How to Celebrate a Milestone Event During the Pandemic – My Escape to San Luis Obispo, California

I glimpsed the green rolling hills from my car window, and Psalm 125:2 came to mind: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people, now and forever more.” I was driving the 3.5 hour distance down Highway 101 from the San Francisco Peninsula to San Luis Obispo, on the central coast of California. It was mid-April and I was on a get-away now that Spring Break was over. I looked forward to a quiet stay to celebrate a belated 60th birthday from January, when we were in lockdown and couldn’t travel.

I was exhausted from the stress of living in general, and the pandemic specifically. Worry over money, health issues, doctor visits, and political mess, left me craving for a time away by the beach. My budget was the $600 stimulus check I had received in January to cover my Zip rental car, hotel, and gas. Having never been to San Luis Obispo, I was looking forward to writing a travel article and spending some time spiritually with God.

Day 1 – Tuesday

It was an overcast drive, until I approached San Luis Obispo and the palm trees and sunshine came into view. The downtown area was so quaint with shops of different wares: art, jewelry, cafes, and clothing. There were no signs of COVID except people wearing masks. I wanted to buy some sterling silver charms for a new charm bracelet and stopped in to visit Super Silver at 850 Higuera Street. The friendly staff helped me pick out a birthday cake charm to commemorate my birthday, along with a pen charm for being a writer, and an artist palette representing my art.

I took the store’s recommendation to eat at SEEDS, a fresh food cafe at 1133 Garden Street. There, I had a delicious ginger, mango, flax seed and spinach green smoothie for $9.79.

After retrieving the car, I drove south on 101 to Arroyo Grande, off exit 187b, to Grande Avenue. More quaint shops in the historic “village” greeted me from times past. I was happy to see that my hotel, the Agrarian Hotel Best Western Signature Collection was right off the main street at 325 E Branch Street. Across from it was a conveinent mini market for any needs.

The hotel had a historic design, and was beautiful inside and out. With a large lobby and fireplace, a table held food baskets from a local vendor for sale to the guests. The manager, Sean Dassman, was very welcoming when I presented myself as a travel writer.

I had reserved a King-sized room on the second floor in the quiet back of the hotel. As a Best Western Rewards member, I tried to stay in Best Western hotels whenever I traveled, even in France! I received my 500 bonus awards points and free water bottles on check-in, and went to unpack. My only disappointment I experienced, was no bathtub or hydro tub in the room, because I was looking forward to taking a relaxing bubble bath. However, there was a large, walk in shower. I jumped on the bed, which later turned out to be like sleeping on a cloud, it was so comfortable!

For breakfast, the hotel provided a nice ‘grab-n-go’ breakfast box in the mornings, full of fruit, cookies, yogurt, oatmeal and a bottled water. Cammi, the front desk clerk, was very helpful during my stay. One evening she told me about the town’s history, as she pointed to historic photographs on the lobby walls. Elvis, another desk clerk, helped troubleshoot a problem with my safe lock in a quick responsive way that I appreciated.

The manager, Sean, recommended Klondike Pizza down the street for dinner. Owned my a local Alaskan family from Anchorage, the place resembled the Red Dog Salon in Juneau, which I had visited on an earlier trip. Established in the basement of an old historic buidling, it was filled with Alaskan memorabilia: a big Mickey the Moose stuffed head with antlers, a player piano, and peanuts on the floor. Being game to try the local specialties, which is a fun part about being a travel writer, I tried the reindeer sausage on my pizza! I was told it tasted like venison with some beef added in, which was correct! I ordered the oil, garlic and herb sauce on my small pizza, which paired nicely with the reindeer sausage. Gluten-free crust was offered on small sized pizzas.

One of the employees, Brian, has worked there for 20 years and was very hospitable to me, checking on me and keeping me laughing with folklore of the building and area. Everyone I met on my trip, was very friendly and nice: ‘normal’ would be a good word to describe them, with just a laid back, welcome-to-our-beach-town vibe. Everything felt new to me, which was a pleasant surprise, because it had been over a year since my last trip before the 2020 lockdown.

Back in my hotel room, I contemplated taking a swim in the hotel heated pool, but it was too cold outside to brave the 50 degree weather!

Day 2 – Wednesday

Today was like a day on the French Riviera! It started with driving to Avila Beach, 10 miles north of Arroyo Grande, where parking was free for three hours! I walked along the promenade on Front Street, lined with its beach style buildings, with escapes down alleyways much like Disneyland. I then took some stairs to the sand, where I found a secluded cove and spent quiet time with the Lord. While watching sandpipers suck up little crabs, I reflected how the difficult pandemic had challenged my faith, mostly from not being able to go to church, and it had effected my walk with God. Oh, how I missed our closeness. As I gazed upon the gray sea, I prayed, “Lord, please draw me back to you in your love.” After a while, breathing the sea air did its magic and I felt at peace and refreshed. I wandered back to Front Street to Kraken Cafe, a coffee establishment, to try an affogato, a shot of espresso poured over my choice of homemade mouse track ice cream. Divine!

Next was lunch at a French Bistro I had spotted a couple blocks away on Front Street: Blue Moon over Avila. The tables, chairs, umbrellas, and linens were decorated in blue and white colors, so very French. My table overlooked the seashore where I braved the cold and wind. The restaurant was so authentically French they had a Frenchman named Gilles, who was the Maitre D’, and advised me on the menu. I chose a Croque Madame, similar to a Croque Monsuier, a baked ham and gruyere on sourdough covered in béchamel sauce, with an egg on top if you are the Madame! ($18) We talked Paris and French food, as the French music swirled around us. I was in Heaven! I shared I was a travel writer and could I take his, and my waiter Brian’s, pictures for my article? “Bon Sur” (Of course) was the reply. I marveled at the delicious food, service, and ambience, and how God had planned and blessed me with this special day.

After lunch, my steps took me to a little tasting room a few blocks away, Alapay
where I had a flight of white wines and a rose for $15, (Red wine gives me a headache, so I had none.) I loved the dessert wine so bought myself a bottle, ($36) and the tasting was then free! The winemaker has been making wine with grapes from local vintners for 20 years. The woman assistant told me the history of the town as I sipped one wine after another: All the architecture of the town is new, as they used to pump oil from the hills through town to the docks, and it soaked in, so they had to remove and replace all the soil and build again. Thus, the new beach town look.

I ended my afternoon with a nap on my soft bed with birds chirping outside.

Day 3 – Thursday

My last morning, I woke early and watched the sun rise to a glorious sunny day from my balcony. Stopped in Avila Beach again with the now blue sea and matching sky. I was in search of a healthy fruit bowl and found one downstairs at Avila Market, on Front Street. The bowl had a dragonfruit base, with coconut, chia seeds, pineapple and kiwi fruit,for $10. Then I snagged a table in the sun at Kraken’s again, ordering a delicious dry cappuccino, and wrote this article, as the sea air caressed my face. It was 64 degrees today and full sun, with a light wind. Perfect beach weather! I planned to stop off in San Luis Obispo again on my way home to visit the Mission San Luis de Tolosa, located in the downtown area, and a heritage stop for sure.

Thank you for traveling with me on my trip. God was faithful, surrounding me not only with the beauty of the mountains, sea, palm trees and vineyards, but His love and little miracles, too.

Au revoir pour le moment-