Friday, December 31, 2010

California Dreamin' – Hearst Castle

A North Carolina Cottage

While today there is an emphasis on smaller, greener living spaces with mini-ecological footprints that appeal to more energy-conscious buyers, such concerns did not exist in William Randolph Hearst's day. It would take 1,407 of these 64-square foot North Carolina cabins to fill up Hearst's estate.

In fact, the media magnate, who was so obviously not in the forefront of the small-house-movement, spent decades overseeing construction of his gigantic 90,080 square foot estate with its four main buildings containing 56 bedrooms, 41 fireplaces, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, and two libraries.

One of the many guest rooms.
So his guests would not tire of the accommodations, there were also extensive gardens planted with 6,000 rosebushes (Because Hearst couldn't stand watching them, the gardeners worked only at night.) and a 2,000-acre zoo—once the country's largest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

California Dreamin' – Highway 1, Pacific Coast Highway

A passerby balanced the stones just-so in the photo above, but that's the only place you'll see mankind's touch along this wild road that clings to steep hillsides, whips around impossible curves, and sweeps down to the coastline every now and then so the driver can catch his breath and relax his grip on the steering wheel.

This ribbon of two-lane road that stretches along the California coast deserves a more descriptive name than Highway 1. The asphalt traverses a land of stunning beauty and rugged appeal where only the birds and the sea lions seem at home. It may not be The Most Beautiful Drive in the World (The Amalfi Coast and the French Riviera come to mind.), but it is truly one of the most impressive in North America.
Plan to drive slowly, about 35 mph (56 kilometers), to savor the landscape. You'll want to take photos at every pull-out spot along the road. You'll wonder about the engineers who created this highway and notice that even the bridges seem to float between the cliffs. And when you get to the end, you'll want to turn around and do it all over again.
Seals rest on the beach
Practicalities -
Do not plan to scurry down this road because it's impossible even if you're in a hurry—the traffic moves slowly. Set a leisurely pace to truly enjoy the ride.

The bakeshop/restaurant in Big Sur serves wonderful food and the rustic ambience is fitting for this remote, rugged land, but it's somewhat difficult to find. If you see the post office, though, you're close. Find a place to park and walk up the hill a little way to the restaurant complex.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tightwad Travel Tip - TSA Search Engine

Will the TSA allow a container with more than 3.4 ounces of liquid in my 3-1-1 plastic bag if the liquid is contact lens fluid? What about carrying extra batteries in my camera case?  Is it okay to carry matches in my purse?

Click here for TSA search engine that answers the question, "Can I bring my____."  Enter the item in question and find out immediately whether it is allowable in carry-on, checked baggage, or not at all. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

California Dreamin' - Point Lobos Natural Reserve

During our 17-Mile Drive, David and I admired the manicured lawns and showy gardens at the luxurious Pebble Beach Resort, but no amount of money could have produced what we saw just a few miles south at Point Lobos Reserve.
Nature, not man, has created a masterpiece. Unrelenting surf pounded the shores of these cliffs for thousands of years to create shallow, sheltered coves and tide pools that cormorants, pelicans, sea otters and sea lions call home. On land, 88 species of mammals, including mountain lions, bobcats, fox and coyote roam the 1,250 -acre reserve while hundreds of bird species fly overhead.
The wind-sculpted trees with their tatters of lacy lichen clinging to their nude branches create an eerie, almost surreal feeling as we walk the Cypress Grove Trail. We wouldn't have been surprised if leprechauns had jumped out from behind a boulder because this is a trail where you expect magic to happen.
While we never spotted the sea lions from the trail named for them (Sea Lion Point Trail), we enjoyed a completely opposite experience on this windswept plain where the ocean breezes fan this treeless expanse of garden. These meadows were as exposed as the cypress grove was secretive, and we're told that dozens of wild plants run rampant here during the summer.

A couple volunteers at the ranger station answered our questions about the animals, sea creatures, and the lichen growing on the trees. David and I felt the sea otter's pelt (Pelts were displayed from animals that had died naturally.) and learned that, unlike the sea lion and seal that are protected from the cold by a layer of blubber, the otter fends off the cold by having the densest fur of any animal on Earth.

As we drove away, we realized that even though Lobos Point was lacking some crucial funding at the moment, the park was wealthy beyond measure in its treasures. Pebble Beach Resort might have every amenity to please the body, but Lobos Point soothed the soul.

Practicalities -
The park opens at 8 A.M. and closes a half hour after sunset. It is wise to get there early as only 450 visitors are allowed in the park at one time. Admission is $10 per car. Click for more information about the park.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

California Dreamin' - Monterey's 17-Mile Drive

If there's an ugly spot on the Monterey Peninsula, David and I never saw it. One breathtaking view is followed by another, and that's especially true on the 17-Mile Drive.

We almost didn't take the route. It cost $9.50 per car, and we weren't sure it was worth the money since we were fairly certain we'd seen most of the beauty already. We were wrong. It took us four hours to drive the short circuit because we stopped so often for photographs.

By late afternoon, when we were ravenous, we discovered the Pebble Beach Resort where the Pebble Beach Market offers deli sandwiches for reasonable rates. We shared one of their hefty sandwiches, sat on the benches in the lodge area, and read about the Monterey Cypress which is native to only two areas along the drive—Point Lobos and Cypress Point. We're glad we didn't miss it!

The Lone Cypress
Practicalities - It's easy to find the entrances to the Drive which runs from Carmel to Pacific Grove.  For more information, including free scenic alternatives, click here.