Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hidden Monterey ~ Big Sur

When you say the words Big Sur people already know exactly what you mean. Instantly images of the stereotypical California Coastline spring into their heads. But even if you have traveled down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1) there are still some wonderful hidden gems to find along the way. My post today is really just the tip of the iceberg.

I was going to start out this post by telling you about Henry's BBQ. It was our hidden gem in Monterey for great BBQ. Sadly, it's not there anymore. The owner just moved up North and we are in deep mourning. I'll have to search for a new place and share when I find it. For now we'll just hit the coast.
 One of the first pull outs you will come to is after you pass the Carmel turn offs.  It's a lovely overlook with a really big pull out so it's very popular.
Sometimes the kelp forests in this cove are enormous! Sea otters will wind themselves up in this kelp which, like a tree, extends all the way down to the sea bed, and use it like an anchor and a blanket and drift off to sleep knowing that they won't drift off to sea as well.
You will see many pull offs on your way down the coast. Don't just pull off on the "popular" ones. Instead aim for the ones that there isn't anyone parked there yet. Lovely views await!
 You may want to click on the small photo above to see the larger image. This is the famous Bixby Bridge. You have probably seen the photos of it on nearly every piece of advertising that depicts Big Sur. But the view from this vantage, taken from a pull out about a mile from the traditional "popular" pull out includes the grassland, including cows, and a sea arch as well as the famous bridge!
It was very cool to make this discovery...the baby cows were just a bonus!
 Of course we did stop at the popular pull out and see the gorgeous view. And the bridge, constructed in the 1930's, is gorgeous due to it's design and the overlook. Before it's construction residents were often totally cut off from the city in the winter when Bixby Creek rises and made the two lane road impassible.  
A word about photographing the gorgeous scenery along this, or any, coastal highway. There are cliff edges and you will often see people too close to that edge trying to get a good look. And it can get very crowded. Please stay 6 feet back from the edge. Do not go any closer than you are tall. The edges of these cliff faces have been known to crumble. The photos are not worth it and every so often we hear news stories about those who have fallen to their deaths from these cliffs. And the views are just as lovely from the safer vantage.
BUT...don't forget to turn around and look behind you! This sea arch is at the very same lookout as Bixby Bridge but I was the only photographer I saw who actually photographed it! Everyone gets so focused on what is in front of them that they forget to look back.
And speaking of looking back. About a mile past Bixby Bridge is another lookout. This one is designed to allow you to look back on the bridge as well as the gorgeous coastline to the North.
And now we get to the really fun part of today's blog. Our hidden treasure! Pfeiffer Beach, not to be confused with Pfeiffer State Beach, is definitely a hidden treasure...and about as hard to find as hidden treasure too! Drive through the little pull off of Big Sur (there's a couple of general stores and a restaurant) and past the sign for Pfeiffer State Beach and start looking for mile marker 45. Take the first right after that at 45.6. There is NO SIGN. No indicator at all that there is beach access there. It's a very sharp right that takes you down a narrow road and you won't come to a sign for a couple of "blocks" or so. Just keep following it. Yes, it looks like you are lost. Yes, you will feel lost. Keep going.
 But eventually you will come to a Ranger's hut. It does cost $10 to park but it's SO worth it. There are only about 60 parking spaces here so the beach is never crowded. Go early in the day for the best light or late on a weekday to catch the sunset. If you try to go later in the day Friday to Sunday you will find that there are no parking spaces. 

 There are very nice chemical toilets in the parking lot with very large rooms. Plenty of space to change clothing if needed but it IS a toilet so the smell isn't all that great. After changing you will take a very short little stroll right out onto the beach. The sand is soft so I wouldn't call it "accessible" but for those who are not able to climb dunes but  are able to walk the beach then this is an easy access.
There are 3 sea arches there! We did go in the middle of the day when the sun was particularly brutal so I wasn't thrilled by the vantage I got but it really is beautiful there. A note of caution. We saw many kids playing in and out of the sea arches at low tide. This is very dangerous. It is very easy to get swept out to sea. Have your kids in life jackets and be aware of your own safety if you don't swim well. And by swim well I mean competitively.
The real treasure here is purple sand. Yes, that's PURPLE SAND!  The reason it's purple (and you can see some green too) is the manganese garnet and tourmaline that rinse down from the hills with the rain and that creates the colored sand. 

In many of the areas you will just see beige sand but if you look as you step you will see the purple in your footprint. Down near the water line, where the hard pack sand is, you will see the tree like rivulets of purple.
The purple color even leeches into the coral along the shoreline. Normally these mussels would have white coral growing from them but due to the manganese garnet the color ends up purple.
The beach is really lovely. Perfect for a picnic, building sand castles and flying kites. There are actually two crescents, one as you enter the area and one to the right of the last sea arch. Your $10 parking fee helps keep these beaches clean and lovely.

But it's the sand that will keep you riveted. I explored the entire area and marveled over the fact that I could see so much purple when we are in our 3rd year of drought. I can just imagine how gorgeous it is when we are having a rainy season! With the promise of an El Nino year this winter I am hopeful that we will have lots of rain and next Spring I will be able to visit this beach again and see what the rains have washed down!

Next week we'll go off the "beaten" track so you can see some of the better known, and lesser known, views of the Monterey Bay area. This will include Pebble Beach so I hope you can join us! As always, you can find me every day on Instagram. Either find me online by going to Shutterbug Traveler or follow shutterbugtraveler on the Instagram app on your phone!


Monday, October 6, 2014

Hidden Monterey: San Juan Bautista

The great thing about Monterey is that there are all sorts of places you can explore within one hour of downtown. So by using Monterey or Salinas as your base you can see quite a bit of the area without spending a lot of time in the car! A quick note: so much of California is spread out so even if you fly in for your visit you will want to rent a car. 

California is also known for it's Missions. There are 21 of these missions built all along the length of the state. Each has a similar "flavor" but each has it's own treasures as well. As a kid, growing up in California, you are required in 5th grade to create one of these missions and chances are good you will also take a field trip to go see one near where live with the school.  And, as a kid, you don't nearly appreciate them enough so it's great to be able to go back as an adult. Especially if you are one who loves architecture and art. (Don't forget to click on the little photos to see the big version!)

 As you turn off of the 101 and onto the 156 towards San Juan Bautista you will see some of our "California Country". This time of year the hills are a golden brown (thus the "Golden State") but in the Spring they will be a green so green it will almost hurt your eyes. The vistas are just breathtaking.
 When you see the windmill on the left you will know you are there. This is the biggest market we found in SJB so stop here for something to drink or if you want to put together a picnic. (But I'm going to introduce you to a great place to eat if you don't want to DIY it.)
 The center is nicely faux vintage including the outside of the post office. The inside is super modern though so don't get your hopes up of seeing the Post Master in vintage gear.
 The Mission is in the center of town where they have kept all the flare and feel intact. The square includes the Plaza Hotel. Built in 1814 this hotel served as barracks for the Spanish soldiers before it became a hotel in 1856. It is now a museum that you can tour.
 There is a large grassy area in the square which has the mission on the left side, the stables and Zanetta House on the right side, the hotel at the bottom of the square and an overlook with picnic tables at the top. On a day with beautiful weather it's a great place to just hang out and let the kids play.
 The outer buildings cost a few bucks per person to tour but include a lot of vintage pieces like old carriages and cars.
 The kids had fun romping through the stables and we had fun explaining how the horses were fed and hooked up to the coaches.
 The Zanetta House was something that I really enjoyed. It is beautiful from the outside with a little garden of it's own that is worth touring.
Each room on the inside is fully appointed with vintage furniture and light fixtures. Just beautiful!
The missions share one feature, the arches. There is always one hallway with these lovely features. A very Spanish and very California design. You will see the arches in every form of architecture all throughout California from restaurants to banks to homes.
 It does cost a few dollars to tour the inside of the mission but history buffs will love the museum display and those who are a fan, like I am, of hand painted architecture will love the inside of the chapel. The hand carved wooden pews and the glistening Spanish tile are simply a gorgeous background for the hand painted walls. There is a story about these tiles. The chapel includes a tiny door that allows the property cats to come into the chapel at night and hunt the mice. While setting the tiles they forgot to close the door so the wet tiles still bear the kitty prints from those nocturnal hunts!
 But the Mission Chapels are always a lovely place to tour. Quiet and cool they are a beautiful place to sit for awhile, pray if you are religious since these are still active chapels, light a candle for a loved one or just enjoy the peace of the room.
 You can actually be married in a California Mission if you would like for only about a thousand dollars. As wedding site fees are concerned that is fairly reasonable. The Guadalupe Chapel is a beautiful little room off from the main church. When you tour the grounds make sure to peek into each room because hidden treasures like this one are there.
 When you finish touring the buildings you have a full garden to tour and enjoy. Even during a drought, in the middle of Summer, these gardens are just beautiful.

There are several benches where you can sit and relax. Many of them are in the shade so you can enjoy it even on a Summer afternoon.
If you take the time to explore the gardens you will find several landmarks that will remind you just how old the grounds and buildings are and how amazing that they have been maintained so that you can have them to tour. Suddenly the few dollars you paid doesn't seem like too high of a cost for the opportunity to tour it hundreds of years later.
 If you go around to the front of the Church you will see another feature that all California Missions have in common. The Bells. This tiered version sometimes holds only 3 bells but many have several bells. As with any historic building, some are actually still used to call parishioners to service and some are just still for preservation.
Another thing that the missions all have in common is a statue of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. He founded the first 9 of the California Missions and a statue can be found of him at all of them.
 After our Mission self-tour we were ready for lunch. We discovered Dona Esther's Mexican Restaurant located on the corner of  Franklin and 3rd Street. This is a very small town so it is easily walkable from the Mission. One block down and two blocks over and you have amazing food waiting for you.
 The "basic" Mexican fare is anything but basic here. All of us were completely stuffed after eating and still wanted to lick our plates!
 Even something as basic as a carnitas taco, beans rice and a chicken enchilada were so good we told everyone about it for weeks. And it's all very affordable too! I think the most expensive plate on the menu was $14.95 and you get soup, salad and dessert included with a pile of food on your plate for that. 
 The entire town has vintage touches to these hundreds year old buildings. Take the time to wander around the shops and enjoy the little gardens you will find on the corners.
Even the newer buildings were constructed to mimic the historic ones so you get to enjoy the flavor of the 1800's all over town.
Many of the buildings are the "real deal" with vintage touches everywhere you look. This building at 2nd and Washington Street is full of beautiful details.

We spent a lovely afternoon with a 3 year old and 5 year old and everyone had a wonderful time touring the Mission and the small town of San Juan Bautista.

Next week we'll go the opposite direction out from Monterey to Big Sur.