Monday, April 23, 2012


Wine tasting in Paso Robles

California has everything!  From seashore to desert, valleys to mountain peaks, it is an ever changing landscape.  It also has ever changing weather!  Unfortunately, the 2 days we spent at  Pismo Beach were cold and rainy, but going inland a little to Paso Robles we found some sunshine.  

Paso Robles is slightly north of San Luis Obispo in the heart of the central coast wine country.   Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio spent the first night of their honeymoon here (don't ask me why).  It was established in 1870 by Jesse James’ uncle Drury James.  Jesse hid out in tunnels underneath the original Paso Robles Inn. 

California's Highway 1 is one of the most scenic drives in the world. We were fortunate in that the weather was clear and the road had not been closed due to rock slides.  It was hard for me to believe that some15 years ago we navigated the same hills and curves in a 40' motorhome with a car hitched to the back.  

(Ron and I sold both our homes when we married in 1995. We bought a motorhome and lived in it full time for 6 years as we  traveled all over the US and Canada.  On this 9 month circle the U.S. car trip, we are re-visiting some places we especially liked as well as making sure we see some areas we missed.)

Slightly north of San Simeon and Hearst Castle is a large colony of northern elephant seals, the largest of the seal species.  Males can be 20 feet log and weigh over 5,000 lbs.  Females are much smaller, about 1,600 lbs.  The males fight aggressively for dominance to win and protect harems of about 50 females.  Once a year elephant seals shed all their fur.  It is called a ‘catastropic molt.’  Here they rest in the sun - exhausted from mating season? They line the beach as far as you can see.

Northern Elephant Seals

We stopped in Carmel By The Sea for lunch en route to Monterey.  Both towns have grown considerably since we were last here.  Monterey has morphed from a fishing village into a major tourist town.  

Pacific Grove, next to Monterey, is reminiscent of Carmel some 20 years ago.  The coastal drive around the peninsula is gorgeous with views to rival Pebble Beach’s 17 mile drive – sans the $9.75 toll.  We returned to Monterey to visit Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row.

Shacks immigrants lived in
In the early 1900s, after attempts to can salmon failed, Monterey turned - wth great success - to canning sardines.  Most of the laborers were from Sicily but workers also migrated there from Japan and the Philippines.The market collapsed in the 1940s; all but a few  canneries closed by the early 50s.  Cannery Row was made famous by John Steinbeck's book of the same name.  Steinbeck, one of the great American writers of the last century (Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden) won both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Su Nido Inn in Ojai

Santa Barbara pier
Mission at Santa Barbara

Danish village of Solvang

We spent several days on the border of Oxnard and Ventura. We had hoped to visit the Channel Islands National Park, five islands just off the coast, but were discouraged by cold, windy, rainy days.  Fortunately, the weather was in our favor during the 5 days we spent in Ojai (oh-hi).  This idyllic area was the site of Frank Capra’s 1936 movie Lost Horizon.  Ojai Valley was the Shangri La Ronald Coleman discovered.  

The charming little town has an artsy/new age ambiance and boasts a ten mile “rails to trails” path for hikers, bikers and horses. We were fortunate to be there the one day of the week they show an art festival film.  The showing that day was  “Whistleblower,” a true story about an American policewoman who went to Bosnia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission and uncovered a human trafficking ring in which members of the UN played a part – either directly or in covering it up.  A woman who addressed the audience after the film said that there are at least 27 million slaves in the world today of which more than 2.5 million are sex slaves. 

Ojai was also the American residence of Krishnamurti, considered one of the greatest philosophers and spiritual teachers of the last century.   We visited his home and retreat center.  Our visit to Ojai was enhanced by the cozy one bedroom apartment we had at the Su Nido Inn, a small complex built around a lovely courtyard. 

Ballard Inn
We were in Santa Barbara, sometimes known as the American Riviera, over Easter weekend.  
During our time there, we enjoyed walking State Street and the pier, eating at a few of the numerous restaurants.  On Sunday, we strolled through the weekly art show, drove around Mendocito and followed winding paths across the Santa Ynez mountains to the Santa Barbara Mission.  Completed in 1820, it was the tenth of 21 Franciscan missions built in California.

One of best schools in Santa Barbara

125 miles north of Los Angeles and not far from Santa Barbara, six small and picturesque communities sit within the Santa Ynez Valley.  They are surrounded by the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges.  This is big wine producing country and wineries abound.  It is also some of the prettiest countryside you can imagine. 

Western village of Santa Ynez
The biggest of the villages is Solvang.   It was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who had come west to escape harsh midwestern winters. The architecture reflects traditional Danish style, the restaurants serve Danish dishes and there is even a replica of the little mermaid statue.  After lunch in Solvang, we drove on to our destination, the Ballard Inn.  The town has less than 500 residents but the Ballard School has been in operation since 1882 and is one of the top performing schools in Santa Barbara County.

We spent 3 nights in a charming room at the beautiful Ballard Inn. While there,
Santa Ynez library
we visited Los Olivos (seen in the movie Sideways), and the western style town of Santa Ynez.  There we saw a replica of one of the stagecoaches that passed through all these towns.  As you can see from the pictures, the stage coach is almost bigger than the local library.   

In the late afternoon the Ballard Inn hosts a wine and hors d'ouevres hour for guests.  It is a wonderful way to meet fellow lodgers, and provided some of the pleasurable memories we will carry of this beautiful area.