Story and photos by Lois Henry
Admit it, you're curious. You've always wanted to stop at some of those roadside shops along Highway 126 as you flit back and forth to the coast.
But when you're headed there, you're in a hurry to arrive; and on your way back home, you're too tired, broke or you spent so much time lollygagging at the beach that your boss is already sniffing around your cubicle to see where the heck you are.
Have no fear. I made a trip planner specifically for roadside shopping, to see what those places are all about.
Yes, some are regular fruit stands. But others defy such minimalist labels. They are the true, old-school roadside attractions.
Chief among them is the Loose Caboose, just east of Santa Paula.
Sure, the shop has fruit in the small, open-air storefront section, but that's not all.
You can get koi fish, koi ponds, koi pond bridges, trees, sculptures, decorations for almost every holiday known to man, knickknacks, antiques, and, yes, even birds.
Then there are the seasonal carnivals complete with rides. They also serve barbecue. And true to its name, there is a real live caboose on site. The historic Fillmore train also makes regular stops.
No matter what you're in the mood for, it seems the Loose Caboose has it covered.
There's no price for admission. I bought a couple of Reed avocados and a gigantic beefsteak tomato as my way of saying, "Thanks for the entertainment."
Wine and honey
I cruised into Fillmore, saw a sign for a winery and cranked the wheel to the left where I found Giessinger Winery about a block away from Highway 126 on Santa Clara Street.
The tasting room is an old, vine-covered building that's quaint and relaxed.
The wines aren't too pricey either. Most were a little sweet for my taste, but rest assured, I found a bottle or two to take on my way.
The tasting room and grounds provide a great shady place to stop even if all you want to do is sit on the patio and watch the old train chug out of the station.
Down the road past Fillmore, I stopped in at Bennett's Honey Farm, which has a honey tasting room that I've always wanted to visit.
The amount and variety of honey and bees wax products are staggering. What don't they make out of this stuff, I wondered?
And the main attraction, tasting the honey, was totally worth the stop.
I couldn't imagine that honey tasted that different from one variety to the next, but I was dead wrong. Flavors included eucalyptus, buckwheat, orange, wildflower and several others.
And they really do taste different.
The honey isn't infused with the flavors. Rather the bees are kept in areas where those plants grow and their honey just naturally tastes different. Totally cool, huh?
Fruit and cactus
I hit a few more fruit stands along the way, getting things like dragon fruit and a mystery fruit that had a light grapefruit taste but pear texture that I don't normally see here in Kern County.
Then I stopped at the Cactus Mart.
From the highway, it doesn't look that big. But it stretches on and on with every kind of cactus you can imagine: big and small.
I have a thing for cactus plants. They're so odd and scrappy. I admire their survival instinct; except after I buy them, of course, which seems to trigger their suicide instinct.
That didn't stop me from buying three little cactus babies. I hope they make it.
But if not, I know where to get more.