1. All Southwest flights operated on time. The flight attendant on the San Francisco to Denver flight wins Best Original Script Award with his opening comments, including those meant to encourage passengers to take center seats: “Southwest still offers you center seats at no extra charge. Best friendships, marriages and one-night stands have all resulted from chance meetings on flights. With a center seat, you double your chances. And still, no extra charge.”
2. The Holiday Inn Express in Burlingame (Broadway exit – there are several Holiday Inns nearby), just south of the SF airport, was (surprisingly) a wonderful place to stay – pleasant, clean, sound proof, good breakfast, nice fitness room, very attentive staff. Who cares what Trip Advisor says?
3. When driving from the airport to Monterey, be a little adventurous. Explore downtown San Mateo and historic downtown Redwood City, and then shoot over to the coast through beautiful hills/mountains and drive through Santa Cruz. Avoid Highway 101.
4. If you are anywhere near Monterey, go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (hold your breath before giving your Master Card – yes, tickets are expensive). Plan on at least three hours (not kidding) – enjoy the building (old sardine packing plant), the jelly fish, the sea horses, the sharks, and just about everyone else. Learn a little about fish ecology and what to eat/what to avoid at the same time. This is an extraordinary place.
5. I suggest two restaurants in Monterey where you will never be disappointed – Passionfish is actually in neighboring Pacific Grove (but that just means down the street; the towns abut), and is a highly regarded, and often crowded, seafood restaurant, away from the main tourist areas, but only 5 minutes or so from Cannery Row. Sand Bar and Grill is located on the commercial fishing pier (not the tourist pier), and is frequented more by locals than outsiders but, as our terrific waitress told us, “you gotta be nice to everyone, because even a stranger might turn out to be a local”. Our Passionfish waitress was also excellent – her wedding is only a few weeks away, yet she still can tell you anything you want to know about any fish you might think about eating.
6. On the one hand, enough has been said about taking Route 1 south of the Monterey Peninsula to Big Sur and beyond. On the other hand, you can never say enough about it. It is simply beautiful – not only the scenery, but the road itself, a product of the Roosevelt public works depression response. Why can’t we do things like that today? (Ask your Congressional representative; we here in D.C. have none)
7. Not that I understand the dynamics or psychology of it, but there are a few places on the coast where the elephant seals come to spend several months a year, resting, digesting, sparring with each other, before returning to see, where they clearly have a better time. We stopped just north of Hearst Castle and saw hundreds (no exaggeration here) of them, sprawled out on the beach (perhaps looking at the hundreds of homo sapiens sprawled out along the fence line). Extraordinary.
8. Hearst Castle is a kick and a half – its history, its design, and its interior fittings and furnishings. In addition to the lavish outdoor and indoor pools, and the beautiful guest houses, inside the castle, Hearst transported full rooms (walls, ceilings, floors) from medieval Spanish and other Mediterranean houses, churches, and castles. I found the interior fascinating and uncomfortably dark and oppressive at the same time. Hearst, you see, had too much money (the castle being only one of his 30, I think it was, homes, not to mention the ranches and estates in California, Mexico, New York, Europe and elsewhere), pure and simple. Is this what continuing the Bush tax cuts will lead to?
9. One evening we saw “The Social Network”. A highlight, but I guess it doesn’t qualify as a California highlight.
10. Lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Watsonville, called “Cilantros” – looks like a chain, but it isn’t and the food was very fresh and tasty.
11. The architecture of center city Carmel by the Sea, and the very friendly lady at the business center, as well as our visit to one of the several photography galleries and our conversation with the saleswoman there. The beach at Carmel and, especially, exploring the cottages in the neighborhoods that touch the sea south of the commercial area.
12. The fairly easy hikes at Garland State Park, leading to the ruins of a 19th century farm/homestead, which gives you a good idea of what it must have been like 150 years ago.
13. Stopping at Earthbound Farms (we see their organic produce even here at Whole Foods) and learning a bit about its history and scope, having an organic lunch at an outdoor table, and seeing the large variety of pumpkins they are selling – almost every color of the rainbow (full size pumpkins, not small gourds). In fact, the number of pumpkins you see growing in central California this time of year bogs the mind (is that a phrase?), sort of the way the number of sunflowers and prairie dogs do in South Dakota.
14. Our unscheduled stop at the Palo Alto Community Center and the wonderful photography exhibit (black and white classic photos) on display there. Not sure how long it will be up, but if you are in the neighborhood……
15. Of course, driving through San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate.
16. Ultimate highlight: In Santa Rosa, seeing cousins Andy, Lynne, Evan, Lindsay, Aaron, Sharon, Ella, Luke, Jake, Megan, Marty, Susan, Dick, Maggie, and Mike (did I miss anyone?), meeting Lindsay’s family and Lynne’s family, and attending Evan and Lindsay’s beautiful wedding (we wish them a wonderful honeymoon – they are off to Greece today) and related events.
17. Stumbling upon the Raymond Burr Vineyard on their annual celebrating the Azores day (many of those who work there are from the Azores) where we got a wonderful, free (!!) Portuguese buffet lunch, and tasted some extraordinary wines. Learning a little about the history of the vineyard (founded by Perry Mason/Ironsides Burr and the current propriety Robert Benvenides (did I get that right?), who also grow orchids and create orchid varieties in California, Hawaii, Fiji and the Azores (who knew?)). We brought back one bottle of award winning 2008 Chardonnay – saved for a special occasion.
18. Discovering the stores of Healdsburg (beats out Carmel for interest, variety and quality, we thought), an upscale community in the Sonoma Valley wine country.
19. Seeing Luther Burbank’s house and gardens in Santa Rosa, and the Charles Schulz Museum, and learning a little more about Schulz’s civic activities, as well as his cartooning.
20. Taking an extremely interesting tour of the home of Korbel California Champagne in the Russian River Valley. Again, if you are in the neighborhood……this is not your normal vineyard.