Summertime continues to glow into February here on the Central CA Coast. This was especially exciting when I looked at the weather forecast and saw that unlike the usual dumping rain, it would be 70 degrees and mostly sunny for my birthday !
I wasn’t alone as I set out for adventure this past weekend. Restaurants, beaches, and road side stops were full of folks who know what’s good for them – enjoying what you’ve got when you’ve got it!
First stop – Paso Robles – it ain’t a cow poke town no more. This is the town my Dad went to high school in and where his family stayed after he left home. It’s where my Aunt Eugenia still lives. At 94, she has been in the same house she built with her husband (2 doors down from my grandparents old house) for over 60 years! It’s a beautiful spot on a hill overlooking Paso Robles to the east and almond and fruit trees to the west.
This town has transformed from tiny anonymity to a vacation destination, especially with a boom of vineyards and wineries that now sprawl over the hills. I’m not so excited about this transformation. I preferred the rolling oak woodland that used to provide home and refuge to the Central CA endemic Yellow Billed Magpie and spring wildflowers. I’m also not so sure where all the water comes from to keep those grapes growing in this semi arid region, nor where the run-off carrying pesticides, fungicides and excess fertilizer are going. At least some wonderful remnants of oak woodlands remain untrammeled by cattle hooves or wine fever, visible from the back roads.
The downtown Paso Robles square is packed with new restaurants, tasting rooms and shops. On the day I came through I had only one destination in mind: Studios on the Park.
This is a new establishment is in what used to be a mechanic’s garage, with the mottled and beaten concrete floor as a reminder of its utilitarian days. My Aunt had mentioned this place on my last visit, so I picked her up and we explored the spacious studio that houses art and artists. Established as a non-profit open studios art center, it offers classes and workshops for the public, while artists can practice their craft in a creative environment.
Work ranges from paintings, ceramics, photography, collage, jewelry and wood block prints. We poked our heads into a couple classes going on- one aimed at artists learning how to be better business people; the other introducing high school kids to methods of pursuing their artistic interests.Who knew Paso Robles had so many great local artists!?
After spending the better part of the afternoon together I bid my Aunt goodbye and carried on through the scenic drive between Paso Robles and Cambria on Hwy 46. Half way I detoured onto a back road that winds its way tightly through ancient oak trees draped with grey-green lichen. This area is a great place to see California Tarantula spiders wandering around on the road in the fall, just drive slow and don’t run over them.
My final destination was Cayucos by the Sea, a sleepy little beach town that is the home to all of my childhood summers. Like everywhere in CA, it’s not what it used to be; giant southern California style homes threaten to pop over their property lines as they demo the adorable little cottages that families of yore loved so much. It may not be a quaint little town for much longer, but for now I can still nestle into the beach front cottage my Grandma bought in the 40’s and enjoy staring at the ocean, the beach just a staircase away.
This house is the hub of all my fondest family memories. With school teacher parents the whole family had the summer off and we would retreat for a month at a time to the little house with no phone or television. Evenings were filled with books and card games. In the daytime I was cut loose from all responsibility and would wander the beach, explore the tidepools and repeatedly jump in and out of the ocean. I often fell asleep in my swimsuit and my bed was full of sand.
A couple days later three friends joined me and the festivities began. Freestyle Bocce ball on the beach, frisbee, and we couldn’t leave out cooking on fat Tuesday- also my birthday. The grill was going even before we hit the beach in the morning so the piggy could slow roast all day.
Just five miles south of Cayucos is Morro Bay. Rising into its own as a tourist spot, it still has humble roots with an active fishing fleet. The main business strip parallels the harbor giving visitors an up close view into life on the water and of course, views of the famed Morro Rock.
On presidents day the town was full of visitors and the weather kindly cooperated. Beaches were scattered with bare feet while the surf- head high with no wind- was laced with surfers. One local bird enthusiast had at least 4 spotting scopes trained on one of the two Peregrine Falcon pairs nesting on Morro Rock, welcoming the public to check them out. He was chock full of information on them too.
The little beach that appears at low tide just inside the harbor to the south of the Rock was particularly welcoming that day. It reminded me of the little low tide pocket beaches that open up along East Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz.
For a more personal experience of Morro Bay we stopped into Central Coast Stand Up Paddle. Their headquarters is perfectly located to launch right off their back deck to explore the extensive upper Bay or head out of the harbor for some waves. At the shop, Crystal, who moonlights as a surf instructor, got us set up with boards and paddles and sent us on our way.
Back in Cayucos we had plenty of time for frisbee on the beach and a quick body numbing dip in the ocean before a feast of pulled pork, artichokes and roasted root veggies. Though the skies were overcast the air was true to 70 degrees and a little cloud cover gave us a fantastic sunset.
Finishing full circle we drove home via Big Sur, first stopping near San Simeon to see the elephant seals and their pups, then a short hike to Salmon Creek Falls near Big Sur.
As a side note- our humble little family beach house is available for our friends to rent out too. If you’re interested, give me a shout.
Man, you definitely reminded me of when Missy and I lived down in the Central Coast back in 02–04′. Got my first case of poison oak at Salmon Creek waterfall and then got stung by yellowjackets while fishing above the falls, and we have an old video of the elephant seals in San Simeon. Thanks for the memories.