Catching the ferry back to the continent, we were elated when Jeanette, who had flown into Santa Barbara the previous night, offered us the services of David’s laundry machines!!! While our clothes were drying, Jeanette, David, Sarah, and I went to eat at a yummy Mexican restaurant. Hard to believe it took us four weeks into our largely Southwestern vacation to get our first taste of Mexican food. Then a quick pit stop to pick back up our laundry and we were on our way to Big Sur, CA. Leo’s favorite drive in the all of the U.S. But first, a detour just North of SB at the Firestone Walker + Barrelworks (their sour-brewing side-project) brewery. There, we live-streamed my brother’s miraculous come-from-behind victory televised by the St. Louis Chess Club. Shout out to you, Michael! Very proud brother and sister here!!!
We stopped to see some sea lions cruising to our camping spot in Big Sur. GOLLY! The drive up CA HWY 1 never fails to impress, especially around sunset.
The bad news about our camp site, one that I had staked out from 3 years earlier when I last visited Big Sur, was that it required a 30 minute drive up paved mountain switchbacks, then ANOTHER half hour up UNPAVED 4×4 roads. When I did this drive last time in a 2WD compact, I killed the motor by bottoming out on one of the many large potholes. Luckily, our 2WD Camry proved more of a trooper (or maybe I was a little more careful). We made it to the campsite but, alas, 10PM Friday night atop a GORGEOUS campground, we had slim pickings. We settled for a quick night’s sleep at a mediocre roadside camp. The next morning, however, I took an early morning walk to scout out better sites from people leaving. EUREKA, we managed to snag this hilltop gem overlooking the Pacific!!
This wasn’t our campsite but just gives you a glimpse of how breath-taking this (free) campground is!
After taking down and setting back up camp, we set out to explore Big Sur’s jaw-dropping scenery. Unfortunately, that meant winding our way back DOWN the mountain. We stopped at a fancy-pants art gallery that proudly offered no wifi to get some overpriced and unfortunately, quite yucky, ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever had ice-cream before that I didn’t like. The clerk gave us a tip for a good, hike at least. Here are some of the photos from that one as well as another, smaller hike we stumbled into:
On the serpentine drive back up the mountain, we had to stop behind a group of merry campers taking pictures from the road. I offered to take one of all of them and happily accepted their reciprocation. Turns out, they found a really pretty spot!
We made it back to camp to cook dinner and enjoy that evening’s main event – another EPIC Big Sur sunset. Quite tough culling down the photos for this one:
The morning after, we were bound for Monterey. But not before a pretty rad 8 mile hike on the ridges of Big Sur that involved wading through a little creek.
After checking into our Travel Lodge, we spent an evening out on the town enjoying a mix of fine local dining – In-and-Out Burger + bayside calamari + gourmet chocolates – and stopping by Alvarado Brewing to watch the Blues lose L.
The next day, we scoped out the world-famous Monterey Aquarium before leaving town. And boy did we see some cool marine life!
But all these fish made us hungry so we stopped by a local produce stand on the way out of town as well as an AMAZING local seafood joint, Phil’s Fish Market and Eatery, recommended to us by a couple at the brewery. The spot was about 25 minutes North of Monterey which meant only locals and savvy tourists, like ourselves, ever found out about it (and the Food Network).
Finally, we arrived in San Francisco in time to meet our friends, Boris and Sidra, for dinner at a hip Turkish joint. The catch? No AC. Not here, not most places in San Francisco, actually. Normally, very tolerable in SF but we happened to visit during unseasonably hot temperatures, exceeding 100! Efes, the classic Turkish Pilsner, cooled us as we wolfed down lamb and eggplant dishes. By the time we hit a nearby rooftop patio for the sunset, the temps were much more enjoyable.
After a fun evening, we mozied back to Jeanette’s, who was gracious enough to host us again in a different city. A much needed good night’s sleep prepared us for a jam-packed day in SF. When you only have one day to explore a world-class city, you got to make the most of it! We started by snooping around City Lights, the bookstore started by Jack Kerouac and other beat writers. Across the street, we spent more time discovering the Beat Museum. This spot detailed the fascinating Bohemian lives of the classic historical characters of that era – Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and the like – renegades who paved the way for the drug-and-philosophy cocktail of 1950s through 1970s American Counterculture. Perhaps the most tangible product of this time was one of my favorite books, On The Road. At the gift shop, I bought another book, Junky, which follows William Burroughs unapologetic descent into heroin addiction. I’ve long been fascinated by this topic but prefer to discover it by reading. Also interesting, the gift shop had a collection of every month’s Playboy magazines.
We hopped across the street to Chinatown for a tasty meal of wontons, fish, and noodles, followed by some boba tea.
Then the chase began. We read on our favorite travel companion, Atlas Obscura, that SF has its own flock of wild parrots. Apparently, a couple of parrots found their way out of cages in the 1990s and have multiplied to over 200 since. They roam freely through San Francisco treetops. We made our way to one suggested spotting locale but were met with only disappointment. Sarah (wisely) chose against chasing parrots all over the city in 95 degree heat but Leo (even wiser-ly) chose otherwise! They are called the Parrots of Telegraph Hill because that’s where they roost in the evenings. It being daytime but me having no leads, I was forced to follow the bird trail to its source. The only problem is Telegraph Hill is one of the highest hills in SF so it was a grueling, sweaty climb to its peak. There I found the Coit Tower which offered great panoramic views of the city. With no time to spare, fresh on the Parrot’s scent, I skipped the tower and instead asked its docents how to find the birds. They replied that sightings are rare though you can hear their unmistakable squawk across the city. Disappointed and having wasted more time fruitlessly scouring nearby treetops, I began my decent toward my wife, parked under the shade a mile (and probably 30 flights of stairs) away. Then, out of nowhere, in a private courtyard, my ears bubbled with joy at the sound of that long-awaited squawk. It took me about 20 minutes to pinpoint a good shot of the tree-branch that supported on of the SF wonder-birds but the wait was worth it! Believe it or not, this is the best photo I could muster. I scored a few hummingbird shots along the way, too, which helped.
Having reclaimed my wife where I left her, we continued our adventures toward our second infinity-room of the trip. Of course, no 6-week road trip is complete without at least two infinity rooms… This one was a little gimmicky maze around a bunch of mirrors but we still got $5/pp of fun out of it.
Our next stop was the suuuuper-cool Musee Mechanique, an impressive collection of over 100 years of arcade games. Entrance is free and the games are all operational, costing 25 cents to a couple bucks to play. We can pretty much certify that it’s the most fun $4.50 can buy one in the U.S.
We also got a good view of Sarah at the Rock (Alcatraz prison) while flashing her rock (Wedding ring). No she’s not flipping me off (though I probably deserve it…)
Worn out from a hot day of trouncing around the city, it was time to pick Jeanette up and meet Sarah’s friend, Emily, for a delicious Ramen treat. We followed it up with a few beers at a small brewpub. Unfortunately, our minds and mouths were too busy to document any photographic evidence but hopefully, you believe us…
After a delicious breakfast the next morning, we parted ways with Jeanette. We stopped by a local winery on the way North to put a check mark in the ‘CA Wine Country’ box. But unfortunately, when 5PM, pacific time, was approaching, we were short of our ultimate destination, Avenue of the Giants. What’s the significance of 5PM pacific time, you ask? That marked the beginning of Game 7 of the STANLEY CUP FINALS in which the St. Louis Blues were playing the part of grizzled underdogs. After waiting 20 years for the opportunity to watch my team on the brink of winning Hockey’s holy grail, I wasn’t about to miss it. So at about 4, we rolled into Fort Bragg, CA and did a bit of exploring around the coast. I found Sarah a gorgeous abalone shell but had to wade through a bit of water to retrieve it.
This little town of 6000 is home to a very famous brewery actually, North Coast, where we watched the game. Here’s a shot of me after Schennner buried the 3rd goal midway through the final period. In case you can’t tell, this is the face one makes when it sinks in that one’s team is minutes away from winning the Stanley Cup!!!
We celebrated the momentous occasion with our final gorgeous Pacific sunset and some ice cream treats!
The next morning, our first stop was the legendary stretch of CA redwood forest, Avenue of the Giants. This is a 35 or so mile drive through monumental trees, some of which are over 2000 years old!!! These pictures don’t do it justice.
In the middle of it, there was a fun road-side attraction that seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Water seemed to flow upstream and there were some very wacky illusions regarding height.
Unfortunately, spending more time than we’d planned (though far less than we wanted) at the Redwoods put us a good deal behind schedule toward our next stop, Lake Tahoe. We got in past 11PM and with Sarah asleep at the navigation deck, I ducked into the first nature-y enclave I could find that was somewhat close to Tahoe to pitch a tent. The next morning, we discovered that our campsite had been used before… 150+ years ago by some of the most famous early CA pioneers – the Donner party. This legendary family worked their way from IL to CA but had to spend an extended winter snowed into the Sierra Nevada valley. They happened to camp a few dozen feet from where we had. Of course, that’s where the similarities end as their fabled nightmare cost them most of the lives of their party and even earned rumors of cannibalism.
Instead, we opted for a nice breakfast in Tahoe City. In an effort to pre-empt the possible unpleasantry of setting up camp at night, we pitched our tent right away off a trail that circles the lake. Then we jetskied the lake for an hour, went on a nice walk through sugar pine (largest pine cones of all pine trees) forest, and chilled out by the lake a bit.
Following a very zig-zaggy and random train of thought, we got the itch to move toward Reno, NV. This, unfortunately, involved taking down the campsite we’d set up earlier, but was totally worth it. The town is only 1.5 hours from where we were and was along our route. Sarah found us an incredible deal at a Casino right outside of town. We had dinner and jammed to a strange funk/folk duo at a nearby brew-pub (forgoing the alluring casino buffet). Back at the hotel, we tried our hands at gambling to no avail. We walked with 11 of the 30 bucks we’d staked after an hour or so and called it a win.