But I would be negligent not to recommend that, on your way out of the Pebble Beach area, you should take a leisurely drive south along Carmel Way. Unique homes in a neighborhood setting and beautiful ocean views are plentiful there. It is a bit disingenuous to refer to most areas of Pebble Beach and the 17-mile drive as “neighborhoods”, but Carmel Way has a different, more homey feel to it even if you’re just drivin’ through.
For now I’ll leave you with a few additional pictures.
Sheeples with demonic eyes in the Mission Ranch meadow
More stark beauty from the Monterey Peninsula
More traditional California beauty (Happy Anniversary, Hon!!)
Teaser photo for a later post on playing Spyglass Hill