On a trip to explore the National Parks in Utah, I met Marguerite and Diana. We hit it off almost instantly, enjoying each other’s company as we traveled and hiked Utah’s Grand Circle of Parks and Monuments. They spoke of their love of hiking in the hills around Santa Barbara and invited me to head west someday so they could show me around. That opportunity came the summer of 2015.
I decided to bookend my time in Santa Barbara with a visit to Joanna’s sister in the bay area and finish off the trip by spending a weekend with my granddaughter in Phoenix. I also wanted to re-experience the drive down the coast between Monterey and Santa Barbara. As young marrieds, we’d driven north along this stretch; years later did it travelling south – mostly in the fog!
I would be picking up a rental at the airport in Oakland and dropping it off in Santa Barbara, so I shopped around and found Dollar was about half the price for this type of rental than my go-to company, Hertz. I saved money, but it was an agonizingly slow process to get the keys! When I asked the agent why things were so slow she said, “Maybe we’re slow, but we’re cheap!” With keys finally in hand, I was off to Concord for a couple of days with my sister-in-law, Beck, and her family!
The drive up to the Concord/Clayton area was the first indication of how severe the 4-year California drought has been in that state. For this “flatlander”, the rolling hills (we’d probably call them mountains in Florida!) were still very impressive! My little rental Prius chugged up some of those inclines! There was even a fairly long tunnel on this stretch of the highway. Normally, things would probably be pretty dry in August, but this was severe. Someone along the way told me, depending on the season, the grass is always either green or golden – not burned!
My nephew’s brother-in-law founded Dogs For Diabetics, an organization that trains and provides service dogs to diabetics. The dogs are trained to detect a human scent that alerts them when glucose levels are dropping in people with diabetes. When that happens, the dog is trained to act in a certain way to its handler. Beck has “fostered” dogs for the program for several years. That is, before the dog is ready to be placed with a diabetic, it is in formal training during the day, but nights/weekends it lives with her; goes everywhere with her to learn proper social behavior. Her latest houseguest is Flynn, a young Lab.
(Fairly) early the next morning, Beck, Flynn and I set out to hike the George Cardinet Trail. An easy 2.4 mile out-and-back starting behind the library. As there were several other dogs on the trail, it was good place for Flynn to learn to play nice with others!
It had been almost five years since Beck and I had been together and six more than that since I’d seen my nephew, so it was great to catch up with everyone! My plan was to leave the next day to travel from Concord/Clayton to San Luis Obispo, where I’d spend the night. Although that distance could be driven in four hours, I planned to make a full day of it, via the coast road. I’d stop along way to take in the scenery and perhaps do a little hiking. My nephew suggested I get an early start, because rush hour traffic can be brutal. Given there was really nothing I was interested in seeing until I reached Monterey, I decided to get a jump on traffic and head out in the dark at 6:00am!
Monterey-to-San Luis Obispo
Shortly after 8:00am I arrived in Monterey, ready to begin my meandering journey down the Pacific Coast Highway! Previously, Joanna and I had visited the Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row; taken in the sights at Carmel-by-the-Sea and made the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach. So, I skipped those this time.
There are so many scenic-moments along CA-1! I took the shot at the top of the page from a scenic lookout in the Big Sur area about 15 miles south of Carmel. If you look closely, you’ll see the Bixby Bridge in the distance. It would take days, not just the hours I had, to see everything in this spectacular part of the country. I decided to spend a few minutes at many of the scenic overlooks and spend a few hours at one of the state parks along the way. Based upon some research before embarking on this journey and reinforced by information from Diana, I chose the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, located 37 miles south of Carmel. It had a redwood grove; some hiking trails and a can’t-miss scenic opportunity.
I arrived at JPB State Park late that morning. The Overlook Trail, less than a mile round trip, leads to a pedestrian underpass beneath the highway and on to magnificent views of the McWay Falls.
Because of the extreme drought, the falls were a bit less than magnificent! But, the water was still flowing, seen as a white line between the two outcroppings. Birds gathered at the pool formed at the base of the falls.
This park contains some of the most southernmost groves of redwoods, much smaller than their northern relatives – nonetheless, impressive!
I followed the short Canyon Trail to its end where I found a waterfall. I trekked only a portion of the much longer Ewoldsen Trail – as it rose steeply via switchbacks up from the canyon floor.
After a light lunch at a picnic table beside the McWay Creek, it was time leave this peaceful place and continue my journey south down the coast.
I came upon the seal rookery at Piedras Blancas at the southern end of Big Sur, just north of the Hearst Castle. Male Elephant Seals grow to as much as 5,000 lbs and 16 ft long; females, 1800 lbs/12 ft. What an incredible sight! Actually, I heard the honking noise before I saw them frolicking in the surf and sunning themselves on the beach.
By early evening, I arrived at the Apple Farm Inn in San Luis Obispo. Joanna and I stayed at this inn several years ago. It hadn’t changed in all those years. I was greeted with chocolate chip cookies and a glass of wine – a great combination! In the morning I’d make the short trip down to Santa Barbara to spend time with Marguerite and Diana.
By mid-day I had turned in the rental and met up with my friends. After lunch at one of the restaurants on the pier, we boarded a trolley at the Mission for a ninety-minute tour of the city. Santa Barbara is a beautiful city situated between the steep Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on a south-facing stretch of the California coastline. Its Spanish and Mexican heritage is reflected in much of the architecture, controlled by some strict guidelines – no high rises here! The trolley tour was a great introduction to the area!
We then travelled up to the Riviera neighborhood to visit the former campus of UCSB, which now houses an independent movie theater and several tech firms in a lush mediterranean setting. Next door, sits the Forbes 5-star Belmond El Encanto resort, which includes parts of what was once the old UCSB faculty/student housing. From its terrace, we enjoyed a glass of wine, conversation and sweeping views downhill to the coast!
At Marguerite and Diana’s suggestion, I had booked my stay at a Motel 6 one block from the beach. It wasn’t just a Motel 6, it was the very first Motel 6 in the country! How could I resist?
The room was very small and the updated decor featured a lot of the color orange. I dubbed it “interesting” when asked by M & D to describe it; but, it did grow on me over the next few days! It was certainly well-located: my go-to breakfast place, The East Beach Grill, was a short stroll away right on the beach – good selection of excellent food; reasonably priced and outside seating. Who could ask for anything more?
The next day we met up with Carolyn, a member of M & D’s informal hiking group. August was not the best time for any real hiking in the mountains and the long drought had dried up creeks that normally run through surrounding hills. But my three companions were eager to show me some of their favorite hiking trails.
Carolyn’s expert driving took us up and down the winding mountain roads to our first stop: Knapp’s Castle. Knapp, founder of Union Carbide, built a home here, but it burned down mid 20th century. Only ruins remain today, which are about a half mile down a dirt road. The view of the Santa Ynez Valley is spectacular.
We stopped at the Cold Springs Tavern, atop San Marcos Pass, for lunch. It began as a stagecoach stop in 1886. The physical appearance of the building has been protected by a series of owners and has been operating as a restaurant/tavern continuously since 1941.
We visited another site in the Los Padres National Forest, one that normally has enough water flowing through for swimming. The drought has drastically impacted this area – no swimming today! After a brief stay we head to Los Olivos for a bit of libation!
After checking out a couple of the many wine-tasting rooms and Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn, we found our way to the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe where we sampled some of the grape! It’s no wonder many of the scenes from the 2004 movie Sideways were filmed in this quaint little town! We finished the day enjoying a spur-of-the-moment delicious fish and salad meal prepared by Carolyn. As an added bonus, this was the best night for viewing the annual Perseid meteor shower. We didn’t wait until the 2:00am peak period, but we were up on Carolyn’s second floor deck before midnight and we weren’t disappointed!
After breakfast each day I walked the Cabrillo bike/walking path along the coastline – lots of folks out (except in this photo!) exercising early in the a.m. Also, several homeless waking to begin their day!
I met a man in the parking lot beside the path doing a little touch-up on his wildly-decorated van! Friendly guy, espousing peace – who can argue with that?
The morning of my last full day in Santa Barbara was spent exploring the courthouse. The courthouse, you say? How boring! Not so with this one.
This magnificent Spanish-Moorish “palace” was built in 1929 and is surrounded by lawns and a sunken tropical garden. Hand-painted ceilings, wrought iron chandeliers, giant murals, imported tiles give this relatively new building an ancient feel. In addition to having a museum quality, it’s still a working courthouse. We climbed the steps to the bell tower and were up there when bells tolled noon. It reminded me of the time in 1979 when our little family climbed, and heard the bells toll in, the leaning tower of Pisa!
The visit with my California friends was coming to an end. After breakfast with Diana and Carolyn the next morning, I was headed off for a weekend with Megan in the Phoenix area.
The temperature was 111° when the regional jet landed at Sky Harbor. No jetway for this small aircraft. On the tarmac, it must have been 130°! But, it was a dry heat – right!!
Although social network is a great way to stay in touch, it was fun catching up face-to-face as Megan and I hadn’t been together since the previous Christmas at a family gathering on Anna Maria Island in Florida. Since finishing college, she’s gainfully employed; settled into a great apartment and has a nice circle of friends.
Can’t say sharing a pitcher of beer and a pizza while throwing gutter balls at the local bowling alley with my granddaughter was on my bucket list. But, it sure was fun!
We spent several hours at the Phoenix Art Museum – to escape the heat and to enjoy the exhibits in this wonderful place! Housed in a contemporary setting with a varied collection, it’s one of the largest museums in the southwest. The restaurant, Palette, was very good, too!
Time To Go Home
All good things must come to an end! These eight days were incredible! I was able to reconnect with family members I hadn’t seen in several years. I saw and experienced the grandeur of the pacific coast highway. I reunited with friends who shared with me the beauty of Santa Barbara, while introducing me to some of their friends. And, not the least of which, I saw with my own eyes what a lovely young lady my granddaughter has grown up to be!