- Photo By Jayson Mellom
- HANGING OUT One of New Times Staff Writer Karen Garcia’s favorite things to do when the sun comes out is to put her hammock up in a peaceful spot and relax.
Well, it finally stopped raining—for a few days anyway. Don't get us wrong, we appreciate the liquid relief that's poured down like mana from heaven, because it's been a rough few years. By the time April rolls around, though, it feels like enough is enough! Being cooped up all winter certainly has its costs. Everyone is pasty and irritable. We decided to get out to some of our favorite spots, get a sunburn, and play a little in celebration of the warmer weather. And just in case you needed help figuring out what to do (and as an excuse to "work" away from work), we thought we would share.
I almost chickened out. The wind howled in from the ocean and whipped sand up at my face as I stood at the edge of Pismo Beach holding my wetsuit and towel. I looked up: There wasn't a cloud in the sky—a crystal clear, spring afternoon. But as any beach bum with a brain knows, a blue sky doesn't always equate to quality conditions. The surf was stirred up; the wind made the ocean air cold.
- Photos By Peter Johnson
- WINDY BUT GOODY Though the sun was fully out on this afternoon at Pismo Beach, it was also windy and chilly. That didn't stop me from bodysurfing for over an hour.
I'd chosen my favorite outdoor activity to write about for this spring appreciation issue, but maybe I'd picked the wrong day and wrong activity (should've done the wildflower thing ... dammit). Tempted to throw my wetsuit in my trunk and go back to the drawing board, I realized that this was all actually kind of perfect.
- Photos By Peter Johnson
- NOT-SO-HOT SHOT After going in the ocean, I walked over to one of my favorite pool halls, Hot Shots, to hone my mediocre pool game and watch March Madness—another spring favorite of mine.
I thought about what makes spring special. Spring is not about predictable, long and lazy days frolicking in 85-degree weather—that's summer. It isn't a season with an open three-month invitation to bask in its glory. Spring is about windows of opportunity. The wildflower blooms peak for what's like a blink in time, and you have to go to special places to find them. One beautiful, sunny day for a hike could be followed by three rainy ones with no chance for hitting the trails. A good beach day can quickly morph into a pretty crappy one. And you might miss the great days, anyway, because you're at work.
The beauty of spring is that it's fleeting, and it takes a stroke of fortunate timing to experience it.
Here, I had the afternoon off to enjoy the beach. I seized it, put on my wetsuit, and bodysurfed Pismo Beach for more than an hour. It's funny how wind and coldness become afterthoughts when you're tumbling down the face of a wave, letting the salt water heal your body like a good ice bath.
After drying off—with the wind really whipping now—I took refuge in one of my favorite arcades/pool halls, Hot Shots. While practicing my pool game, I sipped on the new triple hazy IPA from Central Coast Brewing (yum) and watched the first half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game (RIP Gonzaga). This, honestly, is the setting you're mostly likely to find me in—that is until spring serves up its next opportunity to seize.
Deep in the dunes
- Photo By Kasey Bubnash
- OVER THE DUNES Once down the long expanse of beach at Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve and over the Mussel Rock Dunes, hikers will witness expansive views of the ocean and nearly untouched wilderness.
The Guadalupe Dunes offer a massive expanse of pristine coastal sand and ocean views, and aside from the parking lot and small slice of beach within a few hundred yards of it, the park is generally void of human life. There's nothing but empty beach and sand as far as the eye can see in both directions, and when I first moved to California, I decided to explore.
What I found is a hike through the dunes that feels something like a lonesome desert journey, or maybe the exploration of an island you've washed up on as the sole survivor of an ocean plane crash. WILSON!! Either way, the end result is absolutely breathtaking (sorry, there's no less cliche way to describe it), and it offers a true escape from society and other human beings.
It takes hours and no little amount of patience to really do this hike justice, and some people (including my boyfriend) just can't handle it. The park typically closes sometime around 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the time of year, and you'll want to give yourself at least three full hours to really enjoy it.
You can drive up to the Guadalupe Dunes beachfront, but you'll have to walk from there. If you're facing the ocean, take a left turn, and walk along the coast. This portion takes a looonnngg time, and, just a warning, trudging through the sand gets very annoying. It's best to wear sneakers that give your foot a larger surface area, in my very scientific and expert opinion.
In the spring, water levels are higher, and the ocean's tide will force you up and over some cliffs earlier in the walk than if you were hiking in the late summer or winter. Eventually you'll have to climb up some very vertical looking walls of sand—but have no fear, sand makes the seemingly impossible climb easy.
- Photo By Eli Nordstrom
- IT TAKES MUSCLE TO GET TO MUSSEL If you have the guts and perseverance to trudge through sand, scale walls, and face the wind for a few hours, your reward will be reaching Mussel Point (pictured), which serves up gorgeous views and flat land perfect for a picnic.
Once you're around this area, you've officially reached the Mussel Rock Dunes, and you'll be at a high enough elevation to see over the entirety of the Guadalupe Dunes Preserve coastline.
If you continue on along the coast, you'll climb up and down dunes, many of which are topped with blossoming succulents and colorful wildflowers. There's not a trail, per se, and although the sandy footprints become increasingly difficult to find as you move on, you can typically see where at least one other person has walked safely before you.
Eventually you'll reach Mussel Point, and from there you'll have essentially a 360 degree view of the ocean and dunes. Past Mussel Point is yet another expanse of largely untouched beach, anchored by plush green mountains rather than dunes.
This area has some flat space that's perfect for rolling out a blanket and lying around awhile. You can read, have a picnic, or spot whales flopping about in the ocean.
And although I always see at least one little trail of footprints laid out across the beach past Mussel Point, I haven't quite figured out how to get down there yet. Maybe next time.
Swing into relaxation
- Photos By Karen Garcia
- ENJOY NATURE Setting up a hammock is relatively easy, and the best part is being able to sit or lie in your hammock and enjoy being surrounded by nature.
Spring has officially sprung on March 20, and aside from a couple of days of rain, there have been plenty of beautifully warm sunny days. It's the perfect time to stretch my legs, go on a hike, and find a sweet spot to set up my hammock.
Two summers ago, I finally invested in an ENO hammock. (No this is not an ad, but ENO, if you're reading this and need a sponsor let me know!) In case you're wondering, I recommend getting a DoubleNest—it holds up to 400 pounds so it's perfect for just you or you and a friend or a pet.
My suggested essentials for hiking and hammocking are: plenty of water—I know you know this, but it's worth mentioning—and a snack like trail mix or fruit, and sometimes a book.
You don't have to hike to set up your hammock between two trees. I also love setting it up underneath the pier at Avila Beach. It's perfect for people watching, reading, catching a sunset, and all-around maximum relaxation.
There's a great hammocking spot on top of Ontario Ridge. There are two ways to get there. On Indio Drive in Shell Beach, there's an entrance that's kind of hidden a few feet away from the Cave Landing Trail parking lot. The other entrance is the one I use, and it's located right next to the parking area of Pirate's Cove in Avila Beach.
- Photos By Karen Garcia
- OFF THE PATH Hammocking is great when you find a spot that's secluded from a trail, and Ontario Ridge has just the spot.
The hike is very steep, like out-of-breath-by-the-time-you-get-to-the-top steep. Once you make it to the top (and have had several gulps of water), go right and make your way up another semi-steep hill. To your right will be a shaded spot with a swing hanging from a tree and an ocean view; to your left is another shaded area with a swing and two trees for your hammock.
The spot lets in just enough sunlight to keep you warm, and it's off the trail enough to be quiet. At times, people will come and take pictures with the swing (because Instagram), but they leave pretty quickly.
Depending on where you start, the Ontario Ridge hike can be a 2.8 mile loop. I love the loop for the sweeping views of Avila and Shell Beach, the flowers that are starting to pop up all over the trail, and pups along the way. This is a dog-friendly trail, so taking a moment to pet a stranger's dog is a must—I don't have a pet of my own yet, don't judge me.
Bloom or bust
- Photos By Camillia Lanham
- YELLOW FOR DAYS The bloom is going off along Shell Creek Road, and it's only just begun. But it won't last long.
East Highway 41 is making me giddy as I swing the steering wheel from curve to curve, windows down, lush hillsides glowing in the late afternoon sun, and some Devil Makes Three pumping out of my speakers. There's just something about a two-lane road that sets me at ease. It's late on Friday afternoon—the end of another very long week—and I've been fiending for some outdoor time.
Occasionally stopping to sniff the air rushing in, my dog is pacing in the backseat. He's ready too.
Hunting flowers is my springtime ritual. The sun pops out, the earth warms a little, and those tiny little colorful miracles start to show off their petals. I'm trying not to let #superbloom selfie fever ruin my tradition (and it gets harder every year). Today, the target is Shell Creek Road before sunset. I have an hour and 15 minutes.
- Photos By Camillia Lanham
- PRETTY PEEPERS Baby blue eyes intermingle with hillside daisies in droves in the meadows along Shell Creek Road.
Half an hour later, I'm pulling past the windmill off Highway 58. Thankfully, there are only a few cars scattered along the road. Water trickles down the creek, which has been dry for the past several springs I've ventured out here. Yellow pushes up the hillsides on both sides with patches of purple. The occasional prick of orange poppies breaks up the palette. It is indeed super.
I find a parking spot and a cattle trail, leash up the dog, and take a walk. Padding on top of the hoof prints that dried into the dirt, I take in the fiddleneck, clover, hillside daisies, tidy tips, and baby blue eyes coating the meadow. Cattle graze nearby as the light fades, and the lilting chirp of a bird echoes off oaks that have yet to leaf out. This definitely doesn't suck.
To complete my ritual, I stop by Dunbar Brewing in Santa Margarita for a pint, and grab a burrito from The Taco Stand truck that's parked out front (it has the spiciest salsas in all the land, I swear). The food truck closes up shop at 8:30 p.m. sharp—no joke, everything was packed up and they were gone before 8:40 p.m. But my al pastor burrito was on point and so was the Mind Haze IPA from Firestone.
Wine with a view
- Photos By Chris Mcguinness
- VIEW FROM THE TOP Presqu'ile winery has great view of the Santa Maria Valley and great wine to match.
The rains are mostly over, and spring has sprung in Northern Santa Barbara County.
For me, there's no better time to hit up nearby wine country. Perched atop a high hill just south of Santa Maria is Presqu'ile Winery. Between selections of some of my favorite wines and a slate of cool events at its scenic tasting room, this place definitely tops the list of my favorite places to kick back, relax, and make the most of beautiful weather.
Half the fun of visiting Presqu'ile is the drive up to the tasting room itself. The road is long, paved, and winds through rolling hills covered in trellises. Every time I make that climb, it gives me a sense of being drawn away from the general hustle and bustle of life. The sounds of traffic from the busy Highway 101 and roads recede, replaced with the more subtle noises of the vineyard: birds chirping and the wind gently rustling the leaves shading acres of grapes.
- Photos By Chris Mcguinness
- HIP SIP Presqu'ile patio is the place to chillax and take in the scenery.
While a lot of area wineries go for a rustic, Western look, Presqu'ile's building is tastefully modern. Its geometry is all sharp angles of stone, polished wood, and glass. Inside you'll find comfy but chic furniture to lounge on, art on the walls, and a spectacular view of the vineyard and greater Santa Maria Valley through massive windows.
When I finally grab a glass of pinot noir or syrah (I'm a big fan of red wines of all types), I usually head outside to the winery's amazing patio. It's huge and multileveled with a small space for live music performances and even horseshoe pits. My favorite activity on the patio, though, is simply sitting and gazing out at the view while sipping, pausing occasionally to snap a photo for Instagram to make friends and family jealous.
While my first visit this spring was simple, quiet, and uneventful, I know that future visits are going to be far livelier. Presqu'lie always packs its schedule with amazing events. Those include concerts. This year, I am particularly stoked to catch retro '80s dance act the Molly Ringwald Project, and the aptly named hard rockin' Led Zeppelin band tribute band, Led Zepagain.
The winery also hosts a tri-tip cook-off in May, a must-attended for all you barbecue-loving carnivores out there. Δ
The New Times crew knows how to have fun. What about you? Send your favorite places to shake off the winter blues to firstname.lastname@example.org.