Santa Barbara gets an average of 18 inches of rain per year, and we felt like most of it fell during the one week we visited in March of 2020. Soaked by rain and stuck in LA’s rush hour traffic, our 5 hour drive from Bonita to Cachuma Lake took more than 8 hours. We managed to roll into the peaceful state park in the dark and tried not to make too much noise setting up. All that aside, the fresh spring air was a nice welcome, and we couldn’t wait to explore the beautiful coastal area nearby.
We followed the gentle curves of Hwy 101 and stopped at Arroyo Hondo Vista Point. We were curious about the abandoned railway bridges overlooking the coast. The old wooden railway bridge parallels a sturdier concrete roadway, both having been abandoned when an even safer inland road came about. A steep unofficial path descends under the arches to a small rocky beach. Nearby, the 1800s Arroyo Hondo ranch is now a part of a preserve managed by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara. The 782-acre preserve extends over an impressive canyon and hiking trails meander throughout, guarded by ancient oaks. The preserve is open to the public but reservations are required.
Arroyo Hondo vista point overlooks the Channel Islands, which hold important pieces of history. Scientists discovered the 80,000 year old remains of the extinct pygmy mammoth (one of the three known such discoveries) and the 13,000 year old skeleton of a woman, the oldest human remains found in North America. The area was home to the Chumash Indians who paddled tomols (ingeniously crafted plank canoes, unique to them) across the channel to fish and trade. The otters swimming around the channel islands were a prized catch and fueled fierce battles between the locals and Alaskan hunters. Their significance is marked by a beautiful mosaic depicting the sea creatures.
We drove on toward Santa Barbara and the pier, as pops of bright yellow flowers brightened the grey sea view. Unfortunately, these pretty flowers known as black mustard are an invasive species that overpower native plants, dry up in the summer, and add fuel to California fires.
The Santa Barbara pier and Sterns Wharf was quiet and nearly deserted as we arrived. The gloomy spring day and the fresh threat of the COVID-19 virus kept locals hidden. We checked out the local shops and warmed up with a bowl of fresh chowder at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
We took in the view of the marina from the balcony of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum: colorful boats bobbed peacefully on the water, waiting for sunny days and sailing weather. We took advantage of the marine supply store and bought what was becoming a prized possession: toilet paper. Luckily, in the RV we used single-ply rapid dissolving TP, the same they use on boats….
Downtown Santa Barbara was also quiet but still quaint. We strolled among shops, cafes, and art galleries, doggies in tow.
We were lucky to reconnect with local friends in the area and drove up the hill to their beautiful home overlooking the water. David and Kathy reminisced about old school days, while I admired Lawrence’s beautiful artwork and colorful garden. As the sun went down, we also headed downhill to have dinner. To our surprise, the gas tank was almost empty—we didn’t pay any attention to how fast it burned as we drove up…. David skillfully coasted down the hill and pulled into the gas station with 5 miles on the tank to spare! Phew! We gladly pumped and payed almost $5/gallon for poor Jane (our Honda) to be happy again. We had dinner at a beautiful restaurant frequented by famous people such as Oprah (thus the high cost of gas nearby?) and enjoyed the company of David’s friends—all in all, a beautiful day.