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A good friend of mine recently asked me to suggest a vacation itinerary in California. He was from Texas and wanted to get the most out of his limited time. My suggestion was to start in Monterey and work your way south on Highway 1, all the way to Hearst Castle. Take your time, I told him, as this is as good as it gets in roadside scenery.


Monterey

My column frequently deals with golf and the Monterey/Carmel area is one of the golf world’s most popular destinations. It is not necessary to play golf here to take in the charm and one-of-a-kind vistas. Monterey was originally a fishermen’s village with a fairly calm bay greeting the returning vessels. The scenery is easily accessed at Cannery Row and other restaurant/shop collections ringing the harbor.

It is fairly common to see a Sea Otter sunning himself on his back as the kelp-laden tide rolls in. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is worthy of a few hours’ time, especially if you have little ones in tow. It might just be the best one in the U.S. and also offers great views of the bay, stretching all the way to Santa Cruz. Visit MontereyBayAquarium.org for further details.


Carmel

Carmel by the Sea is popular for boutique shopping and elegant restaurant faire. It is just a couple of blocks from the ocean, so those that prefer not to shop have plenty to do. Carmel Beach is a stunning piece of property, with rolling sand dunes and famed Pebble Beach Golf Course just to the right. Point Lobos and Big Sur beckon on a sunny day, but no need to hurry away from this calming spot. The Hog’s Breath Inn is a more casual place for lunch or dinner, and it is popular with golfers returning from an outing along the 17-Mile Drive. Those in search of a more formal atmosphere would do well to take a look at Il Fornaio, a traditional Italian trattoria.


Highway 1

There is much debate as to which direction is better to travel famed Hwy 1 from Big Sur to San Simeon. To me, it depends upon what time of day. Having the sun at your back might well offer the best colors. That means heading south in the evening and north in the morning. Another thought might include safety. The road south travels right along the cliff, so the driver better have some discipline with his ocean gazes. There are many places to stop along the route, but my favorite is the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The waterfall there is wondrous, as it drops 80 feet into the churning waters of the rough Pacific. Bixby Bridge is often photographed and always seems to look a bit different.


San Simeon

As you make your way past Rocky Point, the road becomes much easier to navigate. The coastline is still beautiful, and popular with elephant seals. Just north of San Simeon, there is a huge gathering of these massive creatures almost within touching distance at Piedra Blancas. It has become so popular now that all you have to do is look for a large crowd of cars parked. There are hundreds of the seals basking on the beach huddled together for more warmth. The onlookers often seem too close for comfort, but alas, the elephant seals are weary from their long journey and too tired to notice. Hearst Castle is why most people stop here, and it will be a memorable visit for all. There are several tours to choose from and a movie at the roadside visitors’ center. Unlike the dark, dreary depiction in Citizen Kane, this is a hilltop castle with lots of sun and water.

There are two main pools named the Neptune and Roman. The former is the signature creation here with intricate tile work that could never be duplicated. The structures at Hearst Castle are not as large as you might have thought, but the property is very large. Can you imagine that Hearst owned all the land inland as far as Highway 101? If the weather is good, you will be in no hurry to leave with ocean views as far as the eye can see. Go to HearstCastle.org to complete your plans.