On the Pacific

Pismo Beach, Avila Quiet & Frank Lloyd Wright

avila beach inn
Avila Beach Inn - Photo by Yvonne Carpenter-Ross

Part I of the Series – Pismo to Carmel: One Taste at a Time

Much like the “one cannot appreciate the true value of a sunrise until one has waited in darkness” philosophy, there is nothing quite like a brutal winter in the Midwest to make one more appreciative of the warmth of a late spring day.

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Or, to carry that theme a bit further, a late April trip to California will do wonders for Illinois chills that just don’t seem to want to go away.

When an incredibly low airfare – non-stop and round trip – was stumbled upon, the decision to go west was an easy one to make. Especially if it would involve finding yet another of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings. And while also being able to sample a bit more of what California does with great pride and skill: wine.

Airport, Rental Car & Our Starting Point

Arriving at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) – located in the heart of Silicon Valley in San Jose, California – in the early afternoon of April 18th, we quickly made our way to the lower-level baggage claim area and then hopped on one of the many shuttle busses that took us to the car rental area at the airport. (SJC is a beautifully simple and easy airport to access, by the way, and one of my favorites when flying to California.)

Claiming a brand new Toyota Corolla as our ride from Dollar Rent-A-Car, we were soon headed south to our first destination: Pismo Beach. There was no particular reason why; we just chose that to be our starting point, from which we would then head back north.

One of California’s Most Productive Agricultural Regions

vineyard map
Ancient Peaks Vineyard Map – Photo by Yvonne Carpenter-Ross

California State Route 101 – according to Wikipedia “one of the last remaining and longest U.S. Routes still active in the state…” may be only slightly less boring than Interstate 5. But the change in geology is fascinating and I was far from being bored.

Passing through one of California’s most productive agricultural regions, we easily noticed the great contrast between the intense, verdant green of the lettuce, artichokes and other vegetables in the fields and the yellow-brown dryness of the adjoining hills. It should normally not have been this way in late April. And if there were to be any doubt of the dryness of the northern part of the state, it was quickly eradicated.

Temperature Changes

The soft hum of the car’s air conditioner easily hid the change in temperature as we approached Paso Robles. It had been a mere 68 degrees when we landed in San Jose. But in less than two-and-a-half hours, the car thermometer reported that the temperature outside had jumped to a toasty 86! Then things began to reverse themselves. Once we passed San Luis Obispo, we were quickly headed to lower altitudes. That, combined with the proximity to the ocean, turned the air noticeably cooler. And once we passed Avila Beach, the fog and onshore breeze supplied its own air conditioning… to the tune of a brisk 58 degrees. The ocean breeze made it feel much chillier.

fish tacos
Halibut Tacos at Steamers in Pismo Beach – Photo by Yvonne Carpenter-Ross

After checking in to the Hilton Garden Inn – up on a bluff with an incredible view of the Pacific – we headed back out and began to search for our selected restaurant for dinner. Although it was only 5:00 pm California time, it was 7:00 pm Midwest time. We were hungry!

Steamers of Pismo

We dined at Steamers of Pismo restaurant (now called Vista Steak & Seafood) and sampled Sea Bass Ceviche with crispy tortillas. This was followed by oven-roasted Lump Crab Cake with lime and roasted bell pepper cream sauce and crispy Halibut Tacos with cucumber wasabi dressing. Excellent choices! A night cap back at the hotel put the exclamation point on a very long day. Sleep came early… and very quickly.

Avila Quiet

Joe Momma's Coffee
Joe Momma’s Coffee in Avila Beach – Photo by Yvonne Carpenter-Ross

Sunday dawned chilly as well, but a side trip to check out Avila Beach warmed our souls. The combination of the ocean waves and early morning California sun created a quiet that soothed our Illinois winter-jangled nerves.

One of the seaside cafes provided sustenance before we headed back north. The trip back up the hills and above sea level was much different from the way down (we had coasted for more than a dozen miles) and soon the temperature was back in the upper 70’s as we took one of the four exits into San Luis Obispo.

Frank Lloyd Wright

The Frank Lloyd Wright building that was the object of our search was likely one of Wright’s final designs. The Kundert Medical Clinic (now known as Kenneth P. Tway MD, FACC) was opened for patients on Labor Day in 1956. Wright died in 1959. (Please see our story about the building and additional photos using this link.) The Clinic is a visually beautiful structure, complete with the horizontal lines for which Wright is so well-known.

Although it was a weekend and we could not go inside, it was easy to peek in and see how amazingly bright and comfortable the waiting room inside was. This building could easily have been built in the modern day and still be as beautiful and functional as it was in 1956.

kundert medical clinic
Kundert Medical Clinic designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – Photo by Yvonne Carpenter-Ross

Having taken numerous photographs and copious notes about the building and area, it was now time to head farther north and begin sampling some of the wines from the Central Coast area of California. Located roughly half-way between San Francisco and our current location, the Paso Robles area offers far more than we could have imagined. It was certainly more than we could possibly accomplish in the short time we had. Just in terms of wineries alone, there are more than 200. We would barely scratch the surface!

Places to Stay Near Pismo Beach

  • Coastal Perch – This Pismo Beach vacation home has 3 bedrooms, a full kitchen and plenty of outdoor space!
  • Pismo Lighthouse Suites – Located on the shores of Pismo Beach, this hotel features a putting green, badminton and extended continental breakfast!

Additional Resources, Links & Products


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We launched this website in 2004 after getting married on a beautiful bluff just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, on the patio of a small restaurant called Rocky Point. Since that time, we have returned to the West Coast as often as time and funds would allow, always seeking new restaurants, wineries, beaches, unforgettable memories…“


Yvonne & Richard