MY DREAM CAME TRUE!
Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Up PCH: from Morro Bay to Monterey

Part Four: Monterey

Although our “Drive of a Lifetime” technically ended when we arrived in Monterey, our adventure did not. But first, we had a good night’s sleep at Portola Hotel & Spa. I had booked our room by bidding for any four-star hotel in the area on Priceline.com and received a rate that was more than half-off the lowest online price for the hotel. Because of the excellent rate we’d received, it was hard to balk at the $17 self-parking fee. At check-in we were given a helpful folded map of the immediate area along with two warm chocolate chip cookies that we devoured after settling into our clean, comfortable, upscale room.

The next day, we explored Monterey on foot via the Coastal Recreation Trail, a paved bicycle and pedestrian path along the coast. We passed Fisherman’s Wharf and headed northwest along the trail, occasionally stopping to look for seals lying on rocks, some perched in a strange-looking u-shape with their head and back flippers sticking up. Fences prevented people from getting very close to the seals, but, through binoculars, it was easy to get excellent views of the animals.

We stopped for brunch at Trailside Café (550 Wave Street) along the Coastal Recreation Trail in the Cannery Row area. We enjoyed our food on the charming outside patio, entranced by views of kayakers paddling along the somewhat distant shore.

After a satisfying meal, we continued northwest along the trail until we arrived at Lovers Point Park where we decided to turn around and retrace our steps. At Monterey Bay Aquarium, we caught the free MST Trolley (operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 10AM to 8PM) back to Fisherman’s Wharf, steps away from our hotel. After a brief rest back at the hotel, we decided to get a different perspective of Monterey by kayaking along the coast. Because our cameras were not waterproof, we left them at the hotel, however, there was no picture that I could have taken that would have truly captured the experience that we were about to have.

At Adventures by the Sea’s Cannery Row location (299 Cannery Row), we rented two kayaks ($30 per person per day whether renting one tandem kayak or two separate kayaks). Water and wind resistant pants and jackets were included with the kayak rental. After changing clothes in the dressing room stalls, we donned the required life-vests. We were instructed on the areas where we were allowed to kayak and the animals that we might see and how not to harass them. Then we were sent, with our paddles, across the street and down some steps to a beach where we were given a quick paddling lesson and then launched in our kayaks into the ocean.

Within a few moments, we were gliding along the water, feeling like expert paddlers even though we were novices, keeping our eyes out for wildlife. Unfortunately, all that we spotted, floating in the kelp, were a few dead birds.

As we paddled past Monterey Bay Aquarium, we finally met our first live animals. First, a curious seal popped up close to our kayaks. We stopped paddling, careful not to scare him as he checked us out and we checked him out. After a minute or so he dove and then surfaced near us again. The next time he dove, he disappeared for good and we paddled off. A few minutes later, my friend spotted an otter sleeping on her back in the kelp. We stopped to admire her for a few minutes and then quietly paddled on.

As we paddled, I looked into the water and noticed something orange-pink a few feet under the surface. It took me a second to realize that it was a jellyfish, but, once I focused on the water, I didn’t see just one jellyfish. Everywhere that I looked, I saw at least two or three jellies, trailing their long tentacles and frilly mouth-arms. It was as if we were kayaking over a huge aquarium jellyfish exhibit. From then on, I was extra careful about putting my hands in the water.

We had planned to paddle to Lovers Point, the farthest point that we had been told that we were allowed go with our kayaks, but as we approached Point Cabrillo, where waves crashed violently against the rocks, the winds picked up and currents began forcefully pulling us out to sea. We had to paddle hard just to keep ourselves from being pulled further away from shore. Eventually we fought our way past the rocky point, where we hoped that conditions would get better, but they didn’t. I started to wonder what would happen to us if, with no cellphones and no guide, we lost our battle and were swept far out into the ocean; we decided not to find out. We turned around and fought our way back to the other side of Point Cabrillo.

It was evening and, even on the other side of Point Cabrillo, the winds were picking up, but I wanted to explore Fishermans Wharf, where we had heard the barks of sea lions earlier. As we paddled, I noticed that, even though my jacket and pants were covered in water, I still felt comfortably warm and fairly dry. I was glad that I had opted to wear the Adventures by the Sea gear and the watershoes that I had brought from home, although I wished I’d put some sunscreen on the exposed tops of my feet.

We were traveling along some kelp when my friend called out that he had spotted some otters. I turned to look and saw not only the otters, but a sleeping seal. Only the seal’s eyes and nostrils were sticking out of the water. We immediately stopped paddling and watched the animals. The seal opened his eyes and looked at us, and then closed them again and returned to his rest. The otters groomed themselves, rubbed their faces, and twirled in the water, as if no one was watching. My friend and I pulled our kayaks together and took in nature’s show.

After a few minutes, we gently paddled away toward Fisherman’s Wharf. At the tip of the breakwater, where barking sea lions rested on the rocks, we had to battle the winds and currents while dodging boats that were entering and exiting the marina. We fought our way to the docks below one of the buildings where we saw a sleeping pile of adorable sea lions, and then, satisfied with our adventure, we headed back to the beach where we’d launched. An Adventures by the Sea employee dragged our kayaks out of the water and we trudged back to the office to change back into our clothes.

“Wow,” the employee who checked us in remarked, “you were out for a long time!” And we had been; we’d spent about three-and-a-half hours on the water. I was already starting to feel the soreness in my arms as we sat down to dinner at Peter B’s BrewPub. The restaurant was one of two restaurants at our hotel (we were too exhausted to go searching for any other place to eat), and it turned out to be a great choice. My Ale & Garlic Chicken Sandwich was exceptionally fresh and flavorful. I would have gladly had another one the next day, but after a dip in the hotel hot tub and another excellent night’s sleep at Portola, it was time to head back to Los Angeles.

Since we would be traveling from Monterey to Los Angeles all in one day and wanted to take a faster route than PCH, we traveled inland on the 68 to Salinas where we made the confusing connection to the 101 South.

It was about lunchtime when we were passing near Solvang, and I longed for another Danish Waffle from Mortensen’s, and so we took a brief detour to Solvang from the 101. The bustling Sunday Solvang tourists had thinned into a quiet Wednesday crowd. To us, Solvang felt like a different place than the one we’d visited just two days earlier.

We enjoyed lunch on GreenHouse Café’s patio, and then walked next door to Mortensen’s where we ordered danishes and cookies to go. That night, at home, at my dining room table, I enjoyed one of my waffles. My second Danish Waffle, and the third one that I enjoyed the following day, were just as good as the first!

I did this in July 2012 in California, USA.

Jen (California, USA)
Part One: Los Angeles to Morro Bay
Part Two: Cambria and San Simeon
Part Three: Big Sur