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"We got sidetracked along the way, which was
a good sign. It meant we were relaxed and enjoying the MOMENT - rare occurrence for all of us."
It was Friday afternoon and we were actually driving west on Highway 126. After innumerable texts, e-mails and internet research, our girls' weekend was officially under way.
I think the four of us all wondered in the days and weeks leading up to our departure whether this would really come together. Nobody wanted to say it, but with 18 kids between us, we all knew chances were good something could easily derail our plans. But here we were, headed for a weekend of shopping, wine tasting and fine dining on the Central Coast. And nobody asked, "When are we going to be there?"
The plan was to stay in Santa Maria - it was centrally located between our range of destinations and offered less expensive lodging - and explore between Los Alamos and San Luis Obispo. Our plan worked. Mostly.
We never did make it San Luis Obispo. We tried. But it was marathon weekend. Streets were closed, traffic was thick and the town was overrun with people in short shorts.
Santa Maria proved to be a good base of operations, but we got sidetracked along the way, which was a good sign. It meant we were relaxed and enjoying the moment - rare occurrence for all of us.
Saturday morning we headed to Arroyo Grande (AG), which was supposed to be a quick stop. But without kids, quick proved to be relative. There are so many shops to explore in the Village that we spent five hours wandering, stopping for coffee, conversation and pastries at Eclair Bakery.
We kept finding ourselves drawn back to Los Alamos during our three-day escape. For good reason. This little hamlet between Buellton and Santa Maria is easy to miss from the 101 but hides some real gems.
Start with Pico, which takes its name from Salomon Pico, who is believed to have inspired the legend of Zorro. It opened this year in what used to be the Los Alamos General Store.
Chef Drew Terp, formerly of Mattei's Tavern in nearby Los Olivos, blends local ingredients into amazing creations. The mushroom salad with bacon and arugula was the highlight for me - until dessert arrived.
Intrigued by the name, we ordered the olive oil pound cake with date caramel, tarragon ice cream and bing cherries. The seemingly-incongruent flavors came together to create something unexpected and truly unique.
Another find in Los Alamos is The Depot Antique Mall and Wine Pub. Given its size - think Costco for antiques - this too is another place where you can lose track of time. We browsed display after display on Sunday until hunger brought us back on schedule.
Bell Street Farm Eatery & Market was the unanimous choice for lunch. It's got five stars on Yelp, which ranks it as one of the Top 100 restaurants in the U.S. for 2015. It wasn't always so distinguished. For a while, the building was a bona fide biker bar, and it still has the skid marks on the floor to prove it.
Now, its better known for packing savory wine-tasting picnic baskets and its white-painted walls are graced with stylish home decor and a dizzying array of local wine. I opted for the house-smoked pastrami on salad. Yes, I know, Pastrami belongs on rye. But my stomach was happier without the gluten and I was still able to enjoy the rich flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
After lunch, we headed south toward Santa Clarita - and home. Again, nobody asked, "When are we going to be there?" We were in no hurry to get home because we all knew there was no telling when we'd have another opportunity to get sidetracked like this.
April Harnish lives in Castaic, where her husband and four kids not only survived the weekend but also managed to clean the house before she got home.
Plan Your Own Girl's Weekend
The Depot Antique Mall
Bell Street Farm