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Road Trip: San Francisco to Santa Barbara — in a Bentley

Bill Fink in a Bentley

Bill Fink, Big pimpin’ (Photo: Bill Fink)

The Car:  A brand-new, $225,000 Bentley Continental Speed Convertible — surely the result of a mix-up of mailing lists. But who am I to question the people delivering this shiny car to my doorstep?

The Route:  A 3-day, 650-mile round trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Highway 101’s curving path in the hills and along the Pacific Ocean should be a good place to test the car’s handling, and the inland straightaways will be a fine place to explore its speed — a maximum 203 miles per hour.

The Objective:  To explore California with the comedy of a quarter-million-dollar car cruising through small farming towns and the absurdity of a disheveled writer driving a Bentley to upscale Santa Barbara haunts.

Highway 101 California sign

(Photo: Thinkstock)

Leaving Town: I rev up the roaring 616 horsepower engine, press the button to open the roof, and cruise onto the highway on a glorious sunny day. Heading south from San Francisco, I can’t wait to see the faces of other jealous drivers when they see my sweet ride. Immediately upon entering the highway, another new Bentley passes me. Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Highway 101, Near Salinas:  In a lonely stretch of Highway 101, driving about 80 mph, I have to move to the right lane to pass a car. In a typical California jerk-driver move, he accelerates to prevent me from passing him. I press the gas a little, and so does he. However, I’m in a Bentley Speed convertible, and when I drop my foot down harder, in two seconds the rival driver has become only a blip in my rear view mirror, and the speedometer reads 110. (Note to California Highway Patrol: all speeds in this story are imaginary. I drove 55 the whole time). 

Santa Barbara at night

The American Riviera (Photo: Photo Jim Corwin)

Midnight, Downtown Santa Barbara:  I pull into the Canary Hotel, where the late-night staff springs to attention seeing the car. As they rush to grab my bags, park the car nearby and offer personal services, I realize they probably expect me to tip like I actually own the car. This, combined with the required ultra-premium gas for the engine is killing me. I should have taken Greyhound. Fortunately, the room’s leopard-print robes and pet goldfish soothe my angst.

Saturday Morning: I check out the hotel’s rooftop deck, sit poolside, and survey the landscape. The surrounding hills and oceanfront roads look like prime test-drive locations. I grab the car that was parked helpfully by the front door (and there goes another $10 tip) to cruise randomly through some hilly local neighborhoods. As I pass a couple walking hand-in-hand, the man stops, spins around and stands mouth agape, staring at my car. Now that’s a proper Bentley reaction.

View over Santa Barbara from Canary Hotel

View from the rooftop pool deck of the Canary Hotel. (Photo: Courtesy Canary Hotel)

Noon:  Keeping with the car theme, I drive for lunch at The Shop Café, an auto parts store next to a garage that has been converted into a diner. With only street parking available, I circle for blocks looking for a spot big enough to reduce the risk of somebody bumping the car. Overly cautious, I park too close to the curb, scrape a hubcab, and now I’m worried that I’ll be billed $5,000 for my mistake. To ease my nerves, I feast on the Shop’s mouthwatering “Mac on Crack” with gorgonzola, pecans, apple, and bacon. Fueled with food, I walk the downtown shopping district in the afternoon, leaving the car safely parked at my hotel’s front door.

Good Eating at the Shop

Comfort food menu at The Shop Café. (Photo: Bill Fink)

Saturday, 6 p.m., north of Santa Barbara:  I cruise winding roads to dine at the lavish Bacara Resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As I arrive, the head doorman spots the Bentley and practically pushes the other valets out of the way to open my door. “We’ll keep the car close, sir,” he says, parking it by the entrance like a door prize. In their Miro Restaurant, I dine amid murals inspired by the Spanish surrealist. I munch on locally sourced pork belly, with a dessert of Orange Blossom Beignets. I’m feeling like a Bentley owner now.

Bacara Resort Oceanside Views

Views out over the Pacific. (Photo: Courtesy Bacara Resort)

Sunday Morning, Ventura: Cruising south from Santa Barbara along the ocean, I overlook RV parks along the coast, wondering how a Bentley would look in that lot. A little inland, I pass huge mansions of Hollywood producers and oil tycoons, my car feeling more at home. Driving into Ventura, I stop at Eggs and Things for brunch. It’s in a strip mall outside of town, with a long line of people standing outside. I pull up to a wide-open spot in front of the shop, feeling the eyes of the customers upon me. I press the button for the top to close, just to look cool, but fail to hit the button properly and the roof only comes down part way.  Up and down it goes, and people in the line begin to chuckle. Rookie mistake. I feel like a teen who drove his mom’s car to the mall but can’t park it.

Cool Mug at Eggs n Things

A fancy mug for a fancy trip, at Eggs ‘n’ Things. (Photo: Bill Fink)

Noon, Ojai:  The winding mountain roads up to Ojai provide a perfect scenic road test. The car hugs the hilly curves, the 5,500-pound vehicle powering up inclines like I’m going downhill. I speed around corners, the tires gripping the road like I was on rails. This is fun. Screw the price of premium gas, I’m taking the scenic route back.

Bentley Continental Speed Convertible

The Bentley Continental Speed Convertible, sitting pretty on the scenic route. (Photo: Bill Fink)

The Oaks Spa in Ojai provides the destination for an early-afternoon massage. During my reservation, I drop into the conversation that I’ll be arriving in a Bentley. The woman on the phone says, “Um, well, we’re not really a Bentley sort of place.” Shamed, I park the car in back when I arrive.

Sunday Afternoon, The Funk Zone:  Returning to Santa Barbara, I cruise through the Funk Zone, a post-industrial section of town with old factories and warehouses converted into art galleries, wine-tasting rooms and surf shops. The Urban Wine Trail there includes Anacapa Vitners’ tasting room and Kunin Wines, but I cannot partake while driving, of course. I try to fit the role of a visiting Gatsby and ask some gawking pedestrian, “Won’t you take me to… Funky Town?” But as I pass by the mix of surf shops, wine tasting venues, and art spaces between Highway 101 and the ocean, nobody bats an eye at my ride, as such luxury is typical in town.

Butterly Beach

Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara. (Courtesy: Santa Barbara CVB)

Sunday Evening, Santa Maria: Returning north, I stop at Pappy’s 101 Diner, a BBQ joint with walls covered in generations of rodeo photos. The clientele is made up of local ranchers and farmers and a couple of cops who are probably running a theft check on my car. After a tasty rib dinner, I go outside to see two old-timers standing by their rusty pickup truck staring at the Bentley. “Nice ride,” one says. “It’s not a bad way to travel,” I say nonchalantly. But Monday morning the company people return for the car, and I’m back taking public transit downtown. 

Bill Fink’s writing and photography has appeared in over 50 different publications. This is the first time he’s appeared in a Bentley.

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