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Adventures with kids and a guy named John

March 22, 2002

Steve Smith

Call our road trip "Travels With John," for it was to discover more

about John Steinbeck that our family headed north on a recent weekend.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck's birth. During his

66 years, he wrote 29 novels, including "The Grapes of Wrath," which

today still sells 300,000 copies annually. Steinbeck received the

Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for "Grapes" and the Medal of Freedom from Lyndon

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B. Johnson in 1964.

Our first night was spent in Cambria, a deceiving 280 miles from our

home in Orange County. Our room at the Fireside Inn was hard to come by

on the Presidents Day weekend, and we paid the premium price of $199. But

as with most real estate, we paid for location, location, location, for

steps away from our motel door was Moonstone Beach, where we found

thriving tide pools and views to die for.

With a fireplace, whirlpool tub and vaulted ceiling, our spacious room

was more suited for a lovers' hideaway than a family romp, but on short

notice -- we booked it that morning after someone canceled their

reservation -- it suited us well. A heated pool, large outdoor hot tub

and a continental breakfast took some of the sting out of paying that

price for what is essentially a motel room.

We dined that night at the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, which was

competent but had no particular attraction in the evening. During the

day, however, the restaurant has a large heated patio with umbrellas that

makes it irresistible. We were told that a quarter-mile down the road,

the Sea Chest was the place for the best food on the beach, but the wait

was far too long.

The following morning, after our hungry children got every nickel's

worth of the free breakfast, we headed north to Hearst Castle. This was

my first trip -- and the first for the kids -- but my wife had been once

in high school.

Our tour began with a 40-minute movie explaining Hearst's motivation

for building his "house," which was followed by the "experience" tour,

one of four guided tours available. Hearst Castle is worth building a

weekend around.

If you go to Hearst Castle -- again highly recommended -- be on time.

Our movie started precisely at the announced time of 10:30 a.m., our tour

started on the dot at 11:40 a.m. and ended at exactly 1:15 p.m. as

promised. This tour so captivated our children, they forgot about food

the entire time.

Leaving Hearst Castle, we faced the choice of every traveler headed

north to Carmel or Monterey. Do we drive a few miles south, head back to

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