Friday, December 30, 2011

Big Sur, California - Coastal Wondering

Big Sur
Fuelled up on Brenda's grits, we set off on our drive down Big Sur (enroute to Vegas). I'd planned it so we'd stop for lunch at Carmel, snack at Big Sur Bakery, then arrive in time for dinner at Pismo Beach, where our night's accommodation would be.

Carmel. Don't get too excited, it's still America
There were two main takeaways from this part of the drive. A) Big Sur is a nice coastal drive, and B) Don't do it on a Monday.

Ocean Ave., Carmel
A) Big Sur is a nice coastal drive.

Yes, it is. I mean, a huge long stretch of crashing waves, cobalt-blue seas; on a clear day like the one we enjoyed, it looked lovely. The problem I have with it is that people go on, and on, and on about it. Like, seriously, on and on and on. It's supposed to be the best coastal drive ever. But it's not. Have you ever driven down the Mornington Peninsula in Australia, for example? The Great Ocean Road? Heck, even T, who is from the gloomiest of the gloomy boonies in England (sorry T, just trying to make a point), has been on drives just as nice. I've come up with a theory about this.

Aw, it's Carmel
My theory is that America is such a vast country, and there are just two coasts. The one on the east is usually too cold and gloomy, so that leaves the one on the right. And indeed, it's pretty. But because most people don't live near the sea, or a coast of these proportions, they're going to think it's the best thing ever. Everything is relative, and yes, it could well be the best thing they've ever seen. Because America is such a vast country with such an established market of their own, they don't realise that people from overseas read their articles (and yes, we read your kind of English, absent "u"s and all).

Half a dozen oysters
Us people from overseas go. Some of us, especially if we're Japanese, write ever so polite things about it and use our super-honed, laser-focused photography skills to take stunning photos. Others, who are cynical and not particularly interested in nature, come back and tell you that it's just because Americans have just one pretty coast that they wax lyrical about it.

Bar at A.W. Shucks
I don't mean to be nasty. As I said, it was a nice drive. I'm just sick of hype.

Boiled milk, laced with coffee (maybe)
We stopped in Carmel, probably best described as a wealthy retirees' paradise. The weather is mild, the houses medium-sized and wannabe European (reminds me of similar places in Australia actually), you can buy expensive arts and crafts, and you're serviced by a labour force of young, eager, but not always capable college kids. The food was very average.

Big Sur
It was lunchtime when we arrived in Carmel. We walked into AW Shucks, I wasn't that hungry so I just had half a dozen oysters. They were all from the immediate area and therefore very fresh. T couldn't eat much raw stuff, so had the crab chowder. I took a sip - it was savoury gloop. She ordered an iced tea. They said they only had unsweetened iced tea and if you wanted it sweet, they could only offer sweetener. You get the idea. But just in case you didn't, we also walked a couple of steps down to Carmel Coffee Roasting Company for caffe lattes. The espresso machine was leaking, but the baristas - a couple of gossipy college girls - didn't skip a beat. One of them half-heartedly poured heated (heated, not textured) milk onto my non-existent espresso. I should have said something.

Snack time
Anyway, the weather was lovely so I wasn't too bummed about getting back on the road, plus I had Big Sur Bakery to look forward to.

Almond croissant
We arrived just before their closing time (4pm). Which leads me to...

B). Don't do this drive on a Monday

... because I found that at least 2 potential food-focused stops aren't open on a Monday. One was Manresa, half way between SF and Carmel, and the second was Big Sur Bakery. The Bakery itself is open, but the restaurant/cafe isn't.

Apple scone
We got the coffees that we never had in Carmel, as well as pretty much what was left of the bakery shelf.

Cinnamon scroll
I couldn't eat everything before we were due to drive off again. In fact, these goodies became my snacks and even a last breakfast in Vegas.

It's not just about the ocean
The Bakery was closing, so we sat at the tables just outside, on the patio, watching people drive in for gas, pick up their kids from the very eco-hippy-looking school next to the restaurant and looking at some greenery while we finished our coffees.

Prudent driving
Perhaps I'll check out the stuff inland in America one day. There's so much land that for it to be considered the "best", it must be pretty good, right?

Monday blues
Back in the car then, continuing on our way down Highway 1 to Pismo Beach.

The final stretch
To be honest, I sped a lot on this stretch. The sun was setting and even what was only "pretty" before was disappearing before us. Did a quick stop to catch the last rays...

Cracked crabs, bugs, shrimp etc.
By the time we arrive at Pismo Beach to check in, it's full-on dark. Pismo Lighthouse Suites, where we stayed, is kind of like a motel, but it was clean, huge, and had free WiFi (such a nerd). After lazing about in our respective rooms (yes, we got a 2 bedroom apartment for 2 people - it was cheap!) I finally got my act together (and got off the internet) and we drove a few hundred metres down into the Beach's main street for some dinner.

Tools of the trade
The Cracked Crab had actually gotten some favourable write-ups on Chowhound, so seeing as we were by the sea, it seemed perfect.

On closer inspection...
It was not. The seafood was tasteless and cheap. There was no real cooking required - all they had to do was put the damn thing in a bucket and parboil it. It would have been fine if it was good seafood, but none of it had that fresh taste of the sea. To make matters worse, they put this stuff in called Old Bay seasoning. Way too much of it. My fingers smelled of them even after we got to Vegas. The corn was probably the best thing in that bucket, but it too was plagued with Old Bay.

Sunrise at Pismo Beach
Bellies full but hardly satisfied, there was nothing much more we could do but go back to our 'suite' and sleep. We woke at 6am and got ready to leave. This was taken the morning of our departure.  Kind of looks like a retirement complex, doesn't it? From here, it was a long drive directly inland towards Vegas (as direct as you can be through those desert valleys...). I think it was an 8-hour drive. Whoah. I'm glad we did it, but don't think I'll be doing this ever again, at least not on a Monday*!

A.W. Shucks
Doude Arcade
Ocean Ave, near San Carlos St
Carmel, CA 93921
United States of America

Carmel Coffee Roasting Company
Ocean Ave, near Lincoln St
Carmel, CA 93921
United States of America

Big Sur Bakery
47540 Hwy 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
United States of America
+1 831 667 0520
*Now open for lunch Mon-Fri, dammit!
Bakery 8am-4pm daily
Dinner Tue-Sun

Cracked Crab
751 Price St
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
United States of America
+1 805 773 2722

Pismo Lighthouse Suites
2411 Price St
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
United States of America
+1 805 773 2411

View e_ting down Big Sur in a larger map

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