Our final trip of 2022 commenced a short distance up the coast in Ventura County, California. We camped for three nights on the Rincon Parkway, along the old Pacific Coast Highway between Ventura and Santa Barbara. This is a wild experience because you open your front door onto the Pacific Ocean, where we were treated to bottlenose dolphins passing by, beautiful sunsets, and views of Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island, parts of the Channel Islands National Park.
While on the coast, we decided to take advantage of our proximity to Ventura Harbor, so we ventured out on a 3-1/2-hour Wildlife Cruise with Island Packers, the concessionaire for Channel Islands National Park. Heading out to Anacapa, we encountered a lone sea lion on a buoy, several common dolphins swimming in the boat’s wake, and loads of pelicans, gulls, cormorants, sea lions, and harbor seals on and around the three islets of Anacapa Island.
The absolute highlight of the cruise was spotting three gray whales in the middle of their 5000-mile journey from the Bering Sea of Alaska to Baja California.
A peaceful beach walk right from our RV rounded out this first full day of the trip.
We woke up on Christmas morning with a beautiful view of the ocean and a balmy day ahead of us (unlike much of the rest of the country).
We hooked up the car to the RV for a short drive north along Highway 101 through Santa Barbara, past several state beaches, and through a portion of Los Padres National Forest to arrive at our destination for the next week (Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton). This area is known for Solvang (Danish-themed nearby town), the wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley, and boating and fishing at Lake Cachuma, which we explored the next day.
Highway 154 past Lake Cachuma leads to Paradise Road, which took us back into the hills and windy roads of Los Padres NF, where there are lots of national forest day use areas and not very many visitors at the end of December.
A drive around the campground at Lake Cachuma (always checking out possible campgrounds for future trips) gave us some great sightings of two acorn woodpeckers and their stash of acorns in the telephone pole.
It was good that we had that exploration day because the next day it rained steadily (which we desperately need in California right now). We did make it down to Santa Barbara for lunch at Lure Fish House with our friend Rolf from our World Impact days. Rolf is notorious around SB for his harrowing shark encounter a few years back (click here to read his wonderful article).
Our friends Kim and Suzie brought their trailer up for a few days, so we did some exploring together, first heading to the La Purísima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc, which is one of the largest and most well-preserved of the California missions. We were introduced to the history of this area through their extensive visitor center and a knowledgeable park volunteer. The mission was established in 1787 and thousands of indigenous Chumash lived, worked, and died there over the next several decades.
The state park has a number of animals similar to those who were kept there during the time the mission was active—steers, sheep, and chickens—along with less-domesticated creatures, like ground squirrels, California scrub-jays, Western bluebirds, and acorn woodpeckers.
The buildings of the mission were restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, even authentically creating adobe bricks for the mission’s buildings. La Purisima is considered the most complete mission complex of all of California’s missions, so if you can only visit one mission, this is the one!
The buildings are structured so you can look inside and see how the people might have used looms, woodworking tools, an olive press, ovens, and everything needed to feed and care for thousands of people.
While it kept threatening to rain the next day, we decided to proceed with our reservation for e-biking and wine tasting with I Bike Santa Barbara. This was a good decision, as we only encountered a few minutes of sprinkles and had a wonderful day exploring the area. None of the four of us had ever ridden e-bikes, but after a quick lesson by owner William, we easily got the hang of it.
On our 16-mile loop, we rode past a lavender farm with some very old olive trees and a miniature horse farm (so cute!).
We stopped in the Danish-themed town of Solvang for some bakery refreshments before heading out to Ballard Canyon, where rolling hills, coast live oaks, and acres of vines kept us enthralled.
Oh yeah, and the goats removed from Catalina Island are enjoying a happy retirement here (along with some friendly alpacas), courtesy of a member of the Wrigley family (think gum and Chicago Cubs).
I loved the e-bike because it made going uphill a breeze and I could (mostly) keep up with Hank. After dismounting from our bikes, we headed to Rancho Olivos Olive Oil for some yummy olive oil tasting, followed by wine-tasting at Brander Winery & Vineyard, the very first vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Then a short drive took us to Rideau Vineyard for a gourmet lunch provided by our host (William) and a second round of wine-tasting. It was a great day (even with the threat of rain) and we highly recommend this outing for those of you traveling to Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley.
Having a whole week up here meant that we could have a more relaxed pace than we sometimes have on our travels. So after a busy Thursday, our Friday was relatively mellow. We did, however, make it to Ostrichland, where we fed and observed ostriches and emus, weird and funny enormous birds.
Around the corner from our campground in an industrial area was an unassuming eatery that came highly recommended by our friend Rolf, so we had to enjoy at least one meal at Industrial Eats. The place was packed and had great sandwiches!
New Year’s Eve was another rainy day, so we stayed inside and organized the RV. Kim and Suzie came over for games, dinner, football viewing, and watching the ball drop in New York at 9:00 p.m. Pacific time (so we didn’t have to stay up until midnight!). Happy New Year!
For our last full day in the RV, we headed out on a scenic drive of Drum Canyon Road (very narrow and windy), and then on to one of our favorite places in California, Pismo Beach, to check out the monarch butterflies, which are in great abundance this year.
We also enjoyed one of our favorite barbecue places, Ribline (in Grover Beach–thanks, Kirk, for the recommendation). And for our last wildlife fix of the trip, we drove over to the San Luis Pier at Avila Beach, where the sea lions were lounging and the sea otters were being their cute selves.
Huell Howser created California’s Gold segments on this part of the Central Coast and Santa Ynez Valley. Because we had watched a segment on the El Camino Real bells, we had to take a couple of photos of the famous bells along U.S. 101 (the Historic El Camino Real). It was a great conclusion to a relaxing 11-day trip!
Here is a 4-minute video summary of our Ventura/Santa Barbara trip.
Dedicated to Peter Mochrie and George Marshall, fellow travelers and explorers–rest in peace!