Goth Panda

January 5, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – Legoland

Legoland

February 26, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 11: Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey

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.

Waterfall

Summit

You can see the ocean off in the distance.

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.

17 Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive

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.

carmel

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.

Monterey

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.

vegas

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.

February 24, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 10: Pacific Coast Highway

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.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

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.

California

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.

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

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.

February 20, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 9: Pacific Coast Highway

This was the day we officially started up California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. This was also the day when we officially decided the route back. I’d had three different possibilities floating around, but in the end I decided to go with the middle route, which would get us the most states without going too far north. The fact that it had the shortest driving times per day was not an insignificant part of the equation.

First, however, we took the San Diego Freeway to Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.

Mission

holy water

mission altar

mission lady chapel

Our next stop was Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano

I was really excited about visiting the California missions on the trip, but after these two, I felt I was mission-ed out. It was strange too because normally these kinds of things are right up my alley. I am a sucker for beautiful, historical buildings, but somehow after only two missions, I lost interest. I don’t know why.

After San Juan Capistrano, we got on Route 1 and drove through Orange County’s beach towns, which were full of expensive stores and lots of traffic. We stopped for lunch in Newport Beach at an Italian restaurant we randomly picked, Modo Mio, which was also a lucky find. We also got mini cupcakes at neighboring Sweet and Saucy. We drove up as far as Huntington Beach, and then turned off to take the freeway through Los Angeles.

California Sunset

Our plan for L.A. was to drive through it as quickly as possible. We did get stuck in traffic for a bit. I think there were 14 lanes at one point, but we congratulated ourselves that our New Jersey driving skills were honed enough to deal with it. Except for the crazy California motorcycles. Probably because of the weather, there were many more motorcyclists than on the East Coast, and they seemed to take it as matter of course to weave in and out of traffic and lanes at whim.

We managed to spot the Hollywood sign from the car.

Hollywood Sign

The sun was setting as we made our way out of L.A.

Los Angeles

We drove on to our next stop, Santa Barbara. We checked in to the Inn at East Beach, which looks like a classic California motel, with two stories of rooms arranged around a central pool area. I liked the Inn, not least because it was privately owned and operated, but the room decor was reminiscent of the 1980s, especially the decorative pastel leather bed pillows that we immediately banished to the floor. The location, within walking distance to the beach, would have been a big plus if we planned to stay longer than just one night.

We went out to find some dinner not long after arriving, and we wound up by chance on the main Santa Barbara shopping area, State Street. We were a little late getting there and we had to inquire at a few places to see if there was any chance of getting a table. We ended up at Tupelo Junction Cafe, where the menu seemed to be Southern comfort food. They served our drinks in mason jars. We got salads, hush puppies, and homemade potato chips, and we were happy again with our random restaurant choice.

We realized at dinner that we were just over halfway done with the trip. It seemed hard to believe that in just over a week, we would be back home.

February 18, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 8: Legoland

We had breakfast on the roof again, this time outside on the patio, overlooking the ocean. Then we checked out of the hotel and headed over to the San Diego Zoo again. It was MUCH busier this time, so maybe we were smart to go on Christmas the day before.

Xiao Liwu

We visited the pandas a final time, and then we headed north. This next stop was for Mike.

Legoland Hotel

Legoland!

Legoland Hotel Dragon

We stayed at the Legoland Hotel for one night. I am pretty sure we were the only people there without kids, specifically kids between the ages of 3 and 8. The hotel wasn’t that crowded when we arrived, since everyone was probably at the park. We had a nice lunch in the Skyline Cafe, the “adult” restaurant with a bar.

We didn’t want to go on rides at the amusement park, which was right behind the hotel, but we did want to shop there. So we checked with the hotel staff, and apparently as a guest you could get a shopping pass. Basically you bought a ticket for the park, and you had an hour to visit the stores. When you came back before the hour was up, the ticket charges were refunded.

After checking out the stores, we walked around to see some of the Lego exhibits.

Lego White House

Lego White House

Lego San Francisco

Lego San Francisco

Lego Times Square

Lego Times Square

We didn’t see all of the park because it is pretty big. I didn’t even know they had Legoland theme parks before I started planning this trip. Apparently there is one in Florida, too.

After that our rooms were ready, so we brought our luggage in and went down to the pool. It was another beautiful California day, 76 degrees and sunny, but it got chilly pretty soon after the sun went down. We weren’t out there for long.

The full impact of being at a resort packed with children didn’t hit us until we came down for dinner that night. I think that’s when we felt most out of place, because kids were everywhere. Legoland is really aimed at younger kids, unlike Disney World for example, where I think more effort goes in to appealing to people of all ages. Mike and I huddled in a corner of the Skyline Cafe, surrounded on all sides by families large and small. The Legoland Hotel did have pretty good food, though, so that was a plus.

Some of the kid-friendly touches were really cute. There is a huge Lego castle in the lobby, filled with bricks to play with, although I couldn’t help wondering if they sanitized them every night. There was a disco ball in the elevator and different songs played every time we rode it. The rooms all have a separate area with bunk beds for kids, so the whole family can stay in one room.

We stayed on the pirate-themed floor, and they gave us a puzzle to solve that opened a “treasure chest” safe in the room. I didn’t think we would do it, since it was clearly for kids, but Mike thought we should in order to get the full Legoland experience. It was lucky we did, because there were several of the mini Lego figures he collects in there, and they were ones he had been trying to get. There was also chocolate that I commandeered, as you do on the pirate floor.