We lived thirty years in California, but there's always more to learn. We might start with vineyards and wineries. Some new housing developments have vineyards inside them. You can get a university degree in winemaking, and new vineyards are popping up all over the place, displacing cattle ranches along the central coast, but this year we have seen unharvested grapes on the vine around the state. See picture. Our nephew David told us it's because the price of grapes was so low. We're waiting for the price of wine to follow. Go figure.

Speaking of housing developments, California continues to grow, and the new homes are larger than ever. 20% of the population of the U.S. lives in California, and real estate prices are among the most expensive in the country. New housing developments often have a gimmick, such as the Orange County tract surrounded by a bridle path instead of a sidewalk, with a communal stable in the center. In the Santa Ynez Valley you can tour the wineries on Unharvested grapes horseback -- we wonder if one of the party has to be a designated rider!

We remember last spring driving up the Atlantic coast there were fewer places where we could drive right along the ocean; most of the oceanfront property was filled with houses and hotels. Part of the reason there's so much ocean visible in California is the steep hills that often abut the water. But, given the ability and predilection of Californians to construct houses that hang on cliffs, we think the greater reason is the California Coastal Commission, which only niggardly allows construction near the oceanfront. The Pacific Ocean off California is generally too cold for swimmers, and the surfers all wear wetsuits, while the Atlantic is often filled with bathers, especially in the warmer months. But for ocean views, you can't beat the California coast.

Leaving Paso Robles, we headed southeast on Creston Road, and from Creston took Highway 229 to Santa Margarita. We recommend this drive, as well as most of the back roads in San Luis Obispo County. The hills are as tight and tangled as any, with narrow curving roads leading to discovered ranches and creeks and farms and vineyards. South of Arroyo Grande is the town of Halcyon, where we noted a stop for a future trip: The Temple of the People, a large wooden building still apparently in use by a Theosophist organization.

Another beautiful ride, which was new to us was state highway 23, heading north from highway 1 between Malibu and Point Mugu (actually between Trancas and Solromar, if you know where those places are). Snaking up Decker Canyon, route 23 soon crests the coast mountains, which are speckled with hidden ranches and not-so-small homes, presumably of the rich and famous, or at least rich. The high point is Barney Knot, elevation 1729. At one point we were rounding a tight curve with no guard rail and looked down more than a thousand feet at a lush valley below. Unbelievably an eighteen hole golf course Hidden golf course was hidden in the valley, with the fairways climbing up the steep hillsides. We saw no sign naming the course, nor indeed any road which wound down to the site. Do any of our golfing friends know of a famous course hidden in a valley in these coastal mountains? The area might be close to Vaughn Creek, or Encinal Canyon.

Highway 23 began as Decker Canyon Road, then crossed the Mulholland Highway, and continued north, where its name changed to Westlake Village Road. At this point it suddenly became a freeway, heading north towards Simi Valley and the Ronald Reagan Library. We were disappointed to find that the galleries of most interest to us, describing the years before he became president, where closed for remodeling. So we'll come back and try again.

In Ridgecrest, where we worked for the Navy before retiring, we found a restaurant called Mon Reve. It seems a French couple wanted to move to the U.S., and were fortunate enough to have their number drawn in the immigration lottery. It might be amazing to Americans that they chose to live in the Mojave Desert, but having seen the scores of Europeans who drive to Death Valley each summer, and knowing that Perrier had sent lots of French employees to work at the nearby Crystal Geyser water bottling plant, we were less surprised. We wish Mon Reve great success in Ridgecrest, where it offers a pleasing alternative to the normal western, Mexican or Chinese food. We've tried their Tarte au Thon, Quiche Lorraine, Salad Nicoise, Creme Brulee, Mousse au Chocolat, and Profiteroles, and all were scrumptious. The restaurant's on Balsam Street. Just take Highway 14 North out of Los Angeles or 395 North or South and follow the signs for Ridgecrest. It's about two hours from anywhere, as we used to say. Incidentally, Ridgecrest is the one exception to California's high real estate prices.

As we finish our final preparations for our trip to England, we think that California, the craziest of the United States, is a most appropriate place for our take-off.