this was the one day jesse had time from her busy schedule to go sightseeing with me. the itinerary would be to drive down to monterey bay and check out the aquarium before returning back to san francisco along the scenic coastal highway. i left the house briefly in the early morning to move the car. before we could depart on our monterey bay adventure, we first had to pay a visit to the alamo car rental office so jesse could be deputized and be allowed to drive the rental car. unfortunately luck wasn't on our side; we were gone for just a moment but by the time we got back to the car, there was a $50 parking ticket waiting on the windshield because i'd forgotten to point a quarter in the meter.
jesse volunteered to do the driving, partly because it'd allow me to take photos as a passenger, but partly because she enjoyed getting behind the wheel of a car, having no car of her own here in san francisco. i was a little scared though, and it might've stemmed from my own personal history with vehicular encounters (see: last year's motorcycle accident), but i found her driving to be a little too fast and a little too close. i probably spent most of my time in the car while we were on the highway in a perpetual state of tenseness.
it takes about 2 hours to get from san francisco to monterey bay. we made it there around noontime. i tried using the GPS but the direction it was giving us was contrary to the route we decided to take. once we got close enough to our destination did the GPS directions start gelling with the way we wanted to go. monterey bay seemed very quiet and sunny, and even when we got to the main commercial drag, it was still very laid back. we were surprised by all the available metered street side parking; however, at 25 cents for 10 minutes, it was a ripoff. jesse suggested with park in a $3/day lot instead, but only after i'd already put 6 quarters into the meter. after paying our aquarium admission tickets ($30/person!), we decided to have lunch first in their cafeteria before checking out the aquarium. jesse had been here once before, so she was more excited about the drive back. this was my first time, and being an international aquarium connoisseur, i was excited to finally check it out.
here's my biggest beef with the monterey bay aquarium: it seems to be more daycare than actual aquarium. it spends a awful amount of resources catering to the needs and attention span of the very young. there are many areas of the aquarium devoted solely for children. if you can overlook these playtime zones, what's left - the actual aquarium stuff itself - is still pretty impressive. those exhibits highlighting the local flora and fauna are the best: the central kelp forest tank, the shorebirds zoo, and the sea otter swimming pool come to mind. there is also a very impressive jellyfish exhibit (who doesn't love jellyfish?). apart from that though, there really isn't too much more you can't see at any other large aquariums.
despite my misgivings about the aquarium, we still managed to stay there until 4:00. we saw vast stretches of farm land during our initial drive up route 1. probably a whole lot of the vegetables i eat are grown here. artichokes seem to be the crop du jour. eventually farm lands gave way to coastal highways. we stopped twice to check out a few beaches before finally settling at the pigeon point lighthouse.
there was actually a hotel attached to the lighthouse, although most of the cars parked in the lot seemed to be people just visiting instead of staying. it was a good place to see the rocky coastline beneath the sandy cliffs covered in flowering ice plants. there was a fragrant scent in the air that neither jesse nor i could quite identify.
we walked around the lighthouse (where it was fenced in) to an outlook where several people seemed to be busy watching with binoculars something along the horizon. we overhead them saying "whales" and saw the columns of water blowing up into the air ourselves. they never surfaced above the water, but judging from the size of the geysers and the distance, they must've been big. one of the man said they were blue whales. i asked him how could he tell, and he said, "if they were killer whales, they'd come out of the water," as if those were the only two species of whales that pass along here. but since i'm no expert, i'm just as happy to say we saw blue whales.
amidst all the clamor over the whale sightings, we almost didn't see a pod of harbor seals sunning themselves on some seaweed covered rocks down below. we left the lighthouse and decided to explore a little bit further up, where we saw a possible trail leading down to the beach.
after carefully climbing over rocks and ice plants, the path led down to a rocky beach. the tide had receded enough that there was some tide pool activities. my biggest surprise was the numerous green anemones living in the tide pools. i touched one just to see what it was like, kind of sticky in a sucking sort of way before it recoiled.
as we left pigeon point, the sun was quickly setting. our final destination was half moon bay, before it was already starting to get dark. besides, beach parking had already closed. jesse sat in the car while i got out quickly to take a few snapshots before getting back inside.
by the time we made it back to san francisco it was already 8:00. we decided to get some food before returning to the house. we went to the mission, where jesse knew a good mexican place. i ordered a soft chorizo taco along with a spicy lengua burrito. we shared an order of fresh nachos and salsa. we drove around a bit more, visiting some city hills, so i could check out the famous san francisco nighttime skyline.