By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

AG...home of the chickens

AG…home of the chickens

One of the highlights of our yearly trips to the Central Coast of California is visiting the quaint town of Arroyo Grande.  Located between San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, it looks like any other modern town when viewed from Highway 101.  In other words, you see a Trader Joe’s, In ‘n Out, and the ubiquitous Walmart.   But Arroyo Grande is actually as unique and colorful a town as you’ll find anywhere.  Starting with the chickens.


Grand Avenue is the Main Street  in town and is filled with Victorian buildings and cute shops selling items both old and new.  There is even a life-sized Elvis statue outside the guitar store and just about everyone stops to pose for a picture with the King of Rock. Gina’s is our favorite restaurant, serving Italian food with friendly service.  And nothing is more fun than wine tasting at Phantom Rivers wines, which is in an old Victorian house  with a beautiful lawn outside.  You can while away the afternoon  with a sandwich from the deli next door, a glass of wine, and watch the people and chickens go by.   CHICKENS??  Yep – if you spend more than ten minutes strolling the downtown streets one thing will become very apparent – there are a lot of chickens in Arroyo Grande. But why? Well, according to a city representative (who, for good reason wished to remain anonymous) there have been chickens and roosters wandering around town longer than anyone can remember. Do they cause problems? Well, “If a rooster gets rowdy and tries to attack visitors, we have to take care of the problem.” Which I think means that several of the restaurants in town have chicken as their “special” that night.   She said that roosters are welcome in town, but they have to act nice with guests. They are not allowed to terrorize, attack or challenge you to a dual for sidewalk rights.

The AG Town Council

The AG Town Council

As you wander the village in search of roosters, you’ll notice them everywhere. They are down by the creek, in the back parking lot of the storefronts, and occasionally crossing the street. You’ll notice the “Chickens Crossing” signs throughout the village. They DO have the right of way. Cars will stop and wait for them to slowly stroll across the busy streets. At nearly every boutique, home furnishings or antiques store there are tributes to the roosters and chickens on everything from cards and hand painted artwork, to kitchen towels and antique porcelain trinkets to take home as souvenirs.

Of much greater interest to me, being an inveterate sweet-tooth, is Arroyo Grande’s fabulous ice cream parlor, Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. Really, the name says it all. It sounds so scientific. Clearly they have taken ice cream to a new level. There is no slap-dash mixing here. They take developing ice cream flavors as seriously as the guys working on nuclear fusion. In addition to the wonderful handmade ice cream, they have special events, like “Ice Cream for Breakfast Day”.

Abandon hope, all ye that enter here.

Abandon hope, all ye that enter here.

Really…it’s as if they made up a day just for me. As a kid, I would get up before my parents on Saturday mornings and pour myself a bowl of Wheaties topped off with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Even at the age of eight I was good at rationalizing my binge eating. After all, ice cream and milk both have calcium, don’t they? But my favorite event at “Doc’s” (we’re now on a first name basis) is the “All You Can Eat” night. Every Tuesday for just a measly $6.99 adults can have all the ice cream they can eat. I think the lovely people at Doc’s seriously miscalculated when they established that event. People like me, who look perfectly sane and reasonable on the outside, lose all remnants of self-control when faced with “all you can eat” challenges. I may gain five pounds in the deal but I’m determined to amortize that $6.99 down to a buck a scoop!

So, if you find yourself driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles and need a great place to take a break, consider stopping in the village of Arroyo Grande.  Where else can you find chickens, Elvis and a bottomless bowl of ice cream all in one block?


by Suzanne Sparrow Watson 
Normally we are healthy eaters, if one can overlook the occasional foray to   Dairy Queen and In 'n Out. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only reason  the local kale farmer is in the black this year. Butwhen we are in Nipomo, as we are now, we throw caution and our cholesterol to the wind and eat at       Jocko's. Jocko's has put Nipomo on the map. Okay, that might be a slight      exaggeration since most people still don't know where Nipomo is. Nevertheless,it is likely that for those who do know where it is it's because they've been to Jocko's. Jocko's inside

As you can see from the picture Jocko’s has all the atmosphere of a cattle barn. I think the last remodel was done sometime in the 50’s. The 1850’s. But people come from far and wide to eat here so they must be doing something right. That something is their beef. It is grilled over an oak BBQ, with just the right amount of charring on the outside and tenderness on this inside. We went there last week with my brother, Jack, and his wife Sharon. It was a Tuesday night and we had a reservation for 6:30. We were not seated until almost 7. For those who didn’t have a reservation the wait is closer to an hour and a half. Let’s just say that the bar business at Jocko’s is quite brisk.

It’s the type of place thatJocko's bar serves drinks in those old-fashioned jelly jar glasses but that’s just what you’d expect at joint that has paper place mats. The wait staff is cheerful, which is astounding given that they serve over 300 dinners a night – every night. The menu has a wide array of beef dishes but their chicken is also out of this world. The steak sandwich is HUGE and comes with a salad, antipasto dish, beans, potato, and then, as if your veins aren’t already coursing with enough fat, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

The price of all this? $17.00. Or, to put it in perspective, $1 less than Bob paid for two beers at Del Mar. JSB NIPOMO

Speaking of Bob, we just had our annual family golf tournament here in Nipomo.
There was a lot of pre-tournament revelry, as you can see from the picture of us three.

I think Bob had just said something about winning the golf tournament. Or some such foolishness. In any event, there was much revelry on Friday night. By Saturday morning there was some talk of needing resuscitation but the group rallied in time to take a stroll through the quaint town of Arroyo Grande. As it turns out, there was a vintage car show on the Main Street and we had a ball walking around looking at all the old cherry cars. Until we realized that we had either owned or ridden in most of them. It is a sad day indeed when you realize that you are “vintage”. Jack decided to sit in front of a local winery with our dog,Dash, and just watch the world go by.

20130728-172158.jpgHe always was the smart one.

In any event, our golf tournament later that day was a bit of a bust. We played the 12 hole Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes. Some of us were more challenged than others. It is a prickly little track with greens that defy the normal logic of putting. To make matters worse, I was in charge of scoring but I completely forgot to record one of the holes. Which on a 12 hole course is pretty pathetic. And tells you everything you need to know about my short term memory these days. But since I was in charge and had the scorecard I just declared that the girls won the tournament and the guys were no wiser. Until they read this.

But never let it be said that a little cheating at golf got in the way of a good time with our family. We all know that we are so lucky to be related…and better yet, good friends.



Captain Dana Tree
Hopefully he didn’t hang people from it

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This week we’re doing the best thing you can do in Scottsdale in the summer.  Leave.  I can hardly contain my excitement.  If it weren’t so darn hot I’d do a dance, but blinking my eyes while lying in a heap on the couch will have to suffice.  For several summers now we have spent a few weeks in Nipomo.  If you’re typical of my friends you have just asked yourself – where in the heck is Nipomo?  I’ve had people guess that it’s some quaint village on the coast of Italy.  One person thought we were going to a remote city in Japan.  I have even discovered that if you write it in a blog, spell-checker doesn’t recognize “Nipomo”. Fact is, most people have no idea where it is and that’s what makes it so good.

Nipomo is a quaint coastal village and it is remote (sort of) set between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo in the Central Coast of California.  We discovered it several years ago as we were driving on Highway 101 from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  There was a Trilogy development that had just opened in Nipomo that we wanted to check out.  For those of you unfamiliar, Trilogy is the name Shea Homes has given to all the “active adult” communities they’re building. Guess it sounds better than “old geezer housing”.   Being active and adult (okay, not always but at least sometimes) we wanted to see if it might be a place to live one day.

We told the sales person we had never heard of Nipomo and he said that it was once the answer to the “Jeopardy” question: “Where is the most consistent weather in the United States?”   Given that NO ONE I know in California has ever heard of Nipomo, much less contestants who might be on Jeopardy, I suspect that it was just one of the many lies that the salesman told that day.  But we were intrigued enough with the surroundings to come back the next summer and stay in the Blacklake Golf community and have done so most summers ever since.

Turns out that Nipomo was first settled by the Chumash Indians.  Ne-po-mah is the Chumash term for “foot of the hill”.  It probably should have been “footing the bill” given the success of their current day casino.  Rancho Nipomo was one of the first and largest of the Mexican land grants in San Luis Obispo County.  Modern day Nipomo was founded in 1837 when the Mexican governor granted William Dana, a Boston sea-captain, 38,000 acres in the area.  He married a woman from Santa Barbara and in 1839 they built the Dana Adobe, which served as an important stop for travelers between Mission San Luis Obispo and Mission Santa Barbara.  It also became the exchange point for mail going between Northern and Southern California, thus becoming the first regular mail route in California.  I wonder if they lost as much mail back then?  But I digress.

Migrant Mother

Migrant Mother

Nipomo became a large farming area and was a major stop for the Pacific Coast Railway from the 1880’s through the 1930’s.  Turns out that one of my favorite photographs (right)was taken in Nipomo:  “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange .  Apparently during the Depression Ms. Lange worked for the Resettlement Administration and would travel the old US Highway 101 photographing migrant farm workers.  The name of the woman in the picture is Florence Owens Thompson.  In the 1950’s the current Highway 101 was built west of the old road.  Fittingly, the old highway was re-named Thompson Road.


Blacklake Golf Course
Odds are I’ll be in that trap

By the end of 1942, the train tracks had been removed for the war effort and Nipomo became just another small farming community.  Today, it is known for two things:  golf and Jocko’s steak house.  The golf is good, with 27 holes at Blacklake, 30 holes at Trilogy (including a fabulous 12 hole 3-par course) and a beautiful course in Arroyo Grande, just a mile from Nipomo.  Notice I said it was good – not great.  The Nipomo Chamber of Commerce describes the golf this way: “The prevalence of golf has led some to refer to Nipomo as a mini Pebble Beach, only with better weather.”  I think the “some” they’re referring to are a) members of said chamber and b) people who have never actually been to Pebble Beach.  But then again, in Nipomo you don’t pay $500 (plus cart and caddie) per round.  Nor do the golf courses in Nipomo require that you stay at their lovely Lodge for two nights at $700 per night in order to play there.    So all in all, it’s a good experience and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to hit a little white ball.

Jocko’s Steak House is famous up and down the coast of California.  Even on a Tuesday night the line to get in wraps around the corner.  It’s so good that, well, I’ll just say this:  I don’t eat red meat and I make an exception once a year to eat at Jocko’s.  In fact, it is SO good that I will devote my next blog entirely to Jocko’s – assuming that I haven’t gone into cardiac arrest before I can write my review.