Speaking of incongruous dinosaurs, if you ever find yourself traveling up Highway 101 along the Oregon coast, you might be surprised to see a brachiosaurus head poking up through the trees. Just like the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon rainforest isn’t a place you’ll ever find actual dinosaur fossils. Still, there’s something about the misty hillsides and impossibly tall trees that make it easy to imagine yourself standing in a primordial place.
Sometimes, the local ice cream feels like the stuff of legends. And sometimes, it’s merely a ghost. Here in Ukiah, all that’s left is a flaking sign and the whisper of a name.
I was really hoping I might have had a sketch of a neon leaping frog (or something similar) for today’s post, but no such luck. Still, a leaping trout ain’t too shabby.
Hope your extra day shines like a neon beacon…happy leap year!
Even though we don’t exactly have a lobster industry here on the West Coast, we have our fair share of tasty crustaceans—and some extra-yummy signage to go with them.
This is the fifteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.
San Juan Bautista was the first mission I ever visited, more than two years ago now. It’s the one that inspired me to see all 21 of them, and even though I now have plenty to compare it to, it’s still one of my very favorites.
San Juan Bautista is one of the more famous missions, thanks to its role as a film location for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And judging by the changes it’s undergone, and the hidden details it holds, it might have the most stories to share. But it’s certainly not the oldest mission by any stretch—in fact, it was the fifteenth founded in Alta California, built well after
Blessed Saint (as of this year) Junipero Serra’s death.
The last time I visited here, it was far too early in the morning for the buildings to be open. So this time, I was eager to get inside the place. I could go on about how lovely the interior was, though with the exception of the triple-wide nave, it wasn’t so different than any of the other mission churches. The part that really slayed me, though, were the tiny animal paw prints in the tile floor! I almost missed them entirely—I dropped my pen, and when I bent to pick it up, I saw one. Apparently the tiles had been outside curing in the sun when some small dog or other had run across them. Rather than throwing out the “ruined” tiles, they just used them anyway. Such an enchanting little detail.
The other real treat was seeing the interior courtyard garden. The plants and layout were similar to any other mission, but I loved that all the doors and windows were painted turquoise. It felt like stepping through a California doorway and emerging into a hidden pocket of Santa Fe.
Over the course of two visits, I’ve racked up a sizeable pile of sketches of San Juan Bautista. Yet somehow, it still doesn’t feel like I’m finished exploring. I have a feeling I’ll be back, and that you haven’t seen the last of this place here.
This is the thirteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.
The “Soledad” in Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad means “solitude.” And boy howdy, is that ever accurate.
The third of three missions located in the Salinas Valley, La Soledad is also the most remote. It’s not as far off of modern Highway 101 as Mission San Antonio, but it’s the farthest from civilization.
In fact, even though there’s almost nothing left of the original complex (thanks to the caprice of the Salinas River)…
…you really get a sense for how self-sufficient the missions had to be when they were founded.
That’s because the mission is located smack in the middle of a bunch of vegetable fields. Quite literally. There’s no fanfare about the place—there’s barely even any waymarking to find it. It’s a bit of a shock, actually, after seeing mission after mission in town centers or near tourist traps.
But that’s the best part of the place: being able to stand in the shade and look out at a landscape right out of a Steinbeck novel.
This is the eleventh installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.
I’m not entirely certain why, but this place also makes the list of my favorite missions. Mission San Migue Arcángel doesn’t exactly have a lot of bells and whistles (well, it does have bells…), so it’s yet another mission that gets overlooked by the hordes of tourists. But I dunno—I just really, really liked it here.
Mission San Miguel sits on the edge of a tiny town of the same name (are you sensing a pattern here?)—from the grounds you can look out across the Salinas Valley to the San Andreas Fault. And you can hear the birds, and the breeze, and not a whole lot else. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
It also helps that the place comes with a crazy tale of pirates and buried treasure (click the image above to embiggen and read the story). Forget Zorro—at San Miguel, the truth is stranger than fiction.
Perhaps best of all, I loved being able to make a return visit. I first came here almost precisely two years earlier, on the trip that first gave me the idea to visit all 21 missions. On both trips I had to visit multiple missions on the same day—which made it hard to sketch everything I’d have liked.
Coming back a second time gave me the chance to delve a little deeper, and discover details that had escaped my notice the first time.
Or to zoom in and redraw something from a different angle—
—or in a different format.
On both visits, I was awfully sad to have to pack up and hit the road again. But at least I have proof that I can and will return someday.
This is the tenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.
Unlike last week, where we were smack in the middle of the California countryside, this week’s mission is right in the center of it all.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the origin and focal point for the town that takes its name, is another of the painstakingly well-cared-for missions in the chain.
And that’s because like Santa Barbara, the town of San Luis Obispo is a tidy, picturesque, wealthy community. So while the mission itself might not be as exciting as La Purisima or San Juan Capistrano (though Mission San Luis Obispo was involved in a brief skirmish during the Mexican-American war, so there!) ,it’s so beautifully situated and restored that it just draws you in (no pun intended).
There’s not a whole lot here anymore that’s original—at least on the surface. But I think they did a great job of merging a period aesthetic with modern touches. I only managed this one sketch of the interior, but if you’re ever there, prepare to spend some time inside the church itself. They took such care with approximating the hand-painted decor that the finished result is breathtaking.
Actually, I’m glad the place isn’t quite as action-packed as La Purisima. Since I did the two on the same day, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the time I pulled into SLO. But as soon as I stepped foot inside the mission, the place did its job as a retreat and sanctuary. Suddenly it was easy to pull out the old sketchbook again, and start letting the images flow.
This is the ninth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.
Mission La Purisima Concepción was probably the one for which I did the least amount of research—the mission I knew the least about. I’m so glad I showed up there without doing my homework first, because it ended up being both a complete surprise and my very favorite mission.
La Purisima is unique in a couple of ways: in the first place, it’s one of only two in the chain that have been deconsecrated. Now that it’s no longer an active church, it’s now operated as a California state park.
The other unique thing is that La Purisima is the only mission in the chain to still include the entire mission complex. Most of the missions are down to just the church and gardens, but this one still encompasses the adjacent monastery, workshops, cemetery, and remnants of the mission village.
Much of what’s there today was reconstructed by the CCC in the 1930s (like most of the missions, it was badly damaged in a long-ago earthquake), and currently maintained by the state park system.
I think I arrived not long after a recent restoration, because the place was in fine fettle.
Best of all, I had almost the whole place to myself—which, combined with its remote location, made it feel like I’d stumbled upon a bit of hidden treasure.
I could have stayed there all day, basking in sunshine, birdsong and the sweet spring breeze.
But what really bowled me over was that gorgeous pink stucco.
Instead of a historic shell, inhabited only by ghosts, that pink made the place feel very much alive.
Now this is more like it. Solvang might have seemed a little too much like a polished Disneyland for my taste, but in the next town over was something much more my speed.
Though its name has changed slightly over the years, Pea Soup Andersen’s has been a Santa Ynez Valley institution for over 90 years. And while I’m not sure their famous split-pea soup is quite as home-cooked as it may have been in 1924 (it tastes fairly processed, I’m sad to say), there’s something comforting and homey about sitting down to hot soup after a long day of travel.
And the decor! This is the kind of low-brow charm I was hoping for in Solvang. Every inch of the place is Danish-ized to the hilt (but in a far less polished way than in Solvang), and there’s a heckuva gift shop that’s worthy of the best roadside attractions.
And there’s one other thing Andersen’s has that Solvang doesn’t: killer neon.
(They had me at the neon.)