Monday, August 23, 2010

Pacific Coast Fun: Up the Coast to Hearst Castle

Vandenberg AFB is one of our favorite launching points for some Pacific Coast Highway Fun. My parents were in San Francisco, so when they suggested we meet somewhere on the coast for the weekend Vandenberg was the perfect launching point for a mid-summer adventure.

We drove up from Edwards in record time and were able to meet my parents, who had spent the day winding down Hwy 1, for dinner. We decided to hit up The Hitching Post II, made famous in the movie Sideways, based solely on the fact that we knew where it was. The Hitching Post surpassed all expectations and was a perfect pick for some hungry travelers. The meals here are large – you pick an entree and it comes with an appetizer, salad or soup and the entree. Jeff and I split a meal where I ate the app and the salad and he at the entire. They also put some fresh veggies on the table to start. If you’re a wine drinker don’t miss the wines made in house. We shared a nice rose from the Hitching Post’s wine label.

Vandenberg lodging is very comfortable – if you call ahead you can request “The Sideways Room” which is decorated in Sideways memorabilia. All the rooms are done well and the beds here are the most comfortable of any AF lodging we have stayed in. There is a Starbucks walking distance from the hotel, but its only open on weekdays. (To find the Starbucks, follow the path between the lodging buildings toward the club.)

Day one of our adventure took us up the PCH to Hearst Castle. You will need to reserve tickets to Hearst Castle in advance since they often sell out. We followed almost the same itinerary as when we ventured up the coast a few months earlier to see the butterflies. We booked 2pm tours giving us the morning and most of the afternoon to get up the coast.

The first stop was San Luis Obispo where we visited bubblegum alley, the Old Mission San Luis Obispo and the creek walk. The San Luis Obispo Historical Museum, housed in the old library, is also worth a quick peek. On our visit the museum housed an exhibit on SLO weddings. San Luis Obispo is a great lodging alternative to base – filled with little bed and breakfasts and Inn’s. On a previous trip Jeff and I stayed at Petit Soleli.

Heading further up the coast we made a stop in one of budget travel’s coolest small towns – Cayucos, CA. We picked up lunch at the Old Cayucos Bakery and Deli – all their sandwiches come with this amazing salad – for a picnic further up the coast. We stopped in at The Brown Butter Cookie Co for some sweet treats. (The honey cookies were the group favorite.) Then we wondered over to the Cayucos Pier where there was a farmers market going on – we purchased some hummus and tubule to round out our picnic fair, loaded the car and headed up the coast.

Right outside the gates of Hearst Castle, on the other side of Hwy 1, is a great little picnic spot and state park. It’s the site of the old pier that Hearst used to get all the people and gear to his castle. Up top there are bathrooms and lots of picnic tables. If you have time you can wonder down the path to the beach, which usually has some seals sunning themselves. On this occasion our time was limited so we ate our lunch and headed across the Hwy.

Hearst Castle always seems to be crowded – so leave time to find a parking space and get your tickets. My parents booked tickets on the Introductory Tour (Tour 1), but since we had been there before Jeff and I went on the Upper Floors of Casa Tour (Tour 2). As the name suggests we saw the upper floors of the big house and got a much better picture of the life Hearst lead at the castle. It was much more informative then the Introductory Tour. After meeting back up with my parents at the Visitors Center we got back on the bus, this time as a group, and went on the new, self-guided, “Your Gardens and Vistas” tour. This tour allows you to roam around the outside grounds until sunset. This was amazing – strolling the grounds peering into the house windows and climbing all the stairs. You almost felt like you were a guest at the Castle. If you have the chance to do this self-guided tour it is well worth it.

The only downside to Hearst Castle in the evening is trying to find dinner after. Jeff found Madeline's in Cambria that is a wine bar by day and a restaurant in the evening. With a local menu this was a perfect little romantic dinner place. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep on the way back to Vandenberg because the next thing I knew we were pulling through the gates.

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