On September 17, after months of staying at home due to COVID-19, the MINI Maniacs made their first overnight trip of the year with a visit to California’s central coast. Called the Great Pacific Coast Highway Run, the three-night affair included a stay in Paso Robles and two nights in Cambria.
The adventure began on Thursday with two caravans, one departing from Westlake Village and the other from Sylmar, both meeting at Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles for a private lunch on the beautiful patio and a train ride on the vineyard’s unique narrow gauge railroad. Kudos to SCMM member Eric Johnson for arranging the Halter Ranch visit.
The afternoon was spent poolside at the Melody Ranch motel, and dinner later that night in Paso Robles. Following the heath department guidelines, restaurants were seating diners outside and limiting the number of people at each table, which meant no group dinner for the club.
“We knew a group dinner was not going to happen on this trip,” said Club Events Director Craig Williams, “We managed fine with small groups making their own dinner plans.”
The next morning Ted Lighthizer led the group on a twisty run from Paso Robles to Morro Bay, where the MINIs posed for a photo in front of Morro Rock. And then on to Montaña de Oro State Park for a short hike along the cliffs overlooking the ocean, before returning to Morro Bay for lunch.
The original itinerary for Saturday had the MINIs driving the famed Highway 1 all the way to Big Sur for a photo at the iconic Bixby Bridge, but being 2020, a wildfire caused the road to be closed north of Gorda. The shortened route on Highway 1 gave everyone more time to explore and stop for photos.
The always-popular elephant seal viewing area north of San Simeon was very active with the large mammals. The males can be up to 15 feet in length and weigh 4,500 pounds. The majority of the seals appeared to be the smaller females, which are up to 10 feet in length and 1,500 pounds.
The group stopped at the often overlooked, William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, and walked out to the end of the San Simeon Pier, which was shrouded in fog. Some members had never been here before or knew it even existed.
“This beach is truly a hidden gem that many tourists never stop to enjoy, or maybe even know about,” says Williams. “The San Simeon pier was vital in bringing goods to the Central Coast by ship from San Francisco in the early days, and played a role in the construction of Hearst Castle. The castle tours are currently closed due to the pandemic, but in the future this will be a destination for SCMM members to visit.”
During it’s heyday the castle had its own zoo housing many exotic animals, but in 1937, due to financial difficulties, Hearst began dismantling his collection of animals. Only the zebras remain today, and can often be seen grazing near Highway 1, below the castle.
“We were lucky on this trip and got to photograph the zebras near the highway,” says Williams.
As they continued their drive on Pacific Coast Highway, Ragged Point was as far north that most of the MINI Maniacs went. The smell of smoke from the Dolan Fire was apparent, but a few drivers continued another 11 miles to Gorda, where the road closure was set up. Because of the closure, they had the road pretty much all to themselves.
Back in Cambria our home base was the Bluebird Inn, which is walking distance from many of the shops and restaurants in the south part of town. The afternoon gathering spot, aka Wolfman’s Lair, was the patio at the Bluebird Inn. There, members socialized and shared stories of the day’s events before making dinner plans. As in Paso Robles, restaurants were following health department guidelines, serving outdoors and limiting the number of guests.
“Our first overnight trip in this era of COVID-19 went well,” says Williams. “This will be the new normal for the foreseeable future. If we follow the safety guidelines I think we can resume planning these types of trips for the club. Our next test will be the Memorial Run to Solvang in November.”