May 25, 2014

California

We hoped to hike Kauai this summer.  You peeps offered bountiful advice on volcanoes and topless drives along the coast.  Made me hungry rehashing your huddle around pit-style hog roasts and fresh cuts of yellowfin tuna.

The plan was to fly from Des Moines to California, hang out on the west coast for a couple days, then arc over to Hawaii and fry our pasty Iowa flesh.

Flights between California and Hawaii are running $650+ roundtrip.  More than we want to pay, so we're truncating and looking at only doing California.

A lot of B&P readers ping from the left coast, you're the #2 hit count after Iowa.  400 last month, I figure you'll offer better travel advice than what I can glean from Google:




Curls suggested flying into San Diego and exploring that area for a week or 10 days.  I'm open to anything, but realize California is massive so we'll only be able to nibble off a small morsel in one trip.  

Eventually I want to see Silicon Valley and tour some of the IT companies there, plus north up to Fremont for Elon Musk @Tesla.  But that will come later, on a future visit.  This time, we'll stay south.

I'd like to surf in the Pacific, rent a convertible and cruise the coastline, see mountains, desert and vineyards.  Food means a lot, taco trucks and seafood and whatever else people suggest to fill a hungry 143 lbs.  San Diego strafes the Mexican border, is that a si, go get some tamales or nope, you'll end up in a trunk?

Let's hear it from you that live in sunny southern California.  Yes or no to San Diego, and why?  What are some things within a two hour drive of there we'd be fools to miss?  Food, teach me.

Thanks for your help!

-Beard

31 comments:

  1. Hi! I hail from Hanford in the Central Valley... About forty five minutes south of fresno and about two hours away from everything amazing in California. You cannot go wrong driving the 1 - seriously. It's beautiful, you can stop at Big Bear and spend the night. There is a creek/river there that's great to play around in. Pismo and Avila beach off the 101 are great, stop by splash Cafe. If you happen to drive through the valley, hopefully to hit up Yosemite, one of the best mountain views and areas ever, stop by the famous Superior Dairy and split an SOS with Pigtail. We are known for it. My sister lives in San Diego, make sure you hit up Coronado beach, it's warm, clean and my favorite beach in CA. The only one I'll swim in. Great to walk around or ride bikes in that area too. Disneyland is not far from SD either. Monterey has the aquarium which is awesome. I could go on forever!

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    1. We just spent 10 days driving from San Francisco up to Napa then down to LA before going north again to Monterey for a wedding at Pebble Beach and I have to say, Monterey was my favorite part of the whole trip! I agree with Megan, the aquarium is awesome! It was such a quaint town and so different from the rest of the trip. I could honestly do without ever going to LA again but I would go back to Monterey in a heartbeat!

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    2. The consensus from the other comments is Megan is correct about Coronado beach, and LA sux. :-)

      I found a photo of the SOS from Superior Dairy, my cholesterol is already at 220 and is about to go 230.

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    3. It's worth it.

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    4. If you are gonna be up north, grass Valley and Nevada City are so pretty. We went there last June and stayed at Harmony Ridge Lodge. It was gorgeous with trails right behind it. Not too expensive, we used a Groupon to save cash. Our favorite Lake to stay at is Florence. We take a boat to the back to the lake where the river flows in. It's breathtaking. California done right.

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  2. I don't live anywhere near California but I visited San Diego 3 years ago and count it among my favorite vacation spots. I second Coronado beach, make sure to see the Hotel Del Coronado, eat in Little Italy, tour the naval ships, Balboa Park, the zoo, and definitely drive up Highway One. I also went to Los Angeles but don't have anything good to say about it.

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    1. Hopefully we can rent a convertible for Highway One. Will it hold up to the beauty of hogs and cornfields we see around here?

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  3. Hi Beard,
    I live in San Diego and absolutely love it. It's laid back, except on the freeway. My favorite activites are renting bikes in Coronado and riding around the island, admiring the houses, having ice cream at Moo Town (I think), going to Hotel Del Coronado (may ditch the bike as I'm not sure where you'd lock it). The San Diego Symphony has concerts on the bay throughout the summer, you can visit vineyards an hour or so north of San Diego in Temecula, go out into the country (East) to Julian to see an old mining town and hike in the nearby mountains. The tourist attractions are Sea World, the Zoo, and Safari Animal Park up North in Escondido. There is also a California Mission. Locals love Old Town, for history and restaurants. We also love Balboa Park. You can wander for hours for free or visit museums..select ones are free on Tuesdays. I would skip Seaport Village in downtown as the parking is SUPER expensive. You will need to rent a car as public transportation is just ok. You can see a Padre's game downtown. There are food trucks but not as many as somewhere like Portland, Oregon or SFO. My favorite food truck is MIHO. Sunday mornings/early afternoon farmer's market in Hillcrest is another place we love to go.

    You could catch a flight to SFO from San Diego and see the city for a couple days. I used to go to Mexico but would suggest you skip it. You'd need passports for all three of you.

    If you like astronomy, the Palomar Observatory, north of Escondido, is fun. You could go there in the morning on the way to Temecula (actually out of the way but in the same direction). Idylwild is Northeast of San Diego and a nice place to go hiking, and stay in a small town with a slower pace.

    I know I will have more ideas later...will add on as I think of other activities to do or not.

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    1. I've been reading more about San Diego, didn't realize it's considered the birthplace of California. Also one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., must be doing something right there.

      People that read this thing know I like ice cream, so far we got Superior Dairy and Moo Town (cholesterol to 240). Do you have a winery recommendation within an hour? Bogle Vineyards puts out one smooth chardonnay, but looks to be 7 hours from S.D.

      Balboa Park and Old Town yes, no to baseball and we'll double up on food trucks. All we got around here are taco trucks, authentic beef tongue/head and marinated pork for $1.50, but I look forward to more variety in CA.

      We like astronomy, look for "Probing Uranus" post on this blog and I'll add Palomar to our list.

      Very helpful info, thank you!

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    2. I thought of a few more places:

      Chino Farms...if you like great food this is the place to go. It's a farm stand but one of the best in the US or world. Alice Waters used to (still might) have her produce shipped from here. It's a Japanese family who has been farming this land for decades. They have the most variety and most perfectly ripe, delicious, organic food. It's pricy but you can get a little container of strawberries or other fruit and just enjoy it there. Some of the best restaurants in San Diego also buy their produce from Chino Farms. It's near the 5 Fwy, a little East of it, sort of near Del Mar. There's an old sign that says The Vegetable Stand or something like that.

      Market restaurant - also near Del Mar / the Fairgrounds - while I have not been here yet, it's on my list of places to eat and I've had the chef/owner's food at a previous restaurant. Friends who I've recommended it to absolutely love it. It would be a great place for a very nice dinner...say a celebration, engagement...just saying!

      Depending on when you come, there could possibly be a food truck festival. More likely you will find 4-5 at a time at an office building during lunch. http://sdfoodtrucks.com/ and http://www.sdfoodtruckmap.com/app if Curls has a smart phone.

      I'll ask around for recommendations on wineries.


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    3. This is where you punch me, we finalized plans today and landed on central CA rather than Diego. I want at least 10 days to make it count, not enough around San Diego to keep us busy that long, so switching to San Jose. My dream is break it up into thirds and spend a few days in San Fran/Napa Valley, then drive to Lake Tahoe, and finish at Yosemite. I hope it happens like that.

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    4. No worries at all! I can give you a couple San Francisco and Napa Valley recommendations too if you like!

      SFO - my local friend took me to Samovar Tea Lounge and I LOVED IT! Meals are designed around different areas of the world with teas paired to it. The idea is to turn off your phone, relax, and just enjoy your company. No pressure to rush at this place. We went to the Zen Valley location, sat on pillows around the big table and just savored a few hours away. I loved the Russian tea meal. They have specials on Groupon or another place like that. http://www.samovarlife.com/

      Napa Valley - Yountville was my favorite town; it's quaint like the Midwest! The big attraction is The French Laundry but it's difficult to get a reservation (2 months to the day you have to call as soon as the phone lines open) and will cost you an arm and a leg for your meal...once in a lifetime experience. Thomas Keller has other restaurants in town like Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, and another one he opened a few years ago (sells burgers I think). You can stroll around town and look at the coveted French Laundry garden.

      If you ever end up North of SFO, in Anderson Valley, there is the wonderful Navarro Vineyards. I haven't been there but dream of going and getting their non-alcohol red wine I had at French Laundry (splurge of my life!). If Thomas Keller is buying from them, you know they are beyond great.

      You will have a great time, especially finishing at Yosemite. Beautiful, gorgeous outdoors.

      Have fun!

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    5. One more thought! SFO has really good walking tours conducted by docents of the SFO Public Library. Definitely worth looking into while you are there. I'd skip the touristy bus rides as the "guides" can be pretty hokey, tell dumb jokes, etc.

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    6. Awesome, thank you again!

      I'll add Samovar to our list, and is Blue Bottle Coffee in San Fran the right place to go for a black Americano? We are starting to look for restaurants in that area, Curls found some good ones. Didn't know about SFO library offering tours, that's probably the right way to do it, would have missed it without you mentioning.

      Reviews people seem fond of Sonoma over Napa Valley, we'll be happy at either place.

      I'll write another post soon on where we are at building out our itinerary.

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  4. Our family of four (two adults, and two kiddos ages 5 and 9) went to San Diego during a week-long summer vacation a couple years ago. We visited Balboa Park (two -three times - couldn't get enough of it) and drove up to La Jolla to hit the beach a couple of times (get there early for parking). One of the best things we did was take surfing lessons at the Menehune Surf School - http://www.menehunesurf.com/. Very reasonably priced, they provided the wet suit and surfboard. The instructors are great and very patient.

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    1. Others here are mentioning Balboa, looks like 1,200 acres of Eden! We only have very small versions of that sort of thing around here, will make for a good post-lunch walk after eating ice cream and food trucks. I've bookmarked the surf lessons site, thanks!

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  5. Anonymous5/27/2014

    I hail from Oregon but visited Santa Cruz a couple of times. It's a really popular place for surfing and has really gorgeous beaches. Not a big city but it was really nice if you like to spend lots of time on the beach. Very close to San Jose. Also nearby is a tiny place called Capitola that was cute and had some fun shopping. We found some killer fresh produce there, though I'm sure you'd find that in many parts of CA.

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    1. I'm hoping we'll be able to visit CA again in a few years for the north and central sections. Red Woods to San Jose Silicon.

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  6. I agree with everything MMarie said! Check out Balboa Park's website (http://www.balboapark.org/) there are a variety of passes to the museums and the zoo that are a great deal. And you'll definitely need a car.

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  7. Anonymous5/27/2014

    Balboa Park was nice to walk around. The mission is fascinating. Two Catholic Churches there for Mass. Go the direction of B. Park. It may have been the Cathedral. Safe enough to walk, but EVERYONE said to avoid the one in the direction of Mexico. I'd skip the border. Too dangerous these days as gringos are targeted for ransom. Coronado...ate at some restaurant that served truffle french fries...to die for. Everything we ate there was delicious, but we were visiting and I cannot remember the name. Aircraft carrier to tour if into military history. We were surprised at how clean and nice the city was. Homeless people seemed very non-threatening.

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    1. Balboa fo' sure, nothing but net in the comments from other readers on that place. I try and catch Mass when travelling, was a cool experience in India. I wouldn't be worth much if they sell gringos by the pound, and I laughed on your last sentence.

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  8. Not sure how final your plans are, but I would recommend heading south from San Jose as far as Santa Barbara! We did a five-day road trip from Long Beach to San Francisco on the PCH/Hwy 1 a few years ago, and we really enjoyed all points Santa Barbara and north (LA was nothing to write home about). Santa Barbara itself was gorgeous, and we did a whale watching trip out of there -- we didn't see any whales, but people often do! The mission there is also incredible! Next up was Solvang, a super cute Danish village where you could easily spend an afternoon. On the drive, we made tons of stops for scenery and wildlife, including San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. Our next big stop was Moonstone Beach in Cambria and Hearst Castle in San Simeon. We live in North Carolina and have been to Biltmore Estate, which is very impressive, but Hearst Castle's scenery and finishes are so different and definitely a sight to see! The drive around Big sur is especially awesome. In the Monterey area, you would definitely want to do the 17-mile drive, visit the aquarium, and see sunset on the beach in Carmel. We stopped for more scenery in Santa Cruz, took an awesome detour to Big Basin Redwoods State Park (great way to see the redwoods without going north of San Francisco), went up to Half Moon Bay, then ended up in San Francisco and Sausalito. I loved the entire trip (once we were north of LA), and really want to go back soon, and go up into wine country, too!

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    1. I'll put up a post soon on where we are at, loose plan is 5 days in San Fran/Napa/Jose, Yosemite, and hopefully Lake Tahoe if we have enough time.

      Still learning the area, looks like Big Basin and the beach at Carmel are less than 80 miles from Francisco, so definitely doable for an day trip. Will be easy on the eyes riding HW1. In a Ford Focus.

      Solvang is 250 miles, so probably will be out if we decide to visit Lake Tahoe up north.

      Half Moon Bay is in, only 30 minutes from where we'll be staying.

      Looking forward to heading west, you've got me pumped!

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  9. I live in Orange County where there is lots to do, but since you visited Disney World recently, maybe you should see different parts of my beautiful state. You could fly into LAX, rent that convertible, and drive the PCH up the coast where you can enjoy the spectacular ocean views and visit a California Mission, see elephant seals molting (!), visit a castle (Hearst), and even see lighthouses. Stop at Nepenthe in Big Sur for lunch. Once you are in the Bay area there is the Monterey Aquarium, Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and loads of other things both you and Pigtails would love. You could then head east to Lake Tahoe, heading south to Sequoia National Park and Yosemite, then back to LAX.

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    1. I'll read more about Muir Woods, not familiar with that park, but it looks beautiful only 30 min from SF. Easy way to get our Redwood fix with a short drive. I hope we can head south to Sequoia NP, but may get the axe, with a nod to Yosemite and Tahoe north.

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  10. Anonymous5/31/2014

    You guys will love San Francisco! If you can go south for a bit, head from San Jose through the mountains to the 1 starting in Half Moon Bay. 101 will take you down to Carmel, Santa Cruz and Monterey. Lovely drive. Of course, the Aquarium in Monterey is great. Google Mystery Spot - it sounds silly but it's pretty cool. Nice hike in the Monterey woods. My kiddo is going to Frontier Camp up there in August. Beautiful farms and delicious fruit in stands along the way. SF - don't miss the Exploratorium for Pigtail, all hands on kids science center. AT&T Park to see a baseball game. Easy city to get around via transit. On the way to Napa is the Jelly Belly Factory tour!

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    1. 30 miles to Half Moon, Santa Cruz a little farther, we'll eat it up with the Pacific to our right in the econo' Ford Focus rental. Several people mentioning the Monterey Aquarium, daughter will be all over that. Will have to see if we have time on the San Fran loop. Ha, Mystery Spot, what the heck, yes to Exploritorium, the kid likes popcorn flavored Jelly Bellies (gross), and fresh product stands, FTW!

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  11. Well, since you changed your plans, this San Jose native has some recommends.
    If you actually want to see what is happening in San Jose, the Tech Museum is fun if you are interested in all things Silicon Valley. The Winchester Mystery House is a staple with spooky, interesting history and right across the street from Santa Row. The Row is like a mini Europe, with above luxury living, lots of dining choices, ritzy shopping and even a hotel and movie theatre. Nearby cute towns would include Campbell, Los Gatos (lots of dining and at the foot of Santa Cruz mountains). And you'll prob catch the view of about 100 Tesla's and handfuls of European sports cars.
    If you make your way over the mountain along windy Highway 17, you can catch some Redwoods which includes my fave spot, Big Basin. Quiet, serene and trees that will blow your mind.
    In the Santa Cruz area, my favorite town is hands down, Capitola. Gayle's Bakery, Pizza My Heart, and a view that can't be beat.
    From there you can catch the 1 and head into Half Moon Bay, or HMB for short! The Ritz per night is insane (start at $600/night) but visit during the afternoon, walk out on the golf course, sit on one of the provided adirondack chairs with a glass of wine and a s'mores kit (fire pits) for Pigtails. At sunset the bagpipe player comes out and enjoy a little slice of heaven.
    Make your way up to SF and there is too much to list. Some of my favorite spots are the much worked on Presidio area (every Sunday enjoy food truck heaven thegridsf.com), Palace of Fine Arts for a picnic, The Ferry Building at the Embarcadero (food lovers dream, try a cupcake at Miette). Pier 39 is ultra touristy. Go if you like, but you won't miss much if you don't. For museums my faves are Legion of Honor, and the De Young. Great traveling exhibits as well as permanent. Think Monet. Want the best fried chicken in the world? Go to Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern. Pricey but worth every penny. The Mission has the very entertaining Mission Delores Park. Stand in line for bread heaven from Tartine Bakery, pizza from Pizza Delfina and ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery, they have amazing sandwiches as well!
    Along the way to Napa, stop just north of SF in Saulsalito. The views from this village can't be beat.
    In Napa, my favorite spots are Yountville and St.Helena. Like mentioned above, yes anything Thomas Keller is amazing. French Laundry is a once in a lifetime event. But will knock you back at least $600 and that doesn't include wine. So, for a lesser TK splurge, try Ad Hoc. $49 pp family style and you still get the same French Laundry personal garden's fare. Gott's hamburger stop in St.Helena is a staple. The best porch to sit on and enjoy a few flights of wine would be Duckhorn. No pretension and my absolute favorite wine on this planet. Their vineyard cat will even saunter up for a visit.
    Oh and if you do make it down to Monterey, absolutely the Aquarium. It's super educational and at the same time, an eye feast. The outer bay exhibit?? Breath taking. The jellies? They put me in a trance. Carmel beaches are pretty fabulous as well...I hope my tips are helpful! I'm such a proud Californian and can talk about it all day!

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    1. Son of a biscuit, always changing plans and making a mess of things!

      I'm a computer programmer, so Silicon Valley is on my nerd list. A friend from Iowa migrated west to work at Google, planning to tour there, plus really want to meet Elon at Tesla.

      Looked at Capitola pics just now, what in tarnation, that place looks crazy, a good crazy. Pizza, bagpipes, I'll read through the rest and respond tomorrow, getting sleepy now.

      Nice of you to help, thanks.

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  12. For the Napa portion, definitely head up through Yountville/St. Helena and check out the Castello di Amorosa, its an authentically styled 13th century castle and they offer an awesome tour that takes you through the castle and down into the cellars where they store the barrels of wine. At the end of the tour you can do wine/grape juice tastings, its really cool! There are also farm animals outside and beautiful grounds to walk on. The owner of that winery also owns V. Sattui just down the road and they do an awesome weekend BBQ that is a little more reasonable price wise for a meal!

    http://www.castellodiamorosa.com/
    http://www.vsattui.com/Visit-Us/Weekend-BBQ

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  13. Aaah, thank you Jessica for apparently following us about on our favorite vacations. :-) She gave you magnificent advice.

    I will add a couple of other things in that area that make us visit every year.
    ~Between Santa Cruz and Big Basin is the town of Felton, which is home to the Fall Creek Limekiln hike. My favorite hike ever. I have done it so many times and every time it is glorious and lush. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=25157
    ~Don't miss Muir Woods in Mill Valley, and don't go on a weekend. http://www.nps.gov/muwo/index.htm
    ~Pt Reyes Station is near Mill Valley. It is quaint, and home to the Cowgirl Creamery http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/ and a scone from the Bovine Bakery that was so good we named it. http://www.thebovinebakery.com/ This area is also home to the Pt Reyes Lighthouse. Loads of stairs to climb while you ponder why Jack went crazy in The Shining. http://www.nps.gov/pore/historyculture/people_maritime_lighthouse.htm

    In San Francisco, again Jessica nailed it. You can make a fabulous time of it following her itinerary. I agree, skip Pier 39, and the morning buns at Tartine are like non other. Also, there is a pirate store and a curiosity shop right in that area. My son won a golden coin for dancing a drunken Irish jig in the pirate store. Just saying. Also in that same area of the Mission district you will find La Taqueria, worth the wait. Remember San Francisco can be quite cold in the summer.

    Have a fabulous time. Can't wait to read about your adventures.

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Thanks for the note, check back for my response!