Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dinner with Jim and Charlotte

Friday, July 11 - For our last dinner on the road, we were fortunate enough to be able to have a home-cooked meal at the home of my uncle and aunt, Jim and Charlotte. They live in Torrance, in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. When we drove down their street, Sandy loved how all of the trees line the street.

We had a great dinner with great wine and great conversation with family. The perfect way to finish up two weeks on the road. As an added bonus, we were able to give Jim and Charlotte a grocery bag full of snacks that we didn't get to on the road. We clearly overpacked in the food department, but better safe than sorry...
All in all, this was a fantastic trip. Several people have asked us in the past couple of days what the highlight of the trip was, and both of us honestly have a difficult time answering that question. As I said jokingly to Sandy last night, I guess it was either all great, or it was all horrible... But it really was all great. The only thing we think we would like to have done differently is been able to take a few extra days in a couple of the places in order to enjoy it more. We could have easily spent 2 nights in both Portland and San Franciso, and definitely would have liked to have had a couple of more days along the Oregon Coast. Otherwise, everything was great.
The two weeks flew by. Will we do another road trip? Well, there's still a lot of the country that we haven't seen...

Drinks in Beverly Hills

Friday, July 11 - We checked into our hotel, The Avalon in Beverly Hills, a mid-century modern hotel. It's got a great pool right off the lobby, and we ended up getting a great little suite with a kitchette and patio, which was a nice surprise. It gave us a little room to spread all of our stuff out to get organized for packing up for the flight home.

We met my friends Peter and Laura for a drink in the hotel lobby before heading out to my uncle's for dinner. The drinks were very "California" - very bright and colorful.

Lunch in Malibu

Friday, July 11 - My friend Maria from High School is also in LA, staying with a friend in Malibu. We were headed to Malibu anyway, so that was a perfect coincidence. Her friends live in Brentwood, but have rented a house on the beach in Malibu for the summer. Let me tell you, this was some house. It turns out that the house was used in the new Sex and The City movie (where Samantha had the Valentine's dinner, for those who have seen the movie). Since this house really needs to be seen to get the full effect (and even a camera doesn't really capture it), take a look at this video:

We then went to get lunch in Malibu at a popular Mexican place called Howdie's. We were hoping for a possible celebrity sighting in the playground right next to the restaurant, but to no avail. Still, this was a perfect first stop in LA. Sun, surf, friends, a good burrito and an amazing house.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Final Full Day

Friday, July 11 - We can’t believe it. This is the last full day of the road trip. We hop on planes tomorrow to fly home from LA to NY and Cincinnati. We’re on the road now driving down US-101 for a stop in Malibu before arriving in Los Angeles, our final destination.

One funny observation: As we were driving through downtown San Luis Obispo, we noticed a big crowd wrapped around a corner. Upon a second look, I noticed it was the Apple Store. Everyone’s in line for a new iPhone, on sale today. Ours are waiting for us back in NY and Cinci. But maybe not until the next credit card cycle.

San Simeon

Thursday, July 10 - Unfortunately, the weather got cool and really foggy so we couldn’t see any of the views from Hearst Castle or our hotel, The Orchid Inn. Too bad, because it looks like the view should be spectacular. We can’t complain about the weather though, since it has been so great all along the way.

Hearst Castle

Thursday, July 10 - We arrived in San Simeon right on time for our 4pm tour at Hearst Castle. It took about 4 hours down the 101 freeway from San Francisco - such a great change of pace compared to the coastal switchback driving of the previous 2 days!

Sandy was all juiced up to see the home of William Randolph Hearst. One of his many vacation homes, actually. It was about a 5-mile drive by bus up the mountain from the Visitor Center to the Castle. We took Tour 1, which is essentially “Hearst Castle for Beginners.” Our tour guide Shawn was a nice guy, but liked to hear himself talk WAY too much. He definitely wanted to impress that he was THE authority on Mr. Hearst. Unfortunately, that was to the detriment of the tour, which lacked some of the detailed stats and information on the house, which we had hoped to hear.

Despite that, however, the Castle is amazing. You could definitely come back several times and take the different tours and see tons more. The scale of the place is amazing, and when you enter the main house - the “Casa Grande” - you really feel like you are in a European castle.
The crowd taking the tour with us was also an interesting - and diverse - crew. We had guys right of their Harleys, pierced and tattooed kids, and several international visitors. The guide (who had a security guard with him also), told us specifically not to touch anything and stay on the tour mats and not walk on the bare floors, but of course he had to ask one of the dudes to please not lean on the huge, priceless marble urn.

All in all, we loved seeing the place, and stayed to watch the 40-minute film afterwards called “Hearst Castle: Building the Dream.” Sandy suggested I take the photos from my apartment renovation last year and make it into a film called “Apt #12C: Building the Dream.”
The last thing we saw on the tour was his indoor pool, which was complete with byzentine design and tiles with gold leaf. The guide said that most of Hearst's guests couldn't swim, so this ended up being the employee's pool, or as one of his guests once said, "The nicest place to drown."

Almost forgot to mention: We saw that they were setting up for some big dinner event on one of the patios of the castle. The guide told us it was $1250/plate. When we turned on the TV back in our hotel room, they were covering the event on the 11pm news. It was the 24th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic. Maybe next year.

Fires in California

Thursday, July 10 - As we drove down US-101 from San Francisco to get to San Simeon, we could definitely see the direct smoke from the fires around Big Sur rising from behind the mountains to the west. The sky was so dark that it looked like a thundercloud reached all the way down to the ground. However, the haze from the smoke gave the sky an orangey cast - very spooky. When we stopped and got out of the car, we could actually see little white flakes drifting down from the sky and landing on the car. Ash from the fires, we assume.

Good Morning San Francisco

Thursday, July 10 - At the recommendation of Michelle at 8th St. Wine Co. in Boise, we tried booking a room in San Francisco on Fortunately, we got a really good hotel at a great price: Hotel Triton near Union Square.

Because we wanted to take a cable car ride but only had a couple of hours before we needed to hit the road in order to get to Hearst Castle in time for our tour, we decided to take the cable car down to the Ferry Building to grab some breakfast there. Here's a video from when we were on board:

We had a great breakfast outside. It was a perfect morning. The waitress said, "Enjoy the San Francisco sun -- it's kinda weird to have it out. As we were driving out of town, we made a quick trip to the top of Nob Hill just to see the views down the street. Fifteen hours in the city really isn't enough...

Hello San Francisco

Wednesday, July 9 - As we've been driving through all of these beautiful places across the country, we've been talking to our families every day along the way. Unfortunately, many of the times we've been on the phone, we get cut off because of a bad signal.

"We're going into a valley, I might lose you... Mom, are you there?"

Or, they will try to call us, and will get voicemail.

"Sorry I missed your call Mom and Dad, we were along the coast/in the Badlands/in Yellowstone and couldn't get a signal."

Finally at one point, Sandy's mom said, "You kids are city kids - hurry up and get to the city!"

Well, we were pretty darn excited when the Golden Gate bridge came into view.

We ended up eating dinner at an Italian restaurant called Tiramisu which is down an alley off of Kearny St. with several other restaurants.

Lunch in Mendocino, but the road keeps curving

Wednesday, July 9 - We thought that we would have some easier roads to drive once we hit the coast, but we were wrong. However, we kept motoring through, because we heard that one of the towns coming up, Mendocino, was a great resort community , so we decided to have lunch there. We decompressed a bit, took some Advil, and breathed in the fresh ocean air to rejuvenate for the last few hours of driving.

But the road just kept on curving after that. Take a look at this picture. You can see see the road winding up and down the mountains and around the gulches. That line on the hillside across the valley is also the same road. The scenery was awesome, but after 4+ hours of averaging 35 mph we needed some straight roads. So, we hopped on a road to take us across Sonoma County to get on the freeway into San Francisco.