We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Visiting California's Central Coast (Morro Bay, the Santa Ynez Valley and Cayucos) and Mark's Steamed Clams

My Traveling Tales by Linda

Home, let me come home, 
Home is wherever I'm with you
Our home, yes, let me come home, 
Home is when I'm alone with you
      ~Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

   The venerable National Geographic Magazine once described California's Central Coast as the "Middle Kingdom".  And, in this intermediary zone, where the south coast chaparral starts to give way to a greener lusher landscape, and Giant fans begin to outnumber Dodger-backers, lies one of California's regional treasures. It's a land of volcanic cones and wild, wind-blown beaches, of strawberry fields and eucalyptus groves...
     ~ Richard Pollock, for The Coffee Press in 1992

   No matter how far and wide I may roam, I will always call California's Central Coast my home. Say! That makes a rhyme. And, I may as well add, since you're thinking it already… not a great one. But having lived the majority of my life in this beautiful place, it is always the spot on the planet that entirely resonates with my heart. When returning for a visit, like I did this past July to celebrate my birthday, when my friends ask where I am headed, I simply tell them that I am going home. I pause to savor the feel of stretching that "o" out as I say it with relish. "Yes, I am going hōme".

Morro Rock... mysterious in the fog...
… and so sexy at sunset.
   Last month, Mark and I set off to celebrate our birthdays (which happen to be just three days apart) by heading for the Central Coast for a few days of rest and relaxation. Included in our plans were to go wine tasting in the Paso Robles area, visit my former home... the Santa Ynez Valley, bird watch at Montaña de Oro State Beach, eat delicious fresh seafood, and soak up cool ocean breezes. All of which are easily accessible from our base in Morro Bay which was just two blocks off of the Embarcadero.

A famous Morro Bay landmark… however creepy. This power plant was built in
the 1950s and is eerily out of place with the rest of the natural beauty of the coast.
Downtown Solvang... my home for 13 years.

   Our first morning after arriving in Morro Bay, we set off to spend the day in the Santa Ynez Valley which is an hour's drive to the south on Highway 101. We stopped for for huevos rancheros and Bloody Marys at my favorite breakfast spot on the outskirts of Solvang... the River Course at the Alisal. This golf course has a beautiful patio that is built with river rock fixtures, and it also has views of rolling hills and the gorgeous oaks that this part of California is known for.

I adore the views of the oaks and rolling hills from the patio at the River Course. I also lust to have that grill set up in my own backyard for serving up Santa Maria style barbecue.
The Bloody Marys at the River Course at the Alisal are always a great way to 
start a weekend morning or a vacation.
   We spent the rest of the day wine tasting, shopping in Los Olivos and taking in the beautiful sights in the Santa Ynez Valley. Since this is home to me, I enjoy visiting friends and driving the back roads of my old hood. In all truth, I avoid downtown Solvang since it is so very touristy and usually crowded, but if you haven't ever been on a walk down Copenhagen Drive, it is certainly worth a stop. Especially if you happen to enjoy Danish pastries, aebelskivers and fudge.

J Woeste in Los Olivos is a favorite stop of mine.
I always see something that inspires me for my garden. 
The Santa Ynez Valley provides breathtaking views anywhere that you look. 
   The next day of vacation was devoted to visiting the sleepy beach town of Cayucos which is a short 10 minute drive North from Morro Bay along Highway 1. After that we planned to head just over the coastal range of mountains to do some wine tasting on Highway 46 West. There are so many great family-owned wineries in this area that I will share where we stopped in another post.
   I lived in Cayucos for about three years in my recent past. My friend Richard was renting a great beach apartment with a panoramic view of the ocean, and I would leave my weekday home in San Jose at the time, and head for the beach every weekend. On Friday mornings I would have my coffee on the pier and then buy vegetables at the farmer's market for dinners for the weekend. For old time's sake, and because Mark had never been, we had coffee on the pier and then, since it happened to be Friday, we stopped by the farmer's market to ogle all the produce that the local farmers were unloading onto their tables. Cayucos is still unspoiled in my view. It is mostly devoid of ostentatious beach palaces, and it still has the flavor of a small and slightly shabby beach town, which makes it a favorite of mine.

My morning coffee on the pier with the fog just beginning to lift... what could be better?
The farmers setting up in the beach parking lot on Friday morning.

With the beach and a skate park nearby, Cayucos offers many 
activities that will keep kids entertained.

   Morro Bay is more of a tourist destination than Cayucos, and there is also more lodging available than in Cayucos, so it makes a good centrally located base camp for traveling around the Central Coast. Be warned, the Central Coast gets plenty of foggy days during the summer. I enjoy this because the generally cool temps make it a good choice for coming back to after being out and about in the often hot temps of the Santa Ynez Valley or Paso Robles area. Morro Bay has lots of restaurants to chose from and there are many small local shops with offerings of clothing, jewelry, art and tourist trinkets.

The Shell Shop is one of my favorite gift shops. They have been in Morro Bay since 1955.

My personal favorite restaurant in Morro Bay is Windows on the Water where we 
celebrated my birthday. Featured above is the Ocean Rose Abalone appetizer. 
The abalone is raised locally in Cayucos.
A young hipster cruises the Embarcadero in Morro Bay. There is lots of fun people watching
to be had... a favorite pastime of this photographer.
Sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and whale watching are popular activities in Morro Bay.
Mark has a sip of birthday wine while gazing at the sun setting just behind Morro Rock.
The sun sets behind Morro Rock on the last day of our birthday vacation... beautiful and bittersweet.
The delicious steamed clams served at Off The Hook on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay.
   I always enjoy my time on the Central Coast and this visit was no exception. The days passed far too quickly, as they always seem to do. Luckily, I can make the steamed clams from our visit anytime we have a hankering. They can be made in a snap, and they are so very delicious.

Mark's Steamed Clams

A spider makes it easy to scoop the clams from the stock pot.

Hot and steamy goodness!
   Mark and I enjoyed the steamed clams that we ordered to begin his birthday dinner. We often fix them at home because we have access to great fresh clams from Whole Foods Market where we both work. They are an easy treat.

2 dozen Littleneck clams
1 cup finely chopped onion or shallot
garlic cloves crushed
2 Tbsps olive oil
2 cups white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, or something similar)
3 Tbsps unsalted butter
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
fresh chopped parsley

1. In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté onions until translucent, about four minutes. Add garlic, and continue sautéing another minute. 
2. Now add wine, thyme, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and add clams (clams should be tightly closed, scrubbed clean and without any cracks in the shells) and cover. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until shells open, about 5-7 minutes. 
3. With a spider strainer, or wide, slotted spoon remove clams from the stock pot to a serving bowl (discarding any clams that do not open). Stir in butter and add fresh parsley to taste. Simmer for one minute and pour over clams.

Enjoy with warm sourdough baguette slices and a glass of dry white wine or bubbly if desired.


  1. I love this post and the photos! Reading it brought me instantly to where you had been. Two of my favorite places in California are Morro Bay and Solvang. I remember the Shell Shop, but I don't think we tried the restaurants. Good reasons to go back! Can't wait to try the steamers recipe, yum! Sounds like you both had a wonderful time.

  2. Hi Christy! Thank you so much for following us Salvation Sisters every week. I am so glad that you liked the piece, and that you could relate to it in terms of having been to the Central Coast before. It is a magical place! Cheers! Linda


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