Wednesday, May 23, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 11

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on February 27th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 51

Daytripper: Cruise up the coast

Stopping at new spots on a lazy drive makes life a little lighter


If you’re anything like me, an excuse to meander destination-less and drive around a new place is the perfect way to spend the day. It’s a good way to explore, and for me it’s the best way to drop the heaviness that sits between my shoulders after a week of work.

The not-so-typical Harford Pier stretching out into San Luis Obispo Bay lacks the tourist crowd and is mostly used by commercial and sport fisherman.

I got the chance for such a wander during my second weekend on the Central Coast. I headed up U.S. Highway 1 and stopped just south of Pismo Beach. Cars lined the highway, and families looked up at eucalyptus trees—eyes, cameras, and binoculars at attention. It’s a little grove encased in wooden ranch-style fencing at Pismo State Beach, just steps away from the North Beach Campground.

Monarch butterflies hung heavy on eucalyptus branches, weighing them down with folded wings on top of folded wings. They almost looked like part of the trees, like leaves except for an occasional burst of color.

Every November to March, Pismo Beach is the winter-grounds, offering branches for several thousand monarchs. On Jan. 21, this year’s cluster of butterflies was recorded at 28,000 pairs of wings. That’s 5,000 more butterflies then last year’s highest count.

The day I went, Jan. 26, also happened to be California Western Monarch Day, which culminated with a small festival designed for families, complete with butterfly cupcakes, art projects, information booths, and face painting.

Grandparents, baby strollers, dogs, and I descended upon the grove. Eventually, we all ended up huddled by a fence with our cameras pointed at the ground.

A bright orange monarch couple fluttered around on the grass under the trees. Their behinds were stuck together in the endless struggle of men and women alike.

A little boy asked me if they were fighting.

“Not quite,” I replied.

“Oh, they are sexing,” he said.

A pair of monarchs struggled to find their way back to the cluster of butterflies hanging above them.

“Something like that,” I said, struggling to hold in my laughter and feeling slightly uncomfortable.

The boy was right: It did look like the butterflies were fighting as they flopped around and flapped their wings on the grass. A photographer next to me informed me that the mating part was already over. Apparently the male was trying to fly his mate back up to the cluster of butterflies above them.

A woman then told her child not to stand next to the dog, which was my pit bull and also my cue to leave. I continued my drive north on Highway 1 and ended up in Avila Beach and Port San Luis, where there happen to be leash-less dog beaches.

Just past the beaches, I saw the long Harford Pier, and I stopped to check it out. It’s a working pier used by fisherman, fish buyers, and walking tourists.

Birds and sea lions followed fishing boats as they came into the bay. Kayak renters paddled along the pier and farther out into the water, while fishermen unloaded their oysters, crabs, halibut, and other fish into the tubs of ice waiting on the lift-gates of seafood company trucks.

It’s different from your typical tourist pier covered in fishy restaurants, clam chowder proprietors, and junk trinket shops. There is one restaurant at the end of the pier—with windows on three sides that look out into the bay—but for the most part people can walk and fish off the pier without being bothered by the normal tourist crowd.

To the south is the PG&E Diablo Canyon outage center, and the road that divides the work center from tourist beaches ends in the pier parking lot. RV-ers were camped out on the pavement next to the beaches with chairs perched on top of five- to 10-foot miniature cliffs above the sand. Dogs ran and barked below on one of two long beaches that stretch out from the pier toward Avila.

After my very happy-to-finally-be-off-the-leash dog and I played on the beach for 45 minutes, I decided Morro Bay was the next and last stop on my drive. It was also my most important, because I was ready for lunch.

I parked next to the Morro Bay Aquarium and although I didn’t realize it at the time, a seal tank was behind a wall directly in front of my car. I must have been hungry, because I didn’t hear the animals’ barking until I made my way back to the car after lunch. My pooch was sitting up in the car, front and center, head cocked to one side, ears up. The noise must have driven him nuts.

For lunch, I hit up Rose’s Landing, where they bragged about having the best clam chowder in town. After having a bowl—more potatoes than clams, with a very thick, almost chunky creamy base—I do not agree.

Their Cabo fried fish tacos, however, were good and well-priced at $8.95. Subbing a salad for rice and beans was free of charge. The inside, by-the-window table I sat at had a nice view of Morro Bay and its state park.

After lunch, I hung around and watched the birds and sea critters through the window. A sea otter dove for food and resurfaced a couple of times, and a crew of kayaking tourists floated right over him without noticing.

It was a full day, but it was just what I wanted: a slow drive, salty air, the beach, dog-walking, and some time to think.

The Sun’s newest addition is already on her next meander. Send comments or ideas to

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