A Travellerspoint blog

Hearst Castle and Big Sur

The California coastline tends toward wide and sandy shores in the south and rocky with crashing waves in the north. It seems to me that the transition between the two happens right around Hearst Castle. So it makes perfect sense to build a mansion on the hillsides overlooking this amazing part of the coast.

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Hearst Castle is only one of the many mansions owned by William Randolph Hearst. The land itself was purchased by his Grandfather and originally the land was only used by the family for "camping" which my guide described as a circus tent with hardwood floors and fine dining. But young William fell in love with the landscape here and when he finally inherited it from his Mother when he was in his 50’s, he knew he had to build on the land. And he built Hearst Castle. He always had a love of classical art and antiquities and from a very early point he knew he intended to share this mansion and its furnishings and décor with the world. He wanted it turned into a museum and after his death, his children gave the castle to the State (after first trying to sell it against their father's last requests but not finding any buyers).

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Over the years I’ve been on a couple tours of Hearst Castle, but the first was as a child and the last was almost ten years ago. This time I go on tour two. On every tour you get to see the deep blue outdoor pool. Ever since that first tour it has always taken every ounce of determination to keep myself from “accidentally” slipping and falling into the water. It just looks like it’s so cool and refreshing. Something about it. Everyone wants to swim in it. You only need $10,000 and you can rent the pool for a couple hours.

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We get to see the library, Hearst’s bedroom and the kitchen, but the coolest room we saw on this tour was a little circular bedroom in the bell tower. They call it the jewel-box bedroom because of the cool way the light shines in through the ornate carvings on the windows. People like JFK and Walt Disney stayed in this room when they visited the castle.

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Hearst Castle is just the beginning of the most scenic drive in the world (or at the end of the road depending on which way you drive). Big Sur is a strange world where hippies hitchhike down the same road that the wealthy drive to reach the posh resorts for weekend getaways. And then there are the people that live here. I imagine those people are a combination of the two: the Ben and Jerry's of the world - rich hippies. But everyone can enjoy the same scenery.

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This is the kind of place where you stop every chance you get to take pictures. The first day I’m there it’s foggy, but clear enough to see fine, which is all that matters. But after camping on the other side of the ridge for the night, the next day with the sun shining the sea is now turquoise at the shore.

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There have been times when I've avoided Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park because of the entrance fee, but this time I pay it, and take the walk out to the viewpoint. It really is such an iconic view, with the waterfall meeting the waves in the protected cove. I hadn't realized that there was a house here at one point and the residents donated the land to the State. It's hard to imagine that it's possible to wake up in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee with this view out your kitchen window.

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Posted by Velora 09:32 Comments (1)

Pismo Beach and Los Osos

I lived in San Luis Obispo County for the first 20 years of my life, so this place feels more like home than Sacramento does. It’s comforting to re-visit the places of my childhood. I may be biased, but the whole county is incredibly gorgeous.

Pismo Beach has always been a great spot to hang out for the day. They have some of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had at Old West Cinnamon Rolls and I walk along the beach after indulging in one smothered in cream cheese frosting. I never really noticed how cute some of these little houses are near the beach. I imagine myself living in a one bedroom cottage. I'd decorate with seashells and finally make the switch from acrylic to oil paints. I'd get a part-time "real job" and surf on my days off. Sure. It’s just so nice here. It’s already warm enough to lay out at the beach and it's never too cold. Around every corner there are roadside produce stands and some stay open year-round. Who wouldn't want to live here?

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I was raised in the coastal town of Los Osos, and there are two reasons why I return there as often as I can: the beach at Montana de Oro and Sylvester’s hamburgers. These burgers are unbelievable. They’d be fantastic without the sauce, but to order a burger without the special sauce is sac-burger-religious. In the picture you can see the sauce oozing over the bottom bun. That’s the way it should be. Their slogan is “big, hot and juicy” and that surfing burger has been painted on the wall since I was 3.

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Montana De Oro is a place with a lot of memories for me. The campground there is so quiet and secluded that you can hear the waves at night even though you can't see the ocean from the campground. Other more expensive State Parks are right on the beach, but because of their proximity to highway 1 and the small size of the campsites pushing you within feet of your fellow campers, you can’t hear the ocean. It's the sound of the ocean that keeps me coming back to this campground whenever I can.

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The bluff walk is only a couple miles long, but it’ll take you awhile to walk it because you’ll have to stop at every bend to take in the stunning beach cliff scenery below. The trail takes you past rocky cliffs and down to jutting strata of rock out to sea. There are some great tide pools here and I’m glad to see they’re still teeming with life.

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The next day I'm further inland and I camp for the night at Cerro Alto. There is a trail here that takes you up 2.5 miles to an epic view of the ocean and mountains below. At sunset, it’s difficult to see the ocean with the cloud cover, but that adds to the drama. It’s very Tolkien up here. I’ve been told I climbed this when I was little - but I don’t remember. You'd think I'd remember something like this.

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Posted by Velora 10:12 Comments (1)

Santa Ynez Valley

There’s a section of highway 1 that I’ve never driven before at the junction with 101 near Lompoc. So this time I take it. The drive thus far has been particularly scenic, but it gets even better. The large hills are glossy green this time of year and the valleys below cradle small farms and cute little farmhouses.

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It’s getting late in the day so when I pass a camping sign for a county park that isn’t on my map, I decide to take the risk that it might be full or too expensive and drive the 14 miles through nothing but farmland to check out the campground. Not only is the drive out to the campground even better than the 1, but the view and campground at the end is something so gorgeous and lovely I break out my sketchpad which has sadly never been used on this trip. I love the way the mountains meet the shore and recede into the distance.

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I take a long walk on the beach. It’s cloudy and windy - very dynamic. I don’t know if it’s the stormy weather or the lack of other people, but this is the best beachcombing I’ve ever encountered. I even have to break my own beachcombing rule and bring something stinky into my car (a sea urchin with the pins still attached).

In case you are wondering beach is named Jalama Beach and is popular despite or maybe because of its isolation and unadvertised location. During the summer I’m sure it gets difficult to obtain a spot, but it’s not really a sunny sunbathing kind of beach. With it’s velvet sands and foamy crashing waves, this beach begs to be walked and explored. Wandering for hours without seeing another soul.

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The next day I’m in Solvang, a small Dutch themed tourist town with more bakeries per capita than anywhere in the world I’m sure. The specialty pastry is called a Kringle, and I didn’t realize until I got there that it’s a pastry shaped like a pretzel and the size of a pizza. Since I can’t possibly tackle that on my own I get a crème filled roll made with the same dough and topped with chocolate. It’s like a cross between a croissant and a doughnut and a pretzel. And it's topped with chocolate. It is as good as it sounds.

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From downtown I take a road leading to the hilly winery-filled countryside just to see where it leads. Around one corner is a path to a waterfall. And another mile down the road I pass by a barn selling organic produce. As I pass by I see a sign for pick your own strawberries. I pull over and walk back.

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For $2 I pick up a basket and walk out into the strawberry fields. It’s thrilling to spot the ripe ones: so red they flash in your peripheral and defy you to avoid looking at them. There are lots of huge ones, it doesn’t take long to fill the basket. They’ve got a wash basin back at the barn and a picnic table set out in the field. When I bite into the first strawberry it is still sun-warmed. They are the sweetest most fragrant strawberries ever - and that’s saying something for a girl from California who frequents roadside strawberry stands.

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Posted by Velora 10:04 Comments (1)

Ventura and Santa Barbara

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped over LA. Well that’s pretty much what I would recommend any traveler to do. In the hostels I’ve been staying at, I’ve heard lots of kids from Europe mention that they were disappointed with LA, especially Hollywood. It’s not really a destination city - it’s just so spread out and the traffic is so bad that it‘s difficult and frustrating to go from one end of town to the other. I can imagine living there would be OK because you’d pretty much stick with your section of town, but to visit there without a plan of attack is a mistake. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convince any European to avoid it; the image and reputation of the city is just something everybody wants to see. Just prepare yourself to be disappointed and then maybe you’ll enjoy it.

Once you leave the sprawling mass that is LA and pass the Malibu beaches the next little town up the coast is Ventura. It’s a world away from LA. I love this little beachside town. The shore itself is nice for a long walk, despite having sections that are covered with large smooth rocks. The city is framed by the bright green Ojai mountains in the distance. The town shopping district is pretty small, but I personally loved the main street: jam-packed with great thrift and consignment stores and nice little restaurants.

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A short drive up the coast is Santa Barbara. I was pretty disappointed with the pier and beach area, so it’s a good thing I’ve gotten some great beach time already. I’m here on a Sunday when the art museum is free, so of course I’ve got to go. I’m amazed at the quality of the artwork. Almost every piece is donated from the wealthy locals and so the paintings and antiquities are very decorative in nature. But that’s not a bad thing. You can imagine every painting above someone’s fireplace - albeit someone’s rich fireplace.

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The downtown area around State street is very posh and nice to walk around. But most of the shoppers are tourists. I head a little off the tourist track to have lunch at La Super Rica - rumored to have been Julia Child’s favorite place around here for Mexican food. The food is simply prepared but fresh and delicious. The salsa had just the right spice to it. And the handmade corn tortillas are so fluffy and light. My only complaint is that three little tortillas were not enough. I wanted more.

Posted by Velora 11:10 Comments (3)

Southern California Beaches

Oceanside, San Onofre, San Clemente, Huntington Beach

There are so many gorgeous beaches in Southern California. Many of them are State Beaches and charge $15 just to get in. And the ones clustered around San Diego and LA tend to be busy and overcrowded and small. So, avoid those and visit some of these excellent beaches instead.

Oceanside: Just North of San Diego, but far enough away that you aren’t dealing with a huge exodus of city dwellers (at least not on weekdays). It’s a nice chill kind of surfing town and the beach is long and skinny. There’s a surfing museum in town that had an excellent exhibit on women surfers when I was there. The set up was very simple but something about the way they told the life story of historic women surfers really made the whole thing seem so awesome. One woman in the pre-Gidget days was arrested and jailed for the swimsuit she wore while surfing which showed her thighs. Another woman didn't start surfing until she was a mother of two, but went on to win competitions. It just made me want to be a surfer. But gosh, who doesn't?

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Up the coast on highway 1 is San Onofre State Beach. High on a bluff you can park and take one of a couple trails down to the shore below. It was deserted. Way down the beach I could see some surfers, but other than that I didn’t see another person the whole time I was there. It was such a warm day that I had to wade into the water. And after you get used to the initial shock of the cold, it’s really refreshing. There’s something about the Pacific. The waves can be so strong and it’s so cold and salty. I love it. After awhile of being attacked by the waves you have to dive under them to avoid being pushed around. And it’s so much fun. Do it. If you’re ever at the beach when it’s warm out, just wade in and get your hair wet. It’s a shame so few adults do it. Only surfers. I’m telling you, you are missing out.

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San Clemente was just a little further up the coast, still closer to San Diego than LA, but it has a unique atmosphere all its own. It’s town itself is small and has a Spanish villa feel to it. The steep roads along the cliffs converge and run down to the pier. The pier is still wooden and old so that it sways with the waves. And the beach is wide and extremely long: perfect for a long walk. There’s a café just across the train tracks from the beach. The food isn’t extraordinary, but it’s fresh and cheap and there’s outdoor seating where you can see the beach and feel the ocean breeze.

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Finally, I’ve included Huntington Beach, south of LA in Orange County. This is pretty much the culmination of the youth-filled surfer culture beach towns. I think it’s pretty much what everyone imagines when they think of California. The beach is very wide and at the end of the pier is a burger joint. There are tons of surfers that stick close to the pier and serious beach volleyball players take up the numerous courts around the streetside of the pier. It’s a real active tourist community and a kind of quintessential place (they market the town as “Surf City USA“). But there's an authenticity there that makes it worth a visit.

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Posted by Velora 17:34 Comments (1)

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