Change. Tension. duality. These are the concepts that struck us during our trip to the central coast of California.
When we travel, we’re searching for the essence of a region during a moment in time. We’re looking for a recurring theme, the central complication that defines life in a place and how that place’s people are trying to address it.
This latest dispatch fromThe Collective Quarterlyfloats in a right triangle between Santa Barbara to the west, Ojai to the east, and Ventura to the south. Consistent, perfect waves roll in off the point break and caress this parched patch of land. It’s a place where the oaky scent of chaparral wafts in the air after a light drizzle, and hot springs bubble up from the earth in the arid Sespe Wilderness. It’s a stretch of coastal highway where motorcyclists gallop their iron ponies at full throttle.
These three cities can, at times, feel caught in the peculiar moment of change between night and day: Santa Barbara’s first impression feels like a contradiction, a place that is part retirement community, part haven for renegade artists who live in its industrial zone. Ojai is home to a strange friction between native citizens and transplants who have come seeking some shade of peace or spiritual enlightenment. And Ventura is a gritty surf town with an occupational dichotomy: environmentally conscious outdoor retailer Patagonia is headquartered here, within eyesight of hulking oil platforms moored offshore.
These cities defy categorization as a group. Yet, they exist within 35 miles of one another, in the shadow of the Topatopa Mountains.
When we visited the Central Coast, we found a collection of wild souls: the Southern belle who explores the scary creatures inside her head (p. 30), the Seattle-born surfer who’s making waves with his exquisitely freehand-shaped boards (p. 40), the Ojai native who strives to make sense of the otherworldly energy that draws eccentric characters from all over the world to his hometown (p. 134), and the Ventura townie who might just be California’s version of a genuine, self-proclaimed redneck (p. 146).
Each of these characters gave us a small window into the way a place grapples with what it was—and what it is now.