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California Road Trip! - Part 3

12/29 - 12/30/10 - Morro Bay, Highway 1 & San Francisco, CA

Days 5 & 6: Coastal California - a scenic drive up the coast, destination San Francisco

Having spent two satisfying days exploring the beaches of southern California, we were ready to continue on our journey northward.  After coffee in our light-filled room, we packed up the car in the pouring rain, some of the only inclement weather we saw on our trip, and headed up the coast for Morro Bay, where we'd be sleeping tonight.  The next two days were primarily allocated for a leisurely, scenic drive up the coast to San Francisco, where we planned to arrive on Thursday afternoon.  We set off, grocery store bagels in hand, in the traffic and the rain.  It looked like it might be a long day.  And it was.  Our only stops of the day involved a quick trip to Santa Monica to see if the CB2 downtown had any must-have furnishings (nope, only some juice glasses we couldn't resist), followed by a fruitless stop at an outlet mall in Ventura, where we loitered in the mall parking lot to make our final picnic lunch of the trip.  Not really our finest travel hour, to be sure.  After lunch, we forged on in intermittent light rain, clouds, wind and cold (and a tiny bit of sunshine, to be fair), arriving in Morro Bay in the late afternoon with just enough time to stop at the famed Morro Rock and take pictures in the gale force winds and gloom.  From there, we checked in to the Inn at Morro Bay where we had passed a very pleasant weekend years ago.  After enjoying a self-provided wine-and-beer happy hour in our room, we headed out to Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant, a popular, local old-school seafood restaurant recommended by the front desk employee.  It won't likely be winning any awards anytime soon, but the fried seafood platter we shared really hit the spot on a blustery winter night on the coast, and the scallops were fantastic.

After a less-than-stellar night spent listening to our neighbors' TV as well as to their amorous activities, we awoke to a sunny, if crisp, brilliant blue sky.  Briefly admiring lovely Morro Bay in the sunshine, we got on the road once again heading north.  The section of Highway 1 we were driving today is without a doubt one of the prettiest stretches of the entire California coastline, winding through Big Sur and the surrounding areas.  Just past Hearst Castle, visible far in the distance on its lonely hilltop near San Simeon, we got a special treat.  As we passed a sign that said "Elephant Seal Viewing Area" we glanced to the side of the road to see a parking lot jammed full of cars and loads of people milling about. Well, of course we had to check out what all the excitement was about.  There on the beach were hundreds of elephants seals lounging in the sun on the warm sand directly beneath a convenient viewing platform about a quarter mile long.  There were many volunteers there to provide information and answer questions about the seals so they must have been expecting this.   This fact made it no less delightful for us, having simply stumbled upon it at precisely the right time.  Aaahhh, the stuff that road trips are made of!

We were thoroughly enjoying this beautiful sunny day (a real treat in this frequently fog-shrouded area) on our coastal drive.  After just one more stop-off at Ragged Point, a favorite old spot of ours near Big Sur, we realized we really needed to put the pedal to the metal if we were going to get to San Francisco in time to meet our friend Leane for drinks and dinner that evening!

After some doubt while sitting in SF rush hour  traffic, we did indeed make it just in time for our dinner plans - though with no time to stop at any of the artichoke stands near Santa Cruz selling just harvested artichokes at 5/$1.00.  Leane met us in the lobby of The Mosser Hotel while we were checking in, and we quickly set off for Salt House for some dinner and long overdue catching up.  Oysters (far superior to those we had in Morro Bay), poutine, veal sweetbreads, and yellowfin tartare with Asian pear, fennel, and cucumber lime vinaigrette - yes, we're definitely back in San Francisco now.  In spite of the vaguely annoyed service (yes, we're definitely back in San Francisco now), we had a wonderful dinner with Leane, followed by a walk down to Union Square to check out the holiday decorations and watch the ice skaters in the outdoor rink.

Admiring the elephant seals from the viewing platform near San Simeon


Seals, as far as the eye can see!


Scott, always the avid wildlife watcher, checks out the seals near San Simeon


Ragged Point lookout on gorgeous Highway 1


The lights of San Francisco at rush hour


Dinner at Salt House, where we sampled half of the menu...and everything was scrumptious !


Union Square, looking merry and bright for the holidays


The lively ice skating rink in Union Square, new since we moved away


Caroline & Leane enjoy a post-dinner stroll around Union Square


Caroline & Leane pose with the palm trees, strung with festive lights for the holidays



It was a bit windy (and cold!) when we arrived in Morro Bay


A blustery visit to Morro Bay


Morro Rock on a beautiful, clear December day


The mother elephant seals were fiercely protective of their tiny offspring


California's beautiful central coast, complete with elephant seals and a lighthouse in the distance


 Bull elephant seal - not the most beautiful animal in the Kingdom...


Scenic Highway 1, near Big Sur


A long overdue reunion at Salt House with Leane


Leane & Scott toast with their fancy cocktails at Salt House


Dinner at Salt House


Union Square Macy's, decorated for the holidays


The Macy's Christmas Tree in Union Square