Balancing Act

Fourth of July road trip and plans for the Prius

Another road trip completed! Well, this road trip ended two weeks ago and I just gotten around to write about it. This road trip coincided with the July 4th holiday weekend, affording us extra days. We both got Thursday and Friday paid holiday off and used three paid vacation days to take advantage of taking an entire week off for the price of three PTO. For this trip, we drove from Los Angeles to Palm Desert, made a U-Turn and drove up to Monterey, made a day pit-stop in San Francisco and then finally terminated the trip within California at Jenner before trekking eastward to Reno, Nevada and then back to Southern California- all in a span of exactly one week.

Summer 2013 road trip route

Summer 2013 road trip route

For road trips, we prefer to use my 2012 Prius Four instead of the lady's 2012 Prius C Four, simply because it is roomier, affording us to carry additional items or bring back more items than we brought with us, such as from shopping, which we did immensely during this 1-week road trip.

1,774.9 total miles driven in 7 days

1,774.9 total miles driven in 7 days

The entire trip spanned over 1,774 total miles and the total amount of gas accounted for the entire trip was only 2.62 (or 2.75 rounded to the nearest 1/4th) tanks. We only spent a little over $103.00 in total gas expenditure (gas was a lot cheaper up north and in Reno).

June 29th

Our trip began east in the desert town of Palm Desert. We chose Palm Desert because it is in the desert and it's a town that's large enough to have shopping districts and great eateries and not too small to be in isolation, such as Twentynine Palms; but still small enough to remain quaint, unlike other nearby desert cities such as Palm Springs for example. It was about a good 125 mile drive. We started our day with a quick stop at the Atlantic Fish & Chip shop, owned and operated by a Chinese couple, which is something you don't see everyday. Being of Chinese background myself, I am use to seeing Fish n Chips pub operated by owners of European descent - and I search high and mighty for the best fish 'n chip joints in California!

We stayed at the Inn at Deep Canyon during our stay in Palm Desert. Lodging was just okay. The accommodation is satisfactory for our two night stay, however, the door and windows were not properly insulated, resulting in the escape of cool air conditioned air and entry of hot air from outside and thus making the air conditioner work over time. If the owner fixed this with proper weather stripping and insulation, they may save thousands of dollars in wasted electricity. Of all the weekend we decided to trek out to the desert, this particularly weekend just happen to coincide with record heat setting temperature in Southern California. And the weatherman was pretty accurate! We escaped our comfortable South Bay temperature of 70 degrees to a whopping desert heat of 122 degrees! As hot as it sounds, it's just dry heat. It wasn't as bad as the last time we were in Palm Desert (August 2011). During that stay, it rained and made walking around town a terrible thing to do - literally sweating a storm within a 2 minute exposure outside of our air conditioned room.

So weather aside, of all weekend we decide to stay in Palm Desert, and of all hotels I may add, our stay coincided with a family gathering that consisted of 20+ individual families (i.e. 50+ people) that booked half the rooms and had their pool party going on while grilling, drinking and playing loud Ranchero music. Not a problem for us because I am use to this kind of scene but I can understand how some other tenants may be bothered. We spent most of our time shopping on Saturday, so we avoided the crowd at the pool. The night concluded with dinner at the 3rd Corner Bistro and Wine Bar, very elegant place that serves delicious dinner plates at reasonable pricing and superb selection of wine by the glass, by the bottle or by the case. A trip to their bar followed dinner and boy did we have a great time. Awesome bartender and delicious cocktails. When we returned to our room at the Inn at Deep Canyon at around 10:00 PM, the pool party was still going on. So we decided to slip into our swim wear and blend in with the crowd. Super friendly folks, offered us some food, drinks and just conversed with us while we hung out at the pool side.

On Sunday, the members of the 20+ family reunion did an amazing job cleaning up after themselves and ensuring the pool area was well kept and tidy. Props to them on that. We were able to grab a mini buffet-style breakfast at the main lobby and caught ourselves conversing with a few members of the large family reunion. Turns out that they were mostly from Orange County (Costa Mesa area), but a few from Arizona and San Diego and they have annual family reunions at this particular hotel every single July 4th weekend (plus or minus a week). Their reason is that the pool opens 24 hours, which is true and that the owners of the Inn give them the leniency to have a great time. I hear them on that. They were already making reservations for 2014 when they were checking out. Again, we spent most of the day shopping at the Gardens and various other retail outlets at the El Paseo strip. Our night started with dinner at the Pacifica Seafood Restaurant at the Gardens in El Paseo. They served one of the most amazing tasting Chilean Sea Bass dish ever to touch down on our taste buds. If you are in the area, be sure to give them a visit. Our night concluded with a dip in the pool. With the family reunion gone, we virtually had the pool to ourselves. Might as well enjoy it while we can!

July 1st

The trip to Monterey started at 5:00 AM and lasted about 7 hours. We took the 5 north to the 101 north and then hopped onto Monterey freeways to get to our initial destination, Carmel-by-the-Sea (Carmel for short). We went from 122 degree temperature to 66 degrees in a matter of 7 hours. Carmel will always have a special place in our heart as it was one of the few charming city that had an impact in our romantic life. Our trip to Monterey county isn't complete without a stop by A.W. Shuck's Oyster Bar & Grill. As usual, we ordered up two dozen of oysters on the half shell and chowed down with some local pale ale and chardonnay. We also made a quick stop at our favorite estate grown vineyard wine room at the Galante Vineyard wine room. We picked up a bottle of our favorite 2009 "Kick Ass" Cabernet Sauvignon in preparation for Sonoma. Since our stay over in Monterey was only for one night, we picked the Super 8 Motel base on reviews. Sure enough, for $93.00 a night, I couldn't complain about the amenities afforded by this well kept Super 8 chain. Friendly staff, great room and cavernous bathroom. We chowed down at the Hula's Tiki Bar & Grill in downtown Monterey for dinner. Of course, we had our rounds of delicious Tiki drinks followed by delicious Asian-fusion dinner dishes. The bartender who's originally from Fresno County is a huge Dodgers fan, which surprised me. I figured he'd be a Giants fan if any! We met and spoke with several folks eating and/or drinking at the bar, just had one heck of a great time while the bartender served us.

Dinner ended with a short walk around Cannery Row and downtown. Midway in our walking adventure, we came across Pelican Pizzeria and decided we were hankering for some late night combo pizza. Ordered up a medium combo supreme pizza and were on our way back to the Super 8 motel. Monterey and Carmel never ceases to amaze us and we try to visit at least once a year.

July 2nd-July 4th

Tuesday calls for a drive up to Jenner in Sonoma County. Before making the 4 hour drive, we decided to make a day stop in San Francisco and grab lunch while in the city. For lunch, we dropped by Catch Restaurant on Market Street.

The food at Catch was nothing short of spectacular. I'm not a huge fan of fish in forms other than sushi, but the Tilapia I had was cooked to perfection, nothing short of perfect! Same goes with the lady's entree of Salmon risotto. We walked and drove around San Francisco before continuing north, into Sonoma county. I will never get use to how crazy steep the hills are in San Francisco, no matter how many time I've passed through the city. Driving through the streets is almost like riding a slow roller coaster.

The drive to our destination in Jenner took another good 2 hours from San Francisco. Along the way, we had to battle traffic, because while we were on vacation, it's a work day and folks are just returning home from work. The drive to the Timber Cove Inn was quite an adventure after leaving the tail-end of Petaluma and especially once we've reached the pacific coast highway 1. It was an adventure for two reasons:

  1. Very curvy and windy road limits maximum speed to no more than 55 mph.
  2. Two way, single lane highway hugging the coastline calls for ridiculously slow drivers with absolutely no sense of common courtesy to the line of drivers behind them that actually want to drive fast and get to places. Pull over!

A simple 15 mile drive along HWY 1 which normally would've taken 30-45 minutes to complete stretched into an hour, because of the latter of the aforementioned conditions. Despite all that, upon arrival at our lodging, it felt like a catharsis. And to our surprise, we were upgraded from a Cove View room, worth $200 a night to a Deluxe Ocean View room with a jacuzzi, worth $350 a night, at no additional cost! We were already enjoying 50% off our second night since the Inn was celebrating its 50th anniversary, so getting this complimentary upgrade was a steal. We always end up getting upgraded wherever we go, for some reason. I figured they were not selling the ocean view rooms at the price they were asking and rather than not sell anything at all, they moved us into the vacant ocean view room and released our original Cove View room for booking. Sure enough, when July 3rd came along, the Inn was completely booked out.

By the way, I've never seen so many Prius drive up and down a highway in my entire life. I counted about 1 Prius for every 6 cars that passed us.

Timber Cove Inn and the Sonoma coastline is just breathtaking. Our room has a patio that opens up to a full ocean view patio. Timber Cove Inn provided the respite we needed after all the driving and city life of Monterey and San Francisco. The air was breathtakingly fresh, minimal sound and no disturbance at all. It was the perfect location to rejuvenate and let the mind go with a bottle of our favorite wine.

The restaurant at Timber Cove, Alexander's, is nothing short of magnificent. Rather than go into details of the dishes we ordered, I'll let the photos do the explaining. After dining here on our first night, we decided the food was superb enough to cancel our reservation at another restaurant in Glen Ellen, quite a drive from Jenner. One thing I definitely recommend trying is their prosciutto-wrapped pan seared scallops. Simply amazing. The bar area was lively and the bartender was just as fun to hang out with!

We made a full day of Wednesday doing more shopping in the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Novato. We started the day by paying a visit to Sonoma's Sunflower Caffe, as featured on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-in's and Dives" show on the Food Network. We try our best to hit up locations featured on his show as the ones we've been to were a hit. The Sunflower Caffe is no different! Great ambiance and just great food. 

July 4th-July 6th

We celebrated July 4th by heading 250 miles east to Reno, Nevada. The drive lasted about 5 hours with 1 hour just getting out of Sonoma county and onto the freeway. I have to tell you, driving the 80 East from the tail-end of Sacramento to Reno is just brutal for the Prius. Nothing but uphill driving for a good 60+ miles. I saw my mpg dropped from 60 mpg to 44 mpg within 20 minutes and saw two fuel bar disappeared in less than an hour. Still, I was able to level out to 49 mpg during the last 10 miles of driving because it was mostly downhill from Truckee forward. If you can avoid the 80 East to get to Reno, avoid it. In Reno, we stayed at the Eldorado Resort Casino in downtown Reno. I must say, our stay in Reno is one of my favorite during this entire road trip. It was a complete opposite of Sonoma. Being that most places open 24 hours or late night inside the casino level, and being the night owl that I am, this place was just perfect. Even better, the Mezzanine level of the Eldorado Resort Casino connects to nearby Silver Legacy and Circus Circus, offering us a broader selection of entertainment and dining experience!

Our stay in Reno during July 4th weekend coincide with a Wing Fest street fair, i.e. the 2013 Biggest Little City Wing Fest sponsored by the Silver Legacy in downtown Reno on Virginia street. Since we're not avid gamblers, we made use of our time sampling some hot wings at the Wing Fest street fair, shopped some more, ate some more, explored Reno some more and drank some more. The Eldorado Resort Casino has an incredible lunch buffet at $11.99 a person on Fridays ($10.99 every other weekdays). Needless to say, we were beyond stuffed after our 1 hour stint at the Buffet. The all-you-can eat Sushi at $18.00 a person during happy hour at Sushi Sake, also inside Eldorado, was satisfying, although the quality of the fish is only 7 out of 10. Still fresh, but not as fresh as some of the sushi joints we've dined at here in local Southern California.

On the way back, we decided to return on a Saturday to give us one day of rest on Sunday from all the driving and vacationing. We also took the 5-South all the way after driving on the 80-West for 60+ miles. Heading westward on the 80 is a different story since the route is on a downward incline. The whole trip on the 80 West lasted about an hour and yielded a pleasant 66 mpg. The whole return trip spanned 545 miles and lasted about 7 hours with a mid-way stop at McDonalds in the city of Firebaugh of Fresno county. If I had to do it over, I'd probably take the 395 South.

Plans for the Prius

After receiving all the goods from Japan as detailed in my "Upcoming JDM ZVW30 Prius projects" entry, I think I am going tone down modding the Prius for a while. The next set of mods I plan on adding are EU-spec  G's Sport blacked out OEM taillights with rear foglight, 17" rims and blacked-out headlights with upgraded projectors from the Retrofit Source.

I originally had plans to do a partial G's Sport conversion (i.e. front and rear bumper, side rocker G's Sport graphics and badges) or full TRD Sportivo conversion, but I'm now deciding against that. I think I am perfectly content with the JDM Elegant Style look as it is. Considering how much we love to wine and dine, go on road trips and travel, I think money is better spent feeding our insatiable appetite for good food, drinks and seeing new places. Cars come and go, so spending an ungodly amount of money on mods and conversion only to sell it down the line for a better replacement is counterintuitive. The money diverted from car mods will feed our dining and traveling budget as well as budget for a better car when the time is right for an upgrade. I will still continue to write up DIY guides for the Prius, however. We have a few more road trips lined up for us before year's end, including:

  • Half Moon Bay, CA
  • June Lake, CA
  • Sedona, AZ

We're also planning to fly to Philadelphia again for Thanksgiving and have already booked a 2 week vacation in December for the Philippines.

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