Back in Puerto Rico and it’s HOT, at least compared to California and Mexico… I will write about our adventures out west during the next few days – it will be easier to read in small portions 🙂
Our Sunday in San Francisco / the Bay area was spent in the great company of my Canadian friend Christos and his photographer girlfriend R. We drove across the Golden Gate bridge to Marin County where they have just settled in a small cabin up on a mountain among the trees… There are other houses around, but their cabin still felt very secluded with beautiful views over the valley and it had a very cosy atmosphere with two small terraces and an open fire.
According to the Lonely Planet, a typical Marin County resident eats organic, votes Democrat and drives a SUV… It is a rich area with small towns and local shops and lots of green spaces and mountains – very different from the so-called Peninsula south of San Francisco, around Silicon Valley which is quite flat.
Tall redwood trees in Muir Woods
Our hosts had just been to the farmers’ market and had picked up some pic-nic food, and after having given us some advice on what to see further south in California (they just moved up from Los Angeles), we headed to the Muir Woods National Monument (what is the difference between a National monument and a National park??). Muir Woods is famous for its redwoods, the world’s tallest trees and it was great to walk among them in a real European-style forest again (compared to the rainforest in Puerto Rico)! After a nice hike in the forest, it was time to check out the beach – Muir Beach, where we had our organic pic-nic and an afternoon nap in the sunshine. Our thirst was quenched afterwards at the Pelican Inn, a typical English countryside pub in California!! It was such a lovely, relaxed day and I was very happy to see Christos again.
Pic-nic on the beach
On Monday we drove south after a morning fika with the blog girls Monica and Lotta K at Stanford University. We quickly arrived to the Monterey Peninsula, south of Santa Cruz, where we walked around Monterey State Historic Park with old buildings such as California’s first theatre! The town felt quite deserted but I am sure that on weekends the tourists and weekend-visitors fill the streets… The first impression of the peninsula was the smell – it smelt so good of wild herbs!
Magnolia in bloom in Monterey
Driving along the coast from Monterey to Pacific Grove, I spotted some seals sunning themselves on the shore – I love seals (I think my fascination comes from my favourite cuddly animal when I was a child – a seal pup!) so I made O stop the car so that I could get a closer look. In Pacific Grove, another obviously wealthy town, we saw some beautiful summer houses – they reminded me of the pretty houses in New England. Unfortunately the Point Pinos lighthouse was just closing when we arrived so we continued to Carmel-by-the-sea and had a late pic-nic salad lunch on the beach. The funny thing was that I read afterwards that the salad I had bought in a café in Monterey is a Californian classic – the Cobb salad (turkey / chicken, egg, tomato, blue cheese, avocado and bacon)!
The beach in Carmel-by-the-sea
The Big Sur or Highway 1 is a famous route on the west coast – it starts just south of Carmel and goes all along the dramatic coast to San Luis Obispo, 130 miles (210 km). It is called the Big Sur from the Spanish el pais grande del sur, which was the name given to the area by Spanish settlers in Carmel. This coastal area didn’t get electricity until the 1950’s and TV reception in the 80’s.
Point Sur Light Station
We were taking it easy though, as our destination was not very far on Highway 1. I had booked a room for us at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn (a great tip from Christos and R) for the night. We arrived just before sunset, after a short drive admiring the views along the way. The inn is composed of small, basic wooden cabins (they make sure that you know what you are getting when you make a booking!) and I absolutely loved it. It felt like we were staying in a Scandinavian mountain cabin, which is not so strange as the Deetjen family was Norwegian (I’m still trying to figure out that name, it doesn’t sound very Scandinavian…).
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn
The restaurant at the inn is supposed to be really good but we found the price level a little high so we back-tracked a few kilometres north and had a great dinner at the Big Sur River Inn. The next day we decided to try another local place and had breakfast at the Big Sur Bakery (the names really make sure that you are not confused about where they are located…) on the sunny terrace – it was just warm enough to sit outside.
The Big Sur in the morning
Continuing along the coast, we saw more spectacular views of the mountains and sea, and fortunately not a lot of traffic. Just when the coastline flattened out and we thought that we had missed our next destination, we saw them – the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas! These seals are huge, or at least the male ones (bulls) which are actually really ugly – their heads look like elephant trunks, and they can weigh up to 2 tons! I could have spent all day looking at the seals, but we had to continue… More on that soon 😉
A male elephant seal has just moved along the sand rolling across the younger seals – like a steamroller… fortunately he didn’t crush any of them (which sometimes happens, we were told by one of the volunteer guides).