Wednesday, 13 June 2012

California Dreaming: The Big Sur and Santa Barbara

Our West Coast USA road trip on iconic California State Route 1 took us from San Francisco (A) to Monterey (B), through the Big Sur and on to Santa Barbara (C), a stop in Venice Beach (D), a quick hop across the state boundary in to Las Vegas (E), back to Los Angeles (F) and on to San Diego (G), before saying goodbye to California and flying home. Part three, The Big Sur and Santa Barbara, is below, click here for part one (San Francisco) and here for part two (Monterey).

The Big Sur and Santa Barbara

Now, I mention (a lot) that I’m a city girl and a little bit nature-averse, but I have to say that the Big Sur is some pretty impressive nature, filled with some pretty impressive flora and fauna.

Big Sur Scenery
Jaw-dropping coastal scenery, winding roads in lush, green forests, wild dolphins leaping from the white-crested waves and elephant seals basking in the Pacific coast sunshine. We took numerous breaks along the coastal road just to stop and take in the breath-taking vistas. You can drive the distance from Monterey to Santa Barbara in half the time using the 101 freeway, but you’d really be missing out.
Ready? Set? ROAD TRIP!

Big Sur Soundtrack
Our Mustang mean machine!
Road trip essentials

We also took a quick detour up to Hearst Castle. Although Mr G was eager to get on with the drive, I convinced him (with the help of two friends’ recommendations and two guidebooks) that we’d regret it if we missed it. And I was right. This man-made “scenery” was as jaw-dropping as the natural scenery. In fact, this over-sized homage to opulence, wealth and architecture was probably even more exciting for me. It was like a fairytale castle poured over a museum and whizzed up in a blender with an insanely beautiful film set and sprinkled with a crazy mish-mash of recent and ancient history. It wasn’t just the buildings, but the stuff that was inside: awesome (in the British sense, not the American sense) artefacts from around Europe, think a GINORMOUS French fireplace shipped over piece by piece or rows of Italian church pews installed around the dining hall or shelves and shelves of rare books, alongside architectural styles from throughout history and from around the world (think a Roman villa style pool alongside a home theatre filled with Egyptian style statues). The tour guide wasn’t just knowledgeable about his subject matter, but in love with his subject matter and I came away with feelings of deep affection for Mr Hearst, his fabled home and his political beliefs (well, those which I was told about)… not to mention a burning desire to re-read the Great Gatsby, dress up in a cloche, drink champagne from coupes… and buy a llama!
The best bit of Hearst Castle - in my opinion
Arriving in Santa Barbara was like getting off the plane in a Mediterranean coastal town. Spanish style buildings, a tree-lined central avenue, high-end boutiques (and the odd international store, [oh hello Apple store] disguised as a boutique) next to upmarket bars and restaurants filled with beautiful people (in Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top) makes for a rather lovely holiday town. What really made me fall in love with Santa Barbara though, were the thousands and thousands of white fairy lights that cover every solid surface after dark. It was just so beautiful to wander along the road in the warm evening amongst a galaxy of twinkling stars! Well, that and the amazing hospitality we encountered everywhere, and especially at our hotel, the Brisas del Mar. Who’s going to argue with bubbly on ice on arrival in our room, complimentary wine and cheese in reception from 4.30pm, replaced by milk and cookies at 6.30pm and then a breakfast buffet with trays that you can take back to your room for brekkie in bed until 10.30am every day?

Wine and cheese

Milk and cookies
I can see why Californians head to Santa Barbara for their vacations, or for that endless vacation we call “retirement”.

Feeling at home in Santa Barbara

Up next? Venice Beach! Yay!

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