Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Havin’ Fun on California’s 101

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Baroque twin towers of Hearst's caslte
By Tom Morrow

Mature Life Features

It’s more widely known as Pacific Coast Highway but the old U.S. 101 is as storied as it’s more renowned neighbor, Route 66.

It’s where we took Marvin the Magnificent, our 1981 Chevy motor home — some of the remaining sections are obliterated by the Los Angeles metroplex — to re-collect fond memories and gather new ones along this 1,500-mile scenic coastal route that links Canada with Mexico.

It begins in San Diego, where the first California mission was established in 1769. Over the next half century, Franciscan friars opened a string of 21 missions that formed El Camine Real (The Kind’s Highway), which outlined the original route of 101.

As we rambled north alongside the Pacific Ocean, we trundled through such towns as Dana Point and Malibu until we reached Oxnard, about 60 miles north of Hollywood, and voila,  there it was: U.S. 101. Our first stop was in nearby Simi Valley, which houses the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. My mom served him breakfast every morning when he was the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Cubs on WHO radio in Des Moines and passed on her reactions, all favorable, to me through the years.

Our next stop was at Solvang, home of Mission Santa Ynez, the 19th of the Spanish missions that form California’s backbone.  The Santa Ynez Valley is California’s wine country, locals will tell you. Other areas that claim otherwise are just pretenders, they say. The Hans Christian Anderson-looking Scandinavian village neighboring the mission has many attractions but we just took time for the Museum of Gasoline Pumps, since we were on automotive odyssey.

Pismo Beach was our next stop. The first motel in the world was opened to highway travelers in 1925 at nearby San Luis Obispo. It began as the milestone Mo-Tel and is currently called the Motel Inn.

A dozen miles north of San Luis Obispo is Morro Bay, called the Gibraltar of the Pacific because of Morro Rock punching out of the ocean just off the coast. It’s one of nine extinct volcanic peaks that punctuate the coastline down to ‘Obispo.

Another couple of dozen miles north, we detoured into San Simeon with its fabled twin-towered castle (see photo) built over three decades by newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst. He couldn’t stop amassing “stuff” and his collection of artworks that he donated to the state  of California now draws more than a million visitors a year. The late Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, after being a guest at what Hearst called “the ranch,” said, “This is the way God probably would have done it if he had had the money.”

Up the road a piece is Monterey. There aren’t many cities that have played such an important role of California history. It was the capital of both Spanish and Mexican California and, for a time, the headquarters of territorial Gov. John C. Fremont during its transition to the United States. Besides being the site of the word-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and Maritime Museum, it’s also the home of John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” which once was touted as the sardine capital of the world.

About 30 minutes inland is Salinas, the Pulitzer-Prize winner’s home town in “The Salad Bowl of the World.” Housed in the National Steinbeck Center there are scenes re-created from such books as “East of Eden” and “Grapes of Wrath,” clips of movie versions of his works, and his notes and references.

Next door to Monterey is Carmel, home of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel, the second mission to be established in California. Buried under its altar is the body of Junipera Serra, the founder of the first missions to open up the California coast to European settlers. Carmel garnered national attention some years ago when Clint Eastwood, the Oscar-winning movie-maker and star, was elected the town’s mayor.

From here, it was time to turn back south, saving the remaining sections of this road up through Redwood forests to the forthy Oregon coast for another time.

Copyright 2002 Mature Life Features

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 11, 2011 at 9:23 am

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