Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Friday, 5 October 2012

Cruising the Pacific Coast Highway - Part one

In California the coastal road is known as the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH.  It isn't the quickest way to get from San Diego to San Francisco, but it is definitely the most picturesque.  
PCH north of LA
In reality, the PCH starts at Dana Point, some distance north of San Diego and the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton and extends beyond San Francisco to the north. It is a bit of a schizophrenic road, as at various points it shares itself with the 101 and various other highways. All that notwithstanding, it is worth the journey.  There is not a lot to recommend between San Diego and LA, but beyond that - an array of experiences and coastal driving punctuated with beautiful vistas await.  
The h-g on the beach cycleway

Our first stop is Los Angeles - of course - and we stay out at Marina Del Rey in a hotel right on the marina (shades of our stay in the South of France).  We rent bikes and spend a day on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, a paved bicycle path that runs 22 miles (35 kms) mostly along the Pacific shoreline. Indeed, it runs not quite along the middle of the beaches, but close to it.  We head north towards Santa Monica and the interesting bits in between.  First, Venice Beach, with its famous subset, Muscle Beach. Initially built in the 1930s for gymnastic and acrobatic performances, Muscle Beach has gone through a few transformations in its time and now the weight equipment is in a caged pen:  it looks like the workout yard in a prison.  All sorts of famous people have trained here, but I have heard of none except Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I'm not sure that's a great recommendation.  There is much strutting, posing and wearing of bandanas.  The beach is still the venue for weight lifting and the tanned and well oiled (if strangely hued) body building competitions for which it is famous. 

The doctor is in - just how bad is that back pain?
All along the street that opens up to the beach front there are stalls, shops and buskers of every stripe.  To me, Venice has a vibe that is still firmly rooted in the late 60s early 70s, complete with tie dye and incense.  There are several medical marijuana shops, where after a short "consult" with the doctor about your migraine/insomnia/ pain/anxiety you will get a prescription.  The pricing is quite competitive, and the spruikers are keen to describe the quality of their wares.

The pier at Santa Monica is part fun fair - the Ferris wheel and roller coaster have spectacular views of the ocean and back to the city. - art traditional seaside pier with an aquarium, arcade, shops and yes, fast food.
Santa Monica from the pier

It is easy to see why Los Angeles is a such a magnet. With a great climate, golden beaches stretching for miles, a laid back outdoor lifestyle and on the other hand plenty of glitz and glam, there's plenty to like, even for those with the most eclectic tastes.  But alas our days are numbered and we move on up the coast to Santa Barbara.  

The general word is Santa Barbara is beautiful, and I have vague memories of watching a TV soap opera of the same name back in the 1980s. Note, however,  I couldn't remember a thing about the show until I just looked it up on Wikipedia - then memories of Eden and Cruz came flooding (well, trickling) back.  I am pleased to read "The show was famous for its comedic style and offbeat writing." so I can't have been completely deranged to have watched it. 

Santa Barbara Mission
Santa Barbara IS very beautiful, set against the Santa Ynez Mountains and the coast, with a crescent shaped bay banded by an historic wharf at one end and a marina at the other. It has a small town feel and a history of Spanish and Mexican habitation that is reflected in the architecture.  The Spaniards built missions and set about converting the local Indian Chumash people to Christianity - as missionaries are wont to do.  The Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 and today  continues to serve the community as a parish church but also contains a museum, a Franciscan Friary, and a retreat house. 
Main street of Santa Barbara

While we find the area, the history and the town engaging to point of considering how to arrange a house swap to live here for a few months, there is dark side to paradise.   While throughout this trip we see a lot of homeless, Santa Barbara seems to have more than its fair share for a town with a population of fewer than 100,000.  Walking up its very attractive  main street we see homeless people every block, either singly or in small groups. Many seem to be military veterans and many are likely to be suffering from disorders.  Creeping unemployment and subsequent loss of benefits, including health care, have seen a growing number of people untreated for physical as well as mental disorders.  It makes you uncomfortable on any number of levels.

Now this is getting a bit depressing - I will finish with a beautiful sunset and a promise of Part two of this trip: the vineyards of Paso Robles, Hearst Castle and Cannery Row. 

Moonrise over Santa Barbara 

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