A rambling road trip along the pinch-me-it's-so-beautiful Central Coast
I'm being lulled to sleep by raindrops and surf. Snug in our yurt, blankets tucked up under our chins, we couldn't be cozier, even though there's a late-spring storm whipping the trees and lashing the sea below.
on the southern end of Big Sur, the second day in our meandering road trip down the stunningly beautiful Central Coast—Pacific Grove, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, wine country, Santa Barbara. Though the Treebones experience in a luxury yurt (so-called “glam-camping”) means we haven't had to pack camping gear, my partner Bill and I have brought just about everything else for our getaway: mountain bikes to explore fire-roads, hiking boots for trails, warm fleece, and water shoes for kayaking.
But please don't peg us as over-the-top athletes; we just like to get out and play. Plus, Bill has packed slacks and a nice shirt, and I've brought the sparkly summer sandals I plan to wear in Santa Barbara. And there's extra room in the duffel to bring home shopping finds and some bottles of wine from the region's celebrated tasting rooms.
But first, back to the soft springtime rain.
Waterfalls, wildflowers, and moody fog
The Central Coast is a land of extremes. Winter storms give way to bright sun in spring and fall. Summer brings coastal fog, usually in the morning, burning off to frame lyrical views by midday. Our late-spring visit, before the summer crush, seems perfectly timed. But Mother Nature has other plans.
We start in Pacific Grove with dinner at
, known for sustainably harvested seafood and organic, locally sourced ingredients. My tuna with slow-cooked Mediterranean vegetables and Bill's prosciutto-wrapped halibut are exquisite, as are local strawberries in a sweet cabernet syrup. Sipping espressos, we vow to seek out local, sustainable cuisine for the rest of our trip.
We check in at nearby
Asilomar Conference Grounds
, designed by Julia Morgan, California's first female architect. (She also designed a little place down the road known as Hearst Castle.) Our room is on the top floor of a two-story, early 1920s Arts-and-Crafts gem. There are larger, more modern rooms on the grounds, but we like our historic room with its little balcony overlooking the dunes of adjacent Asilomar State Beach.
The next morning starts with only a few scudding clouds, so we tug on windbreakers and head for
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
, a rocky peninsula jutting into the ocean just south of Carmel. I snap photos of the turquoise coves where tiny harbor seal pups wiggle on the sand with their moms, and hundreds of cormorants squawk and squabble on seaweed nests. The wind tosses my hat off, but no rain—yet.
Back in the car, we start down the Big Sur coast. Clouds part in a visual tease, then hunker down in earnest, sending veils of moody gray mist into the canyons as we snake through
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
. We don raincoats and take a quick look at the outdoor Spirit Garden behind must-stop Big Sur Bakery (killer persimmon cupcakes), where Buddha statues crouch incongruously next to Polynesian tiki gods, grinning wooden crocodiles, and Aboriginal didgeridoos. It's vintage alt-lifestyle Big Sur. Windshield wipers in full swing, we continue south to
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
. There's a lull in the rain, so we take the easy walk to the park's ocean overlook, where 80-foot McWay Falls splashes into the sea. Our exploring stops here—most trails heading east, severely damaged by the massive 2008 Chalk Fire, are closed through 2011.
Farther down the road at
, arguably the best view you'll ever get with a burger, the clouds still dash across the sky and the air is cool. Inside, we enjoy a fireside chat with general manager Kirk Gafill, whose grandparents bought the property in 1947 for $14,000. Kirk tells us what it was like growing up here in the '50s and '60s, when weekends meant unbridled drinking and dancing late into the night with the likes of Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, and author Henry Miller.
Back on the road south, dusk descending early, we pull into Treebones and our cozy yurt, the rain pattering a lullaby on the canvas roof.