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All good things must come to an end, but we’ve decided to prolong our vacation as long as we can. We are en route back up to Portland, but instead of booking along the soul-less I-5, we are taking our time, driving up Route 1, which hugs the curves and cliffs of the coast and offers glimpses of the deep blue Pacific.

We left Hemet at around 10 on Tuesday morning (see previous post), and drove across to the coast. We had an errand to run in Beverly Hills (doesn’t that sound exotic? It really wasn’t), and then we drove down the Santa Monica Blvd, fringed with palm trees, to the ocean. We headed north up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Malibu and Ventura. We stopped at Surfer’s Point in Ventura, where Donn surfed and the rest of us hung out on the beach in the late afternoon light. The twins collected rocks, Elliot dozed in the sun, and Donn caught a few rides in the small, rough waves.  We watched kite-boarders float high in the air, and carve plumes through the ocean; we saw brown pelicans diving for fish. That first day, we went as far as Santa Barbara, where we planned to stay 2 nights with our friends Jeff and Bonnie. (They’re friends of Donn’s from when he was in high school. Isn’t he amazing?) We spent that evening barbecuing hamburgers, hanging out around their fire pit making s’mores, and relaxing in their jacuzzi under a brilliant moon.

In the morning, we got up to Dutch Babies (a kind of grotesquely-named oven-baked pancake) with fresh berries and maple syrup. We headed out as a group to hike Cold Springs, approximately 3 miles, half of which is uphill, and half of which is down. (Guess which part we liked?) Last year, we did part of this same hike, and I remember being amazed at the beauty of the area. The hills behind Santa Barbara offer an amazing variety of foliage, mixed with multimillion-dollar homes. (Oprah lives in the area; do you know she has not called me once? And this despite a nice conversation I had with her guard last year) Cypress and eucalyptus mix with palm trees and bougainvillea, and the dusty switchbacks of the trail open up to vistas of blue ocean and distant views of the Channel Islands. The kids clambered on rocks and crossed clear brown streams on pale fallen logs.

In the afternoon, we went to the beach. The water was icy to our Saharan skins, but we braved it anyway, swimming desperately in an attempt to warm up. When I got out of the water, I felt hot, and my skin was tingly and lobster-red. We braved kelp beds, and the kids stuck their fingers into the open mouths (orifices?) of shell-encrusted sea urchins to feel them slurp closed—eww! We walked under ridged sea cliffs, and the kids explored smuggler’s caves (“Mom, look! A Starbucks cup!”) and climbed as far up the crumbly rock as they could make it. We saw dead lobsters and lots of seaweed, in all shades of green and purple, including some that looked exactly like lettuce.  A pod of dolphins passed by, their grey skins (hides?) shiny in the sun as they flipped and dove under the bottle-green waves.

Today, Donn got up early and went surfing with Jeff, while Bonnie and I took the kids on another walk. Then I drove up to meet him, and we headed on up the coast, through San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay and Cambria, to San Simeon, where we are staying. We rolled down our windows to smell the eucalyptus trees’ spicy, vaguely medicinal smell; we drove through groves of cypress and incense cedar and Ponderosa pines. (And there’ll be a lot more of this tomorrow!)

We stopped at a fruit stand to buy 3 generously-stuffed baskets of fresh, just-picked strawberries. California strawberries are not as sweet as Oregon ones, she said loyally, but these were good: enormous, jewel-bright, plentiful and cheap. We gorged ourselves as we drove along, knowing that they wouldn’t keep and needed to be eaten up immediately.

San Simeon isn’t much more than a wide spot full of hotels along a small coastal highway, but it has its own charm—especially in its beach. We‘re approaching one of the prettiest parts of the coast—not to mention a part made famous by, and famous for, its photographers. We didn’t want to miss it in the dark, so we stopped early tonight. We swam in the hotel pool, walked along the beach at sunset, then drove into nearby Cambria for pizza. Cambria is a charming little town, and has several espresso stores—I’m sure we’ll be back for breakfast tomorrow, before heading on up the coast towards Big Sur, Carmel, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and then the Redwoods.

I’m going to post this tonight, but Donn’s already snoring. Check back later, when I’ll have added photos and erased this sentence!

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