Trains are always a lot of fun and always a little late – no matter what part of the world you are in. Two aspects of this getaway are notable – one, the experience of traveling long distance on a train in US – and the other, of course, the beach town of Santa Barbara. I was contented with both and what follows is an itinerary and some stories from our trip. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
The Amtrak Coastal Starlight is a very comfortable and joyous way to travel since you don’t have to drive, and what’s more – you don’t have to leave three hours early to get humiliated by the TSA agents at the airport. We reached the SJC Amtrak station quite early, and that gave us enough time to print our tickets at the kiosk, and get our parking permit for the two nights at the park-n-ride.
We were very excited to board the train and found it to be at par with the services on the Euro Rail. The seats can be compared to a business class seat in United Airlines – almost as wide (may be a little less), with a footrest, leg rest – and they lean back. Making it quite comfortable to sleep if one wants to. The fun part was a sightseer car -a cafe like environment that looked like a melting pot of people from all parts of the country with different backgrounds.
My most memorable part of the train journey were our intense yet refreshing conversations with a fellow traveler from Sacramento. The dining car in this train is community seating, so if you do not have four members in your group, chances are that you will be asked to sit next to your companion and not across. That also means that any random traveler can come and sit opposite to you. This did make me a little uncomfortable, but we struck gold. We had the pleasure of the company of an interesting editor from a Sacramento daily. He and Agam shared reading interests, and we jumped from one topic to another – spending over two hours chatting with him about things around us.
The remainder of the journey into Santa Barbara was spent appreciating the sun set. It was beautiful. The route from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara is along the Pacific, with plenty of breathtaking views. We reached SB at 7:00 pm and headed out to grab some views of the Pacific. We walked to Stearns Wharf (It is quite long!) and decided to go up to the tip of the pier looking for food. Since we found nothing to match our appetite and budget ($35 Salmon at Harbor Restaurant!!) – we headed up State Street, where we checked in to our hotel. It being thanksgiving that day, we were informed that our food options were limited for the night. And so we loitered around and decided to enjoy our thanksgiving at Harry’s Bar. A fine place, with a lot of people, and good food. The highlight was Harry’s Hurricane – a cocktail made of all sins possible. You will only need one of those to let your spirit free. We enjoyed our drink and a Turkey meal and turned in for the night. Of course the drink stirred a lot of conversations and some emotional releases.
SB is quite small. It is like a shrunk down version of San Diego in many ways. So we decided against renting a car, and explored it on foot. Our first destination the next morning was Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The road we took was windy and narrow and not so great for a hike – but the saving grace was a Belgian waffle at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf that we ran into before our uphill climb. The museum was good (and Agam may have more speak about this). I enjoyed the Coffee exhibit and also some of the birds on display. But after scanning through some of the other sections I headed out for a tryst with nature. I clicked flower stills and macros, and surveyed the backyards of the museum.
Finally I ended up dragging Agam out of this place, so we could head to the Mission of Santa Barbara. It is majestic and peaceful, and – not to forget – offers stunning views of the city and the Pacific. Without doubt, God chose the best location in this city to dwell. After absorbing the views and offering our prayers, we walked down the Laguna street, towards the ocean.
Our next destination was Randall’s Rare Book House. Now this book house really did justice to its name. It is a house of Robert Randall, where in his library, he has kept a collection of rare books, collected over many decades, that he sells at a small profit. We got this recommendation from the “36 hours in Santa Barbara” that was published in the NYT over a year ago. The place was a gem. I envy Robert, for getting to sit amidst this lovely collection of books. Amongst the known and famous was the Gutenberg Bible – the first edition. The same morning I was reading David Brook’s essay on Tolstoy. And I was thrilled to find a 1887 copy of Tolstoy’s “What to do?” What attracted me in the book was an essay on the Importance of Science and Art. Luckily, the book fit our budget and we were simply smiling ear to ear to have bought something at the store. Something tells me we will go back to that book house again some time.
Our next accidental venture was a meal at Paseo Nuevo, an upscale shopping arcade in SB. The environment was that of a carnival, with plenty of sunshine. After a heavy meal in the area we decided to walk to Marina followed by the West Beach. It was a nice and quiet walk, spent clicking some gorgeous shots of the yachts in the marina. We enjoyed the boardwalk by the Pacific as we absorbed the sunset and saw the ocean change colors a plenty of times before giving in to the darkness. Our next halt was Happy hour at Endless Summer Cafe. After Mojito, a lemon drop martini and popcorn shrimp (that Agam actually confused with Popcorn and Shrimp) we bid adieu to the West beach. Our drive home was uneventful. But we really enjoyed the evening sitting in our hotel room playing Go, a game Agam has wanted to play for last few months. And he found it in SB of all the places in the world. Between you and me – the game was one of the high points of this trip. Well that’s what we are – homely crabs.
The game helped us build an appetite, and we walked to a Thai place close to the hotel called Your Choice. There we gorged on some fresh coconut water, Tom Kha Kai, some super spicy fried rice and lychees. Content and full we walked back to the hotel and watched Barbara Walter’s Thanksgiving special on TV- an interview at the White House with the Obamas.
The next morning, we only had a few hours in the city before we boarded the Coastal Starlight back to San Jose. So we took a cab to the East Beach and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast by the ocean at the East Beach Grill. You have to eat breakfast here, if you ever go to SB. It was a splendid experience. Reminded me of the Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans – the delicious beignet with cafe au lait! Post breakfast, we decided to walk on the beach on our way back to the Stearns Wharf area. It was a lovely walk – with our backpacks on our shoulders, and our cameras ready to capture the other side of the Pacific. It was therapeutic walk for me. Walking by the ocean makes me feel so powerless – and it is very relaxing to feel that way sometimes.
And that brought us to the end of our trip to SB, but we still had the train journey remaining. The train was again 25 min late, but who cared. I was looking forward to be onboard and closing my eyes and falling asleep to the sounds of the train and the swaying motion, that brings back so many memories from college days, The weather was perfect and we caught some amazing views of the valleys we passed by. Thick black clouds, steams of fog and the country side – reminded me of Europe and the numerous train journeys we enjoyed last winter. This trip will probably be the last one this year. It was very relaxing and laid back – just the way we had wanted.