Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big Sur, Santa Barbara, and Santa Ynez Revisited

About this time last year Beylah and I drove north from Los Angeles up the coast through Santa Barbara to Gaviota State Beach and cruised around the Santa Ynez valley wine country. This year, we drove south to do the same trip but added Big Sur and subtracted Gaviota.

Day 1: Friday : Big Sur

An early view back over Big Sur along Hwy. 1

We got a late start (around 3pm) on Friday after leaving work early for a trip down the coast. We had hoped to make it to Cambria by 5pm to pick up a little wine package some family had won on a trip down there earlier in the month. With the late start that was out of the question but a nice sunset drive down Big Sur still sounded pleasant.

So we took 85 down to 101 and jumped over on 68 to Carmel-by-the-sea and then  shot down all the way through Big Sur and on to San Luis Obispo where it was back on 101 to Santa Barbara.

The sun however was not very accommodating to our plans and the majority of the drive was in the dark. The sun went down just after we left Julia Pfeffer Burns State Park leaving us 2 hours of driving on windy coastal roads, in pitch black aside from other drivers headlights. For good measure it also started pouring rain right after sundown. This was followed by 2 more hours south  after San Simeon to Santa Barbara where we met up with our friend Navi. We arrived at her place at 9pm and went out for In-n-Out at my insistence (as the beleaguered driver).

McWay Falls pouring on to the beach and surf at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Day 2: Saturday

The beach attached to the UC Santa Barbara campus.

The next morning we took a little walk out to the beach from Navi's dorm at UCSB (She's the Resident Director, so it really is her dorm). We watched pelicans fly over, birds play in the lagoon, and surfers ride their waves. For brunch we drove back north from Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez valley and spent the morning in Solvang, a tiny town settled by Danes and turned into an upscale disneyfied version of Copenhagen.

Surfer and his dog cruising up the beach towards the good breaks.

The Santa Ynez valley seems to perpetually be perfectly green, dominated by dramatic mountains on 3 sides, yet remarkably close to the ocean, the air is always clean, the sun always ducking in and out of clouds, and it always smells like fresh rain. Naturally it always seems peaceful as well, too far from any major population center to draw huge crowds on any given weekend. It is one of my favorite places.

Of course a description of the valley is not complete without mention of the wines. The movie Sideways focused on this valley (though I hear most of it was shot in the Paso Robles wine country) or more specifically the wineries of this valley.

Santa Ynez Valley looking towards the coastal range.

First up on our winery tour; we hit Firestone. We were generally pretty impressed with the wines there but I couldn't help but focus on the views the entire time. The Los Padres National Forest has protected the inland mountains around here. I believe I was looking at the snow capped peak of Mt. Pinos (the high point for both Santa Barbara and Ventura county). Pinos was long on my list of peaks to climb from my days living in Los Angeles so I was practically salivating, though that may have been partially because of the wine.

Beylah enjoying the tasting at Roblar Vineyards.

We drove back towards Solvang to meet more friends coming up from San Diego who would join us at Roblar, a 3 year old winery set by itself away from most of the rest of the wineries. Their wine selection was clearly a little more upscale and the tasting showed the quality. We were impressed with every wine, though I alone enjoyed the two desert wine offerings (I ended up with a bottle of port before our departure).

Our friends Rachel and Mike at Koehler Winery.

Finally we drove over to Koehler Winery, the lone disappointment. The staff was fairly rude there, which could have been forgiven by the late hour if the wine was even remotely good. There was not even a debate about buying a bottle there. I did however stop to enjoy the setting sun cast its golden rays over the vinyards before taking off back for Santa Barbara.

No grapes were left on the vines, I had hoped for a few good grape photos.

Koehler Winery at Sunset.

We all headed over to the Santa Barbara Brewing Company for dinner, for more booze, food, and laughs (at the comedy club in the back room). I had had my share of alcohol throughout the day so this evening was all kind of a blur. Needless to say I think I was laughing extra hard at the jokes that evening.

A day of wine tasting makes us all happy. Beylah and our host Navi back at Roblar.

Day 3: San Luis Obisbo & Home

The next morning I woke up with the start of a flu which would keep me out of work for the next week (I guess I extended my vacation). We visited Beylah's college roommate in San Luis Obispo on the way up and stopped in Cambria for lunch. This was followed by a long drive through the Paso Robles wine country, made longer with the help of some of the thickest fog I've ever seen going over the mountains. Then 3 hours on 101 back home. Everyone was cranky and tired by the time we got back, I was certifiably sick with a full blown sore throat. A bleak ending to an amazing trip.

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