California Coast Road Trip - Part 2 In our first part of The Café's California Coast Road Trip, Chris and I took you from Newport Beach, in Southern California, up part of the Pacific Coast Highway as far as the Central Coast area.
Today we're going to take a whirlwind trip up to Monterey and then all the way over to Arizona. Put your seatbelts on, it's going to be fast!
Pismo Beach Pismo is a funny, quirky little oceanside town. It has a beautiful wide beach, a great big long pier and stunning white bluffs. Our hotel was situated on one of those bluffs. The views were spectatulor, with the wide sand beach on our left and craggy, rugged limestone bluffs on the right. Chris and I had so much fun, we booked a second night on Hotel Tonight (more about that later in this post) and extended our stay to take it all in. By the way, if you're foodies like Chris and I, don't miss the Ventana Grille, for awesome Mexican-influenced food and the drop dead views off their balcony over the Pacific. Oh .... and if sweets is your game, stop in downtown Pismo for a "to die for" cinnamon roll at the Old West Cinnamon Rolls bakery. It's like you were transported back to the '50s, with huge cinnamon rolls in a number of delicious variations of the classic cinnamon roll to choose from.
Claibourne and Churchill Winery When it comes to wineries, at first blush - pun intended, California seems to have as many as the stars in a clear California night sky. Most of us equate Sonoma and Napa Valley as the primary areas for vineyards and wine production. But that's only a small part of the story. Here are a few interesting California vine industry facts:
- California is the leading wine producing state—making more than 90 percent of all U.S. wine
- If California were a nation, it would be the fourth leading wine-producing country in the world behind France, Italy and Spain.
- One barrel of wine contains 740 lbs of grapes, equivalent to 59 gallons or 24.6 cases of wine.
- There are more than 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California (distinct winegrape growing areas recognized by the U.S. government), a testament to the variety of microclimates in the state.
- How many grapes in a bottle of wine? It takes about six to eight clusters, or approximately 600 to 800 wine grapes (2.4 lbs), to make a bottle of wine.
Facts courtesy of: the Wine Institute
Chris and I did a vineyard tour and tasting at a fabulous boutique winery that's been around for over 30 years. Claibourne and Churchill Winery is located in the SLO (San Luis Obispo Wine Country), between Pismo Beach and Morro Bay on our road trip. They are family-owned and specialize in fruity, but dry wines and Pinot Noirs. We got a chance to talk with Elizabeth Churchill Thompson, the owner's daughter, who is continuing the family tradition. This is so typical of many of the Central Coast vineyards and wineries; family run, with the "environmentally-friendly" emphasis everywhere. If there was one common message we got throughout the California Coastal Road Trip, it was: Take care of the land and it's resources. These families and companies take that seriously in all phases of their business.
Morro Bay The bay with the bump in the middle. Morro Bay's most well known claim to fame is smack dab in the middle of it's picturesque harbor - a giant rock .... well not exactly a rock .... more like a rock mountain island .... is this getting confusing? I thought so. Let' skip the description and take a look.
Big Sur This part of the coast was one of the highlights of our trip. As a car lover, I really enjoyed driving the twisty, turney, "What are we going to see around the next corner" roads. It's not for the faint of heart, but the rewards; the views, are well worth it. Take a look at these shots and tell me if you agree!
Monterey/Carmel This gorgeous area along the Pacific Coast Highway is breathtaking. Rugged rocks jutting out of emerald blue water, white-capped waves thundering into beautiful idyllic bays lined with white sand beaches. Huge redwood trees bending over the two-lane Pacific Coast Highway make it look like an outdoor cathedral.
California Central Valley After Monterey, we made the BIG turn and headed south by southeast, to head for Flagstaff. The most stunning part of this long scenically spectacular trip (850 miles) was the incredible plethora of crops grown throughout the central valley. Verdant, flourishing fields as far as the eye can see and huge 18-wheel trucks loaded with onions, strawberries and every other fruit and vegetable you could imagine. And the vineyards! They stretched out for miles and miles and miles. We saw pecan trees, lemon trees, almond trees, table grapes, lettuce, orange trees and on and on. This part of the U.S. is such a crucial producer of food - not just for the U.S., but for many other parts of the world.
Flagstaff, AZ This beautiful mountain town was the last stop on our two-week odyssey. Chris' sister, Dana has a summer home there. It's a fun, western, mountain town, carved out of huge forests of Ponderosa pines and white-barked Aspens, glittering in the clean, clear blue mountain sky.
Now for the practical; Here's a few tips for you future Road Trippers! 3 Important Road Trip Tips:
- Booking Hotels - Chris and I love to "wing it" when it comes to where to stay. But we do like quality accommodations, and if they're a little romantic and charming .... whooo-hooo! If we happen to like a town or area we're visiting, we're prone to alter our trip and add a night. One of the most helpful new apps we've come across lately is Hotel Tonight . You can find it at the Apple App Store. I loaded it up before we left for California and played with it a little, just to get familiar. Here's how it works: Hotels have a pretty good idea of how many rooms they are going to fill each day, thanks to computers, algorithms, and all the other data out there. When a hotel sees that they will not be filling up all their rooms, they allow Hotel Tonight to fill those otherwise empty rooms; at much lower rates than if you called the hotel, or even booked through the big 3 or 4 online booking websites. They don't work with smaller towns yet, but we got wonderful accommodations right up the coast of CA in Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach and Monterey. The hotels compete to get on their site each day, so the price changes. One very nice place we stayed at was $108 the first night and $99 the second, because they had a higher fill rate the first night. The quality of the places on hotelstonight have been consistently excellent. The website is fun and very easy to navigate, with lots of pictures and information about the facility and it's amenities. Important P.S. - If you can possibly book your hotels between Sunday and Thursday night, you'll save a lot of money, since hotels make most of their money on the weekend days.
- GPS - For most of us now days, our smart phones are our GPS units. With Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze and other directional apps, you can easily find your way around just about any part of the US. As most of us have found out, when you lose your cellular signal (think Big Sur - mountains crashing into oceans, breathtaking scenery, no cell connections) it can be a little daunting. A good accessory to have is a front window suction cup smartphone mount. That and a cigarette lighter power adapter for your model of smartphone are great to have. Stand alone GPS units are very nice too, and rely only on satellite signals; although they can lose contact when you're in a tunnel or a hotel parking garage. Having a good old paper map doesn't hurt, and sometimes they give you the "bigger picture" that a smartphone or GPS can't.
- Rental cars - check for body damage AND tire damage before you leave the rental agency. Check all fluid levels under the hood. Gas up before heading up through remote areas. For us, the stretch from San Luis Obispo to Monterey and the long haul the next day from Monterey to Flagstaff were the most demanding, both on us and on our car. The "good old" days of cars breaking down frequently on a trip are long over, but that can easily lull you into complacency; and that's usually when something happens. For us, it was one of the tires on our rental car. We were at a shopping center in Pismo Beach. As I approached the right side of the car, I noticed something different about one of the tires. I ran my hand over the sidewall and there was a bump about 3" long and a half inch high. We drove on it to the next town - San Luis Obispo, and took the car to a tire dealer. Sure enough, the tire was damaged (or defective) and could have blown at any time on those two long hauls we were about to take. Two hours later, and a couple of helpful phone calls to the car rental agency, and we were confidently riding the hairpin curves of Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
Well that's our two week California Coast Road Trip in 20 minutes. We're still marveling at the number of places we got to visit in that short time, and all the sights we took in. Chris and I know that our amazingly fantastic trip will fuel stories, discussions, laughter and fond memories for years to come. Hope you enjoyed the ride!
P.S. One last thing.We feel like we have an "image" to live up to; both our son-in-law, Josh and our daughter-in-law, Lindsay have noted on separate occasions, independent of each other that we "seem to sniff out bakeries and "sweet shops" wherever we go". Of course not wanting to disappoint .......... well, let's just show you what we sniffed out this time along the way ..........
P.P.S. Thanks for all your kind thoughts and regards on our last post regarding losing all of our photos. The computer's still in the shop and it looks like they'll be able to restore, at least, some of the pictures. These were still on the memory chip which was awesome.