When Helle Harbo, my Danish partner-in-crime, e-mailed me a few months ago and said, “Hi! I have to use three vacation weeks by the first of May and was thinking it was the perfect time to come see you and California,” my initial response was, “why the Hell am I not Danish??? Three weeks to use up in the first third of the year, tish-tosh!” followed immediately be a “hells yeah! I’ll get to planning!”
Well, my planning didn’t get much further than a couple e-mails to some lovely, obliging publicist friends who hooked us up with some sweet rooms along the coast and a full tank of gas in my Altima, but here we are anyway well south from windy San Francisco, where it’s every bit as windy but maybe just a tad bit warmer. Helle arrived late Saturday night after an 18-hour trip across the Atlantic and the rest of the States, we brunched at Foreign Cinema and shopped all day on Sunday (no, seriously, all day=nine hours of store time, I kid you not), packed up the car that night and headed out the following morning. The jet lag’s finally kicked in, as on this her third night, she fell asleep on the couch in mid-sentence. At 9pm.
Again, I’ve become a sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants sort of gal when it comes to travel, which is probably due to the fact that more than half of my life is spent on the road/in the air/on a train, which doesn’t leave much time for planning the next pending excursion. So, we decided to kind of feel things out as we went; not to mention, SVV installed my fancy new GPS device — Joe(y), who pronounces the Junipero in Junipero Serra like “hoonie-perrrro” — the week before, so I wasn’t too worried about getting lost along the way (side note: it still happens).
We started our Highway 1 jaunt in beautiful Pacifica, home to my yoga studio, and snaked our way southward, with the first stop in Santa Cruz. SVV’s sister, Lisa, had some valuable wisdom to dispense about her former college town, and it was more or less this: “EAT AT WALNUT AVENUE CAFE WHILE YOU’RE IN THE AREA, LEST YOU LIVE TO REGRET IT AND DIE A SLOW, PAINFUL WALNUT AVENUE CAFE-LESS DEATH.” OK, maybe those weren’t her exact words, but she did highly recommend it, and when a foodie gives a novice who couldn’t distinguish the difference between sage and rosemary advice, you take it. Prior to that, we hit up the famed boardwalk — think: Coney Island with a bit more class — which is unfortunately closed on weekdays until the summer. We weren’t too bummed, though I was looking for a good follow-up to my Cyclone-induced whiplash last summer, but instead, bought some Reefs at a surf store and meandered to the end of the wharf, where some ginormous sea lions were lazing about under the pier.
Helle wouldn’t let me take my new furry friends with me — she claimed there would be no room in the car; I said I was fine with ditching her to unload some baggage — so we left and wandered to the downtown area, where we lurked in the shadows of Walnut Avenue Cafe willing people to vacate the outdoor tables with our minds (and stomachs) so we could soak up the sun while we dined. The food was fabulous, but my appetite was ruined when some homeless guy posing as a non-homeless guy came up and asked me for the lone jalapeno left over on my plate. I was a bit taken aback, so I speared it with my toothpick and handed it over. I’m accustomed to many Californians being on a completely different wavelength, so I briefly thought this perhaps normal. He chastised me for not just using my hands in passing over the goods and then requested my remaining onions, as well. Ummm, OK, I hesitated, as he took them and sat down in the empty seat. Helle and I both didn’t know what to do, but he, Paul, started chatting with us — at this point, I was unsure if he was homeless or not because, hello, what homeless man you know where’s a cable-knit sweater (in April!) and khakis and sports well-kempt hair? He looked more like he was going to watch his kid’s soccer match than venturing over to the soup kitchen for his thrice-daily meal — asked what we did, and Oh! Helle’s Danish! Well, what do you know, his mother’s Polish! (Clearly — like the producers of The Bachelor: London Calling, who begin each segment with “he traveled halfway around the world looking for love” in reference to a LONDON TO LA flight — geography wasn’t his strong suit.) And he wanted to give us advice on where to go along the coast, tell us how we had to call his 21-year-old identical triplet sons who went to Cal Poly when we passed through San Luis Obispo the next day, and request that I ghost write his family story about his late Polish mother. Eventually, I saw an opening for a graceful exit and we did just that, but not before he asked for $1.50 for phone calls since his cell had “just been stolen.” Heck, I would’ve paid him $10 just to leave us alone, but always a woman of negotiation, I gave him a buck and hightailed it out of there.
We headed in the direction of Monterey from there, with many stops for photo opps, and che
cked into the Monterey Bay Inn, which I would highly recommend should you ever pass through the coastal town. Recently remodeled, the inn has five-star luxuries with a more personalized experience. (They served us fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies when we checked in!) Our room was right on the water (and had a basket of fruit, chocolate and champagne waiting for us, but I won’t brag, but fruit, chocolate AND champagne, YUM!), and not only did it boast the softest, most marshmallow-like bed ever, the only sounds you could hear at any time (other than when we turned on aforementioned The Bachelor: London Calling to watch Kelley flash our Leading Man her bazonkas in a moment of awkward silence, which only led to more awkward gaping) were the waves crashing against the building below. HEAVEN.
Before the sun set, we strolled along the Cannery, upon which our hotel was located, and beyond that little-talked-about Aquarium that made its bed in Monterey, and found a beach of hundreds of sun-bathing seals. We watched in awe as they scratched their bellies with their human-like hand/flippers and took their babies down into the water to cool off, and it was just one of the cutest scenes I’ve witnessed of late (even if Lemon says I’m going all lesbian on her what with my girl getaway and seal watchings). We had an early dinner at Paradiso Trattoria, before hitting up our private rooftop Jacuzzi (confession: it was only private because it’s not high season and the hotel was virtually empty on a weekday). Still, a perfect end to a near-perfect day (homeless man aside).