From Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, a paradisal coast bears the permanent exhaust of the automobile: shack towns, oil pumps, driveins, Tastee-Freeze bars, motels, service stations. At Ventura, the coast tums a comer which sends the Santa Ynez mountains east-west and lets the sun hang full on the beaches for its long day. A hundred yards or so off the highway there are a few sandy coves almost free of coastal acne. One of them, a mile north of a red boil of tourism called Santa Claus, is Serena Cove. A wooden plaque over the single-gauge railroad tracks gives the name. Cross the track to a Cyclone fence. Behind that, in a lemon grove, is an amber villa shaped like a square head with glass shoulders. This is the Villa Leone, for which our place was the Changing House. (The villa has been turned into apartments.) Our house wasislow, white and gabled. It has one grand room windowed on three sides, three bedrooms, a kitchen, and three bathrooms, of which two function. It is hidden by odorous bushes, palms, live oaks and great, skin-colored eucalypti, some of whose sides have been gashed by lightning. A wall of honeysuckle ends the driveway; behind it, the south lawn leads thirty feet to a red-dirt bluff covered with vines threaded with tiny blue flowers. They hang to the beach, a half-mile scimitar of bright ivory sand. Three other houses, hidden from ours by palms and trellises, share the beach rights. You see them from the water, glassy monocles snooting it over a subdued sea.
Actually not the sea, but the Santa Barbara Channel which is formed by the great private islands visible only on very clear summer days. The islands are far enough away to preserve a sense of the sea, but, like a lido, they break waves down to sizes which keep you from worrying about small children.