The courthouse at Santa Barbara

The courthouse at Santa Barbara

STEVE ADAMS is touring California in a motorhome for a feature that will appear in Camping & Caravanning magazine later this year. Here’s his latest report from the road.

Without wanting to cast aspersions or tempt fate, if you’re ever going to get into trouble with the law, Santa Barbara is the place to do it. The courthouse, built in 1929 in Spanish Moorish style and featuring a ridiculously ornate staircase and an 85-foot clocktower, is so beautiful you’ll forget your freedom is on the line.

My visit was purely of a touristic nature – we made excellent time on our six-hour drive from Yosemite the previous day but no laws were broken – and came at the end of a fairly relaxed Good Friday, which also happened to be my birthday. The lovely Debbie, manageress of Santa Barbara Sunrise RV Park, presented me with some celebratory cookies to commemorate the occasion, but please note her generous gesture has no bearing on my recommendation of the site if you’re ever visiting the area. It’s not exactly picturesque, but the facilities are excellent and the location ideal for a walk to the beach or downtown area, and there’s also a nearby bus stop for the latter (the set rate fare for any destination is just $1.75 for adults and children ride free). The site might be a little close to the freeway for some but we barely noticed the noise and got our best night’s sleep as well as our first lie-in of the holiday so far. The previous day’s driving, followed by a night out at Soho, one of Santa Barbara’s best live music venues, clearly tipped us over the edge in terms of sleep deprivation.

Santa Barbara itself is a delightful city ideal for touring on foot, filled with Mediterranean-style architecture and red tile roofed buildings as well as really laid back vibe. There’s a fabulous array of restaurants downtown – particularly on State Street, the main drag - as well as the seafront. We took a whale-watching trip from the harbour with Sunset Kidd Sailing – briefly encountering a couple of grey whales – and then called in at the Endless Summer Bar-Café for a meal of calamari followed by mahi-mahi burgers. A very Good Friday as I said.

The next day we headed 90 miles north to Pismo Beach, roughly midway along the California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Depending on your perspective the old-fashioned seaside town is either retro cool or really starting to look its age (it’s the sort of place the Fonz might rock up at any time), but the packed beaches, streets and restaurants proved it still has pulling power on Easter weekend. The biggest queue stretched round the block from the door of Splash Café just up from the pier, so we figured this must be the place to eat. The wait was more than worth it – the low-key, surf-shack style eatery served the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted.

But if the crowds at the restaurant seemed huge, they were nothing compared to the visitor numbers at our campsite, the Pismo Coast Village RV Resort. The 26-acre beachfront site has 400 pitches (mostly playing host to RVs the size of coaches), swimming pool, games arcade, bike hire, playgrounds, grocery store and more, and felt like a small town. The location, amenities, security and organisation – rules are gently but strictly enforced – make it ideal for families and a longer stay, but in truth I found it a little overwhelming and oppressive. And the toilet and shower facilities seemed a little low in number given that there must have been at least 1,500 people on site during our visit.

That said, we spent much of our Pismo time strolling the streets and beachfront (the sunsets were stunning), which although a bit breezy and VERY foggy until early afternoon made for a pleasant couple of days before we head north for a packed final few days ‘vacation’. More of that next time…