Going Coastal in California

While traveling, periodically preconceived notions are blown totally out of the water once a place is visited in person.

Our most recent notion deconstruction locomotion occurred along a rocky stretch of the California coast just south of San Francisco.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, as anticipated, is a quaint, artsy, picturesque little hamlet on the shore, but what's up with all of the peculiar canine cordiality and electing such a tough hombre as mayor?

In nearby Monterey, the hustler-and-tough-guy laden Cannery Row of John Steinbeck fame we expected to encounter is virtually unrecognizable in today's colorful collection of restaurants, shops and tourist traps.

Established in 1770, Monterey served as California's capital from 1777 to 1849 while a part of Spain and Mexico.

Through the years many of the state's “firsts” happened here. The first printing press, newspaper, theater, public school and library all were in Monterey.

To aid the curious tourist, the city created the Path of History in the area around downtown.

Following the dotted line from the Custom House Plaza through flourishing gardens and historic buildings, we were treated to the rich past of an important city.

A highlight was the chance to walk on a section of the last whalebone sidewalk in the United States.

That's right, there was a time when whaling was so common that the sidewalks were paved with their bones, or at least the bones not being used as stays in the corset torture devices used to cinch in a fashionable lady's waist.

Back at the plaza we checked out The Monterey Maritime Museum.

There, we found a fantastic collection of artifacts from the area's seafaring past.

The museum's centerpiece is the first-order Fresnel lens from the Point Sur Lighthouse.

An elegant display of workmanship housing five hundred and eighty glass prisms that magnified the lamp enough to cut through the fog and guide ships in from as far away as twenty-three miles out to sea.

We got lucky -- seems like we often do -- visiting the museum just before it closed for renovations.

In 2011, they will reopen and celebrate their 80th anniversary. David, aka "Bull in China shop" didn't break anything, we promise.

Really, it wasn't our fault they had to close down.

The heart of this stretch of waterfront is The Old Fisherman's Wharf. Built in 1870, it was quite the hub of commerce.

For years Monterey was the only Port of Entry for all of California. Every taxable shipment arriving by sea had to pass through customs at the end of the wharf.

The Custom House itself dates back to 1814 and has served under three flags.

It is the oldest government building in the state and holds the honor of being California's Historic Landmark Number One.

When the city of Monterey erected a new commercial dock back in 1926, the old wharf found new life as a wholesale fish market.

It remained a haven for fishmongers into 1960s when the decline of the fishing industry began the transition to tourism.

Until the mid '50s this place was slingin' sardines out the doors to the tune of a quarter million pounds a year.

Sadly, due to overfishing and other factors that remain unclear, the sardines rather suddenly left the area and within the span of a few years most of the canneries had closed.

The impact was devastating, but the Row became famous as the setting for two John Steinbeck novels.

In January of 1958, the city decided to officially change the name of Ocean View Avenue to its well known nickname, Cannery Row, and thus began the transformation from funky fish packing district into the tourist Mecca that it is today.

Off the street along the shore, clinging to the edge of the buildings, there is a walkway overhanging the water that offers incredible views and, as a bonus, the opportunity to get soaked by big waves.

Crashing up through the boardwalk, the water caught us completely off guard and gave us a good drenching.

Maybe it was a good thing -- this way no one could tell that we had the p#@$ scared out of us.

Hearts a-pounding, we stood in the sun to warm up, regain our composure and act nonchalant -- giving us an opportunity to enjoy the panorama across Monterey Bay.

Drip-dried and back on the street, amongst the purveyors of fine souvenirs -- crap shops in GypsyNester speak -- and deep fried formerly-finned critter eateries, we managed to find a few well preserved buildings with displays of the inner workings and final products of the old fish packing plants.

The technology, for its day, was impressive -- quite a remarkable operation and demonstration of the ingenuity involved in conquering the logistics of processing all of those fish.

These days, much of the space is filled with art galleries and studios, adding a creative flair to the grand old buildings.

From Cannery Row, we drove down the coast a couple miles toward Carmel but were sidetracked when we noticed the exit for 17 Mile Drive.

The famous toll road runs right through Pebble Beach and along the breathtaking cypress tree strewn coast.

The surf was up and the sun was out -- couldn't ask for a better day for a 17-mile Sunday drive.

The views along the rugged coastline are unmatched and even though we aren't skilled on the links, it's way cool to drive through one of the world's greatest golf courses.

Lord knows that's the only driving we'd be doing there -- there's just way too much water and David plays with hazard-seeking balls.

The Drive leads into the endearing village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, usually shortened to simply Carmel, which is vying for the title of Most Dog-Friendly City.

Many hotels and shops allow canine companions to accompany their clientele.

Spa packages are also available for fastidious Fidos, should the pampered pooches feel stressed out and in need of a massage to wind down.

The local magazine, Coastal Canine, even has a restaurant review column written by Rover.

Here are his thoughts on the menu at Forge In The Forest from the fall issue:

“I was torn between The Quarter Hounder (for the hound with a hankerin' for beef) and The Hen House Chicken Strips (five ounces of grilled and sliced boneless chicken breast).

I eventually requested the Good Dog (eight ounces of grilled and sliced New York steak) as it quite described my nature and was much less bourgeois.”

You will please pardon us if we hurl our “Hounders” over this disgusting display of doggie decadence.

Canine craziness aside, Carmel is a sweet little town that wouldn't seem to need The Outlaw Josey Wales as mayor, but that's what they got.

Back in 1986, Clint Eastwood got a burr under his saddle commenced to clean up Carmel.

Clint had had enough of his hometown's archaic ordinance forbidding the selling and eating of ice cream on the streets and he was gonna take it down.

The issue became a high priority in his mayoral campaign.

So when it came time to tally the votes no one, not even Dirty Harry lost count.

Quaint little Carmel-by-the-Sea ended up with the hands-down, baddest mayor ever in the history of the whole wide world.

And rest assured, everyone eats all the ice cream they want -- wherever they want -- these days in Carmel.

Even the dogs.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in California!

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