Thursday, September 15, 2005

Day 11 - The accidental tourist (part 1)

Day 11 from the road in San Francisco where we discovered two things. First, Mark Twain was absolutely correct when he wrote, “The coldest winter I ever experienced was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” The calendar might think it’s still summer, but outside by the bay, it’s fall going onto winter. Lows were in the 40s this AM, the fog hung low and long over the Golden Gate Bridge, covering up the sun and people were wearing all methods of heavier coats except for those out-of-town idiots who didn’t pack enough of that kind of apparel.
Like us.
Second, a lot of people walk in this city and talk the numerous means of public transportation. We discovered this because driving is a pain in the ass. As we discovered trying to reach our Day 11 destinations. We got an eyeful of all sorts of neighborhoods, drove down part of Lombard Street and imagined Steve McQueen flying in his Shelby Cobra like he did in “Bullitt.”
On Saturday, it will be strictly street and cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf. No fooling around with Mother Nature.
The following theme - being an accidental tourist (different from the book and movie) – will be repeated during this trip. It will refer to getting lost while looking for one thing and finding something just as neat and wonderful.
Example: While trying to find the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, we accidentally ended up in Coronado, getting to see the famous Hotel del Coronado (made famous in “Some Like It Hot”).
Here are a few accidental places we found to eat that proved to be superb.
Along Harbor Drive in San Diego, we literally stumbled upon Anthony’s Fish Grotto and had perhaps the best bowl of New England clam chowder ever, including the kind served in Boston. Part of this Southern California town for 59 years, it was opened in 1946 by “Mama” Ghio, her two sons and son-in-law. Mama brought those unique old-world recipes that only she knew and developed some new ones as the years went past.
It’s one of those places where you could die from overeating because so much of the menu sounds so good. Most of the items are based on her recipes although it was sad to learn that no cookbook featuring the top recipes has ever been published. If it does, put me down on the wish list.
There are scores of fast food places in California but since 1948, the yellow arrow has been special. The In and Out is simply the best fast food hamburger we’ve ever eaten. Here’s the menu - hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double (burger), fries, milk shakes, drinks, that’s all. No salads, no chicken sandwiches, no club sandwiches or egg rolls. Just plain fresh-made food and in your hand fast!
Each burger is made from fresh meat, not frozen and the French fries are cut daily on the premises. Believe me, you can taste the difference. And the milk shakes use REAL ice cream, not that frozen ice milk junk for others.
The first In-N-Out Burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, Calif. Snyder’s concept of a drive-through hamburger stand had customers ordering via a two-way speaker box - deemed quite unique at the time. “In that era, it was common to see carhops serving those who wanted to order food from their car. Harry’s idea caught on and California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand was born,” according to the website.
The business grew slowly to 18 locations when Harry died in 1976 and his sons took control. By 1993, there were 93 In and Outs in California and eventually the business expanded beyond the Golden State’s borders; hundreds exist in California, Arizona and the Northwest.
Well worth the stop along the road.
In Oceanside (which served Camp Pendleton and Miramar AFB), lies the famous 101 Café – open since 1928 at 631 South Coast Highway. It’s probably been the same since that date - just a 20-table diner with great breakfasts (served all day), good lunches and dinners. It is named for the classic strip of California road, which is akin to Route 66 for America.
Highway 101 was the main access from Los Angeles to San Diego until 1953 when Highway 101 was relocated to the present location after the construction of Interstate 5.
It has adapted with the changes in the restaurant business, probably because it hasn’t changed. The waitresses know the regulars because those are the everyday people in this beach town.
And you can’t beat the corned beef hash or sourdough toast.
Finally, as he drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco, our midway point for a rest stop found us in San Luis Obispo. In the distance, I could see this large structure and it looked like a good place to stop.
No, make it a great place to stop. It was the Madonna Inn, built out of rocks from the mountains that overlooked the property.
It’s been operated by the Madonna family for 45 years (are you sensing a pattern here?) and doesn’t do things in a plastic way. Coffee is served in fine china. Tables in the Copper Café are made of real copper. The chairs all have hearts on them and if the fresh cakes and pies don’t kill you, the rock candy swizzle sticks for the ice tea just might do the trick.
There is a marble banister next to the Gold Rush Steak House that used to belong in Hearst Castle, in nearby San Simeon.
There is a wine tasting room for the vintages made just for the Inn and a classic gourmet shop. There’s even a men’s clothing store – in the middle of nowhere!
You can find these treasures throughout America if you look, listen (to your tummy and heart) and stop.
Next, I will tell you of a San Francisco legend and the stuff that dreams are made of.

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