I moved to California on June 1, 1999. I spent New Year’s Eve every year since, except the one a few days ago, at a club under a disco ball ringing. This year, I wanted something different.
I’ve been seeing a really wonderful person and we decided it would be much more fun to escape quietly and explore some new place neither of us had been to. How you ring in the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. Maybe hanging out in a room full of drunken strangers paying $40 to listen to a DJ we’ve already heard 100 times before isn’t the tone to set.
On December 31, we departed in the early afternoon from San Francisco, ate a wonderful dinner in Mountain View at my favorite sit-down Mexican restaurant, and drove south on 101 to Buellton, California, where Sideways was filmed. After going to bed shortly after the stroke of the New Year, we explored the absolutely unforgettable town of Solvang, a small Danish town in Santa Barbara County. After spending most of the day checking out all the little shops, we zipped down to Santa Barbara, had a nice dinner, and returned to Buellton.
On January 2, we drove up the coast to Hearst Castle and took the first tour, despite a windy, cold torrential downpour. Neither of us had ever been to Hearst Castle and it was beyond gorgeous. Unfortunately, my own lack of research messed up the next step: lunch. The idea of grabbing a quick lunch on the road in Big Sur fell flat, because there’s no town of Big Sur. Literally, there are two hard-to-spot cafes on the side of the road in an 11 mile stretch of highway 1.
After we arrived in Carmel, 25 miles away, we were both starving and extremely grumpy. That’s when we discovered the most annoying thing in the world: no restaurant (or at least none of the SIX we attempted to eat at) in Carmel is open at 3:30 in the afternoon. A couple of locals referred to the it as a “sleepy little town.” Sorry, Carmel. If you have a Sak’s Fifth Avenue downtown and a bevvy of Italian restaurants and a huge population of famous residents, you’re not a sleepy little town. (Note to potential travelers, when driving north to Hearst Castle with the intention to continue to San Francisco, stop in Cambria [pop. 7000] or San Luis Obispo [pop. 40000] and eat lunch there. They have things to eat at Hearst Castle, if you don’t mind paying $8 for what amounts to a slice of frozen Safeway pizza.)
After a snack in Carmel and Chinese food in Monterey, we were back on the road with the grumpiness subsiding. It was a spectacular trip that involved 750 miles on the road, 4 miles walking, and a little too much spending on my part. But, every moment was worth it.
Disco balls, drunken amateur partiers, and DJs? Sure, on January 28 or March 17, or some time. New Year’s is when you should do something new, something fresh, to start your new year on an adventure.
I can’t wait to get out on that road again. Can you?