California Dreaming – Central Coast Bound

When it comes to heading out on a relaxing, scenic adventure, there’s no question that the eye candy California’s Central Coast offers is the stuff that California dreaming is made of. But even the most stunning of scenery can take on a whole new look when it’s amplified by an extraordinary ride.So you can imagine how excited I was to get out of Fresno and the Central Valley for a few days, put the top down, crank up the XM on my Bose audio system, and test out my new Chevrolet Corvette along the sunny, mountainous shores of Santa Barbara. Sure, I’ve been to this charming seaside area dozens of times, but not in a convertible like this.As I tested out my six-speed manual transmission and glided up the traffic-laden highway in my Atomic Orange Corvette – out of Fresno and toward my destination – I was sure that the charm of this Mission-era town and the coastal communities just outside would take on a whole new charm.A VERY quick 250 or so miles – and I arrived at my destination. It felt like I was worlds away from Fresno. The Spanish architecture of Santa Barbara, with its tell-tale adobe buildings, gives this beachside community a beautiful and historic charm. The Red Tile Walking Tour is one I definitely recommend – it covers 12 blocks and shows off the Court House, Mission Santa Barbara and the gorgeous Stearns Wharf, which extends out into the bay for prime beach views. But for me, it was all about the drive. So after a quick check-in at my hotel, I was once again behind the wheel of my Corvette, heading toward Los Padres National Forest.

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The vivid beauty of this 24-mile scenic drive through the mountains, along the coastline and the Channel Islands was definitely a whole new experience in a high-performance convertible. My Corvette not only hugged the twists and turns of Highway 33 like a champ, its good looks even had other drivers doing a double-take. On the edge of Los Padres National Forest is the town of Ojai (an Indian name that means “nest”) so I decided to stop and grab a bite to eat. This quaint community is chock full of art galleries, adorable shops and caf├ęs.Next stop before heading back to Santa Barbara for the night – Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. Located along Highway 54, about 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, this place is great for camping, boating, fishing, hiking – you name it. But I was bound and determined to find a little place called Cold Springs Tavern, a secluded restaurant and pub off Old Stagecoach road. I’ve heard from my friends in Fresno that it’s impossible to find, and I’ve tried several times – but thanks to the OnStar navigation in my Corvette, I bypassed part of the highway at Kinevan, and ran right into Cold Springs Tavern. The food and atmosphere at this old stagecoach stop-turned-bar-restaurant was every bit as good as they say. (Try the Game Chili and Onion Rings!)After heading back to the hotel for a good night’s rest, I was ready for another adventure in my Corvette. On to Solvang I would go, just 35 miles north on the 101. Each time I pull up to this Danish village, I’m always taken aback by its charm. More than half of the town people claim Danish descent and it’s more than apparent in the architecture: thatched roofs, wooden storks, windmills and cobblestone sidewalks. I spent the morning walking around, visiting shops and – of course – sampling the goodies at the bakeries! But it’s not all about Dutch flavor. This is very much Cowboy Country, so you’ll find a lot of great horse ranches nearby. Alisal Guest Ranch, just three miles from downtown, is a great place to stay. No TVs in these guest rooms – just outdoor cooking, campfires and horseback riding.

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After lunch, it was on to the Old Mission Santa Ines, established in 1804. This Franciscan mission is absolutely beautiful – and it’s just a short drive from downtown Solvang. I continued on to Nojoqui Falls County Park to check out the 164-foot waterfall. Luckily, I still had plenty of hiking gear and a change of clothes packed in the back of the Corvette, so I decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the park. It was well worth it.Before ending my two-day excursion and heading back to the Central Valley, I continued along through the rolling hills in my Chevy Corvette to the “Valley of Flowers” near the city of Lompoc. I can tell you, the nearly 20-mile-long flower field made for an absolutely stunning drive.While there were many places yet to explore: Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and Hearst Castle, it was time to head back to Fresno. Perhaps next weekend, I’ll be back in my Corvette, heading out for another coastal journey!