Sunday, August 30, 2009

SLO, Solvang and Santa Barbara

After our leisurely but sometimes hair raising trip down the Big Sur coast, we decided to stay at San Luis Obispo for the night.  I am not sure where I first heard the name of the town but it has stuck in my head for years.  The Lonely Planet guide book writes it up nicely and it is off the beaten track because it is in from the coast a little.  We also used the Guide to direct us to a motel.  We were daring (for us) and did not book accommodations for the four nights we would be driving up and down the coast.  The Guide had not let us down in Pacific Grove so we decided to see if it would work for SLO and it did, in spades.  We pulled in to the Peachtree Inn and were bowled over by the rates (mid-week) and free internet access (the wifi at the Beachcomber was there but just not in our room).  The folks running the place also owned it and breakfast was included.  After a huddled confab, we decided to book them on the way back, especially because they were less than an hour from Hearst Castle, which we would be touring in a few days.  And because of the market on Thursday evenings, more of which later.

We asked the owner what restaurants she recommended and she gave us several business cards.  The downtown area was a 20 minute walk from the motel so we changed and headed out.  It seemed like a very pleasant place and not all touristy, with real people walking around.

We looked at a few of the restaurants and settled on the Big Sky Cafe, which was also mentioned in the Guide.  They don't take reservations at Big Sky but they had a table for us.  They had an eclectic menu and a great wine list and Peter selected a locally made Voignier, a white wine grape, even though we hadn't settled on our menu selections.  We've decided it's OK to drink red wine with fish or chicken and white wine with a BBQd New York Strip ... Well, OK, if we're having any kind of beef, a full bodied red rules!  But instead of selecting the wine to complement the meal, a lot of times we select the wine first and then we look the menu and, maybe subconsciously, select the meal to go along with it.

This time we selected the Voignier and we both selected a meal that went with it.  I had the Buttermilk fried chicken with peppered pecans.  It was tasty!  It came with corn and black eyed pea relish with cucumber tzatziki and toasted ranch dressing.  Peter wanted four or five things and said we had to come back here, they all looked so good, but finally settled on the brown sugar brined pork roast.  It was a slow roasted pork roast loin, dry rubbed with Caribbean seasonings and served on a risotto of arborio rice, yams, onions and chardonnay-garnished dried fruit with tangy mostata and veggies of the day.  They turned out to be kale with some very interesting seasonings we couldn't identify and Napa cabbage, cut fine.  We thought it was baby Bok Choi.  As usual, we passed forks-full throughout the whole meal, so it's like we both enjoyed the spoils.

Food was good, service pleasant and we were happy.  We had not realized however, that downtown was also down hill and the walk back took us more time on the suddenly apparent slope.

The next morning, we headed out for Santa Barbara, but Peter had put the town of Solvang in the GPS because it figured in the movie "Sideways" and he wanted to have a coffee at the Solvang Restaurant.  Solvang is (sort of) like little Denmark but quite touristified.  We found it nice enough but the Guide gives it the brush-off by saying, "grumpy families and blue-hairs plod down Copenhagen Dr., where over priced trinket shops lurk behind faux-Scandinavian facades".  Which is true.  But we like everywhere we go, so never mind.

We also had the Americanized version of the Danish version of a sort of donut (doughnut?) called aebleskiver, which of course we mocked by using our Swedish chef voices.  bork, bork, bork.  Even though it was very tasty and just what we were wanting at about 11 am.

We then took off for Santa Barbara, where we planned to have a late-ish lunch before ending up in Santa Monica for the night.  Again relying on the Guide (please note that I am not getting any money for recommending this book), we set the GPS for the Brophy Brothers seafood restaurant and enjoyed the spectacular California scenery all the way there.  That is one beautiful state.

We were starting to trust "her", our GPS guide, but still second-guessing some of her directions.  We were gradually coming to realize that when the GPS said "turn right in 300 feet", we were probably already, almost at the intersection.  In any event, Santa Barbara didn't seem that complicated and we got to the harbour-side restaurant with no wrong turns.  Parking initially looked to be an issue and we circled the building, wondering about what looked like a municipal lot but then, just as we were hesitating, someone pulled out of a free (non-metered) spot and we had the same serendipitous parking experience as we had had at Muir Woods.

We walked up the flight of stairs to the restaurant and were told our wait might be all of 20 minutes.  We were given a pager and I set my watch timer and we wandered back down to the docks and hung out in the sun.  We watched a fishing boat come in and unload a few barrels of fish, much approved by the local gulls.  There was a kayak rental place right below us and we watched tourists clamber in and shakily take off in their plastic boats.  Before we knew it, we were being paged and sat at our table, outside on the railing, overlooking the harbour.

The food was good and I tried to get them to hold back on the portions but it was too much to eat all at once.  I felt guilty leaving behind food on my plate but I made sure to eat all of the fish, because it had given its life so I could eat and I owed it at least that.


Pretty soon, it was time to leave and we drove along the shore line until we had to get back on the One, toward Los Angeles.  We drove through Malibu and gawked at what were apparently, over-sized houses hiding behind walls and gates and then we got to the beach part and I spotted a public changing house thingy and realized I had to pee so Peter pulled over without hesitation onto the no stopping shoulder of the highway and sat in the car while I "leapt" over the rope barrier and made a break for it.  Other than that, Malibu was unremarkable and so we continued on to Santa Monica, where we had booked two nights at a beachside motel.


We had not thought before booking (some weeks earlier) to see if they had free wifi and they did not.  You could pay for it but we had heard that Santa Monica was full of free, public wifi so we went hunting for it.  Mostly in vain.

I am sure you could spend a very nice week of your vacation in Santa Monica but we seemed uncoordinated in our plans and didn't find any outstanding dining. 


We had a nice walk on the pier and the boardwalk and did find a place to eat whence we scored some free wifi.  But it wasn't enough to post blog entries and barely good enough to do email.  We decided to call it a night and went to bed early, planning quite a few things for the next day, all day in LA.