Monday, April 15, 2013

Big Sur Wedding & Sideways Experience in Santa Barbara Wine Country

One of my best friends, Jeremy Lamont, was getting married up in Big Sur on Friday so Tori and I traveled up to celebrate with him and his bride, Rebecca. To cut the seven hour drive in half, we drove to Buellton and stayed Thursday night at the Windmill so we could have more time to explore Big Sur before the wedding ceremony in the afternoon. After having fun with the DIY Waffle Maker in the lobby, we headed north on Highway 1 through the rolling hills of California's Central Coast.

In San Simeon, we stopped south of the lighthouse on Point Piedras Blancas to check out the basking elephant seals. In April, the females and juveniles haul out onto the beaches for molting season where they lie in the sun, grunting and flipping sand across their bodies. We did not get to see any of the giant males because they molt later in the year. Leaving the low-lying grassy hills behind, we entered Big Sur, driving up the winding road to our second stop at Ragged Point. It was a beautiful sunny day, so our first sight of the steep cliffs dropping into the Pacific Ocean took my breath away.

Continuing along the coastline, we reached Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park at 1pm where a friend from work suggested that we check out the waterfall pouring onto the beach at McWay Cove. As we hiked down along the stream and exited the tunnel under the highway, the bright turquoise waters of the cove shone in the sun. Walking along the cliff, the McWay Falls slowly came into view below us as it pounded into the sand. Just beyond the falls, crashing surf splashed through the small cave under Saddle Rock. On the other side of the point, we spotted a sea otter swimming between the rocks below. Driving back south, we were starving so we stopped for lunch at the Lucia Lodge, a tiny resort town built onto the cliff side. The Garlic Pesto Chicken Sandwich was delicious. (Tip: Buy the Root Beer Float Cookie. Wow!)

Two miles south of Lucia is the Limekiln State Park Campgrounds, set in a steep canyon that contains the southernmost redwood groves in California. Since Tori and I arrived for the wedding before anyone else, we hiked up the half mile trail beside the Limekiln Creek to the old abandoned lime kilns. Even though it was a hot sunny day, it was nice and shady under the young redwoods, some growing out of the huge remaining stumps of old growth trees. At the top, we found the four iron and stone kilns built in the late 1880's to burn and purify the limestone they quarried from the canyon. The workers cut down the original redwood trees to fire the kilns and make barrels for the lime they slid down on cables to the beach at Rockland Landing.

While the Kiln Trail had three bridges over Limekiln Creek, the Falls Trail was less developed and we had to cross the East Fork several times on rickety logs laid down in the stream bed. At the end we enjoyed the sight of the pretty fan-shaped waterfall, splitting down two sides of a rock outcrop for a hundred feet before rejoining at the bottom. Occasionally on our hike, we could see the burnt traces of the 2008 Chalk Fire that closed the park until 2011. At the trail head, the California Conservation Corps had set up a camp to work on the park. Heading down to the beach, I took pictures of the creek flowing under Highway 1 before it crossed the sand into the ocean.

Tori and I bumped into the slightly lost pastor on the trail and we directed him to the correct campsite as the other guests began to arrive. At six, the wedding began in a perfect spot, a raised cluster of redwoods next to the bubbling creek, as Jeremy and Rebecca exchanged vows in a beautiful ceremony. As the temperature started to drop, we drove down the coast to check in at the San Simeon Lodge before meeting everybody for the reception dinner in Cambria. We all had a great time at Robin's, talking and laughing during our delicious meal. (Lobster Enchiladas and Chocolate Wedding Cake!) I am glad that Tori finally got a chance to meet my good friend. Sunday morning, the coastline was covered in fog as we woke up and headed to Hearst Castle for our 10am tour of the Grand Rooms. As the bus wound up the green hills of the large estate, the sun burst through the marine layer right as we passed through the gate of La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill).

Fast moving mist banks floated in and out around the two tall towers of the Casa Grande as our guide, Michael, described the architectural influences of a Spanish cathedral and San Diego's Balboa Park on the main building. Entering the Assembly Room, dominated by a huge fireplace, we learned that it was the main socializing area for Hearst and his famous guests as they played poker or drank cocktails on the overstuffed chairs. The high-ceilinged room was crammed with rare statues and tapestries. Passing through a hidden door in the wood paneling we entered the Refectory, the monastic dining hall lined with silk flags. At each communal meal, the seating order along the long table revealed Hearst's interest in your continuing presence as his guest. If you were moved too far down the table, that was your hint that it was time to go. Passing through the Morning Room undergoing reconstruction, we learned about Hearst's suffragette mother before entering the Billiard Room where Micheal talked about the castle's female architect, Julia Morgan. The ever-changing construction plans of the mansion evolved to house W.R. Hearst's immense art collection he acquired on his many trips throughout Europe.

Since W.R. Hearst owned a movie studio, he had a theater built in the north wing where he and his guests gathered every night for a newsreel and a film at 11pm. We watched some old footage of the castle in its heyday on the square Academy-Style screen before heading out into the sun to explore the grounds on our own. First, we walked along the Esplanade to the immense outdoor Neptune Pool lined with statues. With an original façade from an ancient Roman Temple on one end and two marble colonnaded pavilions on each side, it outshined any fancy Vegas pool I have ever visited. The mist started to roll back in as we wandered among the three guest houses spaced out along the garden paths, the Casa del Monte, Casa del Sol and Casa del Mar. Walking around the incomplete South Wing to the rear of the Casa Grande, we found the tennis courts built above the indoor Roman Pool decorated with blue and gold mosaic tiles and eight statues of Roman gods. The sunlight filtered in through glass tiles lining the nets of the courts above.

Boarding an empty bus back down to the visitor center, we chatted with the driver about the Hearst family as we passed the old zoo enclosures that once held a polar bear. It was noon as we drove back down the coast, escaping the fog as we reached the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara Wine Country. We were staying another night at "Buellton at the Windmill", the roadside hotel made famous in the Oscar-winning film, "Sideways", by one of my favorite directors, Alexander Payne. So many scenes were shot at this location that it was easy to spot the areas where Miles and Jack spent their time during the movie's bachelor trip.

For our first stop, we headed to the Alma Rosa Winery off of Santa Rosa Road. It was also the first winery visited in the film, where a snobby Miles teaches Jack the proper way to appreciate wine. - "Let me show you how this is done. First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light. You're looking for color and clarity. Just, get a sense of it. OK? Thick? Thin? Watery? Syrupy? OK? Alright. Now, tip it. What you're doing here is checking for color density as it thins out towards the rim. That's gonna tell you how old it is, among other things. It's usually more important with reds. OK? Now, stick your nose in it. Don't be shy, really get your nose in there. Mmm... a little citrus... maybe some strawberry... passion fruit... and, oh, there's just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese..."

Alma Rosa was a rustic and pretty place, surrounded by low hills and reached by a dirt road. We passed a lot of horse trailers on the way to the small ranch house, Rancho El Jabalí. Tori and I both tried the Pinot Noir Flight, five different tastings of Miles' favorite wine varietal. - "It's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet."

For our second stop, we drove past Solvang to the Kalyra Winery. It is the film location where Miles and Jack meet Stephanie who worked as a pourer. This is also where Miles uttered one of my favorite lines from the movie as he poured out his wine into the spit bucket. - "Quaffable, but uh... far from transcendent." - Pretty hungry by this point in the afternoon, we ordered a cheese platter with our wine. Tori tried the Reserve Desert and Port Tasting and I had the regular Sampler Tasting. While I am not normally a fan of whites, the 2011 Barrel Select Chardonnay was amazing, very light and refreshing. I also really enjoyed Tori's NV Orange Muscat. After our tasting, we walked around the vineyard for about an hour, enjoying the beautiful afternoon sunshine.

Back at the Windmill, we went into the Jacuzzi for a bit before walking down the road to The Hitching Post for dinner. I should have realized that the famous restaurant from the movie would be packed on a Saturday night and called for a reservation, but nope, I didn't and we ended up having to wait an hour and a half for a table. We were starving by the time we sat down at 9, but the food was very good. I especially loved the salsa they provide with the steak which I have never tried together before. It was also entertaining to listen to the drunken conversation from the friendly table next to us. One of them turned out to live in Encinitas as well, and thought he knew me from around town. While the half mile walk to the restaurant was fun, it was pretty cold on the way back. Probably should have drove.

Sunday morning we slept in before driving into Solvang for a late breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant. Tori and I shared a plate of their Danish specialty, Aebleskivers, fluffy balls of dough covered with powdered sugar and raspberry jam. So good! I should have gotten myself three plates and skipped my French Toast. We then walked round the sunny village, buying some Ingeborg's Danish Chocolates before getting back on the road. In Santa Barbara, we stopped to check out the giant Moreton Bay Fig Tree, planted in 1876, and walked around downtown for a bit before driving the rest of the way home to San Diego. What a fun three-day weekend!


  1. Anonymous11:14 PM

    Where exactly was the wedding? Limekiln? My fiance and I are researching spots.

  2. Yes, they reserved a spot at the Limekiln State Park Campgrounds and held the ceremony in a small cluster of redwoods nearby.