I really enjoyed the couple of days in San Mateo, where we started our week-long trip to California. Bill and Debbie live in a fabulous home just off Parrott Drive in a peaceful, green neighborhood. Over the couple of days there I had the opportunity to run several miles in the neighborhood and I was struck by how clean, neat and orderly it seems. Beautiful homes, manicured gardens and side-walks, a 25-mph speed limit in the residential area, some extraordinary shops (Draeger's Supermarket!!) and restaurants - it is no wonder that so many people would like to live in places like San Mateo and other similar neighborhoods in the Greater San Francisco area. Very desirable.
On our fist day, we drove out to Muir Woods National Monument just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. What a fantastic place - even on a cold, blustery day we were completely blown away by the stunning redwood forest, especially the Cathedral area. My photographs do not even come close to illustrating the impact this place likely has on even the most casual of visitors.
Our day outing to Napa Valley was cut short a little bit due to some road work on the 880 (I think) running alongside and eventually right by Oakland downtown. Even so, we managed to spend quite a bit of time at three wineries (St. Supery, Trinchero, Chateau Montelena and Hall), enjoyed a bountiful array of tastings from Chardonnay right through to some luscious Cabernets. A highlight was a tailgate lunch (delicious sandwiches!) in the St. Supery parking lot.
Meals in the area were at a quaint Italian spot in Sausalito and at a very good Indian restaurant on 'restaurant row' in San Mateo. There were some great looking Japanese and Chinese restaurants and too many others to even mention - we really need to return to the area sometime soon. When the weather is better!
The next day we collected a rental car at SFO Airport and set off for Morro Bay on the Central Coast. It turned out to be a long and arduous trip via the Monterey Peninsula and the famous 17-mile Drive through Pebble Beach Resort. From Carmel (we did not have time for even the briefest of stops) the road traverses the Big Sur Region - more than 70 miles of ups and downs, tight left and right hand turns and knee-buckling drops toward the Pacific ocean. This is no place to be texting and driving!
We made several stops to take in the awesome views - a pity that the weather did not cooperate but nothing to be done about that. At least it was not pouring, mostly just a light drizzle with some fog... It was dark by the time we made a welcome stop at Anderson's Inn, a well-run small hotel on the edge of scenic Morro Bay. Our over-the-water room had ample space, a fireplace, spa bath, luxurious double bed and free wifi. Not to mention very friendly owners, a great restaurant downstairs (one of the better vegan meals I enjoyed during the trip) and definitely the best breakfast at nearby Frankie and Lola's. My potato and zucchini pancake was superb. Definitely the way to go if you want to avoid all the more usual egg-laden (cholesterol) choices.
The next morning we pushed on further down the 101, all the way into Los Angeles, and finally down the 405 to John Wayne Airport to pick up our friends. Driving conditions were perfectly horrid with rain squalls and poor visibility constant companions. I was as tense as the steel blades on a new suspension by the time we finally made it to The Montage just off the Pacific Coast Highway.
Within minutes we were relaxing at the bar, with superb views over the Pacific Ocean on our immediate left. Dinner a little bit later at 230 Forest Avenue was excellent. This chic bistro in the heart of downtown Laguna Beach has some of the best seafood in the area, and steak lovers won't be disappointed either. Not really suitable for vegetarians but it really did not matter this evening. The following day we rose late, lingered over The Los Angeles Times (what a paper!) worked out (5 solid miles on the treadmill with view of ocean) and eventually finding ourselves back in a restaurant. This time it was Sapphire Laguna, a trendy spot with a distinct international flavor. I opted for a Thai Chicken Lettuce Wrap with tofu instead of chicken, served with Green Papaya-Mango Salad and Peanut & Sweet Chili-Lime Sauce. Fantastic. After lunch we opted to support the local economy, browsing the stores along Forest Avenue and the adjacent downtown area. Lots of art galleries, gifts, shoes, clothing, surfing paraphernalia, a candy store, boutiques and more. The highlight of our dining experience was that evening at The Loft at The Montage. Kathleen enjoyed a trio of sushi rolls, Tom tried a local chili and Gwen did well with a nicely roasted chicken breast. My Israeli Couscous topped with a deconstructed ratatouille was delicious and nutritious - can't beat that combination!
All too soon our California trip came to an end with an adventurous trip back to the airport. Downtown Laguna Beach had experienced significant flooding earlier that morning, and we had to detour into the neighborhood above the Pacific Coast Highway, to later rejoin the PCH, run up to MacArthur Blvd and from there to the airport. Southwest was very late getting out of Phoenix, so we arrived back in Houston that night almost two hours later than planned. A fun and enjoyable trip - made all the more so by special friends and family.