I get word from Barber RV back in Ventura that my parts are due to arrive on Tuesday, and I have an appointment to go “up on the rack” first thing Wednesday morning. So I decide to break camp at San Simeon continuing north with the intent to make Monterey my turn around point for my long weekend getaway. I have no reservations for Saturday night, but figure I can always come inland a few miles and book some “highway hotel.”
After many scenic vista points and stops for photos along Highway 1, I am losing daylight as I approach Monterey, so I decide to put my sightseeing on hold and start looking for a place for the night. I am all the way to Salinas before I see a group of highway hotels, so I stop at Motel 6. There is a line of three people in front of me, all waiting to hear the same news, “Sorry, we’re sold out tonite. So is the Quality Inn next door. You might try the Super 8 across the street.” (Why does no one post the neon “Vacancy” signs anymore?) All three people in front of me turn and head for their cars, so I decide to take off running across the street to the Super 8 in hopes of beating them there. I get the last room….at $154 a night! It is more than I have ever paid for a hotel room in my life….for a Super 8. When I go back to get my car still in the Motel 6 parking lot, I ask the guy coming out of the office if he had a reservation, and would he mind my asking how much he paid for his room, to which he replied, “Two hundred fourteen dollars!!! I still can’t believe I did it, but I had no choice.” He tells me Monterey has several events going on this weekend, including a Grassroots Reggae festival and an international paddling competition. I feel lucky to have landed the last room. No wonder the RV industry is booming.
There’s much to see in Monterey. It has an unexpected charm for a city of its size. I head for the famed “Cannery Row,” named for Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner, local native John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel about life during the sardine packing era of the 30’s and 40’s. The area is now one of the two greatest tourist draws, along with nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. I stroll the waterfront lined with tourist shops and restaurants, while eking out the last bits of daylight before dinner.
With only a day to explore Monterey, I can’t begin to scratch the surface. I get an early start by exploring a few local landmarks such as John Steinbeck’s beautiful childhood Victorian home in Salinas. Built in 1897, this was Steinbeck’s birthplace where he lived until age 17 when he left for Stanford University. He wrote several novels and short stories from behind the upstairs front window, including Tortilla Flat.
But I must prioritize my one day, so I forgo visiting the National Steinbeck Center and head for the heart of Monterey, the rugged coastline along the beautiful Monterey Bay. I pace along Asilomar State Beach while eagerly waiting for the main attraction to open. One might expect this to be the notable Monterey Bay Aquarium, but having spent many of my travels beneath the sea, aquariums are too much like zoos. No, I am watching the clock for 1:00pm when the Point Pinos Lighthouse opens for tours.
Built in 1855, Point Pinos is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. Though the original whale oil flame has long since been replaced with an electric bulb, the Third Order Fresnel Lens still serves to amplify the electric bulb as the active navigational aid today. The lens was one of the first two Fresnel lenses shipped to California. The interior of the lighthouse has been restored to the period when a solo woman, Emily Fish, served as Light Keeper from 1893 to 1914.
Having “hopscotched” over certain areas in order to make my San Simeon Campground reservation, I stop along my return to visit places I missed. I time my visit to arrive in the beachside town of Cayucos for an early lunch at Ruddell’s Smokehouse, famous for their smoked albacore tuna and salmon tacos on a tip, “Get there when they open, because they WILL run out!” Add a cookie for dessert from the Brown Butter Cookie Company just up the street, and Cayucos is a worthy destination not to be missed.
I spend my last afternoon along Highway 1 exploring Morro Bay, “the Gibraltar of the Pacific.” My expectations before arriving in Morro Bay are that it will be a bit of a snooty seaside town, much like Carmel. But I find instead it has more of a “fisherman’s charm” with its active Embarcadero and beautiful beachside path to the iconic Morro Rock. Were it not for the unsightly power plant that dominates the view, Morro Bay would certainly be every bit the “Jewel” that Walt Disney’s “Dory” remembered it to be.
Post Script: Please excuse what equates to “Instamatic” quality of photos, as Canon Repair has now had my camera for going on six weeks for their promised “7 to 10 day turnaround.”