Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway - Part II

Well, crap, I didn't mean for a month to go by before writing the second post (in a series of three) about our journey along the Pacific Coast Highway. Let's just say that June was a MONTH. So, without further ado, part deux: The Central (or Cowboy) Coast, featuring Santa Barbara, Ojai, San Luis Obispo, Hearst Castle, and Cayucos (whew - that's a lot, but stick with me).

It could be debated as to whether Santa Barbara and Ojai are part of the central coast or not, but just go with it for the blog's sake, okay? Both of these towns have a great California vibe - SB emanating that coastal chic and Ojai, that mountain village cool.

While my daughter and husband spent their entire time in Santa Barbara in the pool (her favorite thing about traveling these days), I went for a wander around town. I expected the beautiful coastline but was pleasantly surprised by the cute downtown - loads of stylish restaurants, shops, and AN URBAN WINE TRAIL. Need I say more?

But my favorite thing about Santa Barbara? Hands down, the courthouse. They don't make civic spaces like they used to, do they?

Taking in the views over Santa Barbara from the gorgeous clock tower.

The courthouse was built in 1929 in the Spanish-Colonial style, with ornate tiles, beautiful staircases, and lovely views from the clock tower. If I could visit just one thing in Santa Barbara, it would be the Courthouse. 

Santa Barbara coastal sunsets.

Ojai is a short drive east of Santa Barbara (and a favorite escape for Los Angelinas), and it exudes California charm. We spent just a brief afternoon there - enough to enjoy a perfect lunch and little shopping stroll ... basically my perfect day. My top recommendations: Azu Restaurant & Bar for delicious tapas, deKor&Co. for gorgeous home goods and Ojai Valley Inn if only to borrow those cute bikes with baskets attached.

As we move north from Santa Barbara towards San Luis Obispo (SLO), you start to reach the true cowboy coast. There are wide open fields and cattle ranchers, and while you still have the gorgeous coastline, there's this sense of the more wilder west that you don't necessarily associate with California.

When you reach SLO, you notice such a distinct change of pace from Southern California. It's slower (no pun intended). It has a small town feel with big city amenities (think great coffee shops, restaurants, and shops). And it has amazing sunsets.

Sunsets in SLO.jpg

The other thing it has is ... The Madonna Inn. I wish I had a good explanation for WHY this place is the way it is, but it truly is one of those places you have to see to believe. (Please forgive the momentary blip in this post's image aesthetic. It's worth it, I promise.)

There is nothing quite like the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.

Since we're on the topic of over-the-top opulence, shall we just jump to the Hearst Castle? Why not - it is just a short drive north of SLO.

The Pool House at Hearst Castle.

I had heard loads about Hearst Castle and always wondered why the hell it was in the middle-of-virtually-nowhere-California (no offense San Simeon), so I was interested to learn that this was family land that William Randolph Hearst grew up on, ranching and camping with his family. The of-the-earth beginnings are certainly in stark contrast to the over-the-top final vision. The design, envisioned by Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, derives heavily from centuries of European design history - think a mix of Medieval/Gothic/Renaissance. Bottom line - the decor and architecture are intense, but stunning, particularly if you have an appreciation for art and architectural history. Even if you don't, go to Hearst Castle for the grandeur and the slice of American celebrity/royalty history. We took the 'Grand Rooms Tour', mostly for time and kid-restraints, but it gave us a great taste of the extravagance of the home.

The only disappointing part of the tour was that the iconic Neptune Pool was still under renovation, but luckily the pool house made up for it.

So one last stop along the Cowboy Coast - Cayucos. This place was recommended to me on Instagram, and I'm so glad it was. It was a bit rough around the edges - typical Central Coast, but still so sweet. Case in point, the Brown Butter Cookie Company, which might have the best cookies I have ever tasted.

But what I loved the most about the area? The boardwalk along the coastline at sunset. What an unbelievable treat.

Part III - coming soon!

See My City: Why I Love San Diego

June marks our one year anniversary of living in San Diego. I've written before about how surprised I was to have taken to this city - and California in general - so quickly. I'm a midwestern girl with fair skin who wears SPF 80 to the beach and doesn't like to swim in the ocean (honestly, I need to see to the bottom of whatever I'm swimming in). How on earth was I going to fit into San Diego? Well, it turns out San Diego is more than just sunshine and a beautiful coastline. So to celebrate one year of loving this city, I'm sharing the most surprising things (to me) about San Diego.

The Architecture

My favorite thing about exploring San Diego is the discovering all the different types of architecture that exist here. From La Jolla's European-inspired neighborhoods to the cottages of Coronado, the South Park Craftsman to the Bankers Hill Victorian, and Balboa Park's Spanish Revival structures to the Salk Institute's stark modernism, there is something for everyone's architectural taste in San Diego. And I'm determined to find all the best examples of each.

The Restaurant Scene

The two food-related things I was most excited about eating when we moved to San Diego were tacos and In-N-Out. And honestly, a year in, I could still eat both of those once a week. But the food scene here in San Diego is SO much more sophisticated than I could have imagined. You only need to do a casual wander down India and Kettner Streets to get a sample of how diverse and how good the cuisine here is. From vegan (Kindred and Cafe Gratitude, I'm looking at you) to seafood (hello Ironside), to ramen (Oh, Underbelly) to Italian (Cucina Urbana, I love that you are my neighbor, and Buona Forchetta, I love hearing you speak Neapolitan while I devour my pizza), high end (that's you Herb & Wood) to fast casual (and your sister Herb & Eatery), the food in San Diego is superb and we are absolutely spoiled for choice. The best bonus: the restaurants are beautifully designed!

The Coffee Culture

I have previously written about the coffee culture in San Diego, but it already needs an update because I keep discovering new gems. I have yet to meet a coffee shop in San Diego that I didn't like - there is something about each that I enjoy. Across the board, the coffee itself is top notch (though nearly every San Diegan has a strong opinion about which is their favorite - Dark Horse Roasters is a perennial fav). Again, the designs of these spaces are gorgeous - go to Holsem for the clean, modern lines, to Cafe Bassam for the old school vibe (and one of my neighborhood gems), to Moniker Coffee for the cool vibe (and tiles) and to Communal Coffee for the friendliest baristas (not to mention that it's an insta-dream). And for all my matcha-lovers, you can't miss Holy Matcha.

The Love for Local Businesses

The incredible small business retail community - with so many owned by women! - has to be one of my favorite discoveries about San Diego. Patronizing these businesses is an absolute treat for me. Not only are the taste levels of these shops incredibly high, but the owners and staff are always friendly, knowledgeable, and oh-so personal, and its those touches that keep me coming back. I will be sharing more about these shops in a separate post, but a special shout out to Thread + Seed, Gold Leaf, Dutch, Green Fresh Florals, En Concordia and Pigment for always providing a truly special shopping experience.

The Classic Cars

If anyone follows me on Instagram, you may think that my attention is drawn to cars solely for the 'gram. But, if you know my family, you know that I'm surrounded by car-talk 24/7. My husband is a car fanatic and my daughter owns over 100 toy cars. With my contribution of classic car photos, we are 100% a car family. I had no idea that San Diego would be such a car city, but I am surrounded by beautiful classics that are so often ideally parked. I do a little happy dance every time I spot one. (If you are in town and want to do some solid classic car hunting, skip the beach in Coronado and wander the streets. There are SO many good finds. Contact me - I'll take you!)