That is if you equate romance with grit, smell, jolting and danger.
This advertisement from the San Luis Tribune – shortly after the nation’s centennial – outline the joys of land transportation in 1876.
Assuming the weather cooperated you could be in San Francisco 36 hours after departure from San Luis Obispo.
The Coast Stage Line Company offered daily departures at 5:30 a.m. with a transfer to the Southern Pacific railroad at Salinas City.
Southbound departures were at 5 p.m. for Guadalupe-Santa Barbara-San Buenaventura-Los Angeles and San Diego. No mention of how long the southbound journey would take.
By 1887 travelers could take the narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railway from San Luis Obispo to Los Olivos but further south required transfer to a stage coach.
By the time World War II rolled around the narrow-gauge railroad was being sold for scrap.
The major alternative was sailing up the coast. This would avoid the wild ride up Cuesta Grade or San Marcos Pass but there were occasional shipwrecks on that route as well. Me, I’d prefer to take my own horse if I could afford it.
Or wait for 2012 and take my air conditioned car.
The following is a reprint of historian Dan Krieger’s Times Past column from April 5, 2009:
THE TRAVAILS OF TRAVELERS ON THE SAN MARCOS PASS
A ‘trip to Santa Barbara is enjoyable, but a bit too long for total comfort. In the late 19th century, a trip to Santa Barbara could be exhausting.
It took two days with a combination of narrow-gauge rails and stagecoaches over the treacherous San Marcos Pass.
You could ride your own horse or drive a wagon or carriage.
You could take one of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company’s mail packets out of Port Harford, now Port San Luis near Avila Beach.
If the weather was a bit rough, they served up freshly fried pork to passengers as they boarded.
In an age before Dramamine, the fried pork was considered the best antidote for “mal de mer.”
My mother recalled the fried pork as she boarded a ship in Seattle bound for Port Harford in 1915.
It was the least expensive passage for her schoolmarm mother traveling to her brother’s summer home in Pismo Beach.
And the small ships bounced and rolled through the treacherous currents of the “un-Pacific” Ocean.
Most San Luis Obispans having business in Santa Barbara and points south after the early-1880s chose the relative comfort of the hard-bouncing Pacific Coast Railway to Los Olivos.
Leaving the Pacific Coast Railroad station at South and Higuera streets at 2:45 p. m. on the single daily run, you would reach Los Olivos at 6:50 p. m. The late arrival necessitated an overnight stay at Mattei’s or the Los Olivos Hotel. After breakfast, you would board the “mud stage” for Santa Barbara.
The Concord style stage coach was called a mud coach because of its low-slung suspension for stability on the narrow roads over the pass. This necessitated oil cloth and leather coverings to protect the passengers during inclement weather.
But if you did make it as far as Cold Springs Tavern at the northern end of the pass for a good lunch, you still had Slippery Rock to look forward to.
The rock was at the south end of Dr. Samuel Brinkerhoff’s turnpike, which came down the mountainous road several miles north of the present day Highway 154.
The large, bare, sloping sandstone outcropping is just east of the end of North Patterson Avenue in Goleta.
There, next to the Rancho del Ciervo tract reservoir, you can see the rock with a number of wagon wheel grooves deeply embedded in it.
In 1868, Brinkerhoff, a Santa Barbara physician, commissioned Chinese labor contractors to construct a toll road up to the San Marcos summit.
No amount of blasting powder, the only explosive available to the road crews, could remove the rock. And so it remained.
Gradually, the iron-rimmed wheels of the mud coaches wore into the rock’s surface.
Just like a bad, wheel grabbing groove in a modern road, the old grooves could produce tragic results for the stages as they descended the hill.
An Irish born veteran of the American Civil War, Patrick Kinevan, was in charge of the road during the 1870s and 1880s. The toll gate was his home at the Summit House.
After two bad turnovers in wet weather, Kinevan decided to do something about the ruts.
His solution was to chisel out two rather wide, permanent channels in the rock to act as guides for the stage wheels. This actually made a bad situation worse.
The rear axle of several stages snapped as the teams of horses pulled the stage too far to one side.
Soon drivers drove their coaches to the far sides of the rock, away from Kinevan’s “grooves.”
They put in a whole new set of grooves that were the plague of future coachmen.
By 1901, San Luis Obispo had a through connection on Southern Pacific’s mainline. But, there were still inconveniences — such as the frequent derailments with the telescoping of wooden passenger cars.