Friday, October 30, 2020

Quiet Times on the Eve of a Lockdown in Paso Robles, California

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) Our last day dawned bright in Paso Robles. Today, we're going to spend a quiet day in town. My wife wants to visit thrift and antique shops.

It's just about a mile to walk from the hotel but Letty and Tim decide they'd rather drive so into the van we go. A parking spot is available at the Downtown Plaza Park. It's the heart of town so it makes for a good place to start.

The park is quiet today, unlike the times in the past where we've enjoyed a great bottle of local wine while watching a nice concert.

Letty's off to the Goodwill across the street, while Tim and I are left to our wits to pass time while she's there. We start off walking around the old Carnegie Library that centers the park. It's now a museum.

I saw an art sign about a plunge and hot springs while we were in our hotel. Doing some research, I pinpoint the location of the springs, which is in the patio of the library across the street. Just a little seep now. The large plunge was located in what is now the parking lot.

We cross over to an art gallery, closed, with many wonderful sculptures around the building. It's then it hits me that it's the gallery of Dale Evers, a Facebook friend of mine. Unfortunately, there's no one there so we continue on to the Goodwill, where Letty is about wrapping up her shopping and checking out.

Stillness is settled over the town on this quiet, weekday morning. Not a lot is open yet but we see a couple of antique shops in the distance. We wander in to the massive Great America Antiques Mall.

I'm not a real antique store fan but, every now and again, I find one I like. This is one. It goes on, room after room, with all kinds of kitschy Americana. I find all kinds of things I wouldn't mind taking home. 

I find a hand-cranked mixer that I was looking for and a stein for my collection. The guys working the store like to bargain so I got a good deal and he gave Tim a free, souvenir baseball bat, too.

Letty finds a few bargains for herself and then we call it a morning. We're starting to get hungry so we wander the area looking for something to eat. When we get to the railroad tracks, we see an interesting, bright yellow spot. We've ended up at The Backyard, an honest-to-goodness beer garden here in downtown Paso Robles.

A couple of glasses of some very good local craft beer, a fried chicken sandwich, and some cheese curds make for a filling and relaxing lunch. It's a very nice spot to hang out.

With that, we head back to the hotel to chill a bit, hang out with our friend during happy hour, and relax before heading home.


As we arrive home, the news on the pandemic is getting worse. The Wednesday after we return, California's governor Gavin Newsom tells people not to leave their homes except for essential trips like getting groceries. 24 hours later, he makes it mandatory and we are locked down for the next two months.

Hotels, like the Oxford Suites we stayed at, close their pools, food service and bars and are only open for essential travelers.

At first, we're told to wash our hands and keep our distance from others but masks aren't necessary. About a month in, masks are recommended. When restrictions are lifted, the number start to go back up and masks become mandatory, then about a month later restrictions are reimposed.

It would be until the end of the summer before restrictions are slowly eased up again and, as of this writing, we are still restricted on many things we can do.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2020 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 26, 2020

Just Another Day at the Beach: Cayucos, California

Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) After a fun but rainy day in Morro Bay, the next day is drier. In these early, pre-shutdown days of the pandemic, the breakfast buffet at the Oxford Suite is not open. Instead, you choose from a menu and a server brings you your selection.

Sanitizing stations abound and guests are instructed not to touch anything that's not at their table.

At least they're still serving it, which wouldn't be the case in a couple of weeks.

Today, we're going back over the hill to the beach again. The rain has passed so it should be a pleasant seaside day. Our destination? The town that bills itself as the last of the old time, California beach town, Cayucos.

It's a tiny place. A few years ago, it was famous for Hoppe's, a restaurant that served locally farmed abalone. That was a real treat since abalone is a threatened species and cannot be harvested commercially anymore. It can be farmed, however, and there is a farm here in town.

The appetizer dish costs $50 at the time we went.

Hoppes is gone but the farm is still there.

A roll out to the end of the pier lets us revel in the ocean air. We can see Morro Rock, the guardian of Morro Bay where we were yesterday, poking out of the mist down the coast.

We poke our heads in a few shops, including a bakery where we have a hot cup of coffee to stay warm, and try to find a place to eat. We're in between lunch and dinner and have a hard time finding anything open and accessible. 

After exploring as much as we could, we wind up at Duckie's, a fast-food joint near the pier, and enjoy some fish 'n chips and a burger.

It's a very quite day in Cayucos so we pack it in and do some auto touring of the area. 

There's the pretty and quiet town of Harmony, a former dairy town, where I point out to Letty and Tim the location of one of the worst air crashes in California history. A disgruntled worker commandeered a PSA flight, killed the pilots, and the jet slammed into the ground leaving no survivors.

Going back over the hills on highway 46, we make a stop at Bethel Road Distillery, just behind Castoro Cellars (they're owned by the same company) to sip some brandy and rum. With the pandemic just starting to hit the news, and shortages of hand sanitizer looming, I joke to the owner that he should take his waste alcohol and mix it with the aloe growing outside to launch a new product line.

He laughs at this and says his license wouldn't allow it. Two weeks later, that's exactly what they started doing here.

We relax back at the hotel with another happy hour, our bartender friend, and the soup and salad served. Tomorrow, we'll see what we can find here in the town of Paso Robles.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2020 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 25, 2020

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Paso Robles Wine Tasting

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) 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, October 23, 2020

Paso Robles on the Verge of a Lockdown

Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) It's the beginning of March, 2020, the year where spring was cancelled. As we're starting to hear about a couple of cruise ships being quarantined because of some virus originating in China, we are making our way to Paso Robles on the Central Coast of California.

At the time, there are no cases of Covid 19 either in our home county or in San Luis Obispo County, where Paso Robles is located. It's where we're driving to today.

Our home for a few days will be the Oxford Suites, a new hotel for Paso Robles, where a friend of ours is the bartender. 

The room is a king suite (a studio suite, actually) with a comfortable king bed and a fold out queen size sleeper.

The large bathroom features a roll-in shower.

The hotel serves a light dinner of soup and salad, along with a beverage of your choice or selected beers and wine. It's a good fit after being on the road for several hours. In the morning, the breakfast buffet is no longer available...a gloved server will bring you your selection (this was after gloves and hand sanitizers were being used and before universal mask wearing and shortages kicked in).

There is light rain in the area the next morning as we drive over the hill to visit one of our favorite beach towns, Morro Bay. It's been a few years, let's see how the town has changed.

The first thing we notice is that the old aquarium where we'd feed fish to sea lions is gone. Workmen are inside, demolishing the floor and some walls. I ask but they don't know what's going in to replace it.

We try to walk along the waterfront but there must be some sort of widespread project to update it. At several places, we have to detour back out to the street to get around a construction site.

Browsing a few souvenir shops, we then decide to get a drink at Rose's Cantina, a mandatory stop for us where we can sit at the great, low wheelchair accessible bar, chatting with the friendly bartenders while enjoying a great view of Morro Rock.

The aquarium might be gone but it's still easy to see sea lions frolicking in the bay. We also come upon a family of sea otters playing in a quiet area among the docked fishing boats.

They're here, I'm guessing, because it's quiet and away from predators. It's also a good place to find scraps off the small fishing fleet here.

That's what my wife wants to do so we head to the north end of town to the Great American Fish Company.

It's one of my wife's favorite places to eat. She has a grilled fish kabob and chowder special while Tim gets the fish 'n chips. Being more of a landlubber, I go with a cheeseburger.

Back over in Paso Robles, we spend a little time at the hotel's happy hour before retiring to our room. We'll head back over the hill to another beach destination tomorrow.

Darryl Musick 
Copyright 2020 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Trio of Quick Fall Trips: Bringing the Extended Family Along for Gold and Wine Touring-Part 3

We've come up here to Gold Country to show Letty's mom and brother where we plan on moving to. Today, we're expanding our reach for some quality Sierra Foothill wine tasting.

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First, we pick up two picnics...breakfast quiches and sandwiches...from the Motherlode Deli in Jackson, California. Next, it's off to our first stop...Drytown Cellars in the tiny speck of a town by the same name a few miles up highway 49.

We set up our breakfast food, well brunch by now, then head into the bar for some tasting. As the wine flows, I feel something hard bounce off my shin.  It's a rock...who threw this at me?

The rock was thrown by Jay, the black dog in the picture above. Jay must have rocks in his head because that's what he likes to fetch. Customers of the winery beware, this dog will find a rock, then find you, plunk you with a stone, and expect you to throw it so he can fetch it.

This is all fine and dandy except the Jay will...not...stop. At some point, Rolo...the red dog...will get tired of it and attack Jay to get him to knock it off for awhile.

That's the life of winery dogs.

We pick out a few bottles and go back outside to eat our quiche.

Next, it's off to see our friends at Amador 360 Wine Collective in the town of Plymouth where we find this sweet Mustang parked out front.

Julie is there, as always, ready to pour and chat about the latest gossip and happenings of the area. Today, we have an extra treat. Thomas Allan, the owner and winemaker of Fate Wines, is there to pour samples of his fine wines.

It's always a treat to catch up on the former underground winemaker of the Sierra Foothills. He tells us that, in addition to making his own wine, he is now the winemaker at Story Winery, where we'll have our second picnic later on.

Off to Bray Winery where Oliver Bray pours a few tastes for us as we buy a few bottles from him, then it's Shenandoah Vineyards to pick up a bottle there and take a bathroom break.

Next, it's off to Shenandoah's sister winery, Sobon, which just happens to be the oldest continuously operating winery in the state (from 1856). We take Letty's mom and Amaury into the museum there to see the old aging cave and ancient winemaking equipment.

Milan Matulich, the Croatian owner of Dobra Zemlja Winery, is there to pour tastes for Amaury and Letty while I just buy a couple bottles of his power wine.

Last, it's off to Story just before closing time where we settle in with a bottle of Rose to go with our sandwiches.

Gypsy, the German shorthair pointer winery dog, comes along to get some ear scratches and to see if she can grab some stray bites of roast beef.

The next day, we head back to Jackson so our guests can explore the old Gold Rush town. After a bit of shopping, it's off to our favorite dive bar there, the Fargo Club, to grab a small Amberbock. We find the bar will be closing soon and moving to the other end of Main Street by the end of the year.

One more stop to see a craft show and get some ice cream in Sutter Creek, and then we head back down.

Across from our hotel, a car show is going on. We drive in...someone forgot to set up cones to cordon off the lot...and find ourselves in an impromptu drive through car show.

I even got this guy...

...and this gal to pose for me.

One more night of rest and then it's time to go home. We have breakfast before the drive across the street at Brookfields where we see a vacationing Santa Claus enjoying the meal with his wife.

Santa's got a sweet 1928 Ford Roadster he drives in the off season.

And that's it for our trio of quick fall trips.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 16, 2020

A Trio of Quick Fall Trips: Number 3 - Bringing the Extended Family Along for Gold and Wine Touring-Part 2

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) A fitful night of sleep at the Doubletree Suites in Rancho Cordova leads to an early wakeup the next morning. After a breakfast of waffles, eggs, and bacon at Sunrise Waffle Shop near the hotel, we're on the road heading east on Highway 50.

Before Placerville, our GPS tells us to exit and head northward into the hills. Today, we're taking the family to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. The three of us have been there many times but it will be a first for Letty's mom and her brother.

We arrive and there are many people. It's the second weekend of October and the new thing we'll learn today is that this weekend is the Gold Rush Live re-enactment. That means many people in period dress set up in tents recreating the Gold Rush days with blacksmiths, general stores, bakeries, and even and honest-to-God saloon. The lady up above had her goats Rascal and Ranger there, too.

All the participants are required to live at the site and only use period correct items. Some are even deep into the character, such as the lady who told my wife she was waiting for her husband to bring her some more vegetables before she could sell what she had to my wife.

"Oh, when's he coming back?" my wife asked.

"It depends, he went to Sacramento. If he has a horse, two days. If he took the wagon, maybe three. Hopefully, he won't find misfortune along the way that would delay him more..."

Others, not quite so much as my wife inquired of a lady in the knitting tent, "I love that shawl, could you tell me how you did the pattern?"

"You can download it on," was the reply.

Before we get over to the encampment, I need to show my mother-in-law and brother-in-law the most important historic spot in their adopted state. Just a bit left of the recreation of the old sawmill that John Sutter owned is a protected by a wall and no trespassing signs...that mill foreman John Marshal was inspecting after blasting the mill's tailrace to unclog it.

Here is where he bent over, saw a glimmering rock in the water, and found the first nugget that launched California's great Gold Rush.

Suitably impressed, we then head over to the re-enactment chatting with the participants and browsing the wares. We end up in the saloon tent ("we're only selling sasaparilla today because of all the school children here on field trips, tomorrow we'll have beer and wine") where an urchin, dressed in period garb, walks in.

"What'll you have, mister?" the bartender asks.

"How much is a sasparilla?" he asks back.

"Two fifty."

"I have two dollars."

He's cute enough that Amaury and I split the bill and buy him a drink.

It's time to head back down the hill but not before we stop off at the big house. Folsom Prison is hidden behind the houses of the City of Folsom. It's a popular stop for us to check out the tiny prison just inside the wall.

I show Amaury the old nooses, the crafts made by prisoners, and the wall of shanks that were confiscated by prisoners. There's also a display of contraband that was caught by prisoners keestering it in.

Google it, I'm not going to explain it here.

We finish off the day with way more deep dish pizza than we can eat at Chicago Fire in Old Folsom before retiring back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we'll delve deeper into the Motherlode.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved