Renting a Prius to drive the California coast just seemed like the right move. As a sanctimonious New Yorker, I love being able to exclude myself from the guilt I associate with the driving culture of the rest of the country. So renting a hybrid for a week of joy riding on the west coast helped further the hero status in my own mind. I only had to hold my proverbial nose once, when we filled up at the evil Exxon. But that car held us in good stead as we hugged the cliffs and navigated the fog and curves of Hwy 1. In return for a little wicked gasoline consumption, Kimberly and I got a front row seat to some of the most spectacular scenery in America. Soundtrack courtesy of Coldplay, Dave Matthews and other sappy favorites.
We met up first in San Francisco. We sipped glasses of merlot (I suggest you not attempt this if you’re not guided by a Californian well-versed in varietals; bad merlot can be worse than bad sex) in the lobby of a fancy hotel near Union Square. She filled me in on her journey to the Russian River Valley and her adventures around the city. Next day, Kimberly humored my coffee obsession and we headed to the famed and revered Blue Bottle Coffee for caffeine and my own curiosity quenching. Amongst coffee snobs, Blue Bottle is a destination for serious espresso enthusiasts, a place synonymous with pricey drinks, handcrafted by seriously skilled baristas, and on-site bean roasting. My favorite New York espresso bar, Abraco, was even started by an alumnus of the place. Some people think coffee bars like Blue Bottle, that seem to lack a sense of humor about themselves, are pretentious and revolting. I often think they are chic. And I buy easily into the “artisan” argument for jacked prices—needless to say, I loved Blue Bottle! The place is grey and minimalist in design, with huge windows that open to the cobblestone streets, taking advantage of San Fran’s mild weather. They are kinda famous for their iced coffees, which they let me taste. They were loathe to make me an iced cappucino, explaining that it would “change the composition of the espresso to pour it over ice” (alright, alright, a little too much, even for me). But when I explained I don’t like sugar in my coffee (their iced coffees are already slightly sweetened), they acquiesced and I ended up with a great drink. I also downed a perfectly pulled shot of espresso and Kimberly and I both had lunch there too, since the food looked so appealing. Mine was classic egg salad on brioche, hers a delicious salad of faro and brightly colored tomatoes. Simple pleasures. California’s gift.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Mission District—simply the coolest area of an achingly cool city—window shopping, people watching and relaxing in Dolores Park. On the way to the park, we picked up goodies at Tartine Bakery. The glass cases at this bakery were filled with tempting items, but we settled on a snowy, coconut cake with passion fruit preserves and a decadent, chocolate, hazelnut tart with cookie crust. We also grabbed a thick slice of country bread made with Lucques olives, gruyere cheese, lemon zest, and herbs De Provence, which we ended up devouring later that evening, as we looked for a place off the coast where we could stop for dinner. The sweets were enjoyed a little melted by the sun, as we sat in the park and speculated on the character and careers of the San Franciscans who surrounded us on a Thursday afternoon, at their leisure to sunbathe and drink beer (in the open!), smoke pot (basically, in the open!) and play with their dogs. It was dreamy, and hard to leave. But we had to get on the road and start making our way south.
I know that highway maintenance is not the sexiest project funded by taxpayers, but if you ever have the fortune to drive this piece of road, the expanse of the Pacific Ocean right outside your window, you will instinctively understand what a national treasure Hwy 1 is. A few years back, Sara and Amanda and I drove from L.A. to Santa Barbara for a little holiday and spa retreat. The drive along the coast between those two cities is beautiful, but I realize after this most recent trip, that’s just the beginning of the beauty. As we left San Francisco, Kimberly and I were lucky to have a clear view for many miles. The vista is so dramatic! We reminisced about our trip together to the Amalfi Coast a couple of summers ago and compared the two vistas which are known to be some of the most stunning in the world. We drove with the windows rolled down and sucked in the air, unbelievably scented with various combinations of salt water, pine, moss, florals, fir trees, barnyards and marshlands. Kimberly mused at how smelling the land there makes her understand why she loves California wines so much. Those scents are all in there! She’s a sucker for those vibrant smelling, New World reds.
Once it got dark, we pulled off into the town of Monterey. Our original plan, to carry on our drive into Big Sur that night, after eating dinner, was derailed when a couple of dashing gentlemen invited us to share expensive, tempting bottles of Silver Oak Cabernet with them. Between our desire to drink the offered wine and their insistence that we would miss the best scenery of our drive if we made our way from Monterey to Big Sur in the dark, we were convinced to stay right where we were. Four bottles of wine were drunk. The talk was of local artichokes and national politics. The gentlemen were Latin. Turned out to be a late night…