A castle, a boardwalk and some seals

Travelling around an unfamiliar country means you aren’t sure what you should go to see and should miss out. To be honest I’d never heard of Hearst Castle before researching this trip but as it was basically on our way up the Coast we decided to give it a visit.

The morning was foggy as we drove into the already fairly full car park. We bought tickets and got on a bus, having no idea that the castle was high on a hill. As we drove up, the excellent recorded commentary started to weave a magical story of a castle, a zoo, acres of gardens, and of William Randolph Hearst’s desire to create something perfect from a childhood memory (Citizen Kane anyone?).

To be honest we were expecting something a bit tacky, but as the first glimpses of the castle were revealed we realised this was way more than we had been expecting. We emerged from the mist into a perfect sky marred only by a hint of smoke from the forest fires devasting the area.

We spent an enchanting hour touring the castle and its magnificent art works. Hearst had bought whole ceilings from 16th Century Italian and Spanish churches and installed them here. Crazy arrogance but ironically now available for countless visitors to come and marvel at.

 It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been when Hearst entertained the powerful, the beautiful and the famous. The renowned Jupiter pool had been drained for repairs but the stunning indoor pool with its gold and Murano tiles more than made up for it.

We came down feeling that we had had a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. A well-chosen stop!
A couple of miles down the Coast and we took a brief stop to marvel at the elephant seals basking in the warm sand. Such a contrast to the manicured opulence we had just left.

Then on up the endlessly winding and spectacular Pacific Coast Highway. It was still very foggy (and smoky) but we were treated to glimpses of the craggy shoreline and endless crashing surf. On the way we passed several fire staging areas and saw fire fighters merging from the forest from time to time. It was a very sobering thought to think that not too far away from where we were driving people were losing their homes.

We were planning on spending some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea but had managed to chose the week of the Monterey Car Show. After a slightly nerve-wracking drive through the narrow streets trying to avoid Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Aston Martins, we grabbed a quick burger and heading back onto the relative peace and quiet of the open road. We arrived in Santa Cruz for one night in a delightful renovated Victorian Villa. Gorgeous. 

I knew that Santa Cruz had a board walk so we ventured out to see it. I was thinking of a boardwalk like back home – a nice walk along the beach, maybe see some more seals and other wildlife. To my delight it was a completely over the top carnival space – wooden roller coaster, merry go round, gondola, sideshows, arcades, lights. I love stuff like this! It was like being transported  back a hundred years.

A delicious cioppino at a funky restaurant on the wharf – fresh lobster, mussels and crab and I was in a very happy (if messy)place.
We walked back though the now packed board walk, resisted the urge to try and win an enormous teddy bear, grabbed a root beer float and decided we liked Santa Cruz very much. 

So the adventure starts…

And we are off. After a surreal 24 hours where we were completely packed, my insanely long to-do before we go list was all ticked off, lots of meals in the freezer for the young man left behind  (so that theoretically he won’t exist on pizza alone), hugs given, grandkids kissed, and goodbyes said – we set off on our longest time away ever.

Great flight to LA (love our national carrier). 

First challenge was on arrival. It was a  biggy: learning to drive on the wrong side of the road as we headed up to our first stop, Santa Barbara. We would find over the next few days that driving and navigating unfamiliar territory while ignoring every instinct to drive on the left is a very good barometer of your marriage health. We came out pretty well with only a few tense/terse moments. We drove up the coast and the weather was glorious, the sea sparkling and the car staying on the correct side of the road!

Slightly jet-lagged we got to our first rather quaint inn. Larger than life and very friendly hosts lifted this above its old fashioned decor and noisy fan (no air-con). A quick change and out to explore the beautiful waterfront. Coming from winter to this just made our hearts sing – so balmy and a stunning sunset. Breakfast in the morning was a very quirky and slightly random collection of pastries and cereals with our hosts proudly showing us the Vegemite. Guess we are going to have to get used to being mistaken for Australians! Unfortunate his experience with the habits of Antipodeans didn’t extend to much of a selection of teas rather than coffee.
The morning was still and misty and we spent a couple of hours walking along the almost deserted beach, enjoying the shrouded shapes of boats moored along the way. The pier loomed towards us as the sun started to come out and we decided it was time to get back on the road.
And then we were back on the road – a little more confident this time. Road trip music was added. We drove up through the hills which were magnificent. Steep climbs revealing deep valleys and dramatic drops. Everything was brown and dry due to the drought.

San Luis Obispo was our next stop. Slightly inland, dry, hot – wine country! And that was the order of the afternoon, some lunch in the very pretty town and then a spot of wine tasting. We did choose the first vineyard purely because it was a right hand turn in from a very busy road, but it was an excellent choice. Pretty nice day to sit and enjoy delicious Californian wines. Giant pizza for dinner (just a tad overkill on the toppings) and then we were delighted to find Olympic coverage of some NZ athletes on our TV. 

Breakfast again was very eclectic. The inn was run by an English lady so we had scrambled eggs added to the collection of pastries and bagels, along with salsa. Again Wayne was discriminated against by being a tea drinker. This was to become a familiar experience as our trip progressed. 

And then we were on the road again heading up to Santa Cruz via the famous Pacific Coast Highway. But more about that next time.