Western Trips

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Visit Custom House Plaza / Monterey California

custom house monterey
Old Custom House, Monterey CA
 The Custom House in Monterey California is known as the oldest government building in California. This structure was erected by the Spaniards who chose the Monterey as their capital of Alta California. The Custom House was in existence by 1827 but deteriorated and was replaced by a larger structure in 1841. Monterey was at one time the only port of entry in Alta California.  

The historic Custom House Plaza is located between the Portola Plaza Hotel and Fisherman's Wharf.

Monterey as a Spanish and Mexican Port and Capital

As mentioned above, Monterey was the seat of government when the Spaniards ruled Alta California. This was also the capital when the Mexicans took over in the early 1820's. Before Sacramento became the state capital of California, Monterey was considered the first state capital.

custom house plaza monterey ca
Historical Custom House plaque
The area around the historic Monterey Custom House has changed over the past two hundred years. Originally the Custom House was closer to the beach. Not that the structure moved closer but landfill north of the Custom House placed the beach further away.

The area of the Custom House at the time of it's first construction occupied a strategic location because of the busy port activity. The area was so important that later excavations turned up a foundation from an earlier building on the exact site. An expedition from 1792 also reported a structure on the current site.

pacific house museum monterey california
Pacific House Museum
An interesting fact is that Spain discouraged foreign trade in California while the Mexicans, after seizing power, encouraged it. Historically, this was the same situation with Santa Fe during Spanish colonization. Not long after the Mexicans took over Nuevo Mexico (New Mexico) the legendary Santa Fe Trail came into existence and trade flourished between Santa Fe and the Missouri region.

The more open trade policy of Mexico made Monterey a cosmopolitan pueblo which included Americans who the Californios referred to as "Yanquis." A good number of the newcomers married into Californio families, and then became Mexican citizens. The American  presence in California grew to the point that the United States in 1842 established a consulate in Monterey.

British and American ships competed for the hide and tallow traffic. This became a very important part of the economy. A dried steer hide valued at about a dollar was termed a "California Bank Note". The hides were shipped to New England. There they were used to make saddles, harnesses, shoes and other leather goods. Tallow was melted down in large pots and poured into bladders and delivered to the ships. The tallow was ultimately made into candles or soap which helped the commercial expansion of Monterey.

See more Western Trips articles on attractions near Monterey California on the links below... 

Mission San Juan Batista on the old El Camino Real

The John Steinbeck Center in Salinas California

The Historic Bridges Along Big Sur

custom house plaza
Old anchor exhibit at Custom House Plaza
The Custom House

The Custom House was erected by the Mexican government to house offices that processed the paperwork for the import and export of goods in and out of Monterey's port.

The Monterey Custom House building was restored in the early 1900s by the Native Sons of the Golden West. It has added to the National Register of Historic Places and now the building is a part of Monterey State Historic Park. The old Custom House was also California's first Historical Landmark.

Today the Custom House is a museum open to the public. The Maritime Museum is among other attractions in the plaza that treat visitors to historic information of old Monterey. An old whaling station is nearby where the ground was made with whale bones. There are also old pots that were used to cook whale blubber.

The Monterey Custom House  also has great historical significance by the fact that the United States flag was raised over it by Commodore John Drake Sloat on July 7,1846 claiming the territory for the U.S. as a result of the Mexican-American War. 

museums monterey california
Pacific House Museum
Pacific House Museum

The old Pacific House shown in an above photo is now the Pacific House Museum. Located on the Custom House Plaza, the Pacific House was built in 1835 by James McKinley. When Monterey was a busy seaport, the Pacific House served as a hotel and saloon.

When California became a state in 1850 and Monterey County was being organized, the county rented space in the Pacific House for a courtroom.

Today the Pacific House Museum actually contains two museums. On the second floor is the Monterey Museum of the American Indian. The first floor features exhibits regarding the time Monterey was the capital of Alta California under Spanish and Mexican rule.

The Monterey Custom House Plaza offers a great opportunity to learn about the rich history found in Monterey California.The entire Monterey Peninsula is a vacationers paradise with some of the most scenic views you'll find along California's coastline. While Monterey and nearby Carmel feature some of the finest restaurants, shopping and golf courses on the west coast, a visit to Custom House Plaza will tell you the complete story of how and why Monterey came into being.

Monterey is about a two hour drive south of San Francisco and a one hour and fifteen minute drive south of San Jose. 

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fun California Hiking / Point Lobos

Some of the very best California coastal hiking can be found at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve just a few miles south of Monterey and Carmel California. If you've ever traveled to this area along the California coast you know just how scenic it it. Long considered the “crown jewel” of the California State Park system, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve lures travelers from all over the world.

point lobos california
Great coastal views at Point Lobos
Point Lobos contains headlands, coves and rolling meadows. At Point Lobos you can enjoy very easy hikes with many beautiful vista points. The coastline itself is rocky and you'll have great views of the ocean water splashing over the rocks. You'll see sea otters and if you're lucky perhaps a whale. To enhance you're visit you'll want to bring binoculars along. If you don't have binoculars you can check them out by leaving your car keys with a ranger.

Point Lobos Trails 

Featured below are a few of the hiking trails at Point Lobos State Natural Preserve. Bring suitable walking shoes or hiking boots. Hiking is very easy throughout the entire park.  There are a few areas that require some scrambling over rocks, but there are enough ADA-accessible trails such that anyone can enjoy the beauty of this place.

One of the first things you'll want to do when entering the park is to obtain a trail map. The trail map will show you the layout and distances of each trail and the points of interest along each.  

pacific ocean otters
Sea otters at Point Lobos
One of the fine easy walk trails at Point Lobos is the Bird Island Trail. Bird Island  is a rock with a large sea bird colony in spring and summer. Hundreds of Brandt's cormorants nest close together on the flat part of the island. On the way to the Bird Island overlook, you pass between Monterey pine woods and the sea. There are lovely views of two white sandy beaches: the small one in China Cove, and the longer Gibson Beach.

Cypress Grove Trial is a .75 mile long hike which has the special distinction of visiting the famous Allan Memorial Grove, which honors A.M. Allan. Allan helped preserve Point Lobos from resort developers in the early 1900s. When Point Lobos became a reserve in 1933, Allan’s family donated the cypress grove there to the state.

The North Shore Trail goes through groves of the rare Monterey pine. Native stands of the fog-loving, three-needled pine grow in only a few place in California and Point Lobos is one of them. Your hike will lead you through the pines and and you'll be treated to beautiful coastal panoramas. As your hike takes you past Whalers Cove, you’ll most likely see divers entering the Point Lobos Underwater Reserve which is America’s first such reserve established in 1960.

The Granite Point Trail is a perfect trail for viewing the varied wildlife of Whalers Cove and also for enjoying the multitude of wildflowers in both spring and summer.

point lobos reserve
Dive boat off Point Lobos State Natural Preserve
Tour Whalers Cabin Museum 

Whalers Cabin was originally built by Chinese fishermen in the early 1850's. The cabin itself overlooks Carmel Bay and Whalers Cove. History buffs will much enjoy this historic structure. Today this structure is a museum with a docent always available to answer your questions. The Whalers Cabin and nearby Whaling Station can be found near Whalers Cove. Each is open to the public from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. every day.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below for more attractions near the Monterey Peninsula area of California...

Historic Asilomar at Pacific Grove

Carmel-By-The-Sea California

The Historic Bridges of Big Sur

Castle Air Museum / Atwater, CA

The Unique Birds, Mammals and Plant Life of Point Lobos State Natural Preserve

Point Lobos State Natural Preserve features over 160 different species of birds. The prime time to view the birds is during the spring/summer nesting season. With the exception of squirrels most of the land mammals in residence at Point Lobos are harder to spot than the sea mammals. A good many of the land mammals come out during the early morning or evening when the park is closed. Even during other times many hikers can spot the animal trails they leave behind.

california coastline
One of the many beautiful coves at Point Lobos
Plant life at Point Lobos is very extensive. certain types grow here because of the micro climates found there. The cools sea breezes, the moderate temperatures and the summer fog let certain plants grow and thrive. Kelp is plentiful because of the cool nutrient rich waters.

Visit Point Lobos

Visiting Point Lobos State Natural Preserve is one of the best ways to explore and appreciate the rugged California coastline. It's been often described as the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world. In addition to that it's a birders paradise. Scenic picnic spots, fine diving opportunities, abundant wildlife both on shore and in the sea, wonderful photographic opportunities as well as great hiking are all found at Point Lobos State Natural Preserve.

Point Lobos State Natural Preserve is located about 7 1/2 miles south of Monterey California directly on the coast. 

You'll find much more about planning a trip to Point Lobos on the link below...

Point Lobos State Natural Preserve

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Visit Benicia California / California's Third State Capital

Benicia California, founded in 1847, is a charming small city in the San Francisco Bay area. It's also a community with a rich history. Some of this history includes being a former state capitol, a busy seaport, the first Army ordnance supply depot on the Pacific Coast and an inspiration for a few of the literary works of Jack London. Benicia is about a 50 minute drive from the city of San Francisco.

california state capital benicia
California's third state capital building
Benicia was named in honor of the wife of General Mariano Vallejo, Francisca Maria Felipa Benicia Carillo de Vallejo. General Vallejo was Mexico's last Comandante General of the Free State of Alta California.

Another interesting side note is that General Vallejo had intended the town be named "Francisca" however a town  to the south / southwest called Yerba Buena had changed it's name to San Francisco.

The Capitals of Early California

After the United States took possession of California and voted it in as a state in 1850, a capital needed to be selected. During Spanish and later Mexican rule of what was called Alta California the capital had been in Monterey

The first state capital in California was a two story adobe structure in San Jose. The site in San Jose was used until May 1851. The second site selected was Vallejo, just a few miles to the west of Benicia. Construction problems and inadequate roads delayed construction to the point where legislators ended up on the steamer Empire. Part of the legislative session during the first half of 1852 was held in Sacramento while the official capital was still Vallejo. This lasted until February 1853 when a move was made to Benicia.

benicia capital state park
Benicia California as State Capital

The legislative session began in Benicia in February 1853. By the time the state capital moved to Benicia, the town had already seen good growth. Benicia, which had incorporated in 1850, had been chosen as the site of an ordinance depot and military post. In 1850, the military reservation known as "The Arsenal" became the first ordnance supply depot on the West Coast,

The state capital building in Benicia was a large two story brick building with columns and pillars at it's entrance. This new stately structure lasted as California's capital for a short 13 months. All was well during 1853 but when the legislative session began in 1854, the state once again was looking for a new capital site. Reportedly over 100 men had to sleep in saloons and because of this lack of adequate accommodation the town of Sacramento, a town with some 55 hotels, was chosen as the next California capital site. Sacramento's more than ample hotel space could lodge everyone needed to run the state government. Sacramento's rapid growth of course was due to it's proximity to the Gold Rush fields.

You may enjoy the Western Trips articles on the links below. These are additional historical sites near Benicia California you may want to add to your California trip planner. 

John Muir National Historic Site / Martinez CA

John Muir and the Greening of America

The Historic Camel Barns / Benicia Arsenal

california state capital interior
Inside the front entrance
The Benicia Capital Building Today

Benicia Capitol State Historic Park is the site of California's third seat of government. The original capital building, which was originally built to be Benicia's City Hall, has been restored with reconstructed period furnishings and exhibits.

The interior includes a board-for-board reconstruction of the building’s original floor with ponderosa pine. The building contains original furnishings, historic documents,the state seal embossing press, and an 1850s safe. The Senate and Assembly chambers appear as they were during Benicia’s Capitol days. The Benicia Capitol State Historic Park location is 115 West G Street in Benicia.

People who have researched the California Gold Rush know that there were hundreds of ships abandoned in San Francisco Bay by crews heading for the gold fields. In fact, there were so many abandoned vessels that eventually some were used as landfill. These abandoned vessels also contributed to Benicia's capital building. The impressive building was constructed in just three months from bricks and architectural materials salvaged from abandoned ships in San Francisco Bay.

The former capital building was constructed in a Greek Revival/Palladian style. Palladio was an Italian Renaissance architect whose designs were the main influence on British Palladianism. His Classical style was based on ancient Roman architecture, which he studied both through books of theory and the surviving buildings.

benicia california photo
Benicia's tree lined downtown district
Visiting Benicia California

Benicia has been inspiring authors, sculptors and painters for more than 160 years with its beautiful setting, vibrant cultural scene and small city charm. Take a walking tour of the historic downtown district and you'll find unique shopping and dining.

Benicia features three world class art glass studios. The Sacramento Bee reported that Benicia California is "the best kept little secret in the San Francisco Bay Area". The Los Angeles Times called Benicia "a Bay Area artists haven".
The waterfront is just a short walk from downtown and the old state capital building. The waterfront is in use today for both commercial and recreational purposes. Stroll to Benicia's waterfront and you'll get some breathtaking views.

When you visit Benicia you'll definitely want to add a stop at the old Benicia Arsenal just a few miles northeast of the historic downtown district.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Trip To Asilomar / Monterey Peninsula California

If you're planning a western road trip to California's beautiful Monterey Peninsula, you'll want to add a visit to Asilomar to your vacation planner. Located in Pacific Grove California, Asilomar is referred to as Monterey Peninsula's "Refuge By The Sea".  

Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds is a uniquely beautiful 107 acres of Refuge by the Sea" comprised of ecologically diverse beachfront land that had it's beginnings in the very early 1900's when the YWCA was searching for a western based conference center.

asilomar apperson hearst social hall
Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall
Today, Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds provides park visitors opportunities for beach and coast trail walks, a short boardwalk loop through the Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve as well as a variety of overnight room lodging and conference meeting room facilities. Asilomar might be the largest institutional complex ever built in the Art and Crafts style

Asilomar's Rich History

The Asilomar Conference Grounds was established for the Young Women's Christian Association. In 1912 Phoebe Apperson Hearst donated thirty acres of coastline at Pacific Grove California for the site of a YWCA summer conference center. She also recommended Julia Morgan as the architect.  The Administration Building was opened in 1913 and dedicated as the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall.

The name Asilomar was chosen through a contest among YWCA members. The name Asilomar is the combination of two Spanish words meaning a "refuge by the sea." 

asilomar visitors center
Another view of the Apperson Hall stonework
Architect Julia Morgan and the Buildings of Asilomar

Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872 and graduated with an engineering degree from UC Berkeley in 1894. Morgan then attended the L'Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris France receiving her certification at 29 years of age. She was also the first woman to receive such a certification from the Paris institution.

Returning to San Francisco, Julia Morgan worked as a draftsman prior to opening her own architectural company in 1904. Julia Morgan's career in architecture spanned forty-nine years.

To highlight the YWCA's character and interests, Julia Morgan utilized the Arts and Crafts style that was quite popular in California at the time. Industrialization was well under way and the Arts and Crafts movement was intended to help bring people back in touch with nature. The site chosen for the Asilomar project along the Pacific coast helped immensely in this pursuit.

When you visit Asilomar you'll see just how Julia Morgan's buildings complement this natural landscape. Building construction materials were comprised of redwood, stone and concrete.

merrill Hall asilomar conference grounds
Merrill Hall, completed in 1928
Asilomar Opens in 1913

Asilomar first opened in July 1913. Upon opening, Asilomar was comprised of the front entrance stone pillars, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall, a circus tent used for the dining hall and ten tent houses. Construction of permanent structures continued as donations were received by the YWCA. A total of sixteen structures were completed by Julia Morgan with her last structure, the Merrill Hall, was finished in 1928.

The Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall

This first completed permanent building at the Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall,  gives you a sense of space and grandeur. The building is now the Asilomar Conference Grounds reception area, lobby and gift shop.

Visit Asilomar Today 

Asilomar is located within the scenic town of Pacific Grove, California and offers guests the simple comforts of cozy cottages and rustic lodges. It's a relaxing and unforgettable escape from everyday life.

asilomar monterey peninsula
The rustic grounds and structures at Asilomar
The site is officially named "Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds". The property is owned by California State Parks.

 This natural beauty facility is used for a number of purposes.  It is primarily a conference center for hire but is also open to individual lodging guests. It's also the ideal location for family reunions and other social events. For more information regarding lodging and guest services see the website www.visitasilomar.com The setting and location of Asilomar is unsurpassed. The views from the beach are breathtaking and the resort has old world charm.

The address of the Asilomar Conference Grounds is 800 Asilomar Ave., Pacific Grove.

You may also enjoy the Western Trips articles of Monterey Peninsula area attractions on the links below...

Monterey California From the Spaniards to the Sardine Industry

Big Sur and the Historic Hwy 1 Bridges

California Whale Watching

The Amazing San Diego Zoo / Don't Miss It

The Pacific Grove Monarch Butterflies


Visit Asilomar during the fall and winter months and you'll have a very unique treat right at your doorstep. During their over wintering season from mid-October through mid-February, clusters of monarch butterflies can be viewed at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary at 1073 Lighthouse Avenue. With the entrance located just off Lighthouse Avenue, the city park is open from sunrise to sundown and is free for all visitors.

museums pacific grove ca
Pacific Grove CA Museum
Every autumn, thousands of beautiful monarchs flock to the delicately-balanced microclimate of the habitat at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary. They cluster on the trees in thick bunches, looking like triangular dead brown leaves until, warmed by the morning sun, they spread their wings and drift among the branches.

The microclimate of the Monarch Grove Sanctuary is composed of Monterey pines and eucalyptus trees in a closed canopy, natural buffering windbreaks, a temperature that remains moderate all winter, close proximity to nectar sources and morning fog for moisture. An ideal climate for the Monarch. All of this is in the vicinity of the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds.

Add a stop to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History any time during the year and you can learn much more about the Monarch butterfly. The museum is located at 165 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Historic Llano Texas / Texas Hill Country

Visit Llano in the Texas Hill Country 

Located on the Llano River about seventy-five miles northwest of Austin, Llano Texas  is the county seat and largest town of Llano County.

Llano was established at the same time the County of Llano was created in 1856. Land donated by John Oatman, Sr., Amariah Wilson, and the Chester B. Starks estate made up a surveyed site of 250 acres for the county seat on both sides of the Llano River near the center of the new county.

southern hotel llano
The old Southern Hotel Bldg and stagecoach stop
After the Civil War and Llano was essentially little more than a frontier trading center, with a few log buildings housing businesses, a post office, and a few homes.The first bank in Llano opened in 1879, Moore, Foster, and Company. During the 1880's Llano continued to grow with businesses that served the county's farmers and ranchers.

At first the county offices were in a one story stone building. A beautiful brick courthouse was constructed in 1885 to house the county offices which outgrew their one story structure.

The courthouse was built on a square on the southside of the Llano River. The present county courthouse was completed and occupied on August 1, 1893. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Llano County Courthouse and Jail

The jail was erected in 1895, with the prisoner cells on the second and third floors. As with several jails of the era, the ground level was used for the office and living accommodations for the sheriff and his family.

red top jail llano texas
Llano's old 1895 Red Top Jail
You can see the old jail building from the historic Inks Bridge spanning the Llano River. The Llano Red Top Jail was built in the Romanesque Revival structure. During the iron ore boom town era of the 1890s, the Red Top with its 4th story gallows tower became a constant reminder to outlaws that they should keep their firearms at home. Due to its red roof, prisoners told people that they “stayed at the Red Top last night”.

The central tower housed the gallows. By the year 1982 the jail was condemned and a new jail was built in  2002. The City of Llano purchased the jail from the County in 2005 to help with the restoration costs of the Llano County Courthouse.

Llano County Historical Museum 

If you drive north across the Roy B. Inks Bridge the Llano County Historical Museum is located just on the other side and on the east side of the street.

llano county texas museum
Llano County Historical Museum
The Llano Historical Museum building originally housed Bruhl's Drugstore which was established in 1900. The structure was donated to the Historical Society in 1965 by the A.H. Bruhl family. An annex to the building was originally an early day grocery store. During renovations, the facade was altered, but the interior, including the marble soda fountain and leather fountain stools, remains intact. This is one of the museum's unique exhibits.

The museum features exhibits that include the geology of the area, farming and ranching activities, clothing and textiles, mining, the development of business and the military service of our citizens. The Llano County Historical Museum is operated by the Llano County Historical Society.
Llano Historical Museum is open Wednesday - Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Check out their website for special exhibits and hours. See website http://www.llanomuseum.org
The Southern Hotel Building
The Southern Hotel building was constructed around 1881 for owner J.W. Owen. The hotel was built as a stagecoach stop between Burnet and Mason. Originally only a two-story building, a third floor was added when Colonel W.A.H. Miller bought the hotel in 1883. It was later renamed the Colonial Inn and ceased operations in the 1950s.

things to do in llano texas
Unique shopping in Llano
As with many towns in Texas, the stagecoach began disappearing with the rapid expansion of rail lines. Though the stagecoach era in Texas essentially ended by the mid-1880s, stagecoach travel still remained as a means of transportation in some parts of Texas well past the frontier era.

As late as May 1918, a stage line ran between Llano and Mason, Fredericksburg and Mason, and Brady and Mason. When motorized buses and automobiles began operating on paved and improved highways, stagecoaches finally ceased to exist.  The stagecoach era was a romantic one in many ways but the railroads offered more comfort, greater speed and perhaps a bit more safety.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below for more Texas Hill Country Adventures...

The Frontier Settlement of Dripping Springs Texas

Longhorn Caverns of Texas

Visit Burnet Texas 

Visit the Inner Space Caverns / Georgetown, TX

A good book to pick up if your travel plans take you to the Texas Hill Country includes Great Destinations: Texas Hill Country: A Complete Guide by author Eleanor liS. Morris.

The Lan-Tex Theater

Llano Texas' Lan-Tex Theater was constructed in 1927, a time of heavy theater construction raround the country in towns big and small. The "talkies", as movies with sound were first referred as, came out until a short time later. According to the local newspaper, the new LanTex Theater was built in a colorful, Spanish architectural style. The building was constructed of stucco.

The theater building measured 34 by 70 feet. Its elevated auditorium seated up to 290 people, and a balcony accommodated 75 viewers. The stage which was also built for live performances, measured 20 by 15 feet and featured a dressing room on each side.

lan-tex theater texas
Llano's Lan-Tex Theater built in 1927
Two things that mad ethe new Lan-Tex stand out with the local community was it's plush "open chairs" and cool overhead fans. The owners dubbed it the "House of Comfort All the Year." The fans providing a summer refuge from the Texas heat and sun.

Every so often, the LanTex would feature live stage shows. The comfortable theater also was the venue for fundraisers and free shows for children. One show in particular was quite popular with the local children, starred Buster Brown and his dog Tige, a show fashioned after the famous comic strip started in 1902 with the same name, was a very well attended event.

When you visit Llano be certain to stop by the Llano Texas Visitor Center for maps and information on the area. The Visitors Center is located at The Railyard Depot, 100 Train Station Dr., on the north side of the Llano River. 

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)