Last week I trekked out to California for the annual BlogHer conference which was held in San Jose. I’ve never visited that part of California before, so I flew in a little early to get in some touring. Six and a half hours of flight time warrants staying a bit to see the sights.
I took the earliest flight out of Boston which got me into San Francisco early enough to have a full day of exploring that first day. Route 1 was the obvious road trip of choice because it’s so scenic. Something that I will certainly convince you of after you see the following pictures.
Route 1 winds all the way down the coast, straight through towns like Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel which are all bucket list towns to visit on my list. To see them all in one fell swoop was pretty awesome. Even if I did it at a breakneck pace.
Besides wonderful vistas of the ocean crashing on rocks beneath jagged cliffs, there were other special things to find on route 1. Let me show you…
I’ve always heard my California friends go on and on about their easy access to good produce. Once I started driving on route 1, I saw how lucky they are! Roadside stands of gorgeous produce were dotted up and down the coastal route. And in between the stands were miles of farmland.
Oh the meals I could make with the produce I saw. Just the peppers alone were enough to make me look at real estate while I was there. But when I saw how much real estate costs out there, I quickly realized I could buy the same size house out here and shop at Whole Foods for the rest of my life and still save money.
The real estate out there is rather spendy.
One roadside produce sign had me begging my girlfriend to pull the car over. Seven avocados for a buck. That’s something to pull over for. Until I saw the size of the avocados. You’d have to buy at least four to equal one normal size avocado I buy here in Massachusetts. They were still adorable though!
But the artichokes that were seven for a dollar? That is an incredible bargain. That was one thing that stuck out to me while we passed the farmland. The fields of artichokes were very interesting to see. You couldn’t help but recognize them because the artichokes stuck straight out into the sky like poles. Super fascinating to see!
The roadside stands had all kinds of fantastical offerings. Large bags of local almonds for only $5.99/lb. All kinds of dehydrated fruits and veggies. And snacks like larvets which I wasn’t brave enough to try. I am curious as to what they taste like but I’ll leave that to someone more adventurous to describe.
The first town on our agenda was Santa Cruz. And I have to tell you, I was rather smitten with it. The boardwalk is absolutely charming and full of rides I’d actually let my kids enjoy. I know that sounds odd, but I have to tell you that there are few boardwalks that I deem safe for my kids to ride the rides. I find most to be too carnival like. As in rickety.
That was not the case for the Santa Cruz boardwalk. All of the rides looked to be very well cared for and had a great mix of big kid and little kid rides. I could bring all of my kids here and there would be plenty for them to do. From the twenty year old (I can’t believe I just typed that) down to the ten year old, the Santa Cruz boardwalk would have captivated them all.
Besides an abundance of rides, the boardwalk offered up lots of delicious foods. All the fried things that you could possibly imagine and also an array of fresh fruits which was rather nice to see. And if carnival food isn’t your type of thing (what’s wrong with you?), there were tons of restaurants offering up local seafood that looked downright delectable. You won’t go hungry in Santa Cruz.
Another highlight of my stop in Santa Cruz was the sighting of a pod of Orcas. I have to tell you, my entire life I’ve waited to see this. And while they were off in the distance a bit, there was no mistaking the black whales with the white markings. To see them breaching and spouting water into the air is something I won’t soon forget.
And it’s also worth mentioning that the seals that hang out along all of the rocks that jut out along the California coast are quite the spectacle. I never realized how large or how loud they are. They are a mouthy bunch.
The next stop on our coastal adventure was Monterey. Another charming coastal town with breathtaking views. Monterey is the kind of town that you need to dedicate a day towards visiting. There are so many specialty shops and restaurants to visit. I highly suggest having a glass of wine in one establishment, an appetizer at the next, some shopping in the middle and then rinse and repeat that schedule for your entire day. And bring a designated driver with you.
Besides eclectic shopping and indulgent eating, there are many activities for those who are interested in getting physical. Kayaks, bikes and paddle board rentals were available and there were also trails for walking. With the sunny skies and cool ocean breezes, this would be the perfect place to explore the natural wonders of California.
And if seeing whales and seals up close appeals to you, this is the place to rent a kayak. I saw so many people getting up close views of the whales and seals. I was kicking myself for not bringing along my bathing suit!
Whenever I travel, I buy a little something for my kids like most parents do. My girls especially loved the Taffy Town taffy I bought in Monterey. Salt water taffy is available just about everywhere you look up and down the coast, but Taffy Town is our favorite. Yummy.
One of my favorite meals while visiting Monterey was at the Sardine Factory. A not to be missed restaurant located in historic Cannery Row, the Sardine Factory is one of those restaurants that you visit for special occasions. While not the kind of place I’d bring all four of my kids because my bill would be equal to my car payment (entrees range in price from $26 to $58), it is well worth every penny for a special occasion like an anniversary or a birthday.
Calamari is one of my favorite appetizers and the Sardine Factory’s calamari did not disappoint. Local calamari fried up tender and crisp, it was arguably the best calamari I’ve ever had. And it was hard to settle on the calamari as my choice of appetizer because everything on the appetizer menu looked appealing. Local seafood is a highlight of this restaurant. Next time I go I will definitely try the crab filled oysters Rockefeller. I had a hard time deciding between those two!
For my entree, I chose the salmon with lump meat crab and a beurre blanc sauce. A stellar choice that was. Once again, one of the best salmon dishes of my life. Well worth every calorie in the beurre blanc. I’m pretty sure the asparagus was just on the plate to make me feel a little better about the sauce and the calamari calorie carnage.
From Monterey my journey took me further south to Carmel By The Sea via 17 Mile Drive. Now, let me tell you something about 17 Mile Drive. You have to pay a $10 toll to explore it. If you happen to find yourself in the area, pay it. I know that a $10 toll sounds like a lot for 17 miles, but I promise you that you will NOT regret it.
I’ve taken some scenic drives in my lifetime, but really, this was like nothing I’ve seen before. A long and winding route, 17 Mile Drive has an unforgettable and unique view seemingly around every bend in the road. Dotted with mansions and to-die-for beaches, 17 Mile Drive is another experience that you could budget an entire day towards. Pack a picnic lunch, a beach blanket and your binoculars because there is just so much to see and experience during this drive.
Once again, the marine life is not to be missed. Seals, otters, birds and even whales can be seen from shore. Definitely budget some time here. And don’t forget the binoculars.
Check out the views…
My last stop on my adventure was Carmel By The Sea. Certainly the most spendy town of the towns I toured, Carmel is full of enchanting high end shops that reminded me of what you’d find in Aspen or Vail. Art galleries, jewelers, handcraft merchants and countless fine restaurants lined the picturesque streets of Carmel.
And while I didn’t do any shopping in this town, I did stop at the most precious wine tasting at the Paraiso Vineyards tasting room where I sampled and completely enjoyed a glass of Alexander-Smith Pinot Noir which was heavenly with notes of apple, black cherry and a hint of floral. I’m not sure if it was the Alice in Wonderlandesque setting or if it was purely the wine, regardless, it was unforgettable.
While there are countless very pricey restaurants in Carmel, I did happen upon a relatively affordable gem. Dametra Cafe is a restaurant that I highly recommend. An exquisitely charming restaurant serving up Mediterranean cuisine, Dametra not only offers authentic Mediterranean dishes, it also delivers a complete experience with live music and dancing. While many places that offer this kind of combo come off as touristy tacky, Dametra’s spontaneous musical outbursts felt like a true celebration.
I was trying to keep it light when I placed my order of a roasted vegetable salad with grilled shrimp, but I never expected my salad to be so grand. A salad is usually sort of ho-hum, but not this time. If all salads looked like this, the world would be a better place.
Dametra has all kinds of enticing menu items. If I ever get back, I will not leave without trying the hummus or the lamb shank. I saw other patrons enjoying those dishes which made me want to skip the conference and come back the next day. Which I did not.
And here is a view of the sun setting on the California coast. A natural way to end this post if there ever was one.
While this trip was incredible, it would’ve been so much better with my kids. Someday I plan to bring them to see the same sights. Certainly this kind of trip has all kinds of special experiences for adults, but at the same time there’s just so much that’s family friendly. From whale watching to kayaking and boardwalk rides to mountain hiking, with countless other activities in between, the California coast offers something for every member of the family!