Category Archives: Special Places

One of a kind special places around Northern California

Cambria and Atascadero

Atascadero countryside

Atascadero countryside

After our long drive down the coast, we finally arrived in Cambria at 12.30. As it was lunch time, we thought it would be a good idea to find somewhere to eat. When we got out of the car, the heat hit us in the face. We checked the temperature and were horrified to see it was 102. The little town was packed with visitors but we found a parking place up the hill on Cornwall Street. We strolled down the hill passing a shop called Vintage Automobilia with an old Lincoln Zephyr from the late 1930s or early 1940s parked outside. In was in good condition and Tom, of course, had to stop and drool. When I could drag him away, we walked on down towards Main Street where all the shops were.

This is our second trip to Cambria and it seems to have changed a lot since then. On that first trip we had a traditional English tea in a little tea shop and I tried to find it again but failed. Cambria tries very hard to be British but it fails miserably. It is full of fast food restaurants, art galleries, realtors, spas and shops selling T-shirts, ice cream and frozen yogurt. One of the fast food restaurants, Main Street Grill, had a loud speaker announcing when food was ready to be collected by calling out the ticket number and exactly what the order was. The announcements could be heard clearly from some distance away and it was very annoying. We didn’t stay long and certainly did not find anywhere we wanted to eat lunch, so we walked back to the car and drove the same way back to Highway 1.  I have since found out from several friends that there is much more to Cambria which we missed completely. If only we had carried on down Main Street, we would have found a lot of nice restaurants, including the The Tea Cosy, which is the tea shop we visited last time. We will suspend final judgement on Cambria until our next visit.

I had booked three nights lodging about an hour’s drive south east of Cambria and it was time to make our way there. About a month beforehand I had searched for somewhere to stay in Cambria but at that time everything was either booked up or too expensive. I resorted to my favorite site Airbnb – which is an online service where people advertise space in their homes which can be booked. Tom and I have found several nice places, normally for just one night. It is much better, and cheaper, than an impersonal hotel room plus there are lots of benefits. For this trip I found a nice little place in the hills outside of Atascadero. It was called The Best Nest and our host was Amie.

From Cambria we drove south on Highway 1. At Morro Bay we turned left onto Highway 41 towards Atascadero. We left the ocean behind us and started climbing uphill. When we were almost into Atascadero, we turned left again and wound our way further uphill to our destination. The house was easy to find as we had been sent detailed instructions, including the information about looking out for the yard art. As soon as I saw the vertical flags I knew we had arrived. The flags were just the tip of the iceberg and her yard was full of garden gnomes, shells and other objects found on a beach and placards with cute sayings. We checked the temperature before we got out of the car and it was 108!! Amie welcomed us warmly and she greeted me with a retirement card and a gift of grape licorice twists, which surprised and touched me.

The Best Nest is a detached self-contained little studio near Amie’s house. It is a very nice place with everything we needed. Well, not quite everything because but it had no air conditioning and it was absolutely sweltering inside. Amie had put in two big fans but they did not seem to make much difference. She told us that normally the weather was cooler up in the hills, especially in the afternoon when the coastal breezes cooled things down. We just happened to arrive on the hottest day of the year when there were no cooling breezes. Amie showed us round the well equipped kitchen, dining area, bedroom area and separate bathroom and pointed out the TV and extensive DVD collection of films. We were asked if we intended to visit any of the wineries nearby and we said yes so she gave us some passes to a couple of local wineries plus told us the best places to eat in Atascadero and Templeton.

It was really too hot to stay there very long so we drove down to Atascadero to find somewhere to cool off. Atascadero is a fair sized town but there were very few people walking about. We drove up and down the main street several times to discover where the restaurants were but neither of us felt like eating so early. It was then we spotted the Galaxy movie theater and made a beeline for it. When we walked inside it was bliss, this was the place to be! There were half a dozen movies on offer but none of them where on our wish list. Most of them were geared towards children which was only to be expected as the kids were on summer break. Our best pick turned out to be ‘Man of Steel’, which fortunately was starting in fifteen minuets. Tickets and popcorn in hand, we made our way into the theater. The film was something I would not normally have chosen to see but there was nothing else that appealed to us at all.

Afterwards we ate at La Mexicana near the movie theater. There were no tables available when we arrived so we sat in the bar where I had a margarita and Tom had a martini – well we are on vacation. We didn’t have long to wait and were soon shown to a booth. The chips and salsa went down very well and we both enjoyed our meal. When we walked out we were hoping that the weather had cooled down and it had slightly but it was still way too hot.

On our way back and just before we reached the BestNest we had to stop because a half grown fawn was delicately tripping across the road. The mother deer was not far behind and we watched as the pair of them joined a small group of deer with about four young fawns. The house was still very hot inside but it was cooler outside. We opened all the windows and then went outside where it was definitely cooler and stayed chatting to Amie, while she watered her garden, for quite a while. Finally we braved the house and settled down for the night.

Monterey to San Simeon

The Big Sur coast along Highway 1 south of Monterey

The Big Sur coast along Highway 1 south of Monterey

We are back on the road again. It has been some time since we posted anything. These last few months have been pretty hectic but a new phase in our lives has just began. On Friday I retired so from now on Tom and I are on an endless vacation.

(Click on the photos for larger versions.)

To celebrate this event we took on a short road trip down Highway 1. We set off just after 6 on Sunday morning. At that time we were in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures of over 100 degrees in most of central California and more of it to come the following week. Hopefully it would be cooler on the coast. Of course, at 6 in the morning, it had been wonderful 64 degrees when we left home.

Heading towards Monterey on 101, we had the road to ourselves. Later on in the day we knew it would be packed with folks making their way to the Monterey peninsula but at the time we were there it had been bliss. The sun was up and blazing away on our left hand side in all its glory but lacking the heat it would throw out later on. All that changed as we approached Highway 156 to the Monterey peninsula because suddenly we were in fog with restricted visibility. It cleared a bit by the time we reached Castroville and by the time we were passing Sand City we could see the Pacific Ocean with a view of Monterey in the distance.

We stopped for breakfast in Monterey (post coming) and afterwards made our way back to Highway 1. Soon we were at the start of the scenic coastal route to the south. All trace of fog had disappeared and everything sparkled in the early morning sun with temperatures hovering around the low 60s. When we stopped to get a better view of the rugged coastline, the cool breeze felt good.

The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge

The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge

There were roadworks on Rocky Creek Bridge (which is the bridge before Bixby Creek Bridge) which were quite scary. The road was reduced to one lane with traffic across the bridge controlled by traffic lights. Just driving across some of the bridges on Big Sur normally is scary enough because they are so high but when half the bridge appears to be missing it is positively frightening. We made it safely to the other side thank goodness.

The views along this stretch of Highway 1 make it one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the west. The coastline is rugged and the road follows the contours of the mountains. There are many twists and turns and each change of direction brings a new mouth dropping vista into view. Little stores and restaurants are located along the way and interesting stops, indicated by small gravel parking places with one or two parked cars, hint that there is something worth looking at nearby.

Just before the  Point Sur lighthouse an amazing sandy beach can be seen. It is obviously a beach which begs to be visited but a wire fence with out-of-bounds, keep out and no trespassing signs posted makes it quite clear that visitors are not welcome. I wonder whether there is a house down there or maybe the cliffs are too dangerous to climb down.

Looking south along Highway 1 in Big Sur

Looking south along Highway 1 in Big Sur

A short distance before we passed Nepenthe (a restaurant/cafe/gift shop complex that is a well worth a visit), the most amazing view of low fog hovering above the ocean with the hilltops behind, beckoned Tom to stop and take a few photos. We stopped again just past Nepenthe to take more photos. The temperature had risen to 84 degrees. It was here we met an English couple who were visiting the area for the first time. They came from Kent, which is very near to where I lived, and it was great to chat to them.

Once beyond Julia Pfeiffer Park, Tom and I were in new territory. Both of us had been along here before – Tom on several occasions and me just once in 1998 – but this is our first time together on this stretch of Highway 1. Just south of Lucia there were more scary roadworks. Once again there were lights and one way traffic but this time it was due to a new bridge being constructed. It looks very different from all the others because this one has a roof, presumably to stop bricks falling on top of cars.

North of Lime Kiln State Park we stopped at Willow Creek Beach to stretch our legs. It was not much of a beach but it was nice to gaze out at the ocean. A few gulls were resting near the water. As I studied them I realized that they were split into two groups. One group were certainly resting but the second group were grooming and bathing in the rock pools. When one gull shook itself after bathing, finished its grooming and flown away, another gull from the resting group took its place. It was fascinating to watch.

Our next stop was at Gorda. There is not much to Gorda at all apart from the Gorda Springs Resort which looks very welcoming from the road. They have cabins to rent, a small store and a cafe called the Whale Watchers Cove. We just wanted a drink and a restroom and this place seemed ideal. First we went to the cafe where Tom ordered a beer and I asked for a hot chocolate. The server was unfriendly to say the least. The beer came in a bottle and the hot chocolate from a package and the price was outrageous. Guess that was to be expected as this is the only stopping place on Highway 1 for miles in either direction. We sat out on the sheltered patio with an amazing view of the ocean but saw no whales. The gardens were pretty impressive and all the while we sat there we watched a guy meticulously watering all the plants. We then visited the store. Would you believe it, the guy there was just as unfriendly as our server in the cafe. Eventually found the restrooms – at the back of the store – and we were back on the road again.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery along Highway 1

A bit further down the coast we stopped at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Here you can see elephant seals close up and personal and you don’t have to walk too far at all. There is a large car park right next to Highway 1, which was very nearly full when we arrived, and within 20 feet you can see the elephant seals.At this time of the year, there were both young males and females who had drawn themselves up on the beach to molt. Some of the males were pretend sparring, which looks quite scary but it is nothing like the bloody battles between the breeding males during December and January when they are fighting for their harems. To view the elephant seals here is easy but I much prefer Ano Nuevo, which is between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, where you have to walk some way to see the seals and there are less people around.

After leaving the rookery and driving further south on Highway 1, we spotted Hearst Castle up o the hill. Many people have told us that a visit to Hearst Castle is a must but neither Tom nor I are convinced. I’ve seen pictures of it and it is so way over the top and ostentatious. At San Simeon we saw some colorful wind surfers out in the bay and a little further on we spotted a herd of zebras, which seemed really strange. We later found out the the zebras were owned by the Hearst Castle Estate of course.

Next stop would be Cambria but you will have to wait for the next post.

 

Guadalupe River Trail

Guadalupe River Trail through downtown San Jose

Guadalupe River Trail through downtown San Jose

Today we took a bike ride on the northern end of the Guadalupe River Trail. Tom and I have ridden the southern end, which is called the Upper Guadalupe River Trail from Chynoweth to Almaden Lake but have never attempted the lower end. The Guadalupe River starts in the Santa Cruz Mountains and flows northwards to the San Francisco Bay at Alviso. The Guadalupe River Trail more or less follows my route to work and recently parts of it have been paved over. It now runs continuously from the heart of San Jose to Alviso.

It was early when we started out and even though the sun was up, it felt a little chilly. We drove into San Jose along Monterey/Route 82 to Woz Way. We thought parking would be easy on a Sunday but we were wrong. There were a couple of car parks open but one charged $5 and the other $7, so we decided to park on the street somewhere. Finding a street where parking was allowed was impossible but we were lucky to find a parking meter right next the the trail. As it was Sunday, parking was free so we lucked out.

When I checked the route the night before it looked as if the trail ran along each side of the river but I was wrong. We started on the west side, riding through a little park with the purple painted Children’s Discovery Museum on our left hand side. It was all very pretty with information boards along the way and an elegant footbridge in the center of San Jose. The trail on the west petered out and we had to negotiate a couple of hairpin bends to cross over the river and join the trail on the other side.

It was interesting to ride through parts of San Jose I had never seen before and there were a number of parks along the way. For the most part it was picturesque. When we passed under Highway 87 we spotted a pair of ducks busily supervising their nine ducklings. There was a more depressing side of it as well as we passed a number of homeless people asleep in their sleeping bags with all their possessions next to them in shopping carts under the bridges and underpasses.

Giant hands covering a parking garage at the San Jose Airport

We passed the HP Pavilion – home of the Sharks – on our left as we rode through another park called Arena Green.  Here there was a big children’s playground which also had a carousel. Sadly, due to the budget cuts, it has been temporarily closed down. We saw a sign ahead which said ‘Trail Detour Ahead” and once again we had to dog leg up and cross to the other side. We could see why there was a detour because an event was being set up with stalls. We never did find out what the event was for even though I checked online when I got home. I discovered there was a Fantasy Fair being held somewhere on the Guadalupe River Trail that day or it could have been something to do with ‘Little Italy’ which we cycled through shortly afterwards. I never knew there was an area or, to be more precise, three areas close by, in San Jose called Little Italy. We passed a few restored houses where new businesses were opening up. Might be worth doing a walk around the area one day.

Once again we found ourselves crossing over to the other side. After we had cycled under Coleman Avenue we found ourselves in an area called Guadalupe Gardens where a maze of trails intersected. By following the broken yellow line in the middle of the trail, we were able to stay on course. It is here that the Heritage Rose Garden can be found. Yet another trip of discovery to be made in the future.

Once passing under Taylor Street we encountered more trails off to the left. On my way home from work in the evening, I drive down Coleman and through the middle of San Jose and never knew this trail even existed. To think there is this oasis of peace between Coleman and the ever busy Highway 87. Until recently there was a huge homeless camp between the trail and Coleman Avenue but about a month ago it was completely cleared away and there appears to be no trace of it left. I wonder where they all went?  About the time we cycled under Hedding Street, we caught our first whiff of jet fuel and knew we were approaching San Jose Airport.

Before long we were passing under 880 and the end of the runway. We saw a sign showing how much parking cost at the airport.  Would you believe it costs $30 an hour to park but it is only $22 to park all day.  I know which car park to head for in the future. (I found out afterwards that the sign is misleading.  $30 is the daily maximum in the hourly lot). Soon we were passing the parking structure. This building has received a lot of criticism since it was built in 2010 not only because public parking is only available on the first level (rental cars take up all the other floors) but also for the public art on the outside. It depicts a lot of hands gesturing either ‘welcome’ or ‘farewell’. I’ve read that some people find it creepy saying it looks more like ghoulish hands rising from the grave. For the record, I quite like it because it is different.  For the last few years I have passed it many times on Highway 87 but today I was able to view it much closer. Tom noticed that there are two layers to the artwork. The mesh behind is just a back drop and the hands are made up with white plastic disks, 368,718 of them to be precise.  The artist is Christian Moeller and the hands were modelled by Silicon Valley residents.

Guadalupe River Trail heading towards Alviso

Guadalupe River Trail heading towards Alviso

We continued parallel with the runway and rode past the terminals. The trail crossed a bridge and we were once again on the east side of the Guadalupe River. Then we rod under 101 and suddenly we were in the country, or so it seemed. On our right we had a huge expanse of green fields and the river flowed serenely on our left. As we rounded a bend we spotted a blue heron standing motionless in the river. We must have startled him as he took off and disappeared. There were ducks swimming around and a couple of pairs of Canadian Geese were noisily calling to each other. The sun was shining and it was a pleasure to be out enjoying our exercise.

The next underpass was at Trimble Road. It was here in 2005 that the fossilized bones of a Columbian Mammoth were found. They are on exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. It was on this stretch of the trail that we passed the back of the old Rockwell Collins facility in San Jose which closed down a few years ago. In my previous job I visited the place on many occasions and it brought back many memories including the BBQs which were held at the rear of the building. The building has remained unoccupied since then and it is sad to see.

We turned back when we reached Montague Expressway. Our intention is to return soon to finish the journey from here to the mouth of the Guadalupe River in Alviso.

 

Point Reyes

Tamales Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore

Tamales Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore

There was no doubt our bed at the National Seashore Lodge was comfortable but the room became really hot during the night. We woke at 7, at which time Tom got up, had a shower, got dressed and went out to take some photographs. I set about seeing if I could turn down the heat, which I did. I also managed to open the windows on either side of the door. At least we would be a bit cooler on our second night.

When Tom returned I was up and dressed and then we went to have breakfast. The Lodge does provide a continental breakfast and we sat and chatted with a young couple who were in Point Reyes to attend a wedding.

We left just after 8.30 and turned left onto Bear Valley Road, drove past the Visitors Center and then left again onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The temperature was a chilly 46 when we left but the sun was up and shining and there was no fog. We were heading towards the northern end of Point Reyes to hike the Tomales Point Trail, so were pleased it looked like it would be a good day.

Our journey took us through Inverness. We saw the old boat stuck in the mud just offshore which was slowly becoming more decrepit but we didn’t stop. Tomales Bay looked fantastic. The tide was in and the water glistened in the sun. There were lots of ducks and other wading birds out on the water plus a couple of egrets patiently waiting to catch their breakfast. Tom did stop just past Inverness to take some photos.

Pierce Point Ranch

Point Reyes Beach on the way to Pierce Point Ranch

The view of Point Reyes Beach on the way to Pierce Point Ranch

Not too far from Inverness, we turned right on Pierce Point Road. Almost immediately, off to our left, we had a marvelous view of the blue ocean. The grass and hills were a brilliant green but in a couple of months they will be brown. It is just over 11 miles from Inverness to Pierce Point Ranch and the ride is very scenic with glimpses of Tomales Bay off to the right, the rolling green hills on either side of the road and the occasional historic ranches. No wonder it is called the Pastoral Zone. Early American settlers started dairy farming in Point Reyes in the 1850s and towards the end of that century the production of butter and cheese was a huge business. Now there are still a few dairy ranches operating from several of the historic ranches and even more ranches where beef cattle is raised. The only people living in this vast area are the folks working on the farms and there are certainly more cattle than people. Twice on our journey we saw two cows, in two different locations, which had escaped and were happily grazing alongside the road.

Old rusty farm equipment at Pierce Point Ranch.

Old rusty farm equipment at Pierce Point Ranch.

We crossed a cattle grid and entered the Tule Elk Reserve. When dairy farms were first established in the 1800s tule elk were abundant and roamed freely in California but extensive hunting and the introduction of cattle nearly wiped them out. Tule Elk were thought to be extinct but a small herd of 30 were discovered in Southern California in the 1870s. This small heard were preserved and, from that small number, tulle elk have been reintroduced to many areas in California, including Point Reyes. Not long after entering the reserve we spotted our first group of elk off to the left. We considered ourselves fortunate as sometimes we don’t see any at all.

Pierce Point Ranch appeared as we cornered a bend. With the huge Monterey Cypresses in the background, the white painted buildings stood out. It looked as if they had been given a lick of paint since our last visit but it was an illusion.

There is a small car park at the ranch which appeared full but we found a space. It also serves as the car park for the Tomales Point Trail and we knew most of the occupants of the cars would be hiking. We rarely see many people visiting the ranch itself and today was no exception. The buildings are surrounded by a wooden, grey weathered fence with a grassed area in the middle. The farmhouse is off right at the back.

Margaret catching up on her writing at Pierce Point Ranch.

Margaret catching up on her writing at Pierce Point Ranch.

The first building to catch your attention is the barn. It is possible to investigate the dark interior because plenty of light comes in through the door and between the cracks. It isn’t possible to go inside any of the other buildings but you can peep through the windows. There is a bunkhouse, milking parlor, calf shed, school room and a machine shop. Farm equipment is quietly rusting away and adorned with creeping weeds.

Tom was busy taking photos so I sat on the (very uncomfortable) steps of the bunkhouse, took out my iPad and started writing.

Tomales Point Trail

Calla lily leaves along the Tamales Point Trail

Calla lily leaves along the Tamales Point Trail. This is a black and white version.

The trail is 4.7 miles long and ends at the very end of the peninsula. Then, of course, it is a 4.7 mile walk back to the beginning. As I was busy tapping away, Tom started off on the trail before me. When I caught up with him he was just off the trail photographing calla lilies. We chatted a bit but I then decided to carry on walking because I knew he would want to stop every so often to take photos. My plan was to walk until I came to a bench. I would then sit down, do some writing and wait for Tom to catch up with me.

I know this trail is ablaze with wildflowers in the late spring but spring is  just around the corner and although there were a few wildflowers here and there they could not be described as a ‘blaze of color’. It was a beautiful day for a walk and the views were outstanding. At this early stage of the walk the views were all of the ocean, where sparkling white caps where sprinkled on the bright blue water. McClure Beach, with it’s sandy beach, shimmered to the south and beyond that Point Reyes Bay curved all the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. From the trail though I could not see the lighthouse but I it knew it was there.

The time was just 10 o’clock and there was just one couple ahead of me. It was nice to know that there were other people around just in case a mountain lion appeared (an information board at the start of the trail said that mountain lions have been spotted in the area). It would be thrilling to see one but not when I’m walking on my own. I was on the lookout for more elk.

I really enjoyed striding out there on my own and got a bit carried away. When I looked at my watch I realized that it had been an hour since I had last seen Tom. At that point I was climbing up probably the steepest part of the trail. I kept looking back to see if I could see him in the distance. As I was quite high, I could see a fair way back on the trail. At the top of the hill I found a convenient rock to sit on – amazingly there had not been one bench on the trail at all. From my vantage point, and with the aid of my binoculars, I scrutinized the trail. There were quite a few people on their way but I couldn’t Tom. I expected him to be easy to spot because he would be on his own and carrying his tripod, but he did not appear. Every so often I would check out to sea just in case I could spot any water spouts from whales. I also passed the time by greeting folks as they passed. After half an hour there was still no sign of Tom. Every now and again I would ask someone whether they had passed a lone photographer with a tripod. Most people had but then the answers started to be ‘no’.

Herd of tule elk

Herd of tule elk I came across just over a hill. I was some ways off but they immediately knew I was there.

Maybe he had gone back to the car. It was no use trying to phone him because I had no signal on my phone which, of course meant he could not ring me either. It was time to walk back to find out where he was. After less than half a mile I spotted him climbing uphill and was mighty glad to see him. The reason folks had been saying they hadn’t seen him was because he had gone off the trail for a while. He had spotted what he thought might be an elk and went to investigate. Sure enough, he discovered a whole herd of them. They were some distance away and when they became aware off him he backed off. The big stag guarding his harem kept his beady eyes on him.

We carried on walking together, stopping every now and than to admire the view when we found a handy rock to sit on. From our lofty position we could see not only the ocean off to our left but the whole panorama of Tomales Bay to our right. Several little boats were out on the water and we could even see the traffic on the far side of the bay.

We didn’t make it to the end of the trail but estimated we had walked at least half of the 4.7 miles when we decided to turn back. At the point we decided it was time to turn back, we could see the end of the point, the entrance to Tomales Bay and Dillion Beach over to the right.

A bull tule elk checking us out.

A bull tule elk checking us out.

We had amazing luck just after we started our return journey as we spotted a group of tule elk not far away off to our right.  Just after we passed them we had stopped to admire the view once again. When we glanced back the elk were crossing the trail. It was a large group of elk and most of them moved fairly quickly. Some of them lagged behind a little, or maybe they were just stopping to admire the view as well. Eventually they had all crossed and had regrouped. That was the highlight of our day.

The one thing we both commented on as we made our way back to the start that were now far more people on the trail. It was almost a constant stream. Who can blame them though. On such a beautiful day, what better place to be than walking on Point Reyes.

The car park was really full when we finally got back to it. Cars were parked along the road for as far as we could see. As soon as we pulled out of our parking space, another car was waiting to grab it.

Before returning to the Lodge, we stopped off in Inverness for a drink and a late lunch. We had the choice of getting something at the deli; the Blackbird Coffee Shop or Vladimir’s Czech restaurant. We chose the latter. Inside it was cool and dark and we sat at the bar. Tonight we are going out for a meal so we didn’t want a big meal. We were satisfied with a drink of beer and a sample plate of kielbasa sausage, toast, sauerkraut, cucumber, celery and cheese.

After returning to the Lodge for a rest, we finished off the day by driving to Point Reyes Station for a meal at Stellina. As we arrived a little early, we wandered around Tomales Bay Foods and bought a wedge of Wagon Wheel cheese. This was one of the cheeses we had last night and we both liked it.

Stellina Restaurant is the best restaurant in town and it was crowded. Thank goodness we had made a reservation yesterday. While we were waiting for our table, Tom recognized a couple who had already started a meal. It was his cousin Judy and her husband John from Nevada City. What a coincidence, as Nevada City is a long way away in the Gold Country. We had a quick chat with them before we were called to our table. The tables there are pretty close together and we got chatting to the couple at the next table and, guess what, another coincidence, I recognized passing one of the ladies on our hike that morning.

Tom and I enjoy coming to Stellina as the food is really good. For starters we both had the chicory salad with goat cheese. Tom ordered the goat with polenta and braised greens for his main course and I had the grilled sea bass with heirloom cauliflower and golden raisins. Tom commented that he was disappointed with the goat as it was a bit dry whilst my sea bass, on the other hand, was delicious. To finish Tom had two scoops of ice cream and I had their cheese plate. MmmMmm.

 

Olema & Point Reyes Station

Point Reyes Seashore Lodge in Olema, California

Point Reyes Seashore Lodge in Olema, California

Tom and I love Point Reyes. It is about an hours drive from San Francisco but it seems like a million miles away. The whole area is geologically different from the rest of Marin County because the San Andreas fault separates them. Point Reyes is very slowly moving north while the ‘mainland’ moves south. The vegetation is different as well – you will find less trees on Point Reyes.

The whole area is under the protection of the Point Reyes National Seashore and you will discover how unspoiled the whole of it is. There is only one town on the Point Reyes peninsula and that is tiny Inverness. No big box stores or restaurants chains here. What you will see is miles and miles of beautiful scenery, like the sandy beaches, the rocky shores, the sheltered beaches on Tomales Bay, dozens of hiking trails, historic dairy farms, and wildlife galore.

Arriving in Olema, we passed where we would be staying for the next couple of nights. As it was only 12 noon and check in time was 3 pm, we had a couple of hours to kill. What better place to spend it then to drive on into Point Reyes Station.

Point Reyes Station

Olema Creek which flows past the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

Olema Creek which flows past the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

We decided to drive into Point Reyes Station, which is under three miles from Olema.  Although neither Point Reyes Station nor Olema are technically in Point Reyes, they are considered the gateways to it. We parked on one of the back streets and took a walk down the main shopping street. Our first stop was at Marty Knapp’s Photo Gallery. Marty specializes in black and white photography. The walls are lined with scenes of Point Reyes. Just recently he has been taking photographs of old barns and they were stunning. Marty and Tom had a long talk about the Sony Nex-7 camera which Marty had recently acquired. Tom has been talking about that camera just recently. Apparently it has many advantages as it is not only mirror less but much smaller and lighter than a digital SLR. Marty showed Tom his camera and even let him hold it. How long, I wonder before Tom buys one like it?

Afterwards we ambled across the road to Toby’s Feed Barn and bought a couple of birthday cards. Then we crossed back over the road to the Western Saloon for a pint of bitter at the bar (mine was a shandy). This is a good old fashioned bar and we recognized the barmaid from our last few visitors.  Later we meandered northwards to the bookstore where we spent 45 minutes looking at the books for sale. Point Reyes Books always has interesting books and I bought a paperback called ‘Sheepish’ by Catherine Friend, which is a non fiction about the trials and tribulations of raising sheep on a small holding.

Olema

A friendly robin welcomed us at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

A friendly robin welcomed us at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

It is possible for us to drive there and back to Point Reyes in a day but then our time is limited in the area. By staying there a couple of nights it meant that Tom can get up early and catch the early morning light.  We had booked two nights at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge  in Olema, which is right on the junction of Highway One and Sir Frances Drake Highway.

It was just after two when we arrived at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge and parked the car. We hoped that we could check in early but our room was not ready. We were invited to wait in their very nice lobby or games room or we could sit in the garden. As the weather was just right for sitting outside, we decided on the garden. Someone would come and find us when our room was ready.

The garden was lovely. The lawn sloped down to the Olema Creek and a line Adirondack chairs sat invitingly at the top of the lawn. Shade trees lined the edge of the lawn. I took one of the Adirondack chairs in the sunshine and Tom chose a bench under the shade of a tree. He took out his tablet and read while I fished my iPad out of the pack and started to write. It was was calm and peaceful there. In between bouts of writing I was amused by a young boy down at the edge of the creek with his mother.

Just before 3 we were called to check in. There are 22 rooms at the Lodge and we had booked one of the Terrace Rooms. It was was really nice room with a Jacuzzi big enough for two. Outside we had our own secluded and sheltered patio, complete with two Adirondack chairs. We spent the afternoon just relaxing.

For dinner we decided to try out the Farm House Restaurant, which is part of the Lodge and only a short walk away. Just inside there is a bar and a fairly large restaurant at the back. I was surprised at how crowded it was but we got a table straightaway. Most of the items on the menu were produced locally. I had the Herbs de Provence roasted chicken with grilled asparagus and cheese au gratin potatoes with Bourbon pecan sauce ($21) and Tom had the Dungeness crab salad sandwich on sour dough with fries ($17). I really enjoyed my meal whereas Tom was not impressed at all with his. To finish we shared the local cheese plate which had four small portions of different cheeses – three soft (including one goat cheese) and one firm. I didn’t catch the names and makers of the soft cheese but the firm one was Wagon Wheel which is made by the nearby Cowgirl Creamery.

It was time for an early night at the end of another perfect day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muir Beach & Stinson Beach

Muir Beach

Muir Beach

We were off to enjoy a weekend in Point Reyes. Our plan was to take our time getting there because we wanted to explore a few places which we not visited before, like Muir and Stinson beaches in Marin. There was no rush to get to Point Reyes as we couldn’t check into our lodging until 3 in the afternoon.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

As usual, we were on the road before daybreak, which meant we were enjoying our early morning coffee on Geary in the city before 7 o’clock. We usually stop at Peet’s but today, for a change, we tried out a coffee shop one block down on the corner of Geary and 17th called Royal Ground Coffee. It was certainly different from Peet’s – larger, less modern, quieter and funky. We were served straight away. Tom had a medium black coffee for $1.65 and I had a medium cafe latte for $2.65. A large choice of cookies, pastries and bagels tempted us but we resisted because we plan to stop in Stinson Beach for breakfast. We sat right in the window and had a good view of Geary waking up as it became lighter. Must comment on the murals in the coffee house as they were large and added to the general funkiness of the place. One mural depicted San Francisco streets and the other a Mediterranean village.

Half an hour later we were driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. At this time of year the bridge is more often than not shrouded in fog but that was not the case on this occasion. A few hardy tourists were walking over the bridge but there were more joggers and cyclists around.

We decided to take the scenic route north by turning off 101 onto Highway One towards Stinson Beach and along the coast. The drive towards the ocean twists and turns with alternating views inland of the Marin headlands and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. We turned left when we reached the Pelican Inn and took the road to Muir Beach.

Muir Beach

Mailboxes

95 Mailboxes on the way to Muir Beach. Margaret counted them.

I had never been to Muir Beach before so this was a new experience for me. The road to the beach is short but full of potholes. The area is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area so there was no charge to park the car. At that time of the morning there were only a couple of cars in the car park. When we got out of the car the temperature was 57 degrees but there was a chilly wind. My first stop had to be the notice board and was interested to read that river otters had been spotted very recently. The route towards the beach crossed a footbridge over the Redwood Creek and I stopped to see if I could spot any otters. It was an idyllic scene and appeared to be a perfect location for river otters but, alas, I was to be disappointed.

Once over the bridge we turned right on a trail which took us to the beach and/or an overlook. We could have turned left onto  another trail which led uphill. Muir Beach is a pretty little beach and at that time of the morning the only people on it were a couple walking their dog. It seems an ideal beach for families because not only is it sheltered but  there was nice sand to play on and rocks to the south where I am sure there are rock pools at low tide. We stayed on the trail which led uphill to the overlook. On the ridge to the north the homes of Muir Beach clung to the hillside. The higher up the hill the  larger the homes became. All of them had spectacular views over the beach and to the south.

Up on the bluff the wind blew straight through us so we didn’t stay long, even though there was a convenient bench to sit on. We made our way back to the bridge to head to Stinson Beach where we planned to stop for breakfast. When we reached the junction with Highway One we noticed a line of mail boxes opposite and Tom couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo. I had never seen so many mail boxes in one place and had to count them – there were 95 of them. And what a collection – old; new; large; small; shiny; rusty; plain; decorated and painted.

Heading to Stinson Beach on Highway 1

Looking south on the way to Stinson Beach along Highway 1

The stretch of Highway One between the Pelican Inn and Stinson Beach is really scenic. There were many ‘Wow’ moments. The view over Stinson Beach as we rounded the last headland was like looking at a picture postcard. We saw a very long, sandy beach, cabins almost on the beach, a life guard stand and, in the distance, another ridge with houses dotted along it.

For breakfast we stopped at The Breakers Cafe on the main street. We have eaten here before and enjoyed it so we were keen to see if there had been any changes. On my last visit I had the oatmeal and remembered it had been really good so went for it again. It comes with walnuts, dates and cranberries. On the last occasion in January 2011 it cost $7.95 (but without dates)  and this time it was $8.95. Tom ordered something different – Rockys Omelet ($11.95) with chicken, corn and cheese. The coffee was $2.50 and I had orange juice ($3). The food remained as enjoyable as before.

Last time I remarked that there was a nautical theme about the decoration but I wasn’t so conscious of it this time. The paintings of the old woodies and the black and white photos of local scenes (plus the scantily dressed man and the policemen) are still there.  There was a large colorful Mexican hat on the wall and I’m not sure if  that was there last time.  One thing was missing, however, and that was the collage made up of white plastic rubbish and the mermaid, which is a shame. The restroom hadn’t changed a bit.

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

After breakfast we made our way to the beach. Here we found a large car park. There were already quite a few cars there but room for many more. One van caught my attention as it had a had a mermaid and an octopus painted on it. On the way to the beach we passed two surfers, still dripping wet, on the way back to their car.

The long sandy beach stretched north in front of us. Although there were lots of people and activity going on, it was by no means crowded. There were lots of people just walking along the beach, quite a few with dogs;  families sitting on the beach; fishermen standing up to their knees in the water and surfers further out in Bolinas Bay. Happy children were building sandcastles and there was one young chap and his Dad having a whale of a time using toy dumper trucks and  wheelbarrows to help them move the sand.

Tom took his time stopping to take photographs so I happily wandered along the hard packed sand drinking in the moment. The weather was absolutely perfect and one would think it was summertime. My sweatshirt came off and even then I was hot and thinking I should have put sun block on. There were cabins and houses, some of them on stilts, built right on the beach and a lot of them had occupants. I could see people sitting on patio chairs enjoying coffee and the view. At one point I spotted a tsunami siren set back between the buildings. The scene was idyllic but I guess they get bad weather in the winter if the number of sandbags around is anything to go by. Further along the beach sand dunes fringed the beach and the roofs of cabins could be seen behind the dunes.

Stinson Beach. Everybody was having fun.

Stinson Beach. Everybody was having fun.

It was a blissful morning listening to the muted sounds of conversation now and then from fellow walkers and the mesmerizing music of the surf  lapping the shore. A group of sandpipers were busy probing the sand for their lunch. I noticed there were lots of different colored pebbles on the beach but the ones that really caught my attention were a striking black and white with swirly lines. Tom joined me and we wandered a bit further northwards. My aim had been to walk right to the end of the beach, where the small town of  Bolinas is situated less than a quarter of a mile away across the narrow entrance to the Bolinas Lagoon, but we decided to turn back because it was getting too hot and we didn’t have any water with us.

There were more people now on the beach and I was sure by lunchtime it would be crowded. At the northern end of the beach, dogs are allowed to run free and there were lots of dogs having the time of their lives. Groups of dog owners were chatting together as their dogs frolicked in and out of the water and chased each other around. When a ball was thrown they all raced madly after it. There was one dog who ran faster and jumped higher than all the others and caught the ball before it landed either on the sand or in the water.  It was amusing to see them all play so happily together.

Back in the car, we continued our journey to Point Reyes. We drove along the scenic shore of the Bolinas Lagoon. The tide was out and there were huge stretches of mud flats where there were an array of wading birds taking advantage of the easy pickings. We drove though Dogtown -blink and you’ll miss it -and saw the first sign for Point Reyes National Seashore and then one for Olema Valley. This is a favorite route for cyclists, and the going was very slow for a couple of miles as a horse box in front of us was unwilling to overtake the cyclists. We still were not in any hurry so we just enjoyed the drive and the scenery. Before long we arrived in Olema, where we will be staying for a couple of nights.

 

 

 

 

Coyote Hills

Looking west from the Coyote Hills Regional Park

Looking west from the Coyote Hills Regional Park

When Tom and I discussed where we would go the day before, we realized that we hadn’t been to Coyote Hills Regional Park for over five years so it was about time we revisited. It was extremely difficult though to drag myself out of bed the next day, especially when I saw it was a cold and frosty morning.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Coyote Hills Regional Park is not too far away from home for us; just a short drive up 101, across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay, then turn left on Passo Padre Parkway. Look for the brown Coyote Hills sign and turn left again, There is an entrance fee for cars entering the park ($5) but lots of people park outside and walk or cycle in to avoid the fee.

When we got out of the car, the temperature was 39 degrees but the sun made it feel warmer. We have been here several times in the past and have always parked near the Visitors Centre. This time though we turned into the first one we saw, namely the Quarry Staging Area. No other cars were parked there at all. Even before I got out of the car I spotted a bird I didn’t recognize. I thought it might be a wren but then changed my mind. It was a plump, mostly brown bird with a lighter patch on the top of its head.

Lots of birds at Coyote Hills Regional Park

Lots of birds at Coyote Hills Regional Park

There was a trail leading upwards but we took a short cut to a trail off to our right. Patches of water and tall reeds were on on either side of the trail. The frosty grass and the drops of dew on the reeds glistened in the sun. We heard muted bird calls around and at first we could not see any birds. Slowly we spotted them; a few more like the one in the car park flitting from trees to reeds; a couple of Canada Geese motionless out on a small open patch of water and a few ducks bustling around them. Then, out in the distance, I could see hundreds of ducks which appeared to be swimming on grass. When I checked them out through my binoculars I could see that the ‘grass’ turned out to be marsh and there were lots of open patches of water amongst it.

A Northern Harrier at Coyote Hills Regional Park

A Northern Harrier at Coyote Hills Regional Park

Tom spotted two hawk like birds high in the branches of a tree. They were easy to spot because there were no leaves on the tree and the birds were mainly white. At first I thought they were Osprey but when I looked closer I changed my mind. A ranger happened to be passing by and he stopped to chat. We asked him what sort of birds they were but he wasn’t sure either. As soon as I got home and checked all my bird books and the internet I concluded they were Northern Harriers. The ranger told us that there were lots of birds here over-wintering and, in fact, there were about 300 white Pelicans on the other side. I remember last time we came we did see a lot of white Pelicans from the Chochenyo trail.

Continuing on our walk, we came to a cross road. The Meadowlark trail was off to the left but we went straight across and joined the Bayview trail. We started to climb and slowly the Bay came into view with the Dumbarton Bridge off to the south. Closer to land were lots of ponds walled off from the Bay by thin mud levees. Once upon a time these were salt beds but are now being reclaimed and returned to their natural habitat as a wildlife refuge mostly for migrating birds. Shielding our eyes from the sun, we drank in the tranquil view. We continued to follow the trail round several headlands. As soon as we started to round the headlands, the sun disappeared and we were in shadow. Immediately the temperature dropped and it became decidedly chilly.

We didn’t quite have the place to ourselves. Several solo cyclists passed us and now and then joggers ran by. Nearly every single one of them greeted us with a smile and a ‘good morning’. The folks are real friendly here. In the distance, several headlands away, we spotted a bench perched on top of a hill. Ah, I thought, that is what I’m aiming for.

Each time we changed direction, we got a different view – Palo Alto off to the west where we clearly saw the Hoover Tower at Stanford, San Mateo Bridge and Oakland to the north and Moffett Field to the south. Tom even spotted the Sutro Tower in San Francisco, which was barely visible in the far distance. It was a glorious day to be out walking in the sunshine.

View from Coyote Hills Regional Park. A little chilly but quite peaceful.

View from Coyote Hills Regional Park. A little chilly but quite peaceful.

We walked the Bayview trail until we came to the Soaproot trail and there we turned right. This trail leads over the hill but we came across the bench a little way along. It was conveniently placed to view the whole bay from the Dumbarton Bridge up to the SanMateo Bridge. I immediately started to write but it was difficult. This time the trouble was caused by the bench itself and not the sun making the screen impossible to see. Although I have long leg,s I had to sit almost on the edge for my feet to reach the ground. By doing this, it made my thighs slope and the iPad kept slipping down. On top of that, as it was so cold, I had gloves on and it was difficult to type on the keyboard. It would have been impossible to type with gloves on the inbuilt iPad keyboard but I am lucky enough now have a Logitech keyboard. Tom gave me his pack to put my feet on and that did improve the situation for a bit. We would have stayed there longer but the bench was in an exposed position and eventually the cold made us move on.

Onwards and upward we climbed. At the top of the hill we looked down on the marshes and I tried to work out how we could find our way back to where we parked the car. Tom took his time walking down the hill by stopping every now and then to take photos. I strode on. At one point I came to a junction where two trails met and decided to keep on the Soaproot trail as it continued downward. I just hoped that Tom would realize which way I went. At the bottom of the hill I looked and and was glad to see that Tom had indeed taken the same route as I had and he soon joined me. I had began to follow the Bayview trail but Tom pointed out that I was going the wrong way. At first I didn’t believe him but he proved to be right (but then his sense of direction has always been better than mine). Before long I recognized places we had seen on the way out – the ducks swimming in the grass and the tree where the Northern Harrier had been. Back in the car park there were a few more cars parked but it was no where near being full.

It was time to find somewhere to have breakfast. Palo Alto was the nearest place we knew we would be lucky, so that is the direction we took. The car was warm and it felt so nice to be able to feel my fingers again. Coyote Hills has so many trails and we can’t wait to get back again to try a few more of them out.

 

 

Mission District, San Francisco

One of many murals in the Mission district of San Francisco

One of many murals in the Mission district of San Francisco

This was my first real visit to the Mission district and it was quite an eye opener.

We headed to Folsom and 24th Street, which is pretty much the center of the Mission. Parking was really difficult. All of the off street parking was taken by residents but there were a few spaces at parking meters. In the end we parked in one of them but got a happy surprise when we found out that on Sunday you get four hours for free.

We had read that there were a lot of murals in the Mission and indeed there was one right next to our car. The hand painted sign made me smile: ‘Vanilising of murals is not cool’. This is a paraphrase of the actual message but the spelling is correct. (I should have asked Tom to take a photo of it but forgot to ask when we got back to the car.) As we were studying, it a local resident walking by told us that there were some newish murals on Lilac behind MacDonald’s. We thanked him and starting walking west to check them out.

The Mission neighborhood is a mix of many cultures.  Spanish is predominant with a mix of Hispanic and other Central and South American countries. it doesn’t look like the best area in town, with its down at heel appearance and metal grills over most of the businesses. Only the coffee shops seemed to be open and few people were around. As we walked along we paused at many murals; all of which were colorful. Here is another quote from one of them – “Only when the last tree is cut down and the last river has dried up will man realize that you can’t eat money.”

Lilac Street is between Capp Street and Mission Street

Lilac Street is really an alley between Capp Street and Mission Street

Lilac Street is between Capp Street and Mission Street but is more like an alley because it is really narrow and runs between the backs of businesses and apartment blocks with garages onto the street. Nearly every building, door and wall had a mural of some sort on it. We walked the length of the block to 24th Street looking at them all. These murals did not depict rural scenes or recognizable parts of the Mission but I would describe them as modern artistic graffiti.They were eye-catching and vibrant but not quite to our taste.

We walked back down 24th. Slowly the neighborhood was waking up. Behind some of the grills, especially the restaurants, we could see activity. In one a load of pale chicken was beginning to heat up on the grill and in another someone was putting liners in the trash cans.

More murals on Balmy St. This was Margaret's favorite.

More murals on Balmy St. This was Margaret’s favorite.

We found another alley of murals between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street on Balmy Street. These were far more interesting to us as they were not only older but depicted real scenes and understandable  pictures. I could actually look at most of them and understand not only what they represented but what they were saying. I could appreciate the humor that was obvious in a few but had to studied closely to find it in others. Though there was some humor, the main messages that came across were: oppression and revolution. Once again they were all colorful and vibrant but, most of all, original. There were two I particularly liked, both showing scenes in the Mission. One was of a huge robot which looked like apartment buildings and the other with a policeman and wealthy lady in the bottom right corner and a homeless man in the bottom left corner.

One of older murals. A little worn around the edges but still colorful.

One of older murals. A little worn around the edges but still colorful.

We continued walking east on 24th and came to a grocery store with an array of fruit and vegetables displayed outside. Seeing all the fruit reminded me that we needed grapes so we ventured inside. I was amazed at the amount and variety of goods inside, including a whole range of meats. At first I couldn’t see any grapes but after walking around the whole fresh produce section we discovered three types to choose from. Back outside we walked up to Alabama Street before crossing over and walking back down the other side. In one window of a taqueria I spotted a mound of large plastic bags but had no idea what they contained. Tom told me it was pig skin, which doesn’t sound very appetizing at all, but on reflection it must be a variation of crackling, which is really good. Thank goodness the restaurant was not open otherwise I might have been tempted to try it out.

One of the great markets along 24th St. in the Mission District of San Francisco

One of the great markets along 24th St. in the Mission District of San Francisco

On the corner of 24th and Harrison we stepped into Bello Coffee and Tea. Although Tom had coffee with his breakfast it didn’t hit the spot and this place simply appealed to us. Inside it was warm and inviting. Immediately on the left is an electronic roaster – great, fresh coffee. The pastries looked good but the huge breakfast we had consumed three hours before prevented us from feeling hungry enough to try any of them out. Tom ordered a straight black coffee and I asked for a green tea latte. They didn’t have the powder mix that Starbucks use (thank goodness) but offered to make it using a special blend of green tea. We could have sat outside in the sunshine but I needed a table to put my iPad on so I could type so we stayed inside. There were several tables to chose from and the chairs were very comfortable. Tom took a sip of his coffee and immediately his eyes lit up. He had finally found a coffee that equaled Peet’s and Bello’s coffee might even have the edge on Peet’s. He was one happy man. My green tea latte was unusual but very tasty. We spent a happy half hour there. Before we left, Tom bought a pound of their French Roast beans to take home. I told him it was a long way to come to buy his coffee in the future.

As we walked the short distance back to our car, we noticed that most of the grills were down and there were lots of people now on the streets. The Mission was awake and humming. We discussed whether or not to go home. In the end, we decided to at least go and see the actual mission which the neighborhood was named after. The Mission Dolores  is on D0lores and 16th Street so we drove west on 24th, right on Guerrero Street and west again on 16th St. The mission was founded in 1776 and is the oldest building in San Francisco. Next to it is the larger, more impressive basilica which was  completed in 1918. We would have liked to stop and take a look around, especially at the garden of the old mission, but once again parking proved to be a problem. Maybe another day.

The San Francisco skyline from Corona Heights

The San Francisco skyline from Corona Heights

Back on 16th the object was to make our way home but at the junction with Market Street I looked up and saw a strange rock formation on top of a hill. We were stopped at traffic lights so had time to notice that there were people up there. I got the map out and discovered the hill is called Corona Heights. We felt the urge to investigate so we went straight across Market and made our way to Flint Street. As we were on the slopes of the hill, the roads were very steep and a lot of them were dead ends. Once again parking posed a problem but our luck was in when we reached Flint Street where we found the perfect parking spot not far from one of the paths to the top.

It was a lovely day to climb to the top of Corona Heights. We walked passed tennis courts and a large building, which I later discovered is called Randall Museum. The path up hill was very steep but the views were worth it. Just before a flight of steps we stopped at a bench which we took advantage of. The view in front us was amazing. We were looking east  over the bay towards Oakland. Mount Diablo was clearly visible away in the distance. Down below we could see the city to the right and straight in front we looked down on the Mission District with a good view of the old mission and basilica. The flight of steps was long – roughly 180 of them – and very steep. In parts the path ran out and we were walking over rocks. Of course we stopped often to admire the view, heaven forbid that anyone would think we were pausing to take breath! Eventually we make our way right to the rock formations at the top and the view was almost 36o degrees. Only the trees on the ridge to the west prevented us from seeing the ocean. To the south we could see Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower.

When we had our fill of the view and sitting in the sunshine, we made our way downhill to the car and wended our way home. It was the end of another perfect day.

The Mission District in San Francisco

 

San Mateo Coast

Crystal Springs on a beautiful morning

Crystal Springs on a beautiful morning

Today is our first trip out this year. It is a cold and frosty January morning and we are heading for the coast. Normally we would get there by driving over the mountains towards Santa Cruz on Highway 17 but decided to drive north and take Highway 92 towards Half Moon Bay because not only is it a shorter journey through the mountains but the pass is lower and less likely to be icy.

(Click on the photos for larger versions.)

Even though it is 32 degrees outside, the sun is shining. We are expecting it to be cold and maybe even foggy at the coast but we have dressed appropriately in layers with extra jackets, etc in the trunk.

We have no set destination in mind; it depends on where the fancy takes us. It is such a long time since we saw the ocean that just seeing, hearing and smelling it will satisfy us. There is a warning out about sleeper waves – several people have been swept away by huge rogue waves – so we will not be getting too close to the water’s edge.

Driving on 280 just north of Palo Alto, the temperature dropped to 30 outside. Thank goodness it is not raining as it would be falling as snow. Exiting 280 to 92 we encountered a thick layer of low lying fog across Crystal Springs. Tom couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo. It did look beautiful with the sun shining above the fog and the white, frosty grass on the ground.

Entering Half Moon Bay it was bright and sunny with no trace of fog at all. Not only that, the temperature had risen to 36. We ate before we left home this morning so no breakfast blog this time. Tom didn’t have any coffee though so we stopped off at the Half Moon Bay Coffee Company for a coffee and hot chocolate.

Refreshed, we set off again driving south. The ocean was near and after a few miles we could see it. It looked magnificent, glittering in the early morning sunshine. The water was calm and there were no white caps to be seen.

Pigeon Point lighthouse

Pigeon Point lighthouse

We passed San Gregorio beach. There was only one car in the car park and an awful lot of driftwood on the beach which had been washed up by the recent winter storms. Pomponio, Pescadero and Bean Hollow beaches were also by-passed They all tempted us and were worthy of a visit but we had decided to make our next stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Before long we saw the lighthouse in front of us and turned right on Pigeon Point Road. There have been a few changes since we were last here. The car park was been enlarged and the porta potty is no longer there but it had been replaced with a much better outhouse. We made our way to the deck at the back of the lighthouse where my second favorite bench is. This is a really good secluded spot to sit and look at the view and a prime place to spot whales. At this time of the year the  whales are swimming south and they some way offshore.  With the ocean so calm I thought I might spot whale spouts on the horizon and I was armed with my binoculars just in case. I spent a happy half hour in the sunshine and enjoyed watching the surf breaking over the many rocky outcrops just off Pigeon Point and the one lone pelican skimming the surface of the water. No whale spouts to be seen though. I became quite warm sitting there I even took my jacket off. Both of us may even have got a touch of sunburn!

Path down to Franklin Point

Path down to Franklin Point. Our favorite spot along the San Mateo Coast.

On to our favorite spot – Franklin Point. Even though we did not really plan where we were going, somehow I knew we would end up here. The place draws us because it is unique. Normally we drive north from Santa Cruz and it is easy to find but driving south from Half Moon Bay we were not too sure. Everything looked different plus the old tree stump which marked the beginning of the trail fell down a few years ago and there are no signs at all for Franklin Point. Once on the trail though I recognized it. It felt good to retrace my steps down the familiar path, wondering what the changes would be since our last visit a year ago.

First thing I noticed was that the old tree stump is now covered by shrubbery with just the bottom exposed. The second thing were the number of stinging nettles growing along the edge of the path. There have been times when we couldn’t get down the trail at this time of the year due to   one section being flooded after heavy rain. A few years ago a couple of short board walks were been put down and it is easy to get through. One thing is always different each time we come and that is where the path actually meets the beach. On this visit the sand was a bit wet and much lower than last time, in as much we didn’t have to scramble down onto the beach.

The beach was deserted, although I did pass one couple on the trail making their way back to the road. I stood for a while just drinking in the view, as I do every time. It felt so good to be back. Slowly I ambled along the beach but staying on the dry sand. Up on Franklin Point I could see my favorite bench and made my way towards it. At one point the waves came too close to the shore to get past  safely but fortunately there is a trail over the bluff which led straight to the boardwalk, which in turn led to the bench.

Franklin Point

A young couple about as far out as you can get at Franklin Point.

I had the bench all to myself for about ten minutes before Tom arrived. I watched a young couple down on the beach scramble over the rocks to get past the point which I decided not to walk round. They were obviously heading for the bench as well and sure enough they turned up about five minutes later. Tom had spoken to them earlier down on the beach. We chatted with them for bit and then they climbed off the deck and made their way as far as they could over the rocks. At one point they called out to us as they indicated a couple of seals bobbing along just offshore.

It was so relaxing sitting on that bench. I spent the time trying to write but, inexplicably, my eyes were drawn to the view. Off to the north I could see the lighthouse; nearer the waves rolling onto the beach were mesmerizing and straight in front the surf broke over the rocks and the spray exploded into the air. Tom and I chatted now and again and we agreed that we were in a perfect spot.

Eventually we made our way back to the car. Nobody else was on the beach at all. We decided to drive into Pescardero, where we bought artichoke and garlic bread fresh from the oven at Arcangeli Grocery Company and goat cheese from Harley Farms. We sat outside in the car enjoying our picnic lunch of bread and cheese while enjoying the view of a swathe of mustard growing in a field and gazing at the goats in the paddock. Then we took the scenic route home through La Honda up to Skyline and then through Woodside back to 280. Once again we enjoyed another perfect day.

UK Road Trip

Blenheim Palace

Tom and I spent Christmas in the UK. I fully intended to write every day while we were away but most of the time I was driving and the rest of the time we spent with family.

We took a week long road trip while we were there and Tom saw some parts of England he had never seen before. On the first day of our road trip, we drove from Reading to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately the palace itself was closed but we took a walk around the large lake. That evening we stayed at the Falklands Arms, which was built in the 16th century, and is situated in the quaint village of Great Tew. The next day we drove up to Nottingham. We tried very hard to make our way on the back roads but somehow each road seemed to lead to the M1. In the end we just took the M1 north because we were wasting so much time. There is not too much to say about Nottingham because once we found a hotel we didn’t stir outside the front door until the next morning.

On Wednesday we drove to Pickering in Yorkshire for a brief stop before driving over the North Yorkshire Moors – a remote and wild area – to Kirkby Mills where we stayed one night at Brickfields Farm Bed & Breakfast. This was the best B&B we have ever stayed in – the room was wonderful and the breakfast was to die for. Our journey on Thursday took us through Thirsk to Ripon and then on to Skipton. Here we stayed in a B&B within walking distance of the town center. It was pouring rain but that didn’t stop us taking the walk and enjoying a pint at the Woolly Sheep Inn.

We loved Liverpool

The next day we made our way from Yorkshire to Lancashire. We headed to Southport where my daughter and son-in-law now live. Before going to see them in the evening, we set out to find our B&B in Scarisbrick where we would be staying for the next two nights. The landlady at the B&B had given me instructions but we found ourselves lost in a remote area where the only roads were muddy tracks with huge potholes filled with water. It took us half an hour to find the right road before eventually finding our way to the B&B.

Saturday Lizzie and Ric took us to Liverpool for the day. We had particularly requested to visit there because we’d heard there was so much to see and, of course, it is the home of The Beatles. We spent a marvellous day looking at old docks, the refurbished Albert Dock, St. George’s Hall, the Cavern Club, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and John Lennon’s house and – the cherry on the top – Eleanor Rigby’s grave.

On the Sunday we began to make our way further south but first we had to visit the historic city of Chester. I spent some time in Chester when I was a child because an aunt of mine lived there. The city is very old and has hardly changed since I was last there in the 1970’s. It is possible to walk all round the city up on the city walls, which were built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. It has a nice shopping center which was heaving with Christmas shoppers when we visited.

Chester. We could have spent a couple days here. An amazing city.

That evening we spent in Hereford. Once again, we didn’t have any time to explore the area and next morning we were up bright and early to make our way back to Reading. The UK had an awful lot of rain while we were there and the south west was particularly affected. As we traveled from Hereford to the M4 around the Gloucester area we could see all the fields were under water and only the hedges round the edges could be seen. When we arrived that night at our hotel in Winnersh, the car park was completely flooded and we had to park in a temporary car park.

All in all, we had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed two Christmas dinners – one in Southport and one in Winnersh. Even though we experienced a lot of rain, it in no way dampened our spirits or hampered our travels.  Although Tom has now seen some new areas, there is still so much for him to see. So far we have not touched Scotland or Ireland and both are high on our list.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...