La Case de Dana Rancho

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FIELD TRIP TO LA CASA DANA AND TONO MEXICAN RESTAURANT magnify

Photo: Vaquero rustling cattle for branding

By Susan L. Friesen, c. April 11, 2006

We took a field trip with other homeschoolers to La Casa de Dana, commonly known as “Dana Adobe” in Nipomo, California.


The adobe was named after a very colorful man, William Goodwin Dana (1797- 1858). Dana, born in 1797 in Boston, grew up to become a Yankee sea captain. At age 18 he joined his uncle at sea, navigating to Canton, China and Calcutta, India. He also later traded with the Mexican “Californios,” those in the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii), and in South America.


After settling on the central coast to hunt sea otters, he met and married a beautiful Mexican senorita, Maria Josefa Carillo. He applied for and was granted Mexican citizenship in 1835. Fortunately, he was able to purchase one of the original Mexican land grants, a rancho totaling more than 37,000 acres in modern-day Nipomo in San Luis Obispo County.


A docent told us that on a quiet day, one could hear the church bells ring more than 20 miles away at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolusa from the Dana rancho. Back in the 1800’s, the area was sparsely populated. Even grizzly bears roamed the scene.


If you also love history and want to read more about the adobe and Captain Dana, be sure and check-out the material online.


For our homeschool tour, we met with about a dozen other students and moms, and took an individualized tour through the Dana Adobe. Docents dressed in period costume took us around the renovated home and the grounds.



We learned this and more:


About different brands on California ranchos and the California Spanish Missions


How to make homemade flour tortillas. Info about beef jerky. Cornbread preparation. We sampled the tortillas and jerky.


Chumash Rock Art. The girls painted Chumash Indian symbols on ocean rocks.


A tour of the Dana Adobe, including the captain’s quarters, girls’ room, cocina (kitchen), and living room.


A visit to see two miniature burros


Fandango (dance lesson)


I purchased some Dana Adobe honey (produced on the rancho) and a book co-written by Captain Dana’s direct ancestor, Rocky Dana, The Blond Ranchero: Memories of Juan Francisco Dana as told to Rocky Dana and Marie Harrington (1960).


Interestingly, Dana and Maria Josefa had 21 children. Only 13 lived to adulthood. People often remark to me that I have a big family because I’m a mom of 5, and joke that I must be either Mormon or Catholic (I’m neither). But look at the size of big families in the olden days!


After the tour, I stopped alongside the road and took pictures of the girls in a field filled with wildflowers. I don’t know what kind of flowers they were, except for the California golden poppies. Alaina took my picture, too. When the photos are developed, I’ll share some with you all, if you’d like, and the Dana Adobe pix, too.


We had lunch at Tono’s Mexican restaurant in Nipomo. Shivan and Alaina ordered two soft tacos with grilled chicken. Lindsea ordered a crunchy chicken taco and beef taquitos. I chose a cheese enchilada, chili relleno, and crunchy chicken taco. The entrees came with homemade beans and rice. The girls and I loved the salsa—with lots of cilantro. The tortilla chips were freshly-made and delicioso.


Except for one woman coming in to pick-up a to-go order, the girls and I were the only customers in the restaurant. We liked having the place to ourselves. I enjoyed chatting with the waitress and learned she worked two jobs and attended junior college, too. She got up at 4:30 a.m. to start her first job. Now that’s dedication!


I’ll leave you with this interesting factoid about Captain William G. Dana:


In 1828, Captain Dana built a schooner on the coast near Santa Barbara at a place which still bears the name, Goleta, the Spanish word for schooner. This was probably the first seagoing vessel ever launched in California.


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