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Ice Cream Chronicles - New Interactive Map

As you may have noticed, a new interactive Google Map containing all the location and links to all my Ice Cream Chronicles posts is now acce...

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.