Thursday, December 17, 2009

Adventures on Highway 1: Bait, tackle and bloodworms

My mom and I share both a love for road trips and no sense of direction.  We'd made it safely up the 1 from L.A. to Monterey, with a stop to hike in Big Sur, and plenty of coffee stops along the way.  We stopped in one of my favorite towns, Cambria, home of Linn's Bakery and the gluten-filled olallieberry and cream muffins.  (Olallieberries are a hybrid fruit, two-thirds blackberry and one-third European Red Raspberry. Almost worth the celiac attack.  Almost.)

On our stop in Cambria, we asked a man at the local pharmacy for a map, and were treated to a ten-minute one man show featuring the cost of maps (ridiculous) to the poor city planning in Monterey (why go?) to the rednecks smoking outside his un-airconditioned window.  (Seriously, does Cambria's board of tourism know about this man?)  Finally we got a recommendation of where we should eat:  Phil's, a fish market in Moss Landing, just north of Monterey.

I fell in love with the 1, and especially with Monterey, and the bay, in which we almost quite literally tested the water in our 2-woman kayak.  Decked out in our bright yellow lifevests, we made it through the brief safety lesson, launched our kayak, and promptly lagged behind the group, who seemed intent on a workout.  We preferred to chat and point out the sights. We smiled and waved at the otters happily playing, and watched them swim to safety from a big boat that motored toward us through the passage (paddle! paddle!).

After tackling the kayak, Mom and I were ready for a relaxing night centered around a fresh-fish dinner.  We remembered our friendly guide to the 1, and pulled out our state map, that showed Moss Landing to be vaguely north of Monterey, and west of the highway.  Moss Landing sounded quaint, picturesque. We were off. 

A hand-painted sign announced Moss Landing, so we turned on to the first available street.  Seeing no other signs, we decided it was time to meet another local to find our way to Phil's.  The only obvious market was a tackle shop proudly announcing its ware: Bait, Tackle and Bloodworms.  Appetizing.  How do we get to Phil's, we asked the proprietor.  Phil's Fish Market, he asked?  (Is there another Phil's in Moss Landing, population 372?)  Afraid we might end up at a fisherman's house for dinner, I specified Phil's, a restaurant that has passed all health inspections. The proprietor guided us with "go down this street, then to your left." Knowing our combined sense of direction, I tried to specify, but there are no street signs in Moss Landing.  So it's just on this road, I asked.  Well, no, he said.  Go left across the one-way bridge, veer right, then it's on your left.  I was getting a good, if a little eerie, feeling about this town.

Forget your Cracker Barrel cutesy chains.  Phil's is a true original.  Sawdust floors, fish nets, fish mobiles. We were greeted by the live music of The Cornells, Father and Son Americana Duo, at Phil's every Thursday night.  A sign proudly announced "20 Years Later, Phil's Still Doing Fish."  We passed a large aquarium of slow-moving fish that looked somewhat depressed, probably certain of their fate, forced to watch fellow fish sold, baked, battered and eaten. It was delicious, the whole experience. (Check out Phil's famous cioppino on Food Network's "Road Tested.")

Carmel was lovely and chocolate-filled, the 17-mile Drive featured the promised jaw-dropping vistas, the famous lone cyprus, and oversized homes, though my favorite was a simple, Japanese style home that blended better into the gorgeous scenery.  Back on the 1, lost in the trees we found an old mission / working abbey.  I teared up a bit as we turned away from the coast highway to head home via the faster 101.

Travel lessons learned:  when a bigger boat bears down, paddle fast, and always stop along the road to ask where the locals eat.  I owe that guy in Cambria an olallieberry muffin.  And if you head to Phil's, stop in and say hi to the helpful guy at the bait and tackle shop.

(Photos: Phil's, decked out for Christmas; Lone Cyprus Tree: Travel Plan Idea blog)

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