Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Monday, April 02, 2012

California Coast: Morro Bay to Santa Barbara

Ron, Benny and I at Santa Barbara's Old Mission

As we neared Santa Barbara around 7 p.m., I switched on our Garmin navigation system again. My guidebook listed only one Santa Barbara hotel in the cheapskate section, called the Franciscan Inn, so I gave the address to Greta. She guided us unerringly to a small hotel on a quiet residential street, where I nabbed a two-bedroom suite for the price of a double.

We loved the Franciscan Inn – it must be a madhouse in the summer, so close to the beach, but it was pretty and cozy. Ron and Benny made a beeline for the heated pool the next morning, where they met a lady from Portland, Ore., and her 6-year-old son, Evan. Ron, Benny and Evan splashed in the pool while the mother described her son’s difficulties in kindergarten and I told her a few hair-raising stories about San Francisco’s public school lottery system.

By now it was obvious we weren’t going to make it to Legoland until Thursday, but that gave us a whole day to see the mission in Santa Barbara and slog our way through L.A. traffic. Santa Barbara’s mission was gorgeous: we walked through the grounds and chapel, marveling at the landscaping and artwork and reading the tombstones.

In the gardens at Santa Barbara's Old Mission

Then it was time to face L.A., and Greta came into her own again, keeping us on a straight course through the maze of freeways until we emerged on the east side at San Clemente, which prompted many unnecessary Nixon impersonations. Benny was asleep again, so he couldn’t ask “Who’s Nixon?” and Ron was deprived of the chance to describe Watergate in loving detail.

He was awake as we neared Carlsbad, late and crabby and hungry. Benny craned his neck to look at every freeway exit, asking “are we stopping here? What about here? Are we staying there?” We stopped at two Carlsbad hotels – both full, then got on I-5 again and found a dumpy Holiday Inn Express with a closed door and empty desk. I left the car to find a sign on the door that said: “Clerk away from desk. Do not pull on door, it is locked.” I pulled on the door anyway, then returned to the car to consult Greta, and watch through the front windshield as various people approached the entrance and pulled irritably at the door.

Greta’s lodging suggestions did not sound appealing, so Ron pulled out his iPhone. In seconds he had found the Carlsbad Beach Resort, which had just had a cancellation and could offer two nights at a cheapo rate with a queen bed and room for a roll-away. We checked in and then walked to a Mexican restaurant, where we had tacos on the outside patio lit by strings of lights and tiny bonfires between the tables. Benny brought his baggie of green plastic army men and set up his snipers and arranged his bagpipers, executing high-level military strategy between the water glasses until it became too dark to see.

We went to bed early that night, for the next day: Legoland!

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