Note: WE WILL SOON HAVE BETTER INTERNET!! Ordered a cell booster that is supposed to grab cell tower signals, amplify them, and broadcast back out. This should help out tremendously in the future. Catch up blog posts on their way!

Bakersfield, CA is a significant hub for the fourth most productive agricultural and oil-producing county (Kern) in the United States. For years, one of Bonnie’s favorite cousins, Butch Francis, worked in the wholesale produce business in Bakersfield. He always told us to go buy the biggest bag of potatoes we could find in the store. We told Butch that most of the potatoes would rot before we could possibly eat them all and he would laugh and say “I don’t care, the point is you bought a BIG bag of potatoes” !!! As you can tell, Butch had a great sense of humor and kept it until the day he passed away.

Bonnie has always had a lot of family from her mom’s side living in the Bakersfield area. As a kid, she frequently spent parts of her summer vacations there so this was a must stop for us in California. Bonnie’s cousin, Trish Gonzales and her husband Rick, drove from the Bay Area (Mare Island) to join us in visiting with family. As you will see in the next few posts, Trish and Rick were recurring companions for us during our trek through California.

Aunt Darlene and Uncle Rick hosted a cookout at their house where it was great to reconnect with a lot of Bonnie’s family (Trish, Rick, Judy, Jerry, Geno, Beverly, Scott, Angela, Christine and Deni) who showed up for the party. Another evening Trish and Rick took us to a great local Mexican restaurant for dinner. This place had real authentic Mexican food and made the best margarita we had tasted at a restaurant. The next day, they took us to Dewar’s Ice Cream & Candy Shop for some of the best ice cream I have ever eaten. I used to think Ben & Jerry’s “Chunky Monkey” ice cream was the best until I ate homemade ice cream at Dewar’s. The bottom line is Trish and Rick know where the best food is in Bakersfield since they both grew up there.

They also took us to the cemetery so we could pay our respects to many of Bonnie and Trish’s relatives along with Rick’s parents. Before leaving Bakersfield, we stopped by Deni’s house (Butch’s wife) and visited with her and Bonnie’s cousins Deidra and Damon.

We left our family in Bakersfield and headed northwest towards the town of Paso Robles which is surrounded by many vineyards that produce good wines touted to rival some of those produced in Napa Valley. We stopped at a small family owned vineyard, called Rio Seco, which consisted of 63 acres of lush green rolling hills that was once owned by a Hollywood movie producer. The tasting room and winery were housed in a big red barn which was originally constructed to accommodate food catering for actors on the set of a long forgotten 1984 movie. This winery was also a Harvest Host network member so owner, Carol Hinkle, allowed us to park there overnight after tasting some of her delicious wines. We purchased a nice bottle of red and walked around the scenic grounds of the vineyard while waiting on an awesome sunset. Here are some pics of our stop at wonderful Rio Seco winery…

Our next stop was Hearst San Simeon State Park located along the beautiful coast of California. You may be familiar with billionaire media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, or his infamous granddaughter, Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974. Mr. Hearst loved the pristine areas around San Simeon so he decided to buy thousands of acres of undeveloped land along the shoreline and built Hearst Castle on top of a nearby mountain. Eventually, his heirs donated the castle and acreage around it to the State of California where it has been preserved as a popular state park for visitors to enjoy.

This incredibly beautiful area is definitely one of our favorite places because the Hearst family enabled the preservation of public beach access areas, ocean tidal pools, and seal rookeries. Nearby Hearst San Simeon State Park only offered primitive campsites with no direct water or sewer connections but the location was perfect. Bonnie and I spent the next couple of days exploring ocean tidal pools that held lots of sea life such as sea otters, mussels, crabs, anemones, and much more. Many harbor seals were also hanging around as seen in the video below.

Video – Harbor seals hanging out near tidal pools.

Bonnie was very successful at finding sea otters swimming in the ocean surf so I started to call her the “Sea Otter Spotter”. Sea Otters have made an incredible come back in the area after being hunted to near extinction on the west coast for their fur. We watched mother elephant seals and their babies nurse while sunning themselves on beaches located 4 miles north of Hearst Castle. These beaches are critical seal habitat, called rookeries, because thousands of elephant seals come back every year to mate, give birth, and raise newborn pups there. Here are a couple of interesting elephant seal facts you may be interested in:

  • Males can grow to 16 feet long and weigh up to 5,000 lbs.
  • Only males grow a long nose after they reach puberty at age 5
  • Females and juvenile males spend 10 months of each year at sea hunting for food to eat
  • Mature males spend 8 months of each year at sea when they aren’t mating with females
  • Elephants seals typically dive down to depths between 1000 – 3000 ft. in search of fish and squid to eat
  • Elephants seals socialize in large groups on shore but travel as solitary individuals at sea

Here are some photos of the elephant seals in the rookeries…

Another thing we loved about this area was the nearby scenic town of Cambria which offered pubs, restaurants, shops and beach front trials along with a 437 acre nature park called the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. We hiked trails through a rare Monterey pine forest which is one of only five remaining pine stands of its kind in the world. The ranch preserve also provided visitors with long ocean front boardwalks that allowed us to walk along the ocean shore lined with flowering “ice plants” everywhere.

We spent one afternoon visiting the Piedras Blancas Light House Station on a guided tour given by volunteers from the local preservation association. The lighthouse has been standing for 144 years despite suffering structural damage from a severe earthquake in 1948. Dedicated volunteers spend hours of time giving tours which raises funds to ensure the lighthouse is preserved as a national monument. Here are some pics of Cambria and the Piedras Blancas Light House station…

We couldn’t leave this beautiful place without spending $50 a piece on a guided tour of Hearst Castle. Throughout his life, William Randolph Hearst dreamed of building a palace similar to those he had seen in Europe as a boy. For 28 years, he collaborated with architect, Julia Morgan, on the construction of this amazing castle which holds much of his impressive art collection. Bonnie and I were totally blown away by the world-famous outdoor Neptune Pool which was refilled in August 2018 after two years of restoration and repair. We walked through several ornate guest rooms filled with rare religious works of art that Hearst had collected from around the world.

I will admit that I was disappointed with this particular “Architectural Tour” because our knowledgeable guide didn’t talk about the parts of the castle or its construction. I wanted to know more about the partnership between architect, Julia Morgan, and Mr. Hearst since it was very rare for a woman to be licensed as an architect during that time period (1919). I wanted to know how the castle was built and why Hearst chose Julia Morgan as his architect. She overcame many challenges to become licensed as the first female architect in the State of California and gained Mr. Hearst’s trust which is a fascinating story in itself. Here is a Wikipedia link if you are interested in learning more about architect Julia Morgan: and here are some pics that Bonnie took at Hearst Castle…

Our next destination was Monterey, CA to check out the aquarium there….