Monterey Peninsula Anniversary
Wedding anniversaries are special times. Wedding anniversaries are worth celebrating. Crystal and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary in May 2004 by taking a trip to the Monterey Peninsula on the coast of California. We picked Monterey as our destination because we heard from our family members that it is one of the most beautiful places in California. We were not disappointed.
We got up early on May 12, the day of our anniversary, and drove to Sacramento to take a life insurance agent exam. That's a great romantic start to any anniversary, don't you think? Once the test was over, we drove west toward San Francisco and then turned south to Monterey. Just before we got to Monterey, I noticed rolling fields that extended as far as my eye could see. I also noticed that there were workers spread out over the fields hand picking the crop. This is a bit unusual for California since most crops are harvested by machine. I kept looking at the fields, trying to figure out what the crop was. I finally figured it out -- strawberries. The fields were full of acres and acres of strawberries.
We arrived in Monterey a few minutes later, took a quick drive around town, and then drove to our hotel, the Hyatt, so we could clean up a bit before dinner. The Hyatt sits on a hill and overlooks the city in the front and a beautiful golf course in the back. We could just barely see the ocean. The room was spacious and included a king bed, table and chairs, bathroom, and nice wall art. The one thing it was missing was an air conditioner. The lack of air conditioner worried me a bit at first but didn't turn out to be a problem. The climate is so mild that it simply wasn't needed.
We browsed a magazine in the hotel room and decided to eat our anniversary dinner at Anton and Michel in downtown Carmel. When we entered Carmel, it was love at first sight. The town is a quaint haven for artists and is located directly on the ocean. It reminded Crystal of towns in Europe. It's the first place I've ever been where I really would like to own a vacation home.
Anton and Michel is a beautiful formal restaurant in the heart of downtown. When we arrived, the very polite host seated us at a table at the back of the restaurant. We overlooked a courtyard full of beautiful flowers and fountains. The setting was very romantic. For dinner, I had butternut squash soup followed by sea bass and vegetables with lemon creme brulee for dessert. Crystal had a green salad followed by roast chicken with a heavenly chocolate dessert. The food was all very good, but the service was not what I expected for a restaurant of this caliber.
After dinner, we drove to the end of Ocean Boulevard to the ocean. We walked past an artist who was painting the scene, down the steep, sandy bank, to the beautiful and frigid Pacific. We watched the sun sink over a point in Pebble Beach before we drove back to Monterey.
Back at the hotel room, we ordered an in-room movie: The Last Samurai. When that was over we fell asleep, exhausted from our long day.
The next morning we slept in; after all, the night before was long and we were on vacation. We ordered room service and then drove back to Carmel to check out the shops. Most of the shops are either art galleries or small restaurants but there are a few gift shops and other exceptions. We mostly looked through the art galleries. Not surprisingly, the quality of the art reflected the artist retreat status of Carmel. One of the highlights of our morning was the Thomas Kincaid gallery. Tom is a Christian and an amazing artist. The gallery in Carmel was the first of his galleries, and the work shown in it is beautiful. They even had a small original piece -- most of the works by Kincaid that is sold in galleries are lithographs -- that was priced at 90,000 dollars.
We hung out in our room for the afternoon and then drove to Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck in his novel Cannery Row, for dinner. We chose the Fish Hopper, a restaurant with seats on a balcony overhanging the bay. Evening began to fall, the day cooled down, and we ate. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.
When we finished our dinner, we rushed to the beachside park in Monterey to watch the sun set. We wandered slowly along the beach, enjoying one another's company and enjoying the beautiful scene as the sun set and light faded from the sky. Another day ended, and we returned to the hotel for bed.
Big Sur, arguably the most beautiful streach of coastline in California, stretches from Carmel south to San Luis Obispo. We coudn't visit Monterey without seeing this natural wonder, so we made Big Sur our destination for Friday.
Highway 1 south of Carmel is one of the two most beautiful drives I've ever taken. (The other is the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia.) We pried our jaws off the floor of the car multiple times on the way to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, our first destination. We walked the short trail overlooking Saddle Rock and McWay Cove. Saddle Rock juts into the jewel-colored waters of the Pacific Ocean. Falling from the rock is McWay Falls, the only waterfall in California to drop directly into the ocean.
Next, we stopped at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We hiked to Pfeiffer Falls, following the short trail through a redwood forest. The waterfall, while not terribly large, provided a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere for a few minutes of rest.
When we returned to the car, we drove back north and stopped at the Carmel River State Beach just south of Carmel. The beach is made of small pebbles and the drop into the water is very sharp. The steep drop caused the breakers to be pretty big. We sat for a while, enjoying the view and the sound of the ocean rolling onto the beach.
Dinner on Friday was at the Merlot! Bistro in downtown Carmel. We were a bit uncomfortable because the restaurant was fairly formal, but we were still in shorts and t-shirts from our hike. They let us in, and we both ordered the early bird special, which consisted of pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, and red cabbage. Everything was delicious, but the red cabbage tasted a bit too strongly of wine.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel to freshen up a bit, and then drove to Cannery Row for dessert at the Ghirardelli chocolate shop. We ordered a banana split and a hot fudge sundae and shared both. Yummy! After dessert, we retired for the evening.
Carmel Mission/17 Mile Drive
Saturday, we decided to visit the Carmel Mission San Carlos de Borromeo, simply known as the Carmel Mission. When we arrived, there was a mass in progress. We found out a little later that it was the first communion of several of the younger attendees.
From the mission, we went to 17 Mile Drive, a private toll road that makes a loop through Pebble Beach. We stopped at several attractions along the way, including Bird Rock, a huge rock just off the coast that is the home to countless birds and sea lions, and the Lone Cypress, the Pebble Beach Icon.
The shoreline and other attractions along the Drive were nice, but we were most impressed by the houses. Pebble Beach is the playground of the wealthy, so the houses are appropriately gigantic. We drove past mansion after mansion, the best being the ones overlooking the beautiful blue and green waters of the Pacific Ocean.
We reached the end of 17 Mile Drive and travelled back to Monterey for dinner and a last sunset on the beach. We ate at Schooners. Our table overlooked the bay. Crystal had steak; I had almond chicken. Both were delicious. I wonder if several of the restaurants where we ate throughout the week had the same ownership; they had dishes that were slightly different but had common elements.
Our final stop for the evening was the beach in Monterey. We walked along the beach, enjoying the light show as the sun dropped below the horizon and the city lights came on. The sunset was not spectacular, but is was relaxing.
We left the beach and went to our hotel for the night. Earlier in the day, we had checked into The Monterey Hotel for our last night in the city. The Monterey Hotel sits in downtown Monterey. If I had to give a one word description, I would call it quaint. The moment I stepped inside, I felt like I had been transported back in time fifty years or more. I checked in, the the desk clerk told me about the milk and cookies served in the common room every night and the continental breakfast served every morning. The room we stayed in was small but very homey. The only downside was that it was on the fourth floor, and there were no elevators.
Unfortunately, every vacation must come to an end. Sunday was our day to travel back home. We took one last short drive along the coast, this time through the town of Pacific Grove. From there, we re-traced our tire tracks from several days before back to Chico.