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:
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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…
More Moss Landing scenes.
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…
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!
We were near Big Sur so we had to take that famous coastal drive.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 !
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.
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.
A quick take on a beautiful area – hope to get back before too long!