Big Sur: Carmel and Monterey

the-pier

Wed 31 Aug: Monterey Pier and the Aquarium

We both loved Monterey on our last trip, a lovely, interesting town. Ok, the pier area is very touristy but there’s something really alive and fun about it all. On our last trip, the whales were in, following the anchovies and we went out to see them up close on one of the whale watching trips. Over 100 humpbacks were feeding in the bay at that point.

Now, it was all much quieter than it had been in early Oct 2014. Thought about doing another whale watching trip but we’d spent 4 days last year seeing whales up close in South Africa and we’d already had the thrill of seeing them already, albeit a long way out, so decided to keep our cash and time for other things.

Those free passes meant we really had to visit the famed Aquarium.

It’s beautifully done. The Otter Tank was a wow, with three females whirling through the huge glass tank in front of us. The staff threw ice lumps filled with prawns to them and we watched them up close trying to prize the prawns out. They are all rescued otters and now feed any orphaned youngsters. I love sea otters – super-cuties.

sea-otter-with-iced-prawns

The visit was worth it for the otters alone. The rest was….ok. It’s a wonderful place, a beautiful conversion but at the end of the day it’s an underwater zoo and I have mixed feelings about zoos. There was a truly enormous tank with a small hammerhead shark and huge tuna and other local specimens, vey well done. I’m a little ashamed to say we lost interest after the otters. I’d much rather be out in the real world, spotting wildlife and birds. It was a relief to get out of the darkness and into the sunshine and real life again.

Wandered along the pier and just enjoyed it all. No sea otters though which was a wee bit disappointing as they’d been plentiful last time.But it was lovely just to stroll through Cannery Row and see the beautiful conversions of the old canning buildings – passed the fine bronze statue of John Steinbeck and wondered what the great man would make of it all now.

Asilomar Beach

asilomar-beach

Drove round to the white sand beach at Asilomar, right beside exclusive 17 mile Drive. We’d thought it really worthwhile driving this route last trip, despite the cost. It’s very beautiful, taking you through exclusive golf courses like Cypress Point and Pebble Beach and past the villas of the mega rich. Certainly well worth it if you have any interest in golf (my sons are big golf fans and I used to hack my way up a fairway or two,  years ago).It’s also where you get the iconic Lone Cypress view point, quite a spot.

This time, we parked for free and just strolled the lovely, though busy sands for a mile or so, watching the surfers (most of whom fell off and never quite managed to ride a wave!)Had a look at the lovely lighthouse but it was closed. Then drove back through Pacific Palisades, another attractive residential area with lovely coastal views.

The Mission Ranch and Carmel

Our plan was to get to the Mission Ranch in Carmel for 4pm in order to enjoy a cocktail and get a seat for dinner. We love this place, owned by Clint Eastwood, right on the edge of beautiful Carmel, overlooking a meadow with sheep. It’s a delight just be there, but from our last trip we knew it wasn’t easy to get in without a long wait, unless you go early. It was only 3pm so we had time for a stroll around pretty Carmel itself before my Margarita called. The town is an almost perfect place. No litter, gorgeous homes, all painted in muted colours, cars drive very slowly through the streets, always stopping for pedestrians. Ultra civilised. It’s quaint and no doubt extremely expensive to live there. But what a lifestyle and what beauty. Bought the boys ‘Pebble Beach’ T shirts which were a lot better than my usual selection (I have a weakness for T-shirts with place names on them, but what seemed a good idea at the time, fades a bit by the time we get home.)

carmel

Picked up a few more supplies from Bruno’s Deli then drove down to the restaurant. Even at 4pm there was a queue and the best patio seats outside were already taken! Darn’n blast it! You’d think everyone was on holiday! Shouldn’t these people be at work?? However, I soon recovered from the shock of how popular this place always is,  as we were shown to a nice seat in the adjacent garden. And two minutes later…bliss,  as the waiter came with an excellent Margarita and a very nice cool Chardonnay for Chris. Like the drinks, it was now a cool afternoon, quite cloudy. But this was a world class place to be in any weather, truly one of our favourite restaurants in the whole world.

mission-ranch

It’s all first come first served, no bookings but as we were so early we got shown to a table at 5pm.So early – though perfect for me, as I’ve usually got the munchies by then anyway. For Chris, it’s crazy early. It made me think of how late they serve dinner in mainland Europe – after 8pm in Spain! 10pm is normal. No, I like the American way much better. The place was chock a block. It had cooled down a lot now, so a cardie was required and they put the overhead heaters on.

Had an excellent starter of artichoke salad, followed by Roasted Half -Duck with a red wine jus and Dauphinoise Potatoes (love these) and veg. It was very good. Chris had Crab Cakes then a nice steak and chips. Good home-cooked style food, comfort food, nothing too fancy and plenty of it.

Then the best Pistachio Ice Cream I’ve ever tasted.

Back to the lovely house and a glass of pop out on the patio, until darkness fell. Another wonderful day in Big Sur.

Previous Day – Big Sur coast: Cambria to Carmel  Next Day – Big Sur Coast: The Steinbeck Centre and Carmel Beach

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