Monday, January 28, 2013

Road Tripping the 101

Solvang Danish Village, California
In Search of the Beach
Ventura is a beach town with urban planning problems - the 101 Freeway acts as a divider between downtown and the beach. On a bike ride from my sister Natalie’s house I crossed two freeways and passed many strip malls to reach the ocean, just two miles away. 

San Buenaventura Beach

Seaward Avenue near the beach is lined with weather-beaten buildings offering fish and chips, tacos, beer, real estate, surf gear, and hot dogs. I saw a man smoking a cigarette outside a row of tiny apartments the size of hotel rooms half a block from the beach. Homes in need of a paint job have big decks upstairs for the ocean view. I felt comfortable in this neighborhood. It felt lived-in. The beach is wide, long and lovely with soft light sand, aqua blue water and small waves. I could have spent a happy beach day there if I had more time. 

Madeline and Mark with the famous Solvang big clog
Solvang Danish Village
On the drive north on Highway 101 from Ventura to San Francisco, my travel partners Mark and Marcin and I did some classic road trip activities. First we stopped at Solvang Danish Village, an entire town built to resemble a Danish hamlet. The shops of Solvang Danish Village sell pretzels, cookies, folk dolls, and postcards. 

Madeline and Mark with Danish phone booth
When we stopped at a bakery to eat a “Danish waffle,” a crispy elongated pastry filled with chocolate and whip cream, Mark pointed out that Solvang seems to be a seniors’ vacation hot spot. Everyone aside from us was part of a grey haired heterosexual couple. Me, Mexican American Mark and his tall Polish husband Marcin stood out. A couple in the bakery asked Marcin his height, then challenged him about it, accusing him of being taller than he said he was. 

Even if we didn’t fit in, I loved Solvang Danish Village. Without paying admission, we stepped into a Danish theme park that felt like an alternate universe.

Gold Rush Steak House, Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, CA

Madonna Inn
Our last stop was Madonna Inn, a 1960s rock and carved wood confection with themed rooms like the “caveman,” “edelweiss,” “espana,” and “hearts and flowers.” Click this link for photos of all the rooms 

The Gold Rush Steak House is a misleading name for the main restaurant at the inn. Cotton Candy Fantasy would suit it better. Apparently they serve steaks on those pink tables in pink booths, with diners seated in pink chairs atop a rose carpet flanked by red velvet wallpaper lit by golden cherub chandeliers. Seems like awfully feminine decor for a steak house, but maybe that’s just me. I would expect to eat caviar, champagne and ice cream sundaes in those booths. Casual visitors can have a cocktail at the bar with an equally misleading name, Silver Bar, which features the same cotton candy decor as the restaurant, with pink naugahyde bar stools and carved wooden grapes. 

Melissa Burman stayed at the Madonna Inn for her one year anniversary in the Swiss Rock room. She was dazzled by the sparkling red walls in her room. She also enjoyed the colorful cut glass goblets at the Gold Rush Steak House. 

Melissa’s favorite part of Madonna Inn was the pool with a waterfall. She said, “The pool is built in to a cliff overlooking the inn and San Luis Obispo, and it’s heated to 86 degrees and open until 11pm, but beware of the $30 pool fee when you check out.”

Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California
Road Tripping
Unhurried road trips are the best. I love it when the people I travel with are open to stopping whenever we feel inspired to explore a roadside attraction. We reached San Francisco in time for me to have dinner at my dear friends Sarah and Tomas’s house before driving myself back down the coast home to Santa Cruz. As always, the road trip got me thinking of all the cool places I have yet to explore in my home state. Time to start planning! 

San Buenaventura State Beach
Solvang Danish Village
Madonna Inn

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