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Monday, August 21, 2017

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 1

It maybe located between some of the most populated areas in the United States but the roads to get into it are so tough that this remains an oasis of old, undeveloped Southern California. Being that a great majority of it is also a protected state park might also have something to do with that.

It's been six years but we're returning to Borrego Springs, the little village located in the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California.

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From our area, there's no easy way to get here. It's either going through the backroads of San Diego County or going through Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and then a very poorly maintained road for the last 25 miles, which is the way we came in.

Once in, however, you take a step back fifty years to a California desert resort the way is used to be. A sleepy little downtown, yet even the most modest motel has a sparkling pool. Eccentric characters that gather at the town's lone watering hole each night. Spectacular golf courses, tennis courts, quirky art, and some beautiful and very unspoiled desert.

As always in Borrego Springs, our lodgings are the Borrego Springs Resort, about a mile south of the town's traffic circle (traffic signals are outlawed here...mayors must take an oath of office that includes never bringing one of those devices into the town).

It's a large, two-room suite with a patio looking west toward the large mountains separating the desert from the Indian lands dotting eastern San Diego County with their casinos and missions.

After the long and a bit grueling drive, we're just in relaxing mode for today. A Mercedes Benz owner's group is here having a meeting and rally. We admire the Mercs but are more impressed by the old Packards that are in with the group.

We head over to the bar at Arches, the resort's restaurant, to have a couple of drinks before heading out to take a walk through the golf course.

While here, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for us this weekend...migratory birds relaxing on the greens while the car owners golf through the course in one big group of about twenty golfers. Cacti blooming in spectacular purples, oranges, and pinks.

Back in town, we head to Carlee's, the dive bar that serves the tastiest food around, to have a bite to eat and to chat with the evening's entertainment. The singer shows Tim the difference between a 12 string and a 6 string guitar.  Later, while leaving, we get an impromtu performance of 'Ring of Fire' in the parking lot while they take a smoke break.

We head back to the room where my wife and I star gaze from the patio while Tim relaxes with ESPN on the couch.

Tonight, it's rest. Tomorrow, we head out to the desert to explore.

We'll continue with you then.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 20, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Hillbilly Lemonade

Summer's at it's hottest so we need some drinks to take the edge off of the heat.

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Here's my version of this out back, sit-by-some-grilling meat, refreshing crowd pleaser.  At only 150 calories, it also fits in with our goal of drinks that won't go straight to your gut...but still are full-service cocktails!

INGREDIENTS (one drink)

1.5 oz. bourbon (whisky or scotch can also be used)
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lime
1 oz. simple syrup (2 tbls. of sugar can be substituted)
1-2 oz. water (optional if needed to fill the glass)

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

To do it right, you should have a majon jar.  If not, use a cocktail shaker.  Fill your jar or shaker about half full of ice.  Put all ingredients in and shake...put just enough water in to make sure you have a full glass.  Strain into a tumbler completely filled with ice.  Garnish with a wedge of lemon, lime, or orange.



Friday, August 18, 2017

Wine, Women, and Song...Concert Day in Paso Robles

OK, well, it's one a son but there will be wine and a song or two.
Warby Parker
Thursday's in Paso Robles is Concert in Park days during the hot, summer season.  A time for everybody to come together for a community-wide happy hour in the downtown park.

That'll be later, first it's time to cash in some chips. As noted in the previous post, I had a coupon for free wine tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery in nearby Santa Margarita. My wife really liked their cabernet.

Actually, we had several coupons for wineries stretching for about a 3 mile radius, courtesy of the front desk at our hotel.  We decided just to try two.

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While you can get more details in our companion Cocktail Hour post and video, I can tell you that along with the great wine at Ancient Peaks, there's a tiny little (and inexpensive) bakery in the same building where we picked up some brownies and cookies for later.

They were delicious.

On the other side of town, up in the hills full of quarter horse ranches, sits Wild Horse Winery.  It's lonely here, us being the only customers at the time, so we get the full attention tasting experience before getting a case of some great pinot noir and voignier on sale.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

It's back to the hotel to take a swim in the 100 degree weather. The hotel has a pool lift, albeit at an awkward angle to the pool, that puts Tim in the water fairly easily.

As is typical in a lot of modern chain hotels, there's not a lot of shade around the pool and what little there is is already taken up by others.

We spend about an hour in the water before heading back up to the room for a quick afternoon nap before heading out for downtown Paso Robles. The plan is to get to downtown a little early (the concert starts at 6pm in the downtown park bandstand), get a good parking spot,  put our blanket down to hold a spot, find a restaurant nearby for an early dinner, then over to the park for the concert.

My wife smells garlic in the air. To her, this means pasta. Pasta is what she wants and pasta is all she'll accept. We wander along Pine Street, the park's eastern edge, where a half a dozen restaurants sit...not one among them with pasta on the menu.

Except one, Berry Hill Bistro. We go in, have one of their spectacular Millionaire Margaritas, and order pasta. Only thing is, it's too early for the dinner menu.

"The menu outside said nothing about it being a dinner menu," I tell my wife.  

She's not having it. We're a half an hour early for dinner. While Tim and I are happy with sandwiches, it won't do for her. I make a compromise. Tim and I will eat our sandwiches, then, I'll order the pasta to go for dinner and she can have a picnic in the park for the concert.

That's a deal she can live with. I tell the server what I intend to do, she tells the chef, and he relents and just makes the pasta now so we can all eat together.  

And that is how big tips are generated.

In the park, I thank our new friend, Tony, for letting us set our blanket next to his and for keeping an eye on it while we ate.  We make a few more friends as people file in for the concert.

A booth from J. Lohr winery sells bottles of very good wine for $20. I get a fine Riesling. They also give me four free souvenir glasses to drink it with.  You can also brink your own drinks from home, as many people do.

It's all a very relaxed atmosphere and all are here to have a good time.

The band strikes up...a jazzy, old school rock band...and we relax over wine and new friends as the sun sets on the music.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It Could've Been a Contender...Actually, It Is: Morro Bay's Waterfront

Morro Bay's waterfront walk...a mishmash of sidewalks, parking lots, and almost completely navigable by wheelchair. It's not a huge wharf, we can walk from end-to-end in about five minutes, but it packs a decent punch in that area between north and south.

At the north end is a defunct power plant, it's three smoke stacks like a giant picket fence, separating the small fishing fleet from Morro Rock. The south end, just beyond the Embarcadero Inn, is bordered by the pleasure marina, boat ramp, and a large parking lot.

If you were to spend a day exploring, you'd better be hungry and thirsty. A good starting point for a loop would be the Coffee Pot restaurant at the north end where Embarcadero merges with Front Street. It's a solid spot for breakfast featuring all the classics...omelets, pancakes, waffles, biscuits and gravy...with a lot of items on the menu taking advantage of it's location next to the local fishing fleet's wharf.  Benedicts can be had with shrimp, crab, or the catch of the day. Seafood can also find it's way into your omelet.

It's owned by Gordon Lu, an orphan immigrant from Communist China in 1969, who came to America poor and made his way with this little cafe in Morro Bay. He's even got a book out about his exploits. Be sure to check out the large collection of coffee pots lining the walls while you're there.

Out back, you can check out the catch in the tanks along the docks. Morro Bay's fishing fleet may be small but they still bring in a lot of the sea's bounty each day. Several restaurants are on hand to buy what they're selling.

Going south from the Coffee Pot, you'll pass a small park with a large anchor. That's a memorial to the local fishermen lost at sea over the years. At the first building, you can go left to walk along the front of the shops on the Embarcadero or go right, like us, to walk over the water.

In a few feet, you'll come to one of our favorite Morro Bay cheap eats with a slight German accent, the Hofbrau. Here, you can get very juicy roast beef sandwiches, cut to your specifications at the carving bar, along with German and local craft brews.

It's very filling and you get a ton of food for your money.  You can also sit on the outdoor deck, or avoid the weather inside. Either way, you've got a great view of the bay.

After the Hofbrau, there's a deck for taking in the view, then...if you've the money...the Anderson Inn. The wheelchair room here is pretty spectacular but it comes with a price.  

Moving on, the Otter Rock Cafe has a good lineup of local musicians at night to enjoy while sipping on a cocktail. Next door, at the Boatyard complex, you can pop out the walkway to get some taffy or browse the clearance racks at Best Kept Secret for a cheap souvenir T-Shirt to remember your visit.

Back on the water, look across the bay for any empty wooden docks or tie downs. You're likely to see and hear the local sea lions lounging in the sun.

In between this building and the next is a small garden patio to relax in. On the water, you can take a tiki bar cruise around the bay with Lost Isle Adventures.  

Next up, the Libertine will take care of your thirst for a craft beer lust with their 48 taps, including their own brews made at their brewery in nearby Santa Maria. Across the next viewing platform and parking lot is our favorite, Rose's Bar. Down the ramp you'll find this boat-shaped 100% wheelchair accessible bar with spectacular views of the bay and the rock with friendly bartenders to pour your drinks.

After Rose's, you find another little plaza to relax on, maybe enjoy some ice cream and browse the cheap clearance racks of Dolphin T-Shirt Company for some more cheap souvenirs.

Back on the waterfront, you'll cross a larger parking lot before banking to the right of a large, wooden building. Before going on, you'll want to take a peek into the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum

You'll see some great exhibits on the history of sidewalk surfing along with artifacts such as one of the fastest skateboards ever made and the 2nd biggest skateboard ever made. It's also a bargain as it's free.

If you're hungry, back on the waterfront side of the building Blue Sky Bistro on the Bay is an excellent stop for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

After this building, you'll need to detour back to the Embarcadero because the walkway is blocked here by docks.

On the corner is the old and kitschy Morro Bay Aquarium where you can feed sea lions and view tanks of native sealife in the back.  The Aquarium works with Cal Poly to house and feed injured sea lions that can't be returned to the wild and keep live specimens on display for use in research.

It's a very cheap (less than $5) and retro attraction but you better hurry, it's closing next month. A new and more modern facility is being planned to replace it, more along the lines of a smaller version of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium than the old facility sitting there now.

After the aquarium, you can head back to the water where you'll find a yoga shop and another restaurant among the views of the rock and sea otters.

Grays Inn, a small, two room hotel and art gallery sits before you reach a wide expanse of walk without any buildings until you get to a kayak rental facility. If you're able, you can rent one to explore this massive bay.

The Morro Bay Yacht Club, Estero Inn Hotel (with a great but expensive waterfront wheelchair accessible suite) and another art gallery make up the end of the businesses along the water. 

Across the street is the 456 Embarcadero Inn, our usual choice for lodging in this town.  Beyond that, a waterfront park and a large parking lot lead to the boat ramp where a large billboard with a picture of a boat trying to navigate a huge wave advertises the dangers of launching out of this particular inlet.

Going back, you can return via the waterfront route you came on or go down the other side of the street on the Embarcadero. This way, you can see a couple of places you missed by being on the water.

Past the Chinese buffet nextdoor to the 456 Embarcadero Inn, you'll see the yacht club's storage facility and maintenance yard. Another block will put you in front of the Shell Shop, an authentic beach town souvenir shop specializing in...what else?...shells and shell related merchandise.

One of my favorite shops to stop at comes next, the Garden Gallery, where you can see hundreds of beautiful fountains in operation. The prices aren't bad either...if you have room in your car, you just might want to take one home for your patio.

After the Garden Gallery is the biggest parking lot along the Embarcadero.  It's a good place to find a spot unless it's being used to house the annual Morro Bay Harbor Festival in October.

Next is a small park with a giant chess board where you can play with life-size pieces.  After all that game play, you might want to rejuvenate with dessert at Sun 'n Buns Bakery which also features a fireplace in the dining room for those colder Central Coast days.

A large empty lot separates the bakery from a couple of surf shops, then you're back where you started.

It might be dinner time when you get back so how about some local seafood?

If you're on a budget, get something from the big and varied menu of Giovanni's Seafood and eat on their waterfront deck.

Got some money to splurge?  Keep walking another short block and have something off of the mesquite grill of the Great American Fish Company or the long-time Morro Bay favorite, Tognazzini's...both places get their dinners from the fishing boats parked next to the kitchen. Tognazzini's even has their own boat.

It doesn't get any fresher than that.

Don't forget to make a little time to watch the sun set over Morro Rock.

Hand Picked California Wines Straight to your door- Exclusive member discounts

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cooling Off Over the Hill - An Afternoon in Morro Bay

It's in the nineties here in Atascadero (actually, that's not too bad for mid-July here) so we're going to take a break over the hill in Morro Bay, which is in the sixties today.

It's only about a twenty minute drive on Highway 41 from Atascadero to the heart of Morro Bay. We find a good parking spot just north of midway on the Embarcadero, Morro Bay's waterfront street.

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It's always a good time to meander along the wharf's path along the water, which is a good ten degrees cooler on this side than it is on the street less than one hundred feet away. The path is not a straight line. It weaves in and out of all the shops, restaurants, and other buildings facing the water.  It is accessible to wheelchairs, though, so it's a cool...almost cold...way to wander along, businesses on one side, sea lions and otters on the other.

While it's a good way to pass the day just inhaling that salt-water air and marveling at the Morro Rock view, it helps to have a couple of other stops, too.

Rose's Bar and Grill welcomes us to sit at their long, low, boat-shaped bar with a view of the rock. The height of the bar is perfect and, as a happily coincidentally result, is completely wheelchair accessible.

Letty has their house cabernet, which happens to be from Ancient Peaks Winery in nearby Templeton.

"I've got a coupon for free tasting there," I tell her. That will come in handy tomorrow.

"Good, 'cuz this is a really wonderful wine," she tells me.

Tim has his soda while I have an Alaskan Red Ale before we continue on our way.  

Before Letty wanders up the hill to the leather shop to look around, we stop in at a bakery to have a snack. There's a fireplace going in the middle of the dining room that really isn't necessary this July day but I'm sure comes in handy on those cold, winter days like we had the last time we visited Morro Bay.

Yes, it's a short, sweet, cool little break from the heat of Atascadero over the hill but it really helps to recharge us for another day in our little cave of a room.

We'll have some more fun tomorrow.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 13, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Paso Robles Wine Tasting

We've done this before but time to hit a couple of new places.

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While California wine tasting used to be a fun, cheap way to pass some time on vacation, wineries have caught on and have made this a profit center. Cheap tasting is getting hard to find. Free tasting is on the endangered list and in extreme danger of going extinct.

Still, have faith...there are some bargains to be had out there yet.

A quick inquiry at the hotel's front desk yields us about half a dozen coupons for free wine tasting here in the Paso Robles AVA.  Two are local, and we'll taste a third under different circumstances tonight.

From our hotel in Atascadero, it's just a few miles south to Santa Margarita where the Ancient Peaks Winery's tasting room anchors the block-long downtown. A display inside has samples of the soil of their growing areas to the north and a map of each type of soil and the grapes grown on it.

Our coupon gets us tastes of everything on the list and we make up a mixed case (10% discount for non-members) of their great cabernet, Sauvignon blanc, and Blanco...a slightly sweeter dry white wine made up of a chardonnay/moscato mix...from the friendly, helpful, and down-to-earth counter staff. They also had a rose for this hot day but it was average and kind of paled a bit in comparison with the other wines.

Be sure to stop at the bakery next door for some sweets to go with that Blanco by the pool later.

Next, we go to the other side of Atascadero, to Templeton, where the rolling hills are dotted with quarter horse ranches. Here's where we'll find Wild Horse Winery. It's a name we're familiar with as we've had their readily available wines many times before.

It's a bit lonely here as we're the only customers. The friendly woman at the counter helps us out with our free tasting as I end up splurging on a really excellent chardonnay that I wasn't planning on spending that much for (but it was worth it). The other wines, such as their pinot noir and viognier, were on sale for such low price that I made up the price of the charonnay.

Later, at a concert in the park in downtown Paso Robles, we hit the wine bar where J. Lohr is selling bottles of their excellent wine for $20 a bottle, souvenir glasses included.

We enjoyed the concert with a chilled bottle of their Riesling to finish off our wine day in Paso Robles.


Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 11, 2017

Wallowing in the Mud - Fun Times in Atascadero, California

Atascadero is a Spanish word that basically means "mired in the mud." Why they chose this name for a charming little Central Coast town is beyond me...we saw no mud bogs at all.

Anyway, we're out and about to see what we can find. Not wanting to spend any unnecessary time at our hotel, we come downtown where my wife...the knitter...can visit not one but TWO yarn shops within a block of each other.  The thing is one opens at 10 and the other at 11 and it's 9:30.

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We'll do some urban exploring in the meantime.

Smack in the middle of town is a big, domed, brick building. It looks lovingly maintained (it is) and is the century-old City Hall. We take some pictures and send Tim up the adjacent wheelchair ramp as part of our video shoot.

I notice some great looking old light fixtures through the door so we go in to take some pictures. In the lobby, we find there is a little historical museum with exhibits on the city's and building's past.

Before houses were erected, magazine publisher E. G. Lewis founded the town as a planned, Utopian society. Tents were erected before house were built and this area became known at "Tent City." A recreation of one of those tents is in a room off of the foyer.

In late 2003, a 6.5 earthquake struck the area and caused much damage to many of the buildings here and in nearby Paso Robles.  Another exhibit in another room displays some of the pieces of the building knocked loose and photos of the devastation.

A renovation project was launched after the quake close the building and it reopened better than new in 2013.  Inside, the main public counter sits under a beautiful dome.  You can conduct city business here, pick up some brochures, and even buy souvenir t-shirts.

Across the street is a park, known as the Sunken Gardens, with a fountain and some statuary.  The knitting shops should be open so we make our way over to the old Carlton Hotel and the first knitting shop next door.

Tim and I poke around the other shops as Letty peruses the yarn.  We don't find much that interests us.

After that, we head around the corner to shop number two, which is closed today.  We'll have to come back tomorrow for that.

Fast forward to the afternoon and we're back at the Sunken Gardens.  It's time for the weekly farmer's market taking place along the sidewalk in the southern edge of the park.

There's some great local produce, along with some breads and a rancher taking orders for his beef.  I grab a few pieces of fruit for a snack later back at the hotel.

It's dinner time now so we head across the street to Sylvester's, a small local burger chain.

Cooler now that it was earlier, we take the opportunity to sit on the corner deck and have our food and drink.

Letty has a mushroom burger with a glass of local wine...

...while I have the Central Coast favorite, a tri-tip sandwich with a cold glass of 805 beer to wash it down with.

Tim goes with a basic bacon cheeseburger and fries.

It is all very delicious and filling. I could not quite finish my sandwich.

Sated and relaxed, we head back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow.

Hand Picked California Wines Straight to your door- Exclusive member discounts
Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved