Santa Barbara & Paso Robles

Thursday, 27 June 2013 15:30
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paso leadI'd been through Santa Barbara before (home of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, among other notables), but I'd never really stopped to check it out.

It's a really laid back small seaside town that does a remarkably good balancing act between snooty rich resort and fun beach town. For every insanely expensive art gallery on State Street, there was a cheap sandwich shop to balance it out. It was a good place to unwind after LA.

Santa Barbara also marked my first experience. Airbnb is basically a travel lodging service for regular people who have anything from empty second homes to a spare bedroom in their house, and want to rent that out to passing travellers. It falls somewhere between just booking a hotel and the more bohemian I found a nice place with a bedroom with a private entrance, good parking (always on the lookout for that), and a shared bathroom that was close to both the beach and downtown. In general, the airbnb places are considerably cheaper than an equivalent hotel, and you get the added bonus of meeting some of the locals while staying there. It's a pretty good deal. The other people staying at the house were a couple from London, Rob and Roz. They'd been travelling for about six months total, with the first three months spent in Asia, and the following three driving around the US, ironically on  basically the same route as me, but counterclockwise instead of clockwise like I'm doing it. They were about two weeks from finishing up their trip, and they said they'd used Airbnb hosts almost exclusively on their trip, and it had been a uniformly great experience. They gave me some tips on good places they'd stayed up the west coast, some of which I'd also been looking at.

I also had my first experience eating someplace that Guy Fieri had also eaten at on that "Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins" show, Norton's . While I have to say that I am not the world's biggest Guy Fieri fan, I have to admit that he was spot-on with this place. It's a little hole in the wall sandwich shop with a four stool lunch counter and three little hightops; about half of the place is the grill. They serve up a wide variety of hot sandwiches, but they're known for their pastrami, so I sprung for the "Pastrami Cheese", which is pastrami, jack, cheddar, and grilled onions on sourdough. It was great, and I didn't have to eat for the rest of the day after that, even though I only got what they call a "half".

That's some good pastrami Workin' the grill at Nortons

I took a ride through the Santa Ynez wine area, which was a little sparse but nice. I also stumbled back into Solvang by accident, and stopped there for coffee and a danish. It was as quaint and semi-unexplainable as it was the last time I was there for the roadster meet in April. That evening, I drove out onto the wharf in Santa Barbara for a little seafood and to watch the sun set, which wrapped up a very pleasant stay there.

Butter cookies by the tub full at Olsen's in Solvang Other cookies were also available if you were feeling it
It was fun driving out on to the pier It was a great sunset The whole wharf area was small, but really fun
Late sunset Night on the wharf It was tempting, but I didn't stop in for a reading

 The ride from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles was full of iconic lovely central California coastal scenes, the unavoidable wild temperature swings between freezing my butt off on the coast and sweating it off inland, and some great driving roads. I stopped at a little town called Shell Beach to look at some of the really cool rock formations along the coastline and cool off a bit from the drive.

Looking down toward the ocean


Some fine driving weather Many nice turnouts along the coast They grow all kinds of stuff around here
The pier at Hearst beach Someday you too will be big and annoying Hanging out at Shell Beach
Rock formations at Shell Beach Some cool neon More rocks

My lodging in Paso Robles was my first swanky B&B of the trip, which I plan to do at least a few of, and it was great. It's call the Orchard Hill Bed and Breakfast, and it's up on a hill in the middle of the vineyards. There's a main house where the innkeepers live, and a smaller detatched cottage next to the house that's the actual B&B facility. It's got four rooms, and a large living room and kitchen common area, with balconies on both ends. Very quiet and isolated, and Debbie the innkeeper was great, as was Morgan, the chef who prepared the breakfasts. I also got to see some real stars at night for the first time on this trip so far, which was great. For the location, the service, the great food, the views, the proximity to the wineries, this place is not only fantastic, it's an absolute bargain. I'd recommend it to anybody wanting a nice place to stay while they explore the area.

The B&B cottage Where I stayed, the "Fireside Room" View from the balcony of the room Fresh flowers, wine, and hand made peanut butter cups. Not sure why I ever left the room.
The view from outside, looking east Finally, stars. Looking north-ish, Big Dipper in the middle And looking south. You can see the top of Scorpio and a little of the Milky Way between the trees. Luxury blogging

I visited a few of the wineries that they recommended at the B&B that I hadn't been to last time, and I had the same great laid-back wine country experience as my last trip. If you like nice countryside, tasting a lot of different wines for not a lot of money, and some nice unpretentious people serving you that wine, I highly recommend the Paso Robles area. It's also good for shooting some really nice car pics, so here's some obligatory Roadster porn.
I also got out into the countryside a bit from Paso Robles. I headed back out toward the coast near Cambria, and started driving north. The coastline up here is much more open and less controlled than it is farther south and north, although it's also really windy. The wind brought out the kitesurfers and windsurfers though, and those guys were a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, my casual schedule made me late for the last tour of Hearst Castle (as well as for the last sandwiches at Sebastian's), so I will have to hit those on the next trip.

This looks like a lot of fun Never saw them fall, but it can't be easy getting back up Unintentionally synchronized Moving right along...

I was, however, not late for the elephant seals at the rookery north of Hearst Castle, as they did not seem to be in any particular hurry to do...well, anything other than sleep and make epic bodily noises. It's amazing how fun it can actually be to watch 1,000 pounds of blubber and a really big nose try to get around on the beach. Definitely another recommended stop if you're ever in the area.

The elephant seals are professional level sleepers A lot of them had something to say More blubber than beach There was only one baby out among them that day
Dental coverage is not part of their State of California plan Cozy conditions on the beach Some of the younger ones were a bit more active Always one shouty guy in the room

To get the full extent of the majesty and elegance of the elephant seal, here's a little video:

I wrapped up my stay by once again rearranging the contents of my trunk (it's getting more organized, honest) and then heading out for my next stop. For the next three days, I'm going to take a break from doing a lot more driving. I've been sort of working my way through Southern California at a fairly slow pace in an effort to get my arrival date in the Bakersfield area to line up with another round of LeMons racing, which I had told my friend Jim a long time back that I was up for. We'll be campaigning a couple of cars in what promises to be a very long and very hot couple of races on Saturday and Sunday.

There is almost absolutely nothing on the hour and a half drive from Paso Robles to Bakersfield (we're actually in Buttonwillow, a little bit north of Bakersfield). I was definitely back into the desert heat, though; it was pushing 120 in the car again, a far cry from the fresh, cool air on the coast. I did manage to find one attraction--James Dean last stop before his considerably more abrupt Last Stop. They say he stopped his new Porsche 550 Spyder at a small store on this corner to buy a coke and an apple on his way up to Salinas for a race, right before his fateful encounter with a tree a bit later on. Interestingly, I too was driving a small two seat sports car across the desert on this same road, on my way to a race...but I skipped the part about hitting a tree at the end.

Back in the heat Would he have made out better in a Datsun? We'll never know. I drove carefully the rest of the way to Buttonwillow

Not sure if I'll update this weekend during the race action, or just do one post when it's done. I'm off to Sequoia after this, where it'll hopefully be a lot cooler.


#1 lectacave 2013-06-28 10:20
Oh those seals, the stars! Everything. Great post.
#2 sk8rchk 2013-06-28 13:30
Comments matching the animal pictures very entertaining. Thanks!
#3 laceytrynn 2013-06-28 18:41
that pastrami looks really yummy...

isn't it wild the noises the elephant seals make? the male sounds exactly like clogged plumbing!

good choice skipping James Dean's tree :)

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