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yk's Hodgepodge California Road Trip Report July 2009

yk's Hodgepodge California Road Trip Report July 2009

Old Jul 23rd, 2009, 11:47 AM
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Posts: 24,324
yk's Hodgepodge California Road Trip Report July 2009

Hi everyone-

This is a report of a few random places I visited last week. These places are not mentioned much here on Fodors, and probably won't be of much interest to most people. The places include:

Paso Robles
Hearst Castle
Los Angeles

Brief Background
This was a very last-minute trip. The main reason was to attend the funeral service of my beloved great aunt in East Bay area. Because of the last-minute nature, I had very little time to plan.

I decided to fly into/out of LA. My brother and I, along with our cousin, drove on I-5 from LA up to East Bay and met up with my mom who flew into San Jose. After a few days there for the funeral and memorial services, my mom, my brother and I took Hwy 101 from Bay Area back to LA, stopping overnight near Paso Robles to visit Hearst Castle.

I had another 1.5 days in LA before flying back home.

We stayed at the Doubletree hotel at the Berkeley Marina. We had a few hours free one afternoon so we decided to visit a few places in Oakland (didn't feel like going into SF, esp given that I was just there less than 2 months ago).

Dunsmuir House

A 100+ year-old mansion with a garden. The house is only open once a week which we missed, so we just wandered around the garden. The funny thing is that I didn't recognize the name of this place until we pulled up at the gate. As soon as I saw the front entrance, I realized that I've been there 5 years ago when I attended my friends' wedding there!

I believe there are several historic mansions in Oakland that are open for visit; definitely something I'd be interested in doing on a future trip.

Preservation Park

A 2-block enclosure of 16 beautifully restored Victorian-era mansions. Complete with a water fountain and Victorian-era lamps and benches.

Next door is the Pardee Home Museum, built in 1868. http://www.pardeehome.org/history.htm It was closed by the time we arrived.

East Bay Eats
We ate twice at the Pacific East Mall in Richmond. http://www.pacificeastmall.net/home_english.html

There are over a dozen of Chinese eateries in the mall, serving all sorts of regional Chinese cuisines. We had dim sum for lunch at Asian Pearl, and had dinner at Macau Cafe. Both had excellent food.

Paso Robles and Hearst Castle
We drove south along Hwy 101 from Bay Area towards Paso Robles. Along the way, we made a quick stop at Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, one of the many California missions along the El Camino Real. It has a beautiful chapel and gardens. http://www.californiamissions.com/ca...y/soledad.html

We aren't wine drinkers, so we didn't visit any vineyards or did wine-tasting near Paso Robles. In fact, we didn't even stay there, but stayed in the next town Atascadero, 10 miles south on Hwy 101. We did stroll around the town center of Paso Robles one evening before dinner.

Villa Creek restaurant in Paso Robles
We ate dinner here and it was a fabulous meal. The food we got was true to its mission statement:
Our mission at Villa Creek is to serve local, organically or sustainably farmed products in simple rustic preparations, taking inspiration from the padres of the early California missions.

Our appetizers had freshly-picked berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries), olives, local cheeses. My entree came with a side of fiddleheads. Everything we had was super fresh and tasted great.

Hearst Castle
This was our main highlight on this trip. While the website recommends first-time visitors to take Tour #1 (the highlights tour), I decided that we'll take Tour #2 instead (upper floors of Casa Grande). I've read comments of Tour #1 with reviewers complaining about the huge size of the groups. Tour #2 has a maximum of 12 people on each group, which is what I like about it.

All tours begin with the outdoor Neptune Pool and end with the indoor Roman Pool. Both are spectacular, esp the Roman Pool with the Venetian glass mosaic tiles and 24 carat gold leaves.

Tour #2 covers the upper floors of Casa Grande, which consists of bedrooms for Hearst and his guests, as well as his public and private libraries, and the modern kitchen.

What's different about this place than other European castles I've been, is that Hearst Castle is a hodgepodge of European artifacts from different countries and different centuries. Many of these artifacts are built INTO the architecture. One major issue on this tour is that it is extremely warm inside the castle; even though we took an early 10am tour.

After the tour, we decided to pay extra to watch the 40-min movie (included with Tour #1). We have a discount of $2 per person. It's a nice movie shown in an IMAX theatre.

I know I've asked on a different thread about lunch options nearby, but in the end, we ate at the Visitors Center. While the indoor eating area is drab, the outdoor patio is not bad. The cafeteria serves meat from Hearst Ranch (free range and grass-fed). We shared a BBQ plate and cheeseburger. Quite delicious.

After we exited the Visitors Center, we stopped at one of the vista points on Hwy 1. We saw a couple of zebras in the ranch (imported by Hearst).

The trip on 101 back to LA was complicated by massive traffic jam around Santa Barbara. It took us over 1 hour to get through 5 miles. This was Sunday afternoon.

Next - Back in LA
yk is offline  
Old Jul 23rd, 2009, 11:59 AM
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Always the great trip reports from yk. Looking forward to LA.
mlgb is offline  
Old Jul 23rd, 2009, 02:11 PM
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Thanks for your kind comment, mlgb.

Los Angeles
Even though my brother lives in LA, my mom and I decided to stay at a downtown hotel for more space and better comfort. We stayed at the (ugh!) Westin Bonaventure.

One advantage of staying in downtown is the multiple DASH DT routes nearby, for just 25 cents per ride!

One morning, we rode Line F south to USC/Exposition Park. We didn't have time to visit any of the multiple museums there - we only wanted to have a quick look. We wandered through the rose garden inside the park.

I took mom to El Pueblo de Los Angeles. http://www.ci.la.ca.us/ELP/ I had hoped we could take one of the free walking tours, but we were there on a Monday and the tours are only offered Tues-Sat. Since I had taken that tour before, I gave my mom an abbreviated version of the tour. We stopped in Adobe Avila, and had taquitos followed by churros for snacks.

My brother met up with us for lunch at Grand Central Market. http://www.grandcentralsquare.com/ The 3 of us ordered 2 lunch meals:
A Beef bone soup (with rice and freshly-made tortillas) from Sarita's Pupuseria; and
A 3 chicken taco combo plate from Roast to go

That was plenty of food for us to share, all for just $15. After lunch, we picked up some produce there. 5 "on the vine" tomatoes + 2 red onions cost $0.46 total! Incredible.

Another day, my mom and I went to Walt Disney Concert Hall and took the free guided Symphonian 4 Theatre tour. http://www.musiccenter.org/visit/toursched.html
I had previously taken the WDCH Guided tour but not the Symphonian tour. In fact, I had asked about it here but got no response:

Anyway, while there were plenty of visitors taking the self-guided 45-mins audio tour of WDCH, only 3 people (my mom and I plus one other person) signed up for this free Symphonian 4 Theatre tour. Even though it is supposed to be 90 minutes long, our tour ended up being 2 hours. I really enjoyed this, however, I won't recommend it unless you are interested in theatre and symphony concert and opera. We were able to enter all 4 buildings (including all 4 auditoriums) in the Music Center Campus: WDCH, Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson Theatre, and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The Mark Taper Forum just finished a $30M renovation last year, and the interior - esp the mother-of-pearl wall - is really beautiful.

The jewel, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, is all GOLD. 24k gold ceiling and gold-leafed columns, plus 3 enormous crystal chandeliers each made with 20,000+ crystal pieces. We were let inside the impressive Founders Room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the most exclusive founders room in the Music Center complex. Only donors of $1M + are allowed in, as well as visiting dignitaries including QEII, Obama etc.

BTW, while we were there, there was a set up outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for shooting of Mad Men. There were a couple of 60s-era cars though I didn't see any actors/actresses.


While in LA, we had a couple of meals in Koreatown. However, I won't describe them unless someone is interested in the details.

We stayed at 4 different hotels on this trip.

Doubletree Berkeley Marina
Booked via Priceline for $60/night. Nice updated rooms with a contemporary look. It's at the marina so there is no traffic or street noise. Parking is free. Free wi-fi in lobby, paid wired internet in room. Neutrogena bath products.

Courtyard by Marriott San Ramon
Booked via Priceline for $43/night. We picked this because it was close to where my relatives live in the East Bay. A typical Courtyard, a bit dated decor, but otherwise fine. Free wired internet in room.

Holiday Inn Express Atascadero
Excellent hotel. All the hotels in Paso Robles (or in San Simeon) were very expensive for our Sat night stay, so my brother used his Priority points + cash to book this HI Express. Atascadero is about 10 miles south of Paso Robles.

The hotel is only a year old, and it looks and feels brand new. Rooms are spacious with a contemporary design. We only booked a double room (we booked 2 rooms for the 2 other hotels above), so we asked for a rollaway cot. The manager assigned us the largest room in the hotel, which has plenty of space for the cot. Free buffet breakfast has a nice selection. Everyone who worked there was very nice.

Westin Bonaventure in LA
Booked via Priceline for $72/night. Worst hotel of the 4 we stayed in. All the poor reviews on tripadvisor are true.

I guess that's about it, unless my brother wants to chime in.
yk is offline  
Old Jul 23rd, 2009, 04:30 PM
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That's too bad about the Bonaventure. My uncle stayed there a few years ago and said it was "okay".

And really too bad you didn't see Jon Hamm!
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Old Jul 26th, 2009, 08:03 AM
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Hi yk; Thanks for helping my wife decide on which tour to take at Hearst Castle. Tour #2 it is. She wanted to see the Roman Pool and the Neptune Pool. But the small group will help me hearing the comentary. Dick
iris1745 is online now  
Old Jul 26th, 2009, 08:32 AM
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Hi Dick,

Even though Tour #2 is small in size (12 people max), at times it is still difficult to hear the guide. We visited small rooms and some can barely fit all 12 of us. And several times the guide spoke while we were walking through long hallways (single file) and going up/down narrow staircase. Therefore, unless you are right behind the guide, you still won't be able to hear him/her too clearly.

Hope you guys enjoy your trip. Try to go early in the day. It was uncomfortably warm already at 10am. I can't imagine how hot it gets by mid-afternoon!

BTW, they offer an evening tour - with people dressed up in 1920s attire. I think that will be fun!

Since you guys are interested in gardening, I think they also offer a garden tour. However, it may be way too hot/sunny to do it in the summer.
yk is offline  
Old Jul 26th, 2009, 08:50 AM
Join Date: Aug 2007
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Hi yk; Thanks. Visiting Hearst Castle will be done on our last full day in California and we have to get to San Mateo for our last night. So we will do the 9:30am tour. Perhaps get to our hotel by 5pm. We leave next Friday, the 31st and return on the 16th of August. Then leave on the 4th of September for Germany. You may have seen some of my other posts explaining that this trip is mainly to visit my granddaughter in Tubingen. Dick
iris1745 is online now  
Old Jul 26th, 2009, 09:12 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Hi, yk!

Great report!

Glad you were able to enjoy other parts of California with your family!

Sorry to hear about your great-aunt, but it did give you another chance to visit here!

Come back soon and, hopefully, under happier circumstances!
easytraveler is offline  
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