Monday, April 18, 2011

West Coast

Fifteen years later, California's central coast is still the most beautiful place in the lower 48 (and I've been to 45 of them). There's lots to see there and we had a pretty packed agenda, but I think the absolute best is just the drive along the coast. It is one jaw-dropping sight after another.

Still, if you're there, you don't want to miss these things. The Monterey Peninsula is shaped like a square jutting out into the sea. The town of Monterey is okay, but even better is out on the "top left" corner: Pacific Grove.

That purple plant is Pride of Madeira, and it's everywhere there. And the Monterey cypresses, in the background, run all along the coast.

Just south of there is Carmel, a gorgeous town set on a long hill going down to a wide, white-sand beach. And just a few miles south of there is Point Lobos State Reserve, a spectacular wooded peninsula with rocky, wave-swept shorelines and deep coves. The air coming off the Pacific is so cool and fresh it's like drinking pure oxygen. Plus it's infused with sage and fir and eucalyptus and a thousand other things.

You could easily spend a day hiking around there. We spent four hours and wished we had more time.

Down the way in Big Sur, wild and dangerous Pfeiffer Beach is at the end of a long, narrow, unmarked road. I imagine at one time it was better marked but the people who live there and want to keep it secret probably tore down the signs until the authorities gave up. I'll help keep it on the dl and just show a closeup of the beautiful purple sand:

Apparently it's the result of certain minerals running down from the bluffs.

There's wonderful hiking at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and farther down at Julia Pfeiffer Park (the Pfeiffers were clearly pretty big wheels around the time they started naming the key sites there), but for me the best sites are along the road. It's just mile after mile of this:

And this:

I could spend all day watching the ocean from one of these overlooks. And sitting and thinking ...

McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Park.

A woman used to have a house looking down on that cove.

As you get to the end of the Big Sur, don't miss the hundreds of elephant seals south of Piedras Blancas.

And, of course, Hearst Castle, with it's Greco-Roman swimming pool.

They have at least five tours of the castle, each taking an hour-and-a-half. People spend a couple of days there to take it all in, or come back year after year to explore different parts.

Hearst was quite a character, but for all his robber-baronism, he was progressive in some ways. Treating his staff like family, and hiring a woman architect, Julia Morgan, to design the place. She was apparently a pioneering figure in her time. I'd like to read more about her.

Sigh. It's truly paradise. If it's this beautiful there, I can't imagine how spectacular Hawaii is going to be. Good thing I'm saving that for last.

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