Monterey: Part I

The month of March holds an abundant supply of important events, more than I often give it credit for. March is the beginning of spring which means wardrobe revamping and beautiful evolving landscapes. It’s a dream season for photographers looking to catch life in it’s fullest bloom. New life is everywhere. Some very important people in my life have birthdays in March, making it full of celebration. St. Patrick’s day lives in March, a beer drinkers favorite. Most recently, it has become the month in which we take our annual vacation to Monterey.
Ryan and I discovered a mutual love for Monterey from the beginning of our beginning. Not only did we both have fond childhood memories of visiting the aquarium and fisherman’s wharf, but it was one of the first places we vacationed to as a couple. Our first trip was too short, just a weekend. So, we dedicated ourselves to going back annually, for no less than five days. The five day rule. In keeping our word, this year marked trip number four.
Located on California’s central coast, Monterey, has everything we look for in a vacation spot. Historic landmarks, hiking trails, tourist attractions, endless local restaurants and great shopping. Not to mention, it’s coastal. The only problem we ever have during those five days, besides finding someone to check on the cat, is carefully selecting how to distribute our time. With the amount of things we like to do there, it is impossible to cover them all during one stay.
Two years ago, we spent a day in Pebble Beach and took a very leisure cruise along 17 Mile Drive. We took in the grandness of the homes lining the Pebble Beach Golf Course and spent a good amount of time photographing the Lone Cypress. Last year, we went with Ryan’s family, including our three year old niece. We took the munchkin to Monterey Bay Aquarium and shopped along Cannery Row. As much as I love the aquarium, it’s not something that I need to do every year. This year we had two locations we were adamant about seeing. Carmel, a place we had been to before and were dying to revisit, and Point Lobos, a place we had never been to but were also dying to visit.

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Just like always, we pulled up to our humble room, 102 of the Monterey Bay Lodge, complete with fireplace and direct pool access. We always reserve room 102. We in fact acquire room 102 so regularly that it’s registered to my phone number at the local pizza joint, Pizza My Heart. The guy that takes our order finds this extra amusing, every time. Upon arrival, we are always overly anxious to drop off everything and head out. This year was no different and as fast as we could check-in we were back in the car, headed to Point Lobos.

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Point Lobos State Reserve has a plethora of trail options. From our parking location we had two trails we knew we wanted to cover before sunset. Both were relatively short walks, ideal for lugging tripod and camera bags. Like most trails we select, they were precariously carved along the rocky, cliff framed coastline, giving my stomach that “Tahoe gondola” feeling.
First, we traveled south, following signs for Seal Cove. Not too far into our walk we reached the viewing platform (I use the term loosely), of a small niche, far below, lined with sea lions. Watching the piles of seals was slow motion entertainment. The massive animals seemed extra lethargic and did little but shift themselves in the dog-pile conga line they formed along the shore. Other than an occasional new member to the group waddling out of the water, or an alpha male barking his call, there was little to no movement and yet I could have watched them for hours. The designated viewing area for the seals was high above where the former pathways had been roped off. Looking down into the cove made it easy to forget how high up and eye level we were to other life that inhabits the area. A close encounter with a turkey vulture was a great reminder of our geographic location. After being close enough to feel the gusts of wind from it’s wings and then recovering from being startled, all I was able to catch was the buzzard’s back. It was good enough to cement the memory.

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We were fortunate that the difficulty level of the trails was at an all-time low because our inability to stay focused was at an all-time high. Our second trail led us north, in and out of the most vertically challenged forest of trees I have ever seen. I couldn’t stop looking at everything. With my eyes darting everywhere but straight ahead of me, I had a few run ins with diagonal trunks, leaning over the trail. At one point I considered myself “tree birthed” as I had to pass through a split tree to stay on course.
With the sunset looking dismal and a Warriors game approaching, we shot some final landscapes and headed back to our home away from home. After pizza and basketball, day one was in the books. It felt great to be back.
Originally, day two’s schedule involved brunch and an extensive photo walk in Carmel. However, being who we are, in general, as people, we bumped Carmel down a day and shopping up one. Day two started strong at the lesser-known Monterey outlets, American Tin Cannery. Unable to shop on an empty stomach, we had brunch at First Awakenings, a popular indoor-outdoor breakfast spot with a diner style menu. Babe had biscuits and gravy–super yum. I had the Acapulco Express omelette–delicious. We probably should have stopped there, both servings were unknowingly more than we could eat but that darn chocolate-chip banana pancake special on the white board by the front door was too intriguing. When the waitress brought out the worlds largest pancake, I knew we had made a mistake, the best tasting, fluffiest, warmest, sweetest mistake ever. Totally worth it.

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The outlets are minimal and usually close to empty, especially on a weekday. There are only a handful of stores and most of them are shoe-based, no complaints there. We both always manage to find the most random stuff on great sale. They’re sort of our secret source for things we know not many other people will have, at prices not many people can beat. And for anything we can’t find at the outlets, we head over to the Del Monte Shopping Center. I’m a sucker for a well landscaped, well maintained, ocean aired, outdoor shopping center.

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To end a successful day in the most appropriate way, we taxi’d down to the hub of Monterey tourism, for dinner with a very special local. When we originally told Mr. Tony Moises, a dear friend and our wedding officiant, we felt like steak we had no idea he would take us to possibly the best steak dinner I have ever had. Adorning some new finds from the days shopping extravaganza, we met Tony at the The Whaling Station Steakhouse, just one block up from Cannery Row. The menu was pretty classic steakhouse, twice-baked potatoes, creamed spinach, onion rings, but the steaks were what truly set it a part from any other place I have encountered, except for maybe one place in Chicago, but that’s irrelevant for the time being. Just keeping myself honest.
When the waiter presented the steak selections for the night to our table, raw, plastic wrapped, on a silver platter, and then proceeded to explain in great detail the variations of cuts, I knew we had been taken somewhere like nowhere we had been before. I chose the petit filet mignon that was served alongside mashed potatoes and spinach. I happily cleaned my plate and then proceeded to split the creme brûlée with the husband, who was also overly pleased with his meal.

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Feeling incredibly spoiled and on the verge of never wanting to leave, the after-dinner ending of the night proved to be the highlight of our entire trip. After years of watching Mr. Moises enjoy evening cigars on my parents’ front porch, back porch, a couple of hotel courtyards and various other cigar friendly locations, it was time for a lesson from the master. Ryan had made an executive decision that during this visit to Monterey not only were we going to have dinner with Tony but we were going to partake in Cigar 101. There, on the patio of the Portola Hotel & Spa, with the most incredible coconut lemon drop in hand, I listened intently to the fundamentals and miraculously took very naturally to my first attempt at cigar smoking. I will say, not as bad as I thought it would be. I will also say, the thorough lesson from Tony was informative, entertaining and a moment that Ryan and I will remember for the rest of our lives. Thank you, Tony. I am not sure if you have “created a monster” yet but you absolutely receive an eternal “cheers” for being such a perfect instructor and host.

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With a long day of Carmel-perusing and Cannery Row photo-walking ahead, we did our best to be in bed before midnight. Shopping, dining and cigar smoking can be exhausting and we still had half of our trip left to conquer.montereynoodles

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