We rolled into Cambria in the afternoon. Our hotel was the White Water Inn on Moonstone Beach. Camille had found us a fabulous deal that included hefty gift certificates to a couple of our favorite restaurants in town. After checking in, we went for a stroll on the beach boardwalk, with the sun glaring powerfully off of the water. And after a few minutes of breathing salt-tinged air and listening to the ever-present roar of the surf, I felt the knot in my brows start to relax. Cambria's coast is rocky and sharp, new by geological standards. A few tiny sand-filled coves fill in gaps in an otherwise unbroken stone shelf above the water. On the few bits of actual beach, the sand -- if you can even call it that -- is coarse and rough and multicolored, more like a handful of seeds. Much rougher than the fine Oregon sand I'm used to. But still beautiful. The ground cover around the boardwalk was full of birds and ground squirrels. One even came out and mugged for us.
We spent the next morning antiquing in town. Not exactly how I expected to spend it, but we actually had quite a fun time. And we got a good deal of Christmas shopping done. We lunched at the Blue Moon Cafe, a shop with an astounding array of powerful cheeses. This was a place we'd always go when loading up for a picnic, but we'd never actually eaten there. It turns out their sandwiches are just as good as their deli selection. Lunch was delectable. Afterward, we were pretty exhausted (we hadn't slept much the night before), so we went back to the hotel and crashed for a couple of hours.
We awoke in the late afternoon, with the sun again glaring off of the ocean. It was hot, too, mid-80s most of the day. We drove to the edge of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and hiked the bluff trail along the ocean. All along the trial, every quarter mile or so, was a giant driftwood chair, a bench really, sturdy and solid and bleached by the sun. After the hike, I convinced Camille to drive up to the old Cambria cemetery. We got there as the sun was setting. This was the first boneyard I'd been to with zero ground cover of any sort. The headstones themselves went back to the mid nineteenth century, severtal of them in family plots. The spookiest thing we saw in the graveyard was a broken set of wooden wind chimes, hanging silent and still above an unmarked grave. Creeeeepy.
Dinner that night was at The Sow's Ear, our favorite restaurant on the coast. Camille had their incomparable chicken and dumplings. I had a grilled chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, kalamata olives, and roasted red peppers. Diagnosis: delicious. Dinner came with their delightful flowerpot bread. It's just like how it sounds: They jam a couple of dough balls together in a flower pot, bake it, and serve it in said pot. We were seated in a cozy corner of the restaurant, right next to two couples who were also celebrating their anniversaries. They dragged it out of us that we were there on our anniversary as well. The owner took our picture and gave us dessert for free. Rather quick return on that good karma.
The morning of our final day, we went for a hike along the boardwalk, and then drove about ten miles north towards San Simeon to see the elephant seals. This time of year, the juvenile seals have returned to the beach to rest. They just lay there under the sun, barking and rolling and pressing into clusters of blubber and fur. The ever-present (and often quite fat) ground squirrels were extra-cute, competing for the tourists' attention and snacks, but people stayed pretty focused on the seals. Then the midday sun came out, some 90 degrees, and put the bake on us. We bade the seals and the squirrels goodbye and started the sad trek back south.
We stopped in Los Osos to visit a friend and former co-worker of Camille's. She and Camille went off chatting while I got to sit and play Lego Star Wars with her three-year old, Brody. And I use "play" in the broadest sense of the word, since it mostly consisted of following Brody's orders. In the game, you can collect "money" in the form of Lego blocks; when you die, your Lego money fountains out and is up for grabs. Brody kept saying "I want money, I want money" over and over. Then he turned to me and said "I want your money" -- and killed me. And stole my money. He's effing three. Learned a valuable parenting lesson there: No video games for kids until they've learned not to crap their pants.
No trek to the Cali coast is complete for us until we've visited our favorite winery, Kelsey See Canyon, not far from San Luis Obispo. There was quite a party of people in the tasting room when we arrived, so we spread our blanket out back and picnicked in the shade while the winery's peacocks meandered about. We're wine club members, so we get to taste for free. We bought a bottle of their famous apple chardonnay. This is the first trip to/near wine country where we didn't need a box to haul back our purchases. Only two bottles this time. Good for us.
It was the late afternoon now, and the sun was starting to droop. On a whim, at the last moment, we decided to detour to Solvang for dinner. We arrived right as their farmers' market was closing down. Unfortunately -- or, more accurately, thankfully -- we were all out of cash, so we couldn't (over)spend anything on the organic honeys and giant strawberrys from the local farms.
We wandered into a high-end antique shop, a place I'd been before, with hundreds of grandfather clocks -- some over 150 years old -- everywhere. There wasn't a wall without a cluster of clocks. I asked the owner if I could take some pictures, and she said yes. So while Camille chatted with a sales clerk and tried on a variety of jewelry (including a $21,000 ring), I ran around snapping pics of amazing clocks until the camera's battery died. Ugh. But I got some wonderful pictures of some pretty machinery. The owner told me that they'd provided several pieces for the filming of The Time Machine. I believe her. If Grandmother Clock ever gets off the ground, I'm so bringing the production team to this place.
It does seem a bit odd to me that I've started to enjoy antiquing. Maybe I'm growing up. Don't tell Mom.
Some of those amazing clocks
We ate dinner at the Bit O' Denmark, and it was there that Camille sprung quite a surprise on me. No, she's not pregnant. But she and her father did arrange to send me to Washington for an extended weekend as a delayed birthday present. So today -- a day I thought I'd be resting and getting back to work -- I'm packing to fly out this afternoon. And Jeff and Tina are picking me up, which means (burn codes allowing) I'll be deep in conversation around a bonfire by midnight tonight. I can't wait.
High on the news, the drive back to L.A. was easy. We rolled into town at 9pm and were asleep about an hour later. It's been a long time since I've felt so relaxed after a mini-vacation, since we never get away for more than a couple of days at a time. Cambria is a dream, a picturesque town on the edge of the water with no noise other than the ocean. I remember a walk I took the first night we were there. The sky was alive with light -- I haven't seen that many stars in years. And I felt a sense of ultimate peace and tranquility, a timelessness an a re-centering of self I usually only catch a glimpse of while meditating. It was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life, those few days by the sea with my wife and best friend. I love you, Sweetie. Here's to fifty more years.And here's some more pics:
Cambria from the Fiscali Ranch Preserve trail
A juvenile elephant seal returns to the beach at Piedras Blancas
"Pay attention to me!"
Those creepy wind chimes in the graveyard
Hiking the hills above town
More clocks (I got a ton of pics)