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Pacific Coast Highway, Day 8: San Francisco to Monterey

Before we move on, here are a couple of pictures from yesterday.

A trolley car.


And a map of the BART system. It looks like NY subway’s itty-bitty baby brother. Look at that cute expression on my husband’s face. The poor guy was up all night with a sick migraine and still navigated us successfully through San Fran Traffic.

We’re meeting up with some family today, and it would be downright rude to show up empty-handed. Enter Tartine Bakery.

Like Boudin, LaBrea, Magnolia, and Sprinkles, Tartine is one of those iconic bakeries that smaller bakeries look to for inspiration and direction.

I bought several things (including brownies made with French Valrhona chocolate—real chocolate), but I took a picture of this, their most famous treat.

The morning bun came about by accident. (A lot of culinary masterpieces start as accidents. Chocolate chip cookies and Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream come to mind.) The baker put some extra pastry dough in a pan, sprinkled it with sugar, and voila, the morning bun was born. The sugar crackles like hard caramel while the bun remains soft and buttery. It’s everything a pastry should be, and it couldn’t be simpler.

Tartine is in the Mission District, an old neighborhood that has become filled with Trendy shops and eateries. Next was Castro. Lots of colorful flags flying there. And everywhere the architecture is stunning. Colorful Victorian row houses perch on hills like proud overseers of a stately cultural heritage. There’s not enough time to see everything I want to see—Nob Hill, for instance, or the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. And I haven’t even begun to eat. This leaves me feeling a little melancholy because I’ll probably never be here again. That’s the problem with a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. If you miss something, it’s gone forever. Time for a hit of Valrhona from the Tartine bag.

We passed through the gorgeous and steeply-sloped neighborhoods of Pacific Heights, and then we caught our first glimpse of the bridge. The bridge.

You can see the city from here


And Alcatraz (we think.)

The bay was gorgeous.

*Fast Fact: A portion of the bridge is painted every day. The color is called International Orange. This info is from my husband, the walking encyclopedia. Also, you don’t have to pay a toll on the northbound lane. Southbound is $6.00 per car.

Next we headed slightly south to visit Chris’s Great Aunt Irene at her home in Los Altos Hills. They haven’t seen each other in more than 30 years. I’m anxious to hear more of her story because what I know is fascinating. The daughter of Hungarian immigrants who married a Hungarian immigrant and wound up in Silicon Valley. They were the American dream personified. Here’s Aunt Irene.

Seeing her is especially poignant because of her striking resemblance to my husband’s grandfather whom we lost just a few months ago. Over a lunch of deliciously spicy pizza from a local restaurant followed by homemade strawberry shortcake, we got to hear stories of what it was like to grow up on a dairy farm during the Great Depression. (I didn’t take pictures of the food, not wanting to look like a weirdo in front of our long-lost family. I have limits when it comes to food, apparently. Who knew?) We also heard more about how she and her family landed in California. Turns out her husband was a pioneer of laser printing technology for Xerox. Her beautiful yard was redolent with the scent of Gardenia and Jasmine, two things we will never be able to grow. We also found out we have something more in common than DNA. She, too, only had one daughter. Her advice to us regarding infertility? “Forget it and just live.” I told her that’s what this trip is all about.

We eased back toward the coast and saw endless acres of produce. Much of our produce says it comes from California—this may be where it’s grown. Roadside stands advertise artichokes and grapefruits, ten for a dollar. The hubs is contemplating smuggling them into our pants to sell at our local farmer’s market back home. That’s not an artichoke, Officer. I was born with a spiny hump. That smells like artichokes.

Are you a Steinbeck fan? Then Monterey is the place for you.

This is where he spent many a moon penning his bestsellers. Cannery Row, for instance.

I don’t know where he got the inspiration for his titles. Truly the man was a genius. The guidebooks are all quick to point out that the shiny new place looks nothing like it did when Steinbeck and Kerouac were here, that Steinbeck would curl up and die if he saw the overabundant luxury of his old digs. I disagree. The wax statues of him are downright tasteful.

Around the corner is the famed Pebble Beach golf course.

We thought about playing a round, but decided to send our child to college instead.

Supper was another tourist trap.

But the shrimp was succulent and sweet. For dessert, some refreshing frozen yogurt.

Tomorrow we hit Big Sur. (Hopefully not literally.)


About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

2 responses to “Pacific Coast Highway, Day 8: San Francisco to Monterey

  1. Dad ⋅

    Am really enjoying our trip down the caloric highway. No MB aquarium? Tx for your visit with Aunt Irene. J&D to Uganda tomorrow. Have fun! Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad! Chris desperately wanted to go to the aquarium, but it was that or Hearst. We chose hearst. We had a nice visit with Aunt Irene. Give our love to J&D, been thinking of them a lot. Love, V.

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