California coast escape

Road trip getaway to Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey, and Big Sur

Matthew Jaffe

Pinnacles to Monterey Peninsula (40 miles)

"The hour of the pearl," John Steinbeck called it: The early-morning fog hangs low over Monterey Bay and muffles the calls of seagulls and the barks of sea lions as we walk past the Victorians of Pacific Grove, bound for Cannery Row.

The mist obscures the crossovers, the bridges used to transport millions of sardines during the heyday of Monterey's fishing industry. Fishing boats with upturned bows and low-slung sterns bob along the Monterey Harbor, with its corrugated-iron buildings and lines of heavy wheelbarrows for transporting fish. Otters swim close enough to hear them chew, and I prove my theory to Becky that every harbor has at least one boat named Sea Wolf.

Later in the day we head to Carmel, where people don't name boats, they name cottages. We veer off into the side streets, where we're able to get more of the feeling of the old arts colony that was home to some of the greatest artists that California ever produced: poet Robinson Jeffers and photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

The fog comes back just in time for our hike at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, south of Carmel. Harbor seals haul out in hidden coves, and the fog drifts through a grove of rare Monterey cypress, where lace lichen dangles from the branches and an orange algae crusts the trunks. Here nature is more perfect than art: wind-sculpted trees placed just so on granite rocks rhythmically washed by waves rising from a jade-colored sea.

Monterey Peninsula to Big Sur (30 miles)

Trailed by a collie mix, the woman appears in the doorway of the Henry Miller Memorial Library at Big Sur. Clad in a fuzzy fake-fur coat, she's in her 70s and is carrying some paintings. It takes a moment before the library and cultural center's director notices her, but the woman turns out to be the day's speaker, Gui de Angulo Mayo. Gui, who chronicled San Francisco's Beat Generation in photographs, is here to discuss her biography of her father, Jaime de Angulo, a legendary Big Sur figure and celebrated Native American linguist and anthropologist.

I had already decided to buy the book before Gui arrived, and she signs it, explaining how her father didn't think Henry Miller was very smart and mostly ignored the author and painter who settled in Big Sur in 1944.

It's very much a Big Sur moment: slightly eccentric and wholly serendipitous. Gui, after all, provides a connection through her father to that pre-State Highway 1 Big Sur, when it was an even more pristine and wild frontier than it is today. "What a scene!" Jaime de Angulo wrote as he rode horseback down the coast on trails so steep he became dizzy. "Yes, I lost my heart to it, right there and then. This is the place for a freedom-loving anarchist. There will never be a road into this wilderness … " Next: An amazing stay

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