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    Cambria,

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    Cambria () is a seaside village in San Luis Obispo County, California, United States midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California State Route 1 (Highway 1). The name Cambria, chosen in 1869, is the Latin name for Wales. Cambria is situated amidst Monterey pines in one of only three such native forests. Previously, the town had gone by the names of Slabtown, Rosaville, San Simeon, and Santa Rosa. The corresponding census designated place (CDP) had a population of 6,032 at the 2010 census, slightly down from 6,232 at the 2000 census.
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    Road Trips

    Road trip the Southwest on a budget

    From the fun of Sin City to the jaw-dropping beauty of the national parks, this scenic route packs amazing sights and tastes into a manageable itinerary. If you’re looking for a vacation that includes warm sun, gorgeous desert landscapes, snow-covered mountains, and big-city stye, the American Southwest is a go-to option. Here, you’ll discover the 24/7 excitement, of Vegas, the otherworldly landscapes of national and state parks (think humanoid-like cacti and red rocks), and the vibrant communities and culinary scenes of Phoenix and El Paso. Here, a step-by-step affordable itinerary that includes wallet-friendly lodging, plus the best places to grab a taste of Southwestern flavors. Las Vegas, Nevada Start your engine in Las Vegas, where the legendary Strip beckons with endless neon and who-has-time-to-sleep gaming, food, and drink. Even the grandest hotels here typically offer reasonable nightly rates – rooms at Circus Circus Hotel, Casino, and Theme Park, for instance, can start as low as $25/night, but keep in mind that taxes and standard charges can add at least another $40/night to your stay. Before hitting the road, you may want to catch a concert, theater performance, or stand-up comedy, and remember that Vegas offers plenty of quirky off-the-beaten-path delights such as the Neon Museum with its incredible array of bright lights and kitschy designs, and the surprisingly riveting National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, more commonly known as the Mob Museum. Food options, from shockingly affordable buffets to $700 burgers deliver something for every culinary preference. (Take a Taste Buzz Food Tour for a taste of a little bit of everything.) Valley of Fire State Park is known for its strange "beehive" rock formations © Carol Polich / Lonely Planet Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada Less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas along Route I-15 North, Valley of Fire State Park, in the Mojave Desert, feels like a world away. As you enter the park, you’ll stay on Valley of Fire Scenic Byway, the only main road, which runs about 11 miles, connecting the east and west entrances. Pull over for one of the park’s exceptional hikes, where you can explore the iconic red Aztec sandstone formations that give the park its name – timing your visit to include at least one sunset is as must, as the combination of golden light and deep red of the rocks creates the namesake “fire” display. In addition to its geological wonders, Valley of Fire is also home to remnants of prehistoric communities, such as roadside petroglyphs and ancient rock art. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like antelope, bobcat, coyote, and Nevada’s state animal, the desert bighorn sheep. Arrive with picnic foods and snacks and plenty of water, and pack layers of clothing: winter temperatures can veer from the mid-70s to freezing; summer temps range from more than 100 degrees in the day to much cooler at night. You can treat Valley of Fire as a day trip from Vegas, or book one of the park’s 70+ campsites for the night. Sprawling Phoenix holds many surprises © tonda / Getty Images Phoenix, Arizona From the Vegas/Valley of Fire area, you’ll want to set aside a day for the 300-mile drive along US 93 South to Phoenix, Arizona; if more than four hours in the car feels like a long trip (westerners reckon driving distances differently from those visiting from back east), plan a stop in Kingman, Arizona, where a stop at the Alpacas of the Southwest ranch will delight kids of all ages. Once in Phoenix, you’ll want to spend at least a full day discovering America’s fifth-largest city (with a population of more than 1.6 million). Hike the trails on Camelback Mountain for the best vistas; visit Papago Park with its red rock buttes, botanical garden, and zoo just minutes from downtown; and drop by architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter home, Taliesin West, a Unesco World Heritage site, for its beautiful synthesis of modern design and desert-inspired rooms and gardens. Don’t miss the Heard Museum, celebrating the history and culture of Native American people with an extensive collection of art and artifacts. Fuel up at the award-winning Pizzeria Bianco, in Heritage Square, and when it’s time to rest your head, Phoenix offers an array of affordable lodging such as the stylish Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix. See the strange saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park © Dmitry Vinogradov / 500px Saguaro National Park, Arizona From Phoenix, you’ll hit I-10 East for the two-hour drive to Saguaro National Park. Get ready to meet the gigantic, humanoid forms of Saguaro cacti, some as high as 50ft and as old as 200 years. Some visitors swear the cacti take on a truly human appearance and personality, which only adds to the otherworldly quality of this Southwestern road trip. The park is also home to 8000ft mountains and unique desert wildlife such as javelinas, desert tortoises, and the Mexican spotted owl. Start at one of the park’s visitor centers for maps and advice about hikes, museum exhibits, a cactus garden, and ranger-led programs. Lodging options for visiting Saguaro range from posh digs in nearby Tucson, such as the University Inn to camping in the backcountry of the Rincon Mountain District (check in with the park’s visitor center for up-to-date camping options). Blossoming El Paso is a worthy stop on your Southwestern road trip © Beau Rogers / 500px El Paso, Texas From Tucson, you’ll get back on I-10 East for a four-hour drive across New Mexico before you dip into the western corner of Texas, where El Paso awaits. This vibrant city is ready for its closeup. A construction boom in recent years has led to exceptional hotel bargains, such as comfy and reliable stays at the Doubletree or Holiday Inn Express, and a renaissance of community spirit. Catch a minor-league baseball game and cheer for the hometown Chihuahuas, sip an exceptional local craft beer, and hop a ride on the newly restored streetcar line. Set aside at least a day to get to know this important border city’s art museum and gorgeous Franklin Mountains State Park. Strange cave formations await you in Carlsbad Caverns National Park © PHOTO 24 / Getty Images Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico Hit US-62 East for the two-hour drive from El Paso to one of America’s most extraordinary national parks, Carlsbad Caverns. Aboveground, the park is home to beautiful grassland, the lovely Guadalupe Mountains, and canyons. Below, you’ll explore the unique cave system that rivals any on earth for its scale and visual impact – at 250ft high and 4000ft long, it’s truly like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Ranger-led tours of the caverns, guided hikes among the mountains and canyons, and other hands-on programs keep every member of the family engaged. Reliable lodging is available about a half-hour’s drive from the park, in Carlsbad, NM, ranging from roadside chain motels to Quality Inn & Suites. Produced by Lonely Planet for GEICO. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.

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    Budget Travel Lists

    9 California Food & Beverage Makers to Visit in 2019

    We live in an era practically defined by entrepreneurship, and as we see it, some of the most exciting businesses are popping up in the food-and-beverage sector. While we love going to see where and how some of America's most iconic food brands are produced, we appreciate the personal touches that make independent creators so special, and California in particular is an embarrassment of riches. Here are some of our favorite destination-worthy small-batch producers in the state. 1. Lucero Olive Oil: Corning (Maya Stanton) In northern California, a straight shot south of Redding on I-5, you’ll find Corning, a small rural community where olives are the name of the game. The largest table-olive producer and the largest ripe-olive processor in the country, Bell-Carter Foods, is based here, but so is Lucero, a small, highly decorated operation turning out some of the best extra-virgin olive oil this side of the Mediterranean. Stop in for a look at the factory floor, and stay for a tasting and sample the wares (they import and flavor balsamic vinegars from Modena as well, traditional and fruit-flavored). You can choose from a basic introductory tour ($5), held twice daily; an hour-long Explorer Tour ($20; book in advance) that digs deeper into the olive-oil-making process and includes food pairings; and the two-hour Connoisseur Experience ($50; book in advance), which offers a peek at the olive mill as well as extensive pairing options. But no matter which you choose, hit the shop afterwards. With a wall of dispensers providing even more tastes of the merchandise, a selection of olive-wood tableware and accessories, and a plethora of carry-on-size bottles for purchase, you won’t be leaving empty-handed. 2120 Loleta Avenue, Corning; 877-330-2190; lucerooliveoil.com. 2. Journeyman Meat Co.: Healdsburg (Courtesy Richard Knapp) When Sonoma County winemaker Pete Seghesio gave up his vineyard and turned his attention to artisanal salumi, he wasn’t going in with his eyes closed. The grandson of 19th-century Italian immigrants, the meat business was in his blood: A great-grandfather was a butcher, and his father taught him to make fresh sausage and cured meats from the family’s farm-raised hogs at a young age. He got serious about the craft in 2012, spending time in Tuscany training under renowned butcher Dario Cecchini before opening Journeyman Meat Co. five years later. Today, you can buy Seghesio’s masterful finocchiona, soppressata, and chorizo online, but if you’re in the area, the butchery, salumeria, and wine tasting shop in Healdsburg is worth a visit. Set inside a retrofitted post office just north of the town’s main square, it features a rotating menu of wood-fired pizzas, house-made sausages and hot dogs, and, of course, an array of salumi boards, all paired with local Sonoma County wines. 404 Center Street, Healdsburg; 707-395-6328; journeymanmeat.com. 3. La Zamorana Candy Co.: Los Angeles Since 1957, the La Zamorana Candy Company has been turning out traditional Mexican candy using generations-old recipes in a small kitchen in East L.A. The family-owned-and-run business is known for its tarugos (sugar-coated tamarind-pulp candies), cocadas horneadas (baked macaroon-like coconut candies), milk fudge, and more. The candy is sold in Latin markets throughout the area, but to get a glimpse at traditional Mexican candy-making methods, visit the factory, which doubles as a shrine to old-time confectionery and clever modern-day resourcefulness. (A hand-operated slicer, for instance, was built with steel guitar strings that serve as blades.) Stop by and watch the magic happen. 7100 Wilson Ave, Los Angeles; 323-261-1817; zamoranacandy.com 4. Saltroot Café: San Francisco (Courtesy Saltroot Café) When John Goyert and Juliana Okada moved from Brazil to San Francisco a few years ago, they brought something delicious with them: a recipe for pão de queijo, that cheesy, chewy popover that could unofficially be considered the country’s national snack. The husband-and-wife team set up shop in the Outer Sunset neighborhood and opened their tiny cafe in 2017. In addition to stand-out pão de queijo in varieties both traditional (Parmesan) and non (guava), they serve a stellar selection of empanadas, green juices, coffee, and tea. Order a drink and watch them work while you wait; the production table and bread warmer are visible from the register, and the owners welcome the chance to talk about their craft. You’ll get a complimentary pão de queijo with your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, but they’re also available to purchase individually or by the bag, frozen, to take away and bake yourself. 2960 Clement Street, San Francisco; 415-663-6226; saltroot.com. 5. The Heart & Trotter: San Diego What began as two carnivorous friends’ Kickstarter campaign in 2013 has become a San Diego go-to for meats and a variety of gourmet provisions, primarily locally made food like jerky, mustard, and pickles and dairy items like cheese and butter. Since it opened in 2015, The Heart & Trotter has specialized in antibiotic- and hormone-free local meats and eggs. It’s a whole-animal butchery, so expect to find house-made sausages, paté, and rillettes alongside unconventional cuts (to wit, bavette, which is close to a hanger steak in terms of where it sits on the animal’s body, but less pricey). For lessons in how to put nose-to-tail practices into play, they offer demos and classes. Or just stop by for a generously stacked sandwich or charcuterie plate. Pro tip: the meat arrives from local farms in the morning, so if you get there early enough, you can catch the butchering in action. 2855 El Cajon Boulevard #1, San Diego; 619-564-8976; theheartandtrotter.com 6. California Cheese Trail: Compton to Crescent City (Courtesy Mike Larson/StepladdderCreamery.com) There are so many cheesemakers in California that it’d be impossible to pick just one—and luckily, you don’t have to. Discover the state’s dairy delights with the California Cheese Trail (cheesetrail.org), a self-guided tour created by Petaluma resident Vivien Straus, a cheese enthusiast who co-owns and manages a family dairy in Marshall. Choose from a suggested itinerary, or create your own, selecting a region and hitting the locations that are open for tours and tastings. In Marin County, Straus recommends Ramini Mozzarella (raminimozzarella.com), one of the only water-buffalo dairies in the country. The mozz is the draw, but animal-loving visitors can also get hands-on with the livestock: Water buffaloes, as it turns out, love to be groomed. “They literally curl their tails when brushed, then collapse in ecstasy,” Straus says. “It’s such a bizarre thing to see. Quite unique.” Further south, in Cambria on the Central Coast, Stepladder Creamery (stepladdercreamery.com) keeps a herd of LaMancha goats for its small-scale cheeses, alongside heritage pigs, black Angus cattle, and rows of Hass avocado trees on a third-generation family ranch. The creamery is open for tours by appointment, and not only are the cheeses available for purchase, you can also take home the farm’s honey, beef, pork, and avocados. “Delicious cheese!” says Straus. 7. Le Marcel Dog Bakery: San Francisco (Courtesy lemarceldogbakery.com) Canine travel companions deserve special treats, too! Established in 1998, dog bakery Le Marcel makes everything on its shelves from scratch—think pastries like “pupcakes” and “terrier-misu” and cookies shaped like cats and fetching sticks. If they've been especially good puppers, order ahead for a peanut butter special-occasion cake, and pick up a bag or two of packaged treats ("muttaroons," anyone?) for the road while you’re at it. Go ahead, throw that dog a bone. 2066 Union Street, San Francisco; 877-349-9199; lemarceldogbakery.com. 8. Chocovivo: Los Angeles (Courtesy Chocovivo) “Farm to table” and “grape to glass” have become part of the lingua franca for restaurants, food producers, and curious diners. Now “bean to bar” is becoming a more recognized term when it comes to chocolate-making. Choco Vivo, an airy, rustic-chic café with communal tables, features a chocolate-making facility specializing in bean-to-bar items, offering only dark-chocolate bars (no milk powder, soy lecithin, or any other additives or preservatives) and other simply made treats. Owner and chocolatier Patricia Tsai sources her beans directly from a particular grower in Mexico and roasts and stone-grinds them on an ancient Aztec stone grinder. At the shop, she sells chocolate sauce and hot-chocolate mix alongside her popular single-origin and blended chocolate bars. In 2014, she added hair and skin products to the lineup. There’s a calendar of events like chocolate tastings and tutorials in pairing chocolate with spirits or wine, so if you're in search of an education, options here are a sweet choice. 12469 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles; 310-845-6259; chocovivo.com. 9. Henry's House of Coffee: San Francisco Before Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks, and long before “third wave coffee” was a thing, there was Henry’s House of Coffee, a San Francisco institution. Since the 1960s, Henry Kalebjian, son of an Armenian immigrant who now runs the business with his son Hrag, has been micro-roasting mindfully sourced beans in what can now be considered a vintage twelve-kilogram San Franciscan brand roaster as patrons look on. As legend has it, sight and touch are his main means of measuring, which is little surprise considering he's been in the biz since childhood. Henry, the story goes, learned the craft from his father on old-world equipment that required tending a fire and hand-cranking a drum. Today, regulars are legion, visiting the shop as much to say hi to the Kalebjians as they do for the coffee—though, needless to say, tourists always get a warm welcome too. The space, which includes something of a gallery of artisanal provisions and coffee-making gizmos and cups, blends modern elements (blond wood accents, a sleek seating area, cold brew) with old world accents (that majestic roasting equipment, Henry himself.) Order a strong cup of their Armenian-style coffee, and you'll feel like a regular in no time. 1618 Noriega St, San Francisco; 415-681-9363; henryshouseofcoffee.com.

    Inspiration

    These Spots Win the "Travel Oscars"

    Film location scouts spend a lot of their time on the road zeroing in on the most drop-dead gorgeous, or creepy, or sophisticated places for film crews to work their magic. Each year, devoted travelers play "location scout" themselves by evaluating some of the top Oscar-nominated films for vacation-worthy destinations. Here, three of this year's winners. ASHEVILLE & SYLVA, NC The title Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri might suggest to you that the film was not shot anywhere near North Carolina. But the town of Sylva, NC, near Asheville, stood in for the fictional Missouri town in Martin McDonagh’s compelling movie, with local buildings given new facades bearing signs such as “The Ebbing Herald” and “Ebbing Police Department.” And those “three billboards” were shot east of Asheville, near Black Mountain. Local lodging is reliable and affordable, including the Cambria Hotel & Suites Downtown Asheville, which represents what we love about the Cambria brand: its’ devotion to distinctive contemporary design and great service. NEW YORK CITY & WHITE PLAINS, NY Another dose of cognitive dissonance: The Post, Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film about the Washington Post newspaper was shot, in part, in New York. The old AT&T building in White Plains stood in for the old Post headquarters in DC (which was demolished), and Washington’s streets were re-created, complete with vintage automobiles, on a street in Brooklyn. While the NYC area is notoriously pricey for hotels, good deals are available, and we like The Look Hotel, Red Hook, an Ascend Hotel Collection member (the Ascend brand always delivers freshly designed yet homey properties), and the Cambria Hotel & Suites White Plains Downtown. ATLANTA, GA Baby Driver was shot in the streets of downtown Atlanta, including a car chase on the Buford Highway Connector southbound, and the historic Pullman Yard. Atlanta lodging includes  Inn at the Peachtrees, an Ascend Hotel Collection member, a good base of operations for exploring the city’s historic sites.

    Inspiration

    25 affordable last-minute romantic getaways for Valentine's Day

    Baby, it’s cold outside, and we’re fantasizing about going on “love leave” this February to the coziest, quietest corners of the world. We tapped our savvy friends in the travel biz and found four amazing deals to some of the most luxurious, romantic (and now totally accessible!) spots. From the cud­dle-worthy New England coast to the white sands and turquoise waters of the Caribbean, we’ve got your back when it comes to impressing your SigOth this Valentine’s Day. NORTHEASTERN GETAWAYS Boston, Massachusetts, is one of America’s best cities for new music, and if music be the food of love, play on! Aloft Boston Seaport presents some of Beantown’s best local talent at its live, intimate performances each Thursday evening in the WXYZ Bar. Ask for a room with a water view. From $169/night. Boston is also one of the most design- and technology-forward cities, and Element Boston Seaport is “green from the ground up,” with water-efficient fixtures, kitchens with Energy Star-rated appliances, in-room recycling, and design details like picture frames fashioned from recycled tires. From $179/night Cape May, New Jersey, is one of our favorite oceanside destinations, an easy escape from NYC and Philly. Peter Shields Inn will impress even the most jaded travelers with its 20th-century Georgian Revival mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, nine luxe guestrooms, and one of the city's best fine-dining restaurants. Maybe most impressive of all, rooms start at $99/night. Clayton, New York, feels like a trip back in time, with shop-lined Victorian-era streets along the St. Lawrence riverfront. The 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel will lavish lovebirds with Champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, cheese, and gourmet nuts on arrival, plus rose-petal turndown service and breakfast for two at Seaway Grille. From $189/night. Edgartown, Massachusetts, combines old-world charm with sleek contemporary fixtures and amenities, and in winter you can experience the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard minus the summer crowds. Harbor View Hotel offers a farm-fresh prix-fixe Valentine’s Day menu at its signature restaurant, Lighthouse Grille (named for the classic Edgartown Lighthouse in the harbor outside the hotel’s windows. Browse Edgartown’s beautiful shops and galleries. Film fans will recognize Edgartown’s old-timey New England storefronts from Jaws, which was filmed on the VIneyard in the 1970s. From $109/night. Kennebunkport, Maine, wants to be “New England’s Most Romantic Town,” and its “Paint the Town Red” festivities have the whole town decked out in red twinkly lights, with great deals to get you there. Kennebunkport Resort Collection is offering the “Love KPT” lodging package that includes a two-night stay for two people at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel (starting at $373) or the Kennebunkport Inn (starting at $405), arrival goodies of red wine and chocolate-covered strawberries, a three course dinner for two, and a late check-out at noon. And since romance isn’t limited to Valentine’s Day, the package is available through March 30, 2017. Lake Placid, New York, is one of the coolest towns in Upstate New York, with great opportunities for cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks, Whiteface Mountain’s 284 skiable acres, and great food and shopping. Hotel North Woods, an Ascend Hotel Collection member, is an indulgent lodging with views of charming Main Street, Mirror Lake (right in town!), and the Adirondacks’ legendary High Peaks. From $99/night. Mystic, Connecticut, boasts The Whaler’s Inn, a charming New England classic that offers a romantic dinner for two, floral arrangements, assorted local chocolates, and a bottle of sparkling wine for couples. The town of Mystic is home to some of the coolest living history experiences in America, with its Seaport and great aquarium. From $195/night. Stowe, Vermont, offers a gorgeous setting in the Green Mountains (near one of America’s great ski destinations). Field Guide, a new boutique B&B, provides Instagrammable guestrooms, and indulgent amenities for your romantic escape. From $139/night. Westport, Connecticut, is one of the Nutmeg State’s coolest towns, with great theater, food, the Connecticut Audubon Society’s guided nature tours, and Sharpe Hill Vineyards award-winning wines. Westport Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection member, will pamper you in sweet serenity. From $127/night. SOUTHERN GETAWAYS New Orleans, Louisiana, is known for its incredible music, food, and party scene, but its charming old-world streets and thriving gardens make it a wonderful place to take a “love leave.” Canal Street Inn is located along the city's most iconic thoroughfare, Canal a 30-minute ride on one of the city’s iconic streetcar lines to the French Quarter, and an easy walk to exceptional restaurants. The inn’s gardens will charm you with live oak, fruit, and pecan trees—a nice break the Big Easy's bustle. From $145/night. Williamsburg, Virginia, is known for Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, and many more local attractions. The Kingsmill Resort puts couples up in style with its Bed & Breakfast Special, including a cozy guestroom, homemade breakfast, a free shuttle around the resort and the amazing local Williamsburg attractions, plus indoor pool and spa. From $171/night. Wimberly, Texas, is one of the gems of Texas Hill Country, known for its great wines and proximity to hotspots like Austin and San Antonio. Blair House features an art gallery highlighting the work of local artists, a day spa with a sauna, and even a cooking school. From $160/night. MIDWESTERN GETAWAYS Chicago, Illinois, may be the ultimate “shockingly affordable” American city, with culture, food, and activities that are second to none. Villa D' Citta offers luxury in a 19th-century Greystone mansion in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood, including a kitchen fully stocked with Italian meats, imported cheeses and fresh bread that is always open to guests. Insider tip: Ask for a made-to-order pizza cooked in the inn's stone oven and served with a complimentary carafe of house wine (from $129/night). Chicago is also home to the Magnificent Mile’s amazing shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities, and Cambria Hotel & Suites Chicago Magnificent Mile gets you right in the heart of the action, including nearby Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, legendary Wrigley Field (home of the world champion Chicago Cubs), Millennium Park, and Soldier’s Field (from $105/night). WESTERN GETAWAYS Golden, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is a historic Old West town nearby some of the best skiing in America. The Golden Hotel, an Ascend Hotel Collection member, looks out over Clear Creek, offers shuttle service within a five-mile radius for taking in the best of Golden’s local history and culture, plus a cozy indoor fireplace perfect for snuggling after a day in the snow. From $169/night. Grand Canyon, Arizona, is, of course, a jaw-dropping national park, and it also makes for an off-the-beaten-path romantic escape. Ride the scenic railway for 50 percent off for Valentine’s Day, a gorgeous 90-minute ride across high desert plains, arroyos, and ponderosa pine forest from Williams Depot to the Grand Canyon Depot, a short walk from the South Rim. The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel starts at $120/night. Taos, New Mexico, with its artsy Historic Plaza, Taos Mountain, and incredible history and culture, will melt stress upon your arrival. Hacienda Del Sol offers 12 large guestrooms among several adobe structures, decorated in Southwest style. You’ll love the private outdoor hot tub. From $160/night. Whitefish, Montana, is beautiful year-round. In winter, Good Medicine Lodge is your cozy, charming gateway to Whitefish Mountain skiing and Glacier National Park’s winter wonderland. Guestrooms and suites are beautifully appointed, and you can order your breakfast each evening for the next morning. From $130/night. PACIFIC COAST GETAWAYS Anderson, California, is an epicenter of outdoor activities in California’s unparalleled great outdoors. Gaia Hotel & Spa Redding, an Ascend Hotel Collection member, offers a heated pool, complimentary Wolgang Puck coffee and tea, free WiFi, and a fitness center. From $93/night. Cloverdale, California. This Sonoma County town is smack in the heart of wine country, overlooking the vineyards of Anderson Valley. The Auberge on the Vineyard offers seven rooms in an early 20th-century Queen Anne Victorian with a lovely wrap-around verandah and the remodeled Carriage House. You’ll love the three-course breakfasts, and you’ll even love the bill, from $140/night. Napa, California, isn’t exactly “under the radar,” but it is one of the most romantic escapes in America. Napa Winery Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection member, is near the beautiful Napa Wine Trail, several well-known vineyards (including Robert Mondavi Winery), the historic Napa Valley Opera House, and much more. From $185/night. Seattle, Washington, is one of our favorite affordable cities for its Pike Place Market, stunning views, and design-forward aesthetic. Sleeping Bulldog Bed and Breakfast boasts a central location, freshly baked cookies, and innkeepers who are Seattle natives who are happy to dispense locals-know-best tips. From $141/night. CARIBBEAN GETAWAYS El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico, is the setting for the stunning El Yunque Rainforest Inn, on five acres that draw birdwatchers, hikers, and horseback riders for its beauty and tranquility (not to mention the inn’s luxurious claw-foot bathtubs and fireplaces). From $165/night. Nassau, Bahamas, is home to Paradise Island, which is genuinely as awesome as its name suggests. Enjoy all the splendor of the island without breaking the bank at A Stone's Throw Away, with its luxe lounge spaces, wraparound verandah, and welcoming staff. From $180/night. MEXICO Tulum, Mexico, is a short flight from the U.S. and an enticingly romantic escape. Casa Jacqueline will spoil you with stunning views (including star-gazing), jacuzzi, pool, and a quick walk to Cenote Manatee and a short drive to Tulum’s iconic Mayan ruins. From $140/night. COSTA RICA Las Catalinas is an innovative seaside town on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. The car-free community is being built as a walkable beach town between the ocean and the mountains on the wildlife-rich Guanacaste peninsula. Studio Casa Indigo offers an intimate hideaway with complimentary sparkling wine and brigadeiros (irresistible Latin American chocolates), from $195/night. (To make reservations or for more details, visit lascatalinascr.com.)

    Budget Travel Lists

    America's 10 Grandest Mansions

    Kykuit in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Built in 1913 by John D. Rockefeller, flush with Standard Oil's real-life Monopoly money. What you'll see With soaring views of the Hudson River Valley toward Manhattan, 25 miles to the South, Kykuit (pronounced kye-cut) is the hilltop centerpiece of Pocantico Hills, the 2,000-acre playground of the Rockefeller dynasty. The house itself is more architectural mishmash than streamlined marvel, with a neoclassical façade and romantic details on the interior. The real treasure is grandson Nelson's extensive modern art collection, including striking wool tapestries by Picasso, as well as important works by David Smith, Louise Nevelson, and Henry Moore, two of whose sculptures adorn formal gardens designed by William Welles Bosworth. Pssst! The books lining one wall of the study are fake. Nelson, vice president in the 1970s, wasn't much of a reader--he preferred to unwind by watching TV shows like All in the Family. Tip The three-hour Estate Life Tour ($34) adds an exploration of the nearby Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s 80-acre preserve of woodlands and sustainable farming (and home to chef Dan Barber's expensive but splurgeworthy Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant). The Hudson Valley website has info on the estate as well as train and boat tickets from Manhattan. Info: 914/631-9491, hudsonvalley.org, $19. The Breakers in Newport, R.I. Built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt. What you'll see During the Gilded Age, Society summered in Newport, leaving behind several glorious mansions. The Breakers is considered the most magnificent, in part due to Cornelius' wife, Alice, trying to one-up her sister-in-law Alva's nearby Marble House. Family architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the 70-room palazzo after those found in 16th-century Genoa. Highlights include a 2,400-square-foot, two-story dining room in alabaster and gilded bronze, and the music room, constructed (furnishings and all) by artisans in Paris and reassembled on site. A behind-the-scenes tour, debuting in August, opens up the labyrinthine basement, among other areas. Pssst! Cornelius died only four years after construction was completed, following a stroke suffered while fighting with one of his sons over money. Tip The Gilded Age Experience ticket includes access to four other properties: The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff, and Green Animals Topiary Garden ($31). Info: 401/847-1000, newportmansions.org, $15. Shangri La in Honolulu, Hawaii Built in 1938 by tobacco heiress and surfer girl Doris Duke. What you'll see Oahu's most elaborate Spanish Mediterranean-inspired structure is where Doris Duke, known then as "the richest girl in America," hid from her money-grubbing relatives, and amassed one of America's premier Islamic art collections. Throughout much of her turbulent life, Duke found solace studying the order and symmetry of Near Eastern design (and purchasing it, of course). Highlights among her 3,500 objects: a 13th-century Iranian mihrab, or prayer niche, and an entire wooden room, carved and painted in Syria in the mid-19th century. Pssst! At age 75, Duke adopted a 35-year-old Hare Krishna, Chandi Heffner. The two became estranged when Duke suspected Heffner of poisoning her food. Claiming a toothache, Duke said she was going to the dentist, but instead hopped her 737 to L.A. and had her staff boot Heffner from Shangri La. Tip Opened to the public in 2002, Shangri La is still a tough ticket--advance reservations are a must (the 8:30 a.m. tour is the easiest to book last minute). There's also an extensive one on the website. Info: Tours begin at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, 866/385-3849, shangrilahawaii.org, $25. Fair Lane in Dearborn, Mich. Built in 1915 by Auto baron, curmudgeon, and old-time dance enthusiast Henry Ford. What you'll see The 56-room, prairie style-cum-English Gothic mansion, designed by architect William Van Tine, reveals Ford's taste for rustic hominess with cypress, oak, and walnut walls and staircases. The controversial industrialist retreated here as assembly lines at nearby Highland Park churned off scores of Model Ts every hour, minting him millions. Ford felt most at home in spaces beyond the main house--particularly the Thomas Edison--designed powerhouse, which generated hydroelectric power from the Rouge River and made the property self-sufficient; and of course, the garage, which holds six of Ford's historic car models. Pssst! In his old age, Ford became increasingly eccentric. It's been said that he cultivated rust on old razors in his bathroom sink to use as a hair restorative. Tip The on-site restaurant, in the room that once housed the Fords' 50-foot lap pool, is only open weekdays for lunch. Several dishes include soybeans, a crop Ford was fanatic about. Info: 313/593-5590, henryfordestate.org, $10. Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, S.C. Built in 1817 by John Robinson, a shipping merchant, who sold it to cotton tradesman William Aiken Sr. in 1827. What you'll see The prosperous Aikens clan kept the estate in the family for nearly 150 years. Over the decades, as the family's numbers dwindled, they sealed up rooms they no longer needed, beginning in 1898. Thus, much of the house remained untouched to this day: Faded paints, peeling wallpaper, worn carpets, and gaslight chandeliers all lend a time-capsule aura. Many of the original working outbuildings also survived--including slave quarters, a kitchen, and stables. Pssst! In the first-floor parlors, the spots of gray paint on the walls aren't the result of aging. They're a remnant from the filming of Swamp Thing, Wes Craven's 1982 horror flick, parts of which were shot in the house. Tip The $14 combo ticket also gets you into the nearby Nathaniel Russell House, a grand neoclassical building noted for its flying spiral staircase and elaborate plasterwork. And don't miss Charleston's sprawling Magnolia Cemetery, the final resting place of the Aikens, as well as many other grand families from the area. Info: 48 Elizabeth St., 843/723-1623, historiccharleston.org, $8. Winterthur in Wilmington, Del. Built in 1839 by Jacques and Evelina Bidermann (née du Pont). But the name worth knowing is that of her nephew's son, Henry Francis du Pont. He was born and raised in the house and inherited it when he came into the family's gunpowder fortune. What you'll see Once a modest Greek Revival structure, the house went through several revisions until Henry Francis, an avid gardener and collector of American decorative arts, doubled its size in the 1920s to make room for his collection of 63,000 objects and furnishings. The collection of American decorative arts, dating from 1640 to 1860, now totals 89,000 pieces in 175 period displays. It's so valuable that 26 employees are certified as firefighters. Pssst! Henry was neurotic about maintaining the furniture. In the 1930s, he hosted scores of weekend guests; those he considered careless got lesser-quality linens. And he often told them what couldn't be touched: One visitor was rumored to be so nervous, she slept in the bathtub to avoid disturbing anything. Tip Henry took his flowers seriously; he maintained a weekly list of the ones in the height of bloom at the estate, a practice the gardeners continue today (call 302/888-4856 for updates). The nearby Hagley Museum, site of the family's early gunpowder mill, provides an explanation of how the du Ponts could afford all that art (hagley.org). Info: 5105 Kennett Pike (Rte. 52), 800/448-3883, winterthur.org, $20. Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Built in 1895 by George Washington Vanderbilt II, grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt (and Cornelius II's brother). What you'll see Lest he land in the shadow of his siblings' palaces in Newport and Manhattan, this Vanderbilt took his share of the family fortune south--and outdid them all. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250-room French Renaissance--style château, a confection of Indiana limestone that featured early electric lights, indoor plumbing, and water channeled from a reservoir five miles away. Frederick Law Olmsted sculpted 75 acres of gardens. The public has been welcome since 1930, but in July, several rooms--including an observatory--open for the first time. Pssst! Not all of Vanderbilt's guests left bowled over. A visiting Henry James once wrote that the château was "strange, colossal, heartbreaking...in effect, like a gorgeous practical joke." Tip Asheville's AAA branch (800/274-2621) offers members $5 off admission. And the website has discounts--as much as 30 percent off--on the property's Inn on Biltmore Estate (from $179). Info: 1 Approach Rd., off Highway 25, 800/624-1575, biltmore.com, $39. Monticello in Charlottesville, VA Built in 1769 by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. What you'll see Jefferson made filling Monticello--"little mountain," roughly translated--his life project. Construction started in 1769 when he was 26 years old and ended when he was 66. It's the details that are most intriguing: Antlers in the entrance hall were a gift from Lewis and Clark; a bottle-sized dumbwaiter travels from the wine cellar to the dining room; a contraption copies letters as they're being written. Newly restored this year is the 1809 kitchen, an upgrade Jefferson started after returning from the White House. Pssst! Jefferson considered his affair with slave Sally Hemings part of a therapeutic regimen using sex, exercise, and vegetarianism, according to Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello, by University of Tulsa professor Andrew Burstein. Tip The Presidents' Pass ($26) includes admission to Monticello, the 1784 Michie Tavern museum and restaurant, and Ash Lawn-Highland (President James Monroe's home). The pass is available at any of the museums or the local visitors center. Info: 931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., 434/984-9800, monticello.org, $14. Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif. Built in 1919 by Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the real-life Citizen Kane. What you'll see The 165-room Mediterranean Revival palace was designed by architect Julia Morgan, and was a work in progress for 28 years. Its proud owner first brought in the world, shipping in European treasures such as Roman tapestries and a 400-year-old Italian carved wood ceiling. Then he brought in the stars, hosting Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, and many others. Pssst! On certain summer nights, after the tourists go home, the estate's employees (and a few of their guests) are given access to swim in the marble-lined, 345,000-gallon Neptune pool. Tip The castle schedules evening tours in spring and fall--docents in period clothing act as though Hearst had invited them. For contrast, visit the nearby town of Cambria, home to the poor man's Hearst Castle. Nitt Witt Ridge, a 51-years-in-the-making hodgepodge of Busch beer cans and other discarded materials, was dreamed up by deceased eccentric Art Beal (805/927-2690). Info: 800/444-4445, hearstcastle.com, $24. Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA. Built in 1839 by J. T. Roman, a sugarcane planter and French Creole socialite, as a wedding gift to his bride, Celina Pilie. What you'll see Two rows of 300-year-old live oaks line the quarter-mile drive from the Mississippi River up to the colonnaded Greek Revival mansion. (You may recall the view from Primary Colors and Interview with the Vampire.) Inside, guides in period dress--hoopskirts, Confederate uniforms--lead a half-hour tour focusing on the Romans' day-to-day doings, their elegant parties, and the courting traditions of the era. Afterward, visitors are invited to purchase mint juleps and relax on the porch and grounds. Pssst! The romance between J.T. and Celina may have been less than steamy. Celina preferred to spend her time at parties in New Orleans, while J.T. stayed home at Oak Alley. He signed many letters, "Kiss the children for me. Your Friend, J.T. Roman." Tip Oak Alley has simple accommodations in the late-1800s outbuildings--no phones or TVs, but there are flashlights for late-night graveyard tours (from $115, with breakfast). Info: 800/442-5539, oakalleyplantation.com, $10. Five more mansions that you may not have heard about Some will recognize the Gamble House in Pasadena, Calif., as the domain of Doc in Back to the Future. But design junkies are far more impressed by the overall American Arts & Crafts style: stained glass, hand-finished oak, Burmese teak. The mansion was built in 1908 for David Gamble (of Procter & ...) by architects Greene & Greene (626/793-3334, gamblehouse.org, $8). In Natchez, Miss., a town rich with antebellum mansions, Longwood rises above, if only for its shape. It's the largest octagonal house in America--a fad in 1860, when it was designed by architect Samuel Sloan for cotton planter Haller Nutt (601/442-5193, $8). Confederate General William Giles Harding inherited his father's Belle Meade Plantation, in Nashville, and built a world-class 1853 Greek Revival mansion. After guided visits through the house, self-guided tours take in the slave quarters and storied stud farm stable (615/356-0501, bellemeadeplantation.com, $11). At Lyndhurst, a romantic 1838 Gothic Revival castle designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, pointed turrets tower over the Hudson River Valley. Three powerful New York families lived there in the 1800s. The most famous resident was railroad tycoon Jay Gould, who preferred to take his yacht from New York City to Tarrytown rather than board a train owned by his nemesis, Cornelius Vanderbilt I (914/631-4481, lyndhurst.org, $10). Captain Frederick Pabst, a steamship captain turned brewmaster, financed the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee in 1892 with proceeds from his company, which at the time was the world's largest manufacturer of lager. The 37-room Flemish Renaissance mansion demonstrates his taste for the finer things--including custom-built Louis XV-style furniture and 19th-century European oil paintings (414/931-0808, pabstmansion.com, $8).

    Road Trips

    Classic Road Trip Down the Pacific Coast Highway

    Day 1: San Francisco to Carmel Shortly after we married, my wife and I discovered that the drive down Highway 1, California's coastal route, is much like young love: romantic, impractical, and filled with dizzying twists and turns. It was also crowded. Sara and I made our first trip together one summer on a day-and-a-half jaunt from San Francisco to L.A., a clip too quick to appreciate the views, but not fast enough for the leadfoots tailgating us. Over the next seven years, on subsequent trips south, we forsook Highway 1 for I-5, the big inland interstate, the highway of pragmatic middle age. But the beauty of the coast always beckoned. Sara grew restless (the seven-year itch?) for a scenic road trip. So we waited for winter, the sleepy season. We would be more mature this time around. When other cars breathed down our bumper, we'd pull aside instead of flipping them off. We'd hold hands. We'd watch the sunset. This highway--unlike most--was never meant to be hurried. It took 15 years to build, and even today, a lifetime after it opened during Franklin Roosevelt's tenure, it remains in a steady state of reconstruction--stretches of it buried under winter mudslides, or worn down by the ocean's constant kiss. The sky was clear and so was the road as we eased our way south of San Francisco. On the right side of the highway, waves frothed white against empty beaches. On the left, farmland formed a carpet of emerald green. We passed the crescent coastline of Half Moon Bay and then, 18 miles south, took a short detour to the town of Pescadero, known for its artichoke harvests. A friend had told us we wouldn't want to do without a slice of artichoke bread at Arcangeli Grocery Co. More bread than artichoke, it wasn't worth the side trip, but it tided us over as we cut back to the coast. Outside of Santa Cruz we shot north on Highway 9 to the mountainside town of Felton, where a local artist named Michael Rugg runs the free Bigfoot Discovery Museum. A cheery, bearish man, Rugg stood behind the counter when we walked in, relaying tales of Bigfoot sightings to a young, wide-eyed believer. Catching us eavesdropping, Rugg waved us over and showed us a term paper he wrote in 1967 as a Stanford undergrad: "A History and Discussion of the Abominable Snowman Question." It was more persuasive than some of his other exhibits, like the Milton Bradley yeti board game, or the tabloid headline, complete with doctored photo, hanging on the wall: "World's First Bigfoot Hooker." The museum is barely larger than a woodshed, but we managed to stay for an hour. I was delighted, though not entirely convinced, by a Roger Patterson film, a significant snippet from the canon of Bigfoot studies, which shows a large ape-man ambling along a wooded stream. "A lot of people say it's just a guy in a gorilla suit, but I know it's real," said a visitor, a man in his 40s with a dreamy stare. Like Bigfoot, Santa Cruz has a reputation for attracting plenty of eccentrics--a reputation promoted by the city, whose residents buy bumper stickers that read keep santa cruz weird. The Gelatomania Café downtown(now closed) is odd, all right. Run by Buddhists, it's an Italian ice cream shop that doubles as an oxygen bar. Sara got a scoop of chocolate gelato, while I shelled out five bucks to inhale air scented like the sea. That fragrance grew stronger when we got to Steamer Lane, one of the best surf spots on the West Coast. Dozens of surfers bobbed in the water, waiting for a fleeting shot at glory. The sun was hanging low by the time we arrived at the 17-Mile Drive, the famous gated loop that winds past landmark golf courses and zillion-dollar mansions. We paid $9 for the right to drive it, and left an hour later with a much clearer sense of how the other 0.001 percent lives. For dinner, we split a wood-fire pizza at Cafe Rustica, a homey restaurant in Carmel Valley, the inland stepsister to Carmel. It's a 15-minute detour off the highway, a small sacrifice for a good pizza. Food Arcangeli Grocery Co. 287 Stage Rd., Pescadero, 650/879-0147, loaf of artichoke bread $5 Cafe Rustica10 Delfino Pl., Carmel Valley, 831/659-4444, pizza $12 Activities Bigfoot Discovery Museum5497 Hwy. 9, Felton, 831/335-4478 17-Mile DrivePebble Beach exit off Hwy. 1 south, pebblebeach.com, car fee $9 Day 2: Carmel to San Luis Obispo We awoke at daybreak to visit Earthbound Farm in Carmel. An all-organic operation, Earthbound sells its own produce and freshly made foods from a quaint storefront. I got a Like-a-lada smoothie (made with pineapple, coconut, and banana), which I liked-a-sorta, but not as much as Sara's Mango Tango. We grabbed organic chicken sandwiches for the road, strolled through the aromatic herb gardens, and climbed back in the car, feeling refreshed and pesticide-free. It wasn't long before we arrived in Big Sur, once a magnet for beatniks, now a haven for artists and wealthy spa-goers. We turned right at unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road (the first paved road past the post office) and drove two miles to Pfeiffer Beach, where the currents have carved arches in the sandstone and greenstone rocks. It was just us and the seagulls. The Henry Miller Library, set in a shaded redwood grove a short drive south, was peaceful and meditative. "Library" is a misnomer, since you can't borrow anything. But you can buy books, read letters, and gaze at watercolors by the famous writer (and less-famous painter) who lived in Big Sur for 18 years. As we progressed, the views became more dramatic; every turnout in the road was a temptation to pull over and snap photographs. Sara gazed at the rocky shoreline, while I concentrated on not steering us off a cliff. Still, by the time we arrived at aptly named Ragged Point, Sara's queasy look was a reminder that on Highway 1, it's easier to drive than navigate. I'd read that Piedras Blancas was a winter hangout for elephant seals. The giant beasts were lolling about on the windy beach, as unself-conscious as experienced nudists. Signs informed us that we had come a few weeks too late to see the real highlight: the young being born and the seagulls eating the afterbirth. Shucks. Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, is a popular stop along this drive, but we decided to continue on to Cambria, where another obsessive built a very different kind of home. Nit Witt Ridge is the anti-Hearst Castle, constructed by local garbageman Art Beal, who used tire rims, beer bottles, abalone shells, anything he could get his hands on. Beal died in 1992, but a man named Michael O'Malley owns the place now and runs entertaining tours. O'Malley showed us one of Beal's bathrooms. Lovelorn for much of his life, the garbageman never fully gave up hope: He equipped the tiny room with his-and-hers toilets. San Luis Obispo, a college town with an easygoing surf-side vibe, holds a farmers' market every Thursday evening. We arrived just in time. The main street, Higuera, is closed to traffic for the occasion, so we took a streetcar. There were fewer farmers than restaurateurs operating sidewalk stands, but we couldn't complain. Sara got a burger, and I had a sausage. That night, we checked in to the La Cuesta Inn, a clean, comfortable hotel with soft beds and bathrooms with just one toilet. Lodging La Cuesta Inn2074 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo, 805/543-2777, lacuestainn.com, from $89 Food Earthbound Farm7250 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel, 831/625-6219, ebfarm.com, smoothie $4 Activities Nit Witt Ridge881 Hillcrest Dr., Cambria, 805/927-2690, $10, kids $5 Henry Miller LibraryHwy. 1, Big Sur, 831/667-2574, henrymiller.org, donations accepted Day 3: San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara The Big Sky Cafe, downtown, serves all the great morning standards, plus a terrific posole, a pork and hominy stew. At our waitress's suggestion, we strolled into the parking lot across the street to see a local landmark called Bubble Gum Alley. It's a walkway between stores where, for decades, San Luis Obispans have been sticking their chewed gum. Sure enough, the alley was covered in the gooey stuff, some fresh and pink but most brown with age. Far from an example of public art, the alley struck me as a threat to public health. This part of the California coastline is still beautiful, but less rugged than up north. It's also more developed, scarred by subdivisions. We found refuge in Pismo State Beach, a winter breeding ground for monarch butterflies. They were flitting around the bushes and eucalyptus trees. In a tranquil clearing, a sign promised butterfly talks daily at 11 a.m. We waited. And waited. We watched the butterflies. No one came to talk, but it didn't matter. The butterflies were best observed in silence anyway. On the way toward Solvang, we cut inland through rolling wine country, the stunning vineyards featured in Sideways, and stopped at La Purisima Mission, founded in 1787. The Mission was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812, and it's since been faithfully rebuilt seven miles from its original location. The big, bucolic compound has low-slung Spanish-style adobe buildings and artifacts depicting life some 200 years ago. We were the only visitors in the sprawling place, and burros and horses grazed in a fenced-in pasture. Solvang is a peculiar place, a city that was settled by Danish immigrants that's now a tourist draw. It looked to me like Danish Disney World: windmills, wood-frame gingerbread houses, a store selling Christmas ornaments year-round. Even the Best Western has the chutzpah to call itself the Kronborg Inn. At the New Danish Inn Restaurant (now closed), we ordered smorgasbord, a buffet of meatballs, cabbage, and forlorn-looking salads, only to discover that smorgasbord is Danish for "lots of food we're not in the mood to eat." So we headed next door to Paula's Pancake House for delicious Danish pancakes--big, light, and dusted with powdered sugar. Late that afternoon, we started to see palm trees, nature's welcome to southern California. The Pacific Crest Inn, a no-frills motel in Santa Barbara, was remarkably inexpensive for a place only a block from the beach. An unadvertised bonus: The inn is also near La Super-Rica Taqueria. The Mexican restaurant was celebrated by Julia Child, and I'd heard so much hype about it, I was braced for disappointment. But the tamales, stuffed with chayote squash and topped with cream sauce, were the best I've ever eaten, and the salsa was hot enough to melt my teeth. Lodging Pacific Crest Inn by the Sea433 Corona Del Mar, Santa Barbara, 805/966-3103, from $59 Food Big Sky Cafe1121 Broad St., San Luis Obispo, 805/545-5401, posole $9 Paula's Pancake House1531 Mission Dr., Solvang, 805/688-2867, pancakes $5 La Super-Rica Taqueria622 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara, 805/963-4940, tamale $4 Activities Pismo State BeachPier Ave., Oceano, 805/489-2684 La Purisima Mission2295 Purisima Rd., Lompoc, 805/733-3713, car fee $4 Day 4: Santa Barbara to L.A. As we loaded up the car, two young surfers passed us on their way back from the water. "Totally gnarly," they said, when we asked how the waves were. Our drive down toward Ventura was also pretty gnarly, skirting a coastline that seems to have sprung from a Beach Boys song. Turning inland, we merged with heavy traffic on the 405 freeway. On a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles's Getty Center caused such a stir when it opened in 1997 that visitors had to make reservations. No longer. Still, it was crowded when we got there at 11 a.m., and the line for the tram--the only way up--was dishearteningly long. By the time we reached the top, about 40 minutes later, our schedule was too tight to tour the exhibits. But the building, designed by Richard Meier, is art enough--a gleaming modernist fortress of Italian travertine. The grand gardens are like a streamlined, modern version of those at Versailles, and a smaller cactus garden offers extensive variety--some round and squat, others tall and lanky, with arms outstretched like gunslingers. Beyond, a view of L.A. was spectacular but sobering--ocean to the west, smog to the south. Leaving the museum, we cut back west to Santa Monica. Main Street was crammed: cars, cafés, cool dudes. We stopped at Urth Caffé for prosciutto sandwiches. On our way out, a blond man in hip shades shouldered past us. "An actor!" Sara whispered excitedly. He's the one, she explained, who played the hero in that film we saw that time, the one with those chase scenes and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. "Are you positive that wasn't the sequel?" I replied. On the way to the airport, we hit apocalyptic traffic. In the course of our trip, we'd watched one of the world's loveliest highways grow into a groaning urban thoroughfare, not so much ugly as monotonous. We sat in silence, a couple on the cusp of middle age, happy and comfortable together, even if the highway we love had become a road we no longer recognize. Food Urth Caffé2327 Main St., Santa Monica, 310/314-7040, prosciutto sandwich $12 Activities The Getty Center1200 Getty Center Dr., L.A., 310/440-7300, getty.edu, parking $7 Finding your way Highway 1 runs south from the Golden Gate Bridge, cutting across the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. It also passes through neighborhoods that are usually clogged with traffic and not especially scenic. An easier way to pick up Highway 1 is to take Highway 101 south from San Francisco to 280 south, which meets Highway 1 near the coast. Mudslides and flooding sometimes close parts of Highway 1 in winter. For road conditions, call Caltrans at 916/445-7623. The Getty Center isn't on Highway 1. To get there, head east on Highway 10 and backtrack north on the 405. If Highway 1 is closed through the Santa Monica Mountains, stay on the 101 south to the 405 south.

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