Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel

I've been to Carmel once and that too six years ago. I can't believe that in the two years that we have been in the Bay Area, we didn't visit there even once. Last Sunday, owing to a Bach concert that Vishnu wanted to attend, I got an opportunity to go to Carmel. I saw the pictures of Point Lobos State Reserve and was sold instantly. So, while Vishnu attended the concert, I along with my in-laws spent a wonderful afternoon hiking, picnicking and soaking in the beauty of Carmel.

Entrance to Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos is considered the crown jewel of the California state parks and not without reason. It has such stunning views, amazing wildlife, great weather and scenic beaches that one can sit at a spot and stare at all the beauty around and not get bored. I'm not even exaggerating. See for yourself.

Gibson Beach

Parking is difficult to find in the park as it is usually packed especially on weekends and holidays. You can park on Highway 1 as we did and walk inside. It is not a very long walk. Each vehicle is charged $10 while walk-in visitors are encouraged to donate $1. We purchased a map for $2 and set on our path to explore the park.

A short walk along the South Plateau trail and a 100 odd stairs brought us to the absolutely gorgeous Gibson beach. The white sand beach with turquoise water is a sight to behold. To my surprise, the water was not as cold as I expected it to be and I actually could stand and play in the water comfortably. And did I mention we spotted a deer on our way to the beach!

Me at Gibson Beach
As we continued on the South Plateau trail, we saw the Bird Island on which were perched hundred of black-colored, long-necked birds called Cormorants. We then passed by China cove which was closed off due to hazardous conditions. It looked equally beautiful. The Bird Island trail led us to a picnic spot where we devoured our packed lunches taking in the beautiful views all around us. 

Cormorants on Bird Island
After we had replenished our energy, we kept hiking on the South Shore trail till the Weston Beach. This beach was completely different from the previous two beaches. That does not mean it was any less scenic. I was amazed at how so many different views and sceneries were all packed up in one park. The Weston Beach has huge uplifted sedimentary rocks on which you can see multi-colored patterns formed by erosion. It had a very 'Grand Canyon-like' look and feel except that here you have water and cool breeze.

Weston Beach

Next stop was the Sea Lion Cove from where we could hear the barking California Sea Lions lazing on the rocks. There are otters and seals too although I don't quite know how to distinguish them. The rock formations here are magnificent and makes you appreciate nature. 

Sea Lion Cove
The Lace Lichen trail took us back to main entrance. The trees branches on this trail are covered with gray stringy lichen giving it an eerie feel. The tall trees let very less sunlight on the trail and the cool climate encourages the growth of lichens on branches which have already died due to lack of sunlight. I would never dare to walk through this trail alone!

Lace Lichen Trail
This park is undoubtedly the best hiking spot we have ever been to. The trails are mostly flat and can be covered easily by a person with average fitness level. The drastic change in the landscape at every short distance blew our minds away. This park has so much more to offer and I look forward to exploring the spectacular views during our next visit.

My Sister-in-Law and I at Gibson Beach

What: Point Lobos State Reserve
Where: 62 California 1, Carmel Ca 93923
When: 8 am-7pm or 1/2 hour after sunset
Fee: $10 per vehicle or $1 donation for walk-ins

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hearst Castle

For the long weekend of 4th of July, we decided to visit the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. I had heard a lot of great things about it during my previous trip to The Mystery Spot.

Hearst Castle is a historic landmark mansion located near the coastline of San Simeon. It is a massive 90,000 sq.ft house/castle built by William Randolf Hearst, a powerful media magnate, in 1919. Story goes that when William was a little boy, he and his mother travelled across Europe for a year and a half. The wonderful art and architecture that he encountered during this trip left a lasting impression on him. Years later, when he started building the Hearst Castle on their family campgrounds which he referred to as 'La Cuesta Encantada' (The Enchanted Hills), it was obvious that he wanted to incorporate elements from the buildings that had fascinated him during his trip in Europe. The chief architect of the castle was Julia Morgan who shared Mr Hearst's passion and worked tirelessly in making his dream a reality.

Cupid sculpture on the terrace
Sculpture in the fountain
There are several tours offered at the castle-Grand Rooms, Upper Rooms, Gardens, Cottages & Kitchen, Evening tours etc. Each one costs $25. You can reserve your tickets online to avoid any wait times. We booked the Grand Rooms tour for 4pm. At the visitor center, one can buy tickets or exchange your online voucher for actual tickets. Tour buses take you up the hill to the castle. It is a 10 minute bus ride that has a recorded narration with a little bit of history about the Hearst family. On reaching the top, our tour guide welcomed us and so began our 40 minutes guided tour.

Fountain in front of the Hearst Castle

The Castle is magnificent to look at and coupled with the gorgeous view of the California coast, it is an absolute beauty. The main structure is modeled after a cathedral as you can see from the picture. 

Hearst Castle

The tour took us through 5 different rooms. The Assembly room was where Mr Hearst's guests were welcomed. It is heavily furnished and to some it might even look oppressive with all the art work and sculptures.

Hearst Castle Assembly Room
The next room is the Refectory or the dining room which has a very 'Harry Potter-dining room-like feel. That is not surprising because this room actually served as an inspiration for the set design.

Refectory at Hearst Castle

The Morning room is the room where guests gathered in the morning to smoke. There is visible damage to the art work on the ceiling due to the smoke. Restoration work is currently underway to bring it back to its former glory.

We were then taken to the adjacent Billiards room followed by the Theater where Mr Hearst used to screen the latest Hollywood movies of his time for the guests. We were shown a small clip from a video featuring Mr Hearst, Charlie Chaplin and other guests.

Billiards Room at Hearst Castle

Sculpture in the Theater Room Hearst Castle

After the tour concluded, we went to the famous Neptune and Roman pools. They are a treat to the eyes and one can only imagine what it must be like to swim in those majestic pools.

Hearst Castle Neptune Pool
Hearst Castle Roman Pool

The tour bus then took us back to the visitor center where we saw the 40 minute film 'Building the Dream' on the Imax screen. It showcases the story behind Mr Hearst's inspiration behind building the castle and also gives a glimpse into what it was like to be hosted at the Hearst Castle. 

I completely enjoyed the visit and would have loved to see more rooms. However, I found the $25/tour to be a little steep. No food or drinks are allowed on the bus or the castle. There are food stalls, washrooms and a gift store at the visitor center. There is also a small, free exhibit about the Hearst family and the castle design which you should check out. 

On our way back, we stopped at the Elephant Seal Viewing spot. There are lots of elephant seals sunning themselves on the sand. The place stinks though so we got out of it after clicking a few pictures. Worth visiting for the close up view of these giant animals that weight about 2000-5000 lbs!

Elephant Seals at San Simeon

What: Hearst Castle
Where: 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon
When: Daily from 9am
Fee: $25 per tour

Friday, July 11, 2014

Anniversary Fun at the Comedy Club

We recently celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary, although honestly, it feels like we got married just yesterday! Instead of doing the usual dinner and movie routine, I decided to do something different this time around. Since we both enjoy watching stand-up comedy shows, I thought of surprising Vishnu by planning to watch a live stand-up comedy as a perfect to celebrate the special occasion. Needless to say, he enjoyed the surprise!

Us :)
Rooster T Feathers is a small, no-frills comedy club located in Sunnyvale. From the outside, it looks like a regular bar and is easy to miss. Ticket prices are reasonable ($13) and they have a buy 1 get 1 free offer on their website. I bought a groupon deal for $12 admission for two.

Roosters T Feathers Comedy Club

Due to its small setting, almost every seat has a good view of the main stage. We were guided to our seats and we ordered food and drinks. 2 order minimum per person policy is enforced. Food is mainly appetizers so don't expect to have your dinner at this place. Everything on the menu is decently priced so the cost of the entire event does not burn a hole in your pocket. We ordered a few drinks, a plate of hummus with pita chips and a cheesecake.

The show began at 8pm. The host for the evening was Ronn Vigh who was hilarious. His jokes were well delivered, genuinely funny and full of gay references. Next came Dhaya Laxminarayanan-an Indian female comic which is quite rare here. She was funny too but I expected a lot more Indian-themed jokes. The headliner was Dan Germanine. He had a Hangover-Alan type appearance. Loved his act which kept us laughing the entire time. Except for one annoying audience member who kept interrupting the performers, the entire hour and a half was totally entertaining.

Inside Rooster T Feathers Club-You can see the stage in the background

If you want to laugh till your belly aches while sipping on some drinks, this is the place to be. This is a perfect place for a date or meeting up with friends. I'm so glad I went and intend to check out more comedy clubs around the city in the future.

What: Roosters T Feathers
Where: 157 W El. Camino Real Sunnyvale CA 94087
When: Wed-Sun. Check website for show times
Fee: $13