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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 38
Road-tripping from Seattle to Monterey
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Road-tripping from Seattle to Monterey

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

The West Coast is beautiful. With charming cities and towns of all shapes and sizes from Seattle to San Diego, there are plenty of travel destinations for the adventurous driver who wants to see the coast. Whether via Highway 101 or Interstate 5 (if you're trying to save time), almost everywhere holds a certain mystique for the vacationer with a case of wanderlust.

I recently took a week to do the trek myself and ended up spending most of my time in Monterey, California. Located on Monterey Bay, Monterey is a city of artists and fisherman that was immortalized by American author John Steinbeck in his novels Cannery Row, East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, and Of Mice and Men.

However Monterey is nearly 1,000 miles south of Seattle, and I made a point to stretch my legs at a few gems on the way. My first stop: Ashland, Oregon, home of the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

ASHLAND, OREGON
Not a day goes by in this cute town of about 20,000 when a play isn't running. Ashland, voted #2 in the "Best Small Art Towns in America," has over 20 galleries and four local theaters, in addition to the famous festival. Ashland is also the home of Southern Oregon University, a small state school of about 4,000.

This city's downtown strip is the perfect place to park the car and simply explore. Nothing else in the city tops seeing a play, hitting some pubs for some microbrews, and enjoying one of the many fine restaurants.

The restaurant I chose was Taj (31 Water St., just off the downtown strip), the only Indian restaurant I could find. Taj features authentic Indian cuisine and a larger Indian beer selection than any Indian restaurant I've ever been to - and I've been to a lot.

The "Old Monk 10,000 'Super Beer'" in the style of an American malt liquor was a sheer delight, and the spinach pakoras made for an outstanding and uncommon appetizer.

As far as where to stay, the iconic Ashland Springs Hotel is astonishing from the outside but quite a tight squeeze on the inside. As with many historic hotels (the Ashland Springs was built in 1925), the rooms are very, very small (like half the size of your on-Broadway studio), and even if you upgrade, they don't get much bigger.

All the other basic travelers' lodges are there, too, and it's still very easy to experience this charming town without staying in its signature hotel.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Further down the road is San Francisco. It's only about two hours north of Monterey, but it's absolutely worth the stop, especially since there isn't a Gay scene in Monterey. The Castro is calling you, and there are plenty of places to stay, but after three visits to San Fran, I think I found the best one.

The Parker Guest House in San Francisco has a very different feel than your average Gay place to stay. This 21-room bed and breakfast is small and welcoming and has a very relaxing garden and sauna.

Gay-owned and resting right on the border of the Castro and Mission districts, the Parker Guest House actually feels like a home away from home - I've never had a hotel experience like the Parker Guest House before.

Rates vary from $119-$229 a night. The only thing to note about this place is that if you're a light sleeper, make sure you request a room towards the back of their two houses, as the streetcar runs right outside the front.

The tacky travel destinations in San Francisco are really quite a great way to nurse a hangover (trust me) after a night at the café. So go to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and taste the saltwater taffy, and then try to decide which taffy is better when you get to Monterey's historic Fisherman's Wharf.

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA
The Monterey area is simply a dream come true. I was lucky enough to get the local's experience in Monterey, as it's the home to many of my future in-laws.

In addition to some of the best wine-tasting the West Coast has to offer, Monterey features Cannery Row, the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, and many historic buildings that make Steinbeck's works come alive.

Every summer, seals flock in abundance to Monterey Bay and lie in the sun and sing all day long. They aren't afraid of people and they'll sleep on the sand literally feet away from you.

Right on Cannery Row, A Taste of Monterey is the perfect place for a tourist to sample from the local vintners. A Taste of Monterey is the only wine-tasting establishment seated over the water. Taking in the view of the Pacific Ocean while you sample wines with a friend or lover will be one of the most memorable moments of your trip to Monterey County.

The beauty of the area isn't limited to just Monterey. Just south of Monterey is Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur. Carmel is where celebrities come to get away and shop. It boasts a wealthy downtown shopping district. It's the perfect place to get the star treatment while you're star-spotting.

There are plenty of places to stay right on Cannery Row that offer views in their more expensive rooms, but for the most spectacular place to stay, you have to go a little bit south of Carmel to the Highlands Inn.

Located seven miles south of Monterey, this four-star hotel owned and operated by Hyatt is simply stunning. This resort is half inn, half timeshare.

Most of the rooms offer wood-burning fireplaces, large spa bathtubs, HDTVs, room service, WiFi, and a full kitchen - all standard.

Not only can the concierge assist you with your free bike rentals, they can also arrange an in-room massage for you.

The Highlands Inn offers three spas and a heated pool. Its large lounges, restaurants, and bars offer spectacular views of Point Lobos, and feature cycling art collections throughout the year.

There are many other wonderful cities worth stopping in when you're traveling on or near the coast, such as Portland, Oregon and Humboldt County, California. For those of you living on the West Coast who haven't driven the coastline, make a point of it. These places hold unique bits of beauty you'll never forget.

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