This is the second, and closing, part of a report on a three-night getaway to Santa Barbara County. For the first part, please click here. As you’ll recall, Part One ended with a wonderful dinner at Bouchon.
Ahhhh … peace. You close your eyes and enjoy the rare sense that only cool air, soft sheets, no parental duties, no house chores and no appointments can conjure. Were the windows a conscious choice? You don’t recall, but it doesn’t matter. By leaving them raised a bit when you retired last evening after your dinner at Bouchon, you’ve woken to the happy chirping of birds in the garden outside a living room window close enough to let nature in, but far enough away to assure privacy. So much to savor here.
Fog may be clouding your skies, either from the wonderful wine pairings last evening, or from the contact between the cool, marine air mass along the coast and the dry, warm continental air mass over the Santa Ynez Mountains. If you blame the former, look on the bright side: Bouchon didn’t have a license to serve cocktails. Things could be worse.
That said, you do have a tough task ahead, wrestling as you must with the challenge of selecting your activities for the day from so many attractive alternatives. Before leaving the Bay area, you picked up a copy of “Walk Santa Barbara,” authored by Cheri Rae and John McKinney, who claims the name, The Trailmaster. It only set you back $10 from amazon.com, and it has provided you with an excellent guide to area trails.
Here’s an idea. Head, book in hand, to The French Press, where a perfectly pulled cappuccino and a fresh pastry await. What better venue to talk about the many beautiful, nearby trails, and caffeine can work wonders for mental clarity.
You had already planned to spend your last night in Los Olivos so that you could sample a few wineries near where Alexander Payne directed the movie, “Sideways.” One route to the area leads directly through a portion of the 1.8 million acre Los Padres National Forest that stretches from Carmel to south of Santa Barbara. “Walk Santa Barbara” leaves little doubt that Los Padres can fulfill almost any hiker’s dream, yours for this day included. You now have a plan, and off you go.
North to Native Rock Art
The Chumash Highway, also known as State Route 154 or the San Marcos Pass Road, serves not only as a scenic route to the wineries near Los Olivos, but also as a gateway to hiking and historic sights in Los Padres National Forest. From downtown Santa Barbara, you turn onto State Route 154 off of State Street (See the sign in the slide show included with this article). You’ll ascend into the hills above Santa Barbara, enjoying ocean views hopefully not obscured by fog.
A little less than 6 miles ahead, you can opt to turn on steep and narrow Painted Cave Road. It’s hard to pass up, as only a two-mile drive up Painted Cave will deposit you at Painted Cave State Historic Park. Watch very carefully for a small sign on the right that points to the opposite side of the road. A path begins there and leads to a cave that lies on the side of a steep hill.
Protected by sandstone boulders and now, an iron gate, the walls of that small cave served as canvas for ancient native Chumash rock art. With a flashlight, you can easily view the paintings, some thought to be 1,000 years old. One painted symbol is said to depict a relatively recent event in Chumash history: a solar eclipse that occurred in 1677. Get your pictures while you can. It is, after all, a state park subject to the politics of budget balancing.
Mud, Mules, and Modern Vistas
Returning to Chumash Highway you head northwest and in 3.6 miles find yourself at a turnoff to East Camino Cielo Road. You have plenty of late afternoon time to drink wine, and you know that the Fremont Ridge Trail runs off of Camino Cielo. At breakfast, you decided to trek the path taken by John C. Fremont in late 1846 as he led 300 men over the San Marcos Pass in the Santa Ynez Mountains to secure Santa Barbara during the Mexican-American War.
Some say Fremont captured or saved Santa Barbara. Since all Mexican troops had already left the city to defend other Mexican positions, the suggestion seems more hyperbole than fact. Regardless, Fremont did make the trek over the Pass in a torrential rainstorm. In the process, he lost cannons and 150 mules that slid in the mud down the slopes you’re now traversing. As fate would have it, he had no need for them in saving Santa Barbara from the ghost of his enemy.
You will no doubt enjoy your experience much more than he did as you hike the trail and enjoy views of Cachuma Lake to the west, the national forest to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Other hiking alternatives in the same vicinity include Tequepis Trail, Snyder Trail and the site of the remains of Knapp’s Castle.
Dining with Mudwagons
Returning to your car, you head back up Chumash Highway. That breakfast of coffee and pastry started the day off right, but rich in protein it wasn’t. Fresh off the trail, lunch sounds like a fine idea. In slightly less than 3 miles, consider heading west on Stagecoach Road. In only a mile and a half you’ll wind your way to Cold Spring Tavern, built in 1886.
Stagecoaches known as “mudwagons” stopped at Cold Spring Tavern long ago. Operators would change horses and let their customers enjoy a meal before continuing their journey over San Marcos Pass. You may not need fresh horses, but the meal sounds as inviting as it did over a century ago.
Views and Barricades
After lunch, continue on Stagecoach Road for a short drive to the underside of the massive Cold Spring Canyon Bridge. Construction of the 36-story bridge began in 1962 and consumed over 5 million pounds of steel by the time of its 1964 completion. Stop under the bridge for a dramatic photo opportunity, but after securing your memory, observe a moment of silence, in reverence. The engineering feat you gaze at above belies the pathos that lies below. Since 1964, 55 people have jumped from the bridge, falling to their deaths not far from where you stand.
Retrace your route back to the Chumash Highway, then turn northwest and head over the top of the Bridge. Obstructed by suicide barricades now in place to deter the forlorn, the view pales in comparison to that from the road below. But take heart. You’ll very shortly find one of the best views of the Santa Barbara backcountry just west of the bridge at the San Marcos Pass Vista Point.
San Marcos Pass
Pines and Oaks will surround you after you turn into the Point’s parking area. A break in the trees frames a window to the northeast. Gently sloping Fremont Ridge lies in the foreground, and other ridges lie beyond. A short uphill path leads from the parking area to another viewpoint featuring the San Rafael Range. A map on a stone pedestal can serve as your view guide.
In front of you lie pyramid-shaped Zaca Peak and the Cachuma Saddle, gateway to the San Rafael Wilderness. Beyond these, you are gazing at “The Big Three,” McKinley Mountain (elevation 6200) on the left, San Rafael Mountain (elevation 6593) slightly to the right of McKinley and Santa Cruz Peak (elevation 5570) to the right of San Rafael. The beautiful blue waters of Lake Cachuma lie northwest.
You’ll reach the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area after driving another 9 miles or so northwest on Chumash Highway. The area provides opportunities for fishing, hunting, hiking, camping and boating, including canoe and kayak rentals. Leaving Cachuma, you’ll pass through 7 miles of small farms and orchards bordering the Santa Ynez River in its valley setting.
Mixed into the valley setting are grape vines aligned as if plotted with a straight edge borrowed from your father’s workbench. The coastal fog that drifts through the valley’s east-west mountain orientation gives Santa Ynez valley a cool viticulture climate that permits grapes to remain on their vines longer and develop the distinctive character of the region’s wines. The tourist trappings of “Sideways” aside, the area provides rich opportunities for tasting a number of the area’s varietals in beautiful vineyard settings.
Turn left off of the Chumash Highway onto State Route 246 and then left again on Refugio Road. In one and a half miles you’ll reach the entrance to picturesque Sunstone Winery where you can enjoy the winery’s Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Merlot offerings. Two more wonderful tasting opportunities lie ahead, positioned as if for your personal convenience on your drive to Los Olivios.
Off of State Route 246, turn west to head to Gainey Vineyards and a setting arguably even more pastoral than Sunstone’s. Gainey’s Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlot wines will please your as much as the winery’s scenic backdrop. Make one last stop on your way to Los Olivos at Buttonwood Farm Winery. Less than a mile from Gainey, make a right on Alamo Pintado Road. In two miles, you’ll reach Buttonwood, known for its small lot wines, including great Sauvignon Blanc, and warm hospitality.
Day Nearly Done
A day’s sightseeing, hiking and wine tasting behind you, it really is time to surrender to some quiet time. Fortunately, you’re only three miles from Los Olivos and Sam and Shawnda’s Vineyard Retreat cottage. You booked it for your last evening away. Kick back and enjoy the couple’s warm welcome and your room’s relaxing vineyard views. Then, with their gift certificate in hand, head to their restaurant in downtown Los Olivos for a pleasing end-of-your-getaway dinner.
Your time away has come to an end. You haven’t yet enjoyed the deli at the Los Olivos Grocery or the delicious sandwiches at the Los Olivos Panino, but such is life. So much food, so little time, and you will be back. Returning to your cozy cottage, linger under the stars adorning the sky. As real life returns tomorrow, count these points of light as personal blessings. Life was and is good, but few feelings rival the magic of a sense of renewal.