August 31, 2012

Road Trip Part 1: The California Coast


The week after our one-year anniversary, the boyfriend and I took a 2,291.5 mile long road trip together.

We'd been planning a long road trip that would take us about two weeks, and then life kind of got in the way, forcing us to change our plans. Originally, our travels would have been in September and would have taken us all the way up the California coast, through Oregon and Washington, and we'd have reached Vancouver, Canada before making the trip back to San Diego. Then, I found out my cousin was getting married in Oregon in August so we moved the trip up a month. Then, we discovered a legal hiccup to the whole border-crossing plan, so we settled on Seattle to see various friends there. Then, I got laid off and the whole plan was up in the air for a couple weeks (We'd still go to my cousin's wedding, but it might involve a couple days straight of being in the car and very little actual vacation). Then, the boyfriend got a new job (yay!) and got week off for the trip. Then, I got a new job (double yay!) and got the same week off. While this meant we'd definitely make it to the wedding, it also meant we had just the week and nothing more. Unfortunately, the wedding was on a Saturday, leaving us just Sunday to be back in San Diego for work on Monday. By car. Holy hell.

Fortunately for the boyfriend, he was able to also get Monday off, but I was too chicken to ask (my hints went unnoticed or ignored), so no matter what we'd be doing Oregon to San Diego in a day. We had all sorts of intentions to have a very relaxing, leisurely drive up so that it actually felt like a vacation, and for the most part we pulled it off.

Shopping and dining in Santa Barbara

We left San Diego on Saturday and spent the weekend with my family for a  make-up birthday party for my sister and a celebratory we-got-jobs-toast for myself, the boyfriend and my mom (whose job announcement wouldn't come until later), and pay increase and new-step-in-life toasts for the sisters. We had a relaxing weekend, then early Monday morning we were on the road to Big Sur.

We saw a lot of this.

My little car was packed full of camping supplies, plus we had our nice wedding clothes to worry about and a dog with us... The drive to Big Sur took us around 7 hours on the 1, through crazy small towns you're likely to read about. I did the driving while the boyfriend had his camera out and ready. We felt like such city slickers going through those small towns, wondering aloud to each other how their lives were different from ours. We saw a surprising amount of local theatres, too... seemed no matter how small the town was they had space for a community theatre.

OMG SQUIRRELS!!! Eating from my hand!!!

Probably the most fun detour (oh hell, most fun part of the whole trip) was feeding the squirrels overlooking the coast somewhere along the highway. We pulled over to see elephant seals, and then again at some random look-out point to take in the scenery we'd been driving along for hours, and there was a whole colony of ground squirrels who were practically hand raised. I'd brought a box of Honey Chex with for morning snacking so I went back to the car to grab a handful. And we fed the squirrels! I was having the best time, seriously. They were so gentle about it: when I reached out with a single Chex in my fingers they'd hold on to my finger to steady themselves (or me?) before grabbing it with their teeth. I gave some tiny little broken pieces of Chex and they were so cautious and slow with it that I didn't worry about being bit. Not one was aggressive or pushy (though one fat one did shove the others out of the way, but he was still gentle with us), and all just wanted the sweets we had. I felt like if I held onto a Chex piece I could probably reach out and pet one, but didn't want to overstep my bounds. We stayed for several minutes taking turns feeding the squirrels and taking pictures and it was so much fun. I really didn't want to leave, but we had so much more waiting for us.

I'm the happiest camper right here.

I wrote about the Big Sur camping experience already, so I'll just skip that part. After we left Big Sur (which is gorgeous, by the way... I'm totally going back there to spend a few days, sans dog) we headed up the coast towards Monterey, another place I want to spend more time (AQUARIUM!). We took the 17 Mile Drive in Carmel and oh my goodness the fanciness. I had no idea what we were getting into, and the boyfriend just had heard it was a beautiful and famous coastal drive, but it turned out to be that and a mansions-on-a-golf-course show-off. House after house... seriously, how do these people get that kind of money? Beach access housing, golf course access housing, and beautiful forest housing, all in one. We had to pay $10 just to get on the roads. And at some club house they were getting ready for some luxury car show. Ridiculous. I'm pretty sure our mouths were open the entire time. We did get some nice photos though, including a sexy shot of my car on the beach.

Zoom zoom, baby.

After leaving Carmel we drove through Monterey. By then it was lunchtime so the boyfriend looked up a nearby fish place that had 4 stars. It. Was. Fantastic. He got halibut, I got albacore tuna, and we shared fried calamari. We both ordered off the specials menu, which was the first time in my entire life that I'd ordered something without first knowing the price. The boyfriend justified it with, "we're on vacation, we can splurge." And boy was it a splurge. We drank free water and the bill still came to over $70 before tip. Yikes! But it was very, very worth it. That was some of the best fish, if not the best fish, I've ever had. After we drove around Monterey, saw the outside of the aquarium and the little touristy shops. Then got back on the 1 to Santa Cruz.

Eat here. Monterey Fish House. Say hi to Jose.

We headed to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz to meet the boyfriend's friend and there were "no dogs" signs everywhere. Like, every where. The weird thing was there were people walking around with dogs all over the place! For such a laid back coastal community I certainly didn't expect it to be so dog-unfriendly. The boyfriend's friend met us and we walked to downtown Santa Cruz, which was pretty much exactly what I expected. Bums on the outskirts, but once you're in the center of downtown it's very small time and locally owned shops (the friend pointed out a Forever 21 that just opened, kind of surprising the area, since almost no other major chains exist there). She took us to an ice cream kiosk that sold hand made ice creams. I got mint chip and it was made with actual mint, and topped with very decadent hot fudge. We saw a man dressed as Mario juggling plungers, various singing groups, and a man playing a giant African instrument (one of those log-type things you blow in), which was awesome.

He got some dollars.

Much later than we intended, because the boyfriend had some catching up to do with his friend and because walking around downtown Santa Cruz was way fun, we got back on the road and headed to Oakland, which ended our excursion on the 1. I wrote about staying with his parents in Oakland, so I'll skip to the part where we did touristy stuff in San Francisco.

We woke up at 5 to make it to San Francisco by sunrise, something we didn't quite make it to but ended up not making any difference. True to the bay, there was fog everywhere. Thick fog you could touch that almost made driving difficult wrapped around everything. We wanted to drive up to a look out point next to the Golden Gate Bridge and photograph the sunrise, but the fog didn't let up even a little bit. We parked on Hawk's Hill and walked to the very top, where you'd see the top of the bridge. And saw a lot of gray. 

Super artsy photo of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise.

Giving up, we crossed the bridge into the city and had breakfast at some hotel restaurant (totally not knowing that Boudin's does breakfast now) in Fisherman's Wharf where I got a pretty decent bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and avocado (yum!). I hadn't been to the city in a couple of years, so we went to Pier 39. I got some socks for a gift, used a disgusting public toilet out of desperation, stepped in a puddle of sticky water (and furiously cleaned my flip flop, foot and jeans with an antibacterial wipe in the car), we saw Alcatraz and the sea lions, went into a few touristy shops, drove down Lombard Street and through Sausalito, and headed back up to Hawk's Hill for attempt #2 at getting that picture of the bridge poking through the fog (no such luck). We were back on the 101 before noon.


Before we got to Eureka we did two fun things: we saw another couple driving in a silver Mazda 2 and honked and waved at them and drove my silver Mazda 2 through a tree.

It looks roomy but it did not feel roomy.

I did the drive through tree thing once before in my Accent, but it seriously does not get old. I mean, you're driving your car through a living, breathing tree. There was a hole in the tree not only big enough for my car to drive completely through it, but much larger cars to fit and drive through. It's so fun. There were some people behind us in an SUV sticking their hands through the sun roof touching the tree's insides. Pretty great to watch.

We're inside a tree.

Camping in Eureka went a lot more smoothly, especially considering we had no idea where we were going to stay. On the 101 our phones were working (hooray!) so the boyfriend found a campsite right off the freeway called KOA Kampgrounds. We had to drive behind an industrial warehouse so I was a little sketched out, but it was a lovely campground. Designed for families, they had an ice cream social, hay ride and community campfire planned. Cute! Our camp site was a small grassy patch with a picnic table, tiny fire pit and a spigot for washing. It was pretty empty and our neighbors were interesting: a few families in RVs, another couple, and a single man with just a motorcycle. Like the last time, we set up camp, ate the snack we'd brought, napped, and woke up just in time to start the fire. However, this pack of logs, while far cheaper than in Big Sur, did not come with a fire starter. So it took us a while. The boyfriend laid out a nice stack of sticks and dried leaves, and laid the logs on top. Because the fire pit was small and short he couldn't stack the logs tee-pee style so it was nearly impossible to light. That, and it was Eureka to it's not like the sticks were terribly dry. Still, we weren't expecting to have that much trouble lighting the fire, and it was way dark by the time we actually got it going with the help of a paper bag I had in the car to seal in the heat and act as a starter. But once we did, we opened the last of the beers from Big Sur and popped more soup on the grill.

Forgot to photograph the actual campsite...

We watched the hay ride go by our site and saw a couple of families gather around the communal campfire, roasting marshmallows. We stayed up talking pretty late, waiting for our fire to die out. We woke up in the morning (after a night of successfully not setting off my car alarm) to discover it had rained overnight. Hooray for our tent being rain resistant! We're quite pleased with our tent purchase: spacious enough for us, the dog and our stuff, warm enough for Eureka, and apparently good for rain. Once again, we packed up quickly and quietly and got back on the road.

Our last detour in California was to see elk.

For "brevity," (even though this was far longer than I anticipated), Road Trip Part 2: Oregon is here.

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