Cruising Central California's Missions

Text: Derrel Whitemyer • Photography: Derrel Whitemyer

There's a small window of time for comfortably riding between California's central coast missions. It begins with the blooming of the blue wisteria and ends when they lose their blossoms. You'll even catch yourself looking for these flowers along your favorite roads in the future. Carol and I were only waiting for the perfect weather. It arrived one Sunday, followed by the decision to make a breakfast run to Monterey.

Tendrils of fog rise like spectral soldiers from the fields in front of us and then dissolve when hit by rays of sunlight. Beyond the mist were endless rows of lettuce where laborers bent to the task of harvesting future salads.

Continuing on through the little town of Seaside we crossed into an awakening Monterey. I could recommend a couple of excellent restaurants, yet Carol and I chose The Old Monterey Café near Colton Hall. Colton Hall was California's first capitol and many of the surrounding historical buildings date back to the early 1800s. You can easily spend an afternoon just hiking around playing tourist among these old adobes.

After some award-winning omelets we rode over the hill and treated ourselves to a quick tour of the Carmel Mission. The parking lot was filling with cars. Tourists were unloading, so we headed straight for the gardens. Like two little bees in green leather jackets we buzzed from one courtyard to another marveling at the sheer amount of toil that has gone into shaping the Mission's landscape.

Our plan was quite simple. We wanted to head south from Carmel to River Road, which follows the Salinas River, stopping at the Soledad, San Antonio and San Miguel missions respectively, and then cross over to Hwy 25 and head back north for a late lunch in San Juan Bautista. We found, as you will, many of the missions are restorations or actual reproductions of the originals built between 1769 and 1839.

Below and to the southeast of the Monterey Peninsula, River Road begins. It hugs the Santa Lucia Mountains following the Salinas River south almost to San Luis Obispo County. Our little Softail seemed at home on this road, with its meandering turns and measured pace. All along the way, our route was lined by wildflowers bordering the fields. Blue and white lupine bloomed for one farm, then orange poppies the next, or they'd combine for miles between fence posts in a bright collage.

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