Santa Barbara, California
Hi Lindy Hoppers!!!
Mellow out by the sea!

Our Trip to Santa Barbara
By: Frank Morra

Santa Barbara is a beautiful, fun place. They also have a sizable dance community, led by Jonathan and Sylvia Sykes; before you go, check out Santa Barbara Dancing

Sentimental beings that we are, we keep a diary of our travels. You may not want to read everything about our trip, so we have indexed our diary. Click away at the topics that may interest you


Due to our sightseeing in Los Angeles, we were obligated to drive to Santa Barbara in the dark. Just as we left Malibu and development, one of the idiot lights on the car lit up. "Low Oil" it read and the gas tank was hovering near "E". (You forget things when you are having a good time.) We had just entered the Point Huenume Nature Reserve and there was no gas station for 42 miles. Fortunately the Chevy Cavalier did get excellent gas mileage. The first town that cropped up had the unlikely name of Oxnard, which sounds like something in Pig Latin. The only gas station that was open on Sunday evening charged an arm and a leg for gas. The car also required two quarts of oil, so we would rate the little Chevy as Good on gas and Bad on oil. But--- we can proudly say that we have been to Oxnard.

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Rancho Santa Barbara (Buellton)

It was dark and we were tired. We switched onto the freeway because it was faster and you couldn't see any beautiful scenery anyway. We counted the miles down to Santa Barbara. It was only a two hour trip we thought. At 10:00pm the signs for the city began to show up. None of the signs matched our directions. Perhaps the hotel was on the North side of the city. We passed on to the north and still no sign. We turned into a rest stop and a glance at a map showed that the Marriott Rancho Santa Barbara was actually located in Buellton---sixty miles north of Santa Barbara. The Marriott folks get away with this deception because the hotel is located in Santa Barbara county. We finally got there at 11:00 pm. The room turned out to be very nice. The location of the hotel provided some drawbacks but also some opportunities. I would say, looking back, that luck was on our side. We ended our third day exhausted.

Marriott Rancho Santa Barbara, 555 McMurray Road, Buellton, CA 805-699-1000.

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DAY FOUR Monday September 16, 1996

Another beautiful day. After the rainy summer in DC, the sunny mild days in California were a real treat. In fact, the weather was so consistently beautiful that it got to be a running gag throughout the trip. The hotel provided a coffee maker, so we had coffee in the room and set out for a great breakfast on the road in the Danish Village of Solvang [see below]

The Ostrich Farm

As we drove toward Solvang, my attention was caught by the Buellton Ostrich Farm. Sure enough, there was a big fenced field and there were ostriches running around. We stopped to look at them. The place was closed so we could only look from afar. One of the big ones came up to the fence and ruffled his feathers at me. This could have been a gesture of friendship or a warning. Regardless one feather came loose and blew toward me. I retrieved it,preserved it, and took it home where it now resides in the hatband of my Tando.

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Every California story seems to start out like "At the turn of the century X wanted to start a village with theme Y." Well, in Solvang some immigrants from Denmark built a Danish village. They really did. But Solvang got its big boost in the 1970s when an architect began redoing the city in earnest. There are more than a fair share of thatched roof buildings with charming statuettes of storks atop them. The relief from this "cute" is that there are also more than a fair share of very good Danish bakeries. We had a wonderful breakfast. Nobody makes Danish like the Danes.

Solvang Information Line: 1 (800)-468-6765

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Mission Santa Ynez

Father Junipero Serra almost singlehandedly led the Spanish colonization of California. He founded a string of 22 missions along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. Most of them still survive thanks to a vogue for Spanish history that consumed the wealthier classes in the 1920s. Mission Santa Ynez is one of the oldest and most authentic.

Old Mission Santa Ynez, 1760 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93464 (805)-688-4815

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The Santa ynez Mountains

Forsaking the freeway, we drove through the Santa Ynez mountains back toward Santa Barbara. The scenery is very beautiful and we even passed by the gates to Ronald Reagan's Rancho de Cielo. This is nice country and most of it has been preserved as a national forest.

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The Santa Barbara Biltmore

The Santa Barbara Biltmore is the second of the great California Hotels that I had intended to show to my partner. Isolated splendor is the hallmark of this hotel. In fact it is so hard to reach that I almost gave up and my partner became suspicious that there was no such place. The road is not well marked and you really have to be determined to find the place. We went around in circles for about half an hour before we pulled up. The place has been renovated since I was there last. Unfortunately, the decorator was one of those people who believe in "brightening things up." I really missed the dark old wood. The prices have changed, too.

There was a medical convention, so the restaurant was full for lunch. I was sorry that we might have to have to leave without a meal there when my partner noticed that the cocktail lounge also had some outside tables with a view of the ocean. We had a cheese plate and dessert outside and enjoyed the glorious day. This was a very enjoyable time and we had an excellent waitress. We asked her about dancing in Santa Barbara; she took an interest in our description of swing dancing, but was unable to help. She did introduce us to the Concierge, a man named Carl who took great pains to find us a place to dance that night. He made at least ten calls and finally determined that we could dance at a restaurant named SoHo in town. He really went far out of his way for us.

We spent some more time prowling around the hotel. Well, it's not a traditional hotel because it is a collection of small bungalows artfully dispersed around the main building. The landscaping is full of exotic plants and it is truly a sight to behold.

This is actually the Four Seasons Resort (The Biltmore), 1260 Channel Dr, 805-969-2261. Prices will make your eyes water.

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Santa Barbara Pier

The harbor at Santa Barbara is very beautiful and the centerpiece is the Pier. The view on both sides is very dramatic, including rows of coconut palms swaying in the breeze with the purple-blue Santa Ynez mountains in the back ground. This is not an amusement pier---although there are several seafood restaurants.

Mostly, it is just for strolling and fishing. This includes both the rather inept efforts of humans and the superb grace of the California brown pelican. For some reason, I had a strange rapport with the pelicans. They seemed to want to crowd around me. Perhaps I smelled like fish. My partner took several pictures of me with my newfound avian friends. I wanted to take some pictures of her with the birds, but they would not get close. I guess that when it comes to pelicans, some have it and some don't.

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Santa Barbara City

Santa Barbara is an old city that has had its ups and downs. It seems that now things are on their way up with massive gentrification. The University of California is a big influence on the town, and we were pleased to see that a lot of the old buildings had been given a new lease on life as stores, restaurants and coffeehouses. Then my partner discovered the antique stores. We were in the middle of one of nature's true paradises and the weather was gorgeous. We spent the rest of the time rummaging through thrift stores, junk stores, and antique stores.

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The Penny Wooden Doll

Almost as certain as death and taxes is a peculiar phenomenon which happens in antique stores. After looking around for a while, I get tired. My partner never gets tired. She plows through big boxes of things. Just as I am ready to grab her by the arm, she finds something. Most of the time, it is something that I really want. I don't have her patience around antiques. Today was no exception- -we had discovered that there are a large number of antique and thrift stores along State St in the downtown area of the city.

At Antique Alley (706 State St, 805-962-3944, one of the largest "mall" type antique stores in Santa Barbara, I had looked at everything in the store twice. Looking through the windows, I was keenly aware that there was still some time to be spent at the beach. My partner had dug out something that looked like a child's rag doll in an indian costume. Worse, she was dickering with the owner to get the price down from $5 to $2.

"Great", I thought "here I have come 3,000 miles at great expense to be in one of the most scenic locations in the universe and I am wasting valuable sunshine haggling over $3 and a piece of junk." Well, as usual, I was dead wrong. My partner was gushing over her find and I was too testy to listen to the real story. When we finally got back to the hotel mya partner unwrapped the multiple layers of worthless rags to reveal the marvel below. It was a genuine nineteenth century penny wooden doll. Although I don't particularly care about dolls this one was amazing---it had been whittled from one piece of wood and the articulation between the legs, arms, and body was both clever and intricate. This doll had been made by a master woodworker.

Unfortunately, one arm and one leg were missing. Whole, these things fetch $400 and up. Later (in December, we went to a doll show and my partner's find from Santa Barbara truly outclassed the lot. I promised her that I would carve replacement pieces for the doll but the thing just sat there for months on end because I was too afraid to start. Finally on Christmas day she succeeded in prodding me to start the work. It took four hours and several false starts but I was able to make a credible arm and leg. I am really happy that she spent the extra fifteen minutes in the Santa Barbara antique store.

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Dancing at SOHO

The concierge at the Biltmore sent us to a bar/restaurant named SOHO (1221 State St, 805-962-7776). I viewed this with some trepidation, since "SOHO" in New York is synonymous with "new wave" or (worse) "new age". I was very pleasantly surprised to find a very spacious and roomy place on the top floor of the building that housed the local newspaper. The room was the place where the old linotype machines were used to set type in hot metal---something that has long since been supplanted by computers. The newspaper was actually still being produced below us.

We asked for a table by the band and asked whether it was permissible to dance. The waiter seemed very interested and said that the band actually liked dancing. This was a good sign. We dragged out the dance bag and changed into saddle shoes, something that never fails to raise some eyebrows in the crowd. The band was a loose aggregation of local musicians who played together on a regular basis (i.e. this gig) but not as a formal entity. There were lots of "guest artists", so the evening had the flavor of a "jam session". My partner and I began slowly with some six-count stuff until the band gave us our opportunity with a really fast number. Right away, we hit the fish flip and drive shaft. After that the crowd and the house was ours for the taking. We met several local swing dancers who were just getting into Lindy Hop. Among these was Steve Carlan, who invited us to a dance on the next night [see the Orchid Bowl below.]

We decided that we were hungry and our waiter was even more enthusiastic about recommending the "Atlantic Pizza" which had salmon shrimp and caviar on it. It was, in fact, very good.

We danced through two more sets and then began the arduous journey back to Buellton. I will admit that the trip got just a little bit shorter every time we did it.

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DAY FIVE Tuesday September 17, 1996

Yet another wonderful day! We used the coffee pot in the room to start the day with plans for finding some charming little place along the way for breakfast. The hotel was nice enough to give us a free copy of USA Today, which we tossed into the car as we headed out.

Guadalupe and La Simpatia

Our intention was to head up the Pacific Coast Highway for a day of touring. Alas, I made a wrong turn and we ended up in a thoroughly rural area. Worse, the road abruptly ended at the gate house of what looked like a very secure facility. It turned out to be the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Reserve, a project of the Nature Conservancy. It turns out that the highest sand dunes on the Pacific coast are located here (up to 500 feet in height). The area is the home of many species of birds and is considered to be environmentally sensitive. The place has a lot of rugged beauty and in the days before the EPA, the Nipomo dunes were used as the set for desert scenes in movies from the 1920s through the 1950s, including Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 silent version of The Ten Commandments


The dunes were quite spectacular. We asked the gate man to recommend a local restaurant, and he suggested La Simpatia in the nearby village of Guadalupe. We took his advice, and we were not disappointed. The place was very nicely done in 1950s style with red and yellow formica everywhere. The folks were very friendly and I had the best huevos rancheros that I have ever eaten. Over coffee, we decided to have a look at our newspaper. We were very pleasantly surprised to find a picture of Dave Quidas and Marie Tommassi on the cover of the entertainment section. The article dealt with the renaissance of swing dancing. It was a strange feeling to come 3,000 miles to see pictures from the Vienna Grille in this exotic setting. We showed the photos to our waitress, and she allowed that she did some Lindy Hop back in the 1950s. They had a jukebox that just happened to have At the Hop on it. We gave her a little demonstration. A nice way to start the morning. We also took a picture of us holding the newspaper under the restaurant's elaborate neon sign to commemorate the occasion.

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Pismo Beach

W.C. Fields was able to get a laugh by just saying the words "Pismo Beach". I had never been there and when the Pacific Coast Highway delivered us there, it was appropriate that we should stop. This is a rather pleasant, unspoiled small California beach town with a pier. The attraction is the "Pismo Clam", harvested from many nearby beds. The restaurants offer clams in all forms--raw, baked, fried and steamed. We did notice several posters indicating that Sea Otters (themselves a protected species) were ravaging the clam beds. Unusual things can happen when predator and prey become politicized. I can imagine the "Friends of the Clams" getting into a fistfight with the "Friends of the Otters".

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San Luis Obispo

The Pacific Coast Highway next delivered us to the small town of San Luis Obispo, home of the California Polytechnic State University and yet another of Father Serra's missions. As we drove through town, I was very wary because there were a lot of signs with "SLO" written on them. For a minute, I thought that this must be the "Speed Awareness" capital of the universe. Then I realized that this was the abbreviation for "San Luis Obispo". Well, we live and learn. We looked at the mission and found several vintage and antique stores in the vicinity. I thought that it was a very nice city.

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Montana De Oro

A nice lady at the San Luis Obispo Office of Tourism suggested that we take a look at the Montana de Oro ("Mountain of Gold") State Park. We did, and were thrilled. This is a very long section of California coast that has been completely preserved, including roaring surf and majestic dunes. We walked along the beach, and thoroughly enjoyed the weather and the ocean. This is a real beach---anything on the East Coast is just small potatoes.

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Morro Bay and the Plug Dome Volcanoes

Our next stop was Morro Bay, a pleasant fishing and recreation community. The unusual attraction is Morro Rock, the remnants of an ancient volcano whose crater solidified. These are known as "Plug Dome Volcanoes" and the one at Morro bay juts out of the flat plain like a giant beehive. On the way out of the city there are numerous other examples of this geologic feature.


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Pea Soup at Andersons

Every region has an annoying chain restaurant that posts signs along the highways that read something like "Only 700 Miles to Joe's". The signs continue on until you have seen so many of them, you may be just curious enough to stop. California is no exception. They have a restaurant called "Pea Soup Anderson's" that not only uses extensive signage, but also features a cartoon of two Chefs ("Sweet-Pea" and "Hap-Pea" trying to split a small pea with giant axes. These are familiar to all who drive the back roads of California. Well, it turns out that the mother of all Andersons happens to be located in Buellton, near our hotel. After seeing all these signs, we decided to stop for a bowl of pea soup. It was mediocre.

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Dancing at the Galleon Room

We began the sixty mile trek back into Santa Barbara to go dancing at the Galleon Room. This is roughly equivalent to the Tuesday sessions at the Vienna Grille. The venue is small, there is a DJ and the crowd is mostly experienced dancers. Of note, the Galleon Room is located in the Orchid Bowl, a 1960s "Bowling Complex", complete with coffee shop, tavern, billiards, and (of course) bowling alleys.

We found a number of Lindy Hoppers who were fairly advanced thanks to the efforts of Jonathan and Sylvia. The crowd was very nice, and we had no trouble dancing with our California compatriots, indicating that Lindy has become quite standardized. There were no differences in terminology, so we could talk about dancing without a language barrier. They seem to like their music fast in Santa Barbara, an we can't complain. For very fast tempos, they do the Balboa, a dance that we would like to see more of in D.C. We enjoyed our evening of dancing.

The sixty mile trip back to Buellton did not seem so bad, especially since this was the lat time that we would have to do it. The next stop was San Francisco.

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