Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

On my way south, before getting to Santa Barbara, I stopped in San Luis Obispo for a few days. The big news here was that the plants in people’s yards started looking wonderful. And they smelled good! Really fragrant! Wow! Just walking around a block I’d walk by 4 or 5 different wonderful scents from these plants. This was the first city on my way down the coast that smelled this good. Maybe it just seems this way because I’ve spent little time here and haven’t seen these kind of plants, but the plants people have in their yards here seem so much more beautiful and varied that what I’m used to from the midwest. 

After that I went down to Santa Barbara. There are some national forests around there, so I went into the forest to camp for a while. I went to the Santa Barbara district which is – big surprise – right by Santa Barbara. Turns out they are worried about fires right now and don’t allow you to do much of anything. You want to camp? Ok sure, yeah, you have to go into one of the 2-3 campgrounds right next to each other (basically a parking lot). Oh and you have to pay $20 per night. No fires anywhere in the Santa Barbara ranger district. No No No. NO! 

So I went down into Santa Barbara. I’d spend the next 15 days there. Santa Barbara is really freakin’ nice.

Santa Barbara

(Shopping area, just off State Street)

Santa Barbara in a few paragraphs

First thing’s first: the best beach there is Hendry’s. It’s way better than the others. The second best beach is over by the 4 seasons resort, which has free wifi. Santa Barbara was the first place on my journey down the California coast where the water was warm enough to swim in relative comfort. It’s still pretty cold, but you can go in it without wanting to get right out. And it’s not cold enough to painful. The weather was absolutely perfect while I was there. The highs ranged from 70-85 and the lows were around 50-60. I spent 6 days at the beaches – at least a few hours each time laying on the beach, reading, and going in the ocean. 

The main road in downtown is State Street. It’s really nice. They’re doing shopping right. No mall. Lots of stores along a downtown street. There are pianos sitting on most corners along State Street. Each time I walked the length of the street (about a mile), I’d pass 4 or 5 people playing a piano very well. I never knew that so many people who are just walking around in public can sit down at a random (and I’d guess, pretty crappy) piano and play wonderful music. I bet there are very few cities where you could get music of this quality by placing communal pianos downtown and letting whoever wants play them. Maybe something to do with how much money people spend? (including piano lessons for kids)

 This is a great city for road cycling, as long as you like going up hills. The city is on a pretty narrow stretch of flat land between the coast and hills/mountains. There are a number of different paved roads going up those hills. I rode up San Marcos St. 4 or 5 times. The views from that road are wonderful. Others (Gibraltar) are probably as good or better.

House prices in Santa Barbara are insane. I checked Zillow and put an upper limit of $500,000. No results. NO RESULTS. There are some small and crappy houses here but there’s not one for sale for less than half a million. People here seem to spend a LOT of money.

The age demographics here are odd. There are a ton of old people. There are a lot of college kids. There’s not many people in between. Except for in the Mexican parts of town. They have all the normal age ranges. 

How about a History Lesson?

There is some interesting history here. I know very little of it, and It’s now been a few weeks since I read about this so I forget the names and the details are cloudy, but I’ll share it anyways

There was a guy – an American – a decorated guy who had some fame for bravery, exploration, and other successes. He was in charge of the American military in the area at the moment when the U.S. decided California was too awesome to let Mexico keep having it. This awesome guy lead the U.S. Army (or whatever) over the nearby mountains to storm into Santa Barbara for a battle.

Backing up a little – the Spanish had set up a fort in Santa Barbara. It was a few acres in size. It was some buildings and hallways that made an outer square, with most of the middle open (although there were also houses and other buildings added to the middle at some point). 200 people lived in there, and 50 or so were soldiers. Now, I guess, this fort and the land were a part of Mexico.

So the brave Americans come running down the hill over the mountains. It was snowing and cold and everything up there. Windy as hell. Slippery. Treacherous! A bunch of their horses and mules died. But no soldiers. They came charging down the hill towards Santa Barbara, foaming at the mouth, ready to crush these little Spaniards/Mexicans into oblivion. 

The Mexicans in the fort saw them coming and were appropriately worried. A nice old lady in the fort convinced the leadership that it wasn’t worth fighting. When as the Americans charged in, the Mexicans said “nah, we don’t want to fight”. So they didn’t fight. I don’t know exactly what happened next. But pretty soon all of California belonged to the United States.

Vandwelling in Santa Barbara

It’s easy.

Parking is generally easy. In the suburbs to the west, there are plenty of neighborhoods with room to park. In Santa Barbara itself, it’s more congested, but still pretty easy to find spots. The tricky part is the street cleaning schedule. They have a very specific rotation and each street has a 2 hour “No Parking” window every week when the street sweeper comes through. The schedule is all spread out, so one street may be closed 8-10am Monday, and the next 1-3pm Tuesday, and so on, with the cleaners appearing to work full days all weekdays. Well, one time I parked and forgot to check the sign, and I happened to pick the wrong street at the wrong time and caused a little bit of the street to not be cleaned and got a ticket for $50.

I found some good areas to park east of State Street, over where a lot of Mexicans live. It’s also very easy to park in the western suburbs.

At the beach – the one by the four seasons

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

 

When I was taking the pictures above, a guy walked by and talked a bit. Then I saw him a little ways down the beach and we spoke more – for about an hour. He’s probably in his 50’s. When I told him about my van and traveling, he told me a bunch of stories of his own – how he’s had two different Volkswagen vans that he either lived or traveled in. How he went to Yosemite a TON of times and would camp there against the rules, hidden in plain site in his van (and would just not respond to the knocks of rangers, which would quickly move on) or hidden out in the park, at times in a sleeping bag on a tarp, out in the open with no tent, just nestled in some prairie. He said there are groups of climbers and other sorts of people who know a bunch of tricks for free camping in Yosemite. 

 Santa Barbara

 

On the way down to San Diego:

Santa Barbara

What’s next? I’ll be in and around San Diego for the next month or more. (I drove through the entire Los Angeles area quickly. I wasn’t in the mood for LA. I did have an In N Out Cheeseburger. mmmmmmmm, yeah buddy!)

Big Sur

Big Sur

I drove all the way through Big Sur in one day. From Carmel to Cambria. There is a national forest stretching about 50 miles along the coast. There was a big fire this year and that entire district is closed. Normally, it seems like it’d be a wonderful place to camp. I stopped at the information center to ask them about it. This Forest has very few roads. There is no MVUM. They don’t allow dispersed camping like most NF districts do. Only camping in designated areas. I’ve seen this kind of setup referred to as “designated dispersed camping areas”. They change them around to limit impact, and it looks like they have 5-6 areas open at one time. You can get a map from them showing the current camping areas.

This stretch of coast is very beautiful. There are many other beautiful spots along the entire California coast, and  the views in Big Sur aren’t any more special. But in Big Sur, there are a lot of those wonderful views packed consistently in a short distance. Other than going up in to the National Forest, there’s not really anywhere to stop and camp. That’s why I drove the whole thing in one day. I got some fairly good pictures, but often it was overcast which isn’t good for taking pictures of big open views.

Big Sur

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge

This is the Big Sur bridge that you’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures and videos of. It’s at the north end of Big Sur.

Big Sur - Bixby Bridge

Big Sur - Bixby Bridge

Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur

McWay Cove

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

This is McWay Falls, in McWay Cove. It’s that famous spot you’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures of. There is a pretty good story about this spot. The two main people in the story are women. I forget the details. One of them was a sort of poor/normal person. I think she lived right around here first. The other was, I believe, an orphan but she also inherited a bunch of money. The second Lady also came and lived here. I think she is the one that built a house overlooking this cove. When they first made the house, there wasn’t a beach here. It was just cliffs or hill all the way down to the water. The waterfall dropped into the ocean. Then there was a landslide a bit to the north. A bunch of that landslide ended up in the cove and made the beach.

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

I only spent a couple days in the San Francisco area. Instead, I got on moving from San Francisco to Big Sur. I’d been driving a lot, and I spent most of the last two months in cities. I wasn’t excited about hanging around another big city. Especially one as dense as San Francisco. I drove across the Golden Gate bridge in the evening on a Saturday. The city was PACKED. There was a ton of traffic. Cars everywhere. Almost nowhere to park on the street. So I drove through the city and 5-10 miles into the suburbs. It was easier to park, but the streets were still packed full down there. I was in no mood to search and fight for parking spots.

San Francisco to Big Sur

Music Festival. Hipsters everywhere

The next day, a girl told me about a huge free music festival going on: in Golden Gate Park: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. What? A bluegrass music festival?!  Sweet. Well, I happened to drive right by where it was happening and that explained part of why it was so busy. So on Sunday I drove back up there and went to the festival. It was cool. I think they should change the title from “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” to “Barely any Bluegrass” though.

It was great people watching. I haven’t seen this many hipsters since leaving St Louis. I saw more cans of PBR and PBR shirts than I ever have in one place before. People had their most stylish and weird hippie/hipster/festival outfits on. The park rules about bringing in alcohol, and especially selling it, are quite strict and tough sounding, so I was a tiny bit worried about the flask I was bringing it (wondering if they might have an entrance where they search people – although frisking would still be unlikely). But upon arriving it was obviously more of an anything-goes event. Some of the more enterprising hipsters were walking around with coolers or cases of beer and selling them for $5 and up per can.

One of the funniest things I remember from that day was seeing a woman and child talking as I was walking by. The child was obviously not hers, it seemed like they didn’t really know each-other. There was one of those big fat bees on the woman’s hand, and they were both looking at it. As I pass by, I hear the boy ask, entirely seriously: “Is that your pet?” I loved that kind of imaginative open-mindedness. Another thing I saw was a very bohemian looking guy walking with a basket. In the basket was a fluffy rabbit. One woman, quite polished and preppy looking, saw the rabbit and just reached out to pet it. The guy pulled in the basket to his chest and turned away a bit to reject her attempt. This was probably a woman not used to being physically rejected so immediately, but she seemed to take it ok. A couple seconds and about 10 feet of walking later, another woman, more hippie-ish, saw the rabbit and asked to pet it. The guy was happy to let her.

So, take note, if you want to meet girls at a festival, the rabbit strategy is extremely effective. Anyways, the music was good. I left a couple hours before the end and got the hell out of San Francisco.

Cowell Ranch Beach

One of the fancy little towns just a bit south of San Francisco is Half-Moon Bay. A bit south of HMB is Cowell Ranch Beach. This is a REALLY nice beach! The area is basically just the beach and a parking lot 1/2 mile from the beach. The parking lot is small – room for about ten cars. I pulled in around noon on a weekday. In the parking lot, there were 3 black Lincoln Navigators and 3 black Mercedes, and most of them had a guy in a suit sitting in the driver’s seat.

Ok, looks like some spendy people hired fancy cars to take them to this beach. I figured it was either a wedding, or some silicon valley company outing. When I went down to the beach, I saw a family – just 4-5 people. They had a nice setup on the beach. Canopy things. Tables and chairs. At the back of the beach were boxes /containers of stuff, and a guy sitting or standing there. The family Patriarch waved at the guy and he jumped up, grabbed a camera that was sitting on one of the boxes, and ran over towards the family – ok, this was their personal photographer. There were no other people around. The beach has ends that would not be hard to walk past. There was a trail that left from the top, where these pictures were also taken from, but that trail is only open on weekends and it was gated closed. So I was wondering why there were 5-6 cars for this small amount of people.

When I started heading back for lunch, it looked like the family was done back there and would come back soon. They did, and then all the cars, bit by bit, left. (I couldn’t see where they got in the cars, it was sort of around a corner from me). Anyways, I hung out there the rest of the afternoon and took these pictures at sunset

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

I stopped for a few days in Santa Cruz and that seems like a nice enough place. I also stopped a bit in Monterey.

Carmel-By-The-Sea

Carmel is a really fancy little town. I spent 5 or so days here.  Parking in Carmel could seem tricky because in all the residential areas, there are signs saying you can’t park overnight unless you have some permit. But in the downtown area, there are no permits required, it’s just 2 hour parking from 8am to 6pm. You can park at the beach all day long, and you just can’t park there from midnight to 6am. So my daily routine was like this:

  • Wake up, drive van from where it’s parked downtown to the beach. It’s about a 1/4 mile away and there’s a parking lot right at the beach.
  • Have breakfast. Do whatever – read, computer stuff, etc.
  • Walk around on the beach
  • Work out (bodyweight strength training)
  • Maybe take a nap
  • Take some pictures if there are clouds when the sun is setting.
  • After it’s dark, drive van and find a spot on a quiet street downtown

San Francisco to Big Sur

The 5th or so night, I was a bit more daring that I should be and I parked on the main street downtown. The cops came and knocked on the van at 11pm to tell me that there is no camping allowed in the city. He suggested I go park in a shopping center that’s on the edge of town (there’s a Safeway, Starbucks, gas station, etc.). He said that I’ll probably see some other vans/campers parked, and that the cops won’t bother me there.

 San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

There were only clouds and a sunset one night. A different evening I felt like shooting, so I walked along the beach looking for subjects.

San Francisco to Big Sur

The beach here in the town is really long, and there were many people out. There was no one in the water except for these two kids: the only people with the kind of excitement about life that it takes to brave the cold Pacific. And they were in the water a long time.

San Francisco to Big Sur

They were about knee deep in the water, but they were small enough and the waves big enough that they were knocked over by some. They always stayed near eachother. When they saw a big wave approaching they’d hold hands so they could feel the wave crashing into them but not fall down with it.

A Ferrari is not out of place in Carmel. The Ferrari probably cost more then $150,000. I’d guess it’s used 5 hours per month. The van cost $15,000 (to purchase and build out). I use it about 500 hours per month. To each his own.

San Francisco to Big Sur

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

This area is just a few miles south of Carmel. It has a bunch of walking trails and many nice views. There is also a TON of poison oak here. I got some on my arms and legs. It’s annoying, but not nearly as itchy as poison ivy.

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

I can’t recall what town these were from

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

Northern California: Border to San Francisco

Northern California

I drove through much (all?) or Northern California in just a few days, from the border to San Francisco.

Northern California

I’d hurried to Crescent City, CA – which is basically the first northernmost town along the California coast. Here, I would start my meandering down the entire California coast. This is the most popular and desired road trip in America. The most beautiful highway. The exclamation point on the western edge of the United States. The manifest destiny fulfilled.

Northern California

Climate-wise, I got down to Northern California later than I should’ve. It was cold. So I moved south to and through San Francisco quickly – in a week or less. Once I got past San Francisco, I stopped to pause in some towns – mainly Santa Cruz and Carmel-By-The-Sea. But basically, I went quickly down to Carmel and then paused for about 5 days before going through Big Sur.

Northern California

The Northern California coast is a difficult place to live in a van. There are some long stretches without towns big enough to blend in or even park off the highway. From the border to Big Sur there are no National Forests. I’ll cover Big Sur in a future post, but the National Forest at Big Sur is closed entirely because of a big fire. Normally that would be a great place to pause for quite a while and go between the coast and campsites in the Forest.

Many days I drove south in chunks of about 150 miles. That would take me a long time because I’d stop a lot to walk around, relax, and take pictures.

Avenue of the Giants

This is a really cool stretch of 20 or 30 miles. The original highway 1 was rebuilt at some point. Avenue of the Giants is a stretch of the original Highway 1 that was kept and is still maintained (and is now highway 258). The new highway runs basically parallel to the old, but the old passes through a number of redwood groves:

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Coast Pictures

This first one is in Crescent City. I spent a few afternoons in spots just like this.

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

 

Bike Ride Surprise

One morning, I was parked at one of the little turnouts/parking lots next to the road that overlook the coast. I had breakfast and was doing whatever, and I noticed a lot of people bicycling on the highway. So far the only cyclists I’d seen on the highway were bicycle tourers. At first I figured there were people riding was because it was Saturday. There were so many that I decided it would be a good (safe) day for me to ride along the highway. As I was getting myself and my bike ready to ride, I realized that this was a large organized event.

There are a lot of cycling events where people pay money to ride ($30-$100), and some person/group organizes it – they get routes planned and mark them with signs on the road, they hire police where needed to direct traffic / encourage drivers to drive safely and not road rage on the cyclists / set up food stations at various points along the routes / get “marshall” riders – who know the area and route and who ride along and will help people as needed. I joined the ride and had a whole string of good luck:

1 – They were riding south, so I also went that way. 200 meters from where I started, the route turned left to go inland. That morning I had actually driven back north from the little town I slept in. If I hadn’t done that, or hadn’t driven as far north, I never would’ve seen the riders.

2 – As soon as we turned onto the road inland, it went up a big, fairly long hill. A ride like this includes a lot of old guys and people who don’t ride a ton, so I was passing nearly everyone. One thing I noticed about this ride is that there were a LOT of ride marshalls (they all had bright orange/yellow jerseys identifying them). Only two people passed me going up the hill, and the second one was a marshall. I had been wondering where the route was going. These rides include really long routes (up to 100 or even 150 miles). I’m not in the greatest shape and there’s no point in riding really far, so I needed to figure out how to get back to the van. I didn’t want to just turn around and go down the same road because there were so many riders coming up that me going down against them all would be kind of unsafe. So I rode along behind this marshall for a while and then asked him about the route. This marshall was the only person I spoke to on the ride.

3 – He told me about the route and which turns I should make to get back to the van. He also told me about the event, and explained that it was put on by a guy named Levi Leipheimer, who was a top level pro racer for many years. He said there were a couple other pros here – Jen Ulrich (a very very good rider from Germany. He won the Tour De France once or more and then was 2nd place behind Armstrong like 4 times), plus a current pro named Andrew Telansky. He said they were riding on an entirely different route than we were. Then we were talking about my bike. I have a cyclocross bike, not a normal road bike. I got this bike so I could ride more comfortably on gravel/dirt/rough roads and trails. He said there’s actually a gravel road, a shorter path back, and that he was thinking about taking this route. So, I stayed with him. When we got to the gravel road, he pointed it out for me and decided that he’d go this way. It was more of a trail than a road, and was a really fun. It was all downhill, mostly going through thick trees/forest.

4 – We were going the opposite direction of the route. Since we were going backwards, it was sometimes a little surprising or confusing for the riders that were going the normal way. (This gravel road was part of a really long/challenging route, and there weren’t very many riders on it, probably 3% as many riders as the route I had been on initially). Sometimes we’d pass a person and they would ask if we were ok, or they’d as if they were going the right direction. Since this was a tough route, the guys we were passing were quite fit, and some of them were going up the hill really quickly. We passes one group of three riders and the first one asked if we were ok. The marshall tells me “Hey, that was Levi Leipheimer!”. Then we pass another guy – this one was Andrew Telansky and was recognizable because he still races and thus had his team clothes on. We also figured that the third rider behind Leipheimer must have been Jan Ulrich. You folks reading this have probably never heard of these guys, but they are huge stars. This is sort of like going to a local pick-up football game and seeing John Elway and Randy Moss playing there (though not exactly, because they were there to promote the event).

So anyways, that was a pretty cool string of unexpected and lucky turns.

Northern California

Northern California

Omar and Laura

One day I was in a little parking lot off the road. There was a pretty nice beach down a path from this lot. Another van pulled in (A Dodge high top conversion van), and a guy with an accent came over to my van and asked me if I minded him taking a shower over by his van, and how far it was to the beach. I spoke with one of them a bit more later on, and then they invited me to have lunch with them. The guy (Omar) is from Spain, and the woman (Laura) is from France. They had flown into San Francisco within the lat week, and found and bought their van a few days ago. They found a nice deal: $2,500 for a good condition van with 90k miles in San Francisco. They are both world travels and actually met fairly recently at a free outdoor Rolling Stones concert in Cuba. They were quite new to van dwelling and had some technical questions that I was able to help them with. Of course, we had wine with lunch :-). Before leaving I asked to take a picture:

Omar joked a few times about being together 24 hours a day and getting a bit tired of each other. When they came over for the picture, instead of standing together, Laura claimed ownership of my van:

Northern California - Omar and Laura

And Omar volunteered to take a picture of me:

Northern California