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On the Pacific

Explore the Sights, Tastes & Tours of the West Coast

Pismo to Carmel: One Taste at a Time

Much like the “one cannot appreciate the true value of a sunrise until one has waited 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. 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.

Part 1:
Steamers, Avila Quiet and Frank Lloyd Wright

And when an incredibly low fare – 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, while also being able to sample a bit more of what California does with great pride and skill: wine.

Arriving at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport – 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 one 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 new2015 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 wanted that to be our starting point, from which we would then head back north.

Avila BeachPismo Beach Premium Outlets

Some might find California State Route 101 – according to Wikipedia “one of the last remaining and longest U.S. Routes still active in the state, and the longest highway of any kind in California” – 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.

The soft hum of the 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; in less than two-and-a-half hours the car thermometer reported that the temperature outside had jumped to a toasty 86! But 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.

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… and we were hungry!

Steamers of Pismo

We dined at Steamers of Pismo restaurant and sampled Sea Bass Ceviche with crispy tortillas, then oven-roasted Lump Crab Cake with lime and roasted bell pepper cream sauce and crispy Halibut Tacos with cucumber wasabi dressing: excellent! A night cap back at the hotel put the exclamation point on a very long day and sleep came early… and very quickly.

Steamers of PismoFish Tacos

Avila Quiet

Sunday dawned chilly as well, but a side trip to check out Avila Beach warmed our souls, as the combination of the crashing ocean waves and early morning California sun 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 goal of our search was likely one of Wright’s final designs: the Kundert Medical Clinic was opened for patients on Labor Day in 1956; Wright died in 1959. (Please see our story about the building using the link above.) 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 – 2015 – and still be as beautiful and functional as it was in 1956.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Kundert buildingFrank Lloyd Wright's Kundert building

Having taken numerous photographs and taking 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, the Paso Robles area offers far more than we could have imagined, let alone what we could accomplish in such a short period. Just in terms of wineries alone, there are more than 200… We would barely scratch the surface.

Read Part Two: San Luis Obispo and the Vineyards of Paso Robles

Pismo to Carmel

Join us as we travel from Pismo Beach to Carmel tasting good food, wines and stopping at sights along the scenic coast!

Part 1: Steamers, Avila Quiet and Frank Lloyd Wright

Part 2: San Luis Obispo and the Vineyards of Paso Robles

Part 3: San Simeon, PCH and The Village Corner