Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sabbatical Recap II - Cambria, CA

During the first week of my 7-week sabbatical, we traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area to see friends and family. During the second half of that trip, we indulged my inexplicable craving to be near the ocean by driving solo down part of the California coast, and stayed in Cambria, "where the pines meet the sea", a super tiny, quaint beach town with a row of hotels and motels along the beach. This was the view from our hotel room for two nights:
Once we arrived, we were very excited to indulge in fresh, local seafood and fine wines from nearby Paso Robles wine country. While all the guidebooks said that the Sea Chest restaurant was the best seafood in town, we were disappointed by the menu when we stopped by to check it out (most of the seafood was Atlantic or imported vs. local!), so we ended up on the oceanside patio of the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill both nights of our stay, and we weren't disappointed. The food was deliciously prepared and very fresh, and nothing could beat dining on the oceanside patio and listening to the waves roll in. It was a perfect paradise, and we hope to make it a habit to visit the area regularly.

The first night of our stay, we slept with the windows wide open to get the full experience of sleeping near the ocean. Funny enough, as exhausted as we both were, neither of us could sleep because of the sheer ENERGY bursting through our windows from the ocean. It was the strangest sensation: a delightful insomnia. I've read that the ocean emits a ton of positive-ionic energy, particularly along beaches where the waves crash in. I don't know about all that, but I know what I experienced that night, and it was pure, blissful, positive ENERGY. I don't know how else to describe it. We didn't sleep much that night, but the second night we drew the curtains over partially-opened windows, and we slept through the night like content kittens to the sound of gently rolling waves.

Cambria is an immediate neighbor to the town of San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle, the ridiculously sprawling estate of the late newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. We didn't stop by the Castle on this visit as we have toured it before, but if you're ever planning a trip to the area, it's definitely a don't-miss attraction.

Cambria is also near a town called San Luis Obispo, at the heart of Paso Robles wine country. Paso Robles isn't as easy to get to as Sonoma or Napa, so it's not quite as popular, but the wines from the area are excellent.

Because it's much warmer than other California wine regions, the wines in Paso Robles are typically heavier, red Rhone-style wines (like Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah), but sophisticated winemakers in the region also turn out some great Bordeaux varietals and blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec). We took a day to visit several wineries and found that there are two halves to Paso Robles wine country: the west side and the east side. We found the wineries on the west side (closer to the ocean) to be more sophisticated and concerned with quality rather than just getting tasters drunk, as on the east side.

We visited Denner Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Justin Vineyards & Winery, and Tobin James, with a stop in San Luis Obispo for lunch and some olive oil tasting. Olives, artichokes, citrus fruit, and avocados grow rampant in the area, so farmers' markets and olive oil tasting are among the region's attractions. I've never tasted oils like wine (smelling aroma, tasting, and evaluating in a designated tasting room) and it was a pleasant surprise. My favorites were the high-quality extra virgin olive oils, and oils infused with local citrus oils, such as lemon and mandarin orange. Needless to say, we took home a bottle of local olive oil to enjoy on our salads and countless other dishes.

Cambria was among the most relaxing and enjoyable memories I'll entertain from this sabbatical. What a hidden gem!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sabbatical Recap I - Burlingame to San Francisco

Meandering through the streets of our old neighborhood in Burlingame, California, enjoying the sweet, warm yellow light of an autumn afternoon, stopping at Weimax Wines & Spirits for a couple of fine wines to bring to Jon's sister's house for dinner later that evening, discussing with the wine shop staff how great New Mexico champagne is (and perhaps how they'll now carry it because they keep hearing about how wonderful and tasty it is!).

Afterward, driving into the mysterious, claw-like fogbank hanging over the hills approaching San Francisco, visiting the newly renovated California Academy of Sciences ($50 admission-ouch!) and marveling at the green rooftop, complete with grass, maritime skylights, weather detector...and plunging inside to float among luminous jellyfish, an albino alligator, and so many other undersea wonders. Felt a little guilty about eating sushi just afterward at Hotei on 9th Avenue, but also reveled in feelings of the past, when we shared dating bliss at many a sushi meal in that neighborhood just seven years ago....