The adventure begins.
We paid dearly for an upgrade on our California-bound flight. Spending 11 hours in a metal tube hurtling through the air is painful no matter where you sit, so when we realized there were two business class seats left on the flight, we jumped at the chance to take them. Despite the cost, I’m finding as I get older that the upgrade on long haul flights is always worth it. Four movies later, we descend into the southern California desert, brown and dusty.
We’re not in London anymore.
Our dear little rental car is a red Chevy, which we picked from the row solely based on the USB port she has in the center console. We need our GPS to be fully intact for much of our adventure and the direct connection to the speaker system means that we can listen to podcasts and music from our phones.
The reason that our road trip starts in California, other than the ocean-to-ocean completeness factor, is for a much needed visit to see a dear friend. My best friend from college lives on her family’s ranch, Rancho San Julian, north of Santa Barbara. I have been visiting regularly for over ten years, but in the time since our last trip out, big brother Jack (now four) has been joined by new arrival Hank, the next generation of ranchers with perfect ranch names.
Ranch life is intense and beautiful and simple.
As a working cattle ranch set on thousands of California acres, the work is never done. We spend one morning watching as a field of hay is bailed (for the cows to eat later…there is a multi-year drought going on and food is scarce). Another morning is spent at the main ranch house, gathering vegetables for CSA customers. When we realize the chickens have laid some eggs under the porch stairs, I get to fetch them in a tiny wicker basket. We eat them the next morning for breakfast.
The evenings start and end early. We inevitably grill a lot of beef, and supplement it with veggies straight from the garden. Greens are picked every day for the nightly salad. Preserves and jarred goods line the shelves, glass mason jars with handwritten labels. One night Drew makes his famous tomato sauce and meatballs, and we all fall into bed by 8:30. We sleep with the sun, easily adjusting back to American time zones.
One of the best parts of our visits to the ranch is visiting with the ranch dogs. Ranch dogs are workers. They round up cattle and are critical to a smooth operation. These dogs live the life they were bred for. Every morning, they jump into the bed of the pick-up, off for another day of work. Their official days off on the weekends are torture for them, and by Sunday night they’re digging up flower beds and causing trouble.
Monday can’t come soon enough.
Our brief time at the ranch is too short as always. We catch up with our friends, play with the kids, and bask in the warm clean air. I remind my friend once again that if I ever have a personal crisis situation, this is where I’m coming to recuperate. She reassures me that a bed will be ready for me.
When we pack up our little red Chevy, we start the mileage counter. Only 3,500 miles to go.
Rancho San Julian is 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, near the wine region known as the Central Coast (from the movie Sideways). We have visited a bunch of the wineries in the area and a day or two wine tasting is such fun.
This year, we visited the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, in Lompoc, CA, located rather oddly behind the Home Depot and consisting of dozens of small warehouses. It’s a great system for small wineries, as renting what is essentially a large storage facility is a lot cheaper than building an estate. We tasted at Tyler and Palmina but there are probably 20 producers in total and you could easily drink away the afternoon.
Our favorite restaurant in Lompoc is El Palmar. It is the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, and you know it’s gonna be good when you’re the only English speakers there. The quality of the freshly made corn tortillas is outstanding. Drink the Coke in a bottle (made the way it was originally, with sugar instead of corn syrup). It tastes totally different than the crap in a can. You can thank me later.
In Buellton, we visited industrial EATS for a fantastic lunch and then did a tasting at Alma Rosa, next door. This is one of the best tasting rooms I’ve ever seen, relaxed and comfortable and gorgeously designed. Shameless plug: we have a personal connection to the winemakers and highly recommend their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (all versions). They distribute widely in the USA (we’ve found it in Maine before which is saying something!).