Big Sur Coast:heading for Santa Barbara


Sunset over Carmel

Goodbye Big Sur

Said goodbye to John around 9am, ready to head south to Cambria.

Stopped off at Big Sur village and I checked out the Bakery there which was going like a fair. Looked like they had nice stuff . We’d passed the hard to spot turn off to wild Pfeiffer Beach, a wonderful place about three winding miles off the main road, but we had other things to see this trip.

Café Keva again

Just had to stop at Café Keva for a last coffee. There was fog rolling in, clothing the steep hillsides and adding to the wild atmosphere, much more so than on a bright sunny day.

View from Cafe Keva

The food we saw being delivered to tables looked so good, we decided to order a Reuben Panini which was excellent. And I had a first class piece of cake. Watched a very interesting bird trying to steal food from empty tables. The locals were giving him short shrift but we were quite fascinated. No doubt it’s a bit like at home where tourists are in thrall over birds we see as a bit of a nuisance. Had a look around the excellent shop, lured by lovely postcards and candles and soaps. John had recommended the shop or else we wouldn’t have gone in. Excellent little place.

So now it was bye bye Big Sur as we hurtled down the coast, stopping every mile or so as another wonderful view unfolded in front of us.

Cambria once more

We wanted to have a bit more time for Cambria so got there early afternoon and parked in the main village itself, which sits back a mile or so from the sea. It’s basically a single road of traditional, attractive buildings and shops but I wasn’t so keen on being away from the sea. It was busy and somehow it didn’t hold our interest so much. It did have the most beautiful little car wash I’ve ever seen, like a wee gingerbread house. Very dinky. Decided we’d eat in tonight so found a decent supermarket in the edge of town and stocked up for our next few days. Wine, crisps chocolate, nice bread and I’m almost embarrassed to say, more BBQd chicken pieces and potato salad.

Minor panic over our accommodation

Headed for our Airbnb place, this time set back nearer the woods and inland. I really wished we’d been able to book Diane’s place again but she had been full. In fact, this new place was giving me the jitters as emails I’d sent to the owner had never been answered over three days! Would she honour our booking? Was there a problem? We finally found the house, not in such a nice street as the last one and well back from the coast and first impressions weren’t so great. It looked a bit rundown from the outside. I lifted a handwritten welcome note pinned to the wooden gate…it said ‘welcome Rachel, hope you enjoy your stay!’ Rachel?? (I’m an Anne).We must be double booked! My heart sank but Chris as ever stayed practical. We have a booking, and possession is 9/10ths of the law he reminded me so come on, we’re here. It’s ours. So we humphed the luggage out and made our way in, the house door being open. In fact it was beautiful inside, really smartly finished in expensive looking wood and elegantly furnished with a lovely spacious bathroom too. We had a big wide deck too to sit out in, surrounded by trees and shrubs. As ever, we had a fridge, perfect for chilling the vino and keeping things like our butter and milk and chocolate cool.


I was still fretting however that somehow we’d get chucked out and have an unpleasant confrontation with ‘Rachel’ who seemed to have been favoured as a guest over us. No reply still from our hostess. So I emailed Airbnb directly and within minutes, there was a knock at the adjoining door which I presume led to the hostesses own house. Sure enough, it was Ann Marie, the owner. In walked a very thin, quite frail looking young woman who didn’t really apologise for being out of contact but muttered something about being busy and oh, by the way the hot water tank had a leak but she was fixing it right now and was everything ok? Yes it was, we said. Oh – and she just got my name mixed up, hence the welcome note was wrong. No Rachel was arriving. Relief.
We never saw her after that. We’ve noticed with Airbnb hosts that most seem to want to have very little to do with you, a meet and greet and then that’s it. It wasn’t a problem as such but I quite enjoy, here at home, the little conversations with B and B owners we stay with, asking them about recommendations, or getting advice and having some time to chat with those who live in the area.


A dodgy guide book

It was lovely to sit out in the early evening, with some wine and nibbles and enjoy the bird calls and the peace and quiet. We read and chatted and mulled over what we were going to do during our last two days. Noticed at this point that our trusty Lonely Planet ‘California’ guide book which Chris was now perusing was 20 years old! How the heck did we not notice that?? Honestly, we are dumbos at times; ok the big main sites etc don’t really change but restaurants and the like certainly do. Ah well, we’ll invest for our next trip.

Enjoyed our dinner on the porch and headed to bed early, back of 9pm. Shower was working by the morning, thankfully. Nice quiet house, liked it but would have preferred a ‘sea view’ location.


A coastal stroll in Cambria

Another gorgeous sunny morning so after we packed up and got ourselves out (no sign of our hostess), we parked down at the start of the coastal walks through the Fiscalini Ranch Estate. It was busy at 10am on a Sunday morning, lots of couples and singles out power walking. Strolled the nicely made coastal trail along the bluffs, looking out for sea otters. It really was a lovely area, with the surging ocean to our left and the Moonstone Beach part of Cambria ahead. Watched dolphins making their way up the coast, breaking the surface every minute or so. This coast is so alive, so full of life, there’s always something to see.




Dolphins off Cambria


Sea otters galore at Morro Bay

Next stop was Morro Bay, the one town we’d missed on the way up.

Chris hadn’t fancied it much with its power plant and industrial chimney stack, but the Rock itself was appealing because it was a peregrine nesting site. Maybe we’d be lucky and spot one? Got parked easily and were about to head out along the coastal road which heads round the Rock but noticed crowds of people lining the shore, taking photos and clearly interested in something that was going on. So we wandered over, to find in front of us, maybe 20 metres offshore, rafts of sea otters! There must have been 50 of them, floating, relaxed on their backs, there was even a mother with a tiny pup on her tummy. What an amazing sight. A few kayakers were watching them too but keeping a good distance. Of all the places to see them, it was here in this busy harbour area, full of boats and people, a sort of estuary. We stayed for half an hour, absolutely mesmerised.


I don’t think we would want to stay in Morro Bay but it looked a friendly, lively place, great for families with its narrow sheltered beaches. It was the Labour Day Holiday weekend and busy.

Arroyo Grande and some 19th century architecture

Stopped off at a small, traditional little town called Arroyo Grande, inland from Pismo Beach, just to see some attractive homesteader type architecture and grab an enjoyable coffee in a pleasant café, sitting outside in the sun. Had to try some ice cream too, in Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Parlour, which didn’t quite match the hype in the Lonely Planet guidebook; mind you, as we’d found out our guidebook was so out of date, I’ll forgive them. It may have dropped out of the up to date version.

Posted our postcards in the even tinier little rural hamlet of Halcyon, well named, a pretty place surrounded by hills.

Melville Winery, Lompoc

Chris was really keen to try some wine in one of the many vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, inland from our Santa Barbara Airbnb. We made a mad dash visit on route to La Purisima State Mission, one of the original missions, used also by the Chumash people and a set of buildings which are largely intact and still furnished. It was very hot, but worth the quick look round.


Oh, it was nice to sit down on the vine covered veranda in the Melville Winery near Lompoc, while the waitress brought Chris a selection of 5 different reds to sample. I tried a sip of each but to us both, they all tasted quite thin. Even the Shiraz (or Syrah as they are called here) , which we do like back home, always nice and peppery, wasn’t as powerful in taste. Maybe the climate is not hot enough? I wandered over to the edge of the gardens to admire the lavender hedge, beyond which the vineyard flourished in the dry Californian heat.


It was a lovely spot, all low rolling hills yellowed and dry under a deep blue sky.

It was time to head for Santa Barbara but before we made it onto the big highway which took us south across the mountains, we detoured briefly to see Los Olivos, THE wine tasting town of the region.

Los Olivos

It was absolutely gorgeous, quite small, full of lovely old American buildings, lots of them clapboard, surrounded by flower gardens. Every other building was a café or wine tasting room. It was mobbed with couples and groups, enjoying the holiday weekend and the ‘worship of the grape’ atmosphere of the town. Chris didn’t try anything, as it was mostly all reds on offer again. It was a very wealthy looking place, very handsome and I was glad we’d taken the time to see it , even briefly.


Now we had to find our Airbnb in Goleta, about 15 minutes drive outside Santa Barbara. We’d chosen to be outside the city itself, but in hindsight this was a mistake. Santa Barbara is a beautiful place and there were many quiet residential areas we could have stayed in. But the accommodation owner promised a lonely wild beach for strolling, which sounded ideal at the end of a long day.

It was a scenic drive over the Santa Barbara mountains, then down into the city itself, all palm trees and flowers and wide avenues. We managed to get lost a bit on the motorway by – pass section but finally…finally….after about 15 minutes of driving up and down the same tarmac looking for a particular turn off, we found it.
Goleta Airbnb

The little room we had in a house at the end of a cul de sac was pleasant enough, a bit cramped compared to what we’d got used to but fine. We had a warm welcome from the owners. The street was a bit noisier than we’d hoped and parking wasn’t easy. The couple had an awkward arrangement whereby we were directed in to triple park in their driveway, manoeuvring the car into a tiny space and effectively blocking in various other cars.


The hostess had recommended a Mexican restaurant, Los Agaves, in the very upmarket, attractive shopping complex just five minutes drive away which sounded like a good plan. Turned out to be fairly good….my fajitas were nice though Chris’s enchiladas were less successful. It was brilliant value though. For about $16 each, we got continually supplied with dips and tortilla chips and whatever soft drink or water we wanted; you just helped yourself. It was crazy busy, you had to queue up to order and pay, then look for a table which thankfully, we managed to find outside. Inside, it was a madhouse of loud voices, children squealing and the clatter of cutlery and plates.


A brief visit to Santa Barbara

Next morning, we headed into Santa Barbara and got parked easily outside the beautiful Mission. It was busy even at 10am.Enjoyed an hour or so wandering inside the very interesting interior and gardens with some really fascinating memorabilia of its early days when the monks lived and worked there.


Had a walk round the old Historic Fort in the middle of the city but didn’t go in. Then parked further down near the Town Hall which was free and open and had a look around what was a superb building.


In fact, this whole area was the heart of a very smart residential area. Santa Barbara really was living up to what we’d read of it being a ‘perfect’ city, chic and clean and flower filled with red tiled roofs and handsome Spanish architecture.


We wanted to see the famous pier so found cheap paid parking behind the train station and wandered over to the beach. It was long and well groomed and clean, busy already, with people kayaking offshore. Wandered out along the pier itself, absolutely mobbed on holiday Monday, full of cafes and shops and restaurants. Grabbed a coffee and a seat overlooking the bay, very pleasant indeed. But the beach was too busy and developed for us, to want to spend much time exploring it.


Drove over the road which took us to the west of SB, past very attractive neighbourhoods high above the bluffs. I was keen to see Hendry’s Beach but it was jam packed today and just too busy so we drove on. Decided to head back to Goleta and enjoy our own beach, a short walk away from the house.

The sands at Goleta were long and approached via a network of tracks and paths which wound their way across the high bluffs. We’d been warned about tar by our hostess but as we strolled the sand and paddled in the cold water, it seemed pretty clear. There was hardly a soul there, just the sound of the surf though out at sea along this coast are the remains of over 200 oil platforms. The tar is naturally occurring pollution, rather than being leakage from the platforms.


We stopped at the supermarket and picked up our favourite carry home dinner, some hot BBQd chicken pieces, not feeling much like going out on our last night.

We had a small sitting out area in the tiny garden, pleasant in the sun, so it was a nice place to graze on the goodies we’d bought and have a glass of wine or three.

A sting in the tail at Goleta Beach

It promised to be a fine sunset so we headed out to the beach again, to catch the last rays. We strolled along by the surf, only one or two other folks about and then climbed back onto the bluffs to watch the sun going down. It was lovely, a fine end to our last night in California.


Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the house, we realised that we had in fact been walking on tar on the beach! We’d both seen what looked like tiny black stones; like gravel in amongst the seaweed. It was tar. I’d taken my shoes off temporarily and my feet were covered in it. Our shoes were a write off – mine were due to be binned anyway, running shoes which were relegated mostly to walks and looking by now, the worse for wear. There was a special pack of coconut oil and a scrubbing brush in the room, designed just for that kind of problem and after a bit of effort, my skin was clean again at least. All a bit yeuch. What a shame that such pleasant sands are blighted by that problem.

A memorable end albeit for the wrong reasons, to our Utah, Arizona and California road trip – but it’s not what I remember at all about that last night. I remember the sun going down over the Pacific, on a balmy evening, not another soul in sight. We were sad to be leaving it all behind, flying back to London next day at 3.30pm before our 1 hour flight up to Glasgow. It was one of the best road trips we’ve ever done, mostly a joy from start to finish (barely a fall out either between us!) A happy, happy three weeks in the USA. Time now to start checking out the ‘America’s National Parks’ book we bought at the Grand Canyon, for more inspiration about what should be on our list next. Ideas most welcome!


Previous Day – Big Sur Coast: Point Lobos and Garrapata Beach