A California diary… A group of six on tour in 2007
8 days in northern California… day six
Breakfast… surprises in the city… and a drive to Monterey


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on April 2, 2008. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

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Day six, Thursday, October 25, 2007

Forgive me… but I’m a slow moving train as this day gets started. And I have no clue what happened.

See… I’m the youngster of this group. But we’re on vacation… and while I’m not advocating a daily nap or late morning starts, let’s at least understand that the vineyards of California and the Pacific Coast Highway aren’t exactly screaming for people to wake up before the sun. At least not the way an amusement park might. They suggest peace… serenity… a carefree, easygoing, nothing to rush for day.


Heck… even the van on day three arrived after 9am.


And didn’t we drive some 200 miles back home last night? Sure we did.

So what the hell am I doing answering a 6am wake-up call!

I’ll give them credit, these geezers in my traveling party are making the most of every second. (And yet… as we discovered the other day, and will soon figure out we didn’t really learn… the locals prefer to sleep late.)

After the horrors inflicted upon us by the Pancake Nazi, we return to the comfortable setting of the hotel breakfast today. Mike is already in rare form. The girls behind the counter want to know where he was yesterday, and he is in full flirt mode.

Mike awake… smiling… laughing… carousing with the kitchen staff before 8am? Not a good sign for us.

We’ve decided to use today as sort of a little bit of everything day. No amazingly set plans… so we’re just going to head into the city, let everyone shout things out as they see fit, and eventually we figure we’ll meander over to the Pacific Coast Highway and drive south.

And just as quickly as we can agree on “no plans”… a few thoughts are raised and some obvious paths of travel begin to settle into place. Mike and Louise had wanted to head back into Haight – Ashbury to find some shirts, and the full group was in agreement that today was a nice day for that. However, on our last visit we ran into those stores not opening until just before noon. (Oh sure… they tell you 11… but it’s really 11-ish.) So we can’t go there first. I had wanted to stop in at the Ghirardelli’s store, located in Ghirardelli Square down near Fisherman’s Wharf. Heard they had a tour and everything. And wouldn’t you know it… right near the square was a cable car stop and another store I wanted to check out. Perfect!

We find a great parking spot on Larkin Street, but things look very quiet in Ghirardelli-chocolate-central. So I pull the van over, and everyone agrees that someone should go check things out. (Umm, allow me to rephrase a bit… five people out of six agree that “Bob should go check things out.”) So I get out and leave everyone behind while I walk to a shop to find out what is going on.

I quickly find a store with an open door, and barely one step inside I’m offered a free sample. Raised correctly by a mother that cares about chocolate, I accept a chocolate-covered caramel square. Turns out the factory has moved… out of the city… to a location not too far away, but not too close either. Regardless… no tour here. Most of the shops are still closed. In fact, the one I’m in really isn’t open.

Back to the car… where it does not go unnoticed that I smell like chocolate. (Remember I was volunteered to go alone? They didn’t want to walk over with me… wanted me to check it out… and now suddenly I’m the bad guy for accepting a free sample. Geez… have to say I don’t care about having a lack of additional samples with me. Their loss. Of course, I am outnumbered by a united five, and they do not seem to share my opinion.)

Chocolate items eliminated from our list, I pull around a corner and onto Beach Street. The store I want to go to is called Lark in the Morning, and is just a few blocks up in a section called The Cannery. We decide to check out a stop for cable cars before walking the rest of the way over to The Cannery.

As we start asking questions, it turns out a one way trip on a cable car is going to cost us $10 per person. Now look… we aren’t a group of cheapskates… but $120 to bring six people round trip on a cable car seems a bit steep this morning. It takes no time at all to decide that money would be better spent on more wine.

We continue walking along Beach Street… and I can’t find Lark in the Morning. I’m looking up and down side streets. I’m going in and out of buildings. I’m asking people.


But then we decide to use the restrooms… and guess what? We’re directed to use the stairs in the center of The Cannery, where off to one side we spot Lark in the Morning. Which, of course, like all of the other stores, is closed. And there is no sign on the front listing an opening time.

We decide to head closer to the piers for a little while. Mike wants to check out some of the fishing boats. Once there, the group is treated to a great early morning fog that has basically wrapped itself around the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog keeps swirling a bit, exposing and then hiding the towers. It’s quite a sight. Some limited research into the fog actually claims that the bridge does influence it… directing it up and down around the structure.

Back over to Lark in the Morning. Mike and Richard are supposed to meet us there (they had wandered out onto Pier 45), so the girls wait while I go to move the car a bit closer. There are no postings for hours on any of the stores, so we might be leaving if they don’t open by the time I return. Fortunately, our group back together, the store does open.

Inside we meet Kira, James and Dan. We spend some time looking around, with Terry discussing a Christmas present for Justin with the staff. Eventually a banjo and a mandolin are purchased and shipped back home, and we pile into the van to head over to Haight – Ashbury.

Two gift shops later… purchases packed… we turn onto some roads leading out of the area in a different direction than we used earlier in the week and program Mi Luv U for the Pacific Coast Highway. I don’t recall specifically using Monterey as a destination, but that’s the general idea and soon the water is on our right.

Once again the wildlife is giving us a treat. We spot four red-tail hawks… one in flight… and a peregrine falcon. We saw several fields of happy cows. Terry and Louise have decided they want to buy a soccer ball and throw it into a field of cows.

Soon we reach the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

This lighthouse is roughly 50-miles outside of San Francisco. Notes I put together list it as one of the tallest in America… standing 115-feet tall… and it has been around for over 135 years.

Pigeon Point was just one of several short stops along the coastline… we’d see something we liked, someone would yell out, and a different group would exit the van each time to take pictures. Depending on the interest in a cliff… a beach… windsurfers… cows… some people stayed in the van, some would get out. But one thing seemed to stay consistent…

No food.

A funny thing was beginning to take form. We had been on the road for a while as we passed the lighthouse. And between the walking and shopping and multiple places visited, it had been some time since breakfast. But we never really passed a place along the road that seemed tempting to us, and we just kept thinking that 15 or 30 minutes up the road a local place would appear and immediately appeal to all of us. For a while, we never even considered checking out what Mi Luv U might have to say on the subject… at least not in depth.

Here comes Santa Cruz.

We are getting close to Santa Cruz and Mike has been scanning over some of the restaurants that Mi Luv U has on file to find out types of food… locations… distances… and stuff like that. The trouble for him is that the ones he is finding in Monterey are far more interesting to him than anything in Santa Cruz. Oh the names sound fine… but they don’t quite sound like without-a-doubt great places. And some are just chains, the likes of which we have been trying to avoid. In fact, for every potentially risky listing of Chinese or Italian, it seems like there are three or four fast food entries.

With only 35-45 miles to go to Monterey, Mike and I are figuring it to be slightly less than an hour. (It took longer… a bit of traffic… a few stop lights… and one stop I’ll have more to say about in a second.) Mike has made a dangerous decision that he doesn’t want to vocalize too loudly. For him it’s a magical and unforgettable meal in Monterey at one of the names he’s recognized, or, settling for a gamble and possibly something far less in Santa Cruz. At this point, I’m agreeing with his evaluation of things… a great meal in Monterey sounds really fantastic… but I have to admit I’m getting hungry, and there are definite signs of dissention swirling in the air behind our heads. Signs that Mike is oblivious to -- or flat out ignoring -- as he plays navigator for the tour… on the quest for a magical meal.

I spot a small sign that says “Natural Bridge” and, with no time to ask for permission, swing the car off to the right to go in the direction it pointed. I’ve taken a van filled with hungry and unsettled passengers off of the Cabrillo Highway, and… according to my notes… along Natural Bridges Drive to Swanton Boulevard, and finally into an area one map calls Natural Bridges State Beach. As I stop the van, my gut instincts to just go are rewarded. A couple of huge rock formations are along the beach and near the cliff we are parking on… natural bridges carved into them. Everyone gets out of the van.

There are pelicans in flight and all over the rocks, along with other birds. There are waves crashing into the cliffs and the shore on both sides of us. And… off in the distance… Terry spots a sea otter. She gets some great pictures of it with one of her new camera lenses.

After spending some time looking around, we pile back in the van and I drive along West Cliff Drive to get out.

Here’s a brief idea about food (and, in part, the Pacific Coast Highway).

When we began driving -- all the way back to the start in San Francisco -- I was thinking that… as you might find in Newport, Narragansett or Mystic… we’ll come across some seafood place or at least a local pizza joint. Just seemed logical. Even if it was sort of what I encountered back in 2005 when driving south of Los Angeles… some ocean side communities.

The trick today is… I’ve been thinking that same thought since before the ocean first appeared in our sights, hours ago. And to this point, no real decks built for a view of the water with a lunch service had appeared.

Soon Mi Luv U has us back on route 1 and heading to Monterey. “Catching a coastal view meal on a whim, impulse and divine intervention” is long gone as a theory. And now two things are against those of us in the front of the van… and a target is becoming visible around Mike.

The back roads that stay on significant portions of the coast, and thus the ones we were on at that moment, seem to break away from the main roads when crossing in and out of many towns and cities. (Maybe it’s just California’s way as I think back to my exploits of trying to drive the coast in the area of Los Angeles and down toward San Diego. Still… back then… Seal Beach… Huntington Beach… there definitely were waterside stops.) Basically… we aren’t moving at a steady clip. In fact, we’re stopping at red lights and right now we’re in traffic that just doesn’t seem to be moving.

And… hunger is no longer a swirling whisper. It has a voice. On this day, looking back and laughing (nervously), I can tell you that the rumors of objects being thrown at the driver and navigator have proven to be false… but lots of swearing and a “KFC… KFC…” chant was definitely heard as we departed the outer edges of Santa Cruz.

I’m not saying much… though I am noticing that the miles to go information found on Mi Luv U is not getting smaller nearly as fast as I would like to see it shrink, especially since it’s an indication of arriving near a place for dinner. I try to ignore the crowd behind me, staring off to the distance where an unusual palm tree stands on my side of the car, leaving the “KFC” group for Mike to handle.

They say ignorance is bliss. Well… I have to agree. As “KFC” rings in the air, I’m trying to figure out the satellite stations on the radio.

Risking the starvation of all the passengers traveling in the back seats of the van, Mike perseveres in leading the journey to Monterey. (He would be praised for his actions when the night ended… leading us to the best dinner of the trip. And he is deserving of much praise for doing so. But… truth be told… it was touch and go for him when the girls thought they spotted an “open” sign on a restaurant in one plaza.)

Here’s a question for you. You’re driving along the famed Pacific Coast Highway. You’ve departed from San Francisco and are passing some of the most noted coastal destinations in the world. What do you expect to see along the way?

(Remember… I’ve already mentioned the cows. They don’t count here.)

So how about this… would you be expecting to see huge fields of strawberries, artichokes and celery? I mean, we’re talking about huge farms on what must be some of the most valuable land in the country.


Quite a sight.

We arrive in Monterey and Mi Luv U is bringing us along streets and into the vicinity of the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. (There’s a significant difference between this one and the huge tourist attraction with a similar name several hours north.)

As we walk along a pier and try to decide on dinner, we can hear sea lions in the background. Checking them out we find sea otters and sea lions lounging around on docks and markers, and diving in and out of some of the boats nearby.

Eventually we head in to Shake’s Old Fisherman’s Grotto. A fabulous dinner is enjoyed by all. Mike, Louise, Ellen and Richard decide to surprise Terry and I by making it a dinner to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

After some shopping around the restaurant, we head back home, slightly paying attention to the side of the road for a plaza of some sort. Mi Luv U is taking us to the hotel by going through San Jose… night has fallen and the view isn’t quite as breathtaking as it was a few hours earlier… and Terry and I are now counting down to a pressing need for replacing the damaged luggage.

After getting to the hotel without finding a store, I point out to Terry that it’s still early enough for us to get to the mall down the road. The two of us head out and find stores closing at 9pm. I mean… come on San Francisco. 11am openings and 9pm closings? I suppose I understand the basics of it -- but we’re staying on a road with a string of hotels, and as a city I believe you are expecting a tourist or two to show up. These closing times for restaurants and stores seem a bit off… even if only by an hour.

Sears is open for another 30-minutes though, so we scramble in and eventually find a great set of luggage. (Yup… shopping with Tigg. Always an adventure… always a surprise… and in the end, she always wins with a terrific purchase. I told you earlier when I forced her to pack the back-up bag for the possibility of extra items heading back home. Tonight I take her out for one piece of luggage and end up bringing a matching set back to the hotel. Three bags and a carry on… and of course, as I write this… United is getting ready to implement second-bag-fees. It never fails.)

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com