Thursday, May 9, 2013

Monterey and Mom roadtrip

So my mother came to town last Friday, and Sunday we headed up north to visit where she was born. We struck out early, grabbing breakfast from Noah's in Sherman Oaks, and not stopping till Santa Barbara where we hit Sambo's just to buy my grandmother, who is a mildly old person-racist fan of the book, a souvenir. Then we headed to Los Padres National Forest where we intended to visit the Chumash Painted Cave. Now, let me warn you, if you dislike heights AT ALL, you might have a major panic attack on this steep, barrier-less, 1 1/2-lane, blind curve-riddled road. My mom, God bless her, started whimpering and demanded I turn around, which I was not able to do until halfway up (because there really wasn't a place to turn). So, again, if you have any anxiety about heights at all, DO NOT ATTEMPT to go to Chumash Painted Cave.

Adrenaline pumping, we pushed on to Solvang, this super strange little "Danish" village north of Santa Barbara. On the way, we came across Ostrichland. Yes. Ostrichland. My mother, who was so freaked out about the road to Chumash, jumped at the chance to feed the world's largest flightless bird and for my money the most aggressive. Emus are cute and less threatening, but ostriches look like they want to climb over the fence and peck you to death just for the pure joy of it. I have photos of my mother thrusting a pan of pellets at a group of competing ostriches as proof, but they're stowed away on my mom's camera, purely for private eyes. Sorry.

Solvang had nothing to scare either of us, though it bugged my mom a lot that the village was as much Dutch or German or Swedish as it was Danish. We wandered the stores (I liked the store with all the cuckoo clocks best), had lunch at Chomp, a decent burger joint next to the replica of Andersen's Little Mermaid statue, and then went on our merry way.

Our last stop before Marina (a town just north of Monterey that's far cheaper to stay) was the Avila Valley Barn, an orchard and shop in San Luis Obispo a roommate from college took me to once years ago. There I bought peanut butter yogurt pretzels. Though my mom and I scarfed them down, I'm not sure either of us know really if we liked them at all.

We stayed at Best Western Beach Dunes Inn, which was a stone's throw from Marina State Park, and has make-your-own-waffles as part of the included continental breakfast. A beach and waffles are all I need in life to be happy, so I was pretty darn happy.

Our first mission was to go to Fort Ord National Monument and sort of explore where my mom was born and (for a few months) raised. We sort of went the wrong way (because Google Maps doesn't have the young monument properly mapped yet) and ended up walking around the military roads, which are mostly used by bicyclists. We finally gave up and drove down to Monterey and Cannery Row. Had lunch at Bullwackers and talked to an Aussie couple who were on the last leg of a bus tour of the American West (sounded exhausting), bought a t-shirt that was insensitive to victims of shark violence for my stepdad that I subsequently decided to keep for myself and two pairs of adorable socks. Had middling cupcakes at Mrs. Delish and then...

Point Pinos, the lighthouse at, wait for it, the end of Lighthouse Drive. We just happened to go when it was open. It feels less like a lighthouse than a lighthome. Looks over a golf course. Run by a sweet lady. Entered a raffle for a psychedelic quilt.

Then 17-Mile Drive. Saw sea lions. Heard them first even with the fierce wind gusts. Lone Cypress. Ghost Tree.

If you can't see the Ghost Tree, that's because it's a ghost. Duh.

Then, because we're crazy, we decided the day wasn't over and went to Carmel-by-the-Sea. There is an amazing store called The White Rabbit, which sells a great deal of Alice in Wonderland-related paraphernalia. If I had the money, I'd overspend a lot at that store. They also had some Sherlock Holmes chess pieces ($20 a piece) that were calling my name, mostly in a taunting you-can't-afford-me way.

THEN we went to Santa Cruz in an attempt to see redwoods before sunset, which we basically failed at, and then had a less-than-fab dinner at Kianti's. BUT we got some cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company, and I have to recommend the chocolate chip walnut. That's some good stuff.

The next morning we headed to Pinnacles National Monument, and WE FOUND IT. After the luck we'd had the two days before, this was a miracle. We decided to do the easy 5 1/2-mile trip from Old Pinnacles Trailhead to Balconies Cave. It was gorgeous, and we saw a turkey and her babies, as well as a lizard. Only two other people on the trail, so we had it all to ourselves. When we got to the cave, there was what appeared to be a rock slide. My mom was over it and wanted to turn back, but I hated to get so close and not see the cave, so I scrambled over the rock slide, showing her it wasn't so bad, and then ditto going inside the cave. Here's the one photo I got with my phone.

We went under that rock near the bottom. I had to duck.

After that we grabbed snacks and souvenirs at the camp store, and I mourned my jeans, which, what with all the hiking and walking over the last few days, I had destroyed. Then we tried to find a place to stop for lunch. This took FOREVER. We finally stopped in Paso Robles and ate at Margie's Diner. They serve breakfast till 4pm. This gave me some joy.

Got back to LA before 8, which was amazing. Great, exhausting trip. Now to think about New Zealand...

In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen