Yesterday, I described our very long drive back to Los Angeles after spending Independence Day up in Sacramento.
This is something we're beginning to do with some regularity: My husband and I took 101 back home on a visit last year -- and our Spring break college tour also concluded with a road trip down the coast (although that time, we were leaving from San Francisco).
Gareth and I enjoy these trips -- but we've also had some of our biggest fights on the road, and over the silliest things: Navigation, especially when we get off the highway in search of a place to eat. The fact that we're already hungry doesn't help.
This time, when I realized that we would be passing through the Bay Area around noon, I decided to try something new: I tweeted a shout-out to some of my friends who live in Silicon Valley, asking where we should stop for lunch.
It didn't take long to get an answer:
Just in case you aren't already following Stefania, a.k.a. CityMama: She is a woman who knows good food when she tastes it. She also cooks it and shares her recipes. I would follow her blindly into any establishment with a kitchen -- her recommendation is golden.
We usually set a course that passes us through San Jose before we get onto 101 -- but since we were still early in our journey, it was just as easy to re-route ourselves to Palo Alto.
We arrived in Palo Alto exactly when we expected: 12:30 p.m., in the middle of lunch hour. The town, as always, looked beautiful.
We easily located the Sprout Cafe, which was just as wonderful as Stefania said it would be -- and crowded (which was to be expected). I noted that Sprout has its own iPhone app you can download to place take-out orders (not surprising, as Palo Alto is the epicenter of Silicon Valley) -- something to keep in mind for the next time we do this trip.
Gareth loves piers, and has been aching to visit one for quite some time. Once we hit Palo Alto, our route snaked through northern California's coastal farmlands, where we passed fields upon fields of crops like garlic and lettuce, and cherry and peach orchards. It did not make sense to head back to the coast until we hit San Luis Obispo, which is only a hop, skip and a jump from Avila Beach.
We located the Hanford Pier using a navigation app -- and had an encounter with some lively pelicans, who were stealing scraps from the local fishermen:
We explored the pier for a while. Children were dancing to Beatles songs performed acoustically by a local entertainer at one of the pier's seafood restaurants. It was 6ish and we were not yet hungry -- but I knew we would be in a couple of hours, when we would hit the Santa Barbara area.
So I sent out another tweet:
And before long, I had a number of good replies: places with great reputations, like Los Olivos' landmark Mattei's Tavern and The Hitching Post, just outside Lompoc. We were in the mood for Italian, and so we took my LA Moms Blog colleague Romy's advice and stopped at Trattoria Grappolo in the little town of Santa Ynez.
The place was intimate, elegant -- and resoundingly popular. We were underdressed. We had to wait outside about 40 minutes to get our table... but it was absolutely worth it. (NOTE TO SELF: Next time we are asking for road trip recommendations, it wouldn't hurt to call ahead to make a reservation.)
The meal wasn't cheap: But it cost a helluva lot less than a night in a hotel anywhere along the California coast -- and this year, that's an important consideration.
As we embarked toward Santa Barbara -- launching the final leg of our long journey home -- my husband uttered a phrase I never thought I'd hear from him: "This Twitter stuff is kind of useful, after all."
That alone made this road trip memorable.