Travel, Etc. --> Central Coast IV
Sideways Country 2008, Part IV
The Hearst Castle, Carmel and Monterey
The Hearst Castle
The third leg of our northbound Central Coast trip was less about wineries and more about just enjoying wine. It is both pleasant and surprising to leave hot, inland Paso, and in the distance of less than 40 miles, hit the cool and foggy coastline for the drive up Highway 1. And the best first stop is the Hearst Castle, just a little north of Cambria (which we did not visit this time, but would highly recommend from past visits). If you want to see how the other half lived, nothing beats a tour of the California State Park owned and managed Hearst Castle, the former home of publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst.
This was our third visit in 15 years, and maybe we’re more fascinated by the “rich and famous” than we care to admit. It is just mind boggling to visit this 90,000 square foot estate located on a 40,000 acre estate on a mountain overlooking the Pacific ocean. Starting at the Visitors Center just off Highway 1, you board a bus to travel the five miles up a switchback-filled, but panoramic drive up the mountainside. It is hard to imagine traversing that rugged terrain in 1925. I guess that is why he had such large guest houses – you didn’t leave once you got there. Having taken the two different tours in the past, we opted for a third tour, the Casa Grande North Tour. It was a fortuitous choice, with only nine participants and an engaging guide. Starting at the Neptune pool, we first toured the 10 bedroom Casa Del Mar guest house and marveled at the elaborate rooms that had been occupied by guests like Winston Churchill, Howard Hughes and Charles Lindbergh. This tour also covers the north wing of the main house, the last wing built. It contains Hearst's personal quarters along with 30 rooms on four floors, including 10 bedrooms, 10 baths, five sitting rooms, and five miscellaneous rooms including a theater, billiard room, projection room, gun room, and beauty salon.
This was decadence on a scale so grand that it is hard to comprehend. Every bed, tapestry, painting, even whole ceilings are priceless works of art. Hearst Hearst’s spent his life purchasing art and antiques from around the world. These are pieces so valuable that the State of California has never bothered to appraise or insure them because it would be so costly. The furnishings had as many stories as the rooms, and all were fascinating. It was well known that Hearst had a long-term affair with the Hollywood actress, Marion Davies, 34 years his junior. She shared the elaborate abode with him, but our knowledgeable guide also let us in on the affair that Marion Davies had with Charlie Chaplin and the jealousy it conjured up in Hearst...which is a topic interestingly depicted in a 2002 film that we rented upon our return home named “The Cat’s Meow.” The tour winds up about 90 minutes and about a gazillion steps later by walking through the gold gilded indoor Roman pool that has to be the most elaborate pool ever built. Then, after another white-knuckle drive down the mountain, it's back to reality. A fascinating place to visit.
Carmel, Monterey and Pacific Grove
Traveling north on Highway 1 toward Monterey, we’d recommend a stop at the famous Big Sur restaurant, Nepenthe – although be prepared for lots of others doing the same thing…partly because there are no other alternatives, and because of the fabulous view. The sandwiches are good and the prices are scary, but remember it's the great view of the Big Sur Pacific coastline that you're paying for, so if it's foggy, don't bother.
It is 81 very curvy miles from Cambria to Monterey on Highway 1, but the breathtaking scenery is well worth the extra time. Last time we were in the area we stayed at the Tickle Pink Inn in Carmel Highlands on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It's right next door to the Highlands Inn and has the same view at half the price. We were even able to just walk over to the Highlands for dinner at the outstanding Pacific's Edge Restaurant
This time we decided to try something a little different, the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove. Pacific Grove is a little town nestled between the pretentiousness of Carmel and the touristy, circus atmosphere of Monterey. They have a quaint turn-of-the-century downtown, some great "walk to dinner" restaurants, no tourist hotels, some very nice bed and breakfasts and a nice local feel.
The Seven Gables is a cluster of seven ornately Victorian buildings with 25 guest rooms directly across from the ocean. The lack of air conditioning initially View from Seven Gablessurprised us, but our 3rd floor attic room offered windows on both sides to allow cross ventilation, and trust me, no A/C in the morning was not a problem. A hearty breakfast was served each morning, and the views, sounds of waves crashing and surf smell could not be beat. We even had sea lion wake up calls and our own seagull, whom we were warned about, who would come peck on the window hoping to be fed.
Actually, the seagulls here seem to have quite a racket going. On our last visit at the Tickle Pink Inn, we had a sea gull we named Spot who joined us in the morning for muffins and every evening for brie and bread.
In fact, it was at our communal breakfast table that we were told about something by another guest that became a highlight of our trip – a visit to the Point Lobos State Reserve. Point Lobos, located just south of the Carmel Highlands, lets you really get up close to the incredibly rugged cliffs, coves and crashing surf that dominate this coastline.
With more than 550 acres of land and 750 acres of protected sea floor, it encompasses some of the most breathtaking scenery you will ever find. Thirteen short hiking trails, none longer than a mile, but some of them pretty rugged, allow you to explore miles of rocky coastline.
Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters abound in the kelp-filled coves while giant waves continually crash against the outlying rocks and cliffs. I think it must be because of living our entire lives in the flatlands of Indiana, but it really is difficult for Linda and me to see enough of the Pacific coastline. So, we spent hours hiking and enjoying Point Lobos.
And, if you really want to see sea lions, otters and seals up close, Monterey has a world-class aquarium. Located right on cannery row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is heavily devoted to the life in the waters of the Pacific Coast. A three-story kelp forest gives you an idea what goes on beneath those crashing waves. It's a pretty amazing place that's not just for kids — I had to drag Linda away from watching the river otters play.
And finally, a word about the restaurants in Pacific Grove. The two we visited were very good, reasonably priced and had a very local feel by virtue of being off the tourist pathways.
Our first night in Pacific Groove was Linda's birthday, so I had found a restaurant called Fifi’s Bistro Café the week before and made a reservation. We were both a little surprised by Fifi's humble location, in an aging strip center about a mile inland. Behind that humble exterior though, was a well-appointed dining room where the quality of the food and the reasonable prices turned out to be the real surprise. Run by a French couple about our age, they had a full house on a Thursday evening and I was sure we were the only customers whose names they didn't know. And, it was an authentic French bistro meal with duck paté, mussels, pommes frites, a wonderful lamb tenderloin and some serious pastry for dessert. The wine list turned out to be the most pleasant part of the surprise. It was an extensive one and I was a little shocked by the prices. In fact, when I choose the Provenance Rutherford Cabernet I had to ask if the $39 price was for a half bottle since we sell it for $36 in the store! No, It wasn't a split and all the other wines were similarly priced!
Fifi's Bistro Café
1188 Forest Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Friday night reinforced the fact that we could move to Pacific Grove and dine out three or four nights a week. We were at Passionfish, an upscale seafood restaurant, just a short walk downtown from the Seven Gables. When I asked if the Orin Swift Prisoner on the wine list for $30 was a split ($5 less than I sell it for back home!) I was informed that it was a full bottle. And, there it was, on the Wine Spectator award winning wine list... "All wines are priced at or near retail price." Now that's a restaurant trend we could use in Indianapolis. And, if you're ever in Pacific Grove, you won't find better seafood than at Passionfish, but it's the wine that really left an impression!
701 Lighthouse Ave.
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
October 15, 2008