Saturday, 28 February 2015

San Francisco Treat

I confess, I've been behind schedule on my updates to this blog.  In the rush to publish my last post I left out an interesting stop just up the road from Hearst Castle.  Piedra Biancas is just a few miles north of the castle's driveway.  A colony of elephant seals return here a few times a year for molting, breeding and giving birth at various times of the year.  There is a boardwalk for viewing and to keep people away from the seals as they go about their business.  It is quite the sight when you walk up and see thousands of seals lying on the beach but what you don't expect is just how loud and active some of them are.  The huge males that can reach upwards of 5000lbs and 16 feet long and are very watchful over their females.  You can see the younger males trying to breed but the older and larger,  dominant seals chase them away.  It is almost comical to watch the young guy over there trying his best to be romantic and this old bull comes crawling surprisingly fast across the beach through hoards of females to scare him off.  It must get very tiresome for them because it is a non-stop game of tag.

"The Chase...a love story"
Moving up the coast we headed for San Francisco.  If you want to visit this area in an RV be prepared to spend a little more than you normally do.  All the parks, even including the state parks are on the higher end than we like to spend.  $50/night is where most start and it goes up quickly from there.  We weren't happy about that, but we knew we had to see San Francisco while we were here on the left coast.  We ended up at Coyote Valley RV Resort for the week which is an hour south in San Jose. 
 It was the President's Day long weekend when we headed for down to Fisherman's Wharf at the city's famous waterfront. This is were you catch the ferry over to Alcatraz Island and the notorious prison.  We booked online a couple of days in advance because it always sells out, they can only take a limited amount of people on the ferries at a time.  While cruising over you get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco skyline. 
There's PCH 1 again!
Alcatraz, nice place to visit if you're not a criminal.
The view of the city from Alcatraz.
The tour is well organized by U.S. Park Service and your $30 gets you the ferry ride and the very good audio tour.  You can spend as much time as you want on the island once you are there, just be sure to be on the last ferry ride back to the pier. 
Once on the island you have to walk up four hills to get to the start of the tour.  There is a shuttle to take you up if have trouble walking up the fairly steep inclines.  Once you pick-up your headphones you just follow the prompts as you listen to former prisoners and guards as they relate their experiences and how things were done in the day to day running of the prison. 
First stop for prisoners, showers and dress in inmate clothing.

 Aisles named after famous streets.

A typical cell.

Mess hall

Inmates could sit here and see what they were missing across the bay.
 They cover the few escape attempts and the more famous inmates that were imprisoned here like Al Capone, "Machine gun Kelly" and The Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud (who actually didn't keep birds in Alcatraz).  It is a very good tour and well worth the time and money to learn about one of the most infamous prisons in history.
We walked along the waterfront that was now packed with people on this beautiful sunny Saturday. 
Lots to see and do here.
Pier 39
 We turned away from the water and headed towards town to see what we could find.  Taylor St. took us to Columbus Ave which is lined with restaurants and bars and was full of patrons enjoying the day.  Walking up here we stumbled across San Francisco's Chinatown, where all the streets were closed for a huge street festival full of anything and everything Chinese.  This was so crowded it was incredible, we took in the sights, sounds and smells like it was a different country, walked out the other side back into the U.S.A.
Crush of people for as far as you can see.

Drive back through San Jose we came across, surprise!, a DDD restaurant by the name of Naglee Park Garage, a tiny converted garage that serves delicious meals and desserts.  You walk in and order at the counter before you sit down, we both had the Tri-tip steak sandwich and we shared a bread pudding for dessert.  They have limited seating inside but a large patio outside that was perfect on this warm evening.  The food was very tasty and everything they make looked fantastic as it passed by our table.
People line up before it opens at 5pm. and then it closes at 9:30pm.
One more must see for us while we were in the area were the redwood trees.  There are only certain places where you can see old growth redwoods and Big Basin State Park is one of them. There is camping allowed here but our 5th-wheel is too large, so a day trip was answer.  The route to the park took us over some incredibly winding and narrow roads over the mountains and through dense forest.  There were redwoods but not the old, huge ones we were looking for.  Logging had nearly wiped out the trees around here and it takes hundreds of years to grow to full height.  Some are 1800 years old and in this park close to 300 feet tall (think 30 story building).
They just look like regular trees without perspective...

...that's better

Even the Banana Slugs are big.

Inside a burnt-out tree.
Pictures can't do justice to this forest towering over you, blocking out the sun making it cool and humid as you walk the trails in awe at the sheer size of these, the world's tallest trees.
Santa Cruz sits south of the park and we headed down to it for different loop around back to the trailer.  Turns out this is a very popular spot on a long weekend as the traffic would prove.  Ocean Drive heads appropriately to the ocean and to a DDD restaurant.
The Santa Cruz Diner has a huge menu of many different types of food at good prices.  Detra enjoyed her pot roast which was good for her.  I on the other hand, felt like fish and chips and ordered without much thought.  Well I guess it had to happen at some point in a DDD spot, but I was very disappointed in my meal.  I didn't ask in advance and I know they specialize in different foods but this was pre-frozen fish that wasn't much better than something you'd throw in the oven at home.  In the future I think I'll stick to the house specialties and not have this happen again.  I would give this place another chance as many of the meals looked good, just stay away from the fish.
Dinner over we decided to check out the boardwalk here that has theme park rides and games as well as some beach areas.  This was mistake #2 on the night.  The place is absolutely packed on a long weekend, we didn't even get out of the truck because there wasn't parking anywhere close to the action.  It was getting dark anyhow so we headed for home.  A drive that would normally be about an hour turned into almost 2.5hrs with the holiday stop and go traffic.
Santa Cruz looks like an interesting town with plenty to see and do, just stay away on long weekends because it is a zoo.
 San Francisco Is a place you could leave your heart as Tony Bennett once sang.  This is a vibrant city and seems no matter where you go, people here are enjoying what it has to offer and we were no exception.  Returning to the waterfront on a weekday and it was still a busy happening spot.  We didn't return for the wharf, we were here because this is the end of the line for one of the three cable car lines. 
We bought our tickets and then waited 45mins in line to get on.  This is not the way to do it if you come here for the ride.  The crowd waits here to get on and then the car heads up the hill a quarter mile and makes it's first stop, this stop is were you want to get on so you can avoid the wait with the masses. 
This is the best $6 you'll ever spend.  We took the Powell and Hyde St. cable car from the water up over the huge hill to the middle of downtown San Francisco.  Everyone knows S.F. has hills but just how steep and long they actually are makes you wonder what they were thinking building a city here.  I have a whole new respect for Steve McQueen's car chase in the "Bullitt" movie.  The ride is more fun than some carnival rides I've taken, hang off the side, stopping traffic in the middle of intersections, going up and the more exciting hitting the top and heading down the steep grade, people wave, you've never felt so good on public transportation!  I even high-fived a guy on a car going the other way, nearly broke my arm and I think his shoulder popped, but what fun!
Hill is steeper than it looks and that's Alcatraz in the bay.
End of the line close to Union Square.
Powell St. and Union Square from the top floor of Macy's.
San Francisco came across as an active, lively city with things happening everywhere you go.  It probably has something to do with the tremors that hit he city 20 times a day, not that we noticed any while we were here.  We liked it here very much, but it seems I say that about every city we visit.  We find each place has it's high points but San Francisco has it all, it's like New York without the scary undertones. 
That's as long as you don't worry about the place falling down around you when the big one comes.
Shaken and Stirred,

Saturday, 21 February 2015

PCH 1... Not The Way I'd Dreamed, But It'll Do For Now

I've always had a dream of driving the Pacific Coast Highway(PCH 1) usually in a Porsche Turbo convertible, hair blowing in the wind (hey, it's my dream I can still have hair), sometimes more realistically in my Miata when I had it. That trip has always been one of the great drives on my bucket list, one that I haven't completely given up on yet.  If you haven't heard of this road it follows the coast of California for 550 beautiful miles.

Jumping back into reality, here we are on the west coast and the dream road was just over that mountain we've been looking at for a month.  So we jumped into that not so sporty, elephant of a truck and went to live the dream, no we couldn't drop the roof, in fact we didn't even roll the windows down, it was to hot without the A/C.   The coastal city of Oceanside is where we started onto PCH 1, a tourist town full of hotels and souvenir shops to service the crowds that come to the large beaches and surf during the summer.

Heading out on the long fishing pier.

"Will pose for food"

The beach goes on for miles

We headed south on the PCH towards San Diego following the beaches. This is not the open road that my dreams are made of, with towns Carlsbad, Encinitas and Del Mar and the minor traffic that goes with them. This area is in San Diego county and all of it consumed by the city's urban sprawl.  There are many parks and parking areas along this road and they are full people enjoying the coastline surfing, biking and running. We were actually surprised at the amount of people surfing along our 40 mile route, even though the waves weren't that big.  We would see groups of up to forty people bobbing in the water waiting for the next wave to catch.  We took our time and with the towns and people it was interesting drive with plenty to look at.  We ended up driving past Torrey Pines golf course and even got to see the PGA pros on the practice tee's as we drove by.

We met up with our truck driver friend, Greg, as he was passing through Fallbrook. We picked him up and went to diner at a restaurant called Oink and Moo.  The food was excellent and the time spent together just as good.

Our time here in SoCal was winding down and we still hadn't had enough of San Diego.  We took another day and drove the winding back roads into the city for the last time.  This took us through the small town of Ramona and right by another restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  

Ramona CafĂ© is a typical small town restaurant nothing fancy and friendly staff.  What stands out is the food.  Both of our breakfasts' were delicious and huge, the only disappointment being we didn't have room to try their signature 1/2 lbs. cinnamon roll.

The Hawaiian Pancakes

San Diego has everything you could want, beautiful views and weather plus all the benefits of a large metropolis but still has the feel of a smaller city.  We enjoyed this place but it is time to move on.

We headed north towards the San Francisco Bay area.  We decided to make a stop a little more than halfway, for a two nights at The Vines RV Resort.  This is a  newer resort, with very nice buildings and pool area, sites are concrete and well kept and with Passport America half price for two nights.  The only downside to this park was the highway running very close to the back of our site.

The draw for us here is Hearst Castle about an hour drive through vineyards and beautiful rolling green hills to the coast.  This is an incredibly scenic landscape with huge hills dotted with cattle munching the lush grass and you get stunning peeks at the ocean to come, as you drive west.  Turn north for our second run on PCH 1 and this is the scenery and winding asphalt my dreams are made of. 

There are cattle down there grazing.

William Randolph Hearst built his castle on 250,000 acres of land he inherited from his parents.  The publishing magnet spent from 1919 to 1947 constructing this huge place on top of hill overlooking the sea and the land he owned.  For perspective he owned 39 miles of coastline and as far as you could see from the castle perched on the hill.  With 165 rooms and 127 acres manicured gardens and pools, he even had a zoo that was, at the time, one of the best in North America. 

Guest cottage

Guests would arrive and walk up these steps the castle.

16th century ceiling being restored by one man, over ten years, at a cost of $1 million. 

Dinning room.

Winding road leading up to the top.

When he died it was donated to the state and is now a historic park visited by close to a million people a year.  It is something to see if you are cruising down the PCH 1.   You can experience and be in awe what was possible if you were mega rich in a bygone era.

Next time we see my dream road we'll be looking at it from Alcatraz, that part of the highway is also know as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Wisp of hair in the west coast wind,

Monday, 2 February 2015

This Would Be Worth the Odd Earthquake

As I write this the North East is getting hit with a massive winter storm and me sitting here in my shorts and sunscreen...I'm very sympathetic. We did have a day or two of rain since we've been here in Southern California. Now I didn't have to shovel or scrape the car windows but we did have to find the umbrella to walk our dog, Abby.  The threat of earthquakes and floating off into the Pacific Ocean has crossed my mind from time to time while looking at the picturesque surrounding mountains.  So there are hardships, albeit different ones, we all have to endure. 

La Jolla, ("The Jewel" in Spanish) is an affluent San Diego suburb that lives up to it's name.  We took the hour drive south of us to visit "the Cove".  This is a very beautiful area with the ocean, interesting rocky shore mixed with sandy beaches in between.  There are plenty of shops and restaurants to go along with pricey condos that line the road overlooking the water.  This answers the question of "Why wouldn't you live here in this fantastic area if you were an American?" the answer ... $ MONEY $.  Even a small condo by the water starts at $800K and goes up rapidly from there.  Torrey Pines golf course is here, one of the jewels of the PGA tour.  It is owned by the city of San Diego and if you want to play on a weekend as a non-resident, it will cost you $229 in green fees, that's if you can get a tee time.

We came here for the scenery and to get up close and personal with the stars of the area, no not movie stars, but the sea lions who hang out here on the shore.  These guys spend most of their time sleeping on the beaches and rocks ignoring people like us trying to get close to them.  They are very tolerant unless they have a pup or you are dumb enough to think you can pet them for any length of time. 


We are finding ourselves liking San Diego more and more as we spend time here.  There are plenty of things to keep you busy and for a big city it still has plenty of charm.  It is a much more enjoyable place to visit than L.A. in our books.  Don't get me wrong, we like seeing and doing the many things in L.A., but it is not as inviting or easy a place to do them.
San Diego also has its fair share of Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives restaurants.  In our trips into the city we have dined at two of them so far.  Studio Diner was built beside a studio so the film crews would always have a place to eat, day or night.  I'm a sucker for these old style chrome and neon diners, I want to eat at all of them. 
Takes you back to the 1940's
Detra had a Monte Cristo that has all the usual stuff, built huge and then battered and deep fried.  It was so big she could only eat half of it which turned out very well for me, it was the best Monte Cristo we have ever had.  I indulged in the "Samson's Steak Sandwich", a philly cheesesteak, which was also very good. 
San Diego Zoo is a place I've always wanted to see since growing up watching Johnny Carson, and guest Joan Embery, with the animals from this zoo on The Tonight Show.  This is one of the leading research and breeding zoos in the world. 
They have a very successful Panda breeding program here.
Mom with a month old baby.

Pops keeping an eye on things.

He looked like he'd be fun to play with...

...and then he did this.
This is a very nice zoo, laid out very well, helpful volunteers to guide you, thousands of different animals to see.  I would recommend visiting it to anyone. However, it did make Detra and I realize just how nice the Toronto Zoo is.
Walking all day made us hungry which led us to look up the next DDD spot.  Hob Nob Hill a comfort food restaurant that has a warm atmosphere that is just dated enough to be comfy and familiar.  The prices and service are excellent.  We ordered after a long time trying to decide what to eat off the extensive menu.  Then you have to decide if you want bread, rolls or blueberry muffins?... next soup or salad?... type veggie or rice?...choice of potatoes. The choices here are endless and every one delicious.  It shows that if you have great food, service and prices people will show up, like they have since 1944, on a little neighbourhood corner in San Diego. 
In my teens I spent endless hours in my friend Greg's basement, with a few others, listening to music and generally goofing off and causing minor trouble.  Later on, Greg and I were the road crew for a rock band called The Hunt touring around bars and doing concerts in Ontario and the northeastern U.S.  When that band split up Greg went on to do the lighting for some more successful bands and I went to work for GM.  He is a truck driver now and was in, of all places, Ontario, California.  We drove up to see him and catch-up after all these years.  He is a very good photographer and takes stunning photos of all kinds of subjects.  He recently took an expedition to Antarctica to photograph and experience the wildlife.
These Roadie's once had long hair and could unload a big truck and set up a stage in a matter of hours.
Detra was browsing online one day and came up with tickets to see a taping of the "Mike & Molly" show.  It is a funny sitcom starring Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell, but a day or two later the taping was cancelled for some reason.  She went back online and we signed up for free tickets to the show "Mom" with Anna Faris and Allison Janney.  We drove through the L.A. traffic into "beautiful downtown Burbank!" as they say, to Warner Bros. Studio for the Friday night taping.  You do have to be prepared to wait in line and you don't know exactly how long you will be there but it is an interesting evening.  There is a very funny guy to get the audience of about 250 laughing and excited. He is also there to explain how things are done and answer questions between takes or scene changes.  Because it could be a long night of taping they hand out drinks, pizza & candy. It gives you an idea of the effort by the almost two hundred people it takes to get the show to air.  We were impressed with the writers, who come up with different lines on the fly to make the script funnier and how easy they make it seem.  The episode we saw is 5 weeks in advance to give the producers time to edit and make changes if they have to.  I was surprised that the laughter you hear is the real audience recorded that night, but they do edit and change it to make it work with the show. We were glad we did this and surprised on how easy it is to get tickets.  Detra met Anna Faris, got her autograph and thought she was very nice to everyone crowding around her.
Sometimes we get the feeling people reading this blog have an unrealistic idea of our life because it makes it look like we are always doing fun and exciting things.  The truth is there are plenty of down days of doing nothing or days of laundry and cleaning, like everybody else, that doesn't get written about.  We get bored sometimes too. It just so happens, we get bored in the sunshine and warmth of California, which is much better for us than the cold back in Canada.  Sometimes just trying to find things in a different grocery store is as exciting as it gets. We aren't on vacation and we can't do it all, but we sure are going to try.
Blue skies and warm cloudless days,
I just hope we leave before the big one shakes us out of bed.