Heyooo, I’m back! Prepare yourself…for the third and final chapter…of our California adventure series. In case you’ve missed the first two parts of this epic recap, see San Francisco here and Muir Woods + Wine Country here. Okay, now where was I? Oh yes, we headed south from Wine Country bound for the central coast region — specifically, Los Osos, home of super-nice aunts Karen and Magic. We couldn’t make it all the way there in a day so we spent the night in Marina doing laundry, eating cupcakes, and reading. Ah, the glamorous life of a weary traveler. The next morning we headed to Monterey to get some good views of the coast…
…and stopped off at the lovely beach in Carmel, where we got a nice view of the Pebble Beach golf course from afar.
Then we hunkered down for the long and winding ride down the Pacific Coast Highway. Motion sickness sufferers beware — bring your meds for this one. Despite the nausea, the vistas were pretty incredible.
We stopped off at one particular overlook point that was inhabited by three friendly sand squirrels…
…who responded remarkably well to my “squirrel call”…too well, actually.
Apparently they were ravenous for snacks. We got back in the car before they got a chance to scurry up our legs.
We rode the Pacific Coast Highway all the way down to the San Simeon area where we took a break to tour Hearst Castle, former vacation home of newspaper tycoon and Citizen Kane inspiration, William Randolph Hearst. This mansion estate, now a National Historic Landmark and big tourist attraction, was 28 years in the making (1919-1947) but was never fully completed.
Hearst Castle was essentially the very expensive hobby of a wealthy, nit-picky man who needed a place to stash/showcase his massive art collection. Here’s the Neptune Pool for example, which includes the facade of an ancient Roman temple that Hearst bought and imported from Europe. This pool area was demolished and rebuilt three times until it suited Hearst’s taste. This was all during the Great Depression, mind you.
Our tour covered the upstairs suites and Hearst’s private rooms inside the main castle, Casa Grande. (You can also tour the grand rooms and guest cottages on the property.) All of these rooms were loaded with pieces from his art collection, like ancient Greek vases dating back to the B.C. days and centuries-old ceilings that Hearst acquired from various European countries.
The most impressive space was the indoor Roman Pool covered with millions of one-inch glass mosaic tiles, many infused with gold. Stunning as it was, the brochures indicated this pool was “rarely used.” Argh!
On a personal note, Hearst sounds like he was one strange dude. He would invite large groups of people to visit the castle (or “the ranch” as he called it), many of those being A-list celebs and politicians. Following a mandatory formal dinner, Hearst would often
demand encourage his guests to dress in costume and perform plays for his enjoyment. Yikers! He also kept a large portrait of his elderly mother on the wall next to his bed. I’ll let you form your own opinion about that. So in summation, I found Hearst Castle intriguing and bizarre — like visiting another planet — so if you’re in the area, it’s certainly worth a look-see.
We were back on the road and arriving at our Los Osos destination just in time for dinner. Aunts Karen and Magic gave us a quick tour of their home, introduced their pets, and fed us a home-cooked meal before taking us on a drive to view the surrounding area. Los Osos is near Morro Bay, a waterfront town with a cool volcanic formation called Morro Rock, or locally just “the Rock.” Unfortunately it was too dark and I was too close to get a good pic but you can see several here. Morro Bay is frequented by otters and surfers alike, and we saw both.
After one night in Los Osos, all of us hit the road caravan style bound for Yosemite National Park. When we arrived at our hotel, Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp just outside the park, light snow had begun to fall. The next morning, we woke up to this…
Snowmageddon! Snowpocalypse! It actually wasn’t that serious (between 1 and 1.5 feet, I think) but it was enough to close the park and keep us indoors for the day. It was a bummer but luckily Tenaya had lots of ammenities: indoor pool, workout room, snowshoes even…naturally we chose pay-per-view. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the main activity of the day (love that Gary Oldman). It was a nice break from our busy vacation schedule.
By Yosemite Day 2, the snow stopped and the temperature had risen; we still hoped to enter the park but the rangers weren’t letting anyone through without snow chains (which could be yours for a cool $250 — no thanks!). We were only able to make it as far as the Wawona Hotel, a quaint, old Victorian-style resort, where we had lunch. Their soup du jour, curry cauliflower, was the best.
Afterwards we parted ways with Karen and Magic and headed back in the direction of San Francisco for our departing flight the next day. On the way, Jim had a hunch that maybe we would be able to get into the park after all by trying another entrance at a lower elevation. There was extra driving time involved but it paid off — we made it in! We spent the afternoon in Yosemite Valley hitting up all the hot spots, like Bridalveil Falls…
A Native American legend states that inhaling the mist from this waterfall will increase your chances of getting married. Luckily I’ve already got that covered.
Next up was El Capitan, the massive granite monolith which, they say, is a rock climber’s delight (but I wouldn’t know anything about that). There’s actually much more height to it than what you can see here (about 3,000 feet from the valley floor) but those damn low clouds are blocking the view.
This, I believe, is part of the Cathedral Range, all dusted with snow. Glaciers created spire-like formations atop these granite mountains, hence the name.
And finally here we are at the impressive Yosemite Falls, highest waterfall in North America and sixth highest in the world. This is just the lower portion (a 320-foot drop) but if you’re fortunate enough to have the time/stamina, you can hike to Higher Yosemite Fall at a total height of 2,425 feet. Goo! The lower fall was powerful enough on its own so seeing the entire falls top to bottom would have been pretty spectacular…but again with the blasted low clouds. Still, we were amazed.
All together now! A dude on the trail got us in a group pic with Yosemite Falls behind. And that was the last adventure of our California vaca. Unless you count the stop at In-N-Out Burger on our way back to San Fran. In-N-Out, California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand, is now a massive chain largely based on the West Coast. I am far from being a fast food burger kind of person and maybe it was because I was starving, but I scarfed that tasty cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake like a champ.
On our last day in CA, Jamie noted that we hadn’t officially touched the Pacific and since our flight wasn’t until that afternoon, we swung by this black sand beach (not sure where this is exactly) for some wave action…
That’s right, only the fingertips. Thus our California bucket list (for this trip anyway) was complete! Now what should we do on our next voyage out west?