Thursday, December 10, 2015

Best Coast

It's warmer here than we expected. Normally this part of the coast is cooler in the fall, but luck is on our side. I tie my sweater around my waist, letting the gentle sun tickle my skin. We take a stroll around the wharf to walk off our rich clam chowder lunch. During previous visits, I'd always been able to hear the barking of the sea lions at the end of the wharf, but this day is an especially quiet one. We soon find out why. Peering over the edge, we see nearly one hundred sea lions rafted together, snoozing in the afternoon sun. Fin to fin, head to head, they silently float along. 

My grandma and I were inspired to go on a road trip by the travel class that we take together at the local senior center. There, we are whisked to a different destination every Friday morning by our instructor and her slideshow of pictures. Wanting to to get out of town and see some things for ourselves, we invited my grandmother's sister, my Auntie Emily, booked a few hotels and set off down the California coast. 

Santa Cruz is my grandma's favorite place. We walk to the Boardwalk, past the the Giant Dipper and the carousel, where riders grab metal rings from a machine and aim to throw them into a giant clown's mouth. We wind through crowds of families and couples and teeny boppers. Everyone is taking advantage of the good weather. Our destination: dime pitch. I packed a little coin purse just for the occasion. We find ourselves lucky once again. Toss one, then two, then three dimes into three Christmas-themed mugs. 

Winter is coming, but up here on La Cuesta Encantada it feels like an endless summer. That's what Hearst Castle once was, a summer home. A place where William Randolph Hearst invited an elite group of friends to frolic on the hills with exotic animals by day and sip cocktails in the grand rooms by night. The Pacific glimmers below, stretching to the ends of the earth. I take some time to wander the grounds and get lost in this vibrant paradise. 

The languorous breeze as you sit 'neath the trees
Is laden with scent from the flowers
And the castle nearby, lifts its mass to the sky
And the lights glimmer down from the towers...
--William Randolph Hearst

While traveling with Grandma and Auntie Emily, I can confidently say I live in the moment. Our pace is unrushed; we take our time and cruise along leisurely, stopping to savor the sights, sounds, smells and tastes. We walk along the marina at Morro Bay, fascinated by Morro Rock, a colossal mass of earth that shoots straight up out of the water. Fishermen haul in the fresh catch of the day and dogs pitter patter happily down the dock, owners in tow. 

We make our way down the pier at Pismo Beach. 
Below us, a wedding ceremony takes place on the waterfront. 
The groom may now kiss the bride. 
The crowd goes wild. 
What a beautiful day. 

Solvang means "sunny valley" in Danish. Our next destination is the tiny village founded by settlers from Denmark. Aboard a horse drawn carriage, we ride past the cottages in their signature half-timbered style. We pedal little red bicycles toward the sun setting between two hills. In the morning, we will eat a pancake breakfast at Paula's Pancake House. Maybe it's all a fairytale. Maybe it's just a dream. 

Our final stop is Santa Barbara, where we stumble upon a magnificent court house. The colorful tiles and swirling staircases leave us awestruck. We shop on State Street and find a fountain filled with little turtles, swimming and climbing on the rocks. As we eat lunch on the harbor, the waves quietly glide up and down the shore at low tide. I see a boat in the harbor dubbed Star Wonder. I can't help but think that the whimsical aura of that name embodies the essence of our road trip: bright, fleeting and full of wonder.