Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

California Dreaming, Part 2

Hearst Castle After leaving Los Angeles, we drove west to the coast then north. Our first stop was San Simeon, home to the Hearst Castle. For those of you who do not know, this landmark was build by William Randolph Hearst, who was the publisher of The San Francisco Examiner during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was very wealthy and a collector of the world's art which he made available for embellishing this European-styled castle — which he called "the ranch". He entertained the rich and famous, particularly from Hollywood, in lavish style.

We planned to tour the castle but since we did not know exactly what time we would arrive, I decided to call when we were in route — about an hour's drive away. I must confess that I was shocked to discover that all the tickets for that day's tours were sold out! So this view from the visitor's center was as close as we could get. Maybe next time.


Elephant Seals Disappointedly, we continued north along the coast and stopped at various spots along the way — here stopping at a beach frequented by elephant seals. The males have a fleshy snout that resembles a short elephant's trunk, thus the name. I assure you that these elephant seals were all alive and well — although the photo looks like a killing field. Every once in a while one would move or flip some sand onto their bodies — to reassure us that all was okay.

If you think about it, humans do the same thing when they go to a beach — spread their blankets and lay down in the sun. If an elephant seal came to an overlook above a human-occupied beach, they might think the humans were dead. Until one of the kids got up and ran down the beach kicking sand on everyone they passed.

Big Sur The California coast north of this spot is called Big Sur and is one of the most rugged and beautiful coastlines that you can drive along. Artists and photographers make this their "holy grail" destination.

The road twists and turns, hugging the mountainside. If you are prone to kinetosis, take your treatment of choice, sleep through it all or drive the inland route.

If you (or your passenger) suffer from acrophobia, make sure you drive from south to north so that the vehicle stays away from the precipice only a few feet away. For some reason, acrophobiacs cannot see the guard rail that prevents your vehicle from plummeting down the cliffs to the ocean — or maybe the guard rail just doesn't look sturdy enough.

Pi-chan at Big Sur However, if you can brave it, you will be rewarded with photos like these.

Carmel Beach Carmel Shops Eventually, those traveling south to north will encounter the cute little oceanside town of Carmel. One of the things that makes Carmel special is the beautiful white sand beach. Note that this is one of the few white sand beaches in Northern California. Most are darkened by the soil runoff from the rivers. A lovely spot to walk and enjoy communing with Mother Nature.

When I lived in the south Bay Area and later near Santa Cruz, I often visited Carmel to enjoy the interesting little shops and art galleries. Of course nothing remains static but I seemed to note fewer interesting little shops and art galleries than I recall.

Carmel Library But Carmel still seems to try to maintain its charm by not giving in to the crass and aesthetically displeasing designs of the modern chain store, restaurant or hotel. They are trying to preserve the old — such as the old library pictured here. Yes, it still functions as a library.

The same is true of the shops along the main drag, Ocean Avenue. The businesses that occupy old buildings may change over time but the exteriors are maintained. There is decidedly no McDonalds here.

Carmel Flowers And flowers everywhere. The climate is so mild that flowers grow in profusion. These were just outside our hotel room.

Monterey Wharf Nearby is the town of Monterey, featuring the famous Monterey Wharf. Unlike Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, this is still a working wharf — sort of. There are also shops, fish markets and restaurants to please the tourists.

You will notice that these businesses are built on pilings that extend out from the old wharf — so you are always over the water.

Monterey Wharf Down the center is a walkway which the businesses face onto. One of the treats here is to purchase a small order of shrimp, oysters or crab from a vendor — consuming your yummies as you stroll down the wharf.

Abalonetti's The very first time I visited the Monterey wharf, I was with friends from my old home in Minnesota. They liked to collect a little artwork from places they visited so we were in a small gallery near the end of the wharf owned by a Mr. Purdy (now deceased but a man with whom I became friends and even visited his home — which, of course, was full of art from his shop).

We were hungry so we asked Mr. Purdy if he would recommend a place to eat on the wharf. He said, "You're not going to believe this, but there is small restaurant behind the Liberty Fish Market called Abalonetti's. They have wonderful seafood but specialize in squid (don't turn your nose up, it's quite good). There is normally a line of customers waiting for a table because they only have about seven tiny tables in the restaurant."

So we tried it and Abalonetti's has become one of my favorite restaurants in all the world. Of course things have changed. They were able to obtain a bigger location just a few doors down from their old spot but now there is not a wait for a table.

Also, the original family has retired and returned to Italy but the new owners kept the old family recipes so I am happy.

They also made Mizuki and Pi-chan happy with the raw oysters (one dozen each times two visits while we were in the area). Mizuki said that these were the best oysters she has ever eaten, including those she has eaten in Japan. We were told these were from Washington state.

Cannery Row One other famous landmark is Monterey's Cannery Row. In the days of John Steinbeck, these were factories where sardines were canned. After the sardines were largely fished out, the buildings fell into disrepair. Then someone came up with the brilliant idea of converting them to shops and restaurants to bring in the tourists. It worked and thousands of people visit this spot every week.

At the end of this road is the Monterey Bay Aquarium which is also housed in a former sardine factory. It is a world-class aquarium with huge tanks offering a look at underwater scenes not shown in any other aquarium, only in the open ocean. My favorite is the Kelp Tank in which Giant Kelp is grown together with numerous fish and invertebrate sea life. In order to keep the kelp flourishing, a wave generator moves the seawater back in forth giving a gentle rhythmic dance to the kelp.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium even has a link to Hewlett-Packard Company. Julie Packard, daughter of HP founder David Packard was the initiator of the project and serves as the Executive Director. David Packard provided the initial financial backing.

For those of us with HP ties, there is the saying that many parents will buy their kids an aquarium (usually 10 gallons or so), but that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the one that David Packard bought for his daughter, Julie. Note that we say it with fondness for the people involved.

Pacific Grove Homes Between Monterey and Carmel is Pacific Grove. I have always had a special affection for Pacific Grove because of the historic homes — and the beautiful roadway and walking paths along the ocean. Some of the larger old homes have been converted into Inns and Bed & Breakfast places — so you can experience a special treat if you choose to stay here. This is the Seven Gables Inn but there are many in this area.

Pacific Grove Painter Pacific Grove FlowersThe day that I was taking pictures, I found no less than three painters trying to capture the beauty of the shoreline here. This lady was doing a wonderful job of it.

But how could you screw up a painting of this kind of scenery? Only if you didn't paint it.

Pacific Grove Golf Not only are there beautiful walks to be had — there is beautiful golf as well. Folks, this is the municipal golf course in Pacific Grove. Understand (for you non-golfers) that municipal golf courses in most places are, shall we say kindly, not the best places to play. But this is golf heaven on a budget. And yes, I have played here and loved it. No, I don't remember my score — but with beauty like this, a score seems so irrelevant.

To be continued....

 Life is good.

 B. David