Monday, January 28, 2008

A Wet-n-Wild Weekend

We left our house mid-afternoon on Friday, headed to Monterey - our favorite winter destination of the past 7 years or so. We go primarily to see the monarch butterflies on their winter migration, they arrive in November and leave in February. I'll get to that later, but for now, let's start from the beginning.

Stop #1: El Toro Brewing Co., Morgan Hill, California

We pulled into El Toro's sorta-new brew-pub in the midst of a downpour that made driving a harrowing activity. Too bad really, with still an hour to go in this mess I played it cool here, sampling only a portion of the beers offered. The beers here are nothing short of fantastic. Of course, I tend to quickly move to the hoppy side of taps, thoroughly enjoying the Deuce Double IPA, an Alpha King winner from a few years back. Wicked good beers here, by the way. Right now they've got a four year vertical of their barley wine - all on tap, and all beautifully made.

The brew-pub has been open about a year and a half now, and before this was bank and then a jail. The old bank vault is still installed here, and they've gone ahead and converted that into a little banquet/party room. You can see the outside of the room in the picture to the left, the vault door presenting its own sort of ambiance. Now, I didn't do a lot of inquiring about the jail days of the pub, but it's clear the place has history - and I love places that have stories. We didn't stay too long this time around, with the weather sucking as it did we just wanted to reach our final destination.

Butterflies and Beer, Oh My!

Monterey is a well documented travel destination, with tourists from around the world descending on the place for a trip to the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium and to see other picture perfect sights along the way. While we're members at the Aquarium, and have been for a few years now, we come here this time of year to see the butterflies. However, that doesn't stop us from checking out our favorite bottle shop beforehand to restock, Bottles and Bins.

Bottles and Bins is just a couple blocks up the hill from the aquarium, a little and run-down market you wouldn't really expect much from on the first look. However, inside you'll be impressed with their selection of quality American craft-beers as well as impressive imports. We picked up four bottles of Allagash Four (which is hard to find, to say the least, these days), Cantillon Gueze and some other odds and ends. Left behind were more good beers than I have room to describe. Funny really, when looking at the post below, I am more impressed with a little corner shop in Monterey than I was with the monster bottle shop that boasts 1000 beers. In actuality though, Bottles and Bins has it going on for those among us who appreciate great beer on our holidays.

Back to the Buttterflies
The Butterfly Grove is found in Monterey's south-neighboring town, Pacific Grove. Tracy and I love to stay at the Butterfly Grove Inn, a quaint and older establishment that butts up against the butterfly grove. In the mornings you can walk through and find thousands of butterflies clumped together, hanging (dangling) from cypress and eucalyptus trees. If you've not seen them before, it can be hard to spot, as they look more like brown leaves than colorful butterflies. If you look carefully at the picture above, that messy clump throughout the middle is nothing but butterflies. In late November, early December if there hasn't been a storm, you can find butterflies in the tens of thousands. This time of year, the grove's docent speculated the population was down to about 4000 - after major wind and rain storms in the past few weeks, it's impressive there was that many.

The monarchs won't fly until the ambient temperature reaches 58 degrees (unless they really need to, but even then they lack the grace we're used to in the creatures), so getting there a little before 11:00AM is a good time to be there. As the temperature climbs and the light breeze kicks in, you'll find the butterflies beginning to quiver, shake, an early morning exercise that gets the blood flowing and the body temps up. After a few minutes of quaking, and without any additional warning, they're off! On Saturday we were fortunate enough to witness two butterfly bursts (both around 11:15) where hundreds of butterflies, all at once, explode into the air, fluttering magically overhead. It's hard to not be excited when you witness this, to let out subdued noises of awe and amazement.

We sat in the grove for more than an hour that morning, nursing large glasses of peach lambic and wielding cameras and binoculars. If you've never seen anything like this, you probably should add it to a list of things you must do - especially if you live in Northern California. It's nothing short of amazing.

Other Things To Do

We did more than look at butterflies on our trip. We spent a good deal of time on the ocean, looking at tide-pools and enjoying good food. Here's a quick list of places to see when you're in Monterey.
  • Little Chicken House (1193 Forest Ave) is hands down the best chicken you'll find within 100 miles any direction. We've been hitting this place up for years, the owner/cook/manager/host is a gentle spoken man who just knows how to make a great chicken. If you're in town, you simply must stop in. Seriously. Oh, this is a cash-only place, so keep that in mind. Dinner for two - about 20 bucks.
  • Crown and Anchor - this downtown English-inspired pub is a pretty well known joint, as evidenced by the lack of seating on weekend evenings. Decent beer, great ambiance and good servers make it a worth-while stop.
  • Sea Harvest Fish Market (598 Foam St) - We love this place! Fish-n-chips made with whatever was brought in from the boat that morning, oysters on the half shell for 1.50 each (and oh so good) and a handful of other great offerings make it a place you'll likely stop at again. There are certainly more trendy places, but... come on, why do what every other tourist is doing? While there, get the Caramel Wheat beer (Caramel Brewing, made in Ukiah - but hey, it's the thought that counts), relax and enjoy great seafood.
  • Peter B's Brewery (in the Portola hotel) - No, the beers aren't the best you'll find in town, but the servers are super-friendly and it seems like a place where locals congregate. I love local joints, and even though it's connected to a hotel, you'll appreciate the laid back pace and good times.
  • Butterfly Grove Inn ( - This is where we like to stay when we go to see the butterflies. It's cheap, clean and a bit off the beaten path. There are nicer hotels out there, and certainly those with more amenities, but this just works for us. Right next to the grove, close to town - a good deal.
  • Bottles and Bins (898 Lighthouse Ave) - This is the bottle shop you'll want to stop at for the weekend's beer needs, or perhaps to take home and add to your cellar.
More Pictures
Butterflies and Beach
El Toro Brewing