Entering into Pacific Grove Life for 3 Days

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I was driving home from the grocery store and I spied this garden as I drove by. I parked nearby and walked back to take some photos. The homeowner was at the mailbox so I asked permission to take photos. Cindy invited me to get a closer look.

I used to live in Pacific Grove in the mid-80s. A lot has changed since then, and at the same time it is still a delightfully “normal” place to visit. The neighborhoods and downtown on Lighthouse Avenue are charming. It is bounded by Ocean View Avenue with a rugged and beautiful coastline. I prefer to stay here over any other part of the Monterey Peninsula.

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Cindy and her family moved here in 1987 and incrementally created this garden over the years. They don’t have a backyard, but we agreed that we typically only use one or the other. This is better allocation. 

In the past I have stayed at motels and hotels. This visit I am with my daughter and her family so we rented a home. We looked on VRBO and Airbnb and we found the 2 bedroom 2 bath home we are renting on Airbnb. It has been more comfortable than 2 hotel rooms and about the same price.

  • We can cook meals.
  • There is a living room where Calvin can make play with his toys (and make a mess).
  • We can play dominoes at the dining table and laugh without worrying about waking up a sleeping toddler.
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Cindy even invited me to come in to the house to see her paintings. I shared some of my favorite artists on Instagram. We had a great conversation.

There is a debate raging about the phenomenon of vacation rentals and how it is changing the neighborhoods and city finances of Pacific Grove (PG). My daughter saw a sign for Measure M. I did some research and learned that Monterey and Carmel have tight restrictions on the vacation rental market and PG does not. Also residents have been complaining about over-concentrations of homes for short-term rent for over 3 years and the city council had not taken any action. I had noticed that many of the motels and hotels had vacancy signs, which is uncommon in my memory. There is usually some kind of conference going on at Asilomar or tourism that keeps them near full.

We were walking on Asilomar Beach with Calvin and a dog and then another 2 year old and her dad joined us. We did the usual back and forth about the kids and then he asked where we were staying. We admitted that we were staying in a home nearby. He shared his frustration with the vacation rental situation. “They aren’t paying the taxes they owe the city.” He also alluded to the partying and recently moving from Nashville, which was a party town, he was hoping to escape that scene. Sarah and I weren’t quite sure what his point was as we haven’t witnessed anything but deer roaming the streets and senior citizens power walking in the neighborhood. I mentioned that my neighbor has dedicated his investment property (across the street from me in Midtown Sacramento) for AirBnB rental. People are coming and going during the week and weekends. They typically empty a lot of “bottles” into the recycling, but to be fair, they have yet to disturb anyone.

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Not all people in Pacific Grove are this friendly, nevertheless if you stay open, you are more likely to have a great experience and possibly meet a kindred spirit.

As a consumer of temporary housing when I travel, I appreciate the range of choice available today. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the challenges it creates, especially in housing markets where rentals are already scarce and prices are rising. I also remember the signs posted in Venice, Italy protesting Airbnb and the perceived effect that it was pricing “real Venetians” out of Venice.

As we walked back to the car, Sarah and I discussed our conversation with the local who is going to vote to limit vacation rentals to the coastal zone (1 mile from coastline) and the business district. He wasn’t unfriendly, just frustrated. We wondered if we shouldn’t have rented the home we are staying in, and decided that we were unaware of the controversy, we are in the coastal zone, and it isn’t illegal. We’d like to come every year, so we’ll have to think through our options next year. Also, does Airbnb pay the local transient occupancy tax or expect hosts to do so?

IMG_5238When I lived here in the 80s, the prices were climbing well beyond the ability of people mostly working service jobs to afford to buy. Then the problem was that some of the supply was taken off the market by people who could afford to buy a second or third home on the Peninsula. They only spent a few weeks a year in Carmel or Pebble Beach and this had a ripple effect in the entire housing market. The Airbnb phenomenon makes it possible for upper middle class people to buy a vacation home and afford it thanks to additional rents.

It is complicated. When Airbnb started I thought it was restricted to host-occupied residences. It was both the attraction and the turn-off. I prefer a hotel to a Bed & Breakfast because I prefer to be left alone. Now it has become a platform for entrepreneurs with enough cash to invest in a dedicated vacation property. I use ride sharing services and appreciate the greater availability of cars where I am, the app’s easy way to pay, but it has not been so great for taxis. A lot of these apps disrupt the existing order of things and create new opportunities for consumers and the industrious. Hopefully Pacific Grove will find the right balance.

Monterey Bay a Superb Marine Sanctuary

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I became a member when my grandson was born. This trip we are celebrating his second birthday with multiple trips to the Aquarium.

As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I try to visit as often as I can. Indeed, the entire Monterey Bay offers an opportunity to observe marine life. Just a few days ago a “superpod” of dolphins was caught on video by the Aquarium staff. As my 2 year old grandson would say, “Wow!”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/07/645677562/watch-superpod-of-dolphins-seen-racing-off-california-coast

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gives those of us unable to snorkel or dive the opportunity to see life under the sea. The Open Sea exhibit has hammerhead sharks and two sea turtles. I spent at least 5 minutes watching the female octopus actively exploring her space.

The sea otters are favorites. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate them because of the crowds. My friend UK Sarah was reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and he didn’t mention sea otters. I double checked with the docents and they agreed the sea otters were almost hunted to extinction when Steinbeck was in Monterey County. They began to make a comeback in the mid-70s. The growing public support for marine life made it possible to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The kelp forests are essential for the otters, yet without otters the urchins proliferate and eat the kelp forests. Thanks to the Aquarium’s education and conservation programs the Bay has become a much friendlier place for all marine life.

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I learned a few things on these visits to the Aquarium. Two year olds (not just Calvin) will vocalize in a way that sounds a lot like screaming like a monkey when they are frightened by the “ocean wave experience” or a scary fish. Mostly though they are in awe and very excited to take it all in.

And I still love the penguins!

 

Western Hills Garden a Gem

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There is so much to see and do in Sonoma County. There is the coastline, the Russian River and the party town of Guerneville. You can wine taste in Healdsburg or Sonoma. Great food abounds in Petaluma and throughout the county. Many of the historic Italian dining rooms dotted throughout the western county are still serving lunch and dinner. One that holds many memories for me is Union Hotel in Occidental, California. I don’t know how young I was the first time I rode in the car from Occidental, up and over Coleman Valley Road and dropped down to Highway One and the Bodega Bay on the other side. Dramatic scenery abounds and if it is foggy it adds an element of terror to the ride. I have a romantic spot in my heart for Coleman Valley Road.

When my Auntie J sent me the notice about the Western Hills Garden reopening for visitors this summer and I saw the address (16250 Coleman Valley Road), I got a little thrill. We needed to go on Saturday because that is the only public day that I generally have free. I saw that dogs on a leash were welcome so I packed up Lulu the adventure dog and we headed to Petaluma to pick up my Auntie.

IMG_4468We drove the backroads through Valley Ford to Occidental. Coleman Valley Road deadends in to the middle of town. The garden is part way up the hill from town on the right. There is parking along the road. The garden and plant sales are open Saturday from 10 – 4 as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.

The entrance fee is $12 for adults. The garden provides a map but the 3 acres of paths are straightforward. Lulu was so excited by the smells of garden cats and wild animals. We were excited by the amazing plants–oversized lilies, large rhododendrons, and a tremendous diversity of plants.

We saved some time for plant shopping. I found some specimens that are hard to find in most nurseries. Now that I have so much shade, I can consider some plants that couldn’t survive in my Central Valley garden with hot summer sun.

IMG_4478I’d go back to shop for plants (no entry fee needed) or to show the garden to friends. It is always inspiring to see a truly well designed garden.

We returned to Petaluma via Sebastopol and to Amy’s Drive In in Rohnert Park. Amy’s features delicious vegetarian diner food. It is just a block from an In-N-Out if you prefer a double-double.

 

 

Cooking Lessons in Southeast Asia

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Cooking classes are a great way to expand your cooking repertoire and learning new skills. I’ve taken classes in Sonoma, California and in my hometown. My son Tevis Spezia took it to a new level when he spent 4 months in Southeast Asia. He took two classes–one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and one in Hội An, Vietnam. He found both of them on Trip Advisor, which is his go-to when he’s looking for interesting activities when traveling.

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Tevis’ interest in cooking started with lessons from me for he and his friends Jenn and Heather. He quickly expanded his abilities past easy enchiladas and pasta sauce. While he lived in San Francisco he cooked dinner every week with a group of friends with a range of cooking experience. He tried a lot of new recipes and learned new skills.

“You can only go on so many walking tours and see so many museums, so I thought I’d try a cooking class.”  The Chiang Mai class included pick up and drop off from his hostel, and a shopping excursion at the market. Then they went to the farm kitchen for meal prep.

 

 

Tevis did feel like the odd man out in Chiang Mai as it was all couples except him. He did suggest the class to his dinner party friends Alison and Craig who honeymooned in Thailand. His experience in Vietnam was different–there was a mix of singletons and couples. He even ended up mopeding to the next town with someone he met in the class.

In Vietnam they spent more time in the markets shopping and even traveled part of the way by boat. Then they returned to a classroom kitchen in town. They made this specialty rice cake and crepe like pancakes used to roll up with different fillings. Tevis’ favorite recipe and one he’ll make again was the fresh spring rolls. They also made pho, but Tevis didn’t see the point in making pho when you only had to walk a few steps to find phenomenal pho made from a family recipe. And it was all so cheap (about $1.50 a bowl). Even in Boston, where he lives now, he’s more likely to buy a bowl a pho at a restaurant than make it himself.

I didn’t ask if he’d take another cooking class on future trips, because I knew the answer! Tevis’ Chilean cooking class is featured in next blog post.

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Thanks Tevis Spezia for sharing your experience with Adventures of American Julie.

 

Eureka Zoo a Delightful Surprise

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Entrance to the petting zoo where we saw a tame skunk!

 

I enjoyed learning more about Eureka, California on my last visit to Humboldt County. My friend teaches at a school near the zoo, so after we dropped some supplies off at her classroom we circled back to Sequoia Park Zoo. Harriet mentioned that they have an award winning otter exhibit and I was ready to faff around the zoo for an hour or two.

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The zoo is about the size of the Sacramento Zoo, and a fraction the size of the San Diego Zoo, but still maintains a good variety of animals and does an exceptional job with the enclosures and displays.

We had fun and I’d go again, perhaps when I am not so tired.

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Thank you WatLovs for making my weekend getaway so much fun!

 

Shopping Spree on Humboldt Bay

Everytime I go to Humboldt County to visit friends I don’t have a serious intention of shopping. Then Harriet and I start fossicking around Arcata. All of the shops are unique and interesting–no chain stores on the Plaza. There are certain stores we always pop into. This particular day Nora wanted to have brunch at Renata’s Creperie. We stopped at the aptly named Fabric Temptations and I bought a wonderful book called Hygge Knits. Then on to Hot Knots to browse at clothes and the Garden Gate for garden related gifts. We walked across the street to Caravan of Dreams where I found the ceramic pie pan that had been elusive.

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Special of the Day at Renata’s Creperie

We moved on to a new store that I’d never explored: Scrap. It is like a thrift store for paper, fabric, and all kinds of interesting items for collage and assemblage! I had a fascinating time, bought enough stuff to fill the back of my Mini and only spent $43.

We drove around the Bay to Eureka and started at Henderson Center where my favorite yarn shop has moved and I bought wool for a new project. There are many other wonderful stores including a Japanese market and a very good toy store. I was able to buy my grandson’s birthday present instead of relying on Amazon.

Then we continued our mooching in old Town Eureka. The wonderful local writer Amy Stewart and her husband own Eureka books. I went a little crazy getting used classic children’s books to donate to my local elementary school. I found another beautiful knitting shop in Old Town called Knitterly. By this time were famished again and stopped as Los Bagels for a sandwich.

It was a super day and I have no buyer’s remorse. It makes me happy to boost the Humboldt County economy.

 

 

Don’t Miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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The mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a gem of an aquarium. It is a truly excellent place to visit if you have children, but even has a lot to offer adults. In addition to the delightful permanent exhibits with the Kelp Forest (with sharks), Sea Otters, Jellyfish and Penguins, the Aquarium hosts special exhibits.  Thanks to the animated film Finding Dory and the Octopus hero Hank, octopi have been rehabilitated in the public consciousness. I’ve always admired the intelligence and ingenuity of octopi so I enthusiastically entered “Tentacles.” It was worth it just to see the Giant Pacific Octopus. Wow.

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Nearby is an excellent exhibit on plastics in our oceans and what we can do to reduce this insidious pollution. I particularly enjoyed various artists’ use of plastic to make sea-inspired collages. You can read more about this issue on the Aquarium’s website.

You can eat at the Aquarium’s cafe, or enjoy your picnic lunch outside on one of the observation decks. The brilliance of rehabilitating an old sardine cannery is more obvious when you stand on a deck extending over the Monterey Bay. I’d actually like to come back on a bad weather day!

I do not like to eat a lot of fish, but I know fish is a healthy choice. I have used my concern over commercial over-fishing to avoid ordering fish at restaurants. Now I can download the Aquarium’s Seawatch App on my phone to check for safe options to enjoy fish guilt-free. Check it out.

I used my AAA member discount to buy my ticket through the AAA website, even so, it is $50 to visit. This may not make you blink, but it does make me pause. I want to be able to spend 2.5 hours or more at that price. I had not been in years–the penguin exhibit had not been added so it was probably pre-1998–and I wasn’t sure I’d visit more than once a year.  Once I experienced the variety of exhibits and spent time on the deck watching the sea, I realized I want to make it more of a habit and I want to share it with my grandson. So I went to the membership desk and converted my ticket to a membership. Watch this space for reviews of the special tours and member events.