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California: the Central Coast

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

Rainbow over Morro Bay

Our family tries to make it a tradition to explore Alta and Baja California during the winter holidays. It is not just because we don't want to deal with air travel between Christmas and New Year, which can be expensive and crowded. Or because we never know who's coming into town and how many family members we're supposed to host from which date to which date. It's also because California is so convenient and has everything we could possibly want in the winter. For skiing, we'd head to Big Bear, or Mammoth, or Lake Tahoe. For warmth and desert, we'd book a condo in Palm Springs, or Borrego Springs, or Death Valley. For beach, we'd head south for Orange County, San Diego, Ensenada, or San Filipe on the Sea of Cortez. For hiking and climbing, we can explore any of the 9 national parks and the 280 state parks in California. For history, we'd meander along the Gold Mining towns north of Yosemite. For peace and relaxation, we drive north to the central coast.

For some reason, maybe that peace and spirituality, the central coast of California has always tugged at my heart.

Driving north along the Pacific Coast Highway, after passing busy Venice Beach and Santa Monica, through the exclusive Malibu colony, past the uncrowded surfs of Ventura, beyond the traffic of Santa Barbara, through the suburbs of Santa Maria, you'll pass through a series of small, quaint beachside towns that I think of as my retreats: Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Harmony, Cambria, San Simeon, Big Sur, Pebble Beach, Monterey.

Between Pismo Beach and Monterey, the Pacific Coast Highway has been designated as one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Even before the Covid pandemic, when air travel became a major ordeal, the Central Coast of California has always been my favorite getaways. The stark and rugged beauty of the coastline, the long stretches of empty beaches, the quaint small towns dotting Highway 1, the distinctive Monterey cypress leaning over everything.

When the kids were younger, we'd always try to make it beyond Big Sur to stop by Monterey. The Aquarium there is just the most beautiful in the world. And we've gone to a lot of Aquariums, having a budding marine biologist in the family. When they grew up a little more, we started stopping by Hearst Castle for the architectural tours. But we always try to book a cabin in Big Sur or a beachside hotel in one of the smaller towns so we can spend a little time along this stretch of magical coastline. We can listen to the sound of the stream or the sea, watch the sunset and the bonfire, feel the quiet and the peace seeping back into our souls.

This year, we stayed for 2 nights in Avila Beach at the San Luis Bay Inn and 2 nights in Cambria in Moonstone Landing. It was raining when we set out and rained through the night but became bright and shiny when we woke up in the morning. The view of the bay from the inn was so beautiful, we just lounged on the terrace and forgot to take any pictures.

We walked to Avila Beach and had lunch along the strand, then drove to the Pier and watched the seals and sea otters frolic. Playing it safe, we ordered dinner in the hotel and went to bed. Woke up the next day with storm clouds and drizzling rain again.

Montana de Oro is a lovely state park west of San Luis de Bispo. It has massive sand dunes to play in, a small beach with gentle waves, and a long bluff walk that leads down to many rocky coves. We found a massive sunflower seastar there once.

This year, as we were got off the highway in Los Osos, the rain stopped and as we reached the beach, a double rainbow came out. But the clouds came back quickly and I was able to catch the single rainbow curving over Morro rock at the other end of Morro Bay only seconds before it too, faded away.

Bruce and I had hiked in drizzling rains before so thought we could try a short bluff hike down to the beach. Cameron and Eric bravely put on the raincoats with us to attempt the hike while the girls absolutely said "No". The raincoats and umbrellas worked fine, but I don't think we got even halfway before our pants were soaking wet and had to turn back to the van. The girls thought it was hilarious and Cameron was mumbling something about "I don't know why I trusted you guys" as we drove back out of the park.

We drove through Cambria, stopping by Linn's restaurant and shops for a quick shopping trip at their boutique shop, their gift shop, and their pie shop. The olallieberry pie and the rhubarb-raspberry pie were yummy, and we made reservations for dinner later. Then we stopped at a few galleries to check out the art and sculptures and potteries.

The rooms at Moonstone Landing Hotel look modest but everyone was so happy to find they all had gas fireplaces that we can turn on to dry our clothes and warm our bones. I even got the thumbs up from the girls when they handed us chocolate chip cookies on check-in.

Dinner at Linn's was good with comfort food for everyone and Eric announced that he will feel very "sophisticated" after his ribeye dinner when he comes back to his room to lounge on the leather chair in front of the fireplace.

The next morning, we went walking down the boardwalk and the beach, finding that some people have started the tradition of putting locks on the rope railings along the boardwalk as a way of locking in their wishes, dreams and memories.

We had lunch down the road at Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill with excellent seafood: oysters, clams, and fish and just relaxed in our rooms for the afternoon before ordering sandwiches and pot pies at Linn's Cafe for dinner in the evenings.

Checking out of the hotel the next day, we meant to drive further up the coast to Big Sur but found that highway 1 was closed just past the elephant seals beaches, where Hearst castle is still just a speck on top of the hills far, far away.

So we had to settle for exploring the beaches south of that, making sure to avoid the elephant seals lounging on the beach and the zebra herds roaming the hills below Hearst castle estate.

We drove home after that so it was a really short vacation. But still, I had a little downtime, to take care of my year-end business (like completing my CME courses online, balancing my investment portfolio, and doing my charitable giving) and getting a little fresh, clean air with very little time spent with masks on.

The Omicron variant surge in Los Angeles was just getting started when I left for Christmas. And I came back to work after New Year on the steep side of the curve. In early December, we were averaging 0-1 Covid cases a week in our 3 doctors' practice. The week after New Year's day, we had 45-50 patients calling with covid positive results. Luckily, most of our patients were vaccinated so we only had 2 patients ending up in the hospital, both of whom were unvaccinated. All the other cases had mild viral symptoms, and most seemed to be getting better after 4-5 days, knock on wood. Here's to hoping for an end to the pandemic this year.

Happy New Year to All.

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