Sunday Salon: Spending the Night in Every California County – San Benito Edition

View of Pinnacles National Park
Last month, C.J. and I heard a radio story about a couple who planned on spending the night in every California county as a way to get to know their new home state.  (Like almost everyone in California, they’re not really from here.)  We thought this sounded like fun.  Turns out we’d already sent the night in 18 counties as a couple, so we only had 40 to go.

So we each looked over the map and picked San Benito County for mid-winter break, because neither of us had ever heard of it.  San Benito is a small county just south of the San Jose metropolitan area.  It has only two incorporated towns, Hollister and San Juan Bautista, plus a small handful of very small unincorporated towns.

One of many antique stores in San Juan Bautista

The are two major sites to see in San Benito, the more famous being Mission San Juan Bautista.  This is a long day trip from San Francisco, but well worth it.  Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart made the trip in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie Vertigo.  In the movie Kim Novak falls to her death from the bell tower but there is no tower at Mission San Juan Bautista.  However, you can visit several of the historic buildings used as sets in Vertigo.  You may have to work around groups of field-tripping fourth graders during your visit, but this can be done.  Too many small children in the old buildings? Just walk a block into town for lots of cool  antique shops.

Note the cat door in this door to the chapel at Mission San Juan Bautista.
We ate lunch at a small local diner, still one of the best ways to get to know an American town, where I had an excellent egg and bacon breakfast with pancakes and hash browns, then toured the historic buildings around the square in front of the mission.  There are five good-sized historic buildings in San Juan Bautista, all of the with furnished interiors.

The mission it self is one of the better ones in the California Mission chain.  It’s one of the oldest and was one of the largest.  Of the remaining historical portion the church is excellent but be sure to visit the smaller chapel behind it.  It’s quite beautiful and is still used for regular worship services.  While there be sure to check out the door connecting it to the main church.  It has a small cat door in the bottom left corner, a relic from the mission period when cats roamed the building to keep down the mice.

Side walk sign at Third Base a local burger joint in Hollister.

We spent the night in Hollister, which turns out to be a very nice little town.  Our standard for judging towns is how many downtown shops are boarded up.  There’s always going to be a few since that’s how capitalism works, but Hollister only had a couple, so our guess is that the town is doing fairly well.  We ate at the Running Rooster which is a standard beer and pizza/burger place, probably where we would eat every Friday if we lived in Hollister.

The next day we headed for Pinnacles  National Park.  A friend of mine had told me this park was a hidden gem and she was right.   You have to hike in from the San Benito side of the park to see the best views, but it’s well worth it, even though you have to go through a cave.  The cave portion is almost a half mile long, dark enough to require flashlights and low enough to require some crawling.  We did not know about the crawling when we entered the cave.   It was a little scary.

The entrance to the cave portion of the trail. Looks a little like the entrance to the caves of Mordor, yes?

Not many people visit Pinnacles mid-week so we had the trail to ourselves most of the time.  Since we got some rain this month the wild flowers were in bloom including the wild orchids where are always a treat to see.  Did you know California has wild orchids?

Our hike was just about seven miles long which beats the record we set at the Louvre in Paris many years ago.  There’s a good chance we’ll revisit Pinnacles since it’s just a two-hour drive from our home if you manage to avoid the commute times and there are still a couple of moderate trails we’d like to try.  But probably not the cave portions of the trail next time.

San Benito also has a good historical park which features a collection of historical local buildings which we got to see and a group off local wineries which we didn’t.    All in all, an overnight trip we both really enjoyed.

I see many more overnight trips in our future.  39, in fact.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Spending the Night in Every California County – San Benito Edition

  1. I will learn more about California geography if you post one of these for every county you visit. Many, many years ago I remember visiting Hollister for dried fruits at Casa de Fruta. I think I had gone to Watsonville (not in the same county) for a fly-in with my first husband who was a pilot. My memories are hazy at best.

    1. Casa de Fruta is a wonderful, old-school roadside attraction. But, sadly, while it’s on the way to Hollister, it’s not in San Benito County so we skipped it this trip.

      1. That is funny. I did see that Watsonville is in Santa Cruz county which makes sense, but the map I was looking at wasn’t showing county lines. I wish I had more opportunity to visit that area nowadays.

  2. “Only” 40? Well, 39, now? It seems like a lot, but well worth the effort. Every single time I’ve been in California I’ve had a marvelous time. I remember my mother taking me to Chinatown when I was but 5, and on that trip we also saw the migration(?) of Monarch butterflies. So, so beautiful! The last time I was in California was when my son graduated from Marine Boot Camp in San Diego; amidst my fear was much pride in his accomplishment, and the Mexican food we ate was unparalleled in the US. As for you, visiting the antique shops and Hitchcock film scenes…what a wonderful time!

  3. What a lovely post. I do enjoy reading personal accounts of travel like this. There’s so much to learn, and it’s always interesting to get the lessons filtered through someone else’s interests and observations.

    I’m so glad you’re really doing this, and look forward to more postings in the future.

  4. What a. Excellent time. I love it when book bloggers combine their travels with their books. They just seem to go hand in hand. Can’t wait for your next trip and do hope you incorporate your travels into your blog. Books and trips people choose and those activities help to get to know the person better and is great fun.

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