Cal­i­for­nia’s smaller towns of­fer big at­trac­tions

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY DAVID ARM­STRONG

Sur­pris­ing Cities

Cal­i­for­nia’s golden cities—los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco, San Diego—are cel­e­brated around the world, and rightly so. But the Golden State boasts an en­gag­ing range of things to see and do in less-well-known lo­cales, as well. In cities rang­ing in size from 5,000 in­hab­i­tants to nearly 400,000, a sur­pris­ing, eclec­tic menu of food and drink, art and ar­chi­tec­ture, his­tory and sports is avail­able to vis­i­tors.

OAK­LAND: Over­shad­owed No More

Few Cal­i­for­nia cities are as sur­pris­ing as Oak­land. Long in the shadow of glam­orous San Fran­cisco, the East Bay city of 391,000 has a mix of vi­brancy, en­ergy and diver­sity all its own. The re­cent in­flux of tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and tech work­ers from Sil­i­con Val­ley and San Fran­cisco is help­ing to tur­bocharge Oak­land. Jack London Square is a hive of restau­rants, shops and bay fer­ries and home to premier jazz club and Ja­panese restau­rant Yoshi’s. Right nearby, Ninth Street’s lov­ingly ren­o­vated Vic­to­rian build­ings are des­ti­na­tions for food, in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers and vin­tage ar­chi­tec­ture. City cen­ter’s Lake Mer­ritt of­fers boat­ing, wa­ter­side walk­ing and jog­ging and a clus­ter of cafés, bars and shops, plus the en­gag­ing Oak­land Mu­seum of Cal­i­for­nia and glo­ri­ously old-school Grand Lake The­atre movie palace. For nightlife, head to the Up­town district’s colony of restau­rants and bars, the gor­geously re­stored 1928 Mid­dle East­ern fan­ta­sia the Fox The­atre and 1932 Art Deco Para­mount The­atre, which book head­line per­form­ers. More great cui­sine can be found in foodie fa­vorite Rock­ridge at ac­com­plished eater­ies such as Wood Tav­ern, and in the Rock­ridge Mar­ket Hall in North Oak­land, near Berke­ley.

SAN LUIS OBISPO: Mis­sion, Vine­yards & the Out­doors

Nes­tled be­tween the Pa­cific Ocean 11 miles to the west and the Santa Lu­cia Moun­tains just to the east, this cen­tral-coast city of 46,000 is lo­cated mid­way be­tween San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les. Eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by train on Am­trak or via U.S. High­way 101 and fa­mously scenic Cal­i­for­nia Route 1, the his­toric core of the city clus­ters around the 1759 Mis­sion San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. This is the place to find restau­rants, cafés and shops. Music and the­ater pro­duc­tions are mounted on the cam­pus of Cal­i­for­nia Polytech­nic In­sti­tute (“Cal Poly’’). Out­doorsy vis­i­tors and lo­cals hike and bike the Nine Sis­ters hills. The marine-minded head to the some­timeschilly, foggy coast with their wet­suits for surf­ing, kayak­ing and wind­surf­ing. South of the city is prime ter­ri­tory for win­ery tour­ing and tast­ing: the ex­pan­sive Edna Val­ley wine-pro­duc­ing re­gion.

BUELLTON: Santa Barbara Wine Coun­try Get­away

Tucked away in the Santa Rita Hills in gor­geous Santa Barbara County, this in­stantly like­able small town of­fers an abun­dance of at­trac­tions. Among them: two famed restau­rants, Pea Shop An­der­sen’s, long-known for—yes— its fla­vor­ful pea soup, and the Hitch­ing Post II, fea­tured in the 2004 movie Side­ways, filmed in Santa Barbara County’s Wine Coun­try, and now a cult fa­vorite. If you’re a golfer, check out the 9-hole, par-3 Zaca Creek mu­nic­i­pal golf course smack in the cen­ter of town. Buellton’s Santa Ynez Botanic Gar­den of­fers close-up looks at na­tive plants in River View Park. Lo­cal lodg­ing is re­cently re­vamped, with an ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion of the Mar­riott and the Side­ways Inn; sched­uled to open in spring 2017 is a new Hamp­ton Inn. Buellton is lo­cated on U.S. 101 just north of Santa Barbara.

BAK­ERS­FIELD: Buck Owens & Basques

Call­ing all honky-tonk an­gels: Bak­ers­field may just be a must-stop. Once home to the late coun­try-music le­gends Merle Hag­gard and Buck Owens, this San Joaquin Val­ley com­mu­nity’s worka­day, un­pre­ten­tious fa­cade masks a city of sur­prises. Lo­cated in­land and north­west of Los An­ge­les, Bak­ers­field is reached via Cal­i­for­nia routes 99 and 58. The city of 347,000 is home to one of the largest and most vi­brant Basque com­mu­ni­ties in the United States. Fam­ily-style Basque restau­rants like Wool Grow­ers Restau­rant and Cock­tail Lounge and the Pyre­nees Café add diver­sity to the down­home cook­ing of Bak­ers­field’s truck stops and road­side din­ers. Fans of coun­try music can drop by Buck Owens’ Crys­tal Palace, with its me­men­tos of Owens and his band, the Buckeroos, and catch a show by contemporary coun­try mu­si­cians. It’s a fine place to lis­ten to a swoon­ing steel gui­tar by the light of the juke­box.

LA QUINTA: Golf, Hik­ing & Desert Sun

This desert town of 40,000 is a fa­vorite des­ti­na­tion for golfers, es­pe­cially in win­ter when La Quinta is win­ningly warm but not hot. The com­bi­na­tion of golf and fine weather makes it a strong draw for snow­birds tem­po­rar­ily flee­ing less salu­bri­ous climes. Lo­cated 130 miles east of Los An­ge­les and 130 miles east of San Diego on In­ter­state 10, La Quinta is in the Coachella Val­ley, flanked by the rocky Santa Rosa Moun­tains. The city of­fers no fewer than five pub­lic golf cour­ses of cham­pi­onship cal­iber and is a host city for the PGA Tour’s Ca­reer Build­ing Chal­lenge, for­merly the Bob Hope Clas­sic. Sil­ver Rock Re­sort fea­tures an Arnold Palmer Clas­sic Course, while re­fur­bished circa-1926 La Quinta Re­sort like­wise of­fers a clas­sic course. A prime get­away for early Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties, in­clud­ing pop­ulist ev­ery­man film di­rec­tor Frank Capra, La Quinta Re­sort is per­haps the best-known lo­cal ho­tel. Don’t play golf? Hik­ing and bik­ing are also pop­u­lar choices.

EUREKA: Red­woods & Vic­to­ri­ans

In the north­west­ern cor­ner of Cal­i­for­nia, Eureka, 270 miles north of San Fran­cisco on Hum­boldt Bay, has the largest deep-wa­ter port be­tween San Fran­cisco Bay and

Wash­ing­ton’s Puget Sound. The city of 27,000 also serves as the un­of­fi­cial cap­i­tal of the state’s Red­wood Em­pire. Once famed for its tim­ber, mines and fish­eries, Eureka is a lead­ing West Coast pur­veyor of suc­cu­lent farmed oys­ters. Most sig­nif­i­cantly for vis­i­tors, Eureka of­fers an at­trac­tive pre­serve of Vic­to­rian ar­chi­tec­ture such as the grand 1886 Car­son Man­sion at 2nd and M streets. Shops, restau­rants and B&BS oc­cupy some of a stag­ger­ing 1,500 Eureka build­ings listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. One-mil­lion-acre Six Rivers Na­tional For­est is a near neigh­bor.

SONOMA: Wine & a Whole Lot More

Laid out around a tra­di­tional Mex­i­can plaza bor­dered by her­itage build­ings, this city of 11,000 an hour north of San Fran­cisco grew up around Mis­sion San Fran­cisco Solano. The north­ern­most and last of the Ro­man Catholic mis­sions built by Fran­cis­can fri­ars along the north-south spine of Cal­i­for­nia, the 1823 adobe with its his­toric olive groves is still a fo­cal point of spir­i­tual and cul­tural life. Sonoma was home to the 25-day Bear Flag Re­volt and “Re­pub­lic of Cal­i­for­nia’’ of 1846, an Amer­i­can up­ris­ing against Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties that led to Cal­i­for­nia state­hood in 1850. The plaza’s mid 19th-cen­tury build­ings now com­prise Sonoma State His­toric Park. Contemporary Sonoma is a fam­i­lyfriendly get­away and jump­ing-off point to Sonoma Val­ley winer­ies and the Sonoma County coast. A va­ri­ety of ap­peal­ing restau­rants and one-of-a-kind shops thrive on and near the plaza, as does the 1931 Se­bas­tiani The­atre cin­ema. The Fair­mont Sonoma Mis­sion Inn & Spa is a pop­u­lar re­sort ho­tel with a re­spected fine-din­ing restau­rant in Sante, while the Basque Boulan­gerie Café on the plaza draws vis­i­tors and lo­cals alike.

TRUC­KEE: Clas­sic Western Moun­tain Town

An at­mo­spheric Ne­vada County hub of 16,000 on the western slopes of the Sierra Ne­vada, Truc­kee is a clas­sic Western moun­tain town. As a fron­tier set­tle­ment in the mid 19th cen­tury, it played a key role in Amer­i­can west­ward mi­gra­tion along the Emi­grant Trail. His­tor­i­cally a lum­ber and ice pro­duc­tion cen­ter, contemporary Truc­kee is an ur­ban base for ex­plor­ing the Sierra and vis­it­ing Lake Ta­hoe. Some 200 miles east of San Fran­cisco and 12 miles north of Lake Ta­hoe, Truc­kee, with an el­e­va­tion of nearly 6,000 feet, re­ceives an av­er­age of 200 inches of snow, mak­ing it a win­ter des­ti­na­tion for skiers, snow­board­ers and ice skaters. The eas­ily walked down­town, just off In­ter­state 80 and also served by Am­trak, claims pride of place on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places.

MIS­SION SAN FRAN­CISCO SOLANO, Sonoma, left; wine tast­ing at San­ford Win­ery in the Santa Rita Hills near Buellton, be­low; the Ap­ple Farm Inn, San Luis Obispo, bot­tom left; the Bak­ers­field Cal­i­for­nian Build­ing is home to the lo­cal daily news­pa­per, and is on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, bot­tom right.

THE SIERRA TAV­ERN is one of many his­toric build­ings in down­town Truc­kee, right; the Old Church Plaza, Bak­ers­field, bot­tom; tall ship Hawai­ian Chief­tan with the Car­son Man­sion in the back­ground, Eureka, op­po­site top.

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