Travelogue: Best Monday EVER – seals, a castle, and not dying.

5 Nov
© 2013

Hey there, snuggles.

Everyone bitches about Mondays. Even though I love my job, sometimes even I am guilty of it. But not this week. I’m pretty sure I had the best Monday known to man. Here’s why…

We left our motel in San Simeon at 8am. (In case you’re curious: there are still places in this world where you can enjoy a good night’s sleep near the ocean in a clean room with a fridge and microwave and remodeled bathroom for $55. I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go. Just do your research and book with

We attempted to stop at a place called Sebastian’s that was highly reviewed on TripAdvisor for breakfast, but – to our dismay – it isn’t open on Mondays or Tuesdays. Their loss – I’m sure we would’ve been their best customers ever.

To recover from this disappointment, I asked Alan to keep driving north for a few miles because I’d heard there was a place to see elephant seals, and I was hell-bent on seeing at least one seal after getting my hopes up about lifting one the day before. Knowing that breakfast wasn’t in the cards and since we both tend to have blood sugar crashes that get ugly, while Alan drove, I began doling out cashews and beef jerky.

Within minutes, we were screeching into a gravel lot behind a motorcycle gang (Alan says it was actually a “club” but I don’t think you should use that word in the same sentence as “seals”) to look for seals. If Monterey had left us high and dry on the seal-front, then San Simeon was our tonic. We peered out at the ocean, shading our eyes. “Alan! Look! Right there!” I pointed to a rock some hundred yards out where there were definitely seal heads in the water.

Then the old couple next to us pointed and said, “Look – right there!” and pointed down some thirty feet off-shore.

Then, as I looked more, I was like, “HOLY SHIT. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.” Which normally would be an exaggeration when I say it, but this time it wasn’t. There were seals EVERYWHERE. We began counting and estimating and couldn’t keep up. There were thousands of heads bobbing in the water.

And then, when I moved a little bit, I saw hundreds of seals beached on the shore, snuggling, fighting and snoring. They smelled like an elephant house at the zoo, but they were fantastic to watch. MISSON ACCOMPLISHED. (As a side-note, I’m now curious to know who would actually try to pick up a seal. They were HUGE and – according to a sign – weighed between 3,000 – 5,000 pounds.)

After an hour of seal-watching, I glanced at my watch and realized we needed to hustle over to the visitor’s center at Hearst Castle if we were going to get the tour I’d already booked.

If you’re not familiar with Hearst Castle: Think of the movie Citizen Kane, or think of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. W.R. Hurst had this estate built  during the first half of the 20th Century, and it is spectacular. Especially the swimming pools.

Here are a few photos from the tour to show you what I’m talking about:

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There was an older couple in a group who immediately caught our attention not only because they moved at a snail’s pace, but also because they were dressed in identical outfits: purple “Hearst Castle” t-shirts covered by hot pink fuzzy fleece pull-overs. Had we somehow managed to NOT notice them for these reasons, they certainly would’ve drawn our attention with the utter nonchalance they demonstrated while farting audibly as they walked. It was impressive. In fact, Alan and I coined a term so we could warn each other of their activity: HEARSTING – to audibly crop-dust an area while walking. 

Back to the castle: it is NOT located right on the ocean. Instead, it’s up on top of a mountain a few miles away. I thought Hearst was batshit crazy to build up there instead of directly on the water, but the views are pretty great. What is NOT great is the drive getting up to the castle. It’s so shaky that the Foundation doesn’t trust you to do it on your own, so you have to park at the bottom at the Visitor’s Center, then ride a bus up.

That was fine on the ride up. They had a soothing soundtrack narrated by Alex Trebeck telling you what you were seeing out the windows. To wit: “Out the right-side windows, you can see zebras grazing – a hold-over from Hearst’s zoo.” And yes, there were really zebras out our windows just roaming around on the side of a mountain, eating dried grass.

After the tour, we hopped a different bus back to the base of the mountain. It is nothing short of a miracle that you aren’t reading about our fiery death in a newspaper right now. Our driver didn’t seem to know where the right tires of the bus were – which would be fine in a lot of scenarios, but not when you’re barreling down switchbacks without guardrails and a sheer drop-off to the right.

There were two specific turns where I white-knuckled on Alan’s arm, then tried to calm myself by looking at the faces of other passengers for reassurance. When the jaws of the people in the first few rows are also hanging open and women are palming their rosaries, however, you can’t find much comfort in the belief that perhaps your own alarm system is just faulty.

It was so bad that I joked with Alan, “They need to have Alex Trebeck come back on and say, ‘If you shit your pants during the descent from Hearst Castle…'” And because I was so overwhelmed with relief, I couldn’t even finish my sentence because I was laughing so hard I had tears coming out my eyes.

Relieved to survive the descent, we stopped in the quaint small town of Cambria for lunch, where we demolished some great fresh Mexican food. Then it was on to San Luis Obisbo for a quick look at the Mission. Directly in front of our parking spot was a public restroom. I used it as soon as we arrived, accidentally walking into the men’s room, where I encountered a sketchy looking guy walking out. We excused ourselves and I found the ladies room.

Later, as we were getting organized to leave, we sat in the car for five minutes. The guy was still loitering there, ducking in and out of the restroom periodically. I thought maybe he was in charge of cleaning it. Alan, however, came up with the more probable explanation: drug deals. Sure enough, in the five minutes we were watching, two different guys ducked into the restroom after a furtive glance over their shoulders and were back out faster than any human could’ve peed.

So now I’m suspicious of SLO’s motto, which proclaims it the happiest city in the United States. I think everyone is just on drugs.

Finally, we ended our day at a hotel in Pismo beach, right on the ocean with a great balcony. Falling asleep with the windows open, hearing the surf crashing? Not a bad way to end a Monday.

2 Responses to “Travelogue: Best Monday EVER – seals, a castle, and not dying.”

  1. The Byronic Man November 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    What kills me at Hearst Castle is the video with the majestic music and him staring in to the distance, dreaming of the palace he will build, and news he’ll bring the people… not so much with the looting impoverished Europeans and ruining people without even blinking for real or perceived slights.


  1. 40 x 40: Progress & Failures. | pithypants - November 11, 2013

    […] wine country with Alan. CHECK. You’re read about our adventures in Carmel, Monterey, and Hearst Castle – but we spent the last five days tooling through Paso Robles, Napa and Sonoma. I’ll […]

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