Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Jilly Does Cali, Part 4: The Sea Ranch

Thanks so much for following along on this trip and for all of your comments.  I'm a little behind on responding, but I'll get there!

Part 4 of my Cali trip recap takes us up to a little community along the coast in northern Sonoma County called Sea Ranch.  Throughout my trip, I had mentioned to many people I encountered that Sea Ranch was my final destination for a wedding and I was surprised that no one in CA had ever heard of it!  Admittedly, it is a very remote, non-commercialized locale, but I think that is the appeal for those who vacation there.

Ok we're on Day 9 of the trip now...

I am headed to SFO to pick up and reunite with two very special east-coasters: my sister and our mutual friend!

The girls both arrived around 1:30pm and since we had heard Sea Ranch was only a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, we thought we had all the time and daylight in the world to explore the city before heading up there.  [This turned out to be a false assumption, but at the time we were clueless and carefree!]

We headed north and ended up parking in a non-descript area of the city which had some interesting restaurants.  We walked for a few blocks to check out the food offerings and decide what we wanted to eat, all the while catching up, reminiscing and generally acting quite giddy.  We ended up with the most random assortment of food items: mediterranean tomato and cucumber salad, hummus/pita, and Mexican fish tacos. But then we had to find a place to eat these treats.  We located a park on our GPS and upon getting there discovered it was a DOG park.  My sister still thought it was a good idea to sit in the grass and eat our food.  For obvious reasons (ie. dog feces), the 2 sane people in the party rejected this idea, and we found some concrete pillars to sit on while we ate. 

After eating we headed back to our car, which was parked in a Safeway parking lot.  We had heard there was a market near Sea Ranch where we could buy groceries, but thought maybe we'd pick up a few things here just in case.  So by the time we left SF, it was around 4:30.  We still thought we had plenty 'o time!

We stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge lookout after crossing it so the girls could get a good view:

It was another clear, fogless day in SF.

And then we headed on our merry way up Route 101.  And hit complete traffic deadlock...for miiiiiiiiiiiiles.  It quickly became apparent we would definitely not be arriving at our destination in 2 hours.  After a couple hours on the road, we decided to make another random stop-off in a town called Cotati for some more groceries.  This turned out to be the wisest decision ever (because by the time we would arrive in Sea Ranch the only market near town would have been long closed), but then we got lost getting back on the highway, so it also cost us an additional hour of driving!

By the time we reached the coastal portion of Highway 1 it was completely dark and we couldn't see anything, a vast difference from when I drove the coastal portion of the same highway through Big Sur.  This portion was also fairly windy and it was late at night so I as the driver had to be pretty careful.  Meanwhile, the jet lagged girls were fading fast on me.

We finally arrived 5 HOURS LATER only to discover we had to drive to the nearest town of Gualala to retrieve the key for our rental cabin, and then backtrack to said cabin.  When we finally got in our house it was 9:30pm, pitch black and freezing outside.  There are no street lights in Sea Ranch.  But when we unlocked the door to our cabin we were in sweet, sweet heaven.  It was so nice and cozy!  We unloaded all of our bags and groceries, ate food and then proceeded to pass out.

Day 10, Sea Ranch:  We slept in and then ate our ration portions for breakfast.  This became a running joke because we only had so many eggs and sausages per person/per day! Hahaha  My sister did the math and made sure each person ate only their share every morning. She was always the math whiz.

We decided to take a little walk/hike around the area to see what we had missed in the dark.  Here are a few shots of the "neighborhood":

And just a random baby deer in our front yard!  We saw them roaming all over the grounds and even had a big buck cross right in front of us on a walk one day.

Cali girls

The coastal views from everywhere in Sea Ranch are amazing.  Luckily it was another blissfully clear day so these shots came out incredibly:


Even our little cabin, which was one of the cheapest ones available, had an oceanfront view!

Later that evening, we were invited to a BBQ at the bride's family's cabin and so we finally got to see our friend and bride-to-be!!  I hadn't personally seen her in 2 years.  She usually flies back East for Christmas every year, but we missed her this past year.  It was great to finally meet her fiancĂ© and 1 year old daughter.  The food at the BBQ was prepared by the family and was incredible.  We had such a good time catching up and meeting everyone else who had flown in for the wedding.  We even made new friends who drove us back to our cabin so we wouldn't have to walk back in the pitch dark, freezing night.  They saved us from running smack into some wandering deer or raccoons.

Day 11, Sea Ranch:  Wedding Day!  Our friend who was staying with us was a key member of the wedding party, and was also singing for the wedding, so she had to be out of the house fairly early this day.  My sister and I, on the other hand, had not a care in the world so we sat around drinking and tried out the hot tub.

And then took a nap.  VACATION MODE in full effect.

Soon it was time to get ready for the wedding.  It was being held at a vineyard up the mountain and wasn't really driveable, so they were running shuttles to and from the cabins.

It was surprisingly much warmer at the vineyard when we arrived for the afternoon wedding, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The sun was blazing hot and shining down on the outdoor altar, and the pictures I took of the ceremony came out unexpectedly with rays of sunshine filtering down on the bride and groom.  It was really neat.  It was as if their marriage was being condoned by the heavens!

The reception was also outdoors and the setting was gorgeous.



The wedding was a gooooooood time and I was so happy to be there celebrating with my friends and sister.  Something the officiant said during the vows stuck with me.  He said something along the lines of 'thank God Olivia decided to move across the country all those years ago, met her fiancĂ© out here and made this day possible'.  You just never know what's going to happen when you make a leap of faith.  It made me have faith in possibilities unknown and what's to come!
After the reception, we waited awhile for a shuttle and then went to an afterparty for a little, but couldn't hang.  So eventually we called it a night.
Day 12, Sea Ranch:  Our last day!  ie. the day we realized tomorrow we'd have to return to reality.  We spent mid-morning doing some more exploring and hiking around Sea Ranch and found steps down to the beach, where I said goodbye for now to the Pacific Ocean.

Later, we stopped by our friend's cabin again to hang out and chill with her and tell old high school stories.  FUN!!!!!!  It was such a good reunion.  I can't believe we're all in our 30's.  Talking about high school doesn't seem that long ago when we are all together, but it really was.  It's mind blowing how quickly time flies. 
When we got back to our cabin, we sat in the hot tub drinking wine and talking about life, love and the pursuit of happiness for far too long.  Eventually, we got out and napped.  HUGE life accomplishments happening here.  That night we chilled out, packed and thought about how lucky we were to all be together for this event.
Day 13, Sea Ranch:  We got on the road early at 6am.  Ok we were late.  6:30am.  I had no idea how long it would take us to get back since the ride there was a bit chaotic.  Thankfully the return drive to SFO was much easier and since it was morning, we could now see the coastal views on Highway 1.  They were amazing, just like Big Sur.  We made it to SFO in just over 3 hours and then it was time to hug our goodbyes, and board our respective planes back to our homes.  And just like that, my 2 week trip to California was over.
It had been an amazing, epic, incredible trip for me and the ending could not have been sweeter.
I don't know if she knows this, but I will forever be grateful to my friend Olivia for inviting me to her wedding.  If it weren't for her, I never would have planned this incredible solo road trip up the coast of California.  Who knows when/if I ever would have made it out there.  If it weren't for her, CA would still be just a pipe dream and I would not have discovered all the people, places and things I did because of it.  We all miss her, but thank God indeed that she moved across the country and started the domino of events in her own life and in others'.  She is a true friend and a true inspiration.  Love you Olivia!
Have you ever gone to a destination wedding?
Ever heard of Sea Ranch, CA?
What is the longest amount of time one should stay in a hot tub?!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Jilly Does Cali, Part 3: Monterey and San Francisco!

And we're back!  I hope you're enjoying these posts, even just half as much as I enjoyed being in these places, and I hope I'm doing a good job conveying just how beautiful everything was out there. 

Alright let's get back into it...

It's Day 6, and I've just had my MIND BLOWN driving through Big Sur.  Little did I know there was more to come! 

I had read there were plentiful options for hiking near Monterey and decided on Point Lobos State Park because the reviews I read raved about the incredible coastal landscapes.  Point Lobos is located just south of Monterey, right off Highway 1, so it made for an easy stop on my way up.  I got there around 2pm (I think?) and paid $10 to enter the reserve.  The park is fairly large and there are many different trails and adjacent parking lots.  My main interest was China Cove, known for it's crystal blue waters and bathing sea lions.  Unfortunately, the steps to the actual beach area of China Cove are currently closed due to erosion and mating sea lions (!) but you can still see it from above while hiking. 

The views in the park DID NOT DISAPPOINT!  They were at least on par with Big Sur and honestly may have rivaled them for me.  All this in the same day.  It was almost too much to wrap my head around, and I kept thinking I was living in a dream.  But it was all real.

The 'hiking' around the park is pretty easy.  Mostly flat, well-worn paths, with just a few climbs here and there depending on where you are.  Almost all of the trails hug the coast so you are constantly bombarded with views like this.  Enjoy:

I could have stayed in the park all day taking it in.  It was a sunny, clear day and I felt completely absorbed and content.  But alas, there were a few more things I wanted to see and also, hunger started to get the best of me.  Thank God I had a [melted] Larabar in the car!

I drove out of the park with a bit of sadness.  Point Lobos had instantly become one of my favorite places on earth.  I continued on to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a town I'd heard was quite picturesque, and it's right up the road from Point Lobos.  I found my way to the scenic drive by Carmel Beach and stepped out to look at yet another gorgeous CA beach:

And then drove into the town itself to park and walk down the main street a bit.  It was lined with lots of cute little shops and some high end stores too.  I had no interest in shopping, but it was a cute place to walk through!

Finally, I decided to finish the drive to Monterey and check into my Airbnb house.  It was lovely!

One of the owners greeted me as I arrived and sat down and chatted with me for a few mins.  He also got out a map and traces routes to a few places to explore and recommendations on where to eat!  The house had a resident outdoor cat, as well as the teeniest tiniest cutest little Yorkie ever.  After dropping my bags in my room, I decided to head down to the waterfront area for dinner.  I was momentarily delayed by said cat sleeping on my car!!  SO CUTE.  CA obviously wants me to stay forever :)

Once I made it down to Cannery Row I headed to Hulu's for dinner, which was one of the places my host had recommended.  He described it as Hawaiian fusion and that just sounded delightful.  I got a cozy table for one, and ordered a mai tai and 2 appetizers: ceviche and crunchy coconut shrimp rolls which were both incredible.  This may have been my favorite meal of the trip.

I walked around Cannery Row for a little bit after dinner and then headed back to crash.  And so concludes Day 6.  I think I've already covered half the state of CA! 

Day 7:  I started the day with breakfast at the house with 4 other guests and the owner.  We had some good convo including, 'Is Donald Trump really running for President?!'.  (This was the only place that provided breakfast, and it was great!)  Then I packed my bags and gave the dog and cat some goodbye snuggles and was on my way to Pebble Beach just down the road.  I wanted to go through 17 Mile Drive before heading up to SF. 

On the way I stopped at Lover's Point in Pacific Cove which my host also recommended as a site to see.  It was indeed beautiful and I found it incredibly ironic I was there alone, given the name. HAHAHA I thought perhaps I might find my lover there, but I had no such luck.  So I continued on.

As you can see this was the first cloudy day I had the whole trip!  I knew this would probably be the case the further north I drove (it was also much chillier), but I took it in stride. 

I navigated to 17 Mile Drive, which is a part of Pebble Beach Golf Club that is open to the public (after you pay the $10 admittance fee).  The drive is named for 17 stop-off points (somewhat akin to the turnoffs up Hwy 1) of beautiful coastal scenery within Pebble Beach.  Again, it was cloudy most of the morning here but it doesn't diminish the grandeur of the views.  My favorite part was seeing the infamous 'Lone Cypress' in person.  Behold:

I stopped at the clubhouse area to walk around the grounds and take some pictures for my grandfather who is an avid golfer.  I posed in front of the infamous course's 18th hole at the urging of the 18th Hole Greeter, Ester.  Yes, that is an actual job.  And she was a jovial little lady.  I had to oblige her! By this time the sun had come out.  I decided to have lunch there since I was famished and was about to embark on a 2 hour drive north.  I had a smoothie and a giant salad which were both scrumptious.

And then I was off to San Jose, where I was going to stay with a friend I hadn't seen in 10 years!! This was certainly the trip of long-lost reunions.  The last time I had seen my friend, she was working in Finance with me in Baltimore.  She and her husband were born-and-bred West Coasters, but they decided to move East for just 2 years while her husband attended grad school to see what it was all about.  2 years was all they lasted!  They were happy to get back to San Fran after that and never looked back.  Hence, why I had not seen her in so long.

I got to her house around 4:30 and met her 3 beautiful children for the first time!  Then, we hurried off to her son's soccer practice.  Later she cooked a lovely meal, and we stayed up talking for hours after the kids were in bed until we finally went to sleep around midnight.  End scene/Day 7.

Day 8:  ie. the day we did San Fran!  After my friend's two older children were off to school, she drove us into the city with her 23 month old babe.  She gave me a little driving tour, showing me the trains I'd need to get back to her house that night, Fishermans' Wharf, and the cable car stop.  We then drove up the BIGGEST hill I'd ever seen inside in a metropolitan city and she somehow parked the car on that thing.  I dk how you San Franciscans even drive and park on those streets!?  They are like legit straight up.  Anyway, after making sure the parking brake was fully engaged, she strapped her little baby to her back and we made our way to Lombard Street, that crazy zig-zag number that attracts all the tourists.  We walked down and took a cute pic and then walked back up.  She's a rock star for carting a baby up that thing!

We hopped back in the car and she drove me to one of her favorite neighborhoods, North Beach/Little Italy and then sadly it was time for her to head back to San Jose to pick up her daughter from preschool.  She dropped me at this beautiful church, which of course I had to stop in:


Then I wandered down the block and stopped for lunch at a place she had recommended to me - Calzone's - where I ate an entire loaf of bread with olive oil, a tray of various cured meats and some bacon wrapped scallops!

My friend had said that she had always wanted to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and had never done so, but thought this might be the perfect activity for my day.  She couldn't have been more right.  There were lots of bike rental spots along the water in Fisherman's Wharf, but I was up further in North Beach.  Well it just so happened on my walk down, I came across a bike rental shop!  I tell ya, things just seemed to show up at the perfect time this whole trip. 

I requested a child-sized bike, checked out the map, and began my ride to the Bridge!  In hindsight, if I had known I would be biking that day, I would not have donned skin-tight jeans.  HA Live and learn Bean.  It was the clearest, bluest day in SF that day with not a trace of fog or clouds.  I couldn't have been more lucky.  I have 0 idea how many miles it was to the bridge, across the bridge and back but I was TIRED by the time I got all the way back to the shop later that evening.  However, this was my favorite way to see the city and I so thoroughly enjoyed my ride.  How many people can say they've biked across the Golden Gate Bridge?!  Feast upon these entirely un-edited images:



Does it get any better than that?!?!?!  Incredible I tell you.

Now here's a funny little ditty for you.

I had made it nearly all the way back on ride, but nearing the end I became a bit woozy and was sweating bullets with my sweatshirt and skin-tight jeans, so I finally took off my sweatshirt and laid it somewhat haphazardly across my front handlebars.  As I crested down a hill just a few miles away from the bike shop, my sweatshirt flew off the handlebars and became tangled in, around and under the bike's tires.  I promptly stopped and retrieved said sweatshirt which was now a bit shredded and covered in bicycle grease.  Please note this was my one and ONLY sweatshirt I had packed for the trip!  Clearly I had packed mostly for southern California weather.

Anywho, when I made it back to the bike shop I asked the owner/hippie if he had anything that might remove bicycle grease and held up my mangled piece of clothing.  To my delight he did indeed and he even proceeded to scrub my sweatshirt in his sink until it was spotless!  Californians are RAD dude.  He was awesome.  There was just one caveat, sunset was approaching, which meant the temps in SF were about to drop and all I had was a soaking wet sweatshirt.  Have no fear, the gentleman told me!  There was a Laundromat down the street.  And that is how I ended up in a Laundromat on my one and only day in SF!  Hahaha  I kept inserting quarters into the dryer, but after 20 mins of standing around waiting, I still had a pretty damp sweatshirt.  I decided to play the odds and leave because I still wanted to ride the trolley before heading back to San Jose on the train.

I walked back down to the Wharf area and bought a ticket for a line that now circled block.  The sign at the ticket booth said the wait was approximately 45 minutes so before purchasing said ticket I asked the kindly man inside the booth if that estimate was accurate.  He stepped out of the booth, eyed the line, and told me that yes, it would indeed be JUST 45 mins.  I got in line.  And waited. And waited.  And waited some more.  While the sun set and I began to freeze, draping my wet sweatshirt around me.  It took 1 hour and 15 mins!  The ticket booth man obviously does not get paid to be accurate.  Regardless, I enjoyed the ride which lasted all of 15 mins when I hopped off in Union Square.

I had waited so long for the trolley that I didn't have any time to walk around Union Square.  I had to find my way to the Metro to take back down to the Caltrain, which is exactly the direction I had just come from!  However, the moment I stepped off the trolley, I FROZE!  The sun had set and the temps had dropped and I was shivering under a wet sweatshirt.  Suddenly, the heavens opened up and shone down upon a beacon of retail hope: H&M!!!!!!!!  I had a little more than an hour until the Caltrain departed (back down in Fishermans' Wharf) so I ran into H&M like a chicken with its head cut off in search of a hoodie.  Any hoodie.  I came out 10 mins later with a striking hot pink one.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! 

By this time I had to pee so badly.  But every Starbucks and restaurant I ran into in Union Square said they had no public restrooms!  What the heck is up with that?!  I was quite literally about to tell them fine, I'll just go on your floor, when I looked at my watch and realized I had to find the Metro NOW or I'd miss the connecting train to SJ.  I asked the first person I saw where to go and ran several blocks to the station.  Then I asked the ticket booth lady underground which train connected to the Caltrain and bought my ticket.  I made it back to the Caltrain station with 20 mins to spare and spotted a Panera across the street!  Oh happy happy day.  It had been at least 7 hours since lunch but more importantly I prayed to God they had a bathroom inside.  After placing my order I asked ever so politely if they had a restroom and they did.  But it was currently being cleaned!  %&$#!!!  I pretended I didn't hear and just went back anyway.  I told the woman cleaning the bathroom it was an emergency and she let me in.  There has never been a better feeling in all the world!

I got on the Caltrain relieved, tired and hungry and enjoyed my salad and sandwich on the ride back.  My friend picked me up at the station and we stayed up chatting and watching Catfish (?!) and crashing after midnight.  It was an epic (and hilarious) day in SF!

Day 9:  I hung out with my friend and two of her kids in the morning for a few hours before I had to be off to SFO to pick up my sister and our friend who were just arriving for the destination wedding!

I'll post a bit about the wedding in Sea Ranch and my feelings about the trip in a separate post(s).

This concludes my solo portion of the journey, and the rest seems almost like a completely separate trip.  By this point I had driven over 500 miles through California!

I hope these posts gave you an idea of the kind of traveler I am (adventurous, a bit haphazard, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, and incredibly comical).  This trip was about seeing places I had never seen and only dreamed about, and the only thing I spent money on was food, gas, lodging and a couple magnets to memorialize each city I visited.  Oh yeah, and that essential hoodie from H&M! 

Part 4: Sea Ranch, CA....To Be Continued

Have you ever been to Monterey? 

Ever done a bike tour around a city you were vacationing in?

Ever visit a Laundromat in a city you were vacationing in?!?!