Molly and I just spent four days and three nights at the Costanoa resort near Pescadero, taking in the idyllic scenery of California's North-of-Center coast. Oddly sized photos are here. Narrative follows.
Day One: Ticks, Horse Awaiters, and the Best Diner in a One-Diner Town
We arrived at Costanoa about five hours before our check-in time, so after verifying that our room wasn't ready yet (something that, had we approached Costanoa with the knowledge we now have after spending some time there, we probably wouldn't have bothered asking), we went on the longest hike on the resort's hike list. The hike involved a long trek through tall grass, followed by a long trek up a fire road, followed by a long hike up the side of a hill. At the base of the hill we saw a middle-aged couple sitting in director's chairs and eating some sort of hardboiled egg dish, with their white Lexus SUV parked across the road. They assured us that the trail we were about to take was beautiful, and informed us that they were waiting for horses.
Toward the top of the hill we saw a sign that gave us the option of "Upper Lookout Point" or "Lower Lookout Point." Since we were already exhausted we took the low road. The view was nonetheless spectacular. Yes, that's ocean in the background. We had lunch at the point and then stumbled our way down the hill, where the middle-aged couple were still sitting there in their chairs. The husband asked us how we liked the trail, and the wife asked us if we had seen any horses. At this point they had been waiting for horses for at least an hour, probably an hour and a half.
Shortly after beginning our trek down the fire road, we heard some cloppity-clops behind us and surmised that the couple had found their horses at last. Not so. For we were soon passed by three people on horseback, none of whom was the couple. Later, a group of three more horseback riders passed us, none of them the couple, but one of them frantically asking us if it was okay for them to pass us she she whizzed by. Finally, the horse-awaiting couple passed us, in their SUV. They waved, smiled, and called something about horses. Molly and I began to wonder where the hell we were.
On the way back through the grassy field, I kept to my tradition of unfortunate encounters with local wildlife by finding a dog tick crawling on my sock. I flicked it off before it could burrow its way into my skin, and was pretty excited that I had found a tick on me. I felt like I was really out in nature. Molly was less excited, and assured me that if a bug with a diameter the size of a pencil eraser attached itself to her she would cry.
That night, we drove ten miles north to the town of Pescadero to eat at Duarte's, a restaurant that had been recommended to me by two people at my firm. We had made reservations, since we expected it to be busy on a Saturday night. What we didn't realize was that Duarte's is the only restaurant in the entire town of Pescadero. So it was a good thing we had the reservations.
Duarte's is famous for two things -- artichoke soup, and olallieberry pie. We ordered the artichoke soup, and it was thoroughly unremarkable. As far as we could tell, the soup consisted entirely of artichokes and heavy cream. Molly is convinced (and I agree) that if she set about to make her own artichoke soup from sratch, she could do a better job. Nonetheless, it seemed that everyone at that restaurant had themselves a bowl of the artichoke soup.
Not wanting to trust Duarte's with more than ten dollars for an entre, we went with the cheesburgers for the main course. Molly hated them, I thought they were "not that bad." Certainly not good, but inoffensive. (Molly summarized her problem with the burgers thusly on the ride home: "The problem is that it's a quarter-pound burger, but it's flat. There was no room for juices or flavor. It wasn't pink in the middle. Nobody loved that burger." Well said.)
Before ordering dessert I asked Molly what olallieberries were. She told me they were a cross between youngberries and loganberries, named for the Native American word for "berry," so they were technically "berryberries." Since I had never had youngberries or loganberries, Molly's explanation -- though thorough and accurate -- did little to bring me closer to knowing whether I would like olallieberries. In any case, we ordered the damn pie, and it was pretty good. After dinner we took a drive through Pescadero, which took less than a minute, and then headed back to the resort.
Day Two: Elephant Seals, a Family Visit, and the Snail's Pace of Nature
Sunday morning we drove to Año Nuevo state beach and hiked to the shore. Año Nuevo is where a lot of elephant seals do things. (Elephant seals are massive, grotesque sea monsters that look like this guy from Star Wars.) The males fight over females, the winners hump the females, and the females make pups, all in Año Nuevo. The males also molt at Año Nuevo, a process which consists of lying on a beach for a few months and not eating or drinking anything as all of their skin and hair falls off. This process, as you can imagine, gives off a very unique and fascinating odor. It's currently molting season at Año Nuevo, and I feel privileged to have witnessed this miracle of nature first-hand. We took lots of pictures, starting here.
Año Nuevo is also the home of a fabled abandoned lighthouse keeper's cabin. Apparently after they modernized the lighthouse (which isn't there anymore) and no longer needed a warm body to man the controls, they shot out all the windows and abandoned the cabin, and the property has since been taken over by, you guessed it, elephant seals. They hang out on the furniture and generally make a mess of things, and the females even hang out upstairs. I'm not sure whether any fighting, humping, or birthing goes on in there, but I have vivid images of surly, penis-faced bull elephant seals sitting on sofas, drinking beer, and yelling at the females upstairs to bring them more squid rinds.
That afternoon we were visited by Molly's brother, Mike (who you may remember as the "hot guy" from our wedding album) and Mike's girlfriend, Emily, who together comprise Mike and Emily. Mike and Emily are on their way by automobile to Washington, D.C., where Mike will soon begin law school and Emily will soon begin a career in whatever it is people do in Washington. We took a foot path through the resort, across Highway 1, and toward the beach, where we took several cutesy pictures. It was great to see them, and after suffering our company for a few hours they headed off toward Sacramento.
That night we ate at the General Store, which is the onsite restaurant at Costanoa. The food was great, and the service was shockingly bad. As we would find again and again, the General Store is run like a weekly project on The Apprentice -- the staff are energetic, hardworking, eager to please, and have absolutely no idea what they're doing. But damn it if the food wasn't good.
The slowness of the restaurant wasn't limited to dinner (lunch was just as bad, despite being a deli counter rather than table service format), and the slowness of Costanoa wasn't limited to the restaurant (it seemed that everything we asked them to do -- and we only asked for things we assumed had already been done -- took three times as long as it should have). Costanoa's slogan is "Discover the pace of nature." Apparently when the folks at Costanoa think "nature," they think of glaciers, snails, and evolution.
Day Three: Poorly Managed Breakfast, Sea Bluffs, and a Cheese Overload
Costanoa offers a breakfast buffet every morning. Usually the buffet is at the General Store, a spacious eatery with lots of tables and plenty of room for buffet tables. The geniuses of Costanoa, however, have chosen the middle of summer to renovate the restaurant at their coastal resort. So, due to drilling and sawing and horrible music on the contractors' stereo, breakfast was temporarily moved to a small lounge across the way, where the already over-extended staff was called upon to wait on the guests rather than have the guests help themselves. This didn't go well. Fortunately by the time my cold eggs and stale biscuit arrived I had already filled up on tiny muffins.
After breakfast we loafed by the outdoor fireplace for a while and then went on what would be our final hike, setting off on foot across Highway 1 in search of the Whitecreek Trail Tidepools. We didn't see any tidepools, but we did see the Whitecreek estuary and a bunch of rock formations, odd growths, inlets, and various other things that one views from bluffs. I also took this picture of Molly, which I really like. This was probably the most dangerous hike we took, ticks and horse enthusiasts be damned, since the trail was narrow and overgrown, often hugging the edge of steep bluffs, and I wasn't entirely sure that we were actually on public land for part of it and feared that at any moment some grizzled seafaring hermit would come blasting away at us with a shotgun. My fears were eased when we reached the roped off trail to Franklin Point, which afforded us a pleasant (if blurry) view of the Pigeon Point lighthouse among other things. We continued down to the beach and made our way back via the trail that we had taken the day before with Mike and Emily.
That night we had another delicious and three-times-as-long-as-necessary dinner at the General Store. I ordered the spinach and Gruyere crepes appetizer, which I figured would be crepes stuffed with spinach and Gruyere cheese. It turned out to be a bowl of melted Gruyere cheese with some crepes and spinach floating in it. Delicious, to be sure, but not exactly easy on the body. Speaking of cheese, on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoons Molly and I had wine and cheese in our room and by the outside fire. Over the course of these three days, therefore, I consumed about as much cheese as I would normally eat in a month, and on Monday night I wasn't feeling very well. I had spent so much time trying to figure out my red wine limit that it hadn't occurred to me to delineate my cheese limit. At least now I have a rough idea: Less than I had this weekend, God damn it.
Epilogue: Business Administration for Hippies
All in all we had a great time at Costanoa, and would probably go back. We'll just bring a cooler and our own food. In the meantime, here are some things we picked up on that Costanoa could improve upon in the management department:
1. If you have two onsite merchants, one called "The General Store" and the other called "The Ranch House," one of which is a restaurant and one of which is a store, the store should be called "The General Store" and the restaurant should be called anything else.
2. You might choose a time other than the busiest season of the year to renovate the restaurant.
3. If you're going to guilt-trip your guests by forcing them to specially request that you change their sheets in order to conserve "our precious water," don't run the sprinklers continuously during the three hottest hours of the day.
4. While being the only restuarant within ten miles brings certain monopolistic advantages, your staff might be less glib about the poor service. If you're not going to hire any more servers or cooks, you could at least hire a full-time employee to keep every table stocked with bread so that patrons don't feel the urge to chew their fingers off.