Monterey Bay

First stop on our California Babymoon Road Trip: Monterey. Well, actually a quick fuel stop in Marina, just in time to miss the sunset. The car made it 490 miles on a single tank of gas before the gas light went on. While I would have liked to have seen 500, I wanted to get to our destination even more, so at 499, we stopped a few miles short of our exit and fueled up.

Needless to say, it’s been a long day: 557 miles from Roseburg, which ended up taking about nine hours with a bit of traffic going through the Bay Area, as usual. We tried to get out of Roseburg early, but had a nice breakfast with Lori’s family instead. We planned on hitting a couple of Missions along the I-5 to I-505 to I-80 to I-680 to US-101 to SR-156 to SR-1 route. Traffic ended up being pretty crazy though, likely on account of the Super Bowl being held in the Bay Area later this weekend. So many accidents. So many slow downs. Did I mention how much I hate freeways? Regardless, the route we chose was much better than taking Highway 1 and 101 down the coast and through San Francisco itself. This way, we just skirted the madness.

And what California road trip would be complete without a stop at In-n-Out? Well, I personally have never understood what the big deal is with In-n-Out. It’s a burger. And fries. It’s good, but not WOW good. Lori, and the rest of the known world, seems to feel differently.

About the time our gas light came on. We were so hoping to catch the sunset over the bay but it was not to be. Everything was pretty hazy once we made it to the ocean, so it did not appear we missed much.

It’s good to be back in the Monterey Bay area after nearly six years away. Given that both my parents grew up here and that most of my family lived here for over two decades, it’s a pretty big deal that we haven’t made it here in a while. Granted, most of my family has since moved out of the area, but it’s still strange to visit someplace once or twice a year for 30 years and then suddenly not.

Luckily, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel and all their friends are pretty much the same as we left them. A few restaurants and shops have changed, and Cannery Row has been built up a bit more, but it’s still the same place it’s been for the last decade or two — a blue collar industry town that’s too expensive for blue collar industry folks. I’d suspect that on any given weekend in February, Monterey would still be a fairly sleepy place. This weekend, however — unbeknown to us — was the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Oh, and a nice little heat wave to boot.

We’re staying with our brother-in-law’s mother, Carol, a wonderful host and very talented Pacific Grove sculptor. It was an absolute treat to see her sculpture studio at the PG Art Center, and get a sense of the local art community there. She was holding down the fort there for First Friday Gallery Night, so we grabbed a quick beer (and hot tea) at Crown and Anchor — a requisite stop back in the days that my dad, uncle and I would do our annual pub crawl through the streets of downtown Monterey — and then grabbed some dinner at Kocomo’s (Grotto Fish Market now apparently). We had joked that we should have gotten dinner across the street (or wharf, rather) at the Old Fisherman’s Grotto before the little one arrives (which made international news with their controversial ‘No Noisy Children’ policy a few years back), but opted for the more casual option, anyway.

My sister and brother-in-law woke up to this same view every morning while they lived here in between moves. After waking up to this view, I’m not sure why they would have ever wanted to leave.

It was important to Lori and me that we visit “John’s Bench” during our stay in Monterey. We haven’t been back to the area since its construction several years prior, commemorating the life of my sister’s father-in-law.

Among many things, he was a physical therapist, passionate naturalist, and a rare spirit. John’s bench occupies a special spot for him and his family, and watches  over one heck of a beautiful view.

We spent our first morning in the area strolling the bike/ped path along the sea that connects Pacific Grove with New Monterey, basking in the warmth of the brilliant sun underneath a vibrant blue sky. I began the walk with a fleece, which I quickly shed for just a short-sleeve shirt that I hadn’t been able to wear for four months. Glorious. I have often heard about the famous Monterey fog and how many folks actually prefer to live inland to escape it, but I find it impossible to believe given that every time I visit, the weather seems to be about as perfect as perfect can be. Perhaps there’s a correlation? Any sun lovers out there want to pay for our relocation to Monterey to find out?

I remember walking this same path many times as a kid, long before it was paved and bicycles regularly plied the route. Not much has changed but for some additional fencing and beautification/upkeep on the shore side.

…and of course, the sea lions can still be found sunning themselves on beaches throughout the area. Their barking is so loud at times, it would carry for over a mile inland and lull me to sleep back in the day.

We’ve been very fortunate over the years that various family members regularly have annual passes to the world-acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium. I don’t know how many times I’ve visited, but it’s sure changed over the years. And gotten more expensive! Admission for one adult is currently $39, so it really does make sense to get the annual pass, which pays for itself in a few uses. Although frustrating at times, it was good to see the place fairly packed on a February Saturday. All the proceeds from tickets go back into the facility and marine conservation activities. In addition to that, it is just an amazing, first-class facility that keeps getting better!

In my mind, no trip to Monterey would be complete without a salami, provolone, avocado, sprouts, mayo and mustard on Paris Bakery bread sandwich. I suppose it’s one of the few longstanding traditions in my family. My dad’s dad took him here as a kid when the original Troia family ran the joint, and my dad and I used to get them and take them down to Del Monte Beach or Fisherman’s Wharf and watch the boats and fishermen. Even in the 80s, Monterey was still very much blue collar military and fishing town. Those days are long gone (along with the original Troias who were tragically shot and killed by two of their own employees in a robbery attempt in 1979). Fortunately, the spirit of old Monterey (and Troia’s sandwiches) seems to remain, for now.

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