February 6, 2019

3-day Pismo Beach & the Monarch Butterfly Grove

Day 1
With thoughts of beautiful butterflies in our heads, 48 guests of DayTripper Tours packed their bags for a three day adventure up the California coast to Pismo Beach. It was a cool morning, this last day of January 2019, with building clouds in the sky and a forecast of rain, but that would not deter this group of travelers ready to explore one of the loveliest regions of the Golden State.  Driver David expertly drove our 45 foot motor coach through Thursday morning San Diego traffic to pick up passengers at four different locations before heading into Orange County for a comfort stop.  We stretched our legs, grabbed some coffee, and thirty minutes later were back on the road.  By late morning we had passed through Los Angeles and were headed towards Oxnard on Rt. 101. I explained that part of the 101 is also known as the El Camino Real, Spanish for “The Royal Road.”  Marked by curved poles that look like a shepherd’s crook hung with a bell, this 600 mile stretch of road connects the 21 Spanish Missions. It starts in the south at Mission San Diego de Alcala and stretches all the way to the trail’s northern point just north of San Francisco at Mission San Francisco Solana. We had fun looking for the next pole as the scenery rushed by out the window.

Soon we were driving through Oxnard, the largest city in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles.  Agriculture is big business here—lemons, raspberries, celery, avocados, lima beans, cucumbers, sugar beets, but especially strawberries.  Oxnard supplies about 1/3 of all the strawberries grown in the entire state! At the height of the harvesting season (April through June) up to 10 million pint baskets of strawberries are shipped daily. That’s a lot of strawberries!  By lunchtime we had reached Santa Barbara, also known as the “American Riviera.” David parked the bus near famous Stearn’s Wharf, the most visited landmark in the city.  Several DayTripper Tour passengers chose to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the pier for the true historic experience.  For those who wanted something newer, we provided a second drop off at Paseo Nuevo, an upscale shopping area in the middle of town. Before leaving this gorgeous city nestled between the sea and the Santa Ynez Mountains, we visited the Santa Barbara Mission.  This “Queen of the Alta Missions” is the 10th of the 21 missions established by the Spanish Franciscans. The sun broke through the towering cumulus clouds while we were there, perfect conditions for taking stunning pictures!  We captured one of the best group shots ever right in front of the Mission.

By mid afternoon we were back on the bus watching the bright green hills of Central California pass by.  The recent rain blackened the bark of the gnarled old oak trees dotting the green velvet hills.  Black cows grazed on the rain-washed grass.  It was like driving through a painting—SO beautiful! We checked into The Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach at 4:30 p.m. and relaxed for a bit before heading to dinner at F. McLintock’s Saloon and Dining House. We walked to our tables past a huge stuffed buffalo and bear. Baskets of onion rings were brought to our tables while we waited for our entrees of sirloin steak, chicken, and salmon.  I had heard that the servers do something amazing while pouring water and asked if they could demonstrate.  They said they needed a volunteer.  Apprehensively, I agreed, not knowing what was going to happen.  As the DayTripper Tour guests gathered around, I sat in a chair and held a water glass on top of my head.  A server stepped on a chair behind me and blindfolded herself.  Then, with one hand on the glass and another holding a full water pitcher high above, she poured the water into the glass!  I screamed as the first few drops bounced off the edge of the glass and onto my hair.  But then, she corrected the pour and the rest went into the glass.  Everyone laughed and took pictures.  It was the end of a wonderful first day of our Central California adventure!

Day 2
Staying at The Cliffs Resort in Pismo is always a highlight of this DayTripper Tour and breakfast is a big reason why. From freshly baked scones to a made-to-order omelet bar we were treated royally.  Did I mention the strawberries and whipped cream or even the salmon?  A feast.  And a perfect way to begin a full and fascinating day.  First stop?  La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, the 11th of the 21 Missions in California.  And, the most thoroughly restored.  Self-guided tour map in hand, we wandered around the huge complex, marveling at the 4 foot thick walls, the old kilns used to cook animal fat for candles and soap, the long arched walkways, the chapel with a few of the original tiles still in place, and the ingenious water irrigation system used to bring water from the springs in the hills three miles away. Fortunately, although the sky threatened with low dark clouds, the rain held off. Next stop?  The Luffa Farm in Nipomo.  Most if not all of us had no idea where luffas came from.  I always thought these were sponges that grew on the bottom of the ocean.  How wrong I was.  As Deanna Coon, the Luffa Lady explained, the luffa is grown on a vine and looks like a cucumber.  Once it’s fully developed, it’s cut off the vine, peeled, and dried.  Then, the seeds are shaken out and that’s what yields the spongy texture!  Everyone bought luffas to take home for a great gift. (and they didn’t add any weight to our luggage!) The rain looked imminent, but the clouds still hadn’t broken open.  Lunch at the Spyglass Inn in Pismo Beach was next on our itinerary and was just as excellent as breakfast!  The view out the windows of the crashing surf and rugged coastline added a memorable touch to a wonderful meal. As we drove to the Monarch Butterfly Grove, Mother Nature was still cooperating with no rain, but I knew it was just a matter of time before it would be pouring down.  We were met by two incredible docents who guided us through the eucalyptus grove pointing out the clusters of butterflies.  There were viewing scopes to help us see them close up and even though the numbers of butterflies have decreased dramatically this year, there were still enough to marvel at.

On the way back to the Cliffs Resort, I asked David to make a quick “photo op” stop overlooking the dunes along the coast as the approaching storm made for a very dramatic scene. It had been a busy day, but the show tonight at The Great American Melodrama capped it off.  The rain had begun, but did not dampen a very entertaining evening.  The first show was the play “Steel Magnolias” which had us laughing and crying.  The second show was a musical review of great lady comediennes from Lucille Ball to Mary Tyler Moore.  I heard so many rave reviews on the drive back to the resort.  “They are SO talented!.” “I am SO impressed!”  “Where do they get those actors?” It had been another amazing day with DayTripper Tours!

Day 3
We awoke this morning to howling wind and driving rain.  The strongest winter storm of the season was bearing down on the Central Coast and would make our drive back to San Diego a challenging one.  Another delicious breakfast awaited us before our departure and the Daytripper Tour passengers waited by the lobby’s roaring fire as David and I loaded the luggage on the motor coach.  We timed our departure so that when we arrived at the Danish-themed town of Solvang, a one hour drive away, we would be between the bands of rain I could see on the Doppler radar on my iPhone.  My years of experience as a television weather forecaster was coming in handy this morning! Ironically “Solvang” is a Danish word meaning “sunny field,” but the sun was indeed periodically shining between the low-hanging rain clouds as we arrived. Everyone piled out of the bus and into the nearby bakeries to buy aebleskivers (Danish pancake balls) and kringles (butter-layered Danish pastries filled with fruits, nuts, or cheese and drizzled with icing). There was time to stroll the streets, pick up a few Danish delights in the charming shops and snap a photo of the half scale replica of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen. As soon as we boarded the bus to continue our ride home, the rain started again. It didn’t seem to bother the ostriches strutting through the fields of an ostrich farm we drove by on our way to Santa Barbara, our lunch stop. But by the time we arrived there, it was pouring. The ponchos DayTripper Tours provided came in handy here. We spread out at the upscale Paseo Nuevo shopping district and found our own restaurants for lunch before heading for San Diego. This was easier said than done. Part of Highway 101 was closed because of mudslides and the detour we had to take added an extra hour and a half to our ride home. I’m always one to look on the bright side of things, and wouldn’t you know it…2 rainbows appeared in the sky as we crawled along.  Beautiful!  Also, we happened to be detouring through Montecito, ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S.  Oprah Winfrey, Carol Burnett and Jeff Bridges all own homes here, but for some reason didn’t come out to wave as our bus inched by…Finally, we made it past the closed section of the 101 and we were on our way once again.  Out the window to the west, the oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel could be seen in the distance. Closer in, the ocean was brown with the mud the storm deposited from the hillsides.  The waves were churned high, but there was not a single surfer in sight! After two more comfort stops, we arrived back at our drop off locations.  There were hugs all around as we bid farewell to each other, bonded by the adventure, the butterflies, and the memories of another outstanding DayTripper tour.  As the famous Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen said, “to travel is to live.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

– Pat Brown
DayTripper Tour Manager
Tour: 3-day Pismo Beach & the Monarch Butterfly Grove
January 31-February 2, 2019


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