As seen in the San Diego June, Orange County July, and Los Angeles August 2014 issues of Locale Magazine.
Refund those expensive plane tickets, leave the passport at home, and ditch the foreign formalities. The destination this year is home. For the entire rest of the world, California is thee place to be, and we, lucky as we are, are fortunate enough to live here. There’s plenty to explore right in our own backyards; whether you reside in San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles you’re never very far from adventure. So let’s round up the crew, gas up the tank, and prepare for some Sunshine State road trippin’.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain
Summer is prime time for a long haul. The days are long, the weather is perfect, and the kids are out of school. The car is in the driveway, Google maps are at your fingertips, and the keys are—hmmm, Must.Find.The.Keys…
Just past San Luis Obispo, about four hours from LA, veer off the 101, and go back in time at the Hearst Castle (hearstcastle.org). The inspiration behind the “Xanadu” mansion of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, an invitation was once highly coveted by Hollywood’s A-Lister’s, who when summoned, would often fly up from Tinseltown in private jets and land at the estate’s airfield. Take the guided Grand Rooms Tour and imagine partying with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, and Winston Churchill. Continue along Highway 1 and prepare for the most scenic drive of your life. Winding roads hugging steep seaside cliffs on one side with lush greenery on the other. Restaurants are sparse along the coast so Lucia Lodge (lucialodge.com) will be a welcoming site for your tummy. Order Grilled Marinated Artichokes, (which come from nearby Castroville, the artichoke-capital-of-the-world,) while you sit on the deck taking in the fresh ocean air. Continue the trek, refueled and ready to go, and yes, it’s okay to stop at every single turnout for just one more photo.
Once you’ve finally made it through the photoshoot that is Highway 1, check in to your Yurt at the Treebones Resort (treebonesresort.com). All the perks of camping in a tent with the luxuries of a cabin—we’re talking French doors, pine wood floors, and electricity… oh, and a sky dome so you can view the stars from the comfort of your queen-sized bed! The Yurt will have you at one with nature, comfy style. If the resort’s outdoor sushi bar isn’t cutting it for ya, head to Nepenthe (nepenthebigsur.com) for an Ambrosia Burger, open for lunch 365 days a year. The family-run business has been around since 1949 and is full of folktales and loved ones that live to tell them. Once your full and ready for more adventure take a hiking tour with Central Coast Outdoors (centralcoastoutdoors.com). Distances range from four to five miles and include waterfalls, beaches, and Redwoods literally, the size of houses.
It’s time to trade in SoCal’s beaches for some NorCal adventure. The 6-7 hour trek to mountain town will be void of any coast but rich in California’s other prized landscapes. Stop in the tiny town of Lone Pine and delve into the Wild Wests’ past by paying a visit to The Beverly and Jim Rodgers Museum of Lone Pine Film History (Lonepinefilmhistorymuseum.org). Over 700 filmmakers have made the Eastern Sierra Nevadas’ the backdrop for their Hollywood Westerns, and the museum plays host to an extensive collection of historic memorabilia. About an hour before you hit Mammoth, make a body-fuel stop in Bishop and stock up on some jerky at Mahogany Smoked Meats (smokedmeats.com)—rated by the LA Times as the “undisputed jerky champ.” Fish, beef, turkey, pork, or elk jerky, it doesn’t matter what you get, you’re embarking on mountain territory now, and it’s time you start eating like a mountain man should.
Check in at The Westin Monache Resort (westinmammoth.com). The gorgeous resort is in the center of all the fun, and just steps away from the village. Forgot your hiking shoes at home? Fear not, the hotel has teamed up with New Balance and will deliver all the workout gear you desire straight to your hotel room for a fee. Gear up and head out the door for a day trip along the John Muir Trail to see the wonder that is Devil’s Postpile National Monument (nps.gov). A steep cliff of columnar basalt, the phenomenon was created by lava flow sometime around, oh, 100,000 years ago. After a hike and a half, replenish your body with the best steak in town at The Mogul Restaurant (themogul.com), which is hands down the locals’ favorite. Order the Porterhouse Steak, and yes, you will take a side of Gorgonzola butter, thank you very much.
50 minutes south of San Diego you’ll pass through Puerto Nuevo, the self-described “Lobster Capital of Baja.” If you’re a seafood lover it’s a crime not to stop at La Casa de la Langosta (casadelalangosta.com) for some muy grande crustaceans caught mere hours ago. The beautifully presented and delicious delicacies won’t leave you missing that Tex-Mex you’re so used to. Continue towards Rosarito and stop in for a production at the Rosarito Theatre (rosaritotheatre.com), Mexico’s answer to Broadway. Entertaining the community since 1980, the plays change every few months and this summers’ scheduled “A Bench in the Sun” won’t disappoint.
About an hour past Rosarito you’ll arrive in Ensenada, popular among tourists and cruise ships alike. Known for its active water sports scene, the city’s famous La Bufadora (wikipedia.org/wiki/la_bufadora) is also known for its dynamic water hijinks. One of the largest blowholes in North America, air is trapped in a cave as the waves approach, then released as the water recedes to create a massive 100-foot spout of agua accompanied by a roaring boom. Just missed it as you walk up? No biggie. It happens about once a minute. Stay at Hotel Coral (hotelcoral.com) where you’ll get bed and breakfast hospitality despite being at a large hotel. Sitting on a marina full of potential boating and fishing adventures and also offering wine tours to various local vineyards, you’ll probably spend most of the day by the luxurious pool debating on what to do next. But in the meantime, indulge in a glass of vino blanco over some Ceviche de Pescado at Muelle3 (muelletres.com). There’s no rush, you’ll just stay another day… or two.
Along the roughly four to five hour trek to Havasu stop and say hello to owner Ken at The Desert Bar and Nellie E. Saloon (thedesertbar.com) in Parker. The bar is situated on an old copper mining camp and still has lots of old trinkets to meander through including a well and an aged fire truck. Nell the Cat hangs out, along with plenty of locals playing horseshoes and listening to live music. Only open on the weekends, it’s a great place to stop for a quick lunch and a brew and will have you eyeing corners for a glimpse of something shiny. Continue the journey until Buckskin Mountain State Park (azstateparks.com) where you stop for a hike through the mountains and a quick dip in the river. Sign the kids up for the Junior Ranger program and feel proud as they are sworn in by a Park Ranger and given a prized button, pledging to do their part to preserve the beauty of the park. Ah! Invaluable life lessons!
Stay at the London Bridge Resort (londonbridgeresort.com) and check up on that infamous London Bridge everyone keeps singing about. Built in 1831 in England, the Thames River proved to be quite a match for the flimsy passage. In 1962 however, Robert McCulloch, Founder of Lake Havasu, purchased it and shipped it, brick by brick, to America where it was vigilantly put back together in Havasu where it now sits proudly…and much more sturdily. March across it a couple times just to make sure, then walk down the street to Shugrues (shugrueslakehavasu.com). Fine dining meets casual atmosphere, you can share a rare bottle of a fancy Bordeaux from their extensive wine list, while eating Ruby Red Ahi and watching that beautiful Arizona sun set over the Bridgewater Channel. Have a peaceful night because tomorrow is boat day! You’re going to rent a boat from Desert Sun Water Sports (desertsunwatersports.com) and pay your respects to your 21-year-old-self and to all the Havasu must-sees, including the Sandbar and Copper Canyon cliff jumping.
You’re headed to Vegas to get weird so you might as well start early. Head through Joshua Tree and stop for a bite at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace (pappyandharriets.com). Start with a platter of Nachos Von Rabbit then bite into a Catfish Sandwich. Stay into the evening to catch a show with a popular indie band like Rufus Wainwright in the site’s small music venue. Eventually continue along about 20 miles north of J-Tree to the even tinier town of Landers for an out-of-this-world experience at The Integratron (integratron.com). In 1954 the 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter dome was created by a man named George Van Tassel who was merely following instructions provided to him from visitors from Venus. Built on an intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces that create a spike in the earth’s magnetic field, the hut offers it’s visitors “Sound Bath’s” where you can take a nap in a sound sphere, resulting in utter peace, amplified awareness, and absolute relaxation.
…And after a cool down like that, it’s crucial to shake things back up in Sin City! You’ve already seen the strip like a zillion times so you choose Red Rock Casino and Resort (redrock.sclv.com). Head to the resorts’ own bowling alley, Red Rock Lanes, and knock a few pins down before heading out to explore a different side of Vegas. Hoover Dam Tour Company (hooverdamtourcompany.com) offers the “BEST DAM TOURS IN TOWN!” Choose between an airplane, helicopter, boat or SUV tour and explore the historical dam that impounds Lake Mead. After a massive history lesson, catch a cab to Fremont Street and discover old Las Vegas. Check out the 75,000-gallon tropical fish tank at the Chart House in the Golden Nugget (goldennugget.com) while you dine on Alaskan King Crab and Coconut Crunchy Shrimp. Then go gamble—it is Vegas after all. Although, let’s skip the part with the monkey this time. The aliens could still be watching.
Two hours from LA, take a small European detour to the Danish town of Solvang. Enjoy a horse drawn carriage ride (solvangtrolley.com) around the little city, taking a minute for a quick stroll through Hans Christian Andersen Park. Once you’ve gotten your mini-culture shock, continue along the 101 for another hour until you hit the legendary Madonna Inn (madonnainn.com), where it’s high time you took a wee break. The rock waterfall urinal in the men’s room (partially made famous by Weird Al’s 1978 song “Take Me Down”) is more than worth the stop. Browse through the wide variety of themed rooms, including the Highway Suite, the Love Nest, and Cloud Nine. Have a cup of joe and a warm Danish pastry at the Inn’s horseshoe-shaped Copper Café before continuing the trek along the famed Californian highway.
Drop your bags at Hotel Cheval (hotelcheval.com) and imbibe in a cocktail while you listen to live music (every weekend) at the hotel’s lux wine bar, the Pony Club. Book a wine tour for the next day through The Wine Wrangler (thewinewrangler.com) where they’ll take you on a private tour through some of the Central Coast’s finest vineyards, customized to your personal specifications. Once your back, get fat and even happier while dining at downtown’s Il Cortile Ristorante (ilcortileristorante.com), a fine dining Italian spot with seasonal menus offering tons of choices to compliment your very-pampered, and newly-sophisticated taste buds.