Bay Area Treats
We travel to the Bay area several times a year to visit with our grandson and his parents, plus Susan’s sister Meghan and her family. Both clans live in Los Gatos, and over the years we’ve enjoyed some “must see” expeditions (with Meghan as chief guide) you might want to take in if you have the opportunity.
You’ll start your adventure by flying in to the Richard Lewis Airport. Everyone else refers to it as the San Jose Airport, but we’ve named it after Meghan’s husband, who was in charge of the construction project that re-modeled the entire airport, while it was in full operation, a few years ago. It is much easier to get into and out of than the enormous San Francisco Airport.
If you have small children with you, the “Children’s Museum” in San Jose is a must, offering dozens of hands on activities for small children. The atmosphere is loud but joyful – sort of Chucky Cheese with intellect added.
In San Francisco, of course, there are many delights that everyone knows about, so I’ll skip over them. The Fisherman’s Wharf area for lunch, the cable cars, shopping, and so forth.
Whenever possible I venture to Preston’s Chocolates in Burlingame. There is bias here, as owner Irene used to be married to my older brother and is a spectacular human being. Her little chocolate factory has actually been in operation on the same site for several decades. She and George purchased it from the original owners about a decade ago. The first owners had the same last name! Irene vends all manner of very high end chocolate goodies, but also ice cream cones, etc.
Los Gatos is a spectacular town, full of stores with fascinating items that are pricey, but not obscenely so. Our usual drill is for Meghan and Susan to wander about shopping, while I sit on a bench in the central park and just watch the world go by. Fascinating people-watching, enhanced by the odd Ferrari or Lamborghini oozing by. Tesla’s and BMW’s are the common person’s choice.
Over the hill on Highway 17 takes you to the town we’d like to live in – Santa Cruz. Some of the locals have bumper stickers stating “Keep Santa Cruz Weird,” and their appearance, choice of vehicles, and personalities all further that end. I was distracted once while trying to park Meghan’s monster of an SUV in a tight parking space while the two people in the next car made encouraging comments while sharing an enormous joint. I could not imagine sitting in a parked car on a sunny day next to some of the best scenery on earth and getting high. But then again I’m a nerdy geek type, and marijuana has never appealed to me.
Our favorite street is West Cliff Drive, where you gaze over Monterey Bay while surfers and sailors entertain you below. Occasionally a whale will put on a show as well. For casual but incredible food I can recommend Burger . in Santa Cruz. (as in burgers, period). Of course they offer much more than amazing burgers, including an enormous beer selection, but their garlic fries are beyond yummy. Another fine choice is “Gott’s” up in Napa. Family debate rages over which bastion of culinary excess is superior.
A day spent in Napa touring wineries is worthwhile, even if you’re not particularly interested in wine. Many of the wineries offer tours, some of them self-guided. If you’ve arrived in a suitable vehicle, there’s a mountainous and sinewy road from Napa to the east toward Davis that will offer an hour or more of enjoyment.
Back in Las Gatos, you’ll need to take a trip to Monterey and Carmel and Big Sur and as far further south as time allows. Best to do this in the morning, as your return trip in late afternoon will look like a Seattle commute. In Monterey you can visit Cannery Row and all sorts of other attractions, and if you are there during “Historics” week you can just sit on a bench and watch an endless rolling car show of all of the exotic cars you’ve ever lusted for, and some you’ve never seen. Of course, Laguna Seca racetrack (officially Mazda Raceway) is not that far away, and a check of their schedule before you plan your trip may offer an incredible day or two – the best race track for spectator viewing ever. Driving the track also appeals, if there’s an opportunity. A lap or two as a passenger in a Porsche 356 Cabriolet in 1998 is etched in memory forever.
Further down the scenic coast is Carmel. Originally founded as a small town for artists and artisans, it retains that flavor to this day. You might, for example, visit an antique shop whose proprietor is a French lady whose daily driver is a perfectly restored Renault 2CV!
By chance we parked next to a small park, and what a delight was there! For those familiar with Kirkland, for years a statue reposed on a bench in the large park. The bronze statue (not sure it is still there) was called “The Valentine,” and consisted of an elderly couple sitting together, the women clutching a valentine in her hand. They made such a lovely couple, and showed the joy of a long term relationship of love. We have a picture of Susan’s parents sitting with the statue. Turns out there are 21 examples of that work, and another of them is in Carmel, so now we have pictures of us with our favorite statue as well.
My favorite store is an art gallery that will take the breath away of any car person. Light and Shadow Fine Art specializes in large paintings done in photo realism style by the gallery director’s husband, and his work is stunning. Enormous portraits of famous race cars in action that are so detailed I first assumed that many were photographs. If you show any interest at all, director Beverly will spend as much time as you want showing you her computer chock full of images of her husband’s work, even if you are, like me, unlikely to ever be able to afford anything he does. There are cars and motorcycles by the dozen, but also landscapes, buildings, airplanes, horses – pretty much anything you want. They also retail incredibly detailed models of famous cars. These are done in England, usually to order, and replicate a specific car down to the license plate and any other special features. These go for about $10,000 apiece, and are the perfect accessory to go with your $25,000,000 Ferrari. Or two.
Further south you’ll reach Big Sur, with frequent opportunities to pull over and gaze at the ocean, or take pictures of many curved arch bridges. For lunch we recently visited “Nepenthe,” a very high end eatery that seats you outdoors with a sweeping view of the pacific. Lunch for Susan, Meghan, and I was $150, and worth it. There’s a second area a bit lower on the same site that is a café with less expensive menu selections.
On the way back you might choose to launch off to the right and meander into the Monterey hills, with the intent of getting lost. I enjoyed this area, again in 1998, competing in a huge sports car rally. I was driving that 356 Cabriolet. I never knew where we were, as that is the navigator’s job, but the roads and scenery kept me fully occupied, along with Michael’s voice saying things like “We’re three seconds ahead, slow down.” Or … “I said Slow Down!” We finished 3rd out of a couple of hundred entries so I guess I listened most of the time. We would have finished higher, but Michael’s protest of a direction that was not written in accordance with the national rules was disallowed, and that cost us a few precious seconds. As you might infer, Michael is a bit more obsessive than I. He chose to have me drive with the reasoning that he was a better navigator than me, and who would argue with him?
I meant to repeat the enjoyment of this area on my motorcycle last summer, but I ran out of time. Next year….
Speaking of that, there’s an enormous difference in traffic on Highway 1 depending on the time of year and day of the week. A Thursday in November, as we enjoyed last week, is lovely. A weekend day in the summer will bring you an endless parade of motor homes being driven by geriatrics, and opportunities to pass are rare.
A run up Highway 1 North of San Francisco to Bodega Bay is also a wonderful one day trip. When I did this one last summer it seemed that a lot of other enthusiasts had the same idea. There were Harley riders, sport bike clubs, and antique scooter club, and one couple in a perfect replica of a Porsche 550.
You can also visit a seal sanctuary and wander among the dunes past enormous beasts you are not to disturb. Or loll on any number of beaches.
Who doesn’t love a steam-engine train? Between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz on Hiway 17 is the Roaring Camp Narrow Gauge railroad facility. You start at Roaring Camp, with a large selection of buildings that are either original or done in original style.
I was fascinated by an outdoor blacksmith shop, and took many pictures, as the next “Harrison Thomas” novel I’m working on will have a blacksmith shop. The smith was just setting up for his day’s labors, and answered all of my questions enthusiastically. When we returned from our train adventure I enjoyed watching him at work.
The train is an original steam engine converted to burning oil instead of coal, which is more efficient, cheaper, makes more power, and saves a lot of wear and tear on the fireman, who now operates levers rather than a shovel.
The engine trails 6 or 8 cars, most of them open. Once fired up you are off and away, and very very up. The speed varies from slow to almost a standstill, offering ample opportunity to enjoy one of the last old growth red wood forests that exists. You’re surrounded by trees that are hundreds of feet high and up to 1600 years old. A pleasant commentary fills you in on interesting details about redwoods and steam engines without being overbearing.
At the top is a bathroom and stretch your legs opportunity where you can listen to a further presentation on the history of the land and the railroad, or, as I did, watch the crew fiddle and futz with the continuous maintenance such a train requires.
The Bay Area offers an apparently endless string of delights and adventures. We’ll be going back as soon as we can. After all, the grandson is growing fast!
Copyright 2015 David Preston