Big Sur, Santa Barbara & Ventura

California coast spoiled us not only with amazing coastline views and epic camping spots overlooking the Pacific Ocean, relaxing drives and picturesque beach towns, but as well with insights into the Californian lifestyle. We were excited to visit our newly made friends in Yosemite, Evan and Chelsie in Santa Barbara and Chris, the amazing cyclist and philanthropist we met at the Arctic Circle in Alaska in Ventura.

Coastline view, California State Route 1
Coastline view, California State Route 1

We left San Francisco Bay Area behind taking the California State Route 1 on the Pacific Coastline towards Big Sur. It was a gorgeous drive with winding turns, seaside cliffs and views to the coastline. I have been waiting for this moment… as the song says… all my life 🙂 This was a dream coming true.

Heading south the coastline was simply spectacular, we wanted to stop at every vista point to admire the scenery and take pictures. It was a stunning view from the top of the cliffs.

We didn’t expect to see such a wild scenery considering that California is such a populated state. We admired the fact that the American laws continue to protect these areas, keeping them wild and authentic, restricting urbanization in these pristine areas.

The Pelican by the sunset :-)
The Pelican by the sunset 🙂

We were lucky to stay overnight in one of the most beautiful campgrounds we  camped on our road journey: Kirk Creek Campground at Big Sur. This place was recommended by our new friends we met in Yosemite, Evan and Chelsie as one of their favorites. As soon we arrived we understood why. There is this large grassy hill on the top of the cliff with some natural vegetation and flat camping spots sparsely arranged with fire-pits, tables and most importantly: a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, its coast with simply surreal sunsets. At the right time of the year one can see whales too. There are also a couple of hiking trails, either down the cliffs to the ocean or up in Santa Lucia mountains which are bordering the east part of Big Sur. We decided to check out the Ocean trail while it was still daylight.

We spent the afternoon waiting for the sunset over a glass of chardonnay and a plate of cheese with jam. The landscape was too rewarding, we still couldn’t believe the views we got the chance to admire. The sky started to transform into a palette of colors from yellow, orange to pink, red and dark red. Splendid, serene, relaxing, peaceful are few adjectives to describe the atmosphere.

Very soon after we established our camping, a German cyclist touring the world for the past 3 years with whom we crossed earlier on the road saw us and came to say hello. We shared our time and experiences, and even if it was a brief encounter we enjoyed learning from some of his nomadic wisdom. He told us:  “When we are on the road is beautiful yet life happens when we stop and engage with the people and the nature”. Another one was about how easy it was to travel alone and how hard it was to travel with someone else sharing the same small space 24/7”. We had to agree with this one too, although it's not impossible either to travel in two 24h :)). Another pearl was about blogging: “Why would I keep a journal if after some time it’s all the same: you meet very nice people, cycle over a hundred km a day, see beautiful sceneries, waterfalls, rivers, oceans, forests, mountains… so I believe it is better just to live it”. There was a lot of value in his words. He stayed for couple of minutes but his few messages were strong and impactful.

There are always things to learn from experienced travelers like him, and for us it was important to hear that the best moments happen when you stop and share with the people and the nature. It was a true message. We agreed we needed to try and stop more often or for longer periods, however having the deadline to catch a flight from Mexico City in about a month to spend Christmas together with JP’s family in Brazil, didn't allow us a lot of time at that moment. It is not very easy to have deadlines while overlanding long distances, we were learning from all these experiences.

Sunset Big Sur, California
Sunset Big Sur, California

The following day, we considered seriously to stay for another day in this beautiful spot on top of the hills; however, we would probably delay our schedule to visit our friends in Santa Barbara, Ventura, LA, and to visit San Diego before crossing to Mexico the following week.

We had a lazy start of the day, and it was so goooood to let that morning flow slowly. We took our Coleman stove outside to prepare our breakfast and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee with a splendid view. The squirrels were all up  and ready to steal some food from our table. We watched hummingbirds flying around bushes and hoped to spot whales down into the ocean.

The weather started to get cloudy, with a bit of rain so we decided to get on the road again. We had to take a detour from California State Route 1 over de mountains due to a landslide and road works. We took Nacimiento Road across the mountains until Bradley where we joined Highway 101 straight to Santa Barbara. On the way crossing Santa Lucia Mountains we were greeted by deers and coyotes running through the meadows between oak trees. Wonderful.

Nascimiento Road across Santa Lucia mountains
Nascimiento Road across Santa Lucia mountains

After 250 km as we entered Santa Barbara a huge traffic jam was waiting for us. JP managed through as always 🙂 We were heading to our next camping spot: the parking lot of the Santa Barbara public library 😊. After parking and checking the place out we were set to meet our friends Chelsea and Evan once again,  the nice couple who shared their camping spot in Yosemite with us. We were excited to share more time with them and to learn about their lifestyle in California whilst visiting Santa Barbara for the first time.

We arrived late afternoon, just in time for dinner. Evan and Chelsie chose a very nice and authentic Mexican restaurant. We though it was a great choice as we were really enjoying the Latin food in California. The restaurant was busy and the food was very nice. We had a great time with Chelsie and Evan over a couple beers. The next day while Chelsie had to be in San Francisco, Evan invited us for surfing and to visit the company where he works as a bag-packs designer in Ventura: Patagonia.

Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara, California

We were happy with the invite for both activities; unfortunately, we had to choose one since we had planned to visit Santa Barbara that day so that we could reach Ventura by evening. It was a tough choice, but we had to dedicate some time to discover the charming city of Santa Barbara in the morning before visiting Patagonia in Ventura.

Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara, California

The next morning after breakfast we got our bikes out of the garage for some exercise along the ocean. Before heading out we had the opportunity to meet a lovely Dutch couple who had camped with a Toyota Land Cruiser next to our truck at the library. Guido and Nancy were just about to finish their tour in North America and would be returning to the Netherlands soon. It is always good to meet and share with other overlanders 😊.

To put it simply: we loved Santa Barbara. The more we rode our bicycles around town the more we wished we could live there. The city has a lovely promenade on the waterfront with a beautiful pier and a top-notch marina. It was full of locals walking, training, jogging, sometime with their dogs and, to our surprise, most of them would greet us. We loved this unpretentious, easy going, friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

Everything seemed in place here: the weather, the infrastructure, the safety, the beach front, the palms, the mountains facing the ocean, the chill out atmosphere, the friendly people, the vibe of the city, the old colonial Spanish style of the downtown, the masonic buildings and heritage, the chic and boutique restaurants and coffees, the authentic Mexican kitchen, the American-Mexican cultural mix. It seemed they have the best of both worlds: ocean, mountains, development and authenticity.

Our ride continued downtown where we stopped for a much-wanted fresh coffee and bagel. A not so good street singer was singing nearby that morning. Despite his lack of talent we felt that everything amounted into a lovely and relaxed morning. We loved the feeling of being part of the Santa Barbara community even if it was just for one morning.

By noon we returned to the truck and continued towards Ventura, where we were to meet Evan at Patagonia HQ.

Having the opportunity to experience Patagonia HQ was inspiring. As you may know Patagonia is the famous American Fair Trade Certified Outdoor Gear company that markets their products as sustainable as they possibly can. They also commit part of their profits to support environment protection groups. We were really interested, as Patagonia seemed to be one of those few companies living by their values and making employees proud of being part of something bigger.

Patagonia HQ
Patagonia HQ

The HQ has an interesting set up as the facilities expanded organically around a small workshop where Patagonia started. The workshop is still there, almost as to remind everyone of the company grassroots. We saw a nursery on site as well as a canteen serving all sorts of healthy organic food to employees. The company really seems to care about employee’s wellbeing. 

As we walked through the different departments we felt the working atmosphere to be relaxed and designed to foster employee’s creativity. Hearing Evan talking we soon understood the ethical business culture of freedom with responsibility, where employees feel trusted and empowered, knowing they have a pivotal role in Patagonia’s success. Evan mentioned he receives a lot of space from the company to be out in the field hiking, climbing, biking and surfing so he can design the best outdoor equipment for real outdoor people.

Hearing Evan talking about Patagonia’s values we understood that he was happy and proud to be part of an organization committed to fair trade and environment. We were not surprised when he mentioned that the main reason he chose Patagonia was the company’s values. It was inspiring to see that there are still people and companies committed to values that make a difference in our world.

It was great to learn from Evan about the large piece of the Argentinian Patagonia the company bought to turn into a nature preserve. We also learned that the company was suing the US Federal Government and Donald Trump for their executive decision to reduce the area of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument by 50%. As you can imagine, these actions from Patagonia were very powerful developing loyalty and admiration of its clients and employees.

Patagonia HQ
Patagonia HQ

Our experience at Patagonia HQ reinforced our views that it is possible to work for a company with ethical values whilst keeping itself profitable and successful. It might be rare in the corporate world, but we saw it possible. We thanked Evan for the tour and said goodbye for now. Our next stop and camping spot was at our cyclist friend Chris driveway, located a few km distance, but still in Ventura.

Chris shared his location and so we departed with the truck. After crossing a farming area we soon entered a new development with beautiful villas and estates. As we drove up we wondered how Chris place would be. Perhaps one of these gorgeous homes? When we were almost at the top we reached Chris home. It was a beautiful Colonial Spanish villa at the top of a hill. We were very happy to see Chris well established 😊 in terms of comfort at his home. 

Chris he received us like kings. We were welcomed to his beautiful home with a glass of Veuve Clicquot and he guided us throughout the house for a tour. When we entered a comfortable ensuite he said: “this is your room”. We were surprised as we were expecting to camp at his driveway, but he insisted. He has said it was the least he could do after our encounter in the Arctic Circle, when we invited him inside the truck and offered him a hot meal when he needed most. Well, it was nice to move into a stationary room for a change 😊

We continued the tour through his villa hearing the stories behind every piece of art he collected over the years from the places he visited around the world, all very unique and of very good taste. The estate was gorgeous and very large, around the house there was a beautiful garden with pomegranate, mandarin, and avocado trees.

His fabulous wife, Alison soon came downstairs to meet us. Like Chris, she is a super woman in her own way. Besides being an accomplished pediatrician and director of a hospital she is also a champion of weight lifting. Imagine that after an intense schedule at the hospital she would train from three to four hours a day for state competitions. At present Ali is taking a break from competitions but she keeps herself very fit nevertheless. She is a beautiful person on the outside and on the inside, very passionate and driven by the same ethical and moral values like Chris. They make a great couple. For me it was one of the most inspiring couples we met so far on our road trip. We were lucky to be there sharing some time and thoughts with them.

When we met Chris at the Arctic Circle, Alaska
When we met Chris at the Arctic Circle, Alaska

We were inspired. Chris had it all: a wonderful, talented, hard working wife, a beautiful home, a great lifestyle, but he would leave all behind for months to adventure himself in extreme and tough environments. We asked why is he doing this? The answer was simple: he wants to inspire people and to add value to the society. He inspired thousands of kids with his lectures in the schools he visited throughout his journeys. The kids call him “Mr. Chris” and he wants to motivate them to do sports and to have a healthy active lifestyle.

JP, Ali, me and Chris! What a nice welcoming we received from them in Ventura!
JP, Ali, me and Chris! What a nice welcoming we received from them in Ventura!

Chris invited us out for dinner and we spent the whole evening talking and sharing our experiences. The energy was flowing that night and time stopped. We were simply inspired to be in the company of each other, to learn from them, to understand their lifestyle, their choices, values and life principles. They believe in a life dedicated to others, to do good for their communities and humanity. In this way Ali cures kids every day, while Chris motivates thousands of kids to pursue a healthy active lifestyle.

What a lovely company, a life lesson and an unforgettable night.

When me met Chris on the road to Homer, Alaska
When me met Chris on the road to Homer, Alaska

Although Chris and Ali were kind enough to invite us to stay over the weekend to celebrate Ali’s birthday, we had to move on to our next visit in L.A. After having a delicious traditional Louisiana breakfast with Chris we departed towards LA. We were very excited to finally visit this city, but I was even more excited to meet a former primary school colleague and very good friend which I haven’t seen for 20 years. She prepared a Romanian party with Romanian food cooked by her mom and we promised to be there. I was looking forward to meet her after such a long time and of course, to visit the world capital of entertainment.

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