return from china to los angeles & a day at anacapa island

Wednesday, July 15:  This morning at 6:30 a.m., I leave my humble abode in Nanning, China, locking the keys inside.  I feel a little strange leaving the place I’ve lived for the last year, knowing I will never see it again.  Outside, a car arranged by the university is waiting to drive me to the airport.  I get to the airport by about 7:30 and check in without incident at Shenzhen Airlines for my 9:40 flight.

Planes departing from Chinese airports are almost always late, but I don’t worry because I have a 3-hour and 20 minute layover in Beijing and I will check in to Air Canada at the same terminal where I arrive.  Today, when I have a nice long layover, my plane surprisingly leaves Nanning on time.  When I arrive in Beijing at 12:45 p.m., I pick up my bags from the baggage claim and make my way to Air Canada, where I must check my bags back in for the international flight.  There is a long, slow-moving line at Air Canada, so I get a little antsy as the time seems to be going by rather quickly.

Then I hit the line for Customs/Immigration in International Departures.  The lines are snaking queues with hundreds of people in them, and they’re barely moving.  I stand in that line for well over an hour!  By then I’m starting to get worried I will miss my plane in Beijing!  After I finally make it through and send my bags and tennis shoes and every possession through security, I have about a half hour before we board.

When I arrive at the gate, I have time to sit for about 5 minutes before we start boarding at 3:35 p.m. I get in the line for Group 5, which is already about 30 people long.  We board and are ready to take off on time; however, air traffic control tells the pilot we will have a 30-minute delay, which worries me as I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver.

I realize too late that I’m booked into a middle seat.  They can’t change me to an aisle seat because the flight is fully booked.  Misery!  I sit between two Chinese boys, one of whom speaks both fluent English and Chinese.  He’s from Los Angeles, but has spent his school years studying in China.  He is going to stay with his parents in Los Angeles for a month before attending Berkeley in the fall. He’s a very bright 18-year-old kid who plans to do a double major in mechanical engineering and economics.  He chats with me a long time about his plans and I’m very impressed.  When he talks to the boy on the other side of me, they speak over me in Chinese.  He says, “I hope you don’t mind us talking over you.” I say, half-jokingly, “I don’t mind but I’d rather you switch seats with me!”  After several hours, he luckily takes me up on my request and gives me his aisle seat, which I’m very happy about, although even that is uncomfortable on a 10-hour and 20-minute flight.

When we arrive in Vancouver at noon, the Chinese boy and I take off together toward our flight bound to L.A.  We come to a bottleneck where about 25 people are standing in a slow-moving line.  First, an Air Canada attendant asks us to identify our bags on a TV screen. One of my bags is visible on the screen, but the other isn’t, so she tells me to go sit into a room until I can verify both my bags.  I tell her we have a very short connection, but she doesn’t seem phased.  The Chinese boy has to wait to identify his bags as well.  When we finish, we are finally able to get into the slow-moving line, which has gotten longer while we’ve been held up.  I tell one of the officials from the airline that we have a very short connection, but she says, “There’s nothing I can do about it.  It’s U.S. Customs and I have nothing to do with that!”  The line is moving slowly and the boy, who is about 3 people behind me, and I are commiserating about how we’re never going to make our flight.   Suddenly he starts to go to the front of the line and I follow him.  He says, “I called my mother and she told me not to talk to the officials.  She says I should depend on the kindness of strangers.”  He goes to the front of the line with his bag, and I (who can’t stand people who cut in line, and would never do it myself under ordinary circumstances), follow him.  We beg the people at the front of the line to let us in so we won’t miss our flight.  Luckily, they kindly allow us to pass, although the poor people behind them have no say in the matter.

When I get to U.S. Customs the officer asks me where I’m staying, and where I live.  I tell him and then mention that we have a very short connection.  He says, in that way that people in positions such as these like to flex their power, “You can’t rush me, lady.  I will take as long as I need to take.”  I say, “Fine!”  Then he asks a few more questions and releases me.  I won’t mention the name I call him to the Chinese boy when I’m out of earshot.

At that point we see our gate #83 is at the far end of a long hall, and over the loudspeaker, I hear my name among a list of names for “last call.”  I panic: “That’s us!  We need to run!”  The boy and I go tearing through the airport, and barely manage to board the plane. The airline stewardesses close the door behind us and we take off as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.

I make it to LA right on time, by 4:00 p.m.  My sister Stephanie is waiting to pick me up right after I pick up my bags, and we head directly to dinner at a cozy sushi place.  We celebrate by drinking hot sake followed by cold Sapporo. I am happy to be with my sister on American soil after one of the longest days of my life.  It’s still Wednesday, July 15 when I arrive in LA around 4:00 p.m., having left China at 6:30 a.m. that same morning. 🙂

During our dinner, and after a few sips of Sapporo and sake, Steph asks what I’d like to do next.  I say I’d love to find my way to Morocco or Ecuador.  She says, “Oh. I wouldn’t want you to go to Morocco.  I wouldn’t want you to lose your head or anything like that.”  I say, “Well, yes, I really would prefer not to lose my head. Of course. I don’t think it would be in my best interest.” For some reason, maybe it’s the sake and Sapporo, but we find this hilarious and have quite a laugh over this ridiculous conversation. 🙂

Thursday, July 16:  We have quite a lazy day today, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch together, running out to Trader Joe’s, and watching movies and TV series.  Stephanie gets me interested in the Danish political series Borgen, and we watch a coupe of episodes.  After meeting her good friend Yvonne for more sushi, sake and Sapporo at another favorite sushi restaurant, we watch the The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’ve been dying to see. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as good as the first one. 🙂

I really needed a day of rest!

Friday, July 17:  This morning, my sister drives us to Oxnard where we’re to catch an Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park.  Yes, my British friends, we have our own Channel Islands here in the U.S. 🙂

At the Oxnard marina
At the Oxnard marina
me in Oxnard, California, preparing to go to Anacapa Island
me in Oxnard, California, preparing to go to Anacapa Island

We arrive in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. departure.  When we left Steph’s house in Reseda, it was warm and sunny, but here on the coast it’s cloudy and very cool.  I’m worried I’m going to be freezing on the boat.  I have no jackets or sweaters as I sent all of those home from China in boxes, thinking it would be hot and desert-like in L.A.

boats in Oxnard
boats in Oxnard

We board the boat with about 50 other people and take off through the marina and into the channel.

boats in the harbor
boats in the harbor
colorful sailboat
colorful sailboat
boat-friendly marina
boat-friendly marina

Luckily the seas are calm this morning, as Steph is worried she will get seasick.  I’m lucky that I don’t often get seasick; I’ve been on many boats in rough seas where people all around me are getting sick into plastic bags but I am just fine.

We pass a big oil rig.

Oil rig off the California coast
Oil rig off the California coast

According to Wikipedia, the Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands off the coast of southern California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of these islands are part of Channel Islands National Park.  The Islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago, who were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location (Wikipedia: Channel Islands of California).

Below is my sister on the boat bound for Anacapa Island.

Stephanie and strangers on the boat
Stephanie and strangers on the boat

We see a lot of dolphins playfully following in the wake of the boat, but I don’t seem to have luck capturing any of them in photos.

underwater dolphins
underwater dolphins

Anacapa Island’s name is derived from the Chumash Native American Indian name Anypakh, meaning deception or mirage. The three islets of Anacapa look almost like a mirage in the morning fog. These islets (appropriately named East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands) stretch out over five miles and are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They are about a quarter-mile wide and have a total land area of about one square mile (700 acres) (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

First view of Anacapa Island
First view of Anacapa Island

As we approach the island, we can see the lighthouse and 40-foot-high Arch Rock, a symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.

Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Dive boat off Anacapa Island
Dive boat off Anacapa Island

Our boat pulls up at a dock built into the side of a cliff and after disembarking, we must climb up several hundred steps to reach the top.

Island Outfitters
Island Packers

We are greeted immediately by some of the thousands of seagulls on the island.

seagulls of Anacapa
seagulls of Anacapa

According to the National Park Service, thousands of seabirds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

It’s a surreal experience walking through the squawking seagulls and their almost-full-grown grey fledglings.  It’s incredibly noisy and pungent, especially in certain areas.  I feel like we’re the aliens here in a bird world.  Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” comes to mind.

seagulls and fledglings
seagulls and fledglings

The mission revival style buildings on the island are part of the 1932 light station.  They include the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of four original keeper’s quarters, a water tank building, and several other service buildings. One of the buildings is now the East Anacapa Visitor Center, which houses some informative exhibits, including the original lead-crystal Fresnel lens, which served as a beacon to ships until an automated light replaced it in 1990 (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

the pathway to the museum
the pathway to the museum

We accompany a park guide on part of the two-mile figure-eight trail system to learn about the island’s native vegetation, wildlife, and cultural history. Apparently, the plants look drab and lifeless in summer but come alive with color in the winter.  Vibrant red paintbrush, island morning-glory, and pale buckwheat add touches of color to the island’s palette.

gulls of Anacapa
gulls of Anacapa
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Ranger buildings on Anacapa Island
Ranger buildings on Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island and the Pacific Ocean
Anacapa Island and the Pacific Ocean
Stately seagulls
Stately seagulls

Steph and I leave the ranger-led hike and venture out on the trail to Cathedral Cove.

path to a view
path to a view

Looking down on Cathedral Cove, we can see the kelp forests and sea lions on the beach and the rocks below.

view from a lookout
view of Cathedral Cove
the Pacific Ocean from Anacapa Island
the Pacific Ocean from Anacapa Island

We backtrack along the same trail where we pass by the ranger and her followers.

Path along the island cliffs
Path along the island cliffs
sea gull city
sea gull city

The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms in winter with bright yellow bouquets.  You can see the dormant giant coreopsis below, topped with seagulls.

giant coreopsis
giant coreopsis
seagulls on giant coreopsis
seagulls on giant coreopsis

Stephanie and I stop at a picnic area near the figure-8 crossover on the trail and eat our Trader Joe’s lunch of lentil wraps and cherries.  There are no services on the island, so everyone must bring their own food and water.

seagull in bed
seagull in bed

At the far western end of East Anacapa Island, we stand in the breeze at Inspiration Point, where we can see the other two islets stretching out into the Pacific. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating towering sea cliffs and sea caves, where California sea lions droop themselves over rocks, sunning themselves.

Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

We’re glad that the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, but then we find it gets hot rather quickly.  We’re both surprised that there are no trees on the island.

Stephanie and me at Inspiration Point
Stephanie and me at Inspiration Point
View from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island
View from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island
view from Inspiration Point
view from Inspiration Point
kelp forests
kelp forests
seagulls as vanguards
seagulls as vanguards

We continue walking back to the east, where we can see the old lighthouse.  The lighthouse blares its foghorn every 20 seconds or so.  The ranger has told us that we’re blocked from getting in near the lighthouse because its loud foghorn can hurt our eardrums.

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When I decide to take a 360 degree video of the island, my sister throws in a little surprise at the end.  I think the seagulls are rubbing off on her 🙂

We head back to the docking area to wait for the boat.

Sailboat at sea
Sailboat at sea
Anacapa's lighthouse
Anacapa’s lighthouse
sea gull and kelp forest
seagull and kelp forest

We board the boat at 3:30 p.m. and are back on our way back to Oxnard by 3:45.

Before we leave the island, we go by boat around the eastern end where we get a better view of Arch Rock.

the arch
the arch
arch at Anacapa
arch at Anacapa

The rocky shores are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. We can see them lounging on the rocks, but the light is so bad on this side of the island that I can’t get any decent pictures.

the glittering sea
the glittering sea
archway to the California coast
archway to the California coast
sailboat on the horizon
sailboat on the horizon

Finally we return to the marina in Oxnard. It has been a lovely yet strange and surreal day.

back at the Oxnard marina
back at the Oxnard marina

We end our day with beers and dinner at an outdoor cafe overlooking the marina.  Steph gets a blackened snapper sandwich and I have Mahi Mahi tacos with mango salsa.  I am so happy to be eating American food again! 🙂

Cheers!  My sister, Stephanie :-)
Cheers! My sister, Stephanie 🙂
Mahi Mahi Tacos
Mahi Mahi Tacos

We drive back to Reseda, about an hour’s drive, and relax in the evening, watching several more episodes of Borgen.

Saturday, July 18: The highlight of today is the cheese platter a la Stephanie. I love cheese, and I’ve missed it dearly while in China.  This one has cherries, cheeses, chutney, watercress, smoked oysters, Japanese cucumbers and healthy crackers. It’s one of the highlights of American cuisine. 🙂

Cheese platter a la Stephanie
Cheese platter a la Stephanie

I’m so happy to be back in the USA!! 🙂

ventura, california & mission san buenaventura

Friday, January 10: After leaving Santa Barbara, I head south to Ventura so I can visit one more of the California missions, Mission San Buenaventura. The mission sits directly on Ventura’s main street, so it’s difficult to believe it was once surrounded by orchards, vineyards, and grain fields.

San Buenaventura Mission
San Buenaventura Mission

A reservoir and aqueduct system seven miles long supplied water to the buildings and fields, which extended from the foothills to the Pacific Ocean, making it a garden spot of the missions.

the Virgin Mary at San Buenaventura
Our Lady of Grace Shrine at San Buenaventura

A strong earthquake in 1812 caused a tsunami so large that the padres and Indian neophytes were forced to take shelter on higher ground, although the mission wasn’t destroyed.

Mary shrine
Our Lady of Grace Shrine

Six years later, the padres and their flock had to remove sacred objects from the church and flee into the hills to elude a pirate who was pillaging the Missions, but fortunately was headed off after a “bargaining session” at El Refugio in Santa Barbara.

Candles
Candles

Another earthquake in 1857 damaged the roof so badly that the red tiles were replaced with shingles.  The tile roof was restored during the 1920s.   The museum has two old wooden bells, the only ones of their type known in California.

Fountain at San Buenaventura
Fountain at San Buenaventura
Courtyard of San Buenaventura Mission
Courtyard of San Buenaventura Mission
Bell Tower
Bell Tower

Mission San Buenaventura had been planned as the third in the chain of twenty-one Missions founded by Fray Junipero Serra, but was destined to be the ninth and last founded during his lifetime, and one of six he personally dedicated.

Shrine to Jesus
Shrine to Jesus
Jesus shrine
Jesus shrine
Flower in the garden at San Buenaventura
Flower in the garden at San Buenaventura
Pretty greenery
Pretty greenery

Below is the church at the mission, from Figueroa Plaza.

San Buenaventura Mission
San Buenaventura Mission

Around Figueroa Plaza is some fun wall art.

Wall art in Ventura
Wall art in Ventura
Wall art in Ventura
Wall art in Ventura
Wall in Ventura
Wall in Ventura

I stand in the middle of East Main Street when no cars are coming to get a picture of the little town of Ventura.  It looks like a nice town to linger in, but I have a date to meet Rosie of Wandering Rosie tonight at her home in Los Angeles. She’s kindly invited me to stay for two nights.  Tomorrow we’ll attend a day-long inaugural Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) seminar.

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East Main Street, Ventura, California

santa barbara botanic garden & stearns wharf

Friday, January 10:  After leaving the Old Mission Santa Barbara, I head to the 40-acre Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to explore California’s native flora: cacti, redwoods and wildflowers.  I take a walk through the arroyo section, which features plants from most ravines, stream sides and forests.  I see conifers, including a cross-section of a giant sequoia.  I also come across a Japanese “Shinkanan” teahouse and garden.

Cross-section of Giant Sequoia
Cross-section of Giant Sequoia
plant in the Arroyo section
plant in the Arroyo section
Japanese "Shinkanan" Teahouse and Garden
Japanese “Shinkanan” Teahouse and Garden

I walk through the manzanita section, where I find small shrubs and small trees mainly found in California chaparral, a shrubland found primarily in California and in the northern portion of the Baja California peninsula, Mexico.  The light is much too bright today, and the gardens too dry, to make for interesting pictures.

Manzanita Section
Manzanita Section

I then walk through the desert section, which features species that thrive in the state’s coastal or interior desert regions, such as California fan palm, the only palm tree native to the state.

Desert section
Desert section
Desert section
Desert section
Cacti
Cacti
Cacti
Cacti
palms in the desert section
palms in the desert section
cacti
cacti
cacti
cacti
succlulents in the desert section
succlulents in the desert section

Finally, I walk along the perimeter of the Meadow section which is representative of California grassland, featuring bunchgrasses such as deergrass.

Meadow section
Meadow section

Overall the garden is pretty dry as California’s been experiencing a drought this winter.  Usually winter is the wet season here.  This drought is the opposite extreme of what we’ve been experiencing on the east coast.  I don’t stay too long because I find it quite disappointing.

I then head to Stearns Wharf.  Built in 1872, it’s the West Coast’s oldest continually operating wooden pier.  It was once co-owned by actor Jimmy Cagney.  Here I wander around the pier and have a lunch of fish tacos with cilantro rice at Moby Dick Restaurant.

view from Stearns Wharf
view from Stearns Wharf
view from Stearns Wharf
view from Stearns Wharf
view from Stearns Wharf
view from Stearns Wharf
restaurant on Stearns Wharf
restaurant on Stearns Wharf
Restaurant on Stearns Wharf
Restaurant on Stearns Wharf
Seagull on Stearns Wharf
Seagull on Stearns Wharf
No fishing, Mr. Seagull!
No fishing, Mr. Seagull!
Moby Dick Restaurant
Moby Dick Restaurant
fish tacos with cilantro rice
fish tacos with cilantro rice

Next stop, San Buenaventura in Ventura. 🙂

the old mission santa barbara

Friday, January 10:  On my way back to Los Angeles, after spending the night in Arroyo Grande, I stop at the Old Mission Santa Barbara.  Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, made California history in 1769 when he founded Mission San Diego de Aleala.  During the next 54 years, the Spanish padres established a chain of 21 missions in California to convert Native Americans, specifically the Chumash Indians, to Christianity.  The missions stretched along the coast from San Diego to Sonoma,  Apparently, each mission along the chain was meant to be one day’s walk from the next closest mission.

Santa Barbara was the 10th mission founded, and the first of nine missions founded by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, who became president of the missions in 1785.  Santa Barbara is one of the only missions that wasn’t abandoned.

Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara

The fountain was built in 1808 along with the adjacent stone lavanderia, or laundromat, which was used by the Native Americans.

Fountain and the stone church of 1820
Fountain and the stone church of 1820
Window at Santa Barbara
Window at Santa Barbara

The Sacred Garden was originally used as a work area for the Native Americans to learn building trades.  The surrounding buildings were used as workshops.

Succulents at Santa Barbara
Succulents at Santa Barbara
succulents
succulents
succulents
succulents
succulent and mission arches
succulent and mission arches
the mission
the mission
cacti
cacti

The Cemetery Garden dates from 1789 to the present.  It contains the burial sites of early Santa Barbara settlers and Native Americans.

The mission gardens and cross
The mission gardens and cross
graves in the Mission garden
graves in the Mission garden
Memorial at Santa Barbara Mission
Memorial at Santa Barbara Mission
dried flowers on the memorial
dried flowers on the memorial
ficus tree in the Mission gardens
ficus tree in the Mission gardens

The Skull Carvings placed over the church doors were used to indicate a cemetery location.

skull carvings over the church doors
skull carvings over the church doors

The Church’s architecture design was taken from The Ten Books of Architecture, written by the Roman architect Vitruvius around 27 B.C.   The artwork displayed is from Mexican artists of the 18th and 19th century.

the original interior of the church
the original interior of the church
interior of the church
interior of the church
inside the church
inside the church
Stone work and wall paintings
Stone work and wall paintings

Economic incentives and curiosity were some of the factors that led to the Chumash joining the commune-like missions.  In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the mission, stripping it of its self-sufficiency, and placed the Chumash under civil jurisdiction, leading the buildings and culture to deteriorate.  Th Mission was returned to the Franciscans in 1839.  The Mexican governor then confiscated the land and the mission was sold.  Missionaries were allowed to continue their services.

At different times the mission buildings have been used as a school for boys and as a seminary for those entering the priesthood.

Interior of Old Mission Santa Barbara church
Interior of Old Mission Santa Barbara church

President Abraham Lincoln returned the Mission to the Church in 1865, after California became part of the United States.  The Mission continues to thrive today under the ownership and direction of the Franciscan Friars.

painted walls in the interior of the church
painted walls in the interior of the church
looking into the Sacred Garden
looking into the Sacred Garden

The present day museum rooms were originally used as living quarters for missionaries and their guests.  Today the rooms display a historical collection of artifacts, most of which are dated from the early mission period.

original stars from the Mission
original stars from the Mission
historical artifacts in the museum
historical artifacts in the museum
vestments
vestments

The original church building was built of adobe, but was expanded as the converts grew.  The present church, the fourth and grandest, was completed and dedicated in 1820 after the third was destroyed by the 1812 earthquake.  Another large earthquake in 1925 caused extensive damage to the church and friary.  Restoration was completed in 1927 and the bell towers reinforced in 1953.

the stone church of 1820 with its famous twin bell towers
the stone church of 1820 with its famous twin bell towers

After leaving the Mission, I explore the Botanical Gardens in Santa Barbara.

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an evening drive from san simeon to arroyo grande

Thursday, January 9:  After leaving Hearst Castle, I drive to San Simeon where I get blown about by the wind on a bit of California coastline as the sun is going down.

San Simeon
San Simeon
San Simeon
San Simeon
California coast at San Simeon
California coast at San Simeon
Coast at San Simeon
Coast at San Simeon

My original plan is to drive to Santa Barbara or Ventura, but as the sun slips into the Pacific Ocean, I figure I may as well stop so I can at least enjoy the drive down the coast in sunlight. As it is, I’m just able to get a peek at Morro Bay’s biggest claim to fame, Morro Rock, a volcanic peak that’s one of the Nine Sisters, a 21-million-year-old chain of rocks stretching all the way south to San Luis Obispo.

Morro Rock
Morro Rock

It just so happens I find a Hampton Inn at a reasonable price in Arroyo Grande, so I check in there.  I ask the hotel receptionist for a good local place to eat, and she recommends Rooster Creek.  She tells me I must try the salad: arugula and mixed greens, red and golden beets, sliced apples, goat cheese, shrimp and sherry vinaigrette.  I do just that, and I’m quite pleased.

Rooster Creek in Arroyo Grande
Rooster Creek in Arroyo Grande
Beet, goat cheese and shrimp salad at Rooster Creek
Beet, goat cheese and shrimp salad at Rooster Creek

While I’m at Rooster Creek, I post a picture of my dinner on Instagram and Facebook, and I get a comment that while in Arroyo Grande, I must go to Doc Burnstein’s for some ice cream.  I don’t usually treat myself to dessert, but how can I miss this enthusiastic recommendation?   I enjoy a mini-dip Mexican chocolate on a sugar cone.

Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab
Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab
Inside Doc Burnstein's
Inside Doc Burnstein’s

Outside of Doc Burnstein’s, I see this pretty church still decked out for Christmas.

Harvest Church in Arroyo Grande
Harvest Church in Arroyo Grande

I head back to Hampton Inn, which I’ve always found to be a reasonable and comfortable accommodation. This is the only hotel I stay in during my trip to California, as I’m here mostly to visit friends and family.

The next morning, I head down the coast in the sunshine, making my first stop in Santa Barbara.

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hearst castle at san simeon

Thursday, January 9:  This morning, I leave Jayne’s house in Danville and drive down Route 101 toward San Simeon.  I stop at Hearst Castle where I find I have to wait 45 minutes for the next tour.

On the bus ride up the winding mountain roads, the tour guide tells us something about William Randolph Hearst, art collector and newspaper publisher.  The Mediterranean Revival Style estate was designed and built over a period of 28 years, from 1919-1947, by California architect Julia Morgan.  William Randolph Hearst referred to Hearst Castle as “the ranch at San Simeon,” as it was a working family cattle ranch since 1865.  Hearst formally named the hilltop “La Cuestra Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) because of his love of the land and the southern European art and architecture which he incorporated into the estate.

Casa Grande, inspired by a Spanish cathedral, contains 115 rooms and was never completed.  Guests gathered here for all their indoor entertainment and meals.  It has twin bell towers and a carved teak gable.  The structure is concrete and steel faced in white limestone, with antique carvings around the entrance.

Entrance to Casa Grande
Entrance to Casa Grande

As we take the bus up the winding mountain road to the 1600-foot elevation, our guide tells us that Hearst Castle was Hearst’s primary residence on the West Coast.  The residence welcomed hundreds of glamorous guests in the 1920s and 30s.  The hilltop is often sunny and the road to the top is steep.

Casa Grande
Casa Grande

George Hearst bought the land in 1865 as a cattle and horse ranch, including over 200 head of black and red angus cattle. Precious minerals such as gold, silver and copper are close to the earth’s surface here. Some of the Coast Live Oaks here are over 300 years old.

Willy was the only child and inherited the 250,000+ hilly grass-covered acres.  In 1919, when Hearst was 56, his mother Phoebe died and he hired architect Julia Morgan to build “a little something:” an estate worthy of what he’d seen in his European travels, with 165 rooms.  He was tired of camping in tents on the property.

The first big challenge was to build a road on the old bridle paths. The road was designed so that the castle atop the hill appears and disappears as you climb higher.  Lining the crest of a long hill is the “longest pergola in captivity.”

The Main Terrace serves as the central plaza for the estate, with views not only of Casa Grande, but of the Pacific Ocean to the south and Santa Lucia mountains to the north.  The lily pond reflects Coast Live Oaks and Southern Magnolia, and provides the sound of water, an important component of Mediterranean gardens.

statue on the Main Terrace
statue on the Main Terrace

William loved animals and created the largest private zoo in America, which included animals such as antelopes, llamas, giraffes, zebras, deer, coyote, foxes, turkey vultures, impalas, wallaroos, wallaby, and goats. He also collected black bears, grizzly bears, sun bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, macaws, kinkajous, coati mundis, swans, storks, a tapir and an elephant, housed in menagerie cages of various sizes. Diet and exercise were carefully controlled and a veterinarian was on the staff during the 1930s. He never allowed his animals to be used for medical experiments and had signs that said “Caution: The animals have right of way at all times.”

Lily pond on the Main Terrace
Lily pond on the Main Terrace

Inside the house, we see where the guests assembled and dined amidst Hearst’s extensive art collection.

Dining Room chairs
Tapestry in the Assembly Room
Assembly Room
Assembly Room
window
window
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Assembly Room
Assembly Room
Billiard room at Hearst Castle
Billiard room at Hearst Castle

Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains) is one of three cottages on the estate named for its view, which Hearst believed to be the most important aspect of the hilltop.  These were the first buildings constructed and housed family and guests.

Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte
Casa del Monte
statue on the grounds
statue on the grounds
Casa del Monte
Casa del Monte
Casa del Sol (House of the Sun)
Casa del Monte
the moon & Casa Grande Tower
the moon & Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande Tower

The Neptune Pool was named for the statue of the Roman sea-god atop the temple.  Ancient Roman columns dating from the 1st century to the 4th century A.D. support the temple.  French sculptor Charles Cassou carved the marble statues of nymphs ad swans around the pool.

Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool

The pool ranges from three to ten feet deep and holds 345,000 gallons of water.  It was heated year-round until the mid-1970s, and is still filtered using a sand filtering system.

Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool

Casa del Sol (House of the Sun) showcases a Moorish theme with its sunken courtyard, lion fountain and Persian tiles in and around the doors.  The terrace below Casa del Sol gives a view of the natural San Simeon harbor.

Casa del Sol (House of the Sun)
Casa del Sol (House of the Sun)
Casa del Sol
Casa del Sol
Fountain at Casa del Sol
Fountain at Casa del Sol
Woodwork at Case del Sol
Woodwork at Case del Sol
Casa del Mar (House of the Sea)
Casa del Sol

Casa del Mar (House of the Sea) was Hearst’s home until 1928, when he moved into Casa Grande (the Big House).

Casa del Mar
Casa del Mar
Steps at Casa del Mar
Steps at Casa del Mar

The Esplanade walkway connects the gardens and structures in what Hearst called “a harmonious whole.”  I walk through roses, flowering annuals, perennials, boxwood hedges, citrus tress and many varieties of palms.  Native to the estate are Hearst’s beloved Coast Live Oaks.

Garden pathway to Casa del Mar
Garden pathway to Casa del Mar
Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande
Casa Grande
Oranges at Casa Grande
Oranges at Casa Grande
Palm trees and native flora
Palm trees and native flora
palm trees at Casa Grande
palm trees at Casa Grande

The Roman Pool was the only part of the gymnasium completed.  The pool basin is 10 feet deep and holds 205,000 gallons of heated water.  This pool was rarely used by Hearst’s guests.

Indoor Roman Pool
Indoor Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Mosaics in the Roman Pool
Mosaics in the Roman Pool
Mosaics at the Roman Pool
Mosaics at the Roman Pool

By the time I leave Hearst Castle, the afternoon is late.  I was hoping to make it to Santa Barbara tonight, but as I head down the coastal highway, I decide I’ll just stop whenever I get the urge.

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one trip EVERY month challenge: the 17-mile drive at pebble beach

Monday, January 6:  After leaving Monterey, Jayne and I head to 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, claimed to be one of the most famous scenic drives in the world.  The drive takes us through the Del Monte Forest and along the Pacific Coast.

According to the Pebble Beach brochure, horse-drawn carriages explored 17-Mile-Drive before people commonly used automobiles.  They started from the famous Hotel Del Monte, which is now the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

The restless sea off Point Joe
The restless sea off Point Joe

Our first stop is Point Joe.  Early mariners often crashed upon these rocks, after mistakenly believing this was the entrance to Monterey Bay.  Underwater rocks cause a lot of foaming and frothing here, making for quite a dramatic scene.  To the north, we can see Spanish Bay, where Don Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish explorer, and his crew camped in 1769 while searching for Monterey Bay.

view from Point Joe
view from Point Joe
An artist at Point Joe
An artist at Point Joe
Spanish Bay
Spanish Bay
view from Point Joe
view from Point Joe

Looking inland, we can see the Spyglass Hill Golf Course, punctuated by cypress trees along the fringes.

Cypress trees along 17-mile drive
Cypress trees along 17-mile drive

Further south, we stop to take pictures of the rocky coastline in the waning sunlight.

View from Bird Rock
View from Bird Rock

In 1542, the explorer Cabrillo called this point of land Cabo de Nieve — Cape Snow — to describe the white landscape before him.  No one’s sure what he saw.  In 1774, Tomas de la Pena, a missionary, gave this western-most point on the Monterey Peninsula the name Le Punta de cipresses, or Cypress Point.  The name stuck and became official in 1967.

In my eyes, what Cabrillo saw were the white trunks of the cypress trees along the shore here.

View from Cypress Point Overlook
View from Cypress Point Overlook
from Cypress Point Overlook
from Cypress Point Overlook
view from Cypress Point Overlook
view from Cypress Point Overlook

The Lone Cypress is one of California’s most enduring landmarks, prevailing here on this rocky perch for more than 250 years.

The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress
Jayne at the Lone Cypress
Jayne at the Lone Cypress
Cypress trees
Cypress trees
cypress trees along 17-mile drive
cypress trees along 17-mile drive
more cypress trees
more cypress trees

We continue on as the sun sets to Pescadero Point, where we can see Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove.

Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove

We love this house with glass windows overlooking the bay.

House of glass
House of glass
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove

We head into the charming town of Carmel, where we have wine and a cheese platter (Assiette de Charcuterie et Fromages: seasonal artisan cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, assorted cured meats and cornichons) at the bar at the cozy Grasing’s.

After this it seems a long, long drive back to Danville.  At this point we’re further south than we were in Monterey, so it takes us nearly two hours to get back to Jayne’s house.

To read more about 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, see: Pebble Beach Resorts: 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach.

This post is in response to Marianne’s One trip EVERY month challenge.

One trip EVERY month challenge
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