We did not do much on this day except drive.
We went to breakfast at the Signature’s cafe. Then we collected our car from the valets and headed out of Las Vegas, without having gambled a penny.
We drove through Nevada, a small piece of Arizona, and into Utah. We stopped at the Black Bear Diner in St. George, UT for lunch. Mike tried to order huckleberry ice cream, but they had run out.
We saw our first red rocks.
The sun set before we got to Moab, where we stopped for the night. I was nervous driving the last part of the way, because it was dark and we were high in the mountains. There were lots of grades and curves. We stopped at a Utah rest stop which was the worst of the trip. It only had porta-potties, and there weren’t any lights inside of them, which was not helpful at all after dark.
Moab is a very small town, and we instantly liked it. It seems to be the hub for outdoor activities in the area. We chose the Moab Brewery for dinner. They were planning to close down after New Year’s Day for a three-week winter hiatus. We were happy to be there before they closed, but because of that, they had run out of several things we wanted to order, like the beer cheese soup and sour cream for my enchiladas. Despite that, we liked it very much.
This was a long day. We started out at the lodge restaurant for breakfast. The lodge restaurant had very good food, but it was a little pricey. I wonder if this is the case in Big Sur generally, since that is the only place we ate. Maybe we could have found someplace less expensive if we had tried.
After breakfast, we went on a short hike up to a waterfall, and then a lookout point.
Then we set off for Carmel and Monterey, our last stop on the coast before turning inland. We made it to Carmel before we were ready to eat lunch, so we decided to drive the famous and scenic 17-Mile Drive.
The 17-Mile Drive kind of annoyed me. First, they charge you to drive on it. I guess I can understand that. Carmel is full of rich people and rich houses and rich golf courses, and they probably don’t want to share their natural beauty with freeloading hoi polloi.
But I was also annoyed because most of the 17-Mile Drive is not all that scenic. The scenery was better in Big Sur, and it was free. The most scenic part was the drive along the coast, which to be fair is lovely.
We ended up back in Carmel, where we decided not to stop. The town is tiny and full of expensive stores and it seemed like there was very little parking. On our way out, we passed miles and miles of slow moving cars trying to get in to the town. This only confirmed our impression that we should get out.
We went to Monterey for lunch, and a friend of ours recommended Rosine’s, which was lucky because it was very good and we didn’t have to guess where to go. Then we walked down to the marina, where they had an ice skating rink set up in the 76 degree weather.
After this, we turned off the coast to the interior of California. I was surprised that once we got off of the coast, California was mostly desert, with some farms and orchards that invariably displayed placards in support of an irrigation initiative up for a vote. All of the gas stations we stopped at played Mexican music.
We stopped for dinner at a Mexican restaurant attached to a Quality Inn in Barstow. I was initially wary of this combination, despite the Yelp reviews, but it turned out to be quite a happening place.
By this time, it was late. It is about eight hours from Monterey to Las Vegas, but it seemed to take us much longer than that. We crossed the border into Nevada, which is lit up enough to be visible from miles away. They have casinos just inside the border, in case you don’t want to make the extra push into Las Vegas.
By the time we got to Vegas, it was well after nightfall and it was very confusing to drive in for the first time. The lights were distracting and the signs hard to read. We were staying at the Signature at MGM Grand, and the MGM entrance we turned into turned out not to be the right one. When we did find it, we were in the wrong lane, the one for returning guests and not new check-ins. Finally we made it to the right place, and of course they only had valet parking, which is not ideal when our possessions are scattered all over the car. We had to check in at a different tower than the one we were staying in, because we’d arrived so late. By the time we got to our room (which was very nice), we were exhausted and already sick of Vegas.
We had a delicious breakfast on the patio at the Inn at East Beach, presided over by the manager of the hotel. They got muffins and pastries from a local bakery, and I ate too many of them. We decided to go back to State Street to check out the shops, since most of them were closed the night before. But first, after we checked out, we went down to the beach.
We went back to State Street and visited a bookstore, a coffee/tea store, a hat store (where I bought a hat – I don’t know what I was thinking not bringing one, with the California sun and all), and a game store. By mid-morning, we said goodbye to Santa Barbara, and headed up the coast.
Our plan was to stop at Hearst Castle, but when we got there, they were sold out of tickets for the day. I guess I should have ordered them in advance, especially since this was a Saturday. I was disappointed, but I figured this meant we will have to come back. We had lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant and started off again.
Pretty soon we got to the classic “Pacific Coast Highway” stretch, with the cliffs, hairpin turns, and frequently-stopped traffic we were expecting.
This part of the trip was beautiful, even if it did make me a little nervous. The other cars either went too slow or too fast, and both ways were nerve-wracking. I found that was constant throughout California. Here on the East Coast, everyone speeds fairly consistently. It is considered proper to at least go 10 miles above the speed limit, even in the slow lane. Californians seemed to have no conception of the slow lane. They would either drive below the speed limit – in any lane – or speed at least 20 miles above the limit and zip in and out of traffic.
We finally got to Big Sur just as the sun was setting. I’d made reservations at the Big Sur Lodge, which I was surprised to find was not really a lodge at all. The lodge part was where you checked in, and there was a store, an ice cream shop, and a restaurant. But the rooms were cabins located a little ways away. Our cabin was really cute, though, so I didn’t mind. It reminded me of the cabin we stayed at in Yellowstone. Like in Yellowstone, there was no television and no wi-fi, and my cell reception was very spotty. But this room had a skylight and a patio. The area was all wooded and we walked around the other cabins before we headed down to the lodge restaurant for dinner. Before we had been there very long, we were already scheming to come back.