THE PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY

A road journey from LOS ANGELES to CARMEL

DECEMBER 27, 2012 - JANUARY 3, 2013

'The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.' 

- John Steinbeck -

We have a few days up our sleeves ahead of travelling to Cuba to embark on a tour. Getting to Cuba is a bit tricky from Australia, so we have to fly first to the United States before flying to Cuba via Mexico. Always trying to maximise our travel experience, we decide to take a leisurely drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles, spending some time in Santa Barbara and Carmel, with a short stay in San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle.

DAY ONE: LOS ANGELES TO SANTA BARBARA

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2012

Highlights: breakfast at Joe's Cafe, dinner at Aldo's

Total distance: 173 kms

Accommodation: Hotel Santa Barbara - 533 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Car Hire: Alamo (LA Airport)

After being cooped up in an aeroplane for fifteen hours, and another hour spent clearing customs and security, I'm excited about taking a short trip up the coast to relax and to recover from our journey so far. I always factor in a few days at each end of our holidays to cater for unexpected delays and to give us time to acclimatise ourselves to our new surroundings. Like time travellers, we've arrived in Los Angeles about an hour before we left Australia yesterday, or was it today? Never mind, we'll lose the day on our way home.

Collecting a 'buzz-box' from the Alamo rental yard a few kilometres from the airport, I set the GPS and select the fastest route to Santa Barbara. The freeway is the quickest option, which is probably a good idea since I've had little sleep over the past day. 

 

The little car leaps into the seven-lane freeway and we head north towards our day's destination, just 173 kilometres away. Within a few short minutes, as the umpteenth very large truck passes me, I realise that hiring the cheapest car in the yard is probably the wrong choice. Yes, fuel economy is excellent, but my knuckles are literally white as I grasp the steering wheel to fight against the sucking wind caused by speeding trucks as they pass. Remember, I'm also driving on the wrong side of the road, and sitting in the 'right' lane is doing my head in, since here, this is the 'slow' lane. I know I'll get used to it within a short time.

 

Our room at the centrally-located Hotel Santa Barbara is not ready when we arrive. I suppose I should have advised the hotel we are arriving early! We walk across the road to the iconic Joe's Cafe for brunch - iconic because it displays the only neon sign in the historic centre of the city. Mexican-style chilli-scrambled eggs and strong coffee help keep my eyes open, but not for long. I break my own rules and, as soon as our room is ready, take a 'nana-nap'. I may regret it later.

Santa Barbara's State Street is alive with Christmas cheer; decorations and a Christmas tree provide a festive atmosphere as we take a walk along the street and admire the store windows as the shadows lengthen and the lights begin to twinkle. Travel to the United States at this time of the year is special as the streets and stores are so beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays.

 

Today's lazy day will be replaced with a busier one tomorrow, but for now, I'm more than satisfied to explore the city's centre. Aldo's Italian restaurant provides a nice menu and we decide to try it out. Whilst Tom opts for steak, as usual, I'm most excited to find one of my favourite 'unique-to-California' dishes on the menu. Cioppino, a stew in tomato sauce, which includes locally caught fresh seafood in a bowl with sourdough bread to mop up the soupy remnants.

 

It's been a long start to our holiday and a good night's rest tonight will provide us with the energy needed to start exploring the city of Santa Barbara tomorrow.

DAY TWO: SANTA BARBARA

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2012

Highlights: Trolley Tour, Santa Barbara Beach, Stearns Wharf, 

Total distance: 0kms

Accommodation: Hotel Santa Barbara - 533 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

We are still in 'relaxed' mode, and start the day much later than anticipated. I'll blame jet lag!

We join other winter tourists at Stearns Wharf to catch a 'Trolley Tour', which will take us around the city of Santa Barbara. I love these tours because within an hour or two, we can familiarise ourselves with a city. The commentary usually includes an overview of the history and, of course, its gossip.

Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara's first settlers had been the Chumash Native American people. They were living here when Spanish missionaries and soldiers arrived in 1782 to fortify the region against the English and Russians and to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.

When I was a child, one of my favourite shows on television had been Daniel Boone. Each week we had been enthralled by the adventures of the pioneer, mountain man, and American folk hero. Actor Fess Parker played the title role, so memories of this beloved television show are revived when we pass the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort; a hotel and convention centre. Fess Parker, it seems, is a much-loved local resident. We continue our tour through the historic centre of town, where the Presidio stands. Built in 1782 as a military installation, it is one of four such complexes built in California by the Spanish; the other three being in San Diego, Monterey, and San Francisco. Today it's a museum and State Historical Park. As our bus weaves through the residential streets, the home of the Singer sewing machine family is pointed out, as is the mansion belonging to Ty Warner, the man who made a fortune from manufacturing Beanie Babies. 

After the 1925 earthquake, which virtually destroyed the city centre, civic leader, Pearl Chase, convinced planners to rebuild in the Spanish Colonial Revival style inspired by the Old Mission. This replaced the misaligned streets and inconsistent block sizes, resulting in a beautifully planned city.

The last stop of the tour is the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in 1786 by Franciscan Father Fermin Lasuen, it was the tenth mission built for the purpose of converting the indigenous Chumash people to Christianity. This mission is the only one that remains under the leadership of the Franciscan friars and is still an active parish church today.  Inside the church are sculptures and paintings by the Chumash people. These are unique artworks, which link the artistic skills of an indigenous nation with subject-matter not of their culture. However, the preservation of this art within the church chronicles an important event in the history of the region. It's not my place to comment on the wheres and whys of religious conversion, but I can appreciate the paintings as an important relic of the era. The Mission's cemetery and mausoleum includes the remains of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, the main character depicted in Scott O'Dell's children's novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins

Our tour ends at Stearns Wharf and we decide to walk the length of the wharf to find a place to enjoy a cup of coffee, whilst overlooking the peaceful water. Despite the blue skies and pleasant weather, the wind is chilly and it would be nice to find some shelter whilst enjoying a hot drink. We find that place at Moby Dick's. Although almost deserted and with incredibly slow service, we are quite happy to lose ourselves in the ocean view, since we are not in a hurry.

As we make our way back along the wharf towards State Street, I notice a sculpture of a Buddha beautifully crafted out of sand on the beach below. Paying the sculptor a modest tip, I ask permission to take a photo. I've met this man a couple of times previously, in 2009 and just a few weeks ago. His sculptures are always exquisite, but he's not always as friendly as he is today. I feel sorry for him, and for those who, through homelessness or mental-health issues, are vulnerable. I'm just glad that today seems to be a good day for him. 

DAY THREE: SANTA BARBARA TO SAN SIMEON

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2012

Highlights: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Old Stone Station Restaurant, Cambria

Total distance: 417 kms

Accommodation: Quality Inn Near Hearst Castle - 9260 Castillo Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452

We have to be in San Simeon by this evening. But we decide to take a detour to the Simi Valley, which is perhaps a little closer to Los Angeles than Santa Barbara, and in the opposite direction to our intended destination today. We bid farewell to Santa Barbara and drive away from the coast and into the mountains.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is situated at the top of a steep hill in the Simi Valley. We are surprised to find the carparks full and eventually have to turn around and park near the base of the hill. A shuttle bus collects us and deposits us at the entrance of the library building; a long queue snakes around the forecourt. 

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is a repository for the presidential records collected during the administration of Ronald Reagan. It is also the location of his last resting place. The largest of the federally-operated presidential libraries, it contains millions of documents, photographs, films, and tapes, and is a permanent exhibition of President Reagan's life.

Despite the crowds, we enjoy exploring the many exhibits displayed here. A full-scale replica of the White House's Oval Office, including a copy of the Resolute desk are featured. Outside, there is a re-creation of part of the White House lawn on which a portion of the Berlin Wall stands. Most poignant is the final resting place of the President; a simple tomb overlooking the magnificent valley. Nancy Reagan will also be buried here next to her husband when the time comes.

All too soon, we realise that we will have to skip some of the major exhibits, like the Air Force One aircraft because we have a four-hour journey ahead of us. I'm sorry that we didn't know about this wonderful place before today, or else we would have arranged to spend an entire day here.

We join the highway and travel north again. There is not enough time to stop for anything and our little car makes fairly good time . As we return to Highway 101, the narrow road slows us somewhat, giving me time to enjoy the coastal scenery as the shadows lengthen and the day begins to fade. 

There is no fuel in the tiny township of San Simeon, so a quick stop in Cambria tops up the car and provides an opportunity to grab a quick meal at the Old Stone Station restaurant.

DAY FOUR: SAN SIMEON

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2012

Highlights: Hearst Castle

Total distance:  0 kms

Accommodation: Quality Inn Near Hearst Castle - 9260 Castillo Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452

We have booked two tours of Hearst Castle today; the first one is at 10 o'clock this morning. From the visitor centre, it is difficult to imagine there is a huge house on top of the hill behind because it's not immediately visible. Security is tight so each tour group must travel together by shuttle to meet the designated tour guide.

The Grand Rooms tour transports us back back in time to when the building was started. Conceived by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle was built between 1919 and 1947. William Hearst was a compulsive collector of stuff; ceilings and furniture from Spanish churches, Egyptian artifacts, and other priceless 17th century European artworks. Together there are approximately 22,000 art pieces, including tapestries, silverwork, and ancient Greek pottery. Some rooms had to be redesigned by Julia Morgan to cater for specific artefacts. The whole effect is mind-boggling. Although everything had been purchased legitimately oftentimes through art galleries, I cannot help but wonder how any one country could allow such art treasures such as these to leave Europe. Since Hearst Castle is now an historic site, the contents are accessible to the public and together they tell the story about the eccentricities of one man and his ability to have them built into this remarkable house. The Grand Rooms tour includes stories about specific artworks and furnishings. Additionally the magnificent Christmas trees and decorations make these rooms not only look lived-in but welcoming.

 

The Upstairs Suites tour takes us into the upstairs to bedrooms, bathrooms, the library, and Hearst's private study. These rooms are no less impressive with priceless artworks displayed. Starting at an external side door, we climb a spiral staircase to the second floor. Our guide provides us with small bits of gossipy information about some of the guests, whilst at the same time, points out some of the magnificently displayed items of interest. The advantage of taking the upstairs tour is the ability to view the grounds from this elevation through the large windows. Here, we gain a different perspective not only of the property, but of the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The last room we visit on this floor is the library. The expansive room is lined with bookshelves, filled with old and probably very valuable tomes. They look impressive, nonetheless.  Upstairs, on the third floor, we visit the private quarters of William Hearst and Marion Davies. The two separate bedrooms are functional, albeit much smaller than I expect. Hearst's private study is a huge room; its vaulted ceiling resembles the ribcage of a whale. The arches provide a sense of space in the dark timbered room. I feel as though these items really belong in a medieval castle somewhere in Europe, but their presence here are no less impressive. Below the bell towers are two additional guest rooms; decked out in gold and with patios that provide magnificent views. However, our guide tells us that when the bells ring, the sound reverberates through the rooms, making it quite unpleasant for the guests.

We leave the house and explore the extensive grounds. The gardens, guest houses, and the magnificent Neptune pool are not only beautiful but provide a view of the Pacific Ocean that is second to none. Our last stop before returning to the visitor centre is the blue and gold indoor Roman pool. It's hard to believe that anyone could afford such opulent surroundings. The thought of such wealth is mind-boggling, but yet, here it is.

I'm interested to notice that many parts of this folly are not completely finished, and on a closer look at many of the features, there is little finesse, but the 'big picture' view is one of fabulous wealth and the hedonistic lifestyle of one of the richest people in the world of the time.

Back at the visitor centre, we watch the forty-minute documentary on the history of this amazing place. As a tourist attraction, Hearst Castle provides an insight into the life of a very private and wealthy man. I am sure that it had not been his intention to have it open to the public in this manner, but it is a fine and very well-organised museum, which provides a glimpse into the life of one of the most famous American newspaper moguls. I'm now curious about Julia Morgan and am interested in finding out whether she has designed other buildings in this region of California.

It's time to visit the beach areas surrounding San Simeon, including the elephant seal viewing area. We can certainly smell and hear the seals before we actually see them and enjoy a short time observing their antics before the cool breeze sends us back to our hotel. 

This part of California is amazing. Not only are there places of exquisite natural beauty, but there is a much to learn about the complex history of the region. No matter how often I have travelled along the Pacific Coast of California, and this is the fourth time I've driven along this highway, I discover something new each time. 

DAY FIVE: SAN SIMEON TO CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA

MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2012

Highlights: zebras, Bixby Bridge, Californian coastline

Total distance: 147 kms

Accommodation: Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea, Ocean Ave & Torres St, Carmel, CA 93921

Yesterday, I had seen a book on the life of Julia Morgan. It includes information about some of the 700 buildings designed by her in the United States. Of course, I had baulked at buying it whilst we were at Hearst Castle yesterday, not because of the price, but because we will have to carry it in our luggage to Cuba and back again. After procrastinating, I decide to return this morning and purchase the book. I will, at some time, slip it into Tom's case so I don't have to carry it. That's fair, after all, his luggage is always lighter than mine!

We probably spend far too long at the Visitor Centre, but we don't have very far to travel today, although the coast road is rather slow due to the narrow, winding road and the temptation to pull off just to admire the views. As we depart the Visitor Centre and join the road to travel north, I catch sight of a herd of zebras grazing on the Hearst land near the road.

Amongst other things, William Hearst had installed a zoo on the property, providing visitors to Hearst Castle the thrill of seeing exotic animals on their drive up to the house. As well as menagerie cages, which housed bears, big cats, chimpanzees, orangutans, a tapir and an elephant, and a variety of imported exotic birds, there was a large fenced-off zone for herbivores, which included deer, camels, kangaroos, bighorn sheep, musk ox, and zebras. The zoo had to be dismantled when Hearst experienced financial difficulties and many of the animals had been sold or donated to zoos. The dispersal of the animals had been largely completed by the time of Hearst's death, with the exception of deer, elk, llamas, and the zebras, which were permitted to remain in the wide open spaces. 

It's time to move on.

The Pacific Coast Highway is listed as one of the major iconic roads in the United States of America. I have driven along this highway on a number of occasions in both directions. Today's northward journey means that our views are not as good as we are on the inside lane, rather than hugging the sheer cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean. However, there are a number of stops to make, including the Bixby Bridge, a single-span concrete arch more than 80 metres high and 200 metres long. It is one of the most photographed bridges in California. Before the opening of the bridge in 1932, residents of the Big Sur area were cut off during the winter due to the often-impassable Old Coast Road. This section of the road is susceptible to landslides and is often closed for repairs. Today, there are hold-ups on the road due to a recent landslide, and we must wait our turn to pass in sections where only one lane is available. 

The day is clear and the sea is flat. We could not have wished for better weather for travelling along this road, and we pull off just north of the Bixby Bridge to enjoy the magnificent views; the coast in front of us and snow-capped mountains to the east.

We arrive in the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, settling into our centrally-located hotel in the early afternoon. It is New Year's Eve, and we've realised that eating out may be a problem since all the better-quality restaurants have been pre-booked. Since lunch was a non-event today, we settle on an early last-dinner-of-2012. With good intentions of staying up to see in the new year, however, we are fast asleep before the fireworks start.

DAY SIX: CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA/17-MILE DRIVE

TUESDAY, JANUARY 01, 2013

Highlights: zebras, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 17 Mile Drive, Asilomar  Convention Centre , John Denver Memorial

Total distance: 35 kms

Accommodation: Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea, Ocean Ave & Torres St, Carmel, CA 93921

We wake up to a perfect winter's day; dark blue skies, no wind, and no need for a coat as we walk down Ocean Street towards the beach. Here, we find throngs of locals and their dogs enjoying the idyllic weather on a perfect beach. This coastline is rugged; large rocks, not too far from the shore, are a hazard to the surfers, but provide a huge great interest when swollen waves hit them with force. We walk along the beach, noting the golf course on a peninsula across the bay. From where we are standing, we can see golfers in their buggies riding to the next hole. Dark reddish-brown seaweed dumped on the sand provides a novelty for dogs, as they drive their noses into the centre of the tangled weed.

We are staying in the village, a 2.5 square-kilometre (one square mile) historic area, often described as a 'village in a forest overlooking a white beach'. Incorporated in 1916, the initial buildings had been constructed by artists, and by 1925, steps had been taken to retain its village atmosphere. Today, quirky homes and shops add to the character of the township and it presents itself as a happy and friendly place to visit. There are some city laws, which may appear strange to a newcomer:

New buildings must be constructed around existing trees, and new trees are required to be planted on land that is deemed not to have and adequate number. Businesses, cottages, and houses have no street numbers, resulting in no mail deliveries. The buildings must, however have a name, and in the event of a fire or if an ambulance is required, a complex geographical addressing system has been implemented. The formula used for geographical addressing lists the street, cross street, and the number of houses from the intersection. Outside of the village area, normal street addresses are used. You must obtain a permit to wearing shoes with a heel taller than 5.1 centimetres. Brought into law in 1963 to protect the city from lawsuits resulting from wearers of high heels tripping over the uneven footpaths distorted by tree roots, a permit is issued free-of-charge from the City Hall.

I have absolutely no need of a permit; my runners have no heels. We explore many shops along Ocean Street, eventually finding a bakery that not only offers an array of delicious breads, but they also make a good coffee - as long as you only order a cafe latte. We return to the hotel and sit in the sun whilst enjoying our light lunch. The day is still fine and we spend the afternoon driving along the 17-Mile Drive; a privately-owned road that follows the coast to the town of Pacific Grove, near Monterey.

The 17-mile drive is probably one of the world's most scenic stretches of road. It hugs the Pacific coastline from Carmel to Pacific Grove. The modest US$10.00 fee to use the road includes a brochure outlining the scenic features of the peninsula, such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, and the Pebble Beach Golf Course. Each of the stops is numbered and provides a specific view. We stop at each one, and whilst we enjoy the scenery at each scenic viewing area, some views are better than others. 

At the first stops at Shepherd's Knoll and Huckleberry Hill, I'm surprised to find that I'm overlooking fairly large cypress forests; Spanish moss is draped upon the branches, which is an indication of the amount of rain this area receives annually. I'm glad that it's a fine day today. We stop at turnout number 6, Restless Sea, and cannot think of a more appropriate name for this spot. Waves swell and smash over the large rocks in the water, creating white foamy spray that resembles delicate lace. I'd like to witness the 'restless sea' when the ocean is more turbulent.

At Point Joe, I'm amused to see cypress trees bent over almost horizontally; a result of the strong winds, which prevail at this location. In between the rocks, I can see a tiny section of the golf course; the players must cross the road to play the hole in the flat top of a rocky outcrop. I wonder how many balls are mistakenly shot into the swirling water below. China Rock marks the spot where a Chinese fishing village once stood. Here I find a curious squirrel warming himself on a rock. There are cormorants and ravens amongst other birds pecking between the rocks for food and quite oblivious to our presence.

I drag my eyes away from the magnificent coastline to view the residences along the road. This is a gated community, which is now operated by the Pebble Beach Corporation. I see a quaint Disneyesque home across the road, and despite it's 'gingerbread house' features, it appears to be abandoned. A quarter-turn provides a view of large homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean and built to take advantage of the wonderful, unobstructed view.

The Lone Cypress stands on a granite hillside and is probably the most-photographed tree in North America. Possibly as old as 250 years, the cypress has been scarred by fire and has been held in place with cables for 65 years. A drawing of the Lone Cypress is the official logo of the Pebble Beach Company; the image was registered as a trademark in 1919. 

We continue our drive, stopping at the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Club and spend a little while wandering around the beautifully-maintained gardens surrounding the clubhouse and hotel. A large plaque features the names of the winners of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament, and we are interested to see that Greg Norman and Kerry Packer won the competition in 1992. Not a golf fan, I can still appreciate the skills needed to play the game. As we return to our car before exiting the peninsula, we notice a deer grazing on the lush grass. This scene reminds me of an incident in 2009, when driving to visit a friend, who lives in nearby Monterey, three deer jumped over a suburban fence and trotted down the road - right in front of me. It was at this time I realised that since deer in suburbia is such a common sight, is it any wonder people from overseas think that kangaroos are just as common in our cities and towns. Just a thought.

We exit this beautiful area of California and turn into Asilomar Avenue. We are on this street for two reasons. Turning into a grey granite gateway, we drive along the wooded driveway into the Asilomar Conference Grounds. Built in 1913 as a YWCA Leadership Camp, it is nestled in 43.3 (107 acres) hectares of the 'Refuge by the Sea' State Park. The conference centre has a long history, which is interesting in itself, but we are here to see some of the thirteen remaining structures designed by Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928. It's easy to see how progressive her designs were and with her use of timber and stone, they blend beautifully into the environment. It's worth noting here that the YWCA held a contest to name the property in 1913. The winning entry came from a student, Helen Salisbury, who made up the word Asilomar from the Spanish words 'asilo', meaning retreat or refuge and 'mar' meaning sea, hence refuge-by-the-sea.

We don't have enough time to properly explore this expansive site, but I'd like to come back one day and do just that. We exit the conference centre grounds and travel along Asilomar Avenue to the very end, where it meets Ocean View Boulevard. The Pacific Grove Marine Garden Park is located at this spot. It is also the location of the John Denver Memorial. On October 12, 1997, in the sea facing this Pacific Grove beach, John Denver's plane crashed, killing him instantly. The people of Monterey and beyond have designated this as a memorial to John Denver. A large piece of driftwood lies on the beach; John's name carved by Jeffrey Pine, a singer/songwriter from Colorado. As I stare out over the rocky shore, the sky begins to turn a shade of pink as the sun dips below the horizon. The day has remained calm and sunny, but a cold breeze reminds me it is wintertime and it's also time to return to Carmel, just twelve kilometres away, on the regular road. 

DAY SEVEN: CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA TO GILROY

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 02, 2013

Highlights: Cannery Row, Dole and Del Monte farmland outside Monterey, Castroville, Gilroy, Salinas

Total distance: 141 kms (round trip)

Accommodation: Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea, Ocean Ave & Torres St, Carmel, CA 93921

I cannot believe how perfect the weather has been so far. At this time of the year, the days are unpredictable; winter rain and fog are usually the elements to be wary of. But this past week has been as close to perfect as possible. Today is no exception.

It's no secret that this part of the central Californian coast is home to a large number of well-known people. Doris Day owns a Bed and Breakfast and is often seen walking her beloved dogs along the beach, whilst actor and filmmaker of note, Clint Eastwood was elected mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1986. He also bought the historic 1880s Mission Ranch to save the property from developers and has since restored it. The restaurant is open to the public and we may eat there tonight.

This region is not only a haven for actors, but is culturally rich in all the arts, including writers. Salinas-born Nobel literature prize winner, John Steinbeck, lived here for much of his life and his novels clearly reflect his love of this Northern Californian region. His novels, many of which feature the plight of the itinerant and migrant farm workers during the Depression years are perhaps as relevant today as they were then. The gritty subject matter of many of his novels, along with recognisable descriptions of the region are easy to relate to as we drive through the middle of Monterey's Cannery Row. This part of town was renamed to honour Steinbeck and his novel of the same name. Cannery Row was set during the Great Depression on a street lined with sardine canneries. Many of them still exist, albeit converted into tourist spots, restaurants, and souvenir stores. Once inside one of the buildings, it's not hard to imagine people working shoulder-to-shoulder on a canning production line, earning little during the Great Depression. Written whilst Steinbeck was living in nearby Pacific Grove, the novel brings to life the many people he knew and worked with. Most prominent is Doc, a marine biologist, who was based upon Steinbeck's best friend, Ed Rickett, whose laboratory was located at 800 Cannery Row.

We don't linger here for long; just enough to purchase a copy of Cannery Row to take home as a souvenir.

A recurring theme through most of Steinbeck's novels and novellas is the plight of the poor farm labourer, and as leave Monterey's city limits we almost immediately find ourselves surrounded by large strawberry and vegetable farms. The sand dunes on our left must protect this flat, fertile plain from the ravages of wind and salt. Hundreds of workers bend over straight lines of lettuces and strawberries in vast fields; conveyor belts process lettuces nearby, whilst boxes of strawberries are left at the end of each row for collection. Although it's winter, there appears to be plenty of activity here. I notice the farms are operated by large corporations like Dole and Del Monte. Del Monte has a long history in California and was the original owner of the Del Monte hotel and the Pebble Beach Golf Course in the 1880s. 

We follow the highway away from the coast and shortly after, arrive in Castroville. As its name suggests, it was originally part of the Mexican Land Grant given in 1844. After the Mexican-American war in 1848, when California was ceded to the United States, the town of Castroville was founded and named after the original owner of the land, María Antonia Pico de Castro. Despite its small size, Castroville is an important agricultural centre and is the artichoke capital of California. Each year in May, the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival is held in the town and serves up artichokes in every possible way. A highlight of the festival is the selection of the Artichoke Queen; the first of whom was Marilyn Monroe in 1948. There is an interesting Chinese history in the town. Where many of the other small agricultural centres did not welcome the Chinese immigrants to work in their areas, Castroville sort-of welcomed them. By that, I mean that when an economic boycott of Chinese workers by a small group of businesses took place, the farmers and landowners of Castroville would not be intimidated or act 'un-American'. The Chinese contractors had made large contributions to the area, especially in the agriculture, railroad, and fishing industries. Eventually, since the Chinese and other immigrants were ineligible for citizenship, they moved away from here and went to set up Chinatown in San Francisco. 

Again, John Steinbeck's Cannery Row not only explores the immigrant and itinerant workers, but specifically explores the roles of Chinese grocer, Lee Chong and another character known only as The Chinaman, not only highlighting the injustices shown, but also how Lee Chong was able to successfully provide goods even under impossible circumstances.

Visiting the settings of the novels I read at school, such as those by John Steinbeck, provides a new and better context to the story, so today's excursion is not just a throughway to a destination or a means to an end, but a valuable reconnection with an author I hadn't thought about since leaving school. Perhaps all secondary school students need to visit the settings of novels in their prescribed reading lists to better acquaint them with the context, thus making the novels more meaningful. 

As we leave Castroville behind us and drive further east towards the Santa Clara Valley, we notice the change in landscape. Gilroy, 70 kilometres from our starting point in Carmel-by-the-Sea, is the garlic capital of the world. The annual Garlic Festival occurs from the last Friday in July and lasts for three days. Gilroy is also known for its mushroom-production and there are a number of boutique wineries surrounding the town. We are not here to taste garlic ice-cream or to find references to Gilroy in Steinbeck's novels. We are here to visit the Gilroy Premium Outlets, an Aladdin's Cave or shopper's paradise of retail bargains, where we spend a pleasant few hours picking up a few things we need for the next part of this trip; our visit to Cuba. 

On our return journey to Carmel-by-the-sea, we pass through Salinas, the birthplace of John Steinbeck. Just thirteen kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, the marine climate is suitable for the growing of flowers, vegetables, and grapes. Again, we come across another 'world-class' town; this time for being the 'salad bowl of the world'. 

In the 1850s, a junction of two main stage-coach routes was located along the big bend of the river. In 1854, a post office was opened at this junction and was named Salinas after the original Rancho Las Salinas name for the area. From there, a township grew as the grazing land was converted to crops and the railroad was established to transport goods and people. Swamplands in the area were drained by Chinese immigrants, providing fertile agricultural land for mainly root vegetables. The culturally-diverse Salinas provided a regional flavour to Steinbeck's novels and his memories of his childhood hometown provided an authenticity to his works. This is particularly true of novella Of Mice and Men and his longest and best-known work, The Grapes of Wrath. It's too late to visit the John Steinbeck museum located in his boyhood home in the centre of Salinas today, but it makes a good excuse to return to this beautiful part of California in the future.

DAY NINE: CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA TO LOS ANGELES (LAX)

FRIDAY, JANUARY 04, 2013

Highlights: Highway 101 and I-5 S, flight from LAX to Havana (via Mexico City and Cancun)

Total distance: 517 kilometres

We are on the road by 11am, leaving us a good twelve hours to reach the airport in Los Angeles in time for our midnight flight through Mexico to Havana, Cuba. 

We do start the day with a leisurely walk along the beach, preparing ourselves for the long flight ahead, and eventually back-track slightly towards Salinas to join Highway 101. We are taking the inland route today to save time, and the road does meander through spectacular countryside. The land is fertile and agriculture is the predominant industry in this area.

 

Reaching Paso Robles, I'm tempted to stop, just for a short while to check out the James Dean memorial, but time is short and we must continue on our way south. At Paso Robles we join the Interstate 5 highway.

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was killed on the junction of State Routes 46 and 41 as he was driving to Salinas from Los Angeles for an upcoming road race. He had just completed his third and last movie, Giant.

Today's journey from Carmel-by-the-Sea to Los Angeles, a distance of just over 500 kilometres takes almost eight hours to complete, and we arrive after dark.

As we sit in the lounge awaiting our flight to Havana, I can reflect upon the nine days we've spent here in California. We haven't travelled a great distance, but driving along the Pacific Coast Highway by the side of the ocean is one of the most spectacular road trips one can take. Having ten days to explore this wonderful and diverse part of California is a bonus and we 've really been able to enjoy much of what the region has to offer. We have taken our time to explore and have found many interesting places along the way. It has also provided us a relaxing start to a planned tour starting in Cuba in a few days.

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