Roadtrip: Pacific Coast Highway Fog-Out and SEALS!

For the third straight day, the Pacific Coast view was basically fog, fog, and some dim outlines of rocks in the distance.  I picked up CA 1 at San Jose, and except for the occasional bubble where the highway dipped under the fog and the mountainside incline was at the proper angle to let sun slant below the fog banks, I got no beautiful blue oceans.  Instead I basically spent the entire time creeping around very tight road angles because you could see about a hundred yards ahead of you, and sometimes not even that, if the mountain curve got in the way.

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It was like that the whole way till just outside of San Simeon, which was of course where my route was going to take me inland towards Fresno, my stopping point for the night.  I give up; clearly, the universe wants me to do the Pacific Coast Highway some other time.

One of the bubbles was Monterey, which was brilliantly sunny and gorgeous, and which was a lot more high-end resort than I remember it being the last time I was here years ago, when all I cared about was the aquarium.  I was going to revisit the aquarium for nostalgia, but it’s $40 for a single adult.  So no.  I saw sea otters in Seattle; I ate lunch at a beachside restaurant instead, and amused myself with watching some Canada geese sunbathe themselves at the beach.  Didn’t realize birds took seaside vacations too.

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And then more misty driving, and then!  Seals!  A beach of seals, right outside of San Simeon!  One of the vista points had a boardwalk dedicated to seal-viewing.  I believe it’s calving season, so the darker ones are the babies.  It took me a second to actually locate the seals–surprising, considering how big they are, but they just flop over and look a lot like dead fish.  Your eyes have to adjust to find the content round faces at the end.  The vista point was also populated with some very fat (tourist-fed, judging by the do-not-feed signs) ground squirrels, which had pretty spotted fur and which would just pose for you.

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Roadtrip: Even more redwoods

PCH today was a bit of a wash-out, as it was super-foggy and you could barely make out the water.  So I turned inland, following U.S. 101 through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and then taking a detour via the Avenue of the Giants.  It was a quieter drive than Redwoods National Park, where I had to keep pulling over to let speedier drivers pass; I don’t know why you take a “scenic drive” if you’re just going to zip through it.  Less people, and those that were there were much less likely to ride your bumper.

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Again, the silence in these woods is something else.  It’s got this…muffled quality, quiet not because there’s no sound but because the trees seem to soak it up before it gets to you.  Very serene in the daytime, but I imagine it’s actually a bit eerie at night.  Anyway, it was a good day for it–sunny, a tolerable temperature under the trees (and scorching elsewhere, with the dried-up riverbeds reminding you there’s a drought on), and I needed a bit of a slower-paced drive as changing places every night is making me a bit fatigued.  I also was detouring to meet a friend in the San Francisco Bay area, and needed some extra time to make it through the horrendous traffic.  It’s like NYC, except spread out over a much longer stretch of road.  The ramen place (Ramen Parlor, San Mateo) at the end at least was worth it, with an interesting lobster spin on the usual pork broth.  Mine was garlic flavored (lightly), and the lobster was not really that strong, but manifested more as a lightness to the fatty pork, and the soft-shell crab and two soft-boiled quail eggs were really tasty, unique add-ons.  The regular soft-boiled egg was actually soft-boiled, in that the yolk was thickened but still liquid inside.  The yakitori (not pictured), however, was a mistake, all over broiled and tough.

Lobster garlic pork broth with extra soft-boiled egg and soft-shell crab, Ramen Parlor, San Mateo

Lobster garlic pork broth with extra soft-boiled egg and soft-shell crab, Ramen Parlor, San Mateo

Airbnb was located in the nicest “mobile home community” I have ever seen.  They’re only mobile homes in the sense that they’re prefabricated houses without real foundations.  These are roomy, multiple-bedroom units, not trailers, with beautiful gardens and flowerboxes in the windows, and wooden floors inside, and the first palm trees I’ve seen so far on this drive.  I don’t know if this is a one-off or an experiment in affordable housing, but it was relaxing to stay in.

Mobile homes at dusk

Mobile homes at dusk

Roadtrip: More PCH and Redwoods National Park

The second half of the Oregon section of the Pacific Coast Highway seems to have a lot of sand dunes (and sawdust dunes from active logging), which aren’t my thing.  I’ve been to the biggest one in the U.S. out in Colorado, and killed a pair of old sneakers there, since the sand just wasn’t coming out.  So I just looked at these from afar.

Sand dunes off US 101, OR

Sand dunes off US 101, OR

As you drive into California, the difference in the landscape is gradual but noticeable.

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The mountains turn into hills, the trees get slightly taller and then you start to notice that they’re getting huge around the middle.  And then the redwood signs start popping up, and you realize that US 101 helpfully goes straight through nearly every redwood-containing national and state park in Oregon and California.  However, the better stuff requires going off the highway, which I did at the Redwood National Park.  You have to get out of the car and stand between these giant spires to really appreciate the effect; light and sound both seem muted, like the very sight of the trees won’t allow any competitors, even other senses.

Also, I think I spotted a herd of elk off the highway on my way out of the park.  They were, I think, the wrong color and shape for cows, but I was driving 50 mph and the shoulder wasn’t wide enough for me to pull over to check, so I can’t be sure.  Stopping point for the night was Bayside, CA, where I had some excellent costillitas (Cuban-style, braised baby back ribs in chipotle sauce) at Adriana’s.  The meat was the proverbial falling off the bone, in a smoky sauce that was pleasantly warm (spicy, not just hot to touch) and savory.  With a cool glass of horchata, it was a nice way to refuel after a day of hiking and hopping in and out of the car.

Edit: Forgot to mention the Airbnb spot!  Interesting set-up with a loft-style place, and a free $5 gift certificate to the local bakery/coffeeshop to boot.

Costillitas and horchata, Adriana's, Bayside, CA

Costillitas and horchata, Adriana’s, Bayside, CA

Roadtrip: Oregon’s Pacific Coast Scenic Byway

I’m not having a lot of luck with West Coast cities so far.  I arrived in Portland with several hours of sunlight left, but it was so scorching hot that I couldn’t work up the energy for more than a desultory walk around the neighborhood.  Airbnb place was a cute little house in a great location, but it didn’t have air conditioning, just fans, which only sapped my energy more.  It did cool overnight, but not so much that I felt like heading into the downtown in Monday morning traffic.  Instead I hit the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, also known as US 101 (I would have picked this up just outside of Seattle, but I lost too much time trying to figure out where things were and had to hurry down to Portland on I-5 Instead).

Pacific Coast Scenic Byway

Pacific Coast Scenic Byway

As soon as you climb into the mountains, it gets so much cooler and windier.  US 101 is sandwiched right between the mountainside and the ocean, and the cliffs are so steep you really can see the fog “rolling” down the mountain.  It dropped to about the fifties, so that I had to furtively swap my shorts for pants in one empty scenic overlook, and several times the wind was so strong that my camera’s stabilizer couldn’t focus for a shot.  But it’s really gorgeous, and the spotty weather meant I got to drive in and out of moody, romantic patches and sunny, sweet horizons.  The road is twisty, but it really wasn’t as tricky to drive as I thought it would be.  Still, I’m glad I’m driving and not a passenger, since I do tend to get carsick.

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Stopped in Depoe Bay (apparently a big whale-watching area) for lunch (and some addictive cheesy kettle corn and saltwater taffy from a local sweet shop) at a place called Tidal Raves, which was really, really good and really quite reasonable–drink, appetizer soup and sandwich, big enough for leftovers, for $25.  Not real fancy or complicated, just very fresh seafood, but compared to what I ate when I went to Maine, it was much better quality for much lower prices.  The steamed clams in particular were good, albeit slightly overcooked–smaller than what you get in Maine, but properly cleaned, no grit, and a tasty, salty-buttery broth.  And the view from the restaurant is ridiculous.  Probably also terrifying in a storm, but it’ll be pretty till the ocean smashes in.

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