Road Trip! Monterrey, San Fran, Portland, Seattle

Hi Readers! Hope there are still some of you out there after my 40-day hiatus from blogging. I returned from the epic two-month vacay on July 1 and Mr.YemenEm and I are planted in an amazing loft in a hip and happening area in DC. We’ll be sweating it out in muggy Washington through mid-September. But more on that in the next post. For now, here’s a continuation of my last post on the Great American Friends and Family Tour.

Stop 6: Cambria: California: Our plan when leaving LA was to drive for as long as we felt like it and to stop in a charming little town of our choosing. Thanks to the wonders of the TripAdvisor app, after nearly four hours of driving, we located the seaside town of Cambria and booked a room at the Sea Otter Inn. We went to dinner at the top-rated restaurant in Cambria, a place called Robin’s, shared a bottle of wine and I had the very good spinach and wild mushroom lasagna. The next morning we woke up and walked near the sea (and saw not a single sea otter, mind you) and then we were off to a nearby attraction: the Hearst Castle.  Along the way from Cambria to Hearst Castle in nearby San Simeon is a lookout where you can observe hundreds of elephant seals in their natural habitat. We marveled at the grossness of these fat, belching, nearly immobile creatures and soon after arrived at Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle was one of the homes of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who built the palatial estate because he was tired of camping on the family estate. He hired a female architect in 1915 and told her wanted something “a little more comfortable,” a bungalow perhaps? After one month, the plans had grown to epic proportions and by the time construction was finally finished in 1947, Hearst Castle boasted 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, a movie theater, tennis court, an indoor pool and a spectacular outdoor pool. In its heyday, the castle played hosts to movie stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable and politicians including FDR and Winston Churchill.

What little we saw of the inside of the castle (you have to buy additional tickets to see the upstairs, to see the kitchen, etc) was indeed spectacular but we were most blown away by the stunning views from atop the hill the estate is perched on, as well as the pool! The pool, which is perfectly kept up although I’m fairly certain no one swims in it, was so glamorous I had no trouble at all picturing the glitterati of the 1920s and 1930s wearing baggy cloth swimsuits and sipping champagne poolside.


Would love to swim in this epic pool at Hearst Castle.

Stop 7: Monterrey, California: After a quick several mile hike in Big Sur, our next stop was Monterrey, California to see a high school friend of mine from Michigan who, after years living in exotic places like South Korea and Uraguay, is attending grad school in the California seaside town. After a fun night catching up with her and meeting her roomies, we woke up and took her kayaks a few blocks to the beach. Soon the three of us were paddling through a marina and we saw dozens and dozens of sea lions, seals, and even a sea otter! Seeing animals in the wild is a major thrill for me. (The time I pet a dolphin mom and a baby who swam up to our boat in Hilton Head remains one of my top happiest moments ever.) And I, like so many others, I find otters breathtakingly adorable. So this adventure was one of the highlights of the entire trip.

We departed soon after, high on the thrill of hearing the up-close bark of a sea lion and seeing a few of them practically leap right over my kayak.

Stop 8: San Fransisco: A few hours later I was leaning against the outside wall of a gas station keeping an eye on our luggage in our top-down Mustang and waiting for Mr.YemenEm to use the bathroom in the nearby Arbys. I eavesdropped on a conversation between two people who I believe were discussing where to get their meth that night. I was only vaguely aware that I was standing near the door of a shady looking massage parlor, but become more aware of this fact when a young guy ran out of the massage parlor frantically pulling up his pants with fistfuls of cash. An Asian lady ran after him for a few seconds shouting what I assume must be curses reserved for thieves in her native language. At that exact moment, a seagull flew above the Mustang and pooped on my suitcase. Worst road trip pee break ever.

Several hours after that, we arrived in foggy, wintery San Fransisco and we were reminded that Mark Twain once said “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Fransisco.” We stayed with Mr.YemenEm’s college friends in a great neighborhood called Cole Valley at the base of the Golden Gate Park. During our five night stay, we walked the length of the impressive park, ate at some very good restaurants, did the entertaining and informative tour of Alcatraz, and had a countless number of delicious cocktails. We even got to go sailing, thanks to one of Mr.Yemen’s high school friends. Sailing is a whole lot of work and Mr.YemenEm and I were dead weight as the experienced seamen and women on the boat pulled this, released that, flipped that jib, lowered that boom, etc. We sipped beers and our butts were dipped into the water on several occasions. A thrilling ride. We also spent a predictably pleasant day in Sonoma. I am convinced that if heaven exists, it will closely resemble Napa or Sonoma. On our way out of wine country, our friends mentioned they’d love to do a bourbon tasting sometime. As if by magic, it was then that we spotted a sign scrawled with marker that read “Whiskey and rum, this way” and we turned down a dirt road. We pulled up next to what looked like a auto repair garage, I hopped out and went inside. I asked the man inside if he did whiskey tastings.

“It is illegal in the state of California to do hard liquor tastings,” he replied, matter-of-factly. “Unless you’re in the industry.”

“Oh, no, we’re not,” I said. “We’re just out and about and wanted to have some whiskey.”

“Well, it’s not illegal if you’re IN THE INDUSTRY,” he said with a wink.

I finally got it.

“Oh yes!” I said. “We just happen to all be in the industry, so that’s perfect.”

Diner in Wine Country

I walked back to the car and informed my fellow tasters that they were suddenly in the booze/restaurant/bar industry and we went inside and had a grand old time tasting the man’s delicious booze.

Stop 9: Trinidad, California – By the time we left San Fran, I was so deep in love with the West Coast – the scenery, the food, so many great towns and cities, so many interesting things and people. And the food! The views leaving San Fransisco on the Pacific Coast Highway were some of the best of the trip. We were en route to Portland, Oregon but broke up the drive by coasting through the Redwoods and then stopping in the seemingly tiny town of Trindad, California. We stayed at the comfy Sea Cliff Motel and walked down the road to have an impressive and romantic dinner at the Larrupin Cafe. (Delicious brie appetizer, and a good spanokopita).

A felled redwood
A scenic overlook en route from San Fran to Portland

Stop 10: Portland, Oregon: We stayed with Mr. YemenEm’s uncle in Portland for three nights and had a great time exploring the quirky city. One highlight was a stop at Powell’s Bookstore, which essentially puts all other bookstores in the world to shame. It is so epic (yet still a little charming) with at least 10 copies of any book you’d hope to read. Although we were under the constraints of airline weigh limits, I couldn’t resist buying “Birds of America” by Lorrie Moore, and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (Haven’t read the first yet, but the latter was a page-turning charmer). Another very cool highlight was doing a “cupping” at Stumptown Coffee Roasters. This was a bit like a wine tasting, but you don’t swallow the coffee (which I guess is what you’re supposed to do during a wine tasting, but why waste all that wine?) The Stumptown space was all sleek natural wood and hipster coolness. Our tasting guide was impressively knowledgeable about coffee and we even talked a bit about the potential of Yemen’s coffee.

A Stumptown barrista performing a “cupping”

We had lunch at the very good Little Bird restaurant and drinks at a bar called Circa 33 (named for the year in which Prohibition was repealed) where Mr.YemenEm discovered a whole other secret bar back near the bathroom accessible only by pulling a certain book off of a bookshelf to reveal a doorknob. All in all, I decided that most of the whacky situations depicted on the show Portlandia are not far from how the city really is. I mean, there is a new bar opening where you get a drink, and then sit by one of those Seasonal Affective Disorder light boxes. It’s called Light. How Portland is that?

Stop 11: Seattle: One of my best friends from my early days in Washington DC moved to the other Washington for law school and has stayed there since. We stayed with her and her cute lil dog, Grizzley, in a residential neighborhood in Seattle. This stop including a visit with an aunt who I hadn’t seen in 15 years, some good restaurants and bars, a stroll through the Dale Chihuly museum where we checked out some impressive glass works of art, a walk near the sea, and lots of catching up with my friend.

After three nights in Seattle, we were on a very early morning plane to head across the U.S. to Boston for five nights. This leg of the trip included catching up with two of my best friends, visiting my cousin and his family in Scarborough Maine, visiting Mr.YemenEm’s friend for a seaside beer in Portland Maine, attending a wedding at a kids’ summer camp with lots of Mr.YemenEm’s college buddies, and staying in a cool old lodge in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. After that, we went back to Plymouth, Michigan for some more family time, which including a fun night at a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park.

Would love to swim in this epic pool at Hearst Castle.

Whew. So that brings us to the end of June. And after two months of living in a suitcase, we were ready for our own space. More on our new digs and how I’ll be spending my summer in the next post.

Still thinking about how the West Coast probably is the Best Coast,


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