Last weekend was a three day holiday due to President’s Day so we decided to take a trip south. We left on Saturday morning arriving in Monterey around 10: 30 AM to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is good to get there early before the crowds of tourists who usually show up around noon.
My boys had an excellent time, especially the younger who really likes sharks and fish. He ran around the place pointing and exclaiming ‘shark,’ and ‘fish.’ It was very cute and made for a wonderful memory. My favorites are the jellyfish and sardines. The jellyfish really is their most beautiful attraction and serves as the aquariums main photo for advertising. The sardines have two or three displays: one of them is them swimming in a silver circle above your head as you enter the “Open Oceans” exhibit. The second is in the ceiling high, enormous tank which is to mimic an open ocean. In this display they swim around in a gigantic ball of fish that moves and flows like a glinting silver cloud. It changes shape avoiding passing sea creatures returning to a ball or stretched out stream.
We had lunch at Loui Linguini’s on Cannery Row. Like the aquarium, we were also very early for lunch and were the first ones there. This meant we could have a table right by the window overlooking Monterey Bay. The food was also pretty decent and much better than expected for a tourist spot. To pay for the meal I used Samsung Pay which has surprised almost every vendor where I’ve used it. Loui Linguini’s staff was most surprised first telling me “sorry, we don’t have a scanner.” I told them I didn’t need a special scanner.
The terminal on the restaurant floor was broken so the one just around the corner in the kitchen had to be used. Our Mexican waiter went into the kitchen to ask the manager and came back out telling me it wouldn’t work. I told him it would and he disappeared back into the kitchen to ask the manager again. Finally, I was allowed to try, put my phone up to the normal credit card swipe on the terminal and lo and behold it worked like I said it would. The manager was dumbfounded and said “That makes no sense to me.” It was quite obvious he didn’t like being proved wrong in front of his staff but I really wanted to use my Samsung Pay as I get points for every purchase!
Samsung Pay is great especially for the fact that it amazes most vendors. With Apple / Android Pay the vendors need to have a special scanner but not so with Samsung. Samsung is the only phone maker with a special chip inside where you simply need to set it next to the card reader. You activate payment with a fingerprint or pin and then a magnetic field is created for 10 seconds only on the phone. It really is pretty neat how it works. The only places I’ve found it doesn’t work well are at gas station terminals and vendors that need to punch in the CVV code which of course is used to prove you have the actual card at time of purchase.
We left Monterey around 2:00 PM heading for Paso Robles arriving around 3:30 PM. Whenever I go to Paso Robles the only place I’ll stay is the historic Paso Robles Inn. In fact, I won’t go to Paso Robles until the reservation is secured because this hotel is half the reason we go there at all; the other half is wine tasting. In fact, we go there so often that I’m actually the Duke of the Paso Robles Inn on Yelp! I like to check-in as soon as possible just to always confirm that we have a bottom level room, overlooking the garden with an extra bed (cot) set up inside. I’ve already confirmed that there is a jacuzzi, all of which come with the natural heated spring water that Paso Robles is famous for.
The check-in was quick and we were then off to Tooth and Nail winery. I love this place for a couple of reasons: the first is it is a castle complete with a moat; the second is the wine bottle labels are absolutely beautiful – have won awards – many with a Don Quixote theme which is one of my favorite novels; and finally the wine is delicious and has gotten better as new ownership gets their bearings.
Upon entering we learned that they had created a members only area in a small room straight ahead as one first walks into the castle. We were the only members there so had the small, but comfortable room to ourselves. They also go straight to the reserve tastings which of course is free. The boys put out their toys and had some fun playing while I spoke with Teri who has a son trying to get work in Japan and also had adopted from Vietnam. I happen to know these two countries very well so the chat was both interesting and long.
I then thought it would be nice to pop into the main tasting area as the ambiance was a bit better with a nice fireplace, smaller crowd and a little less claustrophobic. We did the regular tasting there by the fireplace while my youngest son made friends with a ‘glam dog’ owned by one of the three trendy ladies sitting on the couch next to us.
Next it was back to the forever sedate downtown Paso Robles for dinner. We were not very hungry so I looked for a Spanish tapas place and found La Cosecha right next to the park which also happens to be right in front of the Paso Robles Inn. Unfortunately there was an hour wait although many tables were empty. That is the thing with Paso Robles, it always looks half deserted yet you’ll always need to make reservations well in advance for the hotel and restaurants. The wineries on the other hand still maintain their countryside charm where the people are friendly, the tastings *mostly* free, and gaggles of bridesmaids parties have not yet overrun the place. Actually, there was an event at Tooth and Nail but I wasn’t sure if it was a bridesmaids party or after event of a wedding. Either way there were a number of single ladies in attendance and on the hunt in their semi-intoxicated state. One gave me the eyes as I passed by and although I’d at least like to have acknowledged with a glance back so as not to be rude, I had to maintain indifference as I’m not available and she would have thought me a creep anyway once she realized I’m chasing kids around.
Back to dinner, we weren’t going to wait for an hour which would have been easily doable by passing time in the park except that there was the extremely rare instance of actual rain along with restless children. So we went for a little stroll looking for another restaurant and found Odyssey World Cafe. It is an unremarkable restaurant with less than mediocre ambiance at best but they did have a decent menu for both kids and adults alike. It was acceptable and we were not entirely displeased. They also had Trivial Pursuit decks at the table and my six year old was actually beating my wife by two questions at one point! One question he got was which letter of the alphabet has the least amount of words beginning with it. Of course the answer was X and he got it faster than my wife. But neither of them could answer very many and so I eventually just made up questions about Pokémon all of which my son answered correctly.
Speaking of Pokémon we hadn’t played Pokémon Go in a while because it became boring. However, just a little while ago they released a whole bunch of new characters and so my son and I really enjoyed catching the new ones around Paso Robles.
After dinner it was back to the hotel to soak in a naturally heated mineral spring water bath on the patio. That was nice especially with the weather being crisp, cool and rainy.
The next morning I woke up very early and drew another bath on the porch. It was extremely peaceful sitting in the heated waters in the silence of the morning whilst listening to a very gentle rain during the beginnings of dawn. I tried clearing my mind to really soak in all the peacefulness I could get of this beautiful moment but random thoughts kept popping up and I’d soon realize, ‘hey, I don’t want to think about this or that, I want to think about nothing!’ To think about nothing is extremely difficult to do given this age of infinite distraction and information.
My oldest son was the first to wake up and joined me for the peaceful scene outside. Pokémon was on his mind however and so after a while we went for another stroll looking for those elusive rare characters all whilst holding an umbrella for the rain which delivered on its continual threats more than a few times.
My wife and youngest are always the last to wake up and once I received a text it was off to the hotel breakfast. I really like the restaurant at the Paso Robles Inn for breakfast. There is a fireplace, it overlooks the garden and their menu rivals any iHop or Denny’s even though it is much more pared down.
After breakfast we went to Sextant Winery which had been recommended to my wife by one of her friends. My wife prefers Zinfandel and was told the Zinfandels of Sextant were outstanding. We were the first to arrive, sometime after 10:00 AM and had the place to ourselves as it was not only very early but also raining. We had a very nice discussion with two lovely young ladies, one of which kept my youngest entertained; my youngest decided to pull out all of his toys and place them on the wine bar in order to show the young lady who seemed to really enjoy the interaction.
The wines were indeed outstanding and we there was flash of an instant where my wife actually considered joining their wine club. Sextant also has a fantastic members only area (fireplace!) but unfortunately no children are allowed which is pretty much a deal killer for us.
After Sextant we went to Peachy Canyon for a brief tasting and to pick up some of their fabulous port. Unfortunately their port is indeed fabulous; they were sold out and like the grapes from which it is made, I was crushed! (that was terrible but I’m leaving it in. 🙂 ) We had a nice tasting anyway and then it was time to head back home which turned out to be an adventure of its own.
Usually it only takes three hours to get back but there were torrential rains and when it rains as much as it has in California things break. In fact, an entire bridge broke on Highway 1 closing a very large section of it down. For us however there was a flooded section of Highway 101 which was causing massive delay. I had my Waze app running and it rerouted me off the 101 just in time which I thought was a brilliant move.
I was wrong.
We got off on Stagecoach road near Salinas and it should have been just a quick bypass of the 101 congestion. The bad news – which Waze hadn’t computed yet – was that detour roads it had wanted me to take were also closed. So we found ourselves getting farther and farther out into the countryside not being able to take two of the roads Waze had wanted. There were floods everywhere and it was lucky we were in an SUV so we could pass the flooded sections without much trouble. Pacific Gas and Electric were also out there taking care of snapped utility poles and downed trees affecting electric wires.
After we were unable to take the next detour suggestion I did start to become worried as we only had 60 miles of gas left. It would have been a disaster if, after spending 40 or so minutes driving into the country, it turned out that roads ahead of us were closed and perhaps even roads behind us recently closed. We could have been stuck in the absolute middle of nowhere without gas! We were on San Juan Grade road (near San Juan Bautista) which was as country of a road as one could get leading us high up into the hills that with the rainy weather could be easily mistaken for the Scottish Highlands.
There was one point that had absolutely terrific scenery and a motorcyclist had actually stopped to take a picture. We would have done the same had there been room for a car, there wasn’t a caravan of cars – many had been rerouted – and if I wasn’t anxious about getting stuck in the country. There was also no cell phone reception which also added to my worries.
This was one time our built in car navigation came in handy as it relies on satellite connections and so is always reliable even if the GUI is from 1992. It let us know that a Valero was upcoming and our gas worries would soon be over.
We eventually made it out of the countryside but one of these days, when the weather isn’t as treacherous, I’d like to go back that way and get my scenic picture I missed.
Here are the maps of the route: