I was up early on our fourth day, my day, a bucket list day.
Growing up I became a Beach Boys fan, not just Surfin USA and Help Me Rhonda, but the great harmonies of the late sixties and early seventies like Trader and California Saga. They sang about John Steinbeck and places like Salinas, Monterey and Big Sur. Places I had only dreamed about as a teenager.
After learning I would have a day to kill in California, I got on Google Maps and started mapping out a trip to Big Sur and putting all my Beach Boys songs on my phone.
Jennifer needed to be at Tesla at 7AM and I was on the road by 7:01 heading south on I-880 towards Santa Cruz via San José.
San José was only 20 minutes from Fremont where I-880 turned into California Highway 17. I went from an 8 lane interstate to a rural 4 lane divided highway. I could have taken interstates all the way to Monterey, but what fun is that. Highway 17 goes over the mountain range between San Francisco bay and the Pacific Ocean into Santa Cruz. I had left the brown grass-covered foothills of Fremont and was traveling on a curvy winding road through redwood forests with California Calling blaring out of the Kia Soul’s tiny speakers. The color change from brown to green was quite distinctive and calming.
Santa Cruz was a quaint small town on the ocean and was not on my original lists of places to visit, however it was on the scenic route to Monterey. I visited their Municipal Wharf and was there way before any of the shops opened. I browsed for a short period, checked out the amusement park on the beach and then drove south.
A few miles south of Santa Cruz I found a bunch of surfers on a quiet beach. They were very friendly and I enjoyed chatting with them about surfing. They were impressed I learned to surf at Bell’s Beach in Australia. Like in Australia, surfing is a lifestyle in California although not one person said gnarly. I developed a sense of loss as I know I can never surf again but got a big thrill talking with these people. I wish I had had more time to just sit and chat about the waves but my time was limited.
I was running out of back roads and was slowly heading back to the highway and started traveling through flatlands full of farming and crop fields. With some intense research (20 seconds on Google) I discovered they farm leaf lettuce, strawberries, head lettuce, broccoli, grapes, celery, and spinach. What fascinated me were the migrant workers and the way they worked picking the crops row by row. I cannot imagine how back-breaking and miserable that work was. I sat for a bit being thankful for how well some of us have it.
I got back to Highway 1 which would slowly meander back towards the Pacific Ocean right before I got to Monterey where my first stop would be the old Fisherman’s Wharf.
Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf was a scaled down version of the one in San Francisco, stuff to buy and food to eat but with less people. I parked the car, opened the door and immediately heard the delightful sound of more Sea Lions barking. This was becoming just awesome. I walked straight through the wharf to the ocean side where I had heard the noise. I found about 40 sea lions basking on a dock, taking turns barking and piling on top of each other to enjoy the sun. I felt young and giddy as I watched these wild creatures.
Just a fantastic site. I found a few loners sitting on buoys and they were huge. I spent about 30 minutes just in wonderment. My eye caught something moving to my right and there was a sea otter playing. These things are extremely on the cute side and I spent quite a while watching his little adventures. My clock was ticking and I needed to move on. I checked out the shops on my way back to the car, found a good deal on some fleece jackets for my kids and headed for Cannery Row.
Cannery Row now is much different now than when John Steinbeck wrote about it in the 1940’s when it thrived on the sardine industry and the canning of them. In fact, it is hard to picture Steinbeck’s Cannery Row with bars and brothels as the area is now filled with shops and restaurants in bright colorful building. I’m not a big shopper however I did find a $75 golf shirt on clearance for $25 at the Pebble Beach Shop and I had to have that.
My next stop was Pebble Beach just minutes away from Cannery Row. Pebble Beach is a large private community that is guarded and requires an entrance fee of $10 to get in. Traveling through Pebble Beach is via the 17 Mile Drive which is widely recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world. I started at Pacific Grove near dramatic Pacific coastline to Pebble Beach and the majestic Del Monte Forest.
The scenery was magnificent from sandy beaches to rocky shorelines and magnificent mansions. The golf courses were amazing and I stopped to stare at a tree with many other people. I discovered later it was called The Lone Cypress and is the logo for Pebble Beach. Woohoo! (Not really)
It was now after noon and I still needed to get to Big Sur where I wanted to have lunch, but still had one more stop, a private home near Carmel Beach that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright where I would need to do some creative trespassing.
It was a short hop to Carmel Beach from the southern gate of Pebble Beach to where I knew this house was although I did not have an address. I found the beach and a parking spot and started out on foot. Wow, there it was, very distinctive and definitely a Frank Lloyd Wright. As I got closer the gates were open and no cars in the driveway and suddenly found myself in a small dilemma; to trespass or not to trespass? There were some men doing landscaping on the property and I really wanted to get closer to the house. I unfortunately did the right thing and only walked a few feet on the property to get a picture of the carport.
I had seen the house from Google earth and was very surprised that from the south side it looked exactly like a ship heading into the Pacific. It was just an awesome house and how I wanted to see inside. Knowing that was not going to happen I started heading back to the car noticing the sign on the fence saying it was the “Henderson’s” who lived there, wonder if we are related?.
My time was waning and I was starving and had 28 miles to go. The GPS said it would take almost an hour along the Pacific Coast Highway with mountains on my left and a steep drop on my right to the ocean. This was going to be an interesting drive trying to watch the scenery and avoid plunging to my death while also changing on my phone which beach Boys song was appropriate. Fortunately there were several place to pull off each mile and I was mesmerized. I have to say this was some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. I could have used a whole day for this 25 miles of road.
I arrived in Big Sur around 2:00 and was way behind schedule. I found a really nice restaurant for lunch that had all this health food stuff. I spent $25 for an OK sandwich with things on it I did not recognize and a bottle of coke. One thing I have not mentioned before was the weather. Everyone told us that it would be cold and windy in San Francisco. Well we managed to go during a week where they had a heat wave with temperatures at 90 degrees almost every day. This was a big deal and they were issuing heat warnings advising people to be safe and stay hydrated. I bring this up because the restaurant in Big Sur was not air conditioned; it was hot and yucky. They told me normally it was in the low 70’s with a nice cool breeze. Even with the heat I was glad to have made it to a place as teenager I had heard about over and over.
It was time to say goodbye to Big Sur and work my way back to the Tesla Factory. I headed north and for the next 20 miles I viewed the ocean and mountains from a new perspective, mountains on the right, water on the left. When I got to Carmel, I left Highway 1 and drove
through Carmel Valley driving by Clint Eastwood’s estate. I turned north to go over the mountains and made a quick stop at the Mazda Speedway at Laguna Seca, a renowned road racing course. It was mostly deserted so I drove around and then got back on the road towards Salinas to meet Mr. Steinbeck.
I had not had cell service since I had left Pebble Beach and finally got a connection as I neared Salinas. My wife called and told me her class had ended early. I was an hour and a half away, Mr. Steinbeck would have to wait for another time.
I picked her up from Tesla at about 5 o’clock and we had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us to Mariposa, California, just outside Yosemite National Park.
It took us an hour and a half to go about 20 miles until we started to approach an acceptable driving speed. Our drive took us through a valley and through towns such as Manteca, Modesto and Merced, all with a brown and tan landscape. At Merced we got off the Interstate and turned east with a faint outline visible of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The road was very flat and straight as the countryside turned to farming and the colors of the landscape turned green.
We were hungry and I was holding out for an In and Out Burger because I just wanted one but the towns became sparse and farther between. It was getting close to dusk and we were starving at this point. We found a little roadside stand selling tacos and burgers and owners who spoke little english. This was going to be very good or very ugly. The ugly could be now or by morning. The tacos were served on a flat shell with a green glob on them which I assumed was some type of homemade salsa and they were fantastic, but was holding out on final verdict for the next few hours.
It was getting dark as we hit the road again. Then it got real dark and desolate and the road started to wind and twist as we headed into the mountains. We were definitely going up and were in Mountains or foothills and our speed had dropped into the forties, and did I say it was dark.
I had booked us a room at the Yosemite Miners Inn in Mariposa, just about 30 miles from the Yosemite gate. It was a large and nice room with a huge tub and fireplace although I never did find the balcony with the mountain overlook that was promised. I turned on the fireplace and Jennifer got in the tub. I laid down and was asleep in not time.
Earlier that day I had talked with surfers, listened to the Beach Boys, stared at the blue Pacific Ocean; truly lived out a dream.
Tomorrow I would see a beautiful valley, giant trees………and snow!