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Taking it slow in SLO

March 17, 2011

 

Pacific Coast Highway, California. The dots on the sandy beach are seagulls.

We LOVE California. Sometimes when I get to thinking if there is any other place in the United States where I would like to live, I cannot think of any for which I would give up my dear California.  This state is heaven for nature lovers. There’s the coast, the mountains, the redwood forests, the nature trails, the state and national parks, the gorgeously sunny and pleasant weather, the snow-capped mountains and ski slopes of Tahoe a few hours away for those who need their fix of winter … not to mention the famed wineries of Napa and city life of San Francisco, and proximity to other beautiful states like Oregon and Washington and Nevada.

There is no dearth of quaint, pretty towns along the California Coast for a leisure filled weekend getaway. San Luis Obispo is one such place. It’s a 3.5 hour drive from the bay area (that is if you go on 101 South. If you take PCH CA-1 South, it’ll add on a half hour for the drive and another half hour for the many many stops you will be tempted to make along the coastline). There are a lot of websites dedicated to enumerating all the things one can do in SLO. For your own sake though, less is more.

California coastline

The ideal weekend usually begins on a Friday evening, after wrapping up a hectic work week. This time around, we decided to head out on Saturday, so we could take in the scenic beauty of the drive and reduce our chances of going off a cliff somewhere in Big Sur when attempting to navigate the sinuous curves late at night. In hindsight, this gave us less time to spend in SLO, so we might have done things differently by trying to head out early on Friday instead. Much of of Saturday afternoon was spent driving on PCH, towards SLO in the south of California. We caught a brilliant sunset by the coast, one of the most beautiful and breathtaking one we’ve ever seen in our lives. I call this the “Rainbow sunset” because I cannot think of any other word to describe it better.

Rainbow sunset along PCH

The skies were luminous with color and brilliance, the waves of the sea reflecting the light and the stone outcroppings in the distance providing a sense of scale and making us feel absolutely insignificant in this vastness. It’s a good thing I was not driving (thank you dear husband for taking the wheel!) because I could barely keep my eyes off of this sunset for as long as there was light.

We got in to SLO well past sunset and checked in at Heritage Inn, a quaint bed and breakfast in the heart of downtown SLO. The inn came highly recommended thanks to reviews on Yelp. In fact, we would recommend you definitely stay at a B&B when in small towns like SLO. It really gives an intimate, personal feeling when interacting with the inn-keeper and the other guests and swapping stories and adventures. Our inn-keeper was a lovely lady who welcomed us with the hospitality of a long lost friend and provided wine and cheese+crackers even though we arrived way past the happy hour. What a welcome! She chit-chatted and gave us valuable tips and info on places to see nearby, things to do, where we could go for some great dinner, and activities in and around the town. Some links you can find more info on things to do in SLO –

Visit SLO website

Romantic things to do in SLO

Fun and Free things to do in SLO

After settling in at Heritage Inn, we headed to the downtown area for dinner. Everything is within strolling distance of most of the lodges and B&B’s. After walking up a good appetite we settled in for some Moroccan food which warmed us up – Moroccan spiced lentil soup, chicken tagine and endless triangles of fresh baked pita bread to soak up the spicy tangy sauces. Yum!

An activity which came highly recommended by a lot of people was to soak up in a hot tub on top of a hill, especially in the night underneath a sky full of stars. The hot tubs are in the open and overlook the tree tops and hills in the distance. This decadent sounding place is the Sycamore Mineral Spring Resort and although it sounds like the hot tubs would be expensive, they’re actually not! For 20 USD per person per hour (check the latest rates on their website), one can reserve a hot tub and soak up the refreshing mineral spring water for all you are worth! This sounds like just the thing to do after driving down to SLO, so we excitedly called the resort to make reservations for Saturday night. Unfortunately the same idea had occurred to everybody else who was visiting SLO and not a single hot tub was available that night. But that’s ok, we’ll be back another day to try this out and we will remember to make reservations in advance!

Sunday dawned bright and blue. We were very excited about doing something new which we had only seen but never done before – ATV riding! And not just anywhere, but on SAND DUNES! Imagine a big bad-ass ATV, your ass on the ATV, you hanging on for dear life as you roar up an incline on a sand dune, kicking the accelerator for all you are worth, trying to keep balance and not fall off as the ATV dangerously slides left and right and backwards where the dribbling sand gives away … and then … you emerge on top of the dune. Victorious and unscathed! You look around, and there are miles and miles of more sand dunes to conquer! We are but a speck in this ocean of dunes. Ah, that’s why it’s called Oceano dunes (oh, also  because it’s right next to the ocean. Duh!). And in the distance, the blue sea blends into the horizon, waves crashing on the beach, and the roar of the ocean is drowned out only by the roar of your ATV as you begin your downward ascent at high speed and  set out to conquer the next dune in your way! I can totally see Calvin and Hobbes going crazy with joy here. We sure did.

After spending an amazing adrenalin-stoked couple hours, we decided to visit a few of the beaches before taking the quick route  on US-101N back home. Pismo Beach is one of the most beautiful and gorgeous beaches we’ve visited. Miles and miles of wet sand, puffy clouds hovering above the horizon as the waves lash and crash on the coast and seagulls float around looking for their daily grub.

Seagulls at Pismo Beach

There were very few people out, even though it was a delightfully warm day. Beaches are so perfect for strolling. Listening to the surf, feeling the damp sand between your toes and tasting the salty moisture in the air is the most relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Frolicking amongst the surf

A happy dog made us smile as he ran along the coast, playing in the surf and running around on his endless playground. We unwillingly headed back to our car after spending a couple hours at Pismo. It was time to go home. But turned out to be not yet! We made a serendipitous discovery on our way back! As we took a turn near Pacific / Monarch Grove which is a park adjacent to the beach, we spotted a huge number of people who were standing around under the trees and craning up their necks. Most of them had big cameras on tripods with fancy telephoto lenses. We were still on the road and couldn’t figure out what on earth these people were gawking at and photographing. Curiosity got the better of us, so we pulled in to park behind a long line of cars, hopped out and went to the park entrance to see what was up.

Monarch butterflies cluster around on the eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove, California

And oh wow, what was truly up! Hordes and hordes of beautiful monarch butterflies, milling around the eucalyptus trees, fluttering and flying and falling and getting back in the air, soaking up the warmth of the sun rays. It was a breathtaking sight to behold! We stood there witnessing one of the Great Migrations, which one gets to only see on documentaries airing on NatGeo. There were several docents talking about the butterflies, the migration, and providing top class info that would have made any lepidopterist proud.

A Monarch butterfly settles on a docent’s hand to rest

As we stood there wonderstruck, watching the frenzy of yellow and black wings glinting in the sunlight, a monarch butterfly fluttered to the ground. The docent picked up the butterfly gently off the ground so that it wouldn’t get trodden over by unseeing feet. Holding it gingerly on her palm, the docent explained that the butterfly appeared tired and frail from all the flying around. They do fly around a lot. The wings were all huddled together and she sat there unmoving. After a few minutes she started to gain back some of the energy and opened up her wings. Everybody exclaimed with delight at seeing the beautiful markings of orange, black and white on the wings. We kept a safe distance so that the butterfly felt free to fly away whenever she got her mojo back.

Soon she was closing and opening her wings, gaining strength with every passing moment. Then she took off! We barely got a chance to say goodbye, but in a span of a few minutes, the butterfly allowed us a peek into it’s beautiful, frail world.

Monarch butterfly gets ready to take off

Monarch butterflies of North America migrate from the West along the California Coast seeking warmth and food during the winter. The larvae feed on milkweed which produces toxins in the adult butterfly, thus making them poisonous and unappetizing to birds and other predators. There are other non-poisonous butterflies which mimic the orange and black colorings of the Monarch to keep away the predators. Nature is amazing when it comes to mimicry and camouflage for survival. During the migration along the West Coast in California, the Monarchs seek warmth among the tall eucalyptus trees. They wait for the right moment to mate, so that the larvae come out in time when the milkweed is ready for them to feed on. And then the second generation of newly born and well-fed Monarch butterflies make their way back North to the homeland of their ancestors.

Monarch butterflies cover a tree branch, looking like lovely extensions of the tree itself

Happy cows munching and mooing

With that ended our weekend in San Luis Obispo. A bit of everything – new activities, relaxing B&B’s, witnessing one of nature’s most magical moments … and then we were back on our way. We zoomed past happy-looking cows who were grazing blissfully on misty ranches overlooking the ocean … happy cows make yummy cheese!

Spring in California

Dear California, we hope you never ever ever change. In any way big or small. Always stay green, warm, blue and beautiful. Always stay lost so we can find you and then find ourselves in you.

 

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From → San Luis Obispo, USA

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