3 Days in Santa Maria

glutenberg by glutenberg

Rental Car from Enterprise

First stop of the trip, picking up the rental car for the drive up to Santa Maria. Jean rented her car from Enterprise at Ontario Airport, so we headed there. Once there, we were informed by the person at the front desk that due to a recall on nearly all of their cars, there would be an hour wait for a car. We decided to wait for the car, but to our surprise, they put us in an upgraded vehicle (from compact to mid-size) and sent us on our way within 5 minutes.

Jean and I were able to secure a pretty new Hyundai Sonata for our trip, which was nice and spacious to carry all of our junk.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, 917u61, 3450 E Airport Dr #400, Ontario, CA 91761, USA

Amping up with some coffee at Handlebar Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara

Our first stop was at Handlebar Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara. We wanted to drive through downtown Santa Barbara just to check it out since we hadn't been there in awhile and we also wanted some coffee to help with the remainder of the drive.

Jean ended up getting a black coffee and I got an iced mocha for the road. Both were good. Their iced mocha was a bit sandy from the chocolate but it was still enjoyable.

Handlebar Coffee Roasters, 128 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA

Los Padres National Forest

After passing through Santa Barbara, we took the 154 San Marcos Pass Rd. through the Los Padres National Forest. This 2-lane road provided a beautiful view of the lush mountain sides and was on the other side of the Santa Barbara fire that had been blazing throughout the week. Definitely a nice little shortcut to Santa Maria that bypasses the longer 101 North route. The only disadvantage is you miss some beautiful ocean views that you would enjoy if you stuck to the 101.

Los Padres National Forest, California, USA

Pit stop in Solvang

As we cruised through the Los Padres National Forest, Jean and I decided to make a pit stop in Solvang to pick up some pastries for people back home and to munch on. The main road through the town (Mission Dr.) was being repaved, so there was nearly no traffic or people in the town. We walked around and checked out a few of the shops in the area. We were able to get a nice picture of Rabobank in Solvang, which shall be framed for Jean. We decided to get some pastries from Olsen's Danish Village Bakery. After walking around for about an hour, we were pretty bored and ready to leave. Mission Dr. had been reopened and a lot of tourists started pouring in. We were both surprised to see so many East Asian tourists in the town, but I guess they were being carted in by the big tour buses.

Overall, Solvang is a bit boring. Outside of the charm of the Danish architecture and windmills, there didn't seem to be too many things that grabbed our attention. The pastries were pretty good but Copenhagen in Los Angeles seems to serve better tasting pastries of similar style.

Solvang, Solvang, CA 93463, USA

Kringles, Rumballs, galore and more at Olsen's Danish Village Bakery

My love for kringle and almond paste pastries has no bound. Since it's expensive to order kringles from O&H Danish Bakery in Wisconsin, I figured I'd try to find something comparable in Solvang. Yelp had Olsen's as the top rated bakery with the most reviews, so we decided to give it a try.

Jean and I bought a Kringle for Mike and Alice to enjoy. We purchased a Queen Elizabeth Tart, a Rum Ball, and a Bear Claw to snack on. The Queen Elizabeth Tart was pretty unique. It's a tart that's covered in chocolate and filled with almond paste and cream. The Rum Ball was a chocolate ball with some rum flavoring and chocolate sprinkles. Lastly, the Bear Claw was a croissant like pastry with almond paste filling. The Rum Ball was pretty tasty but was nothing to really write home about. The Bear Claw was also pretty standard and sadly there are probably better almond pastries to be found at places like Pain du Monde.

Overall, the bakery was worth visiting but I probably would not go back unless I had another reason to be in Solvang.

Olsen's Danish Village Bakery, 1529 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463, USA

Staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Marriott in Santa Maria

After 4 hours on the road, we finally arrived at our hotel. Jean booked our stay at Fairfield Inn & Suites Marriott, which was one of the newer hotels in the area. The hotel came with complimentary breakfast (sausage, ham, eggs, waffles, variety of breads, oatmeal, cereal, juice, and coffee), a 24 hour fitness center (2 treadmills, some free weights, and an elliptical machine), and a small pool and Jacuzzi.

Our room consisted of a queen sized bed in a fairly small room. The bed was soft but comfortable. I guess there are other rooms in the hotel that are suites, but the room we got was a standard hotel room. The restroom was quite large and had a pretty decent shower with decent water pressure. The hotel provided two channels of HBO, which was a nice bonus. WiFi and internet access was complimentary, however, the service was intermittent and not particularly fast. There was an upgraded package that you could buy per day for better service.

Overall, the hotel was quite nice and suited our needs well. Good for tourists and people in the area traveling for business.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Santa Maria, 2061 Roemer Ct, Santa Maria, CA 93454, USA

Delicious clam chowder at Splash Cafe

Once we unpacked and got settled, Jean took me around to see the places she had been to on her previous trips to the area. First stop was to get dinner at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach, specifically, their delicious clam chowder. Pismo Beach is about 20 minutes north of Santa Maria, so it was a quick drive to get there.

We ordered a clam chowder bread bowl and added seafood on top. The bread bowl's top and the carved out bread are nicely toasted for dipping with the clam chowder. The seafood that topped the clam chowder was also very fresh and added flair to the soup. The clam chowder itself was delicious and complimented the beach town perfectly. All of this for about $10. Would definitely return to get this soup again.

Splash Café Pismo Beach, 197 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach, CA 93449, USA

Wandering around Pismo Beach

One hearty bowl of chowder later, we figured we'd need to walk around for a bit to burn off some of those calories before the next meal! Since Splash Cafe was right next to the pier, we decided to walk around the beach and down the pier before heading out to San Luis Obispo. Pismo Beach's pier was pretty standard and does not have much on it, however, the view from the pier was spectacular, especially at sunset. Definitely a good walk when your belly is full of warm chowder and sourdough bread.

Pismo Beach Pier, 100 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach, CA 93449, USA

Firestone Grill Attempt 1

From Pismo Beach, Jean and I headed up to San Luis Obispo to get our second meal at the famous Firestone Grill. Pismo Beach to SLO is about 10 minutes, so everything in that area is close by. Both Jean and I had long heard about this restaurant and how delicious their tri-tip sandwich is, so given our limited time in the area, we had to try the sandwich even though we had just eaten. Boundless gluttony.

There was ample street parking at the hour we went, so we didn't look to see if there was a lot to park in. The front of Firestone Grill had a great looking outdoor eating area, but it was a bit dark, so we ended up eating inside. We tried to order the Tri-Tip Steak Sandwich, which is what we had heard many stories about, but they said they had run out and were not making more due to the amount of time it takes to smoke the tri-tip. Our hearts were crushed at that moment as this was to be one of the highlights of the trip. We ended up getting a The Pig Sandwich, side of rings, and a drink instead to share.

The Pig Sandwich turned out to be quite tasty and not a bad alternative to the tri-tip sandwich. The bread was incredible and tasted a bit like garlic bread. The meat was tender and flavorful and the bbq sauce was a good mix of sweet and tangy. Their rings were also very good and had a generous amount of onion per ring. Overall, as disappointed as we were that we weren't able to get the tri-tip, the alternative saved the day enough to not make us regret making the trip up to SLO.

Firestone Grill, 1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, USA

Wandering around downtown SLO

After our second gluttonous dinner at Firestone Grill, we decided to walk around downtown SLO for a little bit to see what the students at Cal Poly SLO get to enjoy during their down time. We walked buy a beautiful creek area with an old mission building that looked extremely romantic at night. A few of the restaurants had seating that would sit on the bluff right above the creek below. Great date night spot if one is a local in the area. The entire walk only lasted maybe 30 minutes as the downtown area was mostly closed and was fairly small.

San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA

Swinging by the Madonna Inn

After wandering around SLO, we decided to head back to Santa Maria to call it a night. On the way down, Jean wanted to show me a landmark motel called the Madonna Inn. This motel is incredibly unique in both its exterior architecture and interior design. The exterior looks like a throwback to Main Street USA and the interior of each room is designed differently to match a theme. They have love themed rooms, jungle themed rooms, etc. that are designed to offer each resident a unique stay.

The motel is definitely worth a quick look if you're passing through, although the pricing to stay there seemed prohibitive (starting at $200 and up to $400 when I asked).

The Madonna Inn, 100 Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, USA

Return of the Firestone Grill

Jean had to go to her training on the second day of her trip so I told her I would pick up the Tri-Tip Steak Sandwich from Firestone Grill for us to share later since we weren't able to get it the night before. Definitely go at an off hour if you don't want to deal with a long line. Luckily, I went around 3 PM so there was no line.

The sandwich itself was delicious. Get a bit of extra BBQ sauce for the sandwich if you want a sweeter flavor. Because we didn't eat the sandwich until later, the bread had become a bit soggy, so that was unfortunate. Assuming the bread is similar to the pulled pork sandwich from the night before, I would imagine the sandwich would be near perfect.

I also ordered an order of the Garlic Bread and I would definitely recommend that too. The bread was soaked in garlic butter and toasted to perfection. It was so crispy and slightly chewy that I almost felt like it was deep fried. Definitely wroth getting as a side.

Firestone Grill, 1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, USA

Coffee boost at Red Dirt Coffee House

Once I picked up the sandwich at Firestone Grill, I headed back towards Santa Maria. On the way home, I decided to swing by Arroyo Grande to check out a bakery and coffee shop. The coffee shop happened to be a Hawaiian restaurant that served a variety of Hawaiian meals, snacks, and drinks.

I ordered a Poi Pounder Latte for Jean, an iced Kukui Dream for myself, and a couple of spam and sausage musubis for us to share. The Poi Pounder Latte is a taro powder based latte and it tasted like a taro dessert. Jean liked it, even though it was powder based, so I guess that's saying something. The iced Kukui Dream was a bit hit or miss. It was pretty unique in its taste as it was made of banana, macadamia, and almond syrups. I wouldn't say it was great but it was still enjoyable.

The musubis were excellent. The rice for the musubis was soft but remained sticky enough to keep from falling apart. The spam and the sausages were both very flavorful and went well with their rice. A great snack for the road.

Red Dirt Coffee House, 1452 E Grand Ave, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, USA

One more bakery stop at Eclair Bakery

With musubis and Hawaiian coffees in hand, I had one more stop before heading back to Santa Maria to meet up with Jean. I swung by Eclair Bakery to pick up some random baked goods since they were highly rated on Yelp. I ended up picking up a blueberry croissant strudel and three cookies. The cookies were oatmeal raisin chocolate chip, chocolate chip, and chocolate chocolate chip. Of the four items, the tastiest was probably the oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookie. The remaining items were average. The blueberry croissant strudel was pretty unique but it was also fairly dry and hard.

Worth visiting if you have free time but it wouldn't be the main go to bakery if I were in the area. That honor belongs to the next two bakeries on our third day of the trip.

Eclair Bakery, 117 W Branch St, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, USA

Evening stroll through Centennial Park Arroyo Grande

Once Jean was done with her dinner in Orcutt, I picked her up and we headed back up to Arroyo Grande. Arroyo Grande is about 20 minutes north of Orcutt and Santa Maria, so it wasn't much of a drive. The beauty of the area is that there's nearly no traffic.

Once we returned to Arroyo Grande, we went to the cute little downtown area that Eclair Bakery was located and went for a walk across the Arroyo Grande Swinging Bridge in Centennial Park. This bridge spans across the Arroyo Grande Creek, is 171 feet long, and sits 40 feet above the creek. It sways quite a bit, so if you have a fear of heights, this may be something to skip. Definitely a cool bridge to walk across if you are in the area.

Swinging Bridge, 200-, 298 Olohan Alley, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, USA

Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab

After our "difficult" 10 minute walk across a suspension bridge, Jean and I let our insatiable appetite for sugary things dominate our better judgments. We walked by a Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab right next to the bridge and Eclair Bakery, so we said, why not, let's go get fatter. We had previously seen this local chain in SLO and in Orcutt, so Jean took it as a sign that we must try it.

The ice cream parlor is pretty cute on the outside and inside. They have replicas of the original trains that ran through Arroyo Grande circulating above the seating in the restaurant and even above the front door. Their set up is more like the traditional ice cream parlor as opposed to the more trendy, hipster parlors that have been popping up everywhere. We decided to get the Me Like Cookies and Motor Oil flavors. Both flavors were awesome and weren't overly sweet. Well worth tilting the calorie meter.

Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab, 114 W Branch St, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, USA

Groceries for the trip home at California Fresh Market

For our last stop of the night, Jean wanted to show me Pismo Beach's local version of Whole Foods, so we stopped at California Fresh Market. The supermarket was indeed like a smaller version of Whole Foods but the products they sold were more akin to brands you'd find at Gelson's. They had a good mix of larger commercial brands, local brands, and food made in their own kitchens.

We bought a couple of chocolate milks that were from local dairy farms and now I have a couple of extra glass bottles to use. Jean wanted a cute flower hat, so we got that. Lastly, and probably the best part about the grocery store, was that they sold Paso Almonds Brittle. These are by far the best almond toffee candies that I've had and were a major pain to get in the past. Paso Almonds used to require you to buy in bulk quantities or go to local retail stores to find their products (which heavily marked up an already high price of $15 / lb).

Overall, a cool grocery store if you're in the Pismo Beach area to check out.

California Fresh Market, 555 5 Cities Dr, Pismo Beach, CA 93449, USA

Old West Cinnamon Rolls

Our last day in the Santa Maria area required us to maximize our fattiness before heading home. Jean wanted to take me to Old West Cinnamon Rolls to make sure that we maximized our weight gain so we drove up to Pismo Beach to get it. Old West seems to be a local favorite as there was a fairly long line when we got there. It appears to act as an alternative to a donut shop for the locals as there were people just sitting around eating cinnamon rolls with their coffee.

As soon as you approach their front door, you are hit with the divine scent of cinnamon, butter, and baked bread. Really, it's one of the best scents imaginable. Jean and I hopped in line and waited about 10 minutes to get to the front to put in our order. I ordered 10 cinnamon rolls (9 to take home for family and friends and 1 to eat at the store) with their cream cheese frosting as that seemed to be the most standard item. Jean ordered a couple of frosted and 3 crumb rolls. We ate one of the crumb rolls and she took the rest to work to distribute to coworkers.

Both of these cinnamon rolls were soft, slightly chewy, and deliciously sweet. The crumb roll had the added awesomeness of the crunchy texture on the top. I think I may have slightly preferred the crunch roll in the end just because of how unique it was. I now regret not buying all of the other flavors to try as they had original cinnamon, cream cheese frosted, almond, raisin, pecan, walnut, raisin walnut, and crumb. They also had some other baked goods like muffins and brownies, but those did not look nearly as enticing.

For those who aren't willing to make the drive to Pismo Beach, you can wait patiently for them to show up at the OC Fair in the summer as they usually have a stand in the marketplaces within the two main shopping hangars at the fairground. Overall, it was a delicious treat that was well worth the morning drive.

Old West Cinnamon Rolls, 861 Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449, USA

Last bit of gluttony at Sweet Pea Bakery

Before making our way back home, we had one more stop in Arroyo Grande. I saw on Yelp the most enticing cookie at Sweet Pea Bakery, so we decided to drive over from Pismo Beach to grab a couple for the road.

Once at Sweet Pea, we realized that it was right next door to Rabobank's Arroyo Grande office, making AG office's location slightly appealing to her. The bakery itself was awesome. It seemed like a small, family run establishment. They were so friendly that while we were taking some pictures of their bakery, they offered to take a picture for us. We asked one of the workers, who turned out to be the owner, what she recommended and she replied that her personal favorite was the chocobar and that the morning bun was a favorite for their customers. She was super friendly and very helpful in aiding our decision.

The chocobar is a cookie full of chocolate chips, pecans, oatmeal, and chopped up heath bars. This may be officially be in the top 5 cookies I've ever eaten. I regret greatly only buying 2 as they had just brought a huge batch out of the oven. If I ever go back to AG, this will be one of my first stops. We also bought one of their croissants as it looked different than the standard croissants I've had in other bakeries. Their croissant looked almost like it was made of filo dough. When we finally got to try the croissant, it did not disappoint. The croissant was soft and fluffy on the inside and flaky and crispy like baklava on the outside. I wish they had their savory croissants that day, but this regular croissant far exceeded my expectations.

Sweet Pea is a must go for anyone in the AG area.

Sweet Pea Bakery, 1200 E Grand Ave #102, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, USA