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By LA Friday, January 28, 2011

Romancing the Coast

Charming towns, amazing scenery entice couples northward

Sunlight dancing across ocean waters. Vermillion sunsets illuminating emerald hills. Stars twinkling in a clear night sky. Few locations are as beautiful — or romantic — as California’s Central Coast.

“The small-town ambiance of all the little beach towns are what people coming from the city long for,” said Chet Hogoboom, a Pismo Beach songwriter. When “you take a long walk along the beach — or drive through the green hills stopping at quaint wineries — it’s instant romance.”

With its cozy restaurants and intimate hotels, the region tempts couples to

sneak away for a weekend together. With Valentine’s Day approaching, what better place to pop the question or rekindle the passion?


The love affair can begin in the city of Ventura, which welcomes couples with its casual seaside vibe. “Ventura is a classic seaside town with wonderful waterfront hotels, amazing and quaint restaurants and a beach and harbor that are perfect for a first date or anniversary getaway,” said Jim Luttjohan, the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau’s executive director. “What could be more romantic than cozying up in a seaside retreat, strolling around the harbor and watching the sunset from the Ventura Pier?” For activity-minded twosomes, Ventura is a paradise — think kayaking to the islands of Channel Islands National Park, paddle boating in Ventura Harbor or bicycling on the beachfront.

Serra Cross Park at Grant Park is one of Ventura’s loveliest locations, said Ventura photographer Stephen Schafer. “On a clear February day or evening you can see from Point Mugu to Santa Cruz Island.”


“Santa Barbara has a fascinating history as a destination for romance,” said Shannon Brooks, director of communications at the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, noting that the county has been the site of many high-profile weddings. Clark Gable wed his fourth wife, Lady Sylvia Ashley, in Solvang in 1949, and Montecito was the honeymoon choice for John and Jackie Kennedy, as well as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez and their respective spouses.

“Santa Barbara’s lush landscapes, stunning vistas and gorgeous colors have a subtle, intoxicating effect. There’s definitely something in the air and water here that heightens the senses [and] inspires romance,” Brooks said.

The panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and red-tile roofs cascading to the sea are particularly gorgeous viewed from Franceschi Park, a favorite picnic hideaway for locals. For romantic romps on the beach without the crowds, walk down the 241 wooden steps to Thousand Step Beach.

Passionate palates are sure to swoon over the Sicilian cuisine and award-winning wine list at Olio e Limone Ristorante and the exquisite French country cooking at Stella Mare’s restaurant, located in a home built in 1872.

Lovers who adore movies and fine food shouldn’t miss Santa Barbara’s new Film Feast through Feb. 6, during the 2011 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Some 30 restaurants are offering prix fixe meals in a range of prices.


Fine wines and galleryquality murals await couples in the hamlet of Lompoc. More than 32 major commissioned outdoor murals by noted artists decorate the buildings of historic Old Town Lompoc, considered the gateway to the Santa Rita Hills wine country.

Wine lovers are often amazed by Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto, said Denny Anderson, president and CEO of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. “You don’t expect to find fine wines in an industrial park — but this one houses wine-making facilities and a growing number of tasting rooms.”

The Wine Ghetto features 13 tasting rooms pouring vintages from small highend wineries and provides a chance to watch winemakers at work.

For dinner, pop into Sissy’s Uptown Café for its 300-label wine cellar of hard-to-find local vintages.


Wildflowers and wine — at more than 80 wineries and tasting rooms — make a winning blend for springtime love in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 30 minutes inland from downtown Santa Barbara. This year, the new Santa Ynez Valley Wine Around, Feb. 14 and 15, gives wine lovers more ways to savor their time together.

Wine Around includes wine and barrel tastings paired with gourmet hors d’oeuvres at local wineries, conversations with the vintners, entertainment, dining certificates at the Chumash Casino Resort and transportation between all of the activities.

“Wine Around offers a new way to enjoy our worldclass wines and scenery,” said John Kochis, Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Assn. board president.

Couples can kindle their passion anytime with sweets for the sweet at Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates in  Solvang, followed by a drive to Nojoqui Falls Park to enjoy the 100-foot waterfall.


Locals brag that “Pismo Beach is the beach that time forgot.”

“Pismo Beach is where couples can rid themselves of the stress of everyday life and relax into a romantic frame of mind,” said Suzen Brasile at the Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau. “Our beautiful white sandy beaches are the perfect place to stroll arm in arm or simply sit and cuddle while enjoying the amazing ocean views.”

At night, head to Lido Restaurant and Lounge where the organic ingredients are as mesmerizing as the ocean views.


Morro Bay delights duos with serene waters, playful sea otters and picturesque Morro Rock, a dome-shaped volcanic plug rising from the ocean. Couples can create memories on sunset or full moon kayak trips across Morro Bay. Both are offered by Central Coast Outdoors.

Nestled on 4,000 acres just inside Morro Bay State Park, the Inn at Morro Bay a top spot for ocean-view fine dining at its Orchid at Inn at Morro Bay restaurant.

After dinner, guests can head out for live weekend music at the Fuel Dock, a tavern as popular now as it was when it was founded as Happy Jack’s in 1929.


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