California is beautiful. You can forget that sometimes, living in Los Angeles, fighting traffic, commuting past big-box retailers and strip malls and -- does it get any worse? -- Lincoln Boulevard.
But drive a few hours and you will find Beauty herself, and you will once again be certain few places on Earth are as spectacular as the state in which you live.
Case in point: a three-day weekend drive from Los Angeles to Half Moon Bay via Hearst Castle and Paso Robles.
Now is the time to take this trip, when the summer crowds have departed Mr. Hearst's
homey little cottage near Cambria, when the olives are ripe and the extra virgin oil is flowing in Paso Robles, and when, at the end of the car ride, you can literally soak in the Martha Stewart-perfect holiday atmosphere of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Pumpkin facial, anyone?
Los Angeles to Cambria is an easy four-hour drive, along some of the world's most beautiful, usually sunny, coastline. Numerous reasonable priced "inns" -- actually gussied up motor lodges -- line the shore drive just north of Cambria. Most feature swimming pools, quick access to a network of coastline trails, and views of cows meandering the hills opposite PCH. There are no kosher restaurants in town, but the elegant Sows Ear Cafe on Main Street and the more family-friendly Brambles Dinner House offer high quality fish and vegetarian dishes.
Arriving in the bustling tourist town by 2 p.m. still allows enough time to see Hearst Castle, just 20 minutes away. Make your reservations by phone or online, and secure a tour time. Many of the lodges in Cambria offer slightly discounted tickets to the castle, and will make the arrangements for you
Tour One, the basic first-timer's tour, takes just under two hours. And for first-, second- or third-time visitor, the scope and design and ostentation of the castle never fails to impress. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst toured the castles of Europe as a young man, and set to emulate them on this windswept, untrammeled piece of coast. Beginning in 1919, Hearst built but never completed the castle on his 240,000-acre San Simeon ranch.
Take in the sumptuous furnishings, the elaborate outdoor pool where Winston Churchill and Cary Grant and others frolicked, the "guest cottages" designed down to the door jambs by Old World artisans, the mosaic tiled indoor pool and the landscaping of thousands of native citrus and other trees and shrubs -- "unbelievable" is the word you will hear your fellow visitors whisper most.
For visitors whispering in Hebrew, the museum offers a translation of the salient points of the tour in pamphlet form -- just ask for it in the beginning. And it might help Jewish visitors appreciate the site more if they gloss over Hearst's early enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler and Italian fascism -- the staunch anti-communist reportedly struck a newsreel deal with the Führer following the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, and used his media empire to justify the Nazi invasion of Ukraine. Take comfort instead that Hearst was an enthusiastic participant in the July 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe in New York City, which attempted to show the Roosevelt administration that saving European Jewry was not just a Jewish issue, but an American one.
Tour One will leave you with what the Hebrew pamphlet might call a ta'am shel od -- a taste for more -- but there is also more California to explore.
Lock the kids in the car and backtrack south through Cambria to Highway 46 East, one of the last and most beautiful underdeveloped agricultural byways in the state. Vineyards from such wineries as Eberle, Tablas and Tobin James give way to rolling pastureland, steep arroyos, olive groves and old farmhouses. Take it slow -- you're looking at Napa or Sonoma 30 years ago.
Just outside Paso Robles, tour the Willow Creek Olive Ranch, makers of Pasolivo, a superb native olive oil. You could spend thousands to fly to Tuscany for the same olive-crushing experience, and not taste any better oil.
You can stop for lunch in Paso Robles and, if there on Friday, attend the 7:30 p.m. Shabbat services at Congregation Ohr Tzafon.
Continue north from Paso Robles on Highway 101, then make your way west to Highway 1 and Half Moon Bay, about three hours away.
In October, this remarkably quiet and well-kept town just 40 minutes south of San Francisco hosts a pumpkin festival, drawing too many thousands of visitors from all over. But come November, the almost perennially foggy weather and non-freeway access ensure a quieter time.
There are a handful of quiet bed and breakfasts and some larger lodging alternatives in the area. For a splurge of opulence and natural beauty, nothing, however, surpasses The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.
The relatively new luxury hotel can't justify its existence based on resort weather or famous environs. Set on a cliff overlooking a turbulent and unswimmable portion of the Pacific, it is the epitome of a destination hotel.
Fortunately, it is self-contained.
There is a full-service spa that draws on a famous local resource to come up with a pumpkin-peel body scrub and pumpkin mask. An attendant spreads the mushed-up pulp on your skin and, lo and behold, you feel your carapace give way.
A cozy fire is always stoked in the lounge, and guests gather outside at night by fire pits -- thick blankets provided -- to look at the surf and the stars, or dip in a cliffside Jacuzzi.
The restaurant, Navio, offers a Sunday brunch of staggering quality, as well as special holiday meals. Kosher catering is available by special arrangement.
Thanksgiving time is celebrated here in a big way. A display of giant pumpkins welcomes visitors, and there are holiday cooking classes for adults and children (as at many Ritz Carlton's, there is a schedule of high quality kids' programming for ages 4-12).
In fact, the resort, which has all the signature Ritz amenities and luxuries, offers a complete Winter school of some 50 classes -- from chocolate cookery to wedding planning.
Along with the a Scotland-like golfing experience (we watched many diehards tee off in light drizzle), there are many outdoor activities available -- whale watching, mountain biking, hiking.
But our favorite, of course, was curling up under one of those blankets by the outdoor fire pit, and recounting our long trip through the beautiful parts of California.
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