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.
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.
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.