It’s (nearly) summertime, a time for traveling and week-long vacations at theme parks, beaches and far-off locations. Unless, you know, you’re broke. Like me.
Just because we can’t afford fancy vacations doesn’t mean we can’t get out and have some fun once in awhile. In California, there is something interesting and worthwhile to check out every fifty miles or so on any given highway, as I discovered recently when I got in the car with some people and drove. There was no set destination in mind — we just knew we wanted to stop at one particular place, and that we had to be back in Fresno at a certain time. Here’s what we saw on one tank of gas:
Pea Soup Andersen’s, Santa Nella. Our first stop was for breakfast at Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella, about 80 miles from our starting destination of Fresno. Pea Soup Andersen’s is a restaurant that looks and feels straight out of the 1950s — a great place to start a day trip. I recommend getting the traveler’s breakfast, which includes eggs, choice of bacon, ham or sausage, pancakes, choice of fruit, fruit juice or split pea soup (really), and choice of coffee, tea or milk.
I also recommend taking a look around the gift shop, which is where I found an invisible ink activity book, something I haven’t seen since I was a kid, when my family used to take a lot of day trips. I had to buy it for old time’s sake.
Gilroy Premium Outlets. Getting back in the car, we headed about 40 miles west to the Gilroy outlets (not for me, as I’m not a huge shopper, but I was willing to stop for a half hour or so to walk around and people watch). The outlets in Gilroy are pretty extensive — even I was impressed with the variety and quality of stores there.
If outlet shopping isn’t your thing, stop at one of the many produce stands along the highway. Right now, cherries are huge and everyone has them, so you can get a reasonably priced pint or two and take them home to make cherry-infused vodka.
Other things to do around Gilroy:
• Buy some garlic. The smell is intoxicating, and you can get it in every form, including garlic ice cream.
• Visit Gilroy Gardens Theme Park. A lot of the rides are based on fruits and vegetables! Warning: The theme park, at $30, is kinda pricey.
• Stop at the Red Barn for some antique shopping in Aromas, about 15 miles south of Gilroy on the 101.
After our stop in Gilroy, we headed south and west for abut 30 miles toward Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing, which is famous for its cioppino, and the one place I really wanted to visit. We were all still full from our giant Pea Soup Andersen’s breakfasts, and not at all ready for cioppino, so we decided to drive another 15 minutes to Monterey because — why not?
Alvarado Street, Monterey. There are a bunch of great things to do in Monterey (you may have heard of their small, little-known aquarium), but since we didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend, we decided to get a quick drink at a British Pub called Brittania Arms on Alvarado Street, which is chock full of restaurants and bars, and a great place for hanging out.
After our drinks, we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a quick look. It was windy and cool and perfect. Who said a beach vacation is impossible when you’re broke? (Oh yeah, I said that earlier. I was wrong.)
Phil’s Fish Market, Moss Landing. After the wharf, we got back in the car and headed north to Phil’s Fish Market. Phil is famous for having beat Food Network chef Bobby Flay’s cioppino on an episode of Throwdown. I love the way the restaurant is set up: you order at the counter, and servers bring out the food to your table as it’s ready — very little waiting. They also have a small bar area where you can get a beer and some oysters, or whatever you like from Phil’s extensive menu.
We still weren’t hungry enough for cioppino, so instead we settled for bay shrimp cocktail, fire-roasted artichoke with aioli, garlic bread and clam chowder, all of which was very tasty, particularly the artichoke. To leave Moss Landing, you have to drive through Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, and a great place to stop at a roadside hut to buy the tasty thistles so you can try fire-roasting your own.
Casa de Fruta, Hollister. Heading back toward Fresno, we decided to make one more stop, at the Queen of all Roadside Stops — Casa de Fruta. Like Pea Soup Andersen’s, Casa de Fruta is a quaint reminder of another time, when cars and highways were new, and families couldn’t wait to pile into the Ford for a weekend day trip. It’s cheesy — everything on the property is prefaced with “Casa de,” as in Casa de Sweets, Casa de Wine, Casa de Choo Choo (yep, there are rides for kids) — but it’s also pretty awesome. You can get every kind of nut or dried fruit available, but I chose to get a peppermint stick at the Casa de Sweets.
Less than two hours later we were home. Eight hours, three hundred miles, one tank of gas. It was a great day, and a great way to see some of the smaller sights in Central California without spending a ton of cash.