Tips & Resources
TREAT THE SHORT, ugly stretch through Lompoc like a walk across hot coalsthe faster you go, the less it hurts. Coastal fog usually clears by midday. For more info, call the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau (800-240-0999).
ROUTE: Gaviota State Park to Piedras Blancas, California
ROADS: California 1, U.S. 101
Elsewhere on the Pacific Coast Highway, weekenders in minivans are fighting off nausea at every famous curve, traffic is crawling beside a string of crumbling cliffside mansions, and a busload of tourists has pulled off the road, point-and-shoots at the ready. Not here. On this forgotten, slightly inland stretch of California 1, a couple hours north of Los Angeles, you'll zip north unhindered over a roller coaster of green hills. What this road lacks in vertiginous sea cliffs, it makes up for with a huge dose of the original California fantasy: eucalyptus-fringed ranches, enormous blue skies, and no-name vineyards. And it parallels a blissfully undeveloped stretch of coastline where a trip to the beach means a tiny detour down a seldom-traveled side road that's managed to evade the last few centuries of progress.
Hiking in Gaviota State Park: The 6.4-mile Gaviota Peak Trail takes you to a 2,450-foot hilltop with views of the Pacific, the Channel Islands, and the road you're about to embark on. On the way down, stop at the hot springs (well, warm springs) half a mile from the trailhead. Call the Channel Coast District Ranger Station for more information. (805-968-1033)
Surfing at Jalama Beach: Fourteen miles west of Lompoc lies the farthest point on the California coastline from any highway, Jalama Beach Park, where a summertime south swell delivers head-high beach and point breaks. Windsurfers take over when the standard 15- to 25-mile-per-hour breeze kicks up in the afternoon. Anglers surfcasting for rock cod can buy bait and tackle in the Jalama Beach Store, home of the deliciously sloppy Jalama Burger. (805-736-6316)
Wildlife Viewing at Piedras Blancas: At the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony, on the coast north of San Simeon, dozens of stout-snouted, refrigerator-size pinnipeds loaf on the sand. Contact Friends of the Elephant Seal to learn more. (805-924-1628, www.elephantseal.org)
Every room at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, in Avila Beach, comes with its own spring-fed outdoor hot tub. A paved bike path out the front door runs three miles west along a sycamore-shaded creek to a calm bay, where you can rent sit-on-top kayaks ($13-$18 per hour; Central Coast Kayaks, 805-773-3500, www.centralcoastkayaks.com). Paddle over a submarine kelp forest, home to extremely socialand harmlessharbor seals. (Doubles start at $153; 800-234-5831, www.sycamoresprings.com)
An anomaly in the one-road, fish-'n'-chips town of Cayucos, Hoppe's Garden Bistro has a gourmet California menu that could hold its own in any metropolis. In the 1875 dining room or the English garden, nibble on lemon-cured halibut and mussel ceviche. (805-995-1006)
After 28 years of villain-booing, hero-cheering, and heartfelt honky-tonking, the Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville, in Oceano, is still turning out six weekly performances. (Tickets, $13.50-$16.50; 805-489-2499, www.americanmelodrama.com)
**ON THE STEREO
Mix two parts Best of Burt Bacharach with a shot of Dick Dale. Top off with the High Llamas, and The Long Goodbye, the latest from the Essex Green. Stir.