This is Santa Monica where we spent our first night. The trip from our house to the hotel was 22 hours - mostly the 14 hour flight from Melbourne to LA but also a less than glorious two hours to get through customs in the US ... we had electronic visas of course but it was still very inefficient and disorganised. Everyone had said that it would be, so we weren't surprised, but still a pain. But all was forgiven and forgotten when we got in a taxi, hit the freeway, and saw the Hollywood sign!!! Yay!!!!
We poked around Santa Monica that afternoon - went along the pier of course in the evening - it was a bit cold and rainy but still lots of lights and things to see. Mostly people getting stoned - the smell of marijuana smoke is probably one of the most pervasive memories I'll have of California. No wonder they were all so relaxed.
Then after a wonderful night's sleep in our ridiculously expensive but quite comfortable hotel it was time to be brave and pick up the hire car! Driving, on the wrong side of the road, into the unknown. We were both terrified, but we did it, followed the instructions on Google Maps (best thing ever, downloaded the maps each night) and navigated onto the LA freeways. I did the white knuckle death grip of the steering wheel and stuck firmly to the middle lane with everyone whooshing past me doing the crazy merge of death. Although, as it turns out, a rainy Thursday midday in January is probably a pretty good time to start your freeway experience - not that much traffic and very easy to find our way north to Santa Barbara. We thought a short trip was best to start with!
And Santa Barbara is beautiful! I thought it would be from reputation - but I hadn't expected such a lovely setting in the hills and such a pretty waterfront. I can see why it would be a popular holiday spot. Everything looked very upmarket which was great for us - walking around and finding good spots to eat. Although we also found a Macys which was closing down and taking half off the entire store so that took a happy hour too.
The next day we got a bit of culture on and took a tour of the Courthouse with a knowledgeable and extremely chatty docent ... as they all were. I suppose you have to be both knowledgeable and chatty to do it. I hadn't realised that Santa Barbara was so new - destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930s and they decided to rebuild in this Spanish mission style. So the Courthouse is less than a hundred years old but looks back to a style much older.
Brad and I were laughing at the architecture because we both grew up in seaside towns that always aspired to be a bit Californian - and every dodgy motel, public swimming pool and 70s mansion had this mission style with roughed up concrete and completely pointless arches and mock roof tiles and wrought iron gates. We had no idea that it could be anything other than completely hideous! Seeing the reality after decades of imitations was quite bizarre. It looks MUCH better in Santa Barbara.
After the courthouse we hit the road again to go to a real Spanish mission - La Purisima near Lompoc. It was founded in 1787 and used for about 100 years before falling into disrepair, then rebuilt as close as possible in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps - one of those employment creation things apparently. I never knew! Brad nodded wisely to all of this but I am ignorant of most American history and was constantly surprised by what California had been through over the centuries.
The mission was fascinating, and completely empty like most of the touristy things we did. January is an excellent time to visit. Missions are truly horrible stories of conquest, forced religion, destruction of culture, disease and depravation ... but that's history for you. On the plus side, they had a loom! I could recognise all the parts although it would be a bugger to work with. Nearly as basic as mine.
We ended the day in Paso Robles, which is agricultural, mostly wineries. We had an excellent wine tasting in the middle of town then wandered into the frosty night to find somewhere cheerful to eat something. Ended up in an excellent pizza place with plenty of others enjoying a Friday night!