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During my 2001 and 2005 visits, evenings (except Sundays) could be spent in the cocktail lounge, which has an early California look similar to the dining room. There’s a big fireplace and pool table, and space for lots of folks. However, during my visits, it was pretty slow and the patrons included just a couple of guests and a few locals.

In 2001, the base bowling alley (then also operated by the McClendons) and a movie theater were open to nonmilitary guests of the lodge. A couple of families were guests at the hotel during my stay.

After regaling me with stories of catering parties for Army staff at The Hacienda during the 1960s, one of those locals, Richard Pozzi, suggested I take Naciamento Ferguson Road over the mountains to the coast.

“Its about a half-hour over there if you drive flat-out, about 45 minutes if you take your time, which you want to do,” Pozzi, who grew up in the area, told me back in January 2001. It took me over an hour, but then it was my first time and who’s rushing?

One of the few routes to the coast between Morro Bay and Carmel, Naciamento Ferguson zigs and zags over the Santa Lucia Range, the mountains that line this section of California’s sea shore. If you like twisty curvy roads, like I do, this is one for you. Although a bit rough when going through the National Forest lands, Naciamento Ferguson offers great views of the pines and rocky gorges on the east side of the mountains.

At the summit is a ranger station and several trailheads for enjoying the peaks of the Santa Lucia Range. Trails are well marked, but if you’re going to park your car, you’ll need to purchase a Forest Service permit.

Then at one curve, suddenly, there it is… the Pacific. You’re above California Highway 1 at Point Gorda and south of the Sand Dollar Picnic Area. It still a good 15 minutes from the peak down the twisting road, traversing the mostly barren hillsides of the coast, but what a view. On the day I visited, the fog sat on the water, looking like a thick blanket of cotton candy stretching for miles, swirling around the base of the mountains.

Even when fogged in, this part of California is always spectacular. Driving into the fog was even more fun, as the wisps enveloped my car. Still, this wasn’t the pea-soup variety, so I could still see enough to avoid the road’s edge.

I decided to go back over Naciamento Ferguson to the Hacienda, rather than cruise north to Carmel or south to Hearst’s “other” ranch house at San Simeon. Either direction, you’re looking at about an hour to the next road that will take you over the mountains and back to The Hacienda.

Pozzi also recommended I take a drive north from The Hacienda, up Del Ventura Road. In winter, it ends at a locked gate just past the Los Padres National Forest’s Memorial Campground, but is still worth a trip. Much less twisty that Naciamento Ferguson, it gives drivers a chance to enjoy the scenery without having to white-knuckle drive. It doesn’t go to the coast, but does ford a couple of streams.

There are also several well-marked trails on the National Forest land; don’t forget the permit if you plan to park your car while hiking.

North from the Memorial Campground, on a stretch closed when I visited in January, is Indians Road. Pozzi said this is a spectacular gorge, reminiscent of Yosemite Valley. I plan to return to check it out in the spring or summer, after the road has reopened. This route heads north to Carmel through redwood forests.

Mission San Antonio de Padua, one of the least known of the 21 original missions, is right down the road from The Hacienda. Established by Father Serra in 1771, the mission buildings have been rebuilt and are a working Franciscan parish. The usual exhibits on mission life are joined by a quiet courtyard home to peacocks.

East of The Hacienda is the central coast’s wine country. If you head to King City, then north on U.S. 101, or Arroyo Seco Road and Carmel Valley Road, there are more than 20. South on G14 towards Paso Robles you’ll find another dozen. But be careful on the twisty, narrow roads both before and after visiting.

During my 2001 and 2005 visits, there were always questions about the Hacienda’s future as a lodge. The whole future of Ft. Hunter Liggett is up in the air; if you’re interested, do some further research on the Web to figure out the latest.

In the meantime, I’d say it’s worth a visit, but since the management has changed, I can’t testify to what’s going on there. Give them a call and use your own judgment.

A worthy goal, as The Hacienda is one Hearst’s Castle where we average folk can stay.⚙

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Tower room frieze
Original frieze in a tower room.

Update

More from Doug and Marie on their trip in October 2007

Jack, Thanks for your suggestions for the trip. They were very useful and made for a pleasurable drive.

We did indeed visit the Mission San Antonio de Padua; as you said, it is well preserved. We had seen it about 10 years before, but it was well worth seeing again. Monday morning, we drove the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road to join Highway 1.

There was a weather disturbance nearby that cleared the air, and there was only patchy fog hugging the coast. There was considerable leaf drop that covered the shoulders of the road; a beautiful sight.

We spent the afternoon exploring Carmel and settled in the quaint Carmel Resort Inn. This is a very reasonably priced lodging for Carmel ($69 AAA special) weekdays for a two-room unit with internet access, mini-fridge and microwave. This is a cluster of cottages that date back to at least 1945, but have since been renovated. Continental breakfast is served in the office after 8 a.m. We stayed two nights.

Tuesday, we took in two major attractions. First was the Monterey Aquarium, which we hadn’t seen for five years. The “jellies” were of special interest. Then on Sandy’s suggestion, we headed out to Salinas, to visit the National Steinbeck Center. if you are a John Steinbeck fan, it’s a must.

We followed that with a gourmet lunch in the Steinbeck House, located about three blocks west of the Center. This Queen-Anne was built in 1897 and Steinbeck was born there in 1902. The Valley Guild operates the house as a restaurant (lunch and high tea only).

One of the most beautiful coastal drives is Scenic Road along the Carmel shoreline. We are always looking for architectural landmarks, and came across Frank Lloyd Wright’s Walker Residence.

Wednesday, as you suggested, we took Carmel Valley Road from end to end. Gorgeous! We did see the Green Bridge as we headed to Elm Avenue and Highway 101. Note: you can only cross the bridge if you follow directions to Southbound Highway 101.

Next stop was Mission San Miguel, just north of Paso Robles. What a sad story; it was severely damaged in the 2003 Paso Robles quake and repairs may take 10 years, if they can get funding.

We wound up in Solvang where $49.99 lodging specials abound. Wednesday is a good day to visit Solvang, because their certified farmers’ market operates in the afternoon until 6:30.