Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting my delightful niece, Claire, during her winter break. Claire is one of my favorite travel buddies so it seemed only fitting we take a Fancy Lady Road Trip. The trip was also part of my clandestine effort to convince Claire to come to CA for college. (Go West, Young Woman!)
On a sunny Sunday morning we left SF for points southward. Our first stop: Santa Barbara then heading north on Route 1 to San Luis Obispo and San Simeon – some of the most golden parts of our golden state. Thanks to the much needed rain, Highway 101 was verdant with all kinds of green we have not seen in a long while.
All road trips mandate that junk food is to be eaten. I love Claire for many reasons and a new one was our mutual love of animal crackers and sour cream and onion Pringles – a perfect blend of salt, sugar, and crunch.
The background of this photo is a part of a mosaic along the beach in Santa Barbara documenting the life and history of the Chumash people. Tens of thousands of Chumash or First Peoples lived in relationship with the land and the sea on 7000 square miles from Malibu to Paso Robles. A sophisticated and egalitarian people, Chumash women could occupy positions of leadership as well as the men. We all know how the story of the Chumash ends: European colonization, religion, and bacteria were not kind to the Chumash. In the 1700-1800s the community was all but destroyed. Today, happily, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is revitalizing itself and the surrounding area through the very successful Chumash Casino Resort. (We did not visit the resort.) Wherever I travel in California, it’s important to me to acknowledge that my California Cocktailing lifestyle did not come for free.
Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful places in California. Rugged mountains to the east, a sapphire sea to west. It’s a place where just walking outside puts you in a good mood – how perfect for tourists! Claire and I stayed at the Mason Beach Inn, literally one block away from the beach and very close to State Street, the main shopping and tourist drag. (HINT: Ask for a room on the second floor – cathedral ceilings and no foot traffic above.) We started each morning with breakfast al fresco at Rebar. I rediscovered my love of cappuccinos and the breakfast sandwich. Rebar’s egg, cheese, bacon, and avocado on a freshly baked roll is not to be missed.
No SoCal experience is complete without a hike in the mountains. It’s such a strange experience to be in “the mountains” while being so close to urbanity. In this instance the mountains were the Santa Ynez, located within the Los Padres National Forest. We did the popular 3.5-mile hike to Inspiration Point. A nicely marked trail with a gradual incline takes you to, well, Inspiration Point – where, at 1800 feet you feel like the queen of all you survey. I lost my mind (a little bit) over how green everything was. (HINT: Come early. Parking is on the street and very limited.)
A day of hiking and shopping merits a pig out, Mexican-style. Casa Blanca on State Street fit the bill. Very good Mexican and even better Margaritas. For shopping, State Street has it all – high and low end. Check out Barbara’s Consignment Concierge. I found a gorgeous Thomas Wylde silk scarf that I will wear for the rest of my life.
We said good-bye to “The Place Where Nothing Bad Ever Happens” aka Santa Barbara heading northwards on Route 1. Next Stop: Hearst Castle at San Simeon. As with hiking, the quintessential SoCal visit also includes a drive along the PCH. Running from San Diego to Mendocino County, Route 1 is a classic California beauty. I love thinking, “Wow! I am at the edge of America.” Awe-inspiring.
Hearst Castle is also a must-do. La Cuesta Encantada was the architectural love-child of newspaper man, William Randolph Hearst, and architect, Julia Morgan. Together, they created a fantasy castle of 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens and two over-the-top swimming pools. One interesting fact about Hearst Castle was that Julia Morgan designed all the buildings to be seismically sound – a woman ahead of her time.
The Swiss Chalet-Baroque-Gone-Bad-Christmas 365-Rock Cave stylings of The Madonna Inn will surely please even the fanciest of fancy lady road trippers. Where else can you wash your hands in your own personal stream (press play on the video above)? Where else will you find a room made of boulders and decorated with daisies? Where else can you a enjoy a prime rib dinner (it was delicious and no 2AM indigestion) in a hot pink leather banquette? No where but The Madonna Inn. It’s worth a visit. Truly, the cherry on top moment of our road trip!
Thank you for a most wonderful Fancy Lady Road Trip, Claire! I can’t wait for our next West Coast Adventure! Next stop, UC Santa Barbara??? 😉