Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Coastal Calif.: Seals, Surfers and Seaside Pumpkins

October 24th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Vacation at last: My first since leaving The Post. We got a great last-minute, five-day deal through my Amex card; one of the joys of no

longer having to answer to One Who Must Be Obeyed.

Staying in San Jose at the really swell boutique hotel, the Wild Palms. Highly recommended — cute rooms, lovely landscaping and full breakfasts. It’s a Joie de Vivre Club hotel, and if this represents their properties, I’m joining!

Our 12 hours of room-to-room travel time from Ft. Lauderdale left us weary (4 a.m. is when I get to bed, not get up and rush to an airport!) but we wanted to cram in a day of sightseeing anyway, so headed to Santa Cruz. The oldest old-fashioned amusement park (wooden rollercoaster, and hand-carved carousel horses) on the coast is here; really a cool looking place but deserted this time of year. The municipal pier next to it provided the amusement in the form of elephant seals that congregate by the hundreds under the pier. Bush’s brazillions come to mind.

Agressive creatures. And — surprise! They can heave themselves out of the water at least 4 feet. I went downstairs to a platform next to the pier to investigate, along with a biker couple who were having a rolicking time, thanks to what looked like a gallon-sized can of Foster’s beer.

On the ocean side of the platform there was a gated door that led to a little platform, as for a performer to stand. We all had our backs to the platform, standing about 3 feet away, peering under the pier at all the seals. In an instant, a huge seal heaved itself up on that platform and barked like a maniac. I jumped back and nearly crashed into the fence. The other couple yelled. They tried to shoot photos, but the seal wasn’t cooperating and kept turning away. I raised my phone to get a close snapshot, when the seal lunged up and over the 3-foot gate. We all ran for the stairs. Once on deck, the big guy (or gal – didn’t ask for its name) went to the fence in the far corner. I eased back down the steps to get that photo, but this thing was territorial and barked and moved at me as though to challenge me to a flipper duel. No thanks: He/she outweighed me by a good 300 pounds and his/her breath was enough to knock me over without a fight.

A Japanese tourist with a videocam followed me down, and got the same reaction, so it wasn’t personal.

Gave up that pursuit, and went to get oysters at Sagnaro Bros. – they’ve been there since the ’30s and are still family owned.  Deep fried artichoke hearts with a pesto aioli – terrif! and fresh, icy cold bluepoints, with a Sierra Nevada pale ale (brewed around here, and shipped cold to us down in Fla.).

On to capture the Pigeon Point lighthouse just north of us at sunset. It’s the tallest lighthouse on that coast and lighthouses are a photo fetish of my partner, the tunesman. We passed a surfing competition just north of the pier; neither of us was impressed with the surf there, but it was a mild day at sea for these parts.

We got great shots of a bike path for Ken Steinhoff’s blog; it runs along the cliff next to the highway. Scary and neat! Too hilly for me, though. Also good shots of the natural bridges rock formation at a beach there; and then onto the lighthouse.

On the way, we marveled at all the farming that’s done directly on the cliff tops – especially the pumpkin patches. Seaside Pumpkins was our favorite — it was literally on the oceanfront. That would be muy expensive farmland in our region.

Hit the lighthouse directly at sunset – nice, for a change, to see the sun set over water. took the Pescadero road back to the interstate, stopping at Alice’s Restaurant for a cup of soup; we were beyond tired at that point. It was good tortilla soup; and pretty good pumpkin pie. Great acoustic group, too. (Restaurant named after Arlo’s song – not the namesake.)

The Tail of the Dragon route in the NC mountains have nothing on this Pescadero road. It’s one hairpin after another – Chuck Keefer, and other bikers, take note. We saw a six-point deer on one of the turns, giving me flashbacks to hitting the deer out in Lake O after a bike ride, and totalling my truck, so I became deer-shy and slowed even more. My arms were tired from all the turning.

Alice’s waitress steered us north on the interstate rather than south, insisting it was right so we went at least 20 miles out of our way before we realized her apparent confusion. I went back to my own map and got us back straight away.

A bed never felt so good.

Keep those food suggestions coming! I’m off to Cheryl’s today, and headed south of Santa Cruz, but might try Duarte’s later.

Tags: Off Road

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ksteinhoff // Oct 24, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    So, where was your GPS?

  • 2 Staci // Oct 27, 2008 at 10:29 am

    I’m jealous! I just returned from that area — so lovely. If you get down to Carmel, drop by Katy’s Place for breakfast. Huge menu, friendly service, and the neighborhood is something out of a fairy tale. I had the eggs and calamari steak. Delicious!!!

  • 3 Ben // Nov 3, 2008 at 3:06 am

    So funny that you write about the amusement park — growing up, I would watch some television show and it would always close with a shot of a seaside park, with a wooden rollercoaster (and these are THE BEST!), and a pier… now I know where to find it!

    Over the years, I have wondered if this park actually existed, now I know. While at the pier, did you happen to find an elephant ear vendor? I love those things!

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