We'll do Big Sur on its own too. Big Sur I know, and I've had many experiences there. We waited too long to book our preferred accommodations; you can't do that on Memorial Day weekend. When we go to Big Sur, I want to stay here and here. It's just a matter of finding the time. I think the California coast reaches its romantic apex during the fall and winter months (if it's not flooding or landsliding), so I'd like to go then.
The last time I saw Santa Barbara, I was a 19-year-old student visiting a friend in college. As I wrote elsewhere, it was the sort of tragic weekend you want to forget. So this trip was a nice corrective. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and Lotusland were pilgrimages I yearned for. The fun Farmer's Market was a bonus. A good farmer's market serves up a slice of life you can't get from the tourist trade. Interestingly, we encountered farmers markets at three successive destinations--Solvang, San Luis Obispo, and Cayucos. Farmer's markets were a theme of this vacation.
I started to think the hipness factor of some farmer's markets must have something to do with surging interest in organic farming among young people.
Speaking of Lotusland (more pictures soon, hopefully), I should say that on our way there was the one place the car's navigation system almost let us down. A vital road was closed and of course the machine didn't know that. Fortunately, Santa Barbara is very easy to get around in. We got back on the freeway, took the next exit and the nav system came up with a new route. We arrived for the tour 20 mintues early (which then began 10 minutes late).
The rest of the time the nav system was fabulous. It gave us the courage to explore back roads that would have gone unchosen for fear of getting lost or off-schedule, it estimated travel times with fair accuracy, it was easy and fun to use. When the farmer's market in Solvang interrupted our route, we just drove in a different direction until the machine gave us a different route. The Yellow Pages function came in handy when we didn't have our hotel address or when we didn't want to drive around looking for a place to eat.
The nav system was not perfect. Sometimes the turning instructions were little sluggish or unclear--especially in urban areas with short streets. Sometimes it got confused about what road we were on when parallel streets were very close. You still need a co-pilot to operate the machine if you change destination after you start driving; the driver absolutely cannot drive and operate the nav system at the same time. It even tells you that.
Regardless of minor quibbles, I would like to have one every time I rent a car in another city because it was a real load off to dispense with paper maps.
And again on the subject of Lotusland, I have now decided that docent tours of private gardens focus too much on history and personality and not enough on horticulture, design, or plants. This was true at Lotusland and Hearst Castle, and also Filoli and the Ruth Bancroft Garden in the Bay Area. That's four garden tours now that have made me wish I wasn't on the tour.
As a garden visitor, I want to get the context over with as quickly as possible and let the garden speak. Above all else, I want the docent to relate interesting facts about the plants and design choices. I do not care to linger on the context.
And if the docent talked up the plants some more, I might have felt more inclined to buy some at their gift store. Gifts--for me. They had some interesting Begonia, but not knowing much about Begonia, I refrained.
After Santa Barbara, we visited Solvang and Los Olivos. I said what I had to say about those places here. After that we drove through Lompoc thinking maybe we'd see some flowers.
"[Lompoc] is famous for the surrounding vast flower fields, which supply more than half the world's seeds. Since the early 1900s, flower farmers--beginning with W. Atlee Burpee, whose name would eventually grace seed packets in potting sheds throughout the world--have been cultivating flowers for seed here, and today nearly 2,000 acres of valley floor are planted with more than 30 different kinds of blossoming plants." Link.We may have seen some yellow snapdragons, but I'm not sure what they were. One field was not sufficient reason to stop. Otherwise, Lompoc was very quiet during the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Very, very quiet. Large, wide streets, very few people on them. It was like a ghost town.
I sometimes wonder what people are doing in other places. I look on the map and I wonder, what are people doing there right now? In San Francicso you can visit any park in the middle of the day and see dozens, even hundreds, of people out walking dogs or laying out. I wonder, "Do all these people work a night shift?"
We stayed inland between Lompoc and Pismo Beach. Some day it would be nice to see Point Arguello, Purisma Point, Point Sal. In the meantime, there's Flickr.
Next up was San Luis Obispo. Besides the Mandonna Inn and Botanical Garden, we paid a short visit downtown to see the Mission. Someone's confirmation was going on, and several children running about on a field trip. It was crowded and didn't feel bloggy. I took a few pictures. The third picture features a crazy leaning Punica.
Downtown SLO was clean and fresh. It struck me as very well-run for some reason. Were all the buildings the same color (brown), or is that only my recollection?
We saw three towns in the Morro Bay area: Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos. Los Osos felt kinda suburban (but for what city?). In Morro Bay, we had breakfast at Kitty's Kitchen and I bought some garden furniture at an iron store. We filled the gas tank here too. It was down to 1/3 and cost $40 to refill. (I'll show you the garden furniture I bought later on.)
Tiny Cayucos was cute and had yet more antique stores. It seemed we were never far from an antique store the whole trip.
The farmer's market was wrapping up, but these folks were there to exhibit old motors all day.
And there's always a pier to walk out on
and look back from.
In town there's food and flowers.
Pacific Grove was the last stop on our trip, but our night in Cambria felt like the climax. Is four nights enough to be out on the road? Unless you're planning to travel for months, I think four nights is about right.
Anyhow, Cambria. Of all the places we visited I think I fell in love with Cambria the most. Guy and I both thought we could live there one day. But what would I do for a living? Teach chemistry? Run a bed and breakfast? Open a charming herb shop with an eclectic garden out back? No, Cambria already has that.
Tourism and real estate are the biggest businesses in Cambria. There were many realtors, with many listings.
Prices were San Francisco-esque. This could be one reason why:
Water is scarce in California and this is how some communities control growth--and why Cambria Cemetery does not have a lawn.
The public landscaping is on board.
One of my favorite drought-tolerant Australian subshrubs, Sollya heterophylla.
It has these blue flowers.
With the cozy shops and the beach nearby, you can imagine why Cambria has a tourist trade.
And why I liked it so much.
We stayed in Cambria the night before we visited Hearst Castle. There, you can pick any of several tours to take, but of course we (I) selected the garden tour. The first thing the docent said to the group when we got off the bus was "Are you interested in gardens, or was this the only available tour?" So you can intuit where the garden tour lands in the hierarchy of Hearst Castle visitor preferences. The thing people probably remember most about Hearst Castle are the pools. All the tours visit both of the pools. I must say the pools were memorable...
Esp. the indoor pool.
We thought we might be too pooped to drive from San Simeon (home of Hearst Castle) all the way to San Francisco on the last day, so we planned to stay a night in Pacific Grove, near Carmel and Monterey. We were probably right. Although we missed the kitties I'm glad Guy had already booked our room at the Old St. Angela Inn. It was the cheapest room of the whole trip and one of the nicest. And it had the best garden.
We didn't linger long in the morning, but I got up before breakfast to take some pictures in the neighborhood. It was cold and overcast. Very typical weather.
A lot of people had cymbidium orchids in the garden or in a pot on the porch. This was my favorite.
How do I end the travelogue?
With a picture of the kitty sleeping on my lap who I missed while I was away?
Some polished closing remarks?
I'm going to let it hang here, ragged edged and a little unfinished.
A few more pictures of Lotusland, here.
Start from Day 1 of the California Trip, here.