We continue our road trip by leaving Santa Barbara behind and heading land inwards to Santa Ynez Valley, the wine country. Our first stop along the way was Solvang, Danish for “sunny field”.
Danish?! You say?
Yes, Solvang, a Danish colony in California. Originally found in 1911 to escape the midwestern winters. Currently the city is mainly a tourist hub with restaurants, bakeries and merchants offering a taste of Denmark in California. Lots of the architecture reflects traditional Danish style.
There is also a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen.
Originally we planned to visit Hearst Castle. But since we already visited the Getty Villa – which delivers some real luxurious views – and knowing that all the key water features would be turned off due to the massive drought here in California, we opted for something different:
Horseback riding in the not so wild, wild west with Vino Vaqueros.
It was the first time for me riding a horse and I actually enjoyed it. Anniina had fun too riding Western style the first time, even though her horse Captain was taking its sweet time.
It was just the two of us and a guide, so we had all the time in the world to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the breathtaking ranches and vineyards in the region. We ended our stay with a chilled glass of white wine.
Moving on to the next big thing, a real wine tasting session at the Demetria Wine Estate. The estate is located above Foxen Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley. The property consists of 213 acres of rolling hills with high elevation hillside acres currently under vine. Rhone varietals are exclusively being planted here.
I really, really, really enjoyed the visit to this winery. And it confirms my idea about getting married in Tuscany, Italy one day. I cannot imagine a better location for that purpose.
Final destination for the next few nights was Monterey. For once we were fortunate enough to have enough time at one location to enjoy an evening of watching Netflix. It is actually something we are missing when constantly changing location.
Monterey, also nicknamed California’s “First” City, was the capital of Alta California under both Spain and Mexico and the only port of entry for taxable goods on the coast. This changed after the Mexican-American war.
As the Monterey Bay Aquarium was well above our attraction budget, we choose to do the free of charge sea lion watching near the aquarium, dozens of sea lions are literally chilling on the tide breaker.
It’s quite an experience to get to see so many of them in one spot in the “wild”. Not being locked up in a small pool.
In January 1958, the City of Monterey officially re-named Ocean View Avenue “Cannery Row” in honor of John Steinbeck and his novel that described a colorful past set amid the cannery culture of the time. Now, Cannery Row’s buildings are updated, shinier versions of turn-of-the-century canneries.
Cannery Row is the historic industrial district. There were a lot of large canneries, mostly packing sardines in the first half of the 20th Century. Apparently the sardines were over fished and led to the industry collapsing. For the past 35 years or so it has been the main tourist destination in the area.
We did not find it too interesting, since you could clearly tell there were only tourists here, and it is never an appealing factor. You want to see areas where locals can and want to go as well, only then it feels more authentic and vibrant.
The natural beauty and ocean resources of the Monterey Peninsula draw millions of visitors from around the world each year, including more than 65,000 scuba divers drawn by the area’s easy access, variety of wildlife, and massive kelp forests.
Anniina asked me more than once if I wanted to go for a dive, but I wisely declined the offer, knowing well that we are on the end of our trip – sad face – and we should save our last pennies for more important things. Even from the surface we were able to see several starfish, which Anniina found almost too fascinating.
Point Lobos contains a number of hiking trails, many next to the ocean, and a smaller number of beaches. It is also the home to a museum on whaling, which includes a historic building once used by area fishermen.
The longstanding wildlife protection and scenic seascape have led to Point Lobos’ reputation as an unparalleled local recreational scuba diving destination.
By buying a ticket to Point Lobos we could have visited other national parks nearby with the same price. However due to massive wildfires in the Big Sur area the parks were closed. We had already heard about the fires when arriving to Los Angeles and knew to expect to possibly change our plans.
When driving through the amazing, windy and narrow roads up and down the steep hills for two hours, we were really ready for some walking in the Big Sur national park. But it came apparent that everything was closed and Anniina ended up driving 3.5 hours straight those narrow roads and was quite tired after getting through. Still an amazing ride and our favourite part to drive of the whole trip.
We could see many thank you signs and restaurants offering discounts for firefighters all over Big Sur and Monterey.
Instead we drove to to Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is also a popular stop along the coast, a small charming town with little boutiques and art galleries. We felt it was a haven for a bit older people with some extra money to spend, and left home after an hour of strolling around.
Our last day with the car we drove to Capitola, a quaint little beach town. We took a stop here for the colourful residential seaside resort; The Venetian Court. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the first condominium seaside developments in California.
The two rows of colorful units nearest to the beach, as shown in the picture below, are privately owned condos, many of which are available as vacation rentals. We did not feel there is too much to the town than these houses and only stayed for breakfast. But for people off the coast it probably is a nice day at the beach. Judging by this and the stop to Carmel-by-the-Sea, we are clearly not made for small towns.
Before returning the car back home, we wanted to make a stop at Santa Cruz pier. It is about 1,5 half drive south of San Francisco and the home of a pretty popular skateboard brand. However we had not counted in the fact it was Saturday and a beautiful, warm day. Thus, we spend one hour stuck in a traffic right next to the pier and looking for a place to park.
Eventually we had to give up the search, since we needed to drop off the car by 4 pm. We chose to have a stress free ride to San Francisco (or at least try to, Anniina had some minor struggles making the right exits at the highway) instead of rushing through Santa Cruz. The place looked fun though, with also a small selection of amusement park rides by the beach.
Overall Anniina enjoyed driving me around like a good girl should do, he he. On a more serious note, the Pacific Ocean Highway is a one-of-a-kind experience we will never forget. American drivers are quite polite which makes it a lot more comfortable, even for unconfident drivers. The roadtrip also made it easier to plan our next travels, e.g. travelling by car along the Adriatic Coast in Croatia?!
We returned the car a bit earlier than expected, but did not mind, since it gave us a chance to look around our new neighbourhood-for-a-week, Mission District, on the arrival day. And after those first three hours in San Francisco we already knew, that we were going to love staying in that city.