Cold Spring Tavern is a restaurant north of Santa Barbara, California, that started as a stagecoach stop in the 1860s and has been a local landmark ever since. These days one of the tavern's more popular menu items is barbecued tri-tip served fresh off an outdoor grill, but it's only available on weekends. I'd heard the tri-tip was terrific, and perhaps even worth the 100-plus-mile drive.

That was a good enough reason for me to hit the road early on a Sunday morning. Grabbing a bottle of water and the address to the restaurant, I got into a nicely equipped 2017 Toyota Camry XSE, plugged in my iPod and connected my phone via Bluetooth. Longer drives would've included a bevy of crumb-free snacks, but I was focused on grilled meat. After I entered the address into the navigation system the Camry estimated my drive would take about 2-1/2 hours, which would put me there just in time for lunch.

Negotiating Los Angeles' Freeways

It was supposed to be fairly warm, but heading north on the freeway took me through overcast conditions and drizzle. The Camry proved a calming companion: the V6 engine offered plenty of power, steering was smooth, and even though the XSE trim meant this Camry had a firmer, "sport-tuned" suspension, the ride proved compliant and comfortable. After about an hour on the road, the sun broke through the clouds, the "shuffle" setting on my iPod had hit just the right combination of songs, and the sound of the Camry's engine had settled into a stable hum. I felt my stress level drop with every mile.

The Reward

The Camry's navigation system was my guide, filling in the blanks on a route that I basically already knew. Its original estimated time of arrival proved conservative, and light traffic helped me get to the restaurant in less time than expected. The restaurant is on a curving mountain road, off the beaten path. As I rounded the last turn before reaching the restaurant, I smelled the smoky wood-fired smell of fresh BBQ that greets you like nothing else. It was no wonder that despite my earlier-than-expected arrival, there were already cars parked a quarter-mile in either direction from the restaurant. I found a spot, and the Camry's turning radius and handy rearview camera made parking an easy task. I was ready for 'cue.

Walking to Cold Spring Tavern, I stepped up to the grill and placed my order. Tender, freshly barbecued carved tri-tip was laid out on a grilled roll, and I added a splash of au jus. I had seen a nice spot to eat, so I skipped the benches outside the restaurant and went back up the road, parking near a cool arch bridge. Time for lunch. My prize didn’t last very long; it was delicious and practically evaporated.

The Return

Finishing lunch, it was time to turn around and go back. On the return trip, I used the navigation system again. I stopped briefly in downtown Santa Barbara, and while the pleasant climate, ocean breeze and sidewalk art festival were appealing, they drew a lot of other people as well and it was crowded. I decided to drive on. It was now later in the day and I was heading back to Los Angeles, so I wanted to use the nav to find out about potential traffic along the route and how it would affect my travel time. I also opted to take some side roads instead of sticking solely to freeways. It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of lesser-known scenic spots away from the freeway, and the navigation system made sure I didn't veer too far off course. Despite some stop-and-go traffic, fuel economy was in the mid-20s for the trip, and I made it home in good time. When I got home I felt relaxed and refreshed, a testament to the Camry's comfortable highway ride and supportive seats.

Now that I have done the homework, I know that the trip to Cold Spring Tavern is worth it, and the roomy, comfortable Camry would be a good choice for a return trip with friends. The midsize Camry has an easygoing nature, intuitive controls and an amicable attitude. I wanted a low-stress drive up the coast, and the Camry happily complied.



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