Thursday, August 01, 2013

California Car Trip

Mission mural in Lompoc

When I was a young woman, I’d hop in my car and go for a long drive at the drop of a hat. Not so much now. I’ve become a real homebody: with my work, gardens and favorite TV shows, it’s been several years since I’ve left the house for more than just a few days.

Recently, I either read an article in the AARP Magazine or saw something on the Today Show about traveling and how it can actually generate new brain cells and improve one’s memory—I am, after all, turning 60 at the end of the year. So I decided to take a weeklong car trip, starting in the Central Coast and then heading north to Monterey and San José before stopping in Fresno, where I had scheduled a workshop. I had various job-related meetings along the way and also saw friends, making the week a nice mix of work and pleasure. 

Here’s what I learned (in no particular geographic order):

It’s almost impossible to avoid traffic in California. No surprise that it took me nearly two hours to drive out of Los Angeles, but I was shocked, as well as exasperated, when it took three hours to drive from Monterey to San José, Sunday afternoon—a ride that should have taken a little over an hour. As I found out two days later, it can also take three hours to get from Gilroy to Fresno via Highway 152 if there are enough slow-moving trucks ahead of you. Maybe I shouldn't have spent the entire afternoon at the Gilroy Premium Outlets (?). 

We’ve always loved antiquing in Cayucos, a cute little beach town north of Morro Bay. Now there’s another reason to stop there: the Brown Butter Cookie Company, an unassuming storefront that hides a bevy of activity inside. The friendly staff offer newcomers an array of samples as soon as they walk in the door. The cookies are impossible to resist, made with natural ingredients and a touch of sea salt. They ain’t cheap, but boy are they tasty! I bought two dozen, plus a bag of lemon cookies. YUMMY!

Moss Landing, a small town north of Monterey, hosts a highly anticipated flea market, once a year, that draws hundreds, if not thousands, of bargain-hunters. Lots of great items; but get there early or you may have to park a mile away. Interestingly, Moss Landing is also home to several well-known local restaurants. But, again, plan to eat early or you may have to wait forever for a table, like we did. 

Lunch (at last!) at Haute Enchilada 

Downtown San José is a fun place to stay: historic buildings, the light rail, a new mini-Safeway market, and a movie theater across the street from my hotel. While taking my morning walk, I discovered the San José Museum of Art and a new exhibit, called “Pilgrimage,” by photographer Annie Leibovitz. The exhibit is absolutely wonderful: digital images of private artifacts that once belonged to an eclectic assortment of iconic figures (e.g., Abraham Lincoln’s hat and gloves, Virginia Woolf’s room, the television that Elvis Presley famously shot, a bullet hole made by Annie Oakley, Freud’s couch, etc.). From here, the exhibit moves to the Columbia Museum of Art in October and finally the Lincoln Presidential Library next year.

You can take the librarian out of the library, but not the library out of the librarian. So, of course, I visited many libraries—old and new—on my trip. My favorites were the Lompoc Carnegie library, local historical landmark no. 1 and currently the Lompoc museum, and the Pacific Grove library, where I helped administer a grant, last year, to create a much-needed teen area.

The former Lompoc Carnegie Library

Pacific Grove library's teen area

On a whim, I decided to take the beautiful but (oh so) harrowing two-lane Highway 1 from Cayucos to Monterey. I thought I saw my car smile when we started to ascend the notoriously winding road north. I, on the other hand, was terrified. As magnificent as the scenery was, it’s hard to enjoy the view when you’re constantly worrying about accidentally driving off the edge of the continent! I didn’t dare stop to take pictures for fear of not wanting to get back into the car again.

I did, however, take lots of photos of Lompoc’s amazing murals, which the L.A. Times once called “an outdoor art gallery.” Sprinkled throughout Lompoc, the best murals are those that decorate the walls of older buildings on the town’s south end. Themes range from historic Central Coast scenes to artistic military tributes. Here are just a few of the many murals I saw in Lompoc (click on images to enlarge):

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