This is another article in the series about my travels with my son, Nathan, and visiting prospective colleges. He applied to thirteen schools, only three of which he had actually visited (and those were three of the the five where he was rejected or wait-listed). He was accepted at eight of those schools and I insisted that he could not actually attend a school that he had not physically visited.
Thus, we had a scant few weeks to visit six schools (he eliminated two of the schools he applied to right away). We visited University of Texas-Austin a few weeks prior and last week I posted about the first couple of days in California with a visit to UCLA.
As one might expect, I had brought my bike with me to California and while it was ostensibly for use at the end of the trip (after I had put my son on a plane back home and I continued up to Healdsburg in Sonoma), I just had to get a ride in along the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu.
I mean, duh.
It’s a beautiful stretch of Route 1, and it is completely flat, but make no mistake, this is not an easy ride, nor it is for the faint of heart. Why? Traffic. Tons and tons of traffic. For the most part, there is a decent shoulder but there are certainly segments where there is no shoulder and one is at the whim of yet another Tesla buzzing by at 60-70 miles per hour.
The following morning, we hopped into our rented Chevrolet Malibu (purely coincidental) and headed up the PCH, the same road I had ridden a few hours before. I passed a few cyclists and I slowed down to ascertain how firm of a grip they had on the bars and how tightly their teeth were clenched. I decided this was bad form as I would not want someone doing the same to me. This was confirmed when one such cyclist unclenched his teeth long enough to scream something at me. I couldn’t hear him, but I am pretty sure I know what he said as he had also peeled one hand away from the handlebars and flipped me off.
I deserved that, I think.
We proceeded up the coast to Santa Barbara, and did a quick drive through town, looking for a lunch spot before heading over to the campus which is a bit out of town, right on the coast. As we circled through town trying to get my son to make a decision about where he might like to eat, we passed several tasting rooms and my pulse began to race ever so slightly. I kept to my promise, however, not to visit any wineries or make any stops for me—this trip was about him and his future.
At least that was the phrase that I kept repeating in my head as we passed the Au Bon Climat tasting room. Au Bon freaking Climat.
[Those last few words were even more painful to write after having learned of the passing of Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat’s larger-than-life owner, knowing now that I missed my last chance to pop in and say hello on the chance that he might be around.]
We eventually ate and then hopped back in the Malibu and drove the eight miles or so out to the campus, which is literally right on the ocean. We circled the campus a couple of times and I asked if he wanted to get out and walk around a bit.
“Nah, I’m good.”
“Well, I had already pretty much eliminated UCSB, but I figured I should at least see it.”
Okie dokie. At least we had eliminated a school. Moving on.
Our stop for the night was in Buellton at what used to be called the Days Inn, was referred to as the “Windmill Inn” in the movie, and now is known as the “Sideways Inn.” Yeah. It almost made me not want to stay there, but I had been there a couple of years prior, shortly after the hotel had been renovated and while it will never be confused with the Ritz, it is likely the best hotel in Buellton (which, I know, is not saying a lot…).
The main reason I wanted to stay there, however, was its proximity to the Hitching Post II, the restaurant that also figures prominently in the movie. Even though it seems at this point that I am a complete Sideways junkie, it is not the case (although I do like the movie). As I mentioned previously, my son and I had just watched the movie and I thought he would like eating at the very bar where Miles sat.
OK, I guess I am a bit of a Sideways junkie.
Problem. We were there on Tuesday and the Hitching Post, like almost every other restaurant in Buellton and neighboring Solvang, was closed. Part mid-week early Spring, part pandemic, but there was nothing within a healthy drive open for business. I refused to settle for fast food, however, not because, well, yuck, but for the simple reason that they typically have a terrible wine list.
The choices were basically to head back to Santa Barbara (about 40 minutes) or up to Santa Maria (about 45 minutes). Then there was another option that popped up on Yelp: Hitching Post 1, the original Hitching Post (the restaurant in Buellton is the Hitching Post II) in a town called Casmalia (which I had never heard of), about 35 minutes away. I called. They were open, and had a table for us.
The drive was long and desolate. When you think that California is over-populated, head to Casmalia. Holy crap. But the wine was great and the steak divine. On to San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly next week.
2017 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $40 ($55 at the restaurant). Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini have been making wine for Ostini’s Hitching Post restaurant since 1979, long before any movie. We headed out to the Hitching Post in Casmalia since the HPII was closed and all the other restaurants in the Buellton area were either all closed, looked horrible, or had a wine list that consisted of red or white” with no further description. There is a reason I had never heard of Casmalia: there is nothing there other than the restaurant–total BFE. No cell reception. No WI-FI. Plenty of cows. Screw cap $55. Light in color. Plenty of cherry, some rose petal, a bit of earth. Lovely. The palate is on the light side when it comes to Pinot, but balanced between fruit, earth, and tartness. This evolved over the hour and by the end, was really singing. Was it worth the drive? You betcha. Excellent. 90 Points.