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A Skillet and a Paper, No More

The final print edition of Columbus Alive, which recently announced its online-only
status like an increasing number of publications around the country
The July 3rd edition of Columbus Alive marked a significant and increasingly unsurprising development in the publication's history. The newsprint version of this weekly, which has history dating at least to the 1990s and most likely into the 1980s (see below), will go the way of the dodo bird, with the publication going to a strictly online presence from here on out.

Normally, this mere transition would've been an "Oh, okay" moment for me, a mere blip that wouldn't have merited more than a brief mental acknowledgement.  However, a chance find at an estate sale a few weeks prior provided a golden opportunity for a blog post that I couldn't turn down.

I Got Six: Pennsylvania Travels Wrap-Up

Our travels through Pennsylvania were covered extensively through the last three posts, but I've always ended our series with some places that didn't conveniently fit the flow of my write ups, but are definitely worth a mention in some manner.

Because of the flow of those posts, I wanted to include more detailed contact information for the places we've visited during our travels, like I have traditionally done for all destinations covered in this blog, as well as links to the previous blog posts.

Known to the locals as "Dippy", this Diplodocus sculpture has stood guard in front
of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History since 1999
As we discovered, staying close to the center of Pittsburgh can be a spendy proposition. The Renaissance Hotel in the downtown area was a nice splurge that was conveniently located to our Eddie Izzard show at the Byham Theater that night.  For the rest of our stay, we targeted the Greentree area and the Comfort Inn on Banksville proved to be located close enough to everything and much more friendly to the pocketbook.  I-376 and the Fort Pitt Bridge generally is a sludgy crawl at most times of the day, but thanks to the number of bridges and tunnels in the area, you can easily bypass this route from this hotel to get into all areas of the city.

Give Me Broccoli Rabe, or Give Me Death: 48 Hours in Philly

City Center Philadelphia around lunch time, with plenty of bustle
and one of the numerous Pakistani-owned Halal food carts in the area
Granted, I have not visited all the big metro cities on the East Coast yet. But in terms of feel and bustling energy that only a big city has, Philadelphia feels the most like San Francisco to me, with a little more age and space added in, not to mention a couple dozen or three Halal-style food carts scattered throughout the City Center area.

A mere two days really isn’t enough to absorb a city the size of Philly, but it is enough to lend impressions like these, and enough to make you anticipate when you might be able to squeeze in another trip in the future.

Stuck in the Middle With You: Keystone State Travels

Even Abe Lincoln will tell you there's a lot to explore in the state of
Pennsylvania between the cities of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania
Leaving Pittsburgh and traveling eastward through Pennsylvania, we firmly had several National Parks in our sights as our main destinations. When it comes to the United States, the amount of and virtual age of this history tends to grow as you trek toward the Atlantic Ocean.

On this trip, we ended up spanning the historical timeline, from an unexpected find related to a conflict barely covered in the lower grade levels (the French-Indian War) to an event which has become a modern time "Day of Infamy" in the terrorist attacks of 09/11/2001.

Viewing nature's beauty was also prime on the docket, as we dropped by a state park with plenty of outdoor charms and a world-renowned architectural work whose best quality just might lie in how it blends in with the natural flora and fauna surrounding it.

Everyone needs a little curveball to break up the routine, and for us, that came in the form of a minor league baseball game and craft beer on an evening which scared away many due to the weather.

Three Days in the Land of Three Rivers

The Point State Park Fountain, located at the confluence of rivers that gave
Pittsburgh's former Three Rivers Stadium its name. Heinz Field, current home of
NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, lies across the Allegheny River in the background
Pittsburgh, like many Midwest cities, finds itself in the long-term quest of reinventing itself

A city traditionally known for its bustling steel industry and a blue-collar reputation, Pittsburgh has used a multi-pronged effort in the fields of education, industry and government to diversify its job mix and economic base, trying to stem the tide of population loss that has turned the once tenth largest city by population in the country in 1940 to 64th in 2019.

Tourism is also a vital part of boosting the city's fortunes. There was a day where I wouldn't have even considered traveling for pleasure to a place like Pittsburgh, but that just shows how times change and how the spirit to explore is indeed a good one. And thus, our most recent road trip adventures took us into the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, with our first days spent in the Steel City.

The Untimeliest of Sunsets

A sunset can be beautiful, even spectacular. Unless this big blue marble we reside on gets flipped off its orbit by some large celestial object, this planet's inhabitants can expect this phenomenon to occur at dusk for the foreseeable future.

Human beings might wish that sunsets on our life on this earth were equally as timely and regular. But mix in luck and circumstance with the complex organisms that we are, and we find some will live into the triple digits, and while others will find that their sun has set far too early.

There's almost always a bit of unfairness in the latter instance. It hurts even more when the person sports a larger-than-life personality and charisma that naturally draws others to them, who are genuinely nice and makes others feel better about themselves. Patrick and Joe, who left this world and my life roughly a decade apart, were two such people.

Five Years in the Books

Filipino Halo Halo is but one of the culinary treats you can get at
Columbus's Asian Festival, held annually during Memorial Day weekend
Columbus’s Asian Festival, set again for Memorial Day Weekend this year on May 25th and 26th, represents a couple of important reference points for yours truly. One was finding out how truly few of folks like me were here during my first visit: the city where I grew up in California, despite having numerous times less folks than Central Ohio's population, has roughly eight times more folks with my background.

The second is it marks off another notch on the years I’ve been doing this blog. With this upcoming weekend, that will have been five in the book, the furthest I’ve ever taken a blog.

There are hundred of ways I could branch off from here, but I thought I’d just leave it simple. Thanks to all of you who have followed along, and I hope I can keep you entertained by our ventures and my writing as we go into year six.

Columbus Iconic: Whither The Lettuce Wrap?

Iconic eats?  P.F. Chang's has made it three years in a row topping the
(614) ColumBest Reader Poll for "Best Asian Restaurant"
I acknowledge that the winners of many of media-sponsored reader polls are as much about name recognition and popularity as it is food quality when it comes to restaurants. That is certainly case with the fairly recently released 2019 edition of the (614) Columbus 2019 ColumBest poll.

But some results just sort of make you shake your head, and perhaps none does it more for me than the now three-year run of P.F. Chang's winning the "Best Asian Restaurant" category in the in the (614) ColumBest poll, claiming the top spot in 2017 when previous winner Haiku closed its doors in late 2016.

Conventional wisdom would make you think a national chain like P.F. Chang's (which has its origins in California in San Francisco and, later Beverly Hills) shouldn't be coming close to placing in these types of polls. Columbus's culinary scene has made wonderful strides over these past three years, with burgeoning coffee, craft beer and now distillery scenes (the latter sporting some great food components); the increasing emergence of upscale and creative eateries; and an increasing palette of international cuisines in general. This evolution has garnered its fair share of national notice - prominent media outlets like Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and Forbes have featured the city in the past six months alone.

Life Is A Big Steaming Bowl...Of Home

Fancy and oats, such as this McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal, weren't
a thing for me until much later in my life
Growing up, oatmeal was neither fancy nor glamorous. Soup could be sublime and occasionally spectacular, but generally wasn't the headline grabber either. But those two items remind me a lot of home in the olden days, because they were family staples in one fashion or another.

A lone familiar aluminum pot on the stove accompanied with a set of bowls on the counter top beside it became the familiar sign that oatmeal was available.  Sometimes, I would venture into the breakfast cereals, or I knocked out a grilled cheese when I felt ambitious. However, despite not being a fan of mushy textures (like many others), I grabbed a bowl of steamy oatmeal more often than not.

All Signs Point to High (Pt. 2) - Keep Calm, Eat Donuts, and Have Pun

Part 2 of our trip up High Street (Part 1 can be accessed at this link) gets us to the campus area, where the march of progress has transformed this once character-laden section of street with generic suburban-styled functionality. However, one of the few holdouts is thankfully both an institution with both students and locals alike in Buckeye Donuts, which turns 50 years old this year. Jimmy Barouxis' shop of sweet and savory treats, open 24/7 for your dining pleasure, looks to be around (cross fingers) for at least fifty more years.

All Signs Point to High (Pt. 1) - Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives

This photo of the neon Dairy Queen sign on the north end of the metro's
High Street inspired me to take a little road trip
Growing up, Dairy Queen has never been one of my favorite fast food joints - in fact, I always like to joke that the worst burgers I ever had were from a DQ (they were so bad, it made me crave the elementary school cafeteria burgers with the "Hot 'N Tasty" adorned foil wrappers.) However, an old-school neon sign can induce anyone to warm up to a place, and the one that adorns the front of Worthington's location (the building itself dates back to 1955) certainly does the trick.

When I posted a picture of the sign, I asked folks if they could remember other memorable signs along this main thoroughfare of Columbus. A few folks chimed in, and I was a bit flummoxed that I couldn't think of many more than I did during my post. I really haven't stopped thinking about it since, so on a recent slow, nothing-better-to-do day, I drove the roughly 16-mile-stretch of north-south aligned High Street from one end of the I-270 Beltway to the other to see what I could find.

A Sampler: Last Bites for The Nearly Departed

I do not have a long history in Central Ohio, but I have come to appreciate many aspects of the area's history. As a food blogger, this appreciation naturally extends to the area's restaurants, and it came to the forefront during a recent visit to the indoor version of the Worthington Farmers Market. Here, I spied a table selling sauces and other products related to the Florentine Restaurant, an eatery whose 70+ year run as an area institution ended somewhat unexpectedly in December 2016.

Sadly, we never did stop by the Florentine before its demise, but the sighting of the table (we did pick up a bottle of salad dressing we're eager to try) did remind me that it was time to clean up my photo holdings to send some eateries I've visited over the years but never blogged about to the "Nearly Departed" category.  As I performed the archiving, I thought it might be fun to take a peek at some of these places.

Bonchon - this Korean-based chain had a bit of a weird history here in Columbus, arriving with some manner of anticipation with their vaunted Korean Fried Chicken in 2015. However, food safety issues plagued the Sawmill area location, and their second Clintonville location (pictured above) never seemed overly packed whenever we visited.

The Fifty and The Familiar

Theoretically, buzzy and busy places with communal seating like the area's
Fox in the Snow locations will fall off the radar for me soon
My quest to expand my food horizons came relatively late in my life.  I can't do much nowadays about several dozen too many pursuits of Mickey D's Big Mac combo meals and other items I chose for frugality and convenience (but not necessarily taste) in my younger days, but I'm still firmly in "making up for lost time" mode.

However, like someone who's just pulled his fifth beer from the lone six-pack in the fridge, I've realized my time in this mode might be limited. As much as I'd like to be like a Simon Majumdar (who just celebrated his 55th birthday and is still going strong exploring the world and its cuisines), my body has sent signs it's ready to slow down a bit. Big portions, while nice, haven't been mandatory for my culinary pleasure for awhile.  Eventually, the doc will tell me that caffeine from my 1-2 cups of caffeinated coffee must go the way of the dodo bird, and my insides will eventually convince me that capsaicin and all its blazing, sweat-inducing glory isn't a good idea.

Interestingly, a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Frank Bruni encapsulated this feeling quite well, saying that reaching the age of fifty has changed his perspective on dining.

It's Easy To Trace The Trucks of My Cheers

The meat smoker located next to the usual location of Ray Ray's Hog Pit,
named "Best Food Truck" in Columbus Alive's 2019 "Best Of" poll
Last July, I wrote a series of blogposts examining Columbus's tendency to vote national restaurant chains in at the top in various local-media-sponsored "Best Of" polling events. One of the earlier polls in the cycle is the version hosted by Columbus Alive, which I found fared well in terms of local restaurant representation compared to other local media brethren. I thought it would be worth a look to see how the recently released 2019 edition fared compared to 2018.

The two outsider chains (Five Guys and Cooper's Hawk) which earned top spots last year held serve in "Best Fries" and "Best Wine List", respectively. However, local representation actually went up via a few simple and welcome tweaks, namely to the "Ethnic Eats" categories. The best tweak in my opinion banished the outdated "Best Asian" category: separate categories for Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Ramen join Sushi to offer a more comprehensive view at this aspect of the area's culinary scene.

Similarly, the splitting of the Indian/Nepalese category into two separate categories (a reflection of the continued growth of the latter) proved to be a positive change, as well as the addition of the African Restaurant category. The promotion of this latter, very under-the-radar segment I feel is vital in lifting Columbus's culinary profile to never-before-seen heights.

Bundles vs. A La Carte: Cutting the Cord and the Pies

After numerous years of just being lazy about dumping our cable TV, one more cable bill increase last month provided the necessary momentum. Not only did it lessen our bills, the change has also added a ton of things we've never even had the chance to watch. It has also added the dilemma of the so-called "Paradox of Choice", where the number of options makes it difficult to choose just one.

One show we've delved into initially is Netflix's "Ugly Delicious", featuring Chef David Chang of Momofuku fame. Built around a general food theme (pizza, fried chicken, etc.), the show proves unafraid to branch off on numerous tangents during any particular episode. One notion Chang attempts to relay is that authenticity in food should not be the ultimate be-all end-all goal.

Chang states authenticity is fine, but not at the cost of creativity nor if it restricts future generations from adding their own authenticity to create something entirely novel.  Here, the Cajun-influenced Vietnamese dishes of Houston provide the ultimate example of this, and Chang bemoans the fact that the authenticity factor has prevented it from moving to places like New Orleans.

They Say The Donut Flights Are Bright on Broadway

The Broadway play "Rent", playing in Columbus this weekend, is
celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year.
I don't know about you, but mental tangents offer me some of the best writing inspiration. Take the play "Rent", which is in Columbus this weekend on its 20th Anniversary Tour and is also one of the few Broadway plays I have seen and my spouse (a lover of Broadway musicals in general) has not.

Anyway, the tangent train started with an article e-mailed to me by one of my fellow bloggers regarding cities and fast food (a potential future topic) that sent me on the research path. During the search, I discovered that Dunkin' Donuts (a franchise that has actually struggled in Central Ohio) was listed in the Top 10 on most lists.

With a pizza post also in the works, that got me thinking about a rhetorical and somewhat unanswerable question: can you have more variations on donuts or pizza? It is here when the play "Rent" and its the signature song "Seasons of Love" popped into my head, with slightly altered lyrics:

"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred donuts
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred rings so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred donuts
How do you measure, measure a year?"

So that got me thinking: how many different donuts could you eat in Columbus if you really tried?

Hedging on the Veggies

Vegetables, exotic and more familiar, at Columbus's Saraga International Market
Kids hate their vegetables, right? At least, the conventional wisdom leans that way, but when you look deeper into the matter, there’s not much defining data. One article in the Mirror UK shows people have a natural aversion to green and other “weird” colors, yet an article in The Daily Meal notes Broccoli as one of the most well liked kids' veggies.  Meanwhile, a report found in HuffPost’s Australia posits a double-whammy: a natural human instinct to avoid off-putting bitter or sour flavors plus a lack of instinct to like veggies in the first place.

However, there are plenty of articles to be had about the strategies and hacks a parent can use to get their youngsters to actually eat these generally nutrition-laden foods.

Would any of those have worked in my case? Who knows, but I could tell you that a vegetable's texture played a bigger role than than the taste, and still does to a certain extent. Mushy vegetables (peas for some reason were a notable exception), especially those used in the traditional soup-based dishes my parents would make, were enjoyed as much as my parents' Andy Williams or Perry Como albums - tolerated, but nothing more. On the other hand, green beans and carrots, like my mom's Tom Jones' albums, offered more snap, so I favored them more. And corn and potatoes, from fries to baked to mashed, proved much like Santana's "Abraxas" (on 8-Track cassette to boot) album - they could be repeated ad infinitum as far as I was concerned.

Do Fries Go With That Take: The Funk Master and The Galley Boy

The cover of George Clinton's 1986 album "R&B Skeletons in the Closet"
While driving around a few weeks back, I caught a song on the radio from noted funk/R&B guru George Clinton. While his solo efforts are considered not quite up to his works for super groups Parliament and Funkadelic (his first album, “Computer Games”, comes awfully close though), Clinton’s albums for Capitol Records contained inspired efforts that melded the then modern electro-synth sounds of the 1980s with his traditional instrument compositions of the years prior.

George Clinton’s 1986 album “R&B Skeletons in the Closet” was the fourth and last full-length studio effort for Capitol Records before his dalliance with the late Prince and his Paisley Park record label at the turn of the decade. Perhaps the second best of his solo efforts for Capitol, Clinton balanced old and new instruments well in songs like “Cool Joe”, the title track, and my favorite song from the album in “Do Fries Go With That Shake.”

It's Not Valentine's - Let's Grab A Burger

This glass mosaic creation via a class at Franklinton's Glass Axis has
been one of the more fun St. Valentine's Day excursions in Columbus
Out of the major non-vacation holidays, St. Valentine’s Day initially came to rank lower on the likability scale. From the handing out of mini-cards to mostly strangers in elementary school (not a fun task for introverts like me) to the annual reminder it provided as a “yep, you’re still single - you suck” for many years afterward, endearment for the day proved difficult.

There was one small benefit in that I avoided the crass commercialism that this day has gained over the years, but even then that would occasionally rear its unpleasant head. Perhaps the nadir of my feelings for the day arose when, not too far after a tough breakup, I caught wind of a billboard in San Francisco's South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood. A jewelry store ad featuring a woman’s hand and a big shiny sparkly on the ring finger, the company's slogan taunted, "Have your friends live vicariously through you.”

(That might be the only time in my life I seriously considered arson as an option, but I digress...)

My feelings toward the day have mellowed some; with my spouse not being the biggest fan of the day through the years either, we've come to recognize the day in a somewhat sideways manner. We'll do things for and with each other (dine out, send flowers, participate in special couples events, etc.) but not generally on Valentine's Day itself. And in a nod to this tradition, I purposely kept this post separated from this year's festivities by a couple of weeks.

We're Going To Give It 101%

The Meat Cut chart at Columbus's The Pearl Restaurant that
started the whole 101% Cow Conundrum
In the big-wide world of sports cliches, the phrase "He/she gave 110 percent" is both overused and rather nonsensical from a mathematical standpoint. I imagine most would feel the same if the cliche used 101% instead.

However, would you look more quizzically at me if I said that it was a cow that was giving you that 101%?

Our encounter with the 101% cow conundrum came, at all places, The Pearl Restaurant. One of several Cameron Mitchell concepts which occupy the southern section of the city’s Short North neighborhood, The Pearl is touted as a seafood-oriented gastropub supplemented with fancy cocktails and a international beer list.

During our meal, my spouse was drawn to a chalkboard drawing of a cow which outlined the traditional primal butcher cuts (round, chuck, sirloin, etc.) and the corresponding percentages. After a long glance, she motioned over my shoulder. “Look behind you...does that all add up to 101%?”

I turned, spotted the cow diagram, and mentally added the numbers. “Yep, that’s 101%. Those are some pretty productive cows,” I chuckled.  Of course, I knew the diagram was wrong, but that brought me to thinking: was there such a thing as a definitive meat cut by percentage chart out there?

Well, I decided to look into that topic and came up with a few surprises.

You Can't Spell Nostalgia without L-A-G

Just one of the numerous albums put out by Jandek, perhaps the most
cultiest of cult artists in the music world today
Does owning one album from a cult artist count as nostalgia?

Back in college, my favorite place on campus was not the outdoors and most definitely not the classroom, but rather either of the two listening rooms deep inside the bowels of the college radio station. I couldn't imagine much better than cozying up by my lonesome a couple hours with a few dozen vinyl albums, both new and the previously unexplored, prepping for the week's show.

One day, a colleague of mine asked me if I had heard of Jandek.  The Jam, John Lydon and Jesse Johnson, sure. The Jesus and Mary Chain? Joy Division? Yep. But Jandek? I shook my head no.

My colleague's eyes rounded like large saucers. He touted his love of Jandek (almost certainly one Sterling R. Smith), his reclusive nature, and his rambling, weirdly bluesy compositions. In fact, Jandek, who sports Texas roots, might be the cultiest of all cult artists; through his Corwood Industries label, over 100 albums have been produced since the first LP was released in 1978.

An inquiry from an interested party might be reciprocated with a bundle of copies of his latest work, and generally his work can be obtained at relatively low prices. Before I knew it, a copy of his latest album, "You Walk Alone" (the album pictured above) was in my hands.  He looked a bit like Beck, though I would not reach this conclusion until several years later when Beck released his 1994 debut "Mellow Gold." Best of all, the album was free: for a broke-ass college student like me, anything free was indeed gold.  And now for nearly three decades, I've owned a piece of Jandek.

Noc Noc Noc-ing at Powell's Door: Nocterra Brewing

Funkwerks, circa our 2015 trip to Colorado. Like Fort Collins, Columbus'
beer scene is one where new breweries have increasingly to prove
their wares are worthy to the public early on or risk being left behind
Craft beer fans know that Colorado's breweries rate as some of the country's best. That fact did not escape our mind during our 2015 trip to visit my spouse's brother and his family in the Denver area. Thankfully, her brother (like most of the family) has been into craft beer for quite awhile - in fact, during his years in Columbus, his first homebrew kit came from the Clintonville's Winemaker's Shop from none other than Angelo Signorino, the longtime head brewer at the venerable Barley's Brewing Company.

For a day, her brother graciously chauffeured us to some of Fort Collins' finest breweries. During our journey, he mentioned that breweries there just simply couldn't open up and expect to be successful; they had to have at least a couple years planned out to even have a chance to make it in what was and still is a competitive beer scene.

Back then, that was nowhere near the case with Columbus, a beer scene that was still growing and evolving. Not so much anymore, though - in my mind, Central Ohio's scene has reached a point where a new brewery's chance to establish their footing has shrunk considerably. Indeed, many of the newer arrivals, including but not exclusive to Combustion, Somewhere in Particular, and Pretentious, have been received favorably fairly quickly by the locals. This notion was tucked in the back of my mind when my spouse and I dropped by to one of the area's newest in Powell's Nocterra Brewing for a sneak preview.

One Latte, One Lunch, One Beer - 2018 California Travel Wrap-Up

Well, the recap of a wonderful tour of California comes to an end with this blogpost. As usual, there were places that didn't quite conveniently fit in with any of our previous posts, but are definitely worthy of your consideration if you're in the neighborhood. And now, without further adieu...

Spearhead Coffee: Opened up a couple years after our first visit to Paso Robles, Spearhead Coffee has provided locals an elevated cup of coffee for their day's duties since 2015. Similar to many spaces with that modern industrial look, the interior of Spearhead used plenty of reclaimed materials from around the area as well as from space itself in its initial construction.

Two Do Right: Firestone Walker and Russian River Brewing

The welcoming fronts of Russian River Brewing's Santa Rosa, CA brewpub
and Firestone Walker's Barrelworks facility in Buellton, CA
Those who have read my blog before know that we are huge fans of two well-known California breweries in Firestone Walker and Russian River Brewing.  With the former, we had visited their two co-joined facilities in Buellton (their taproom and then their sour-focused Barrelworks facility - this blogpost details how we ended up visiting each separately), and for the latter, their iconic Santa Rosa brewpub seems is something of a mandatory stop when we're in the area, even if it is just to buy a couple of bottles of Pliny The Elder or one of their lovely sours to bring back to Ohio.

One would think that we're traversing over well-trod ground by writing about these two breweries again, but two recent developments for each brewery offered an opportunity to explore some new ground for us, and we were only more than happy to venture in again.

The House That Sarah Built: The Winchester Mystery House (San Jose, CA)

The front of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California
Way before San Jose, California, transformed into the anchor of what eventually became known as Silicon Valley, I had two personal mental associations with the city. One was the Dionne Warwick song "Do You Know The Way to San Jose", one of the first songs I remember listening to and liking immensely.

The other association was The Winchester Mystery House, which I always perceived as something of a cheesy attraction, based on both the promo ads I heard and read as well as the story (essentially, superstitious rich widow, in this case, Sarah Winchester, takes fortune teller’s crazy story to heart and builds a likewise crazy house to match in the quest for immortality.)

However, as we were happy to find out on our first visit ever, the tale behind The Winchester House is far more nuanced than that, with aspects about Winchester herself as well as the house she ended up building wouldn’t realize upon first glance.

Princely Waves and Pumpkin Weighs - A Half Day in Half Moon Bay

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of two lighthouses that bracket
the cozy town of Half Moon Bay (Photo courtesy of
visithalfmoonbay.org/Jonathan Warren)
Half Moon Bay, named for the picturesque crescent-shaped bay north of the main downtown area, packs in a surprising amount of history and big-name event cred into a decidedly laid back and small town package. Formally incorporated in 1959, the land which holds this community of roughly 12,500 was the long time home for the Costanoan Indians, whose trails into the area were mirrored by the two current main roads into the town during their construction.

Once Mexican settlers moved in 1840, the settlement became known as Spanishtown due to the large numbers of Spanish speakers before adopting its current moniker in 1874. The area became infamous during the era of Prohibition as the home for local moonshiners and rum runners, mainly due to its isolated location and constantly foggy conditions.

Surly and Spectacular - Big Sur Revisited

"And if you listen carefully
The winds that ride
On the high tide
Whistle a melody

So the people started to sing
And that's how the
Surf gave birth untold to
California soul"
"California Soul" - Marlena Shaw

I cannot say with certainty that the Big Sur on California's Central Coast is the most spectacular stretch of coast in the world. But I will say that this stretch of coastline, which ranges from San Simeon in the south to Carmel Highlands in the north, is most certainly one of the most spectacular places I have had the privilege to travel through, and this area is a must visit for any visitor with some extended time in the Golden State.

From the south, Hearst Castle in San Simeon is a natural jumping off point for your journey, but if touring millionaire mansions isn't your thing, the publicly accessible elephant seal rookery a few miles to the north is most definitely worth your time.  As one might imagine, the seals are an incredibly popular attraction, and on this day, the line of cars trying to turn into the parking lot of the main viewing point reminded us of the queue that crawls on the Golden Gate Bridge to try to enter the Vista Point areas.

The House That Julie Built: Hearst Castle (San Simeon, CA)

Hearst Castle's Roman Pool, which is inlaid with fused gold tiles and
currently acts as the fanciest bus depot you'll find just about anywhere
While it may not have originated with them specifically, the modern practice of glamping (camping without the rough edges) can trace its lineage to folks like the Hearst Family. As it turned out, the hill near San Simeon where the Hearst Castle now resides was a favorite warmer weather destination for George Hearst (who purchased 40,000 acres of ranch land in the area around the time of the Civil War; the acreage eventually grew over sixfold) and his family.

With many of the rough edges taken away (their campsite was prepared months ahead of time), George’s children, including future media magnate/politician/art collector/eventual inheritor William Randolph Hearst, were allowed to roam the land relatively freely. This fostered a love of the area in William that eventually led to the stately grandeur that embodies Hearst Castle, which we both got to visit for the first time.

Central California Adventures (Pt. 2) - International Bright Flung Things

Statue of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, famed pianist, former Prime Minister of
Poland, and one of the most famed residents of Paso Robles
As it turned out, our dalliance with an Paso Robles' Pappy McGregor's (an Irish Pub detailed in my last blogpost) was just a sign of the unexpected international tour we would end up getting with our Paso Robles travels.

Obviously, California has more than held their own in the wine making world the past few decades, and much of that has come with grape varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Blanc that originated on French soil (on a side note, Zinfandel, one of California's big players in the wine-making world, actually traces its origins to Croatia.)

However, less familiar stateside are wine styles from France's Rhône Valley. Grenache and Syrah will probably ring bells for even the casual wine drinker, but seeing other grape varietals such as Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Blanc and Counoise are still somewhat uncommon.  As it turns out, many of the wineries around Paso Robles feature the perfect climate and soil to grow these grapes, and we heard word that the wines coming from the grapes grown at Tablas Creek Vineyard, a pioneer in the state for these Rhône varietals, are among the best.

Central California Adventures (Pt. 1) - Don't Paso Me By

Built from 1907-1908, the Carnegie Library in Paso Robles' Downtown City Park
operated as such until 1995; it now is home to the town's historical society
While the town may officially be known as The City of El Paso de Robles (The Pass of the Oaks), the town's residents go much simpler and call it "Paso." Of course, that designation is helpful as well to tourists like us, who decided that a revisit of this somewhat quiet Central California hamlet nestled roughly three hours (with favorable traffic) south of San Francisco on Highway 101 was in order.

Our last visit several years ago was more of a strategic one: Paso Robles allowed us a central and relatively inexpensive jumping off point to go exploring parts farther south such as San Luis Obispo, Solvang and Buellton. This time around, we figured we'd give Paso and its surroundings a sampling this time, and it turned out to be a still too short but highly enjoyable two days in and around this town of roughly 32,000 people.

Return to California (aka The More Things Change...)

The courtyard of Vallejo's version of Seafood City, a Filipino-focused
supermarket sporting seven locations in Northern California and
30 total locations in the United States and Canada
Our return to California this year to visit my home of some three decades revealed some inescapable trends that I've noticed in the last few visits. In terms of this blog, the Bay Area and California in general has really transformed in my mind into much more tourist destination than a former home. I experienced a bit of this feeling driving through San Francisco last year, but this year it became even more prominent. 

Familiar landmarks were now gone (most prominently the grandstands of the horse racing facility of the Solano County Fairgrounds), businesses I grew up with were now closed (like Country Creamery, which never had the best ice cream but made up for it by charging a buck per scoop), and the ongoing development of the Springs area just outside of Sonoma. Even the still familiar, as in the Seafood City pictured above, sported some changes, including the closing of a store in which we bought our first Christmas parol.