-- Grateful Dead, "Estimated Prophet"
A big change of time zone begins Wednesday morning, very early, as I fly the cramped skies through Minneapolis of all places to end up at brother Ron's home in Santa Barbara. The next morning I take them to the airport for their much longer trip to Singapore; if that's not exotic enough, they're taking a side trip to Cambodia! Saint Babs has palm trees and adventurous food too, and no known land mines, so I'll be pretty pleased to be there.
There are no raging fires in the mountains and canyons this year (they occurred early, but of course could begin again any time since there's no rain except during the winter, and everything's as dry as an algebra textbook). With irrigation most everywhere, there's an unreal Garden of Eden veneer over the underlying harsh desert, but the flowers, fruits and vegetables are lush and seductive: the rose garden near the Mission, the vast orchid farm hidden down a dirt road, the downtown arboretum park with turtles clustered on rocks, lemon groves and strawberry fields...
The ocean is about a mile and 1/4 away, and down a steep cliff about a hundred rough steps. High tide just about obliterates the sand, so you'll be spending a few hours on a rock if you wander too far unaware of the tide schedule. There doesn't seem to be any beach glass to be found any more (rounded and smoothed by years of tossing around) -- I wonder if that's because plastic has replaced glass beverage containers on boats. This section of the long shoreline is called More (pronounced "moray") Mesa Beach and can be pretty empty, especially in the gray, foggy mornings. That's a picture of our favorite spot above. There are only a few places to park, a good walk away, so there's a natural limit to crowding. Runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders use the many sandy trails on the vast and flat mesa that mercifully remains undeveloped.
Pleasures of a less wild sort are found at my favorite coffeehouse, the Java Station, on the main boulevard, Hollister Avenue. It's a fairly long and invigorating walk from Ron's home, the stretch along the creek lined with huge eucalyptus trees being my favorite. You have to watch the bicyclists, as I found out almost to my peril once: they go very fast and silently, and DO NOT yield to pedestrians, preferring to knock them off the pathway. If my favorite spot outside of J. Station is unoccupied, I unfold both the standard and the alternative local papers (the second founded by rebel reporters from the first), and settle in to enjoy time and place.
The farmer's market is held weekly on several blocks of State Street downtown which are closed to traffic (again, mercifully). It's like none you have ever seen. There are plants and flowers, jarred and fresh foods, and beverages that you just wonder over, not having any frame of reference. Everything is so perfectly tempting, you could easily buy more than you can carry very quickly. Buskers and some very strange characters dot the sidewalks.
Mellow. Psychedelic, even.
There are hundreds of restaurants (Cafe Buenos Aires, the Natural Cafe and California Pasta Kitchen are our favorites), but the one Nancy is looking forward to revisiting when she comes out for the week of our 30th anniversary is Jeannine's, where you will find the most healthy and yummy breakfast on the planet under gossiping palms and languid flowering vines.
If I get into the wine country to the north in the Santa Ynez valley (where the movie Sideways was filmed), you'll be here all day, so suffice it to say it's worth a flight of 3000 miles on its own.
There is way too much traffic, and a tiny rundown house you wouldn't live in costs $400,000 (start at 3/4 to 1 million for a nice one) but Santa Barbara isn't just another place under the sun.
And they have a Trader Joe's!
Wear your "Life is Good" T-shirt.