Some years ago, while visiting San Francisco, we drove the north central part of the Pacific Coast Highway (CA Highway 1) all the way to Big Sur, with its dramatic scenery. Our trip included the 17 Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula through Pebble Beach with its “Lone Cypress”, one of the most photographed trees in the world located on a rocky ledge jutting out over the sea. In Monterey, we stopped for lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, watched the amusing sea lions, and visited the aquarium, as well as John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, once a bustling area of sardine factories and now the site of shops and restaurants. Another stop took us to Carmel, a decidedly upscale artist colony which does not allow such things as traffic meters and franchise restaurants and was once governed by Mayor Clint Eastwood.
More recently, we had the opportunity to complete that drive all the way to Los Angeles (LA). Friends who live in Victorville/Apple Valley on the edge of the Mojave Desert served as tour guides. From Victorville, once bisected by Route 66 and now location of a museum that pays homage to that historic road, we headed northwest across the San Joaquin Valley. Known at one time as “food basket of the world”, this area is still the source of many crops including grapes, cotton, nuts, citrus, and asparagus.
Our first stop was Cambria, along the coast. With its many motels, B & Bs, restaurants, shops, galleries, artisans, and views of the Pacific, itis a great place to stay. It was cool and after some time at the beach watching frisky otters, our beach road motel room with its warming fireplace was a perfect end to the day. Cambria does seem to have somewhat of an identity problem, though. I asked a number of locals if the town should be pronounced CAM bree a or Cam BREE a since I had heard both being used. All of them replied, “either way is fine.”
Eight miles to the north we visited San Simeon and Hearst Castle. Built over more than a twenty year span on 127 acres by William Randolph Hearst, this is now a California State Park. The opulent main house’s design was based on a Spanish Cathedral. The gardens’ water influence throughout was reminiscent of Moorish Spain and the Neptune and Roman pools were highlights of the visit. There are different tours of the premises available. Tour 1, the “Grand Rooms Tour” provided a good introduction including a film about Hearst and the property. The tours leave from the visitor’s center via a 10 minute bus trip uphill; reservations are strongly recommended. There are evening tours with costumed performers, but, alas, we had more to see and needed to get back on the road.
A diversion from the coast can be made through Paso Robles wine country. While not Napa, this area afforded a nice drive through the rolling hills dotted with vineyards. We enjoyed a stop at a local winery for sampling and purchasing. Fortunately,our driver, a lifelong athlete, didn’t drink alcohol.
Back on the road, we traveled through laid back little and bigger beach towns such as Avila Beach and Pismo Beach with its eight miles of sand duned beach to our next major stop, Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a delightful city in which we could easily have spent more time. Known for its pleasant climate and less than two hours from LA with mountains nearby, Santa Barbara was rebuilt after a 1925 earthquake. This afforded the city planners the opportunity to actually plan the city in a Mediterranean style with whitewashed walls, red tile roofs, and abundance of palm trees. The visitors center offered a self guided 12 block walking tour map. We had a pleasant meal at Stearn’s Wharf, the oldest continuing wharf operating on the west coast. From our outside seats, we were able to watch surfers against the backdrop of the mountains. The sight of the oil rigs offshore, though, was a little unappealing.
Mission Santa Barbara north of downtown was established in 1786, although the present twin towered pink sandstone building dates from 1820. Part of the California Mission System and known as “Queen of the Missions”, this one has been occupied without interruption by the Franciscans since its founding. On its premises is a cemetery with the bodies of 4,000 Chumash and other Native Americans buried in unmarked plots, including Juana Maria upon whose life “Island of the Blue Dolphins” was based.
From there, we could have made another diversion through SantaBarbara’s wine country. The 40 mile trip, not to mention stopping for tastings, would have made a pleasant jaunt, but, alas, we had reservations outside of LA that night.
From Santa Barbara, the 72 mile drive along the Pacific Coast Highway traversed through places such as Ventura and Oxnard and eventually Malibu. As we went through Malibu overlooking the beautiful beachfront homes familiar from TV and films, we knew we were approaching LA. A popular stop in Malibu is The Getty Villa which features Greek, Roman, and Etruscan artifacts arranged by themes. Entry is free, but an advanced timed ticket is necessary. Malibu’s climate has encouraged the development of more than three dozen vineyards in the surrounding hills. Just a few miles from the beach are places such as Rosenthal Estate and the Malibu Vineyards.
We stayed outside of LA at the Angeleno Hotel, located just off the freeway in the shadow of the Getty Center Museum, between Brentwood and Bel Air. It was nice being away from the traffic of the city and I have since spied the unique round tower architecture of the Angeleno in many films and TV shows. The nearby Getty Center with its western art from the Middle Ages to present and lovely gardens merited a visit just for the view of downtown LA all the way to the Pacific.
We were fortunate that our friends had a friend who was a native of LA, born, raised, and schooled there. Now retired, he serves as an ambassador for the cityfor visiting dignitaries. Although we were not dignitaries, he took us on a truly comprehensive tour of the city, Hollywood, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills. We saw the obligatory sites such as Rodeo Drive, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Kodak Theater, Sunset Blvd. Extremely knowledgable about the city’s history, he was able to point out many locations and tell us what they used to be. When we visited residential neighborhoods, he could identify the stars who had lived there going back 2 to 3 generations. And, for dinner, he took us to his favorite place, Cantor’s Deli on Fairfax in the Miracle Mile District, an LA institution since 1931. A favorite of celebrities, many of their photos graced the walls although the autumn leaves stained glass ceiling was the real attention grabber.
Finally, we spent a bit of time at Century City, a 176 acre commercial and residential district on the west side of the city. Headquarters for MGM and 20th Century Fox (it was once the backlot for this studio), it is also the locale for some good restaurants and avoided the rush and traffic of downtown LA.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education