Hanging out at Pis"Mo's" Beach
October 23, 2007
Most families plan their vacation spots to take advantage of beautiful scenery, escape from the city, or to check out some popular touristy attraction. For this year's autumn getaway, we planned everything around a barbecue restaurant.
Last October, we spent three relaxing days at Pismo Beach and discovered Mo's Smokehouse BBQ. We ate there just once, but that meal was so memorable that we had done nothing but reminisce about it since then. We instantly fell in love with their Louisiana hot link and shredded pork sandwiches, which were drowned in four types of barbecue sauce. It just so happens that Mo's sells its sauces over the Internet, so once we exhausted our initial four-bottle supply we brought back home with us, Glenn ordered another four-pack for Roni as a Christmas gift. Once we blew through those bottles, Roni surprised Glenn with another order that arrived just in time for the summer grilling season.
But by the start of this month that summer supply was running low, having been used in a number of cookouts and crockpot recipes that we made. We had a decision to make: order more Mo's online, or head to their nearest restaurant and pick up some in person. Being the cheapskates that we are, we decided to save the seven-buck shipping charge and do the delivery ourselves. And considering that the nearest Mo's to us is located in Chico a dull drive up the Sacramento valley we opted for the second closest one in Pismo Beach (or perhaps it's third closest if you consider that the San Luis Obispo location is about 10 miles north. Heck, there are only four locations and it's sort of pathetic that we have memorized where all of them are, but we digress...)
For a few months we had talked about where we wanted to spend our precious few vacation days in October. We hadn't planned a repeat of last October's trip. But nostalgia (and finger-lickin'-good greasy food) has a way of winning you over. And so it was on the morning of Oct. 8 that we tossed a couple of suitcases and beach chairs in the trunk of Glenn's car, popped some country music into the MP3 player, and set out for Pismo Beach or the "Mo's Vacation" as it came to be known.
Hungry as we were for some of that great barbecue, we nonetheless took our time getting to Pismo. We caught up with Highway 92 and slithered our way through the coastal mountains out to Half Moon Bay, where pumpkin harvest season is in full swing. Everything there is a shade of bright orange this time of year, and even for a Monday the patches were busy with folks out selecting the perfect squash for Halloween. We have been quite interested in yard art lately, so we checked out one of the several nurseries located in Half Moon Bay where we looked at some statuary and got some pictures of the large metal dinosaur sculptures that were on display.
Hooking up with Highway 1, we continued south along the Pacific Coast and found ourselves in some pretty dense fog. Not unusual for the coast, but a bit unexpected at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on a day that wasn't too terribly cool. It might not have bothered us at all except that we had planned to stop at Pigeon Point to photograph the lighthouse there. Sure enough, the fog was very thick by the time we reached the point. So thick, in fact, that the top half of the lighthouse seemed to vanish in the sky. We waited around an hour and ate a picnic lunch there in hopes that the fog would burn off. It dissipated some, but it didn't go away entirely.
Pigeon Point is now a state park and the lighthouse, established in the 1870s, is scheduled for restoration. There are some photo and history exhibits to see, and a hostel that attracts a fair number of travelers. We followed the boardwalk lined by white picket fences to the end of the property overlooking the Pacific where you can get a nice shot of the lighthouse if the weather is good. We all posed for pictures and saw about as much of the tower as we would get to see.
A few more miles down the road we wound up in Santa Cruz. There we made a stop at Natural Bridges park before locating the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse and surfing museum. We enjoyed our hunt for lighthouses in New England over the summer so much that we decided to spend part of this trip searching for them as well. The Abbott lighthouse was built in the late 1960s in honor of a surfer who lost his life in the rugged waves there. His ashes are entombed inside the light tower, buried beneath a pile of stones and a favorite statue of his. The surfing museum is small but interesting if you are into the sport.
We couldn't visit Santa Cruz without a stop at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which celebrated its 100th anniversary over the summer. It would have been cool to be there with all the amusement park rides running, but after Labor Day they only run on weekends. Nonetheless, the arcades were open. Ben blew through a quick five bucks on pinball and air hockey, at which he has developed into a formidable competitor. Then we headed out to nearby Seabright State Beach and took photos of our third lighthouse of the day the Walton harbor light.
By then it was getting late in the afternoon and the weather was starting to turn nasty. Fortunately Roni had booked us into the Quality Inn hotel in Marina north of Monterey, so we had only another hour to drive. We lost our daylight as the storm clouds moved in and were in some pretty serious rain before we reached the hotel. We ordered pizza and salads for dinner and after waiting for nearly two hours for the delivery person, the manager gave us our meal free.
We started the second day of our trip with a quick drive out to the Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove. The light is surrounded by a municipal golf course, and as has been the case every time we've ever been to Point Pinos, the grounds were closed to visitors. We grabbed our photos through the fence before continuing back to Fisherman's Wharf for an early lunch of clam chowder and smoked salmon.
We were getting a pretty late start for a drive down the twistiest part of Highway 1 if we hoped to be in Pismo Beach before dark. Roni tried to talk Glenn out of it, but the faster alternative Highway 101 seemed like a boring drive and we were on vacation, so the long scenic route it was. We ambled down the coast, with stops along the way to take pictures of lighthouses we couldn't get close to. The Point Sur Lighthouse and Piedras Blancas Lighthouse are both trapped behind locked gates and perched far back on hills that can only be accessed on special tours. We had probably passed these lighthouses a dozen times and never paid much attention to them before. One of these days it might be fun to actually go inside one.
Lighthouse tours weren't in the picture for us, but there was always Hearst Castle. We arrived at the visitor center in San Simeon early enough for once to actually look around at some of the exhibits besides the gift shop. There is a small museum for folks like us who are either too pressed for time or cash to take the full tour up to the castle. That's about as much Hearst history as someone Ben's age can stand.
We arrived in Pismo Beach just before sunset and found our way back to the Sandcastle Inn, where we stayed last year. We'd taken advantage of their Internet special last year and got great rates for a three-night stay. We didn't have as good a rate this time, made more pricey by the fact we asked for oceanfront rooms, but we were only there for a couple of nights this time. It was still worth the price for being off the water on that awesome strip of clean white California sand. The folks at the hotel had us on file from last year, so when Roni asked for a room close to the one we had, they obliged and put us on the first floor just a couple of doors up from where we'd been. First floor is nice because you can sit out on the patio and you are at eye-level with the beach and the ocean. Ben liked it too, because he could just hop the wall to get down to the sand instead of having to walk all the way around through the hotel corridor.
We had about enough time to grab our pictures of the sunset, and then it was off for a quick walk along the boardwalk to Pomeroy Avenue where we had dinner at the Pierside Seafood Restaurant. That was Ben's choice, and he was really quite excited about going because they have an outdoor seating area that we sat in a year ago. We sort of had to chuckle, because Ben rarely gets excited about eating out. Any time he says he wants to go somewhere you know there must be a good reason. Turned out the reason in this case was a blue lemonade drink they called a "squiddy." Ben had ordered one last year and must have remembered he liked it. We ate a light dinner (light by the standards of this trip!) while enjoying the lights of the municipal pier reflecting off the shoreline waters.
Wednesday would be our one full day in Pismo. It started with a stroll along the beach while we tried to work up an appetite for lunch at Mo's. We turned Ben loose to play along the surf while we walked a half mile or so under the pier and to the north end of the beach. It was high tide and the waves were quite rough. The surfers were loving it. We had to dodge the incoming water and Roni didn't make it out fast enough at one point; she had sandy splash marks up her back by the time we were done. Ben just about wore himself out running from one end of the beach to the other in search of sand dollars, few of which were to be found. We were very thankful for the nice weather after worrying that the incoming Pacific storm we'd tangled with near Monterey would drop rain on us. But Pismo Beach seems to be just far enough south that it misses much of the inclement weather that settles in places like Morro Bay.
Still not hungry enough after our frolic on the beach, we took another walk downtown to check out the gift shops and made sure we lingered inside them until we were all good and ready. You don't want to go to a place like Mo's without an appetite. We placed our order and settled into our table while we waited for our food to be delivered. They give you a little wooden pig with your order number printed on them. We hammed it up for the cameras while we waited. The locals must have wondered why the heck we were taking so many pictures inside a take-out barbecue pit. We're fans, what can we say?
The whole story of Mo's (in greatly abbreviated fashion) is that this fellow wanted to open up his own barbecue place in California and went on a tour of the barbecue belt in the South and Midwest in search of the best recipes and to learn techniques from the experts. He brought back dozens of pictures of the barbecue joints he visited, many of which are displayed on the walls of the restaurant. He also brought back the inspiration to create four types of barbecue sauce that are to die for. Mo's Smokehouse BBQ is not a place for counting calories. The fare is strictly stick-to-your-ribs, from the baked beans and potato salad to the Memphis ribs, which are one of the restaurant's specialties. We ordered a Virginia BBQ Pork sandwich for Glenn and BBQ Beef sandwich for Roni while Ben had a hamburger. We made sure to have ample supplies of the sauces at our table original, spicy hot, something called "Philthy Phil's," and our favorite "Sweet Carolina's" which is made from molasses. We savored every bite and were stuffed by the end of the meal.
Not so stuffed that we couldn't make room for a bowl of award-winning clam chowder at the Splash Cafe when dinner rolled around later. We're a bit surprised that we aren't rolling around after four days of nothing but coastal cuisine! We managed to polish off a whole pizza, at least two or three bowls of clam chowder, burgers and barbecue sandwiches, and two days of continental breakfasts from the Sandcastle Inn's dining room.
We checked out of Pismo Beach on Thursday morning, but not before taking one more walk downtown to visit a few of the stores we hadn't seen the previous day and to get an order of Mo's sandwiches to go. We also made sure to pick up four more bottles of our favorite sauces, so in all we managed to drop close to a hundred bucks on that little barbecue joint. The sandwiches were for the road and we eventually ate them at a rest stop outside of Atascadero. We also brought back a tray of ribs, which we ate for dinner at home the following day.
We took Highway 101 toward home, which is definitely the faster way to travel. We stopped off at a couple of roadside garden statue places, including one called All That Stuff Behind the Barn where we bought some metal sculptures. Roni fell in love with a cutout of a quail family that you're supposed to plant in the ground to make it look like the quails are walking through your yard. It just barely fit in the trunk of Glenn's car when laid atop the suitcases. Later near Salinas we came across a statuary business where they were selling hundreds of items ranging from colorful suns you can hang on your wall to eight-foot water fountains. We had no room or spare cash on hand to bring any of them home, but the place sure gave us a lot of ideas. Something to shoot for next spring as we continue redesigning our back yard.
That about wraps it up for vacation. Now we press on toward the holidays and National Novel Writing Month, which we have all once again signed up for this November. We'll likely have a short newsletter next month. Until then, happy travels.
Glenn, Roni and Ben