CALIFORNIA COAST: Quick take

Last month I attended a conference in Monterey, on California’s central coast (between San Francisco and Los Angeles). I planned to stay an extra day or so in the area after the conference, and then I came down with a nasty cold – the kind that lowers a curtain between you and the world.

So it went by in a blur but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t find scenes and places to photograph. We had decided not stay in busy, touristy Monterey, but to head up the coast a bit to the quiet fishing village of Moss Landing.  With a population under 300, the town spreads across a handful of streets, some lined with fishing boats, a few neatly set with modest bungalows, and one or two dotted with small restaurants.

Here is the back of one of the restaurants:

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This was taken in the parking lot behind the Lighthouse Harbor Grille, an unpretentious burger and breakfast spot in Moss Landing. Tables are covered with vintage oilcloth, which looked like it was used for practical purposes rather than clever irony. A German family with two small kids were the only other customers. The food was simple, fresh and cheap and satisfying.

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On the bulletin board in a restaurant, slices of local culture – a request for observations of endangered sharks and a John Deere farm equipment salesman’s card. The area is a favorite spot for whale watching and home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which conducts research in ocean science and technology.

Here’s the driveway and side of the house of our airbnb in Moss Landing.

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The owner of the house picked up a brush one day after a period of fruitless job searching, and the rest is history. The interior is even more exuberant. One of her paintings:

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Street scene, Moss Landing. It’s not just a fishing town – on the edge of town, acres of artichokes and strawberries stretch out in neat rows, right up to the blacktop of Highway 1. A farm stand sells truckloads of veggies and fruits at decent prices.

Ah, California produce!

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Below, the parking lot behind the farm stand, featuring Moss Landing’s impossible-to-miss landmark: a natural gas powered electricity generation plant. The stacks were built in 1964 but the plant has been upgraded many times, and is California’s largest electrical power plant. There’s something appealing, for me anyway, about a place that has such an anomalous mix of industry and nature.

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Many restaurants we visited on the central coast have restrooms in another building, often behind the restaurant.  Follow the red footprints to the bathroom door…

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More Moss Landing scenes.

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The California coast displays its funky side in places like Moss Landing but nearby is another slice of beach culture – paragliding – a pricey sport that puts you above it all…

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Marina Beach, just north of Monterey, is the home of the Coastal Condors, a hangliding and paragliding club established back in 1974. They get a great launch off the dunes. It was exhilarating to watch this man float up and down the beach, return to the launch dune, rest a minute and jump off into the wind again. Livin’ the dream!

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We were near Big Sur so we had to take that famous coastal drive.

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We passed a number of tempting little places to eat tucked into the Big Sur hills, finally settling on the only one with a parking space left!  It was Sunday, and the Big Sur coastal meander is mythically popular.

Big Sur Bakery is in a converted 30’s ranch style house so seating is tight, but the atmosphere is pleasantly laid back…our waiter had a man bun and got flustered by the crowds (did we ruin his vibe?)…the wine was good…so was the espresso…the food, fresh and tasty. And yes, the restrooms are in back in separate building. With a line.

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The hills rise sharply off Highway 1 opposite the ocean and are studded with Jubata grass, which is invasive but looked beautiful, waving it’s silvery seed heads in the wind.

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Point Lobos is a state reserve I want to revisit, maybe in winter when whales migrate through. The morning we were there, barking Sea lions lounged on the distant rocks, uncommon plants bloomed at our feet, and waves of Brown pelicans sailed by over restless waters. The scenery was breathtaking. One day I’ll get a lens that can capture distant wildlife. Trust me, the sea lions are in the upper left corner. And for now, a rough shot of the pelicans will suffice.

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Monday, on the way to the airport we detoured for a quick walk in Big Basin State Park, a redwood preserve and California’s oldest state park. Experiencing redwoods closeup was on my list and I wasn’t going to miss it, even if I felt like hell by that time.  Who wouldn’t want to commune with thousand-year-old beings as tall as the statue of liberty?

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These giants are way to big to get into the frame! In fact, it seems to me that you can’t ever see a whole redwood tree.  It was interesting to compare Big Basin with the Pacific northwest temperate rain forests I know – both are dominated by huge tree species with many of the same plants and animals (sword ferns, chickadees) and different ones (tan oak, giant chain fern [above]).

Moss Landing sits beside Elkhorn Slough, the largest piece of tidal salt marsh outside San Francisco, and a magnet for birders and kayakers looking to observe wildlife up close. We didn’t have time to get out on the water, and when we drove by the slough we didn’t see much.

Sometimes the best sights are in unexpected places, like this one right in town – a  flotilla of American white pelicans resting like puffs of cotton on the Old Salinas River. They had just arrived for the winter. The Brown pelicans stay all year. Lucky locals who get to watch pelicans year-round !

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Two more birds I was thrilled to see on this trip were the American avocet and the Black-necked Stilt; both are delicate looking shorebirds with very long legs. We found them working the mudflats off a local bridge we crossed while exploring the town. They’re in the photo below, mixed with coots, dowitchers, and ducks (take my word for it).

We were delighted to find sea otters here too, floating by on their backs in classic otter poses. They have an unfortunate habit of sinking under the water just when you put the camera to your eye. Another reason to come back – surely with time and persistence I could photograph a sea otter.

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Finally, this may not be a sunset that would impress a Californian, but it was sure pretty to my eyes, with those shimmering, soft tones and reflections.

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A quick take on a beautiful area – hope to get back before too long!


38 comments

  1. I love that quirky Airbnb and all the sights that give the area around Monterey such character. Thanks for taking us along on your visit, Lynn. I’m sure sorry you felt bad though. I am impressed by all the things you saw and did despite feeling miserable. I hope you’re better now. 🙂

  2. I had friends who had friends living in Big Sur and Monterey back in the late 60s when I first arrived in San Francisco. Your post brought back a whole bunch of delicious memories of those times. I’m so sorry you weren’t feeling better to enjoy and absorb this marvelous area of the California coast. It’s certainly a very special place, though Big Sur is suffering a tendency to be loved to death. I’m still in touch with locals who are feeling the crush of tourists and massive forest fires. You were wise to settle in Moss Landing for a base from which to explore.

    I do hope you’re feeling better by now!

    • I would have loved to have seen the area back then, but I think it manages to retain some of the flavor of those times. Yes, Moss Landing was a great alternative – easy to get around, interesting, quiet, enough restaurants…and I know what you mean about Big Sur and the issues there. I think I’ve seen someone comment on your blog from there who writes about it, haven’t I? Yes, better now, thanks!

      • I suspect that it’s a bit harder for me to take the crowding, having seen these areas (including Nat’l Parks that were ‘undiscovered’ back in the 70s). The comparison to those times and the present is pretty stark, but it’s also a joy to see folks out there appreciating these wonders. Leads to a great deal of ambivalence for me. Fantastic that you were able to enjoy despite being under the weather.

  3. I shall never go to the USA but your posts take me there – and in a very personal and descriptive, almost investigative way; your posts are always most enjoyable and informative >>> and you’d better get that telephoto!!! In 35mm terms, I’m in love with the 70-300; in APSC terms that’s around 55-200 – very handy and not vastly oversize zooms. A

  4. We love that drive on Highway 1! Moss Landing is an awesome discovery, though we’re conflicted about the jolting electricity plant. Your Airbnb more than makes up for it, though! It’s the kind of place we Airbnb for, it has more charm and personality than one knows what to do with.

    • Yes, that airbnb is amazing. It didn’t hurt that the bed was very comfortable, it’s quiet, and the host is great. The plant does make it easy to orient yourself! And I’m not sure where CA would be without electricity… 😉

  5. Oh, the memories you brought back with this delightful post! I’m pleased to see that some of what I loved as a child out there can still be found. Thank you! I am sorry you felt so miserable while you were there.

  6. You made me want to hop in the car and head south right now! So beautiful…at least I got a mini-vaca from my work desk on your lovely photo-essay tour. Sorry you had to experience through a cold-fog! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Good! We’ll take any vaca we can get, right? It was almost like that today when the view of Rainier crossing the bridge was one of the strangest I’ve seen. There were clouds all around it, but they parted on a section of the north face, and they wrapped around the east and west faces like soft white envelopes. I SO wish I could have photographed that! I love what the sky does around here!

      • I had to stop and take pictures of the clouds around the peaks this morning here in North Bend – same kind of thing. Unfortunately, I only had my phone, not my better camera, so the subtle morning colors and softest mist will be lost, but I’ll probably post later today anyway. I love living in the Cascades!

  7. As always, your narrative is totally engaging. Thanks for taking me to places I didn’t see when I took the drive from San Jose to Monterey many many years ago. I did get to see the redwoods, though, and remember that they were even more huge than I thought they’d be. Love the look you’ve captured of the water in your first Point Lobos photograph. Your last two photographs have me temporarily lifting my ban on sunset shots. They’re lovely, mostly because of the reflections in the water and wet sand.

    • You’re being too generous, but thanks! I took so many photos at Point Lobos, and it’s such a photogenic place, but only a very few worked – I know it’s because I was so out of it. As for the sunset, yes, it was the sheen on the wet sand that did it – it was mesmerizing and the photo doesn’t come near what it looked like. But near enough I guess!

  8. Thank you Lynn for such an engaging and enjoyable tour. As ever, your photographs are fabulous and your words a pleasure to read. I will look forward to your return and that picture of a sea otter. Funny how animals do this to photographers isn’t it? I know I just wouldn’t have the patience to be a wildlife photographer. Catching them out is way too long a waiting game for me. 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed, Adrian – you would have such a great time with the California coast! I love what you say about animals – and birds, likewise, but once in a while they do pose. You know you say you don’t want to wait, but I know you’ve done some waiting for light and weather! 😉

  9. I love the scenery in your pictures. Looks very quiet and relaxing. Forest, coast and beach is always a good combination. Good luck by catching the wildlife with your camera 😉
    Best regards kiki

  10. Lynn, thank you for sharing such a great trip! I love love love the airbb paintings; hubby thought the driveway looked like Peter Max was visiting. Hope you are feeling better; I’ve been sick here too, never fun.

    • Peter Max! There’s a blast from the past! Yes, her work is incredible exuberant, so much so that I carried that feeling with me for a while after returning home, every time I thought about being in her space. She painted the kitchen floor, the refrigerator, the bathroom tiles – you name it! And she hasa a great art collection hanging amidst it all, from travels around the world. Sorry to hear you’re sick – I hope everyone waits on you Thursday! 🙂

  11. Even though I lived in the Bay Area for three years, I never got farther south than Palo Alto. I always went north and east. Of course, there’s plenty to see in those directions, too: including the Lost Coast, which is where I’d head if I could make another California trip.

    The white pelicans are marvelous. They’re here only in winter, and they’ve just recently arrived. We do have the brown all through the year. The first coots are here, too. I just noticed them yesterday. They’re our signal for a true turn to winter, along with the kingfishers, osprey, and other raptors.

    I especially like the closeup of the rusty leaves. They remind me of our upland cypress, which just are starting to turn. And I never can read about Monterey without thinking of Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.” I found that book on our family bookshelves when I still was in grade school. I read it, and had some interesting questions for my parents.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better. A happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  12. I knew you’d have more to share from your trip Lynne 😉 I think you chose well for your stay ! Always enlightening on so many levels your travels words and photos x
    A long lens … ah would be marvellous but the muscles to hold it …! Love pelicans aren’t they just something .
    Your airbnb stay … what a find … such joyous paintings . I’m not surprised they stayed with for some time …
    Hows that injury healing ? x


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