Carmel to San Francisco

115After the delicious drive up California’s Highway 1, Alfie and I arrived in Carmel. 105 104Firstly, we found the river and stopped to play, meeting a lovely young woman and her 2 daughters and delighting in the playful seal who kept bobbing about – and then as we drove around the corner we fortuitously and coincidentally, found Clint Eastwood’s joint ‘Mission Ranch’ straight away.

I made a note of where it was and drove into the centre of Carmel – which is very small – and then remembered that Alfie needed to eat, so I duly sorted out his meal which he wolfed down, snacking myself, and then returned to Mission Ranch to sit on the terrace on a warm evening that 120 106 was more like an English summer than March, and started to listen to the conversation of a couple next to me.

It turned out that they were old school friends. He was bleating on about the end of his marriage and seemed very bitter and angry and I confessed to listening to their conversation and told him he needed my book. He wasn’t amused. However, we all had a jolly conversation after that and they enjoyed their wine (she owns a wine concession) and I enjoyed my coffee.  Thank goodness I don’t drink alcohol anymore. There is no way I could do this trip if I did.

The man, whose name now escapes me, lives in next door Pebble Beach where there is apparently some world famous golf course.108

As golf bores the ass off me I had no idea what he was talking about. It turns out you need to be mega-wealthy to live there. Obviously his money hasn’t bought him happiness.

111 112After they left, I went inside and sat by the fire near the piano that had chairs situated all around it where the majority of people taking turns to sing were sitting.

Jim and I fell into conversation and it turned out that his wife, Viv, was one of the people singing. In her 70s, half-Italian, half-Spanish, she is still a beautiful woman and Jim, of mainly Scottish descent, is a handsome man. They have been together since middle-school days and are lovely people.

As Alfie and I were leaving, Viv realised that we were sleeping in the car (there was a convention in town and hotel rooms were $300 dollars – I would rather spend that money on food and other things…) so she insisted we stayed at their place in Marina, North of Monterey. The kindness of strangers…107 119

I slept very well and breakfasted with them on this amazing cinnamon and walnut bread with scrambled eggs. Alfie and I then went to Carmel and played on the beach.

Carmel is a very dog-friendly town so we met lots of other people with dogs.

The sea is a beautiful blue and the sand is so white it makes your eyes hurt). We parked the car on the road alongside the beach and picnicked there when we had had our fill of the beach, after which we strolled through the town and found a great place to get organic Americano: the best coffee I had ever tasted: strong and tasty and great with half and half.

110 109The town is full of cute houses and lots of shops selling tat so we soon made our way to Mission Ranch to look at the sheep grazing the pasture just next to the river (Alf was non-plussed) and where, sitting on the terrace, I had a great meal of Calamares and fresh tortillas with a tasty salsa.

I chatted to various people sitting around me and Alfie was, as usual, adored and petted. At one point I asked the waitress ‘Does Clint Eastwood every come here?’ ‘Yes, he was here 10 minutes ago but was mobbed so escaped out the back’. Damn! Still, at least I can say I was at his place when he was there.

He rescued Mission Ranch from being demolished and replaced by expensive condos, but in the process now owns a very popular place.

At 9 p.m. I put Alfie in the car (he hates loud noise and doesn’t enjoy being around singing and applause) and went to join Viv and Jim around the piano.

Viv sang some numbers, as did other people and we had an enjoyable evening. Once again, I stayed with them and slept really well, returning to Carmel the following morning for Alfie’s last romp on the beach there and to have another delicious coffee.

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I couldn’t leave without visiting Doris Day’s glamorous 1920s dog-friendly hotel, full of posters of her films: The Cyprus Inn.


As we entered, the concierge gave Alfie a massive treat in the shape of a bone and when I apologised that Alfie was making a mess on the floor he shrugged his shoulders and said ‘Another dog will clear it up’.


At the entrance, there was a stall run by 2 women working for the Doris Day Animal Foundation chatting to a woman who used to appear on TV with her.


I chatted to them and bought a bag and a badge with ‘Have a Doris Day’ written on it which now adorns my hat.


In the lounge, a pianist was practising for the concert the following day. There was to be a big get-together of DD fans for the weekend to celebrate her 92nd birthday.


She lives in the valley and would not be making an appearance. It is said she is a recluse but apparently she does occasionally visit Carmel.


Like Clint, she probably doesn’t want to be mobbed. She preferred to spend her birthday with her dog. I can relate to that!

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We then went for a last visit to Mission Ranch and the Spanish Mission next door, and set off for Cannery Row, Monterey – John Steinbeck’s book of the same name was inspired by the stories there and there are 2 sculptures that include John Steinbeck positioned on Cannery Row, next to the beach.


We had a stroll and then moved on to Santa Cruz Boardwalk. What a mistake!! I am not a fan of fairgrounds or loud noises and neither is Alfie.


I had a root beer in a nearby, quieter, cafe and then set off up the coast to Boulder Creek and the Vajrapani 130 131 133 137 139Institute where in 2007 I spent a very happy week studying plant spirit medicine with an American group, some of whom – notably Adrilia and Carlos – remain friends to this day.


I had forgotten how awful the road is up to the Institute which is set in redwoods right off the beaten track.


However, we made it before nightfall and had a walk around, talking to a few people who live and work there (there was a silent retreat going on) and got back down the valley to Boulder Creek before nightfall. I had remembered a nice restaurant there.140 141 142 143


When I asked about eating, a local laughed and said I should go to a place up the road – apparently the restaurant I remembered had burned down a few years ago.


There was an open art evening happening so I listened to some music, looked at some art, and left the rather disappointing little town behind.


At the eatery 4 miles out of town I found a burger with  sweet potato fries and a man who kept asking if he could buy Alfie.


On this trip, there are people who really fall for him. I told him the price tag was 10 million dollars. I fed Alfie outside after I had eaten (so many places close at 9 p.m. because Americans eat so early and this was no exception) and we carried on up towards San Francisco.


We climbed up and up and up on the ‘Sky Line Road’ and although the views were great I was relieved to get off it and its multiple twists and turns, climbs and descents.


We briefly visited Half Moon Bay where great surfing competitions take place and had a leg stretch, and then drove to suburbia half an hour outside of San Francisco, where we slept the night.

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We awoke refreshed and beetled straight to Fisherman’s wharf where at 8 a.m. we parked for the day for $25 (gulp) and then went to Pete’s for a coffee and banana cake (yuum…).


We then walked a couple of miles along the sea towards the Golden Gate Bridge and a very active dog beach. Sticks were at a premium, so after a dog had stolen Alfie’s first stick, right under our noses, I had to call out to a man who deliberately tried to steal the second one I had found – he looked quite embarrassed, actually!


147 148 149 150 151 157 158Alfie enjoyed running into the sea and retrieving and I enjoyed the lovely view of the bridge.


We were exhausted when we returned to Fisherman’s wharf that had gone from sleepy, misty and calm to some crazy place blazing with sunshine and crowded with people.


Back at the car, Alfie had his din-dins and then a well-earned sleep, while I also ate and had some shut-eye myself.


160 161 162 163It was time to set off for another walking adventure. I had considered getting the tram up to Union Square but the wait was crazy and so we walked up the hill towards a very lively street – Polk Street – and on to the ‘Mrs Doubtfire House’ at 2640 Steiner Street.


It turns out that the owner of the house is a surgeon who specialises in facial feminization of transgender women.  There, I met a delightful new romance – Chris and Megan have met through friends and seem very well suited.165 166 167 168 169 170 164


They were also visiting the house, kept the same as in the film, which is quite a tourist destination.


As time was rolling on, Alfie and I walked to the City Lights bookshop that Jack Kerouac and friends used to frequent and was amused to see Banksy’s  ‘War and Piece’ book there.


We then walked down past a little atmospheric cafe/jazz bar where I ate clam chowder and chatted to the English owner. I ordered a cup of English tea made with proper cold milk – what a delight! –

and was casually flicking through the ‘San Francisco weekly’ when I came across an article about policing in San Francisco, and how the young gang members earn their stripes by breaking into tourist cars at Fisherman’s walk!172 174 173


I had the tea hurriedly poured into a take-away cup and rushed down to the Wharf, to find a perfectly intact car.

Breathing a big sigh of relief, Alfie had his second din-dins of the day and we drove to Alamo Square where the houses are called ‘Painted Ladies’, then on to ‘Castro’ road running through the lively area where many gay people congregate. There on the pavement you will find homages to many renowned and deserving people – I found one to Alan Turing, bless.


It was 11 p.m. We had had a very full day in San Francisco. Time to cross the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito.


Arriving so late, we drove around and found a good spot along the wall of a house to settle for the night. Alfie is so adaptable and tolerant that he settles wherever we are.


Awaking at 7.30, I drove down to the harbour and walked around Sausalito as it was waking up, first .177 178 180


The fog gradually lifted, giving us views across the bay to San Francisco and silhouettes of rowers.


I found a nice cafe for breakfast, by a fountain in a garden dedicated to their relationship with Chile. Alfie shared my bacon and egg breakfast


Walking around, we met the lovely Erica who runs a hairdressing salon and chatted for a while.


As we returned to the car, ready to leave Sausilito, Neil Young was being played in the cafe nearby – my favourite song of his ‘Til the morning comes’.


I sat and listened feeling mellow and watching the people in the garden of the cafe, pondering on how people live and the different lifestyles I have been able to observe on this epic trip – 6,500 miles and counting.