Car Review UK takes in the sights and sounds of California along the Pacific Coast Highway
THE Tahitian Maiden’s Dream could trigger a technicolour nightmare if you need to count the calories.
It comprises, in the words of The Original Pancake House, a tender crepe filled with golden ripe bananas sliced in sour cream and tempered with Triple Sec, sherry and brandy, then topped with sliced bananas in our apricot sauce.
Of course the response is a simple one – to hell with regimes, we’re on holiday.
The Original Pancake House is THE place to breakfast in California, even if it is a nationwide franchise with outlets in all bar 13 American states.
And the Aliso Viejo branch in the shade of the San Joaquin Hills in Orange County set us up perfectly for a day at Laguna Beach before our drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway.
With a near-perfect climate all year round, Laguna is a popular spot – as a never-ending queue for the frozen delights at Gelato Paradiso confirmed.
But it isn’t just about the beach, the boardwalk and the coastal canyons – stroll around the picturesque town and the importance of art shines through, from the modern museum and galleries to the lampost banners and street corner art.
It’s a 160-mile drive from Laguna Beach to the mission city of Santa Barbara, a town oft described as being the hub of the America Riviera, such is the Mediterranean flavour it oozes.
Laid-back and upmarket it’s one of those places you would be happy to visit again and again, and has a vibe not lost on megastars like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore and Jeff Bridges who live in nearby Montecito.
We’d love to linger for a few days but time is tight on a marathon road trip and the call of the northern California coast is just about in earshot.
First though, there has to be a trip to the oldest working pier in the state, Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara harbour.
Completed in 1872, it has survived natural and economic disasters, including the 1925 earthquake and two devastating blazes, yet retains a time-honoured charm – as well as the finest views and celebrated shellfish restaurants.
Just a 40-minute drive along California State Route 154 through the Santa Ynez Valley with its myriad vineyards and 3,100-acre Cachuma Lake reservoir nestles the old-world European outpost of Solvang.
Charming, family-friendly and upmarket, this authentic Danish village is worth at least a day trip – not merely for its curiosity value but for its relaxing ambience.
Billed as one of the most Christmassy towns in America, its annual Julefest draws crowds to its candle-lit tours, live music and ‘Skal Stroll’ beer and wine walk.
There’s a need to reach a recommended overnight stop before dusk and we pull our Kia Soul Turbo into a quayside car park at Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County as the light begins to fade.
This resort’s reputation as ‘the Gibraltar of the Pacific’ is certainly apt as the bay is dominated by Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic plug at the entrance to the harbour and connected to the shore by a causeway.
The barking of seals gets a bit wearying after a while, though the sea otters frolicking close to the harbour wall make for a rewarding distraction – as the light across the sea shimmers from gold to purple to midnight blue.
It’s a near idyllic Californian vista and one well hyped up by the tourism blurb and visitor guides – except for one enormous blot on the landscape they conveniently omit to mention in the shape of a vast disused power station with chimneys that scrape the sky.
We round off the evening with some fast food at the Rock Otter Cafe, where the house band are joined by a jobbing keyboard player from up the coast.
There’s nothing this ivory-tinkler can’t play – unfortunately he’s also the purveyor of some disappointing news; Big Sur, the dramatic stretch of coast leading up to Carmel, has been closed indefinitely due to a landslip.
NEXT TIME: Morro Bay to San Francisco.