Thursday, April 5, 2012

North To Paradise- California Dreamin' Part Deux

Last we spoke, we were heading north to one of America's most beautiful and romantic destinations - Big Sur. After settling in for the two hour plus drive, we began to drink in the visual perfection that makes this enchanting part of America so unique. With every cliff hanging curve, surf pounding inlet and cascading rock formation, we were reminded of the grace and beauty of nature at its best. As an architect, I have spent most of my life dealing with issues of design and the built environment. Having said that, one must acknowledge those forward thinking nature lovers, explorers and even political leaders who managed to create the national parks, state parks and monuments for places like Big Sur where man is asked to tread lightly. Without those efforts, condos would be hung from every precipice with a view!! Frank Lloyd Wright said that he found great inspiration in The Grand Canyon. Upon seeing the work rendered by nature at Big Sur and the Central Coast of California , you come to realize - no matter how great the genius, any man made design pales when measured against God's earthly creations found in this enclave of natural splendor.

As the long and winding road took us closer to Carmel, we realized that we had absolutely no idea where we were going to stay for the night. Like all travelers during the Pre-Google/Internet Search days, we had a stack of dog eared, highlighted books on California and its many regions, hotels and eateries from LA to San Francisco. But for some reason, we had not really planned much of an itinerary. Normally, I do not recommend this approach, since, you may end up in a Motel Six for the night, especially in places as heavily visited as the Central California Coast. As luck would have it, my Co-Nomad and life mate, Susie, turned to the page with a Hyatt Resort listed in The Carmel Highlands on the northern tip of Big Sur. I would like to think she found this place as a result of a thorough and highly evolved system of travel research, but, in reality, it was  just one of those random, serendipitous  occurrences that yielded results beyond our wildest imaginings. I mean, what are the chances of finding a killer hotel in Big Sur, California in the middle of the summer, only four hours before check in? It also helps that Susie, aka Karen Sue, is an avid reader and remembers the most mundane details from every book she has ever read, including travel books. She is also an excellent navigator and sign reader, even though she takes great pride in NOT being able to read a map. It defies explanation, but it's the truth. Without my soul mate, who has stumbled through life with me for thirty nine years,  I would still be figuratively and quite literally - lost!

I know what you are thinking. Wait a minute- this guy is always trashing big hotels and particularly chains - so how can he possibly be talking about actually staying at a Hyatt? Well - all chains are not created equal. Our history with Hyatt has always been very positive, particularly after staying in a very small boutique property in Chicago with a killer on-site restaurant some years earlier. So, given the late hour, we dialed the hotel direct. A very nice young lady informed us, amazingly, that they did indeed, have a room. Now that we had snagged a room on a Sunday afternoon, no less, in one of the most desired destinations for Nomads of every ilk, we slowed down even more, stopped at every nook and cranny to take in the beautiful views as we crawled along the most famous scenic drive in America. Just inside the area known as Big Sur, we stopped at a small roadside store of vintage "this place is really old" design, bought some road food, and found a place to rest and appreciate the simple pleasures one can experience when one  travels  like a True Nomad. In this environment, cheese crackers and Boone's Farm Elderberry would have fit the bill.

Over the years, the vibe of Big Sur has been enticing to artists, writers and other creative types. Such luminaries as Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac have resided here and produced many works while in residence.  In addition, the area has served as  a backdrop in numerous big studio and indie films, including The Sandpiper starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It has also been home to all manner of off the grid - or off the wall - places of religious thought, contemplation and new age philosophies, including a Catholic Monastery, The Esalen Institute and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a Buddhist Monastery . With only about a thousand permanent residents, this sparsely populated corner of Eden is comprised roughly of a ninety by twenty mile wide strip of coastline from Ragged Point in the south to Carmel in the north. Only the very wealthy can afford to live there, as real estate is sold by the square foot. One 1,200 square foot house is currently on the market for a cool seven million! But ridiculous real estate prices and strange, new age philosophies could not keep this Nomad and his bride from relishing the incomparable beauty of this little part of heaven on earth. As we continued north  for the short drive to Carmel, I thought to myself - If I ever win the lottery, I am definitely moving here.

The Hyatt Carmel Highlands is a scant fifteen minutes south of the very artsy and very wealthy coastal town of Carmel By The Sea. Besides having world class art, extremely wealthy residents and many restaurants, B&B's and shops where you can spend your hard earned money, Carmel  boasts having Clint Eastwood as a former mayor. Only in California does Dirty Harry get to run the town. Because of its location, The Highlands feels as though it is the only place on earth from which to observe the comings and goings of the natural world and the Pacific Ocean. Upon arrival, we were upgraded to a full suite with direct views of the pounding surf below. By American standards, with only forty eight rooms and suites, The Highlands is a pretty small place. With exquisite wood detailing and intimate public spaces, the feel is more like a retreat or lodge than a hotel. In addition, it is designed "into" the landscape, so you are completely surrounded  by the best that nature has to offer. And, as you would expect from a five star property, the rooms are impeccably decorated with no detail left to chance. Sleeping with our doors open to enjoy the sublime climate of this mountainous coastal place and waking the next morning to enjoy nothing but the sunrise and the sounds of giant seals on the coast  from our private deck proved that serendipity is, indeed, a good thing. As you would expect, the on-site restaurants are second to none. Whether you choose the the sushi grade sea bass at the Pacific's Edge for dinner or the "make your own" omelet on the deck of the more casual California Market, you will not be disappointed. And both restaurants have views of the Pacific to die for.

So there you have it. Big Sur. The land. The sea. The mountains. And, most of all, the spirit of this special place and our stay in a world class boutique retreat made this middle leg of our coastal California  sojourn  No. 1 On The Nomad's List of Places To See, Eat, Sleep and Experience before you die.

Next week - the final leg to The Golden Gate, Muir Woods and Napa Valley.

This Week's Video Artist - The Beach Boys. Who better to capture the essence of the pop culture that defines the west coast than  America's Band? From Surfin' in 1961 to Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations, this innovative rock/pop band has been on our radio dials for over fifty years!

Travel Quote of The Week -  "There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California – Edward Abbey

Take It Easy,

Doyle L. Stafford

No comments:

Post a Comment