Coastal Car Cruise

Being the consummate workaholic, my "vacations" have typically been spontaneously planned on a Thursday night, taking Friday off for a long weekend. I usually spend the short, blink of a respite at home trying to relax while doing things I normally don't prioritize (e.g. plastering that hole by the front door, filing papers or renting some movies I meant to see in theater before they went to video). My miniaturized vacations are somewhat recuperative, but not memorable. At all.

After exceeding my earnable vacation time a boss of mine once forced me to plan vacation at least 3 weeks in advance because, he insisted, "Looking forward to it is at least half the benefit of taking a vacation."

He was right.

Last month after getting a new car (modesty gives me pause to print the make but it rhymes with "see them trouble you.") I decided to enhance my typical vacation scenario by taking a road trip with my girlfriend to break in the car. I actually planned this excursion 3 weeks in advance giving us plenty of time to anticipate it. I chose HWY 1 from LA up the coast to Monterey. Sharing these plans with a few clients and friends they responded with "Wow, I've always wanted to do that" and "I've heard that's a gorgeous drive." and "Sounds wonderful, you're going to love it."

They were all right.

We couldn't have planned a more perfect trip. 4 highlights follow. Each of these destinations can be found at their respective www dot com.

Hearst Castle With four tours each providing a unique glimpse into the elaborate estate of publishing mogul William Randolf Hearst you'll be amazed at the at the efficiency and timing of your tour experience. Each tour ($12) will give you a unique glimpse of this Shangri-la. About an hour in length, a new set begins every 10 minutes of the day. The Visitor's Center (your first stop) has been expanded to include many previously unseen artifacts, documents and expensive "toys" acquired by Hearst presented museum-style, up close but behind glass. This is an ideal way to spend time while waiting for a tour to begin. Calling ahead or booking your tour online lets you walk up to a will-call window to pick up tickets with no wait. If you enjoy art, history, and are fascinated by obscene displays of wealth, this is a must see.

Hotel Pacific in Downtown Monterey is a 4-diamond, all-suite hotel that couldn't have been placed in a more geographically ideal location. Across the street from the Monterey Convention Center and walking distance from Fisherman's Warf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The foot treks to these places were a refreshing break from the long drive to Monterey. Suite features include a fireplace, hardwood floors, huge wood-post, goose-down featherbeds, kitchen, and living room. The ambiance was so right, I asked my girlfriend to marry me -she said yes.

Rappa's My fiancé and I were hungry so we strolled to the end of Fisherman's Warf where you'll find Rappa's. This famous landmark restaurant opened in 1952 and features huge window seats overlooking the harbor. For her: the grilled Monterey salmon that made her eyes roll with obvious "deliciousity." For him: a spinach and beef pasta with a garlic tomato sauce that was absolutely scrumptious. Both entrees served with lots of warm crusty/soft baguette slices. Atmosphere, service and quality of food were all excellent. If you visit, you'll no doubt compliment the chef.

17 Mile Drive You must be kidding me! Pay? An $8 toll to drive a road that will show me coastal scenery I've been enjoying for the last 150 miles? Well, I did pay -and it was worth it. Pebble Beach and the 21 spectacular points of interest are some of the most incredible views of the ocean you will ever see. No litter, traffic signals or even so much as a pothole in the road made the drive and its stops memorable. The drive frequently contrasts driving through beautiful woods with a dip only a few feet from the wide-open pristine beach a moment later. We were fortunate enough to see a whale spouting just beyond the Ghost Tree "point of interest" -a cypress whose famous image is so revered the local community has trademarked it.

If you are looking for a vacation where you can skip long waits in airport terminals, shuttle arrangements and jet lag yet you are looking to do more than just get caught up on letters to friends or testing your smoke detectors, consider a road trip up our wonderful coast. I've got my next one planned. It will be for an anniversary.

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