Picking up from a visit that started an olive oil obsession over 20 years ago we went back to the Santa Ynez Valley to see how things had changed. It’s early June and tourists still not much to be seen. The weather is perfect.
Driving north from Los Angeles along the 101 we soon left the big city behind us and viewed the Pacific crashing rollers up beach after beach. We pulled inland a short ways to Santa Barbara, then further inland across the San Marcos pass. This road is beautifully twisted and offers two or three pullouts where you can have wonderful views. We headed to Solvang.
It’s a short hop to this touristy town that was once totally faux Danish. Now, while there are still plenty of the Danish motel names and windmills, the motif has become more faux European as the Mediterranean influence in food has spread. This is a good thing.
We ate a newly opened tapas cafe with authentic imported products from Valencia. The ethnic Spanish owners have lived in California for some time, but missed the tastes from home, so why not open a bistro with tapas? Tasty bites is what you expect, and that’s what you get.
There are wine tasting shops and olive oil shops in Solvang, but just a short drive away is the small town of Los Olivos. The name is a dead giveaway.
Los Olivos, population 1132, announces “Every weekend is a small town winefest”. True enough, there are many small wine shops and art galleries and olive oil outlets that invite you in for tasting the local products. The town center is quite small but the Los Olivos area encompasses vineyards and olive tree farms.
You can take your time and explore on foot to discover many of the interesting shops and hideaways in town and then get out to explore more of the surrounding areas to see the agricultural side of the region. I plan to explore this area more myself at a later date. This trip we were headed somewhere else.
La Purisima Mission State Historic Park is in nearby Lompoc and is said to be the best of the old Spanish mission restorations in California. The setting is idyllic and filled with a sense of peace. You can imagine life here with simple daily work, tending the garden and minding the herds of cattle and sheep.
The mission was established in 1787 grew very prosperous at different times with over 20,000 head of cattle and sheep and had over 100 adobe buildings. This was not to last though and by the end of the1800’s it was abandoned, unused and falling apart. In 1933 the Union Oil Company gave the property over to the state and in 1934 work began to restore the mission to something like its original in 1820. Ten of the original buildings and other structures have been rebuilt. You can learn more about the history of the mission on their website at http://www.lapurisimamission.org/history-overview/
You can see a working cob oven in the centre of the courtyard. We built one at our home and it works by heating the heavy clay mass to a very high temperature in an unholy smoking mass. After the flames have subsided and only coals remain, you have an enclosure that makes fantastic flat breads and pizzas in a few minutes as the mass radiates heat from all directions. It takes a few hours to get the oven hot enough.
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