Thursday, June 17, 2010

10 Steps to a Perfect Day in Big Sur

On purpose, I didn't title this blog post "10 Steps to the Perfect Day in Big Sur." I'm suspicious of travel writers (or Yelp! reviewers, for that matter) who claim to know what the best of anything is, whether it's fish tacos or Asian art museums. So consider this just one idea among many of how to spend a soul-nourishing summer's day in Big Sur, that remote chunk of California coast that lies south of Monterey and north of well, my house.
  • Start off with a big ol' breakfast at First Awakenings, a little cafe with a big outdoor patio and a fire pit. It's around the corner from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but tucked away from the dazed crowds wandering Cannery Row, wondering what John Steinbeck ever saw in the place.
  • Roll down to Carmel-by-the-Sea and stop into Bruno's Market. Head directly to the deli at the back and order a tri-tip sandwich and picnic salads to go. Why? You'll thank me later. Big Sur has notoriously overpriced, often underwhelming food. Besides, eating at the beach is more fun.
  • Swing by Point Lobos State Reserve (admission $10; open from 8 a.m. until 30 minutes after sunset daily). Stretch your legs on the coastal trails, or at least say hello to the barking sea lions (they're the ones with ears) and spotted harbor seals (no ears).
  • Where everyone else stops to take a photo of Big Sur's iconic Bixby Bridge, you can head inland to explore the original coast highway, now called the Old Coast Road, 11 ocean-view miles of satisfying 4WD and mountain-biking terrain.
  • Or just keep driving south with everyone else, past Point Sur's historic lighthouse (guided tours occasionally available), down to Andrew Molera State Park (near where the Old Coast Road also dumps you back out onto Hwy 1). Give $10 to California State Parks (they need the money!) and park in the lot, near gentle trails that lead to a windy, rocky beach and a grassy campground.
  • Save your parking receipt, because it'll also get you in free to Big Sur's other state parks on the same day. Drive south to Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park (open 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset daily). Hop out of the car and hug some redwood trees, then reward yourself with some ice cream from the store at the rustic Big Sur Lodge.
  • About a half-mile south of the Big Sur ranger station, look for a small turn-off on your right, labeled as 'Narrow Road.' And that's an understatement: be prepared to wind downhill for over 2 twisting miles to reach Pfeiffer Beach (admission $5; open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily). It's famous for two things: a cinematic sea arch battered by pounding surf; and sand that's tinged with purple by manganese garnet that washes down from the hillsides.
  • If you didn't bring along a picnic lunch, then your next pit stop is Nepenthe, a restaurant hanging in the treetops by the sea. Otherwise, you can double back here later to sip wine and nibble appys as you huddle around the outdoor terrace fire pit and watch the sun get swallowed up by the sea.
  • Wondering where Big Sur's beatnik spirit has gone? Reconnect with it in the real bohemian grove (of redwoods, that is) at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. I never know what to expect when dropping by: outdoor movies, a musician's jam, or once, an impromptu wedding! Even when nothing special is happening, you can just chill, browse the books and have a cup o' community joe.
  • Still got your state parks entry receipt? Good, because you'll need it once more for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (open 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset daily). Get out of the car and walk through the tunnel underneath the highway, then hang a right. Keep looking off toward the ocean. You may literally gasp when you glimpse McWay Falls, coastal California's only waterfall that drops into the ocean (well, either that or onto the beach, depending on the tide).
There's a lot more I could tell you about Big Sur, from moonlight hot-springs soaks and beachcombing for jade to visiting the California condor bird-banding lab, but I'll have to save that for another day (and another blog post).

What are your fave spots in Big Sur? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

Photo: McWay Falls (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Doh! Don't Miss the LA Donut Summit on Sunday

What's better for Sunday brunch than a box of classic glazed donuts? How about apple fritters? Or old-fashioned bear claws? The mind boggles with the panoply of choices.

Still can't decide? Well, get yourself to the LA Donut Summit in Griffith Park this Sunday, June 13. It's like a Christmas cookie swap party, except it's ginormous and held outdoors in the sunshine. All you have to do is show up by 1PM at the park's Vermont Avenue picnic area with a box of a dozen donuts from a local shop (for suggestions, click here). Public tasting and judging begins around 1:30PM, with Donut Marshalls (hey, how do I get that job?) supervising the cutting up of donuts so that everyone gets a taste of more than just 12 flavors.

Confused about exactly how all this deliciousness works? Check out the 2010 Donut Summit FAQ or follow 'em on Twitter to get all the late-breaking news.

Photo credit: Michael Connolly, Jr.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Get Outside! National Parks Free This Weekend (& Later This Summer, Too)

Recently, I've been outside, hiking all over southern Utah and making the most of that glorious weather window between spring and summer. You know, when it's not too unbearably hot in the desert badlands, yet the mountainous high country is just starting to open after snow melt. Now here's your excuse to get out there and do the same.

All US national parks are free-free this weekend. About 75% of NPS sites usually don't charge admission anyway. But for the 100 or so that do (including top-tier parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Zion), you'll be saving yourself $20 to $25 a carload. Who can resist the call of the wild when it's free?

If you miss this fee-free weekend, don't worry. Just plan your national parks trip for August 14 & 15, the next weekend when admission fees will be waived. (Or September 25, National Public Lands Day, by which time the crushing summer crowds will have left.)

Photo credit: Bryce Canyon NP (Michael Connolly, Jr.)