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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . . .
I’ve come to California’s wine country for a girl’s trip to celebrate a sentinel birthday (I will never say which one). After meeting in San Francisco, we’ve rented a car and headed to the wine region.
The weather is perfect and we have decided to launch our food, wine and shopping journey with a tasting dinner at the St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in nearby Santa Rosa. And, OMG, what a wonderful way to begin.
We arrived just in the nick of time (they keep to tight schedules here), tired and hungry. The food and the wine pairings were absolutely wonderful. We started the meal with Arctic Char à la Barigoule (with a celery root – Yukon Gold potato purée), paired with a Chardonnay. Next was a Red Wine Braised Duck with coriander spätzle along with a really nice Pinot Noir, and a Smoked Beet Salad with goat cheese fondant and green garlic purée along with a different red. Our main course was a Coffee & Cocoa Crusted NY Strip Loin with roasted cauliflower, smoked garlic and crispy shallots, set off with a terrific Cabernet Sauvignon. For dessert, an incredible cheese selection (almost like a cheesecake) was served with a Mexican Chocolate Pot du Crème and a Port.
The meal was perfectly portioned and exquisitely prepared and served. It was heaven.
Refreshed and pretty mellow, we headed to Sonoma and the historic bungalow we had rented for a few days. This turned out to be a case where the photos looked great and the actual bungalow even better. The two-bedroom, mission-style home is just a couple of blocks off the town plaza and has been beautifully restored and outfitted. Bikes included.
We settled in, walked to the center of town and around the square, taking in the historic sites, mission-style, beautiful park and even the first Williams-Sonoma. Although It’s hard to believe we could eat more, we eventually stopped in at Oso (a new restaurant we’d heard about from our new friends at St. Francis), and shared a few delicious appetizers before calling it a night.
If you go:
You will need reservations for the dinner and wine pairing. $60 pp. Each seating has a maximum of 16 guests. www.stfranciswinery.com
Oso, 9 E Napa Street, http://www.ososonoma.com