If we had a destination, it was the Pacific coast. After stopping for dinner with a high school classmate – it has been 50 years – north of Los Angeles, we started up the Pacific Coast Highway. If anything surprised us, it was the smog first in Bakersfield and then along the coast from Los Angeles to north of Santa Barbara. Suddenly we have more sympathy for California’s strict environmental regulations.
We stopped in Lompoc to pick up some snacks and get the car washed. The car wash attendant recommended River Park for a picnic. It could hardly have been better. It was next to fields and fields of flowers, evidently being raised for seeds as they were in full bloom.
San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties have numerous vineyards, but we were particularly impressed with the rich soil and fields of vegetables in the Santa Maria valley. Not surprisingly, most stores along the way, like those in the San Joaquin Valley, cater to Mexican farm workers.
Traditionally, Alie celebrates her birthday with what she calls her favorite pastimes, “sloth and gluttony.” Trying to cut back on my cholesterol consumption, it has been decades since I ate a pint of ice cream a night, but I still celebrate my birthday with an annual classic banana split. Neither of us particularly cares if it is on the actual day. So when we saw the Shelter Cove Lodge sitting high on a cliff near Pismo Beach, we not only stopped early, we decided to stay an extra night and have a day at the beach.
Pismo Beach is named after the Pismo clam, and they are very popular here. But we are not clam fans. Nonetheless after a nice dinner, we asked the waitress to betray her employer (who had some very fancy desserts) and recommend a place where one could find an annual banana split. We were lucky. Young as she was, she understood. She was an aficionado and recommended Doc Burnsteins in the nearby town of Arroyo Grande.
The next morning, in order to give the maid time to clean the room, we wandered into town. Wandering into a candy shop, we saw two fellows using a machine to wrap freshly made taffy. One reached back and gave us a couple pieces. We bought a pound.
We strolled out the broad wooden pier, over 1700 feet long, watching surfers and fishermen along the way. And then, Alie gave up some of her day so we could drive to Arroyo Grande. The ice cream was excellent, the nuts were of several varieties, and there were fresh strawberries in the strawberry sauce. It was the best banana split ever.
An early riser, I had walked on the beach at low tide in the early morning fog. I discovered waves had cut an arch in the promontory in front of the lodge. Rule One: take time to be quiet. In the afternoon, allowing Alie some quiet time with her real passion, a book, I returned at high tide and just sat for about an hour watching a fisherman and his dog. The dog, a young lab, was content to play by himself, tossing and chasing a rock for an hour. Then another fellow arrived with his lab and began tossing a stick into the water to retrieve. The two dogs were having a great time chasing that stick and each other as I left.