California Dreaming: Santa Barbara to Los Angeles

Since we weren't even spending 24 hours in Santa Barbara, I didn't do a lot of research about where to stay.  Luckily, I found the Agave Inn, a remodeled motor inn located on the outskirts of the city.  It was perfect for what we needed and came with the added bonus of being across the street from a fantastic French bakery, Renaud's Patisserie. 

We decided to pass through Ojai on our way down to L.A. and it is a gorgeous drive through the mountains from Santa Barbara.  We spotted all sorts of wildlife along the way including a coyote!  The town itself has a funky, new-ageish feel and is home to many spas and spiritual retreats.  One of our main reasons to visit Ojai was Bart's Books, the largest independent outdoor bookstore in the country.  

On our way out of town we spotted The Farmer and The Cook, an organic market and restaurant.  We picked up snacks for the road, the most delicious sun-dried tomatoes and some olive oil from Ojai Olive Oil.  Made locally in the surrounding hills, the ranch where the oil is made is open for tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but we had to settle for just buying a bottle at the market.  

As we approached Los Angeles we couldn't resist pulling over at one of the many beaches along Hwy 1 and dipping our toes into the surf along with the seagulls and pelicans.

California Dreaming: Paso Robles

From Morro Bay, we headed inland to Paso Robles for a couple of nights.  The area is known for its large number of wineries, olive oil and walnut production and Paso Robles is it's center.  There are lots of great shops and restaurants here, many of which are centered around the charming City Park.  We stayed right across the street from the park at the Paso Robles Inn.  We had a large suite with a sitting area, small kitchen, and best of all, a hot tub on the back porch.   The town is also known for its hot springs and it was pure luxury to put the kids to bed and soak in the hot tub with a glass of the local wine.  There is also a heated pool that the kids took advantage of on more than one occasion and which served as a nice way to wind down after a long day of being in the car.  

There is plenty to see in the area and we got an early start the next day and stopped in at a winery that came highly recommended, Ventaux Vineyards, in nearby Templeton.  We arrived just as they were opening and were able to sample a few of their fantastic wines while the kids ran around outside and played with the resident dog.  The woman who assisted us gave us lots of great tips, including recommending a local place where we ate dinner that night.  

Photo courtesy of Ventaux Vineyards

Photo courtesy of Ventaux Vineyards

Photo courtesy of  Ventaux Vineyards

Photo courtesy of  Ventaux Vineyards

She also tipped us off on a beautiful drive back into Paso Robles and we found some great places to stop along the way.  The first place was Limerock Orchards, a walnut orchard with a beautiful shop and tasting room that sells all things walnut-related:  oils, brittle, butters, and more.  We picked up some wonderful walnut oil and brittle (which did not last long).  This is also a nice spot to stop and enjoy a picnic.

A little further down the road Pasolivo is pressing their olives into the most delicious blends.  We particularly loved the basil (great on pizza) and lemon.  They also have really nice vinegars and spice blends.  You can sample everything and the kids really got into tasting all the different oils and trying to guess what the additional flavorings were.  

We found ourselves back in Paso Robles at lunchtime and went to Artisan, right across the street from our hotel.  Everything was fantastic but I had one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten!  All of the ingredients on the menu are sourced locally and lunch is a casual affair with sandwiches, salads, and pizzas on offer.  A number of wines (and beers) are served "on tap."

We peeked in at General Store next door, which has a little bit of everything (hence the name) but it is all something you would want to have in your house.  

Across the park from General Store was the kids favorite find, Powell's Sweet Shoppe.  Although it feels like a mom-and-pop kind of place, it is actually a chain.  With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original one) playing on a loop, you can find every kind of candy there is.  I saw many things that brought me back to my own candy-buying days and that I hadn't seen since.  

Based on a tip from a local, we toured the San Miguel Mission in San Miguel, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Paso Robles.  Spanish missions can be found all over California in varying states of preservation.  This one was on the small side but we had the place almost to ourselves and I loved all of the original artwork in the church, which is still in use most days.

For dinner, we tried out Pier 46 Seafood Company.  Both a fish market and a sit-down restaurant, it seemed to be popular with the locals and had very good fish tacos, fish and chips, and a fantastic crab cake salad.  There is also a Trader Joe's right next door, so you can stock up (as we did) on snacks for the road or grab an after dinner treat.