Category Archives: California

Best Escape from Southern California Traffic

A trip to Catalina Island is a true escape. Just a short hour-long ferry ride transports you from one of several ports along the southern California coast to a haven with few cars and beautiful vistas.

Plan your departure from Dana Point, Long Beach or San Pedro on the Catalina Express.  You can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge and have a free drink and/or snack, but the trip is short so it’s not really necessary.  Some of the ferries have private cabins available. Check out the website for details, they do not run every day, but when they are running have many trips.  Average adult fates are $74 round trip, $67 for those over 55, bikes and surfboards $7 extra. Reservations are a good idea.

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A Million Dollar View that Will Cost You Nothing.

Well, maybe some change in the parking meter.

A visit along Laguna Beach’s portion of the California Coastal Trail is a must-see for any visitor to SoCal. It is Laguna so it is picture-perfect. Heisler Park is a protected Tidepool Habitat with a beautiful beach.  This Pacific coastal park has plenty of handicap and stroller-friendly paved walkways with rails. There are ample public restrooms and areas for kids to run around and play. Art lovers will enjoy the sculptures throughout the grounds and everyone will enjoy the spectacular views.

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Where to Spot Sea Lions in Southern California

 

Adults and kids can agree spotting Sea Lions is always a thrill – even if you can usually smell them before you see them. Near the center of picturesque La Jolla, head over to the park along Coast Drive and you can people watch as well. Weekend parking can be tough, but you can grab a Bird (electric scooter) and get anywhere in minutes.

There is a pleasant Coast Walk along the Pacific with viewing points and as a bonus, you can visit the Sunny Jim Sea Cave. For $5 an adult and $3 for kids, it’s a chance to visit La Jolla’s longest-running business and the site of a historic tunnel to the cave. Open since 1903 there have been a few improvements over the rope that originally guided adventurers’ descent into the dark tunnel.  Today there are a few lights and 145 wooden steps with handrails to ease your way.

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Best of both worlds: Life on California’s Balboa Island

Part of Newport Beach, the quirky, fun ambiance of Balboa Island is a welcome distraction from stereotypical so-cal and the traffic that goes with it. Once you are there, you walk.

It’s the kind of place where kids still color with chalk on the sidewalks, people of all ages hang out with drinks on their front porch, and dog-walkers say hi and let you pet their dog. The perimeter is a pleasant 1.7-mile walkway along beaches, marinas, charming zero-lot-line homes, and beautiful Newport Bay. It’s topped off by a cute business district with seaside-themed shops, casual restaurants, and the iconic frozen banana stands made famous on the Arrested Development TV show.

The “sandspit” that was enhanced before World War I is now home to cozy cottages and million-dollar views of the harbor and Bay. Don’t get me wrong, there are also multimillion-dollar homes here and not all are small, but are all side-by-side making for a very friendly vibe. I love that every home is different and reflects a distinct personality.  From historic to ultra-modern you find a mishmash of architectural styles, but somehow it all works.  Beaches are small and friendly and a $2 per car ($1 per person) ferry takes passengers the short-haul, 800’ crossing to Balboa Peninsula.  And the flowers! They are always beautiful.

Since 1908, the Island has become well-known locally for hosting a magical Christmas Boat Parade the week before Christmas. These days the parade runs for five nights giving visitors plenty of opportunities to also see the displays of delightful, creative, entertaining Christmas decorations put up by the majority of the Island’s 3000+ residents.

You’ll want to stay awhile.

 

https://www.balboaisland.com/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Whale of a Good Time: in Newport Beach

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Thanks to our daughter and her fiancé we had a wonderful time on our morning whale-watching excursion. Leaving from Balboa Island at 9 AM, I quickly forgot my concerns about the (really) chilly weather and potentially rough seas, when we spotted two grey whales just as we left the harbor.  We followed the whales for quite a while as they headed south on their long journey from Alaska to Mexico. As the marine haze lifted it turned into a beautiful, clear day.

dsc_0242 dsc_0241 dsc_0240  During the 2-hour trip with Newport Coastal Adventures, we zoomed around in a 6-passenger zodiac at 20-30 mph and that was a thrill ride all its own. Another highlight was finding ourselves in the middle of a pod of hundreds dsc_0382of playful common dolphin.

It was a blast. We loved it!

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Xmas Season in Newport Beach, CA: A Mini Photo Essay

Uber Xmas decor on Balboa Island.

Uber Xmas decor on Balboa Island.

One of the sandcastles on Balboa Island.

Sandcastle art on Balboa Island.

Walk along the water on charming Balboa Island, Newport Beach.

You can walk along the water around charming Balboa Island, Newport Beach.

Love these artist palette holiday decorations in Laguna Beach (home of the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts)

Love these artist palette holiday decorations in Laguna Beach (home of the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts)

Sunset from "The Deck" in Laguna Beach.

Sunset and chilly temps from “The Deck” in Laguna Beach.

Merry Christmas from SoCal.

The lovely Rancho Valencia Resort.

The Rancho Valencia Resort.

We are having a really nice time in Southern California. It’s been very chilly (I wore four layers to play golf), breezy and dry; a really lovely part of our country.  The Rancho Valencia Resort is stunning with lush landscaping and lots of privacy.  My favorite residential architectural style has always been Spanish/Mexican, so I feel right at home among the terracotta, colorful tile and beautiful courtyards.

Beach behind the terrific Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff by the Sea.

Beach behind the terrific Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff By The Sea.

We have enjoyed spending time with friends, making new friends, exploring the area and hitting more than our fair share of the area’s wonderful restaurants. I loved the 90 year-old vintage charm of the restaurant in La Jolla’s ocean-front La Valencia Hotel.  As far as seafood, our meals at The Fish Market in Solana Beach and The Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff were top-notch.

I found La Jolla disappointing and preferred the aptly named Rancho Santa Fe with its stables, ranches and rolling hills. We’ve even had hot air balloons firing-up along the winding roads here.  As far as coastal towns, I’ll take the quirky beach vibe in Solana Beach any day.  A shout out to my friend Andi for directing me to the charming, unique shops on Cedros in Solana Beach.  It was a lot of fun.  The guys have played a lot of golf, but I only played one round at the Del Mar Country Club – where our foursome was among the five total players on the course for the day – felt like we owned the place.

San Diego Zoo.

San Diego Zoo.

We’ve even managed to fit in a visit to the famous San Diego Zoo. One hundred years old this year, they are in the midst of some serious (and behind schedule) renovations. They need the improvements, much of the Zoo is a bit tired and animal areas are smaller than I like to see. It made me realize how great our young ZooMiami has become.

Now, if they can only do something about the traffic . . . .

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Golf course at the tranquil Del Mar Country Club.

Golf course at the tranquil Del Mar Country Club.

San Francisco: Our Uniquely American, Great European City

SF skyline.

SF skyline.

I’ve always thought of San Francisco as one of our great US cities.  In fact, it is one of our most European cities, but with added flavors that are uniquely American. Think: “turn on, tune in, drop out”, competitive yoga, gay pride, Asian fusion, and “Full House”.

Having visited in the past, we could skip some of the requisite activities like cable car rides, Alcatraz, the “Painted Ladies” and America’s most crooked street.  Instead, we decided to check out the Mission District neighborhood, which is in major transition and considered an up-and-coming, yet still alternative area.

Since it was another sunny, beautiful (and actually quite hot) day, we used one of the Hop-On buses and Uber to get around and quickly check out some of the city’s progress.

The Mission District was a big disappointment.  It is indeed changing. There are lots of small restaurants, lots of construction and unusual shops.  The restaurants did not entice us, the shops skewed young and the crowds were certainly eclectic.  Some individuals were downright unsavory and we decided to head off to Fisherman’s Wharf to cool off closer to the water, and have a bite in a more scenic (if not gourmet), setting.

As the morning unfolded, I had several updated requirements: buy a lightweight top, change tops, find a decent bathroom, and consume a large Diet Coke with lots of ice.  These things were quickly accomplished as soon as we hit the tourist area by the waterfront.

After lunch, we took the bus over the Golden Gate Bridge. The guide was a real character and gave a colorful and interesting narrative packed with local anecdotes. I was proud of myself for sitting on the top of an open double-decker bus going over the bridge – it was terrifying.

Dungeness Crab at R & G.

Dungeness Crab at R & G.

In any case, we’ve eaten some fine meals here – from the iconic Tadich Grill to incredible Chinese-style Dungeness crab at R & G, breakfast at Sears Fine Food (best bacon ever) and Tyler Florence’s The Wayfair Tavern.

Since we are staying at The Fairmont along with the PGA players, we’ve smiled at Jordan Spieth (this year’s Master’s winner, for my non-golfers readers) and seen Matt Kuchar.

Part of Prime Minister Abe's entourage entering the Fairmont with police and Secret Service escort.

Part of Prime Minister Abe’s entourage entering the Fairmont with police and Secret Service escort.

Our room has a great view of much of the city and it proved to be a great vantage point for watching dozens of police, motorcycle officers, secret service and numerous black cars and vans, blockade the entire area and secure the hotel for the Prime Minister Abe of Japan. It was great entertainment, PM Abe is here about the bullet train.

On our final afternoon, we had some typical local weather – the temps dropped rapidly, the fog rolled in and the Golden Gate Bridge faded from site.

It must be time to head home.

 

 

The Fairmont, holding court at the top of Nob Hill.

The Fairmont, holding court at the top of Nob Hill.

Transamerica Pyramid.

Transamerica Pyramid.

Pier 39.

Pier 39.

View from the Embarcadero.

View from the Embarcadero.

A shop in The Haight.

A shop in The Haight.

The Sonoma Coast

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Today we had to say goodbye to our charming bungalow.  A typical shotgun home, it has been beautifully restored in an updated Victorian-style. DSCN3602We didn’t get to spend much time just hanging around, but it was a perfect spot, in a really convenient location.  We’ll miss our little yellow house.

But today we had new places to go and we headed off to the Sonoma Coast. The Russian River flows into the Pacific on the Sonoma Coast and much of the coast is part of the Sonoma Coast State Beach.  Highway 101 runs along this dramatic, protected area.  We drove the stretch between Bodega Bay and Jenner. It was uncrowded and seemed so remote, with wild, uncorrupted beauty.  There was no cell service.DSCN3662

The few houses and buildings that dot the coast date from around the 70’s before the area was protected and will not be able to be rebuilt. New building is not allowed; if it were, this incredible scenery would surely be blighted with development. We were surprised we had not heard more about this region – truly one of the most beautiful coastal dries we have ever seen, anywhere.

We were headed to Jenner and the Fort Ross Vineyard & Tasting Room, which includes a deck overlooking the forest with views that stretch all the way to the Pacific.  You can bring a picnic and enjoy the setting on the back deck while you have your wine tasting ($15 pp). Among the wines we tried, were two really excellent Pinot Noirs and a Pinotage, a blend I had not seen outside of South Africa.  It was no surprise to find out the vineyard’s owners are South African.  They have planted the Pinotage grapes on their property and even filled their front garden with South Africa’s colorful Protea* flowers.DSCN3622

It was a different and relaxing setting, and the excellent wines were a nice surprise.

All this scenery and wine tasting made us hungry and we headed back towards Bodega Bay* and the Spud Point Crab Company.  You don’t come here for a luxury setting, comfortable chairs (picnic tables outside), bathrooms (across the street at the marina), or heat (it was cold and windy); what you will get is terrific crab, shrimp and clam chowder.  They have won awards for the best clam chowder on the Pacific coast and I can taste why, it was wonderful. Service was fast and friendly and we were soon on our way to San Francisco.DSCN3707

San Francisco is amazing, but more about that tomorrow.

 

*Trivia Facts of the Day:

Bodega Bay is where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds.

Protea is South Africa’s national flower.

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Bodega Bay.

Bodega Bay.

Cooking Up a Storm

Tools of the trade.

Tools of the trade.

Today we Cooked with Julie. 

Main building of the Oxbow Public Market.

Main building of the Oxbow Public Market.

In search of a cooking class in the foodie-heaven Napa region, my friend came up with Cooking with Julie.  We headed over to Napa’s Oxbow Market for an early morning tour and tasting with Chef Julie and our four other classmates. We tried salts, olive oils, cheese and charcuterie and spent considerable time selecting vegetables and fruit for use in preparing our meal.

We then headed to Chef Julie’s comfortable kitchen to begin our preparations. It was a very interactive class and even experienced cooks would’ve enjoyed the day.  After a couple of hours of effort, a lot of helpful tips, great conversation and some good wine and local snacks, we managed to complete a three course gourmet dinner.  We had delicious Wild Mushroom Risotto, Dijon Grilled Chicken served over amazing spring greens & veggies, and a really nice, light Lemon Cake with Strawberry Sauce. And, of course, more wine.

Ramps!  We cooked these on the grill - delicious.

Ramps! We cooked these on the grill – delicious.

Once back in Sonoma, we quickly abandoned our bike riding efforts, when the seats would not stay raised enough for anyone over 5’ . . . So, we walked back to town and enjoyed a stroll around the Plaza one more time, before dinner at the charming the girl and the fig.  –

If you go:

Cooking with Julie: www.cookingwithjulie.com  707-227-5036

Sonoma Visitors Bureau: www.sonomavalley.com 1-866-9661090