Designated a national park just a year ago, Pinnacles can overwhelm with the sheer number of adjectives that leap to mind. "Mind-bending," "extraordinary," "wondrous" — all fall flat when you try to describe this surreal landscape of cloven cliffs, jagged spires and imposing boulders southeast of Salinas off the 101 Freeway. My sweetheart and I took a 10-mile trek through creek bed and cliff top there, earning our sighs of relief in the whirlpool tub that soon followed. The charge for our sweat equity? We spent about $600, which included $500 for two nights at the Inn at the Pinnacles, a polished and welcoming B&B a condor's wing flap from the park's doors.
The Inn at the Pinnacles [32025 Stonewall Canyon Road, Soledad; (831) 678-2400, http://www.innatthepinnacles.com] rises out of the surrounding vineyards like a sweet mirage. Our hosts, Jan and Jon Brosseau, poured the pressed goodness from Brosseau Vineyard's grapes at their complimentary 5 p.m. wine and cheese hour. They also serve delightful, decadent breakfasts to power Pinnacles hiking (or maybe poolside lounging). Among their six select suites, our Manzanita Room was a relaxing respite with its comfy bed, vineyard views and big soaking tub. Take advantage of the suite's gas grill to cue up dinner under the huge starry sky.
Small-town Soledad is a 20-minute drive through the hills from the inn, so don't toss back too many cervezas at its many Mexican restaurants. La Fuente (101 Oak St., Soledad; (831) 678-3130; no Web address but many Yelp reviews; entrees $7–$20) doesn't put on any airs in its simple dining room, but it puts tasty fare on its tables. The grilled shrimp in my tacos were expertly prepared and went well with the generous guacamole topping. Average chips were made much better with great red chile and pico de gallo sauces. Everything is made fresh so the pace is relaxed, but the savory fare forgives any wait. And you can always view the considerable collection of Diego Rivera prints on the walls.
Pinnacles' volcanic heritage is dramatic and varied; 30-plus miles of hiking trails cross the park, from the condor crannies seen on the strikingly carved canyons of the High Peaks trail to the oak-tree bedazzled flow of its rolling hills. This time we took on the nearly 10-mile trudge over the Balconies Cliffs Trail and through the long creek-side cruise of the North Wilderness Trail, marked by 128 stacked-rock cairns. (Yes, we counted.)
The lesson learned
There's a pretty fair ridge-top ascent on the tail end of the North Wilderness trail, when you might already be a bit tuckered. Next time, I'd start on the North Wilderness Trail and save going over the Balconies Cliffs for the finish. Still a bit of an uphill, but the deep drama of the volcanic magic will restore you.