California coast escape

Road trip getaway to Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey, and Big Sur

Matthew Jaffe

In that spirit, we eschew some of the fancier dinner spots in town for one of the best. La Super-Rica Taqueria is really a glorified taco stand, with a zigzag roofline and a covered patio. But what it lacks in decor it makes up for in authenticity, especially its handmade corn tortillas.

With its long lines, La Super-Rica demands some strategizing. The patrons in line ahead of us are weighing their choices with the solemnity of the condemned choosing a last meal. Becky, a much nicer person than I, senses my escalating impatience. She gives me a sweet but firm "Be nice" look as I feel the declamation "Holy posole, just make a choice!" rising up from the molten core of my being. But it only takes one bite of my taco to make me a contented man.

Santa Ynez Valley to Pinnacles National Park (170 miles)

The joy of the Santa Ynez Valley and its fellow Central Coast wine regions has always been their blend of kicked-back vibe and knockout wines. These are places to discover wines without being intimidated by adjective-spouting pedants.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but our favorite wines come from the least opulent and most un-faux-finished spot. Near Los Olivos, Foxen Winery's original tasting room is little more than a tin shack. It's symbolic of how the wine industry has become engrained in the life of the Central Coast. In Los Angeles, every young dreamer is an aspiring screenwriter. Here the dream is to create great wines, with waiters, store clerks, and winery employees all eager to talk about their vines.

Missouri may be the Show-Me State, but California is the What-If State. And as Becky and I drive past rows of vines exaggerating the contours of the rolling hills, we ponder the possibilities of a life in wine country.

It's the life that Jan and Jon Brosseau have been building with their own hands since they bought land here in 1978. They're the owners of the Inn at the Pinnacles, a Monterey County bed-and-breakfast set in the middle of acres of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay grapes. During the week, Jon works in aerospace in the Bay Area, then the couple loads up their car with provisions and heads to the inn for the weekend. Their property sits adjacent to historic vineyards and a few miles from Pinnacles National Park, the landmark volcanic outcrops that Becky and I are eager to explore.

Roughly 37 million people live in California, but we're the only 2 at Pinnacles in fall. And for good reason. Just as Becky steps out, the threatening skies stop their threatening and deliver the goods. The rock formations disappear behind a curtain of rain and fog. The rain goes all Ringo on the roof, and we listen to the pounding while scanning the skies for the slightest hint of blue. Finally we give up and opt for―what else―a glass of Pinot by the fire. Both warm with nary a hint of smoke. Next: Road to Monterey

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