Part Two of our family road trip picks up where we left off last week, heading south of Big Sur and concluding in Santa Barbara.
“The longer you stayed at Hearst Castle, the further you’d sit from William Hearst during a meal,” said our guide as we walked into the dining hall.
He was most definitely a Hearst fan and was beginning to tell us yet another story about the newspaper/media mogul and his distinguished guests. We had just arrived for the 3 pm tour of the Castle’s main rooms and garden grounds. After parking in front of the visitor’s center, we joined the line of tourists waiting to catch the bus that would drive us up to “La Cuesta Encantada,” the Enchanted Hill.
Located atop the hill overlooking San Simeon, the estate’s grandeur and architectural details are only outdone by the story behind its creation. Built over 28 years between 1919 and 1947, led by the renown female architect, Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle features 165 rooms and 127 acres of outdoor gardens and pools. Inspired by what he saw during his early travels to Europe as a young boy, William Hearst collaborated with Julia Morgan to build a home that would showcase the immense breadth of his Mediterranean art collections and would astound his guests of all professional facets from politicians to writers to Hollywood actors. Furthermore, Hearst insisted on building a private zoo featuring exotic animals on his property. One can still see zebras grazing on the fields right below the estate today.
Every invitation to vacation at Hearst Castle was an open ended one until you outstayed your welcome. After I wandered around the many gardens and found myself by the Neptune pool, I imagined that I too would have probably outstayed mine. It has even been said that William Hearst’s parties inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s extravagant descriptions in the Great Gatsby.
While we rode down the Enchanted Hill after our tour, I contemplated how the building of such a structure was inspired by a man’s childhood travel reflections, brought to life by the architectural tenacity of a pioneering woman during the period.
That night, my family and I stayed in the city that deems itself the “happiest place in America.” San Luis Obispo is located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles off Hwy 1 along Californa’s Central Coast. On average, the city boasts 315 sunny days a year! We spent the morning walking downtown to stretch out our legs before getting back in the car for another day of driving.
I picked up a map at the reception desk of our budget hotel and led the way toward Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa near city center. My parents enjoyed seeing the historic mission, founded by Junipero Serra in 1772.
I was intrigued by the San Luis creek on the map, originally the water source for the mission and later the city, that ran adjacent to the Catholic church. Accessible by a footbridge through Mission Plaza, we discovered such a pleasant walk along the creek that took us through the city from Chorro Street to Nipomo Street. We saw ducks, jumped on rocks, and gazed out at the public art work along the path.
Many restaurants run along the creek with outdoor seating. I imagine it would have been a wonderful area in the evening to explore if only we had more time.
When we left San Luis Obispo, our original intention was to find a wild horse sanctuary that I read about. We headed down Jamala Road in Lompoc county where driving became a twisting journey through rolling ranchlands.
About 7.5 miles in, with no horses nor humans in sight, we saw a UPS truck following us in our rear view mirror. Surely, the driver must be going somewhere! So we pulled to the side of the road, with my sister hailing him to stop along side us. “Where are YOU going?” she asked. The UPS man, a bit baffled by our question, replied, “There’s a beach at the end of this road.” My sister insisted, “Worth seeing?” The UPS man nodded. “I think so.” And that’s how we found ourselves at Jamala beach…by following the UPS man another 7 miles down, up, and around some more rolling hills.
In addition to having a pretty secluded beach, one can also enjoy an amazing burger at Jamala Beach Store and Grill.
We finally reached our last destination, Santa Barbara, by four thirty in the afternoon. It was just enough time to hop on the local bus toward city center and then walk down State Street amid the bustle of others going into and out of boutique stores and shops. We made one detour to see the county court house in Santa Barbara, one of the most photographed buildings in the city.
By six thirty, we were ready to eat, having made our way south to Stearns Wharf. My dad said he was craving seafood. He meant crab. As blue crab eating Marylanders, a seafood meal would never associate itself with a fine dining establishment. Forget Michelin rated Los Agaves or Bouchon. We wanted to eat with our hands and a wooden mallet! The Santa Barbara Shellfish Co., a shack bar located at the very end of the wharf, fit that bill, spot on. There were at least 10 to 12 people in front of us when we put our names on the wait list. But the wait actually allowed us to catch some sweeping ocean views against the soft light of sunset.
When we were called, we grabbed our seats at the bar that overlooked the cooks make no-nonsense lobster tacos, shrimp pastas, and hearty cioppino among other menu items. My dad ordered the steamed Rock crab and liked it so much, we had to get a second order just for him.
Our night ended thus as did our road trip. With our tummies happy and a beautiful sky still present in our minds, we raised our glasses to toast and celebrate the ocean, the mountains, the open road, and of course, family.