West Coast Wander, Day 7: San Francisco to Carmel, California

A day of historical exploration.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

It’s amazing how refreshed one can feel after a good night’s sleep. I had a leisurely morning, which was most welcome after the breakneck speed at which we’d been traveling for the past 6 days.

Eventually we did get around to checking out of our hotel, though, and we embarked on a day of historical exploration. First, we headed out to San Jose to see the Winchester Mansion, also known as the Winchester Mystery House. I’ve always been intrigued by this place, which was owned by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the firearms magnate William Winchester. Now I would be seeing it for myself.

According to Wikipedia, After Sarah’s “infant daughter died of an illness known as marasmus, a children’s disease in which the body wastes away, and her husband died of pulmonary tuberculosis, a Boston medium told her (while supposedly channeling her late husband) that she should leave her home in New Haven and travel West, where she must continuously build a home for herself and the spirits of people who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles.”

Because of this, much of the building seems to have been added on haphazardly, with doors that go to nowhere, and stairs that are dead ends. I was really impressed by the high quality construction and the beautiful stained glass, though. And Sarah had excellent, albeit not the most logical, taste.

What I wasn’t expecting was how claustrophobic much of it felt. The ceilings were low, and many rooms that had started off with windows had them blocked off by new additions, so it was rather dark. I wouldn’t want to live there, not only because I’d get lost trying to get to the kitchen for a midnight snack.

I didn’t get any kind of creepy feeling that would spur my imagination into believing that the place was haunted, as many claim. But you can’t avoid the sense that Sarah was very lonely after the death of her husband and daughter, and this must have been a sad place for as long as she lived in it. In fact, when they opened up her substantial safe after her death, all that was found there was their ashes, clearly indicating that her husband and child were the most precious things in her life. It just goes to show that even earning $1,000 dollars a day (equivalent to $27,000 a day in today’s money) can’t buy you happiness.

From there, we headed back toward the coast to the little town of Pescadero, in order to have lunch at Duarte’s Tavern, which has been in business since 1894. I was so happy to see that this pandemic hasn’t slowed them down. But of course all businesses have to be flexible these days. Instead of eating indoors as people have been doing here for generations, we had our artichoke soup, crab sandwiches, onion rings and a salad on widely spaced picnic tables in the parking lot, all while being entertained by a live band and several couples dancing on the sidelines. It was a pure delight. We also enjoyed some quirky art as we left town.

Next, we stopped to visit Pigeon Point Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1872. Its 8000 pound light could be seen as far as 24 miles away. You can still see the original Fresnel lens in the foghorn room. Now the lighthouse is fully automated by an electronic light. Sadly, the public hasn’t been allowed inside the actual lighthouse since 2001, as the tower is no longer structurally sound.

We wandered along the bluffs, taking in the gorgeous view. I was doubly intrigued by this place because the little cabins on the grounds have been converted to a Youth Hostel. So now you can (sort of) stay in a lighthouse. Very cool!

We then drove south along the coast, and at one point saw dozens of kite surfers frolicking above the ocean waves. Naturally we stopped and took some pictures. And for the first time in my living memory, I passed artichoke farms.

We stopped at yet another little free library and put in some books. I’m finding that these stops along the way make for a great break, a chance to see a part of town we wouldn’t have otherwise, and a great excuse to stretch one’s legs. I hope we incorporate these visits into all our road trips.

By now it was starting to get late, and we stopped in Monterey for a much-needed visit to a laundromat. Not the most exciting part of our trip, granted, but the little chores of life don’t go away simply because you’re on vacation.

I was really crushed to find out that the Monterey Bay Aquarium, only the best aquarium in the entire world, was booked solid for many months. I’ve wanted to see this aquarium since childhood, and we drove right past the front door. I longed to press my nose to the glass and beg to be let in, but it also happened to be after hours by the time we got there, so it was sort of a double curse. Maybe we’ll come back someday just to see Alcatraz and the aquarium. Fingers crossed.

While in Monterey, we did take the time to visit the famous Cannery Row, and also drove past the Customs House. The historic section of this town is beautiful. That was fun.

We arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea after dark, and immediately settled into our little cabin, complete with fireplace, in the middle of the Hofsas House Hotel. The hotel surrounds 4 such little cabins, which was the extent of the hotel in the 1940’s. It was run by Donna Hofsas, whom the brochure describes as “a woman known for her strength and her unwillingness to sit idly by.” I just love that.

In 1957, the main hotel was built, adding 25 rooms and a swimming pool. (Throughout this trip, all the hotels we stayed in that had pools had taken the step to close them due to the pandemic. Needless to say, we didn’t get the pool experience.) Another wing of the hotel was added in the mid 1960’s. The hotel is now run by Donna’s granddaughter.

It was a warm and cozy place to settle into for the night, as the fire crackled away, and we were excited to explore the quirky town of Carmel in greater detail in the morning.

Here’s a link to day 8.

The best way to travel vicariously is through books. Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

2 thoughts on “West Coast Wander, Day 7: San Francisco to Carmel, California”

  1. Yes, by all means plan on going back to see Alcatraz and the aquarium. Glad you are having fun, sometimes at least…

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