After our amazing time in the Pismo area, we scooted just a little bit down the coast to Ventura. We had a spot right on the ocean, and by right on the ocean, I mean close enough that there was just a bunch of giant rocks and then the surf, and not even a stretch of sand between us and the water. We could hear the waves pounding just outside the camper all night.
Ventura had some of the laid back vibe of Pismo, and was almost but not quite as chill. Downtown Ventura is a cute shopping and eating district, like many of the historic downtowns are becoming, and we had several terrific meals in that area. Fancy Santa Barbara is just a bit north, with so many beautiful houses and views that are amazing. Los Angeles is a bit south, so the area is a lot busier than Pismo. We were tucked down in a beach campground with dolphins coming by in the morning and surfers out catching the waves all day long. Then at the end of the day, we got to see gorgeous sunsets…the simply orange glow kind.
There are 21 Franciscan missions that are each positioned about 30 miles apart along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco, making up El Camino Real. We visited the mission that is in right in old town Ventura, San Buenaventura, and learned about the interplay of the spanish crown, the religious mission, the native people and the politics between them all. The mission itself was really pretty with classic spanish stucco and clay tile design, a beautiful interior garden, and a simple church that was very pretty nonetheless.
Our camp neighbors told us that the mission in Santa Barbara was even prettier, so we headed there the next day. This was when we saw how pretty Santa Barbara itself is…the whole downtown and mission area could be the scene of any movie that calls for “classic California beautiful.” That’s probably not correct scouting language, but the town was full of spanish bungalows with courtyards yards of bougainvillea and dessert landscaping. And we were there during the dry period, so I imagine in spring it’s breathtaking.
The Old Mission Santa Barbara is on 13 acres, high on a hill overlooking the town and the bay, and is much larger than the one in Santa Barbara. It still has friars living and working on site, but we did not see any that day. It is very similar in architecture and style to the one in Ventura, only at a much larger scale. While there we learned the story of the Blue Dolphin lady who was the lone woman of San Nicolas Island, living by herself for 18 years. She died shortly after being brought to the mission, and we saw her memorial stone in the graveyard as well. We hope to visit a few more of the missions as we travel south over the next few weeks. The first two are beautiful and calm places with simple but very beautiful design, and really pretty gardens.
We had planned to visit the Channel Islands while at Ventura — in fact it was the main reason we came to the area. However, a storm rolled in and cancelled our boat ride out to the islands. We were really disappointed, but since Maya gets seasick, I was glad we didn’t have to take her on a rough boat. And, it was hard for us to be too upset since the area hadn’t had any a rain since May and with all the wildfire issues people in the area are understandably anxious for the rains to begin.
Next we were headed to Death Valley, which conveniently took us within 10 miles of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Dennis loves a good presidential library, and it seemed to be a good opportunity for “road schooling” so we spent a few hours learning about the life of our 40th President. The museum starts out with a really cool holographic presentation, and then leads you through his life through school, his acting career, and his journey into politics. There are a lot of interactive displays and Dennis and I had fun sitting in front of a green screen and reading lines from a scrolling feed, pretending to be Reagan in his early days of TV, and the kids got to stand in front of teleprompters and address the nation from the inauguration stands. Finally, we got to tour Air Force One and Marine One, which was probably the coolest part of the exhibit, honestly. It’s also kind of funny to see how outdated the technology onboard looks. I would imagine that it’s really different now.
The setting for the library was worth remembering, too. It sits up high and is surrounded by rolling hills with a view down on the city. Much of the hills were black because the Easy Fire had torched the area just a few weeks back, coming all way up to the border of the library, and even burning some of the signage on the road outside the museum.