Subject: Travelogue: California's Central Coast
Hello Fellow Travelers,

I just returned from a 4 day holiday in the Central Coast and I thought I would share some of the gems I discovered.

I hope you enjoy it,

Amelia Hesson Chatsworth

California's Central Coast: Winter/2004

We decided to follow Highway 1, rather than the 101, a beautiful back road that follows green rolling hills and looks less like a freeway and more like a country road. Jalama Beach is right off the highway 1; it's at the end of a windy 14 mile road through various privately owned ranches, and well worth the drive! Jalama is a legendary place among surfers with its pristine beaches, great waves, and the famous Jalama Burgers. It is located out on Point Conception; don't be surprised to find whole abalone shells right on the beach. This used to be a secret spot but has gained in popularity. Still, it is remote enough to insure a relatively un-touristy experience.

Lompoc is an interesting place; it's a quite rural town that borders the massive Vandenberg AFB. It also has one of the best preserved Missions around, La Purísima Concepción. Lompoc also has one of the largest 99 cent stores around, as a teacher I frequent this place whenever I can and am always rewarded with great bargains!

They grow a lot of flowers around here and during the spring you can take a 17 mile self-guided auto tour that winds its way through many fields of glorious flowers. Some of them are already in bloom now. The city is also know for their Murals (60 so far), which were inspired by the murals of Chemanius, British Columbia.

Heading north on Highway 1, I notice a NASA Teacher Training center, part of Vandenberg AFB. It's actually called the Endeavour Center, and it's a free resource center for Teachers, as well as a space camp. NASA gives away a lot of freebies to teachers.

Continuing on, we eventually reach the quaint town of Guadalupe, home of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. These dunes became famous when Hollywood began filming here in the early 20th century. Cecil B. DeMille built the largest set in history here for his silent epic The Ten Commandants. The set, dubbed The City of the Pharaoh, was buried by sand and lost until a group of people began excavating the site several years ago. If you visit the Guadalupe Beach access to the Dunes area and look to the left from the beach, you can see some of the ruins. It's very interesting, beautiful, and you won't be seeing too many people. Walk for a few minutes through the dunes and one could easily think they were in the middle of the Sahara Desert! Don't get lost.

The Dunes Center is locater in the town of Guadalupe; they have a lot of information and an interesting docent who has a plethora of stories about this area. She directed us to Oso Flaco Lake, part of a series of inland freshwater lakes strung along the coast, with its boardwalk that crosses the lake and eventually leads through the dunes and to the beach. Along this path I spied a raccoon sneaking among the reeds looking for food, and lots of Birds. This is a gorgeous area, one that is not frequented by many people. In fact, I was amazed to find people from Pismo Beach who had never visited the Dunes!

North of Guadalupe are the towns of Oceano and Oceano Dunes (Oceano is on the wrong side of the railroad tracks). During the 1930's an offbeat group of free-thinking people (mystics, artists, writers, nudists, and hermits) collectively known as Dunites, founded a colony here in order to pursue a simpler way of life, and inspire creativity. They believed that Oceano Dunes was one of California's creative Art centers. Hidden away in run down shacks throughout the dunes, Dunites believed these dunes held mystical qualities and they often moved from location to location in an effort to harness that energy. After visiting the dunes, I was inspired to paint the entire vacation! And I came home inspired to write this travelogue. Maybe they were onto something after all. The last Dunite moved out in 1969.

Oceano Dunes provides access to something that you cannot do anywhere else in California; 5 miles of permitted beach driving. Yes it's noisy, and it's bizarre to see people driving on the beach, but considering that only 5 miles of all California Coastline is accessible to autos, I think it' s a good thing! Enjoy it while you can, environmentalists have been trying to stop this practice for years, particularly due to the plight of the endangered Snowy Plovers and the fact that wayward ATV's have been known to destroy fence protected nests of living Plover eggs.

Oceano Dunes is also the home of the southern campground in Pismo State Beach. They have a small but informative Nature center here and several indigenous plant gardens to stroll through. They also have a 1 mile loop trail around a freshwater lake which provides yet another riparian habitat for birds and beasts. This is a beautiful campground; you probably need to make reservations early for this gem.

Between the Northern and Southern Campgrounds is the Monarch Butterfly Grove, home of thousands and thousands of migrating butterflies. We enjoyed seeing them active since the sun was shining, they are not nearly as active when it's overcast but we were lucky enough to encounter fantastic weather. Beside the grove is a small booth (and store) with plenty of information about the Monarchs. Connecting the two campgrounds is an interpretive nature walk which is interesting and educational to visit.

Pismo Beach is a funky beach town filled with surfers and other beach people, its laid back and causal. The beach is long and thick with hard packed sand making it a perfect place to take long walks. The community is quaint and filled with interesting places to stay; one can find both high-end and lower-end places, often right next to each other. They recently built a boardwalk that extends from the Pier to the southern end of Pismo beach, with plans to extend it even further to Grover Beach (which really doesn't have much beach at all). The Pier is an interesting place to explore, you can observe fisherman, fish yourself (they even have sinks to clean your catch in), or simple watch the boogie boarders surf near the Pier. The food in Pismo is mostly standard beach fare such as pizza and chowder, and of course salt water taffy! Gratefully we discovered a fantastic restaurant called Bubbies (a Yiddish word for Grandma) that we loved for its great food, good prices, and wonderful ambiance.

Bubbies Bistro, 580 Cypress. Pismo Beach. 805.556.0303.

We stayed one night at the SeaVenture, touted as the place to stay in Pismo. It was nice, and expensive! Although the room was furnished nicely, it was very small and there was no place to put our luggage. We did have a partial view room (the hotel is right on the beach/boardwalk) with a spa tub on our balcony, which was very nice. The feather bed was comfortable, good thing because it was essentially the only place to sit in the room. We were not able to check in until 4 pm, although the website indicated a 3 pm check-in, but that was due to the fact that they empty the hot tubs after each guest, so they are clean and fresh. That fact just barely made up for the troubles caused by the late check in. We ate at the restaurant on the top floor and while the food was okay (not great), the service was terrible. I'd avoid this restaurant. The best thing about this hotel is its location right on the beach; we got up early the following morning and took a 3 mile walk on the beach. I was able to sketch the dunes, as well as collect some shells and rocks, and the ocean smell is to-die-for!

I had read about a secret spot (uh-huh) called Thousand Stairsteps in Shell Beach where there are few tourists (like me) and plenty of seals, otters, and tide pools. Locals describe beaches here as either a Whoosh (sea foam whooshing up the gentle sloping beach and whishing back out), Crashes (places where waves crash against rocky coves), or a Trickle (tide pools best seen at low tide). Thousand Stairsteps had all three, and there were so many seals in the water that I couldn't count them all. Find this beach at the end of Seaview and just down from Margo Dodd Park on Ocean. I can't be sure if I was the only tourist and the rest of the people were locals J Look for the steps, and don't tell anyone I told you about this place!

Also in Shell beach is the fantastic De Palo & Sons Provision Spirits & Fine Wine. This is a great place to grab a gourmet sandwich or salad; everything is prepared fresh and delicious. When I travel I get sick of just eating in restaurants and love to find deli's where I can order a little of this and a little of that!

Our next stop was the Morro Bay Area; we slept in San Luis Obispo. Morro Rock is interesting because it was always an island that was not accessible until WWII when the bay was dredged and a road was built out to the rock. This forever changed the landscape of Morro Bay. Today the rock is a protected area because it is home to a pair of Peregrine Falcons, as well as California Condors. Its easy to hike around the rocky outcroppings, we saw a man perched high above the waves in what seemed a precarious place, but he had the place all to himself!

I had wanted to visit the Elfin Forest in Morro Bay for a while, since it was such a beautiful day we decided to head up there and see the boardwalk trail. The trail was fantastic, with incredible lookouts of the Mud Flats and Estuary, as well as abundant opportunities to walk through the Elfin or Pygmy Trees. It's only a 1 mile loop, and all of it is wheelchair accessible, although there are some steep uphill climbs.

Morro Bay State Park has a nice Natural History Museum which is very kid friendly. On the day we visited many of the hands on displays were broken, I am glad I did not have any Kids with me since they might have found that very frustrating.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve is close by in Bayshore, it is a popular birding site but I like it just for its natural appeal. It is a relatively small place but quite lovely with its spring fed ponds filled with turtles, ducks, and other waterfowl. The place really does smell sweet! I spied an Owl in the trees, which was thrilling for me since I love Owls but never get to see them in Nature. We were able to capture him on video, grateful for the technology.

Montaña de Oro is one of California's largest State parks, and it is amazing in its beauty and scope. We did not have enough time to hike anywhere but do plan on revisiting again because it would be a crime not to hike here! Not only is this one the California's most beautiful parks, its completely free. However, our new Governor-or rather Governator-is going to put an end to this so visit soon!

There is a riverwalk in San Luis Obispo that I've wanted to see for some time, this trip we finally get an opportunity to walk it. Sadly, it's not much of a walk, only a sporadic 3-4 blocks of walkway that seems to be in pieces. The walk begins at the Mission (also an interesting place to visit) and ends a few blocks west of it. It is a lovely place, considering that it is in the midst of downtown, and would be a perfect place to picnic during the Thursday Night Farmers Market. But it's not the place to get your morning exercise in. Unfortunately, we also missed the market, but we have visited it before and it is one amazing farmers market, certainly a be-back. We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express, a good hotel considering it's a chain, with warm cookies nightly and a decent breakfast bar.

For our final night we really wanted to get back to the beach so we managed to find a decent room at the SandCastle Inn, which is right next to the SeaVenture and fronts the Ocean. I booked a room touted to be without a view for $119 a night, figuring that on my balcony I could at least smell and hear the ocean, if not see it. Let me tell you this was the best non-ocean ocean view I ever had! From the third floor we had a magnificent side view of the ocean, and Pismo Dunes. Plus, they made a mistake when I booked the room and gave me a $49 rate! I didn't complain.

We also visited Arroyo Grande, home of the Historic Swinging Bridge built in 1875, the only one of its kind in California. This is the real deal, a bridge built just for pedestrians and particularly for child-like pedestrians who like to stand in the middle of the bridge and jump like crazy. Just like my husband Ken, who is winning his battle against his fear of heights! They have a Farmers Market on Saturdays from Noon to 2:30, right behind City Hall, next to the swinging bridge. This is an interesting town filled with lots of history, and lots of antique shops.

On the way home we stopped in Santa Barbara to eat at a restaurant we like called Tupelo, but it was no longer there. In its place was Rizona's, a fusion of Indian, Asian, and Hawaiian food that seemed so inviting and was crowded with locals, we had to try it. It was fantastic, Ken had a baked egg/onion/garlic/sausage dish that was excellent and I had some tortilla folds filled with curried chicken, spicy peanut satay, and green papaya salad. This was delicious food, I highly recommend this place. The Chef Rizona came out to chat with us, and prepared a special desert just for us! I don't know why, but then again this holiday has been filled with pleasant surprises. Travel serendipity!

RIZONA'S Tropical Seaside Cuisine 739 Chapala, Santa Barbara. 965-4994