Category Archives: California Dreamin’

Our great Coastal California family journey…

All hotels are not created equally…

As stated before and reinforced almost every night, a hotel checklist of necessary features is needed to research acceptable places that meet ones needs. This list must have things that are required to support normal functioning (eg, hassle free eating, internet access).

You may ask if the need for Internet Access if just hi-tech withdrawl. Absolutely not! Virtually all planning for the subsequent day and especially any support research for itinerary changes, tickets, etc., require the use of the Internet. Even buying tickets to attractions at the best price makes it a necessity.


Moxy’s Training of Andrew…

We have been calling home to check on the boys every second day or so. It would have been more often but we keep forgetting the time difference and then it is too late to call.

Thankfully they are doing great, and Moxy seems to be getting along well with his training of Andrew :). Soooooo typical of a Doberman.

We miss Moxy a lot and are so thankful for Andrew’s caring for him (as well as the house)…


Whoa…the climate changes

What a difference a few miles of coast can make! As stated in a previous post, the tempurate in San Diego and LA was HOT – probably in the 90s without humidity considered. Travelling up the coast to Lompoc is dropped a tad but not a lot, though were inland a few miles at Lompoc. By San Simeon, however, there has been a big shift down in temp. It is sunny, but quite cool and windy. Going to see the Elephant Seas around 7pm, it was cold even with a swaetshirt and jacket on. We were decidely chilled. Also, the hotels at this point have no A/C because it is never hot enough to require it, meaning the difference we are seeing is characteristic and not anomalous.

What a difference about 150 miles makes!


Incredible Elephant Seals

elephantsealsWhile searching the scant local fair at the San Simeon beach strip for a descent restaurant we encourtered a man who was with volunteer group supporting the Elephant Seal Sanctuary just up the road. He told us where to go to view them on the beach just 5 miles up the road.

After dinner we headed up to the suggest beach. What a find!

esealsThe Elephant Seals are huge with the males reaching 5,000 pounds. They were resting (who can do otherwise at that weight) on the beach, but there was quite a bit of interaction and challenging between the bulls. It was great and we got some good pictures.

We were very fortunate to have run into that man!


There is no food in this town!

So we arrived in San Simeon at lunch time. It is well know name, so we thought that there would be a place to buy a simple (not $$$) lunch or a food store to buy veggies. We were wrong.

San Simeon was once a Spanish town, but that is now gone save for some heritage missions and adobe houses. It still has breathtaking coastal view. A number of international tourists (Scotland, England) are also all looking for a lunch spot costing less than their rental cars.

We eventually find one restaurant that is very nice (good decor, good food) and eat lunch. The cloth napkins and China are a nice treat and the prices lower than most of the other places.

San Simeon is a monopoly, and those running the Inns and restaurants have clearly banded to together to be an area of fine (read expensive) dinning. Nonetheless, we have great dinner at a local place after much looking. Had we know in advance that it was mostly just a strip of expensive restaurants we would have purchased food in San Lius Abispo where there are grocery stores. We stay at the Quality Inn which is not as good as the one in Lompoc.

What has sadly happened is that San Simeon has become just a stretch of Motels with merchants who milk the tourists with expensive meals and lodgings. In our Quality Inn room the advertised internet access and even the TV are out (apparently cable problems).

Unlike a city, you are stuck since it is a long way out.

In our survey of the eating places we meet other visitors from the UK and from Ireland. They are having a similar experience of not wanting to drop $50 on lunch. We all agree that a Subway franchise here would boom.

In the end we happen upon one of the restaurant which is a bit more reasonable in cost, yet still very nice, and with a great ocean view. We will later return there for dinner after the Castle tour.

We have a nice lunch, then push North to the Hearst Castle.


A Castle truly beyond words…

Hearst castleWe continued on up similarly endowed coastal scenery to San Simeon. After a brief adventure there for lunch (details to follow), we drove the remaining 10 miles or so to the Hearst Castle. We had made reservations for the 2:30pm tour.

What we found is beyond description in words. Linda said it so eclipsed the word ‘excess’ that it became cool and was not tacky. Little prepares you for seeing that degree of opulence anywhere, let alone on the remote cliffs of the California Coast. Check the web site at

Like the Warner Brothers tour in LA, this place and tours have been developed for quality. Although it was not cheap, the money had clearly be spent to put on a quality and informative tour. As such, it was good value and one does not mind paying a fair entry fee for a comfortable and informative tour.

The tour and the movie about the history of the castle took the best part of 3 hours – time and money well spent. We highly recommend the tour.

Afterwords we returned to San Simeon for dinner (at the restaurant we found while searching for normal rather than fancy food at lunch) and a night’s sleep at the San Simeon Quality Inn.


Up the Coast to San Simeon

SLO Mission After a great continental breakfast in Lompoc, we were off to continue up the coast. The goal was to see Saint Luis Obispo, then on to tour the Hearst Castle and spend the night at nearby San Simeon.

This begins the most beautiful portion of the Coastal Highway drive, which continues up to the Monterey area.

Driving along endless stretches of sand beaches interspersed with rocky out croppings, often at the bottom of sandy cliffs up to a couple of hundred feet high. Many birds (eg. pelicans) on the rocks out in the water. The surf crashing in on it all, populated occasionally by surfer in wet suits. Regular vantage point stopping areas leave lots of place to stop and admire the scenery and wildlife. Truly the idlyic scenes that inspire thoughts and images of California. The highway hugs the coast this way all the way up.

Our first real stop is at San Luis Abispo, whose Franciscan mission ( is still in full operation, and which was one of the founding missions in California. We toured the mission (interesting, but these people clearly missed the Reformation 🙂 ) and the very picturesque town, then had some lunch before pushing on north.


Driving to Lompoc

The drive up Highway 1 to Lompoc was pretty good. The highway is picturesque, although there are houses on stilts in the surf lining almost every inch of beachfront. It brought back memories of TV news coverage some time back with these places being destroyed by the surf in big storms. I can certainly see how it happens now. However, they are so taken with the place that they rebuild on the same spot right away.

Lompoc is town in a valley where the highway leaves the coast to bypass the airforce testing range for Titan Intercontinental Balistic Missiles. Once a little town, the base and local agricultural success has yielded a population of about 45,000 (still with nothing to do, a young person working at the motel pointed out to us).

The Lompoc Quality Inn demonstrated a growing body of evidence that name and price do not correlate directly to hotel functionality and comfort. The Lompoc Inn accomodation was a nice large room, new and well appointed. Also quiet. Free access internet machines (2) in the lobby and a very complete breakfast provided in a pleasant breakfast room. All this for less than half the cost of the San Diego Marriot which, although comfortable, had no internet stations, no breakfast, and expensive parking – definitely not geared to a family. This trend will lead to later rules of engagement formulation for hotels in the future.

When we checked into Lompoc the clerk surprised me by mentioning that our dog would cost such and such extra. I said “What dog?” and she looked surprised. It turned out that a huge Dog Show was in town that weekend and there were lots of show dogs staying at the Inn – mostly greyhounds from what we saw. This was great, since the we were missing Moxy, and the sound of other dogs was welcome. They were not noisy at night.

We were not charged for our dog who was at home …


Did anyone get the licence number of that Parking Meter?

Before we left the beach parking area, however, we had another mishap.

We were walking up the sidewalk to the car, a sideway in which are planted parking meters on meter poles. These meters, unlike those in Ottawa, are only about 4.5 feet tall to the top (the Americans seem to like to mount everything low – more on the later).

As we walked up the hill we were laughing and kibitzing. At one point I had turned to the girls, who were behind me, to say something. When I finished, I quickly turned back to go up the hill, looking up the hill. I ran full speed, full force, into a parking meter. The metal meter head hit me square in the chest and there was pain like I can not explain.

I did not loose my breath but the pain was overwhelming. I had been run over by a stationary parking meter. Sounds funny but it was not.

I recovered enough to speak in a few minutes, but the pain continued. If we had been in Ottawa, I would have eventually gone for medical aid, but the thought of getting into the medical system on the holiday encouraged me to carry on.

We continued to get some lunch and drive on, but I am in a lot of pain. How frustrating!


Surfer girl…

Lynette surfingOur plan for the day (our last in LA), was to check out of the hotel and proceed to tour the beaches from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach and Marina Del Ray. Then to head out up the coast on the first leg towards Monterey and San Francisco.

We drove down to Santa Monica Pier and started to cruise along the beach road, observing the beach goers and surfers. The surf was running at about 1.5 meters.

Lynette had wanted to walk on the beach, and precipitously, a parking space came open right on the beach, right in front of the car. So we parked, fed in some quarters, and ambled down toward the surf.

There we saw a group of people learning the surf. Lynette had wanted to try it, but figured it wasn’t possible on such short notice. I talked to the dude running it and struck a deal for a hour or two lesson for Lynette. She ran to change, hustled down to the beach, was assigned an instructor and board, and off they went into the surf.

It was great. She got way more time than they had said, the surf was perfect, and the instructor enthusiastic. She had great success and got a couple of good runs to the beach by the time it was over. The instructor was terrific, staying with her and teaching on run after run, dozens of runs.

The Lord works in surprising ways, even in the surf. While she was talking to the instructor (who looked a bit older than her) she discover he was about the same age, and like her, attended a small Christian High School in LA. Incredible!

It was a GREAT afternoon. We delighted in watching her surf and in the time on the beach. Despite some cloud, we also (Linda particularly) cooked ourselves in the sun.

A great California afternoon before leaving LA. Our thanks go to Islands Surf Camp for a great experience.

After that we header north up the Coastal Highway (highway #1), for the town of Lompoc, as waypoint to Saint Luis Obispo and San Simeon.


The heat continues

The high tempuratures continue in LA. Thank you car air conditioning!

As most of the US continues to cook in a heat wave, LA is well in synch. Perfect weather for our journey, and potentially a great time for sight seeing at the beach later.


Another great start…

We started today with another Centure Wilshire courtyard continental breakfast – leisurely and relaxed. It is such as shame that this has to pass into history, to be replaced by some concrete, overpriced behemoth. Even people at the courtyard tables using their laptops (the hotel has wireless in the courtyard) did not seem out of place, but just relaxed, sharing it with those reading books.


In the Land of the Silver Screen

Lynette on the set of ERNext morning we had determined to take a tour of the Warner Brothers Movie/TV studios ( in Burbank – on the other side of Laurel Canyon as it happens. I had read on the net that although others, like Universal, are large and glitzier, they are not ‘real’ in showing you how movies and TV shows are made. After another delightful start at the Century Wilshire, we proceed sanely through Laurel Canyon to the studio. The only classic LA surprise is that it takes twice as long as it should due to traffic, but we have left enough time.

Lynette on the ER SetWhat a place and what a tour!!!! It was terrific and much, much more than we had even hoped. The place was perfectly laid out, the tour well arranged, and the guide beyond knowledgeable and informative.

We were on the set of the TV show “Gilmour Girls” just before they started filming, seeing all the live sets in place on the sound stage and then the back lot outdoor sets. We saw so many back lots sets and indoor sound stages it was incredible (see Lynette on the set of ‘ER’ above) – both from older shows and those now in production. We learned how things are done and were surprised many times.

For example, the same backlot sets were used in modern shows, by Cagney long before and also by Bogart in “The River Queen”. How they do it all is astounding. It was all great.

A day well and very enjoyably spent, also changing the way we would see some things on the large and small screens.

On the way back we bought dinner and took it back to Wilshire – eating it in the courtyard amongst the flowers.


Ya drive on what side in this foreign country?

So there we are scooting about in Laurel Canyon. Streets about 2 cars wide, house built into the sides of the steep hills and cars parked sideway in the 5 foot space between the bottom of the houses and the sides of the street. Then there are the locals that like to whiz arounds these snaking streets at night at breakneck speed. All very disconcerting as you drive and argue about which street goes out of here.

So we are doing just that and we finally get back to Laurel Canyon drive and think “whew, out of the woods now!”. Think again folks. YIKES!

Adding to the mix is that guys coming the other way don’t even bat an eye at us and just proceed as if we are normal. I quickly see and opening to get back and whip across into the correct side feeling lucky to be still driving.

We proceed back to the Century Wilshire, having had too much adventure for tonight…

We are prceeding down Laurel Canyon Drive and there is there indeteriminate Y in the road. We take the left fork only to figure out that it is really a split into a divided road (no signs that we saw) and now we are on THE WRONg SIDE!!


Lost in Laurel Cayon

Our first night at the Century Wilshire we figured it would be neat to go out and cruise up and down Sunset Strip. So off into the Beverley Hills evening – temp about 80 Degrees F…

Now, ya have to understand that Beverley Hills is tucked into the nap of some low mountains that cut that part of LA in half. To the north is Burback, where all the movie and TV studios are.

So here we are will a scanty map and turning at the end of Sunset Strip to come back. There is this Laurel Canon drive, so lets zip up there.


The canyon area, is turns out, is labrinth of VERY narrow road making a catacomb of streets carved into the side of the hills. No ryhme or reason and impossible to read on a map in day, let alone night.

So there we are roaming these streets that are scary to drive by day – lost in Laurel Canon. But there is even more surprises to come…