A new White House West? Try Carpinteria, Calif.

January 17, 1993|By Gordon Burgett | Gordon Burgett,Contributing Writer

Butter the beans and slice the hog jowls: America's newest president and his family are about to put Carpinteria, Calif., on the map. The Clintons will be dropping in as regular guests at a sort of local rented vacation White House.

Carpinterians are slightly horrified and amused. Not at having another celebrity in their midst: They're used to seeing the Kostners, Itzhak Perlman, Kenny Loggins, Alex Rocco and Jonathan Winters schlepping about -- and Ronald Reagan helicoptering overhead. But the Clintons will bring tourists, thousands of them, filling the two-lane main streets.

Between us, though, it's a dandy little place to visit. Mr. Clinton couldn't have done us, the average folk, a bigger favor.

It seems that the president-elect's buddy and frequent host, TV producer Harry Thomason, rented L. J. Brown's large sandstone French country-style estate between Padaro Lane and the sea cliffs to replace his other home in Laguna Niguel as a Clinton hideaway.

To reach Carpinteria, the president will fly to Point Mugu Naval Station, near Oxnard, and helicopter to the polo fields across the freeway from the new place.

"We hope to actually meet the Clintons. They seem like nice folks," says Josie Bookmyer of the Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce. "Nobody ever saw Reagan. We just heard the helicopters. We were more likely to see the Dalai Lama or Queen Elizabeth."

On the long shot, then, that Bill, Hillary and Chelsea (with their phalanx of grim-looking guards) truly wish to venture behind the shielded confines at 3055 Padaro Lane -- the street is a local cycling and running favorite arched by eucalyptus and pine -- let's share with them, and the tourists unable to sip iced tea and nibble sweet potato pie with the first family, what is worth seeing and doing in Carpinteria and nearby Summerland.

More than 850,000 bathing suits with feet chose the Carpinteria State Beach ("the world's safest") as their favorite in 1991, with 48 acres, 262 family camping sites and 4,000 feet of frontage -- and no sharp drop-off, surges or riptides. With Los Angeles less than 100 miles southeast, campers, swimmers, surfing apprentices and tide-pool explorers have built family traditions around this beach, drawn by the 60- to 80-degree annual daytime air temperature and a balmy sea as warm as 72 degrees. Canadians, like geese, flock there in the winter. And the price is right -- free, if you're smart enough to park a block or two away.

On a warm day near the beach's Calle Ocho entrance, tar can still be seen oozing from the pits that helped the city gain a name. It was first sighted by Cabrillo in 1547. Later Gaspar de Portola, approaching by land in 1769, was amazed at the large number of tomolos (canoes) being built on the beach from planks, sewn together with animal thews and covered with native tar, so he called the site "Carpinteria," or the carpenter's shop. The name stuck, as does the tar. (Baby lotion takes it off.) That same tar was dug up and carted throughout California to build the state's first roads.

If the Clintons stroll east (they'll think it's south until they realize that Carpinteria has one of the few south-facing beaches on the Pacific) past the jutting cliffs to the Chevron pier, they will encounter California harbor seals at the only publicly accessible rookery in the southern half of the state. From December to June, they will probably be asked, kindly, by one of the Seal Watch volunteers, not to disturb the pregnant females or newly born pups, and to climb to the high path until they pass beyond the colony before descending again to the beach. Gray whales can even be seen spouting-off from the shore in early spring, and dolphins (newcomers are certain they are sharks) cavort near Carpinteria regularly.

They may want to blindfold Chelsea for much of the continuing two-mile low-tide beach walk to Rincon: Nudists people that remote stretch, to the occasional delight of joggers.

Rincon Beach -- visible at the end of the 17-mile, spectacular cliff-beach drive on U.S. 101 from Ventura -- is a surfers' mecca and the training site of both the male and female national surfing champs, both raised in Carpinteria. Scores or hundreds of surfers can be seen cutting the water from dawn to dusk.

If, instead, they head west (which they will think is north) from Carpinteria toward their guest house, the Clintons will be stopped by the inlet to the natural preserve, the Estero. They can wade through it if the tide is low or head to Santa Claus Lane, re-enter the sand and walk past Loon Point and their own cliff (the Brown house sits atop it), and end up in Summerland's nifty Lookout Park. Get out the blindfold again: Nudists romp in between, not far from the Clinton borrowed abode. The Clintons reach their sandy haven from the Loon Point parking lot at the western end of Padaro Lane.

A quick stroll through Carpinteria's newly refaced downtown may surprise the Clintons. There are lots of firsts and oddities in this town of 14,000.

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