Wednesday, January 8, 2014

San Simeon and Cambria Weekend getaway

San Simeon and Cambria are two small seaside villages along Highway 1. Big Sur is a 100 mile stretch of coastline that begins south of Carmel. These are two laid back cities with small boutique stores, gift shops, gourmet restaurants and coffee shops. The area has impressive rocky cliffs and beautiful beaches. Partake in recreational activities like bicycling or hiking. For those fond of water, there are venues for surfing, skimboarding or boogie-boarding. San Simeon boasts of elements of the coastal Jurassic Age landforms and ophiolite formations. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters and California grey whales pass during their yearly migration.

A few weekends ago, we drove all along Highway 1 and Big Sur to San Simeon. This time we drove non-stop to Nepenthe and stopped along all vista points beyond that stretch of Big Sur. We took a small walk at Julia Pfeiffer State Park to watch the waterfall cascade into the ocean. 

I find the Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park one of the best spots in Big Sur. 

The next morning we went to the Elephant Seal rockery. It is a section of the beach where there are huge number of Elephant Seals that come on shore to rest and hibernate. It was an awesome experience to see them up close. We saw a couple of fights and there was this cute little one that wouldn't stop staring at us.

Hearst Castle is right off Highway 1 (Cabrillo Hwy) and just a mile south of the Elephant Seal rockery. There are only guided tours available. I would suggest making reservations beforehand. We went there hoping to get tickets on the fly, but the next tour was completely booked and we didn't want to wait. Also, the tours are a couple of hours each. So make sure you have sufficient time to accommodate this into your schedule.
Across Hearst Castle is a pier with beach access. The water to the right of the pier is emerald and to the left jade. It was a mesmerizing sight. The weather was nice, so we stayed there for some time taking in the views. There was beach access too and we saw a few people collecting mussels. The access to the pier was lined with Eucalyptus trees and the whole place smelled really fresh.

We drove further south to Cambria and walked along the beautiful Moonstone beach. The village is small and pretty. The boutique stores and coffee shops that line Main street are very cute and a great place to spend the evening.
Stay and food -

The choice of hotels in the area is limited. We stayed at the Morgan Hotel in San Simeon. It is right on Highway 1 with beach access nearby. The decor is classy. If you reach earlier in the day, a request to get an ocean facing room can be accommodated. As usual, we reached there really late at night, after taking in the sights. I would suggest you request for a room in the new building (where the registration is). We were put up in the old building on a cold windy night and it rattled quite a bit.

The selection of restaurants is also limited. The Black Cat Bistro in Cambria is one of the top rated restaurants in the area. We had dinner at Sunset Grill, a decent diner serving american food. The Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill is the only restaurant in the area that can boast of great ocean views. You can go there just for the views. For an evening snack and a caffeine fix, try the Cambria coffee roasting company. - one of the best lattes I have had. 

Hope these tips help you plan your next weekend getaway to enjoy the great California weather!

- Dee

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Weekend trip to Carmel by the Sea and Big Sur

Every long weekend I spend in the Bay Area makes me appreciate it even more. The state is a treasure trove for a travel enthusiast and after all these years, it has never failed to amaze us! We went on a camping trip  to Big Sur during Thanksgiving. We camped at  the Fernwood campgrounds. It was not the best time for camping as it was freezing but it was really pretty and we had an awesome time.

Big Sur is one of the most dramatic landscapes in the US. There are coastlines with jagged rock formations, and crashing surf along rocky coves. We drove along Highway 1 and stopped at all the vista points. Garrapata State Park is a 4 mile area from Garrapata Creek Bridge to Gate 1 (it is near Pt. Lobos). Bixby bridge is one of the main vista points along the way where you get beautiful unobstructed ocean views. Hurricane Pt- a mandatory stop for me, is further south of Bixby bridge. It is at an elevation and has great views of both north and south of Hwy 1. Another stop that we make every single time is at Nepenthe - it is a restaurant along Highway 1 with great views.

There are some places were you can park and walk down to the ocean. Some of these have beach access while others have great views. Either ways, it makes for good small hikes along beautiful scenic trails- all in a day's play :)

All along Big Sur the color of the water is beautiful - you can see various shades of blue, green and also almost translucent water. The vegetation and wonderful rock formations catch your eye. This place never ceases to amaze me!

With every Vista stop we "Oohed" and ""Aahed" and shot photo after photo.

This is a part of a short half-hour hike we took. We walked down the slopes to sea level where the water was the most beautiful shade of aquamarine. The aquatic vegetation is supposed to be awesome - evident by the lush plants and seaweed all over the area.

On our way back, we stopped at Carmel by the Sea in Monterey county. It is a very pretty town by the sea. I loved walking along the boutiques and cafes that line the street leading to the water. There are some beautiful bed & breakfasts and wine tasting rooms. The city organizes various art and film festivals. 

A little trivia - The funniest thing I have read about Carmel is that  they have an unusual law that prohibits wearing high-heel shoes without a permit ;).

The beach is beautiful. They allow dogs at the beach and it was fun watching them play in the water. Most B&Bs are pet friendly too.

Restaurant suggestions- 

Nepenthe is our favorite stop to grab some grub while visiting Big Sur. There is both indoor and outdoor seating. Cafe Kevah is in the same location and offers breakfast, coffee and snacks. Both of these have great views.

Another good restaurant in the Monterey area is Montrio Bistro.  The food is amazing and the ambience is great. 

Seafood lovers can't miss the Old fisherman's Grotto. Start with the amazing clam chowder, coconut prawns, crab cakes and fried calamari. If you like your entree on the sweet side try the macadamia nut crusted halibut or the crab ravioli which was awesome. Else try the pesto parmesan salmon or the veggie pasta. 

For coffee breaks, try the Carmel Bakery in Carmel or the Paris bakery cafe in Monterey. Paris bakery had some of the best custard filled brioches and almond croissants.

Happy New Year everyone! Have a great holiday:)

 - Dee

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Point Reyes

This past summer was great for traveling. We made the most of it by going out for many day trips. The San Francisco bay area is  perfect in terms of the numerous options for weekend fun. Some of our favorite day trips are to Napa, Half moon bay, Santa Cruz and Big Sur. Another favorite drive is along highway 1 north with stops at Muir woods, Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes. 

One weekend we drove all the way to Point Reyes. It is more beautiful than any of the pictures below that we could capture. The fog gives it an ethereal feel and the landscape looks different with every turn. The drive leading to the lighthouse is really green. It is just an hour out from San Francisco but it has beautiful European charm. Something about the vast expanse of open green space and ocean views makes me associate it with places like England or Ireland. 

When there is no fog, you can see a long part of the coastline. Between January and March go there for whale watching.  Point Reyes National seashore is a great place for a picnic or stop at other beaches along the way like Limantour beach or Heart's Desire beach. 

The place is also perfect for activities like kayaking, biking and hiking. You can book wilderness adventure tours or  do kayaking on Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero.

It rained once while we were there. It didn't last long but the scenery just changed completely. The sky turned a beautiful shade of crimson and the rainbow looked great blanketed in the fog. 

Beach picnics are super fun. But expect the weather to be generally cold or to change suddenly. I have visited Point Reyes 4 times and it has been very cold and windy each time. We have mostly been there during summers afternoons. 

Visibility can sometime get very poor. While it is no problem driving, it gets misty and cold. It irks me to no end as it tests my photography skills! 

...and this is how the seashore looks on an almost perfectly clear day! 

We have many restaurant favorites but this summer we made it a point to try out new ones. We found a few good ones that I am ready to go back to :) 

One of our great finds was this Mexican restaurant named NopalitoYelp guided us to this place and we loved every bit of it. Even the complimentary spiced garbanzo was awesome! The rustic ambience along with the open kitchen is charming and the food tasty. Service was impeccable. We made last minute reservations and they were able to accommodate us. 

Appetizers were the highlight  - you cant miss the Totopos con Chile and Corn. 

The entrees were not as amazing as the appetizers, but based on the appetizers our expectations were sky high! The Quesadilla de Bruselas was very different than the usual Mexican faire. The trout was good. Usually not a fan of Tamales, so this was the least favorite dish we ordered.

- Dee