On the Pacific

Santa Barbara Winter Escape

Part 1 of the Series: Wines of Santa Barbara

I return to California fairly often, mostly to the northern regions. The trips are even more pleasing when I can escape Illinois and its winter chill. But it has been many years since I have had the pleasure of returning to southern California, a place I used to call home. So, I literally jumped at the opportunity to combine business with a touch of nostalgic pleasure as plans came together for a trip to Santa Barbara.

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The Winter Chill

When we left Chicago, the temperature was five degrees below zero. The wind pushed the chill to nearly twenty below. And the plane was full of passengers who were more than ready to leave the arctic freeze behind.

As the wheels left the ground, I was mentally already back in Santa Monica. It was easy to recall my frequent “escape” trips to Malibu and beyond. I would drive north on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) at every opportunity I could get. At least when I managed to get some free time.

Los Angeles and Santa Monica were crowded even back then, but my apartment was only two blocks from the beach. A brief walk of perhaps three minutes or so and the crowds would seem to disappear from sight. They blended right in with the coastal range to the east and behind me. Often, I could feel almost alone on the sandy shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Mob Scene

lax airport
LAX LA” by monkeytime | brachiator is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I had not been back to the L.A. area for several years and I wondered if much had changed. it hadn’t, really. It was just more crowded than I had imagined it could ever be.

Even the cramped quarters of the 757 did not quite prepare me for the mob scene just outside of LAX. It was a Friday afternoon. Yvonne and I were met with the full assault of the “getaway day” traffic. This was the result of some poor planning on my part. I had thought that perhaps we would be getting Santa Barbara at around 5:30pm or so. No such luck.

Our first encounter was the over-crowded Sepulveda Boulevard traffic. We then entered the congested parking lot known as the San Diego Freeway (northbound). I had my doubts that I would ever get to Santa Barbara at all, let alone on time.

Take the Coast Highway?

I had decided that it would be foolish to attempt a stop in Santa Monica to drive past some of my old haunts. There simply wasn’t enough time, so I decided to take the Coast Highway instead of following the 405 to 101.

That route wasn’t any better. It took almost an hour to drive the approximately 17 miles to Malibu. But north of there, traffic eased a bit and soon I felt as if I could breathe again. Besides, the air was some 75 degrees warmer than Chicago and it was a beautifully cloudless afternoon.

pacific ocean sunset
Point Mugu sunset

The “Green Flash”

The vastness of the Pacific reached up to swallow the giant yellow setting sun just as we reached Pt. Mugu, so we stopped along the road to watch the spectacle and snap a few pictures. I thought that there might be a chance to catch a glimpse of the “green flash”, but the sun fell behind an offshore island, and we lost the opportunity.

I didn’t care – the freshness of the salt air was exhilarating, and I was ready to head farther north. We passed through the twilight as we wended our way past Port Hueneme and finally through Oxnard and Ventura, where we picked up Route 101 to finish our journey into Santa Barbara.

The last 35-40 miles were driven in total darkness, but the Santa Barbara exit signs were welcome relief. It was not quite 7pm local time. I was relieved to be at the end of the first part of our journey back to the coast.

Places to Stay in Santa Barbara

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We launched this website in 2004 after getting married on a beautiful bluff just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, on the patio of a small restaurant called Rocky Point. Since that time, we have returned to the West Coast as often as time and funds would allow, always seeking new restaurants, wineries, beaches, unforgettable memories…“


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