If you love movies and dream of attending Academy Awards events, there’s hope. While you might not make it to the red carpet, you can still brush shoulders with the industry’s elite.
I attended two of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science events through the San Diego Cinema Society. There are several ways to toss your hat into the ring to watch the stars as they enter the Awards. Also, it’s not too late to plan a trip for the 90th anniversary of the Oscars in 2018! It’s bound to be one of the biggest galas ever. (See links below.)
My brush with cinematic greatness began modestly early the Saturday before the Academy Awards. Our bus left at 7 am. By 10 my Cinema Society pals and I stepped into the Academy Headquarters, tickets in hand for the Foreign Language Symposium. We had a block of seats reserved in the spacious, plushly red Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Over the next few hours, we were introduced to the directors and their co-directors of the five nominated best Foreign Language Films. It was a tickle to hear about their processes and challenges. I’d only seen one, Tanna, a long-shot for the Oscar, but an unparalleled film. It was shot using solar batteries over the 7 months the director/camera man, his sound editor, and producer-wife lived in a remote village amongst the Tanna Island people. TANNA is available on Netflix.
Tanna Tribe by Charles E. Gordon Frazer (1863-1899) – Bonhams, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17330887
Over the months of filming over 100 hours of footage and endless discussions with the tribe, a story emerged based on an actual event. The Romeo and Juliet tale incorporates an active volcano and no CGI effects. It’s a remarkable film that I’d love to see win the statue. Several of the Tanna villagers attended the Symposium. Seeing them was an experience none of us will forget.
The original Farmers Market in full Mardi Gras mode on a Saturday afternoon
Between the two Symposiums, we rode up to the Central Farmers Market for lunch. Love that place! The historic, open market was percolating with a Mardi Gras vibe. Several bands, cafes, and restaurants competed for our attention.
Hair and Makeup artifacts from Suicide Squad
The Hair and Makeup Symposium opened my eyes to the vast art and hard work it takes to create the creatures as well as age actors for the big screen. Three films were nominated this year: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond, and Suicide Squad. The first ever Oscar winner in this category is Rick Baker who won for his 1982 film, An American Werewolf in London. He stood to wave to the adoring crowd.
The teams behind the nominated films took the stage. Ten-minute clips of each film that the Academy members voted on in the ‘Bake Off’ reels were shown and the session ended with a Q&A from the audience. It was fascinating to hear about the 56 alien creatures designed for Star Trek, the wig-making and prosthetics created for Ove, and the creative inspirations behind the comic book, wild ride film, Suicide Squad.
A few of the prosthetics created for Star Trek Beyond.
I’m already planning on a return trip to soak up more of the grit behind the glitterati that the Academy Awards provide. Maybe I’ll be cheeky enough to take my pictures with the big gold guy.
Want to go to the Academy Awards (and other Academy events)?
Join the lottery for bleacher seats along the red carpet route. The website, The Gold Knight, covers the specifics and offers tips on how to win.
Join the Cinema Society and attend Academy Oscar Week events on a day trip to Hollywood. Join as a member (San Diego, Scottsdale, Arizona’s West Valley) or sign up as a guest. There are probably other groups attending but this is how I reserved a seat at the Foreign Film and Hair/Makeup Symposiums.
Between the petite village beauty of Carmel-By-The-Sea and the boardwalk diversions of Monterey lies one of the most iconic drives in the world – California’s 17 Mile Highway. The world class golf resort of Pebble Beach is tucked into that drive. The course is usually reserved there is usually reserved for the members, the wealthy and deep-pocketed international tourists. During tournaments, those willing to watch and party with the world’s best golfers can visit for a pittance of the price to play (about $500, if you can get a reservation.) Otherwise, there’s a guard house entry but that needn’t keep you from visiting whether you play golf or not.
Golf course medallion commemorating the founding of the golf resort.
Nearly a hundred years old, the Pebble Beach Company has flourished through keen sensitivity and observation. Abundant water is a requirement for any golf course. In the 1970’s, a drought clenched water use throughout the state. Long before saving water became trendy the PBC thought about conservation. The efforts paid off and Pebble Beach gracefully sailed through the recent drought after investing millions in a water reclamation plant. Today it supplies all the water necessary to maintain their idyllic panoramas. Golf courses around the world have taken notice.
The 2017 IAGTO Sustainability Award
The PBC was recognized by the IAGTO for Resource Management, specifically for their water and renewable energy projects. The global golf tourism organization celebrates the outstanding sustainability achievements of golf facilities, resorts, and destinations around the world.
Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.
I spoke about the award with David L. Stivers, Executive Vice President, and Chief Administrations Officer. Solar panels built above the maintenance building were part of the accolades. A sophisticated sprinkler system helps avoid flooding in low-lying areas and makes sure sun-drenched spots never turn brown. Going green isn’t onerous, Stivers emphasized, “It’s also good business.”
The Executive Vice President and Chief Administrations Officer, David L. Stivers talks with Elaine Masters about the award and the long-term sustainability efforts at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
David Stivers in the Lodge lobby
At the upcoming AT&T Pro-AM Tournament, thousands of pounds of recyclable materials will stay out of landfills. Pebble Beach Golf Resort is working with partners to make recycling a comfortable part of the event. It’s no simple task with tens of thousands of visitors arriving for the event.
Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.
I’m not a golfer but appreciate golf resort landscapes. Scooting around the greens in a cart on a lightly overcast morning, I peered into a cove where sea lions lolled. Deer were munching near multi-million dollar estates bordering the southern greens. They’re such regular visitors that the staff rarely notices them!
A mobile snack and drink cart visits players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
I asked about where to stop for lunch along the 17 Mile Drive to Monterey. It turns out there aren’t any lunch options along the coast drive, so we opted for a window table overlooking the 18th hole in the Bench Bistro.
The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort
Dirty Harry played here
In 1999 ownership of the resort came back into American hands. Significant among the names on the plaque outside the Bench restaurant (next to the actual bench) is Clint Eastwood, the actor-director who once was the Mayor of Carmel, a long-time resident of the area and a Resort investor.
Extraordinary! Wood-roasted strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort
The sun shot rays through dark clouds as we ate and I saved room for dessert – a wood-roasted, strawberry cobbler. It was served directly from the oven in a small ramekin with a warm, balsamic reduction. A scoop of ice cream melted into the crust. I will never forget how the textures complemented each other, the sweet balanced with the sour, the crunch and the cream. It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation. It was simply perfect.
What a day! To quote a song, “I’ll never be royal,” but for a brief time, I felt like an American aristocrat.
The lodge with the Bench Restaurant lower center.
Can anyone visit Pebble Beach Golf Resort?
Yes, even without a reservation to stay (although the packages may tempt you.) There is a fee to enter but not to park. The website is welcoming, noting that, “While dining at our restaurants, please present your gate receipt to your server. With a purchase of $35, your gate fee will be reimbursed.”
Many thanks to the Pebble Beach Company for hosting our visit and congratulations again on the IAGTO award.
Annabel Brut is named after the Europa Village owner’s effervescent mother, Annabel Stephenson
Those in the know go! It shouldn’t be a secret but in the rolling hills of Southern California, well east of the coast, Temecula wineries are making a scene. Private wine clubs, live music, restaurants, villas, spas and abundant tastings are uncorked throughout the growing region. I’ve visited several times over the past few years and always return home impressed and a bit buzzed by the beauty (and yes, the tippling.)
There are two Temecula wineries that stunned me recently – Mount Palomar and Europa Village. Over one slowly paced day, I joined a small group of foodies to sip and eat, walk and marvel at all that’s been created and is on the drawing boards.
Since 1969 the Mount Palomar winery has been garnering awards. The public vineyards are full of trails. We sauntered through the gates, past stone fountains and flower beds to a large building open to views of the countryside. Inside Anata Bistro and Bar, an open and appealing space, the chef offers a rotating, seasonal menu. In late fall, two cocktails with ingredients from the garden as well as the vine made it to our tables. The Pomegranate Martini was slightly sweet above a flourish of the signature red seeds. The Ginger Crush was muddled with a basil garnish and vanilla bean simple syrup.
An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro
Lunch was inspired by Meditteranean cuisine as we were feted with appetizer plates full of hummus, marinated olives, and crostini. Steak and fries, lamb and beef kebabs, salads and various flatbreads soon covered the table. No one was going hungry and I can’t wait to return with family.
Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room
Prepping our tummies with food was a good strategy as we next stepped into the barrel room to meet the vintner, James Rutherford. He tapped tall, stainless casks with flair and then swept us out to the Solara where Sherry casks were aging in the open sun! The cream sherry process at Mount Palomar is based on Moroccan, then Spanish traditions before it was brought to California in the days of the Conquistadors. Stepped rows of wooden casks cook for five years in the sun before being bottled! It was a surprising set up for this wine fan!
Special Offer: Enjoy a Temecula winetasting at Mount Palomar winery
Inside the gates of the Europa Village Winery is a gracious world. Taking cues from Old World wineries, there are inviting gardens with shaded sitting areas, a comfortable patio, tasting room and gift store adjacent to a long Pergola, sheltering tables reserved for wine club members and events. Beyond all that grapevines flick their broad leaves in the sun.
The planned Europa Village Spanish, Italian and French-inspired wineries
Europa Village is becoming even more idyllic as the John Goldsmith, the General Manager, described the vineyard’s future. A grand villa is already open for guests but, over the coming years, a true village has been laid out. Soon luxury accommodations and three wineries featuring grapes and wine-making styles from France, Spain and Italy will be complete. Europa Village is a destination already but the future developments will have wine tasting fans flocking to the Temecula wineries to stay for days.
It takes a community
Over the last century, the region has had its challenges. Wineries have changed hands with the fluxuating economy. They’ve closed and then opened in new configurations. Infestations once decimatdecades-old vines. Today growers work together to alert each other of any signs of blight. Developers have attempted re-zoning the relatively affordable acerage. A passionate association of residents, winery owners, vineyard owners and affiliated businesses has grown to form the Protect Temecula Wine Country Association. They are actively working to preserve the wine making and rural atmosphere of the area for the future.
My day visiting Temecula wineries ended too swiftly but knowing how close to Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego the region is. It won’t be long before I’ll return with friends. How lovely it is to taste and meander amongst the relaxing and beautiful Temecula wineries.
Strains of the music from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ swirled around me as I stepped into Knotts Merry Farm all decked out for the holidays. Memories flooded in. I’ve always loved theme parks. Riding rollercoasters, seeing shows and running around with family and friends was easy growing up in Southern California. Knotts Berry Farm was fun no matter what age and visiting the fun park kicked my holiday spirit into overdrive.
Photo Opp with Snoopy
Snoopy and I go way back. As a young graphic designer I worked for Determined Productions adapting the beloved Charles Shulz characters for toys and accessories. Snoopy and Woodstock were the most popular and I met them once again in the fun park.
Snoopy dances in the holiday show!!
Knotts started in the 1930’s when Mrs. Knott started serving home-fried chicken and berry pies for pennies to locals. The home kitchen expanded, the hybrid Boysenberry was discovered and grown on the farm and Mr. Knott built a small ‘ghost town’ to entertain visitors while preserving local history. It’s all still there, if you look.
Mrs. Knott cooking.
Boysenberries are still grown on a memorial plot inside the park but today kids run around Camp Snoopy, teenagers get their thrills on towering rollercoasters, adults do too when they’re not taking in the Ghost Town sights and shops. Trains, stage coach rides and saloon shows run all day.
During the holiday season a tall Pine tree stands decorated in the main square and each evening at dusk a small crowd draws near. Carolers, dressed in Victorian garb, cover the stage. A ‘sheriff’ steps up to the microphone to address the good people and signals the lighting of the tree. It’s a lovely ritual in the middle of the fun park.
Here’s a short video of the fun park:
Snoopy dances and serenades families in a holiday show running November 19th to January 8th. There’s hot cider and chocolate in Santa’s Barn (and a fortified version for the grownups!) but most families gather for snow. Each evening right on schedule it falls from overhead. Even in warm Southern California the wintry spirit of the holidays perseveres.
The show inside the Mystery Lodge is a thrilling nod to Native Americans who once lived nearby.
Ride the train through the Calico Mine
One thing I discovered is how affordable Knotts Merry Farm is compared to other parks. It makes sense that families and friends of all ages filled the fun park. Entrance is less than half of the other giant theme park near by and the experience is less crowded and more intimate.
Discount tickets can be found online and inside the California Welcome Center (see links below.) Housed in a historic building on the original stage coach line, it’s worth a visit on it’s own. There are tours, maps, brochures and ticket specials for all the Buena Park activities.
Photo opp outside the historical California Visitors Center Buena Park
Whatever the reason or season, I look forward to visiting Snoopy again and eating more of Mrs. Knott’s famous berry pie in the fun park, Knotts Berry Farm.
Links for visiting the fun park, Knotts Berry Farm
Where would we be without wheels? They keep us spinning, moving, exploring. We sing children’s songs about them and Tina Turner immortalized Proud Mary’s big wheel. In San Francisco, the city is full of wheel configurations. Bus, trolley, BART, cable car, taxis, bicycles and ride sharing – but none is as fun as riding a Segway through the city streets.
The morning was cool as we stepped from our Airbnb apartment to catch a bus. One ride took us entirely across town to within blocks of our destination, the Electric Tour Company in North Beach. The weekend was a first for my son, Josh, and me vacationing together as adults and he was more than happy to get up early for the chance to scurry around the city while riding a Segway.
We easily found the Electric Company space, between buildings just steps from the Cannery shops and cafes. Before touching the machines, we were ushered into complete registration, shown a safety video and given helmets. Questions were asked and answered, then the coaching began. I was assigned the ‘Sedgequey’ (a common mispronounciation we were told!) and soon we were confidently starting, stopping, and spinning our machines.
Within minutes of getting his Segway moving, Josh was racing in circles – well, racing is relative. The maximum speed is capped and each machine slows automatically as you reach that. Still, he had fun pushing the limits well before we took to the streets.
Our guide, Aaron, handed out small transmitters and ear buds, connecting us to his guidance and narration for the tour. I was concerned about riding a Segway through city streets packed with pedestrians, buses and cars, but didn’t need to be. Brilliantly, Aaron positioned our group of 12 in formation as if we were the wheels of a bus. We were assigned a place, riding two by two in parallel lines. It made us easy to see and simple to follow. Soon North Beach was whizzing by and while stopped at a signal, Josh reached over for a grinning fist bump. Nice!
Lauren and her birthday crown
Aaron kept us entertained with bit of history and puns. We cruised close to famous landmarks and took at break at Washington Park. Riding a Segway uphill was fun and downhill was easy too. There was no way our Segways could runaway with us.
Pausing to check in at Washington Park while riding our Segway
Near the end of the tour we left the busy streets behind and headed out along the breakwater near Fort Mason. Only a few hikers were on the path, intrepid swimmers splashed nearby and the views were astounding. A historic schooner sat in the bay with the skyscrapers of downtown behind. Ferries and sailboats scooted past Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge sat in full glory.
After time out for pictures, we headed back to the barn, as it were. What a great family adventure. My 20 year old had as much fun as mom. The youngest in the group, 14 yrs. old, had as much fun as his grandmother. Twenty five year old, Lauren, taking the tour as part of her birthday celebration, rode proudly – her helmet embellished with a tall, golden crown. She seemed to enjoy riding a Segway more than anyone and giggled street by street.
Use public transportation to get around San Francisco. Save anxiety about meters, tickets and finding parking places. I used my cell phone GPS and Google Maps to find the best routes and buses. There are numbers to call at bus stops throughout the city.
If buses and trolleys aren’t your thing there are taxis everywhere plus…
The Uber and Lyft community is huge in San Francisco.
Special thanks to the Electric Tour Company for hosting our ride. All opinions are my own.
When you’re hungry in a new city you can settle for simply filling your tummy or aspire to great eating. Knowing I’d be famished during my stay in San Francisico’s Mission District, where to eat in the trending neighborhood was a mystery. When Edible Excursions founder, Lisa Rogovin, suggested a tasting tour featuring local food along Valencia Street, my tummy growled in anticipation.
Decades before local food tours were a concept, I tasted my first Tempura in a bamboo-panelled Japanese bar on Mission Street. If I’d visited Tokyo before stepping into the red lantern-lit space, it would’ve felt familiar. The shrimp and batter-slathered, veggie wedges were crunchy and cheap, perfect for a student budget. In the intervening years the Mission’s ties to Mexico have dug in deeper. The Tempura house has disappeared but the road still hosts street vendors peddling roasted corn elotes and fruit stalls spill over the sidewalk. Taquerias now open to the street in designerly tones with prices much steeper than my salad days.
The street is still grungy but safe. Low riders have moved on and artisans have moved in, knowing there’s opportunity with the influx of tech hipsters. Iron bars still criss-cross over windows and at night, the marijuana cooperative crouches behind a roll-down garage door. One block away however, Valencia Street could be on the other side of the city and that’s where the new foodster central is growing. Boutique cafes, craft patissieries and artisinal breweries are flourishing.
Inside the Dandelion small batch chocolate roasters’ cafe
Surprisingly Lisa began our tour at the corner of 18th Avenue and Mission in front of the Duc Loi Market. No flashy store front or sparkling renovations? No, we met at a historic intersection, an apt metaphor for the next few hours.
Duc Loi Market
Cities morph. If the neighborhood was different outside, then inside should reflect that as well. The Duc Loi Market embodies that and has been successfully rolling with the changes for over 25 years. The name means “ethical earnings” and it’s become a model for the demands traditional businesses are facing in the swiftly gentrifiyng area. The owners, originally from Vietnam, continually renew their dedication to serving the needs of the neighborhood with its churning mix of Caucasian, Asian and Latino roots and wide economic diversity.
Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich at Duc Loi market.
Lisa led me to the back, near the long cooler counter where a sandwich, a tradional Banh Mi waited. Further down the long case were cheeses from Italy, specialty meats and she looked for a pig’s head on the counter too. It was no where in sight on the Monday we visited.
After digging into the fresh crunch of the French baguette and through the delicious spiced meat with traditional sauce, we ventured into the rows of products. One collection of BBQ sauces said it all. Artisanal bottles with monochrome, letterpress labels and tony price tags sat on the top shelf. Other shelves held equally delicious, well-known brands for half the cost. Just another testament to a neighborhood in transition.
Lisa founded Edible Excursions before food tours were a trendy part of travel. She’s been at the forefront of gustatory adventures from the Ferry Building to Uptown Oakland, from Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the Mission; helping tasters discover “the importance of local, seasonal and sustainable eats plus signature dishes.” Her custom outings, business groups and weekly tours have gained notice and awards from SF Weekly, San Francisco Magazine and Viator. Craft cocktails and local brews have won her focus recently and soon Drinkable Excursions will be on the regular rotation of tours.
Tacolicious’ Valencia Street storefront
Lisa Rogovin of Edible Excursions with Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran, founders of Tacolicious.
We strolled to Valencia Street and into the subtle Mosto / Tacolicious digs. The Mosto tequila bar opened last year as a new focus for Joe Hargrave and his partner, writer and marketing pro, Sara Deseran, after the success of Tacolicious (three locations in addition to the Valencia Street space.) The moment we stepped in from the Valencia sidewalk and past the subtle-to-the-point-of-missing taco sign, I knew this place was unique.
House tequila, Sangrita and sides at Tacolicious
A patterned Mexican tile floor warmed the chic, open space. Large windows and a side patio were open to the mild Mission micro-climate. Once we sat at a tall booth, a steep shot of the smooth, house Jimador Tequila appeared next to a matching portion of fresh Sangrita. That afternoon’s batch was a spirited melange of tomato, chipotle and habanero pepper salsa. Small, succulent taco plates featured fresh tortillas from La Palma Mexicatessen, another San Francisco treasure. We surely weren’t going hungry.
Inside the Craftsman and Wolves patisierrie case
Craftsman and Wolves
Across the street in a low lying, re-purposed autobody repair building with stunning brick bones, sits Craftsman and Wolves. The CAW location is one of three in the city. In a case that could display jewelry, curvacious confections waited emancipation. Each was a work of subdued, edible art.
Lisa introduced me to the signature pastry, The Rebel Within, sliced open to reveal a soft-boiled egg within an asiago, sausage and green onion bun. The skill it takes to place a peeled egg within the dough and cook all to perfection is a testament to owner Chef William Werner’s tenacity. His expertise and commitment flow from over 15 years working in fine restaurants on the East and West coasts. The ‘contemporary patisserie’ is named with a nod to predatory challenges often facing those dedicated to craft. It appears that he’s winning the battle.
CAW signature bun – The Rebel Within – served with a vial of tabasco-infused salt!
Two doors down is a wonder that would inspire Willy Wonka – the bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate factory, Dandelion. Begun by a pair of intrepid chocoholics, Todd and Cam. They’ve grown their own cacao plants and roasted beans in home ovens, then toured major chocolate factories around the world before opening Dandelion in San Francisco.
Watch the video:
Today the company roasts and grinds a batch from one farm or cooperative at a time, creating distinctive chocolate bars with fine-tuned discipline. We watched the process, and tasted from their cafe before walking on.
Dinner counter inside the Bi-Rite Market
Vistiing Bi-Rite deli and market brought us full circle. The Italian deli has been serving the neighborhood for decades and Lisa often brings home dishes from the dinner counter, which opens daily at 4:30 pm. With art deco signage, the market opened in the 1940’s and has been run by the Mongannam family for nearly sixty years. Brothers Raf and Sam took over from their father in the late 1990’s, instilling a chef’s aesthetic to the small market and stocking the highest quality ingredients. Now lines form at the counter for the Wagyu beef, imported sliced cheeses and much, much more. That’s where I left Lisa as she ordered entrees for her family.
San Francisco organic creamery ice cream truck
Valencia Street buzzes around the clock. One night, searching for local food desserts, my son ordered goat milk and berry ice cream off a vintage, yellow fire truck. Parked in an empty, corner lot, the San Francisco Organic Creamery truck and it’s menu, was a world away from the industrial strength food trucks I’ve seen elsewhere.
Hard, Apple cider and Lao cuisine at Hawker Fare.
We also ate Issan Lao food at Hawker Fare, sipping tart hard cider, a simpler choice for dinner than one of their Tiki-inspired cocktails. They looked fantastic, however. I’ll just have to return and explore the upstairs bar menu next trip.
Another evening I slid up to the bar at Dosa and slowly cut into a paneer and pea filled chick pea ‘crepe’ between sips of Transylvanian white wine. A young man sat across from me and ordered the $44 tasting menu. For himself. Before drinks. On a Monday night. The neighborhood has certainly turned. It’s gotten to the point where regulations are being placed on preserving Legacy Businesses and limitations are being proposed on the number of new restaurants or bars.
Lisa will keep savoring the old and supporting the new. Her local food tours and Edible Excursion’s motto is: Eat. Walk. Enjoy. Repeat. I did happily until my feet were sore and my jeans were tighter.
If you’re hungry for delicious, local food in the Valencia Street area:
Jim and Tina Kurtz and the Galleta Meadows Sculptures in Anza Borrego, California
Jim Kurtz and Tina Ellis are American nomads. It didn’t happen overnight. About six years ago they sold their long-term home in Encinitas, California to move to Oregon. The idea was to start a vineyard and the new house stood on acres outside of Ashland. Retired as a Financial Consultant, Jim began sourcing grapes from neighbors. Tina, an artist’s rep, began making her own mosaics, but the open road called. Within a few years they ditched it all to become nomads in the desert.
Tamarask trees’ roots go deep to soak up water and Palo Verdes fill with yellow flowers in the Southern California desert spring. Ocotillo, with their long spikey branches, are frilled with red flowers at their tips then too. That’s what the desert was full of when I found Jim and Tina star-gazing outside of Borrego Hot Springs, a few hours east of San Diego. They were about to celebrate their first year as nomads in the desert: Dog, truck and fifth wheel. After exploring the U.S. for months, they’d set up camp for the winter at a plush RV Park. Their 5th wheel (a trailer home attached to the bed of a truck) is about 55 feet long. They chose it because, as Jim says, “There’s no feeling like the steering wheel is in the living room.”
Fifth Wheel set up
It’s hard to call their mobile home a trailer. It’s palatial with pop-out sides that create an open kitchen, dining and living room. The bedroom holds a king-sized bed and every nook has hidden storage. Jim installed heavy 12 Volt batteries at 150 lbs. each. As they criss-crossed the U.S. they could ‘boondock’ anyplace they chose for up to 10 days with plenty of power and a hundred gallons of water. Jim found out that ‘we don’t use that much.’
Inside the 5th Wheel for two nomads in the desert.
During the first few months on the road, Jim kept up his financial consulting practice but eventually enlisted the help of a firm associate and weaned away his clients. Now he’s completely retired. Tina keeps her creative and business talents honed, creating jewelry at the kitchen table. She builds tiny mosaics, using reflective glass in jewel tones, painstakingly gluing them into sterling silver settings. The pieces are irresistible, selling themselves as she wears them in town or by referral.
Nomads in the desert at the Road Runner Complex
At the Road Runner complex and RV Park they walk the perimeter with their dog, Ginger, and easily meet others doing the same. There’s a clubhouse where weekly wine tastings and BBQ’s dinners are set up, a pool, dog run, and doctor’s office where a nurse practitioner attends 3 to 4 days a week. On the other side of the Par 3 golf course, a few streets are filled with small houses. Most, built in the 1970’s, have three garages – two for cars and another for the golf cart. Purchasing a house in Road Runner complex runs about 19 thousand dollars. Jim quips, “You could pay for it with a credit card!” The demand is tempered by the $1,000 per month fee, paid year round for utilities, grounds upkeep, etc.
In the trailer section the best spaces book three years in advance and run about $60 a night. Short term visitors pay $100. Jim and Tina found that the best spots are on the perimeter where you can back in with one side facing the greens. The center section, ‘pull throughs,’ are in the middle with less privacy.
The complex owners enlist the help of volunteer camp-hosts, usually a couple, who work three, eight-hour days each week. They collect the garbage, help new arrivals back in, host weekly wine tastings and hot dog roasts. One couple, who had been long-term camp hosts, stopped returning. The wife had died and her husband said that he wasn’t coming back, but changed his mind after the owners invited him to return with free rent. He’s been there ever since. These are good people who share a real sense of community.
Ocotillo Restaurant in Borrego Hot Springs
Spring was a comfy time to visit, however, summer in Borrego Springs means scorching heat. Jim says, “105 degrees isn’t a big deal but 110 to 115? That’s toasty.” For residents the summertime strategy is to go out before 10 am or after 2 pm. For others it means spending the hottest months of the year elsewhere. Good planning is important anytime Jim and Tina pack up and take to the road with their 5th Wheel. Routes from coast to desert mean getting over the mountains and north of the town of Julian, on Highway 79, there’s a graceful rise that’s relatively easy to drive. On twisting roads the trailer tends to swing over the middle line. While Tina likes the challenge, they carefully plan their routes.
Two other nomads in the desert, Galleta Meadows sculptures in Anza Borrego
This summer Jim and Tina are no longer nomads in the desert. They’ve taken to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies until the fall weather drives them back south.
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It doesn’t matter if you’re a local or visiting, getting out on the water in San Diego is always a fresh delight. A Sunday brunch cruise is a luxury that shouldn’t be saved for out of town friends and family. The beautiful, calm bay, the stunning sweep of Coronado Bridge, and great company matched with an overflowing buffet and bottomless mimosas makes for an outing that only a fasting monk would find fault with.
I was lucky to step onto the Hornblower San Diego ship with a group of travel buddies for Sunday Brunch. A light breeze kept us cool as we waited to board and then walked up the ramp to greet our captain.
The Captain greets us
Stepping in from the sunshine, my eyes adjusted to the light as a tray of champagne or sparkling cider was offered. Large round tables were set with crystal, china and silverware. An ice bucket with Champagne waited for attention. A few steps away, table on table of food presentations; a line of hot entrees, a cutting station, and a dessert nook.
San Diego Travel Massive buddies: Katherine, Cintia and Alexa.
Briefly the Captain’s voice echoed through the space with announcements about the ship and our route as we slipped away from the dock. We were off! Food and conversation flowed and it was easy to forget that we were sailing. That would’ve been a mistake as the views just outside our ballroom dining hall rivaled anything else on board.
Carpeted stairs led up and into the daylight. The top deck held small rounds for glassware and more than one guest brought their Champagne bucket upstairs to continue the party. With gentle sun, and smooth breezes, I stood in wonder as the city, the port, and the star of the afternoon, the sweeping grace of the Coronado Bridge slipped by.
I’m a big fan of that bridge and the chance to see it from below is always thrilling. Before we knew it, two hours had passed. The ship glided into port and paused as the final ties were made. The captain materialized once again at the top of the gangplank to say goodbyes. I imagine it’s a satisfying part of his job on perfect afternoons like this. Shaking hands with so many satisfied, well-fed, happy guests after their Sunday Brunch wasn’t part of the job description but a perk.
More Sunday Brunch details & other Hornblower cruises:
Hornblower schedules several cruises year round from two docks on the San Diego waterfront.
During Whale Watching season you’re on the water with Naturalists from the San Diego Science Museum and guaranteed sightings or a return trip.
The Sunday brunch cruises are weekly with special dining cruises year round: Mothers’ Day, Pet Day on the Bay, Sunset Dinner, Fireworks and special occasion trips too.
My Sunday Brunch cruise was complementary with Hornblower San Diego. One day I hope to sail with them at their other ports in San Francisco, Niagra and New York.
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Driving is a big part of the Southern California mystique. The weather’s accommodating and elaborate freeway systems are well maintained. The ease of exploring cities, beaches, mountains and deserts makes it tempting to jump in behind the wheel and take off. Be warned though: Driving can be either brutal or breezy fun when you master Southern California traffic conditions.
After living in major regions along the West Coast, I’ve found getting in and out of Los Angeles or San Diego to be the most challenging – unless you know how to make it work. While public and alternative transportation options are improving, driving is still the best way to get around. If you’re interested in cutting carbon pollution, saving money on gas and minimizing stress for you and your vehicle, mastering Southern California traffic conditions is a smart move.
Numbers make a difference
Most of the major freeways run along a north to south or east to west axis. Numbering can help you when roads split suddenly and you need to be in the correct lane. In the contiguous U.S. odd-numbered routes run generally north to south, like Interstate 5, Highway 101. Even-numbered routes generally run east to west, such as the ancient Highway 10, a straight shot out from Santa Monica to the desert, or Interstate 8 which springs from San Diego’s Pacific Beach on a route towards Arizona.
Trivia Question: Why is US 101 considered a two-digit route? Answer below.
Two dragons: Rush Hour and the Day of the Week
If possible I avoid most freeway driving between 7:30 and 9 am as well as 3 pm and 6 pm in urban areas of Southern California. If you must drive during that time check out Drivetime Yoga to stay sane!
The worst rush hours are on freeways in a radius of 30 miles around Los Angeles. San Diego is trickier. The county is deceptively long and wide. The coast is densely populated and east county has vast, suburban pockets, (my Mom labeled them, bedroom cities.) Most San Diegans rarely venture out of a 25 mile radius – unless they must for work.
The days before and immediately after major holidays should be avoided, or change when you’re on the road. Start very early in the day or later in the evening. Leaving Long Beach early the day before Thanksgiving, I almost didn’t make it to a Palm Springs family reunion. I’d checked the maps and allowed two – three hours for the drive, with a few stops to stretch. It took us nearly six hours. Not much fun for our toddler in the backseat either.
Weekend considerations – Start early or after dinner
You’d think the major traffic tie ups happen only on weekdays but Friday and Sunday traffic is impacted. Gridlock starts early on Friday afternoons as crowds flee the city for the weekend. I’d never plan a drive into or out of Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon. If you must, expect the trip to take at least double what it would most other times. GPS can guide you. Sunday afternoons are the same problem as people travel to get home for Monday workdays. Leave early in the day or after dinner.
When farther might mean faster
GPS makes it easy to consider different routes. A longer route might be fastest because of many conditions. Study it, consider what time you need to arrive at your destination and choose. It’s harder to change once you’re underway.
GPS isn’t infallible but close
Do yourself a favor and don’t wait till you’re on the road before you check traffic conditions. A new GPS service offers alerts on alternate routes. They may not make sense but there’s usually a good reason behind it. On a late night return trip along Highway 405 from Orange County, a recent alert sent me off the freeway to a side street as part of an “Alternate Fastest Route.” It helped divert me around an overnight construction zone I had no idea was there.
Weather can mean a mess
Generally Southern Californians drive very fast and aren’t used to having wet roads. When it first rains after a long dry spell there’s more oil residue on the asphalt, making the roads even slippier than expected. Slow down if it’s raining, allow extra space between cars and tempting as it is, don’t be a ‘lookie lou’ slowing down to gawk at accidents while contributing to a chain reaction as everyone behind you slows as well.
Southern California driving conditions are notorious for many reasons but a little understanding, a bit of prep and a sense of surrender to the adventure, even on a daily commute, can make you happier.
Specific tips to master traffic conditions in Southern California:
In the Los Angeles on the 405 going north or south, expect delays between the Los Angeles airport and Melrose exit almost continuously.
Older routes are usually slower. There are fewer and narrower lanes on the Old Pasadena highway.
Headed east from Los Angeles to Big Bear or Palm Springs? Highway 10 and 91 are most often packed during rush hours. Toll roads in Orange County can help.
Getting out to Palm Springs can also mean rush hour woes in the San Bernadino and Riverside areas.
In San Diego avoid the ‘merge’ where Highway 5 splits to Highway 805 during rush hour going north and south. Traffic also slows around the Genesee exit where many hospitals mean lots of office workers on their way to or from work.
There’s no excuse to miss whale watching in San Diego! The annual migration of gray whales brings them close to shore and it’s a thrill to observe, along with jumping dolphins, basking sea lions and the powerful beauty of the bay.
Yet I’ve heard so many excuses not to go. “It’s too cold, too windy, too sunny, not for kids, not for elders, boring, too crowded, too expensive,” and the list goes on. I debunked every excuse on a Hornblower cruise one bright, winter afternoon.
The adventure begins.
Sea sickness was one excuse. It was a moot concern on the very stable Hornblower ship that slid easily out to sea. Two friends said, “I can’t get away on a weekday.” Fair enough but I hope we can one day take a leisurely sail for a Sunday brunch, birthday party with a weekend departure.
One of several, on board naturalists trained by the Museum of Natural History
Our route in green dots, but we actually went out past Point Loma, on the left.
The most surprising excuse was “I hate whale watching cruises.’ I respect the choice as I sense there’s a bad boat experience behind it. However with naturalists on board, a knowledgeable captain narrating and calm seas, our San Diego whale watching cruise was a comfortable, respectful, and informative adventure.
We swiftly slipped away from the San Diego skyline.
“I don’t have anyone to go with.” Watching whales splashing is a bonding experience. As the ship slipped out of its berth, it was easy to share the excitement of expectations with other cruisers. While standing on deck, adrenaline fueled conversations and there were interesting visitors from around the world. We cheered as the first whale spouts were spied. Dolphins delighted us when they materialized suddenly, playing in the ship’s wake. It was like watching fireworks – everyone ooooing and awwwwing in unison.
It was easy to get lost in conversations and forget about the views. Luckily the captain kept vigilant, announcing each sighting and what direction to look. We’d rush from side to side, back to front, to better spy spouts and flukes. There were many. The ship was large enough that it stayed steady and maneuvered to a respectful distance from the wildlife for photo opps.
“The wind, sun, cold or heat is too much.” There many viewing areas on the ship from deep decks to wide-windowed cabin areas. If the weather isn’t comfortable it was simple to shelter inside and not miss the show. I watched a pod of dolphins racing from a window near the snack bar!
Cabrillo National Monument from sea level
There’s much more than wildlife to keep you interested. The route passes many landmarks and there’s the skyline, careening seagulls, sailing ships to ogle, the Coronado Islands and the famous Del Coronado to admire. If you need a closer look there are binoculars available to rent on the ship!
Kids and elders won’t be bored. There’s much to safely explore. The naturalists give fascinating presentations complete with giant whale bones and lots of pictures. Elders or the wheel-chair bound will be comfortable from accessible viewing areas inside or out.
There’s even a guarantee. If you don’t see whales, dolphins or sea lions you’ll get a ‘whale check’ good for another Hornblower harbor or San Diego whale watching cruise. As the saying goes, “I’ll be back.”
If you’re not in San Diego for the whale season there are special cruises year round: celebrating Restaurant week in January, Easter Sunday in April, Valentines Day cruises in February, Pet Day on the Bay at the end of April, Full Moon harbor cruises, birthday and lobster dinner cruises.
Thanks to Hornblower cruises and events for inviting me to experience all this. As usual all opinions are my own.
There’s so much going on in San Diego. Check out this hidden artwork that most visitors miss completely. Share this post! Social media buttons are above and here’s a few pins:
It doesn’t get much sweeter than this; sun most days of the year, easy to get to and affordable. Oceanside always surprises me. It’s one California beach city that is too often overlooked, but that’s changing.
Tom Cruise’s house featured in the movie, Top Gun.
Perched between the military base, Camp Pendelton, and San Diego proper, it’s often just a blip on the GPS for drivers going north or south, but they’re missing out. I love spending a day or two walking downtown, visiting the beach, the museums and discovering new restaurants and happy hours. The harbor area is worth exploring too.
The city rolls out its best for events year round. A giant heart balloon is seen around town during Valentine’s week. There are multiple charity runs and organized bike rides. Cultural events abound from the Oceanside museum, the Surf museum, the Starlight theater and galleries. The craft brew and gastropub scenes are percolating. Some great sushi and seafood can be found from white tablecloth establishments to casual pizza, health foods and taco stands.
Josh Weigel and his draft Kombucha at Living Tea.
Hello Betty has seating indoor, rooftop or along the sidewalk.
A view from the pier.
The California Surf Museum, local murals and the Oceanside Art Museum.
My favorite is the beach. The pier is long and worth a stroll whether it’s stormy or the sky is bright. Along the waterfront quaint bungalows line the sea wall. The wide open sand makes dipping into the water a must. If you love surfing or boogie boarding, the waves will make you delirious.
Views from the Springhill Marriott Hotel in Oceanside
Where to stay for your California beach adventure in Oceanside?
There are several BnB’s in the area and a number of hotels. The fresh, Springhill Suites Marriott, just a block from the water, is one choice. The view from their roof top pool is stunning.
Photo courtesy of Masters Kitchen and Cocktail
Where to eat in Oceanside:
Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub is a culinary adventure you’ll savor long after the plate’s clean. Award-winning, Chef Davin Waite features local seafood, produce, and chef-picked ingredients.
Zig Zag Pizza Pie lets you pick your ingredients, your drinks out of the cooler and chops salads just steps from the Oceanside pier.
The most recent mural outside of Wrench and Rodent on South Pacific Highway.
Getting to your California beach adventure in Oceanside:
Drive: The beach is just west of the Interstate 5 freeway and Pacific Coast Highway off Mission Boulevard.
Ride: The Amtrak station is close to downtown and the beach. There’s a great deal for weekend travelers from Metrolink. You buy a pass for Saturday or Sunday for just $10 to travel anywhere Metrolink goes. It makes visiting Oceanside even easier with the terminus there and access to the Coaster and Amtrak lines throughout San Diego County (a separate ticket.)
Here’s some of the views going into Oceanside along the coast.
Whether it’s a short vacation or a swim stop between destinations, there’s lots to do and explore on a California beach adventure in Oceanside.
Extend your California beach adventure and travel anywhere on the Metrolink system for just $10 on Saturday or Sunday with the Weekend Day Pass. More info:http://www.metrolinktrains.com/news/p…
I hope that you enjoyed this brief California beach adventure and will share these pins.
Collaboration Kitchen in full swing with Carnitas Snack Shack chef and founder, Hanis Cavin
It’s a meal transported to another realm. In fact you sit inside a fish processing plant on folding chairs and eat from paper plates – but you’ll be giddy about it. Perhaps it’s the hilarious barbs traded between the fishmongers, Tommy Gomes and Dan Nattrass. More likely it’s the chance to be part of a cooking show, to see how some of the region’s best chefs work their magic, while eating insanely well. Some nights local vintners bring samples and if you’re lucky Andrea’s Truffles or Robin of Cupcakes Squared will be offering their best as well. No one goes home hungry.
Part of the team: Collaboration Kitchen founder, Tommy Gomes, Catalina OP Owner Dave Rudie and Marketing Wizard, Rebecca Gardon
Held about ten times annually, there’s always a cause behind each chew. Collaboration Kitchen began seven years ago as an idea that Tommy Gomes, a fishmonger working at Catalina Offshore Products, took to his boss, Dave Rudie. It was a way to give back and offer great food while raising money for deserving causes. Monarch School, Just Volunteers and most recently Tim Johnson, local sushi chef suddenly in need of a kidney transplant, have been recipients. Tim discovered he needs a new kidney just days before Christmas. Here’s the link to his Go Fund Me campaign set up to help with medical expenses.
With Tommy as emcee, laughter’s on the menu. You’ll meet fellow fans of great local food and be introduced to new menu ideas. Most importantly though is the chance to be part of something truly good. There are many foodie events throughout San Diego but Collaboration Kitchen is one unique sensation. Get on the Facebook notice list and reply quickly if you want to attend.
Dan Nattrass talking about sustainable, farm-raised, Baja Seas’ Hiramasa
Chef Anthony Pascale of Saiko Sushi created this beauty.
Su-Mei Yu, of Saffron and PBS’ Savor San Diego, shows how the Thai grind coconut
Tommy Gomes and one of the guest chefs, TV star, Sam the Cooking Guy
If you miss the tickets or don’t have the dough, but do have hard-working kitchen skills, there’s occasionally room on the volunteer team. Working all day behind the scenes, volunteers step into the limelight to be applauded along with the chefs at the end of each event.
Chef Logan at the grill inside the Catalina OP Fish Market
Specialty Produce, co-host, is the source for chefs but the warehouse is open to the public
The Catalina Offshore Products Fish Market is open daily inside the warehouse (check website for hours) with fresh off-the-boat seafood. If your timing’s right, Tommy or a friend will be grilling samples. Located at 5202 Lovelock Street, San Diego, CA 92110
Disclosure: I’ve been comped to Collaboration Kitchen for years as the Catalina OP owner is my guy, but all opinions, as always are my own.
I hope you enjoyed this vicarious meal and will share with your friends. These are pinable!
The San Diego canyon was moist and the only way means descending a steep slope. It may lead to a mean slide on dusty gravel but recent rains have muddied the hillside, making it a different kind of dangerous. Those rains have led to perfect growing conditions for wild, edible mushrooms.
Be careful when hunting for wild, edible mushrooms.
They’re tempting but be very careful when hunting. Every year someone makes the wrong choice. It can lead to a painful death or an evil stomach ache. Recently several Asian immigrants died from eating mushrooms that looked exactly like those they knew well back home.
Angel of death – The white one on the right is the worst.
Go with an experienced, local guide. I’m fortunate to have one in the family. Dave Rudie has been hunting local, edible mushrooms for over 25 years. He’s obsessive, doesn’t take chances and tests. He never eats a mushroom when he’s even the slightest bit uncertain. He also knows several prime locations where edible mushrooms sprout, given the right conditions.
Candy caps with dirty bottoms snapped off – the better to clean later.
San Diego is built along a series of mesas. Its corrugated hillsides are topped with buildings. Suburban neighborhoods tower over shallow, narrow valleys. Most roads are not straight and drivers must learn routes that twist and turn. Major roads line the wider canyons and narrower ravines are peppered with hiking trails, some private and wild. Given the right conditions, a few of those hide small patches of mushrooms.
My favorite mushroom harvest – pictures of various stages.
There are signs at trail heads detailing what may and may not be done on public trails. The city tells you not to pick plants. Local, Steve Nau, grew up in San Diego and bemoans cactus-less canyons. “Most of the best ended up in people’s yards.”
Leave nothing but footprints.
I fudge and think, “Fungi aren’t plants!” We give back and always bring several plastic bags. Most of the time they end up full of garbage. If we’re lucky a bag might carry a few wild, edible mushrooms home too.
Wild, edible mushrooms sauteed in butter and garlic.
If you go:
It’s safest is to only harvest pictures and leave the fungus to whither, furthering natural forest cycles.
Mushrooms are good mimics. The most poisonous look innocuous. Some you shouldn’t even touch. Know what to avoid.
Join a club like the San Diego Mycological Society. Attend meetings and their annual festival. Find out what grows in your area. Only go hunting with experts.
Read up on wild, edible mushrooms and study pictures well (see link below.)Learn testing techniques. Get a second opinion and don’t eat anything unless you are certain. ‘Maybe’ can be life-threatening.
Pick safe, mature edible mushrooms and leave the smallest to grow.
Only take what you need.
Most safe, wild, edible mushrooms need to be eaten within a day or two, if not hours.
In Palm Springs chances are you’ve walked on his star, strolled past the cafes and the Tiki lounge where the King hung out with his entourage. Even though Hollywood’s golden age celebrities and Elvis left long ago their memories live on in the playground oasis of Palm Springs. The city has preserved a walkway of the stars, home and historical tours abound and each year a handful of events commemorate the areas glittery past.
I hooked up with Best of the Best Tours for a leisurely ride around neighborhoods where the elite still meet. No towering, crowded bus, we cruised in a luxury van that was unobtrusive on the private streets. Even after visiting Palm Springs at least a dozen times, there were vast areas I hadn’t seen before. Our guide, Cynthia excitedly shared stories about how the other half lived and a bit about the city’s history.
Centuries ago, ancestors of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla (pronounced Kaw-we-ah)Indians settled in the Palm Springs area. In 1927 Prescott Thresher Stevens imagined a village playground taking advantage of the hot springs, mountain vistas and proximity to Los Angeles. Today his hotel site, the Mirador, has been rebuilt as a hospital using the original blueprints.
The original Mirador Hotel transformed into a hospital.
Once flash floods swept down the steep mountainsides just west of town. What was tragedy for early Indian families affected new housing developments as well. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created a deep trench and used the terrain’s boulders as a buttress. They’re stacked just a few hundred feet from Elvis Presley’s Graceland West.
Elvis lived and recorded here in the 1970’s
A row of rose bushes, a flower that Elvis’ mother loved, still thrive along the gated yard. Sadly other artifacts haven’t fared as well but if you look closely at the illuminated house number you’ll see a profile. A much larger one once hung on the chimney facing the street.
Earlier Elvis brought his new bride to Palm Springs and moved into a Mid-Century modern home on a Las Palmas’ neighborhood cul de sac. The house is a series of concentric circles and visitors can see more details of the property on tours and at one of many events held there yearly. Look below for more information.
Don’t despair because Elvis left the building* long ago. In Palm Springs you can still walk in his footsteps. I’m glad it was so easy with Best of the Best Tours.
*’Elvis has left the building” was an end-of-concert announcement to discourage audiences pleading for encore after encore.
Elvis left but experience his life here:
Elvis Presley on the Walk of the Stars: 100 South Palm Canyon Drive.
The Honeymoon Hideaway:Interior tours are available several times a day and there are several events held on the grounds each season. Address: 1350 Ladera Circle, Vista Las Palmas neighborhood.
Graceland West: The home where Elvis recorded eight of his hits. Graceland West in the Little Tuscany neighborhood: 845 West Chino Canyon.
Caliente Tropics Lounge: Renovated in 2012, the Tiki lounge was a match for Elvis who had filmed three Hawaiian movies by the time he and Rat Pack celebs made this a favorite stop. Caliente Tropics: 411 E. Palm Canyon Drive.
Elvis memorabilia:The Hard Rock Hotel displays several Elvis items from their vaults at 150 South Indian Canyon Drive, downtown.
Elvis Eats: Two places where the King would settle into a booth and order his favorite meals.
The Original Las Casuelas: 368 North Palm Canyon Drive, downtown. Website for hours.
Sherman’s Deli and Bakery: 401 Tahquitz Way, downtown. A famous desert deli that serves the King’s favorite sandwich – hot pastrami.
Riviera Palm Springs: Before Elvis purchased a home in the desert he’d often stay at the Riviera Hotel at 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive.
Best of Best Tours: Take a ride on the Hollywood side, a guided hike, or visit the wind farm with Best of Best Tours.
Walk in the Stars Itinerary: Several options for self-guided and hosted walking tours from Visit Palm Springs.
The neighborhood is usually sedate. However at dusk during the holiday season, one corner flares into life. Towering animatronic robots whir into motion. Giant inflatables rise and over a million holiday lights flare to life. If Tim Burton stepped into this neighborhood art display I imagine he’d feel right at home. It’s the official site of the largest residential light display in the United States and created at the home of artist Kenny Irwin.
Robolights has been growing on the Irwin family two acre home lot since 1986 when young Kenny Irwin nailed together a giant robot. Later his room at college was strung with masses of lights. Now in his early forties, he adds new parts and pieces to the displays each year and spends months stringing millions of lights for the holiday show.
There are narrow paths and covered bridges, a variety of Santas, reindeer heads coming out of toilet bowls, reindeer-like mannequins led by a Santa in a tank, tall creatures from a vivid imagination and too many to list.
Carousels whirl, music churns and ticket booths beckon. The experience is totally unique and while some of it seems macabre, the heart of the matter is that Kenny wants to entertain.
“The general purpose of my art, and the annual art and light display, is to both counteract the negative energy in the world and gear people into positive mindset when they experience my work. Aspects of my work also are to encourage and inspire others about sustainability, space exploration and tech.” ~ Kenny Irwin
He douses many of his assemblages with paint in monochrome hues. Microwaveland is a maze of screens and bulbous creatures, some parts indeed created inside microwaves. Santa’s workshop is a shrine to Kenny’s visions with every inch covered in collections of recycled, re-purposed pieces.
This season the nonprofit group Boo2bullying.org has been serving hot chocolate and cookies. A volunteer accepts donations in a sink bowl.
Kenny’s father condoned the endeavor from the beginning. “Going to this place is an experience. Nothing you can say, except amazing.” It may be a bit strong for young kids but Kenny sees it this way, “Most all kids never want to leave Robolights and the premise is, “It’s a why not world in a why world.” That positive message is worth exploring. With enough support from the growing crowds, Robolights will grow even brighter in the years to come.
If you go to see the holiday lights:
When: The holiday light is open from Thanksgiving week to the first week of January. Call for days and times at other times of the year. TEXT 1-760-774-0318 to make an appointment to see art inside the grounds year round.
As of December 14th, the City of Palm Springs is allowing limited entry. Check the Facebook Page as the hours may change. ROBOLIGHTS hours daily 4-9:30 until Jan 1st. New toys and clothes for the Syrian refugees are being gathered to make their lives more joyful. Drop off booth located to the right as you enter.
The renewed storefront on the 600 block of Broadway, Los Angeles
A whiff of memory was all that remained – the whoosh of an indoor waterfall, giant trees stretching overhead and lunch with my father in the big city. That toddler’s memory came back into focus as I entered the newly re-opened Clifton’s downtown LA. It was all there – the waterfall, hand-painted murals and a giant Redwood tree lifting its branches several stories into the atrium.
The space overflows with odd impressions of nature and that was exactly what Clifford Clinton designed. He opened the doors in 1932 as an oasis for the spirit during the Great Depression. Clifford was born to Salvation Army parents. With philanthropy in his blood, he offered meals on a pay-what-you-can plan at a time when one out of four restaurants were closing. It worked and before he moved on to fighting corruption at City Hall, he opened three cafeterias. Today only the ‘Brookdale’ location remains.
Once you could “Dine free unless delighted.” Memorial plate.
Within these doors a forest calls to you – a
mountain land of forest trees and sky –
offering woodland peace and beauty to the tired heart and city weary eye.
So enter, friend, to walk where brooklets run down rocky crevices, through fern and reed. Dine here and rest; and when your meal is done, may something more than food have met your need.
~ Esther Baldwin York’s quote from the original Clifton downtown LA postcard, and still sold.
The original neon – shining continuously, just, since 1932.
Truly it’s a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities.’ In the basement near the women’s bathroom sits the “oldest continuously active Neon sign in the world,” (except for a couple of WWII blackouts and a city grid failure.) Hard-wired into the electrical system, the tubes were discovered still shining during the recent renovations. Originally they illuminated a painting of a forest. Clifford was a fan of neon and had it installed after seeing one of the first West Coast neon signs at a Packard showroom a few blocks away.
Downstairs bar at Clifton’s downtown LA
A few dining dioramas inside Clifton’s downtown LA
Elsewhere there are tree stump bar stools, tables adjacent to buffalo and bear, hand-painted murals and even a quote from Joseph Conrad painted on the wall. If only the walls could talk and explain why they’re painted at that spot and why that cryptic line!
Bandstand inside Clifton’s Cafeteria. Note the quote in brown, to the left on the wall.
Quote from Joseph Conrad on the Clifton’s downtown LA bandstand wall.
The wise visit the cafeteria food line and eat before exploring. There are four floors of space and three bars. The top floors are open for special events and music on the weekend. The map room oozes lux and a Tiki Bar is in the works on the top floor (hopefully it will resurrect some of the destroyed Pacific Seas’ cafeteria furnishings. For now, study the jukebox by the front door. It houses a miniature of that facade.)
Map room in the upstairs bar at Clifton’s downtown LA
Clifton’s Cafeteria line
Classic Jello at Clifton’s Cafeteria
Booths and tables, alcoves and more stuffed wildlife fill the upstairs cafeteria mezzanine. I brought ice tea and a slice of apple pie to a table under an arch and studied the street below. The sidewalk is mottled and grimy. Modern storefronts line the street but above them sit the original Art Deco and Art Nouveau, terracotta tiles. Elsewhere in the neighborhood gargoyles and embellishments are shrouded in dust. Filigreed rooftops reach into a smoggy sky.
If ever there was a time that visitors could use a little whimsy and fantasy; a glimmer of ‘woodland peace,’ that’s now. Visit Clifton’s downtown LA and leave warmed in the belly and the spirit.
On the counter at Clifton’s downtown LA.
If you go to Clifton’s downtown LA:
Location: 648 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
Hours (check website as these are expanding)
11am – 9pm Cafeteria
11am – 2am Monarch Bar
6pm – 2am Gothic Bar
Saturday and Sunday
10am – 9pm Cafeteria
11am – 2am Monarch Bar
6pm – 2am Gothic Bar
Visit the website for the latest renovation news and event listings.
Step out in style as Dapper Day hosts a NYE 2016 soiree at Cliftons. Tickets here.
When an invitation comes to spend a day apple picking in Julian, there can be only one answer – YES!
Julian lies a bit North and East of San Diego proper. Originally a Gold Rush town, today it’s famous for apples in all their incarnations. The hills are covered in orchards. The Cuyamaca mountain slopes are a shuddering cold in the winter and that’s what the trees need to flourish. The town has had its ups and downs with fires, booms and busts, but visit any weekend and you’ll be sharing the board walks with lots of visitors. No worry there’s pie enough for all.
Apple Star Orchard Barn
My excursion started on Friday morning when I met with Maria Hesse, a sustainable lifestyle designer and personal chef. Her son, Jonah, kept us company with stories and observations from the back seat as we drove the winding back roads up to Julian. Maria’s steady hand let me know she’s done the drive before. Within an hour we passed through town and along unpaved streets into farmland. There were several wineries and other U-Pick places (More than half a dozen are on the Visit Julian site.) Our destination was Apple Star, a certified organic orchard, with acres of apples and pear trees.
Pulling past a century old barn, we were one of the few cars in the parking field. Within minutes we’d signed in, paid for two bags of fruit and the caretaker recounted the available varieties in a cadence more like poetry than a list.
Apple Star Red Flyers ready for action.
We visited just after the season opened. The apple trees have been picked over since. Still there’s other fruit to be had and the website is updated regularly. The notice as of October 1st:
WE STILL HAVE A LARGE CROP OF RIPE SWEET PEARS: BARTLET, ANJOU, COMICE and BOSC READY FOR PICKING.
SORRY, THE APPLES HAVE BEEN PICKED OVER BUT WITH PERSEVERANCE SOME CAN STILL BE FOUND.
A line of Radio Flyer wagons and picking poles waited next to a tall, gated fence. There’s good reason for its height, being an organic orchard, critters like to visit. I spied a huge deer rushing downhill into a shady grove and hiding place right after we parked. Bird song kept us company. A wild turkey strolled between lanes with one of her brood racing to keep up.
Wild turkeys in the orchard.
We picked carefully. Worm holes and bird bites didn’t deter us. Soon our bags were full of perfect pears and apples. There’s nothing as sweet as pulling a ripe apple off the branch and crunching into its juicy flesh. Encouraged by the caretaker, we had to sample a few. It was due diligence. Right?
Before an hour was up our bags were full to overflowing and we were hungry for lunch. Within minutes we were in town. Main street was fairly quiet and parking was easy (not always so on holidays and weekends.)
Fountain in Miners Diner
Set in a building dating back to 1885, Miners Diner is one of Maria and Jonah’s favorite places. Besides having delicious burgers and soups, floats at an old fashioned fountain, and ice cream sundaes, there’s a Candy Mine in the back. Jonah picked out a favorite and I found a small pack of Clove gum. Haven’t seen that in ages.
Buggy ride in Julian.
There was time to walk a bit before hitting the road. Strolling is easy in Julian and comfy benches sit in the shade outside storefronts. There’s a biker paraphernalia shop. They’re big customers as Motorcycle clubs love cruising the mountain roads and stop in town to eat. Old-timey souvenirs fill more than a few shelves but the Gold Rush vibe is true. We were on a mission, searching the best place for pie. I selected a crumble-crust, Apple-Rhubarb and Maria chose a Bumble Berry (mixed berry) to take home from the famous Mom’s Pies bakery.
Mom’s Pie shop.
It made the ride home fly by knowing we’d soon be digging into lush, fresh slices after our day spent apple picking in Julian.
If you go:
If you miss the harvest time in Julian consider U Pick opportunities in other areas of Southern California. The Local Harvest site keeps a current list.
Check out road conditions in winter. It can be snowy and icy in the mountains, even while balmy at the beaches in San Diego.
Find all the events, restaurants, bed and breakfast lodging and more on the Visit Julian site.
Miners Diner is just one of dozens of cute and delicious cafes along the few blocks of Julian.
Julian makes a fun day-trip or family outing. It’s also pretty romantic if you’re looking for a special date spot (just saying!)
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Given a chance to drive or fly, I chose the road. It might be my stubbornly independent spirit or an American upbringing. Cruising down a freeway that is dependable and open, without tariff or detours, is a luxury, the ultimate freedom, and California is full of highways lying in wait. Going solo on a long distance drive up through California’s Central Valley can revive a worn spirit if done well.
A well worn route
Mom and dad met in San Francisco but settled in Southern California. Several times a year they’d stretch sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon, my siblings and I would pile in and we’d drive up over night. My parents took turns napping and driving while we slept – or that was the plan. The car trembled each time trucks rushed past us on the narrow two lane highway. I shuddered as well often too scared to sleep but loved arriving in San Francisco at dawn. Today there’s an asphalt ribbon running up that valley – a multi-lane, state-of-the-art divided highway.
Having fuel that is affordable makes driving a joy as well. Given a choice, the carbon offset between what an airplane burns and a car disgorges makes driving more ecologically effective for medium distance trips.(Public transportation is best for short trips and flying is best for long journeys, such as cross-country.*) I drive a small, compact car which, while nearly ten years old, still gets decent mileage. These factors make driving solo between San Diego and San Francisco an easy decision. I wanted the car’s freedom to pull over on a whim too.
I love having company on the road but if that’s not an option I’ll drive by myself. It means being vigilant on several levels. Without someone to spell me, pulling over to stretch and eat, staying alert and doing my Drivetime Yoga stretches helps the ride go smoothly.
As a woman alone on the road there are safety concerns but having driven the Interstate 5 dozens of times over the years gives me confidence. I don’t take chances. It’s like developing street smarts, you learn to be cautious and prepared.
A few safety issues
No one should spend an inordinate amount of time in a dark, deserted rest stop. But given the choice, there’s relative safety in numbers. I pull through, checking out how many cars versus trucks are there, how well lit it is and if I can find a parking space close to the bathrooms. I’ve napped and taken advantage of clean facilities, stretched stiff muscles and admired the scenery while pulled over with a small crowd of travelers.
Fill the tank and keep an eye on the gas gauge. Running out of gas on a pounding, vast freeway far from stations is no fun. Avoid the annoyance, loss of time or danger of getting stuck in a compromising situation.
Make sure the tires are adequately inflated and in good condition. Properly inflated tires also improve mileage.
Pay attention to the temperature gauge. Regular oil changes and fluid checks are important long road trip or driving at home. If driving up mountain passes, watch that the car doesn’t overheat.
Travel with insurance and road service options. I’ve been a Automobile Club member for decades. They’ve helped me change a few flat tires over the years.
Let family and/or friends know where you’re headed and your route. Share progress reports online with texts, Skype or Facetime (but never while driving!)
Not the lonely traveler
I’m not alone. For company there’s nothing like an audio book. Long road trips or commutes are the only time I have to really listen. Downloading favorite podcasts is simple with my smartphone. My old buggy has a CD player and I rent books from the library. I love browsing the stacks for interesting titles and favorite authors.
Bugs – An issue on a long drive.
The joy of discovery
I love having the freedom to pull over on a whim. I’ve discovered some cool truck stops, eaten my share of fresh pie and locally roasted coffee. There are interesting, little towns to poke around in when you need a break. On the last trip I ended up staying over in Stockton. With a few hours before meetings in the Bay area, the few hours walking around the downtown core were packed with cool discoveries. Roadside attractions are plentiful on smaller roads like Highway 101 but not as much along the I-5 corridor. A parallel route like the smaller, Highway 99 are more interesting but also packed with narrower and fewer lanes. It’s a toss up.
View from the top of the historic Orestimba viewpoint.
Don’t be a road ninja
Not an energy drink fan, I knew that I would be too tired to do the trip by myself in one swoop. Where to spend the night? Apps are a great help for last minute booking but it’s easier to have a destination in mind and know where you’ll be sleeping. On the recent trip I choose a budget hotel, knowing there were less than 12 hours between checking in and out. Hotel rewards program can work in your favor. I’ve booked with Hotel Tonight, used Trip Advisor for referrals and have never had a bad experience with Airbnb. I always call the hotel directly before arriving to make sure they know I’m checking in late and to confirm. Before booking, I like to call and see if there’s a better rate with my AAA membership.
The historic spot, Orestimba marker.
On my return trip I needed a rest and pulled over for a brief stretch. The viewpoint road curled up and away from the freeway. A few other cars were parked there, so I felt comfortable getting out to walk around. Once out of my air conditioned capsule, the heat was punishing.
It was an unusual pinnacle, braced between that asphalt ribbon and the aqueduct carrying water to the parched Southern Californian homes. But there was more to discover. Rolling hills swept to the west, dotted with a few cattle. A cluster of green trees stood in contrast to the dry, golden hills. To the East the flatlands was a patchwork of fields, industrial outcroppings and clusters of homes. A rock memorial stood at the top.
Orestimba is a local Indian word meaning “meeting place.” Nearby are famous Indian rocks and a Sycamore grove where mission padres met with Indian leaders. The marker points to “The Old Road,” that traversed the west side of the valley from San Pedro to San Antonio. It was erected on April 20th, 1974 by Estanisla Chaper 58.
I’d found my meeting place, not with other people but my own spirit. Perhaps it was the ghosts of the padres and native Americans, but I felt strong, connected and happy. It was a good long distance drive. A few more chapters in my audio book remained between me and home.
If you go:
The distance between San Diego and San Francisco is about 460 miles. That means nearly 8 hours of driving. The road going up the San Joaquin, or the Central Valley, is almost a straight shot once you get over the ‘Grapevine’ pass. It’s not the most interesting drive, often hot and the traffic zips through between 65 and 80 miles an hour – most often on the high side. Lots of trucks use this route as well. Amenities and rest stop facilities are about ten to thirty miles apart.
Aztlan, the mythical region where the Aztecs first emerged and then migrated south to resettle. Aztlan, the lands annexed by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1946. Aztlan, a rallying reminder of the La Raza movement seeking better conditions in the lands now deemed America. All this and more is memorialized in passionate brushstrokes on the concrete pilings holding San Diego’s Coronado Bridge. Across Barrio Logan powerful murals stand proud, too often part of hidden San Diego.
One representation of Aztlan which crossed the current American Southwest.
Once the neighborhood contained the “second largest Chicano Barrio community on the west coast, with a population of almost twenty thousand.*” It stretched all the way to the bay with a community pier constructed as a WPN project in the 1930’s.
Restaurant Depot warehouse mural detail.
When the U.S. Navy and defense industries moved in along the shores of San Diego Bay, Barrio Logan lost access to the waterfront, as well as housing and local businesses. Jobs came from shipping and supporting industries, and many remain today, but an tender truce remains as business and community interests still chafing from close proximity.
Main Street at Caesar Chavez Bouldvard
Several of the murals in Chicano Park and under the Coronado Bridge.
The park was founded in the 1970’s and while some of the murals are being revitalized, new work is still added occasionally. Walk through the area and its easy to see the different graphic styles that have been applied over the decades. More recent additions include children’s murals, a recent homage to Frida Kahlo and other historical icons.
Nino’s del Mundo mural
Struggle immortalized in Barrio Logan
Detail from Aztlan mural*History of Chicano Park.
The local shopping center and housing developments also host bright artwork reflecting the community roots.
Dancing mural Barrio Logan
If you get hungry walking the area, the neighborhood has several outstanding, casual dining spots and the huge Gonzalez Market has one of the largest selections of Mexican spices, chiles, cheeses and prepared foods this side of the border.
Coronado Bridge pilings
The Coronado Bridge still casts a long shadow across the area. Chicano Park remains brightly defiant. Park benches may be peppered with street people but kids play hide and seek between the pilings. Family meetings and celebrations crowd in on weekends. Here’s an authentic reflection of the city’s Hispanic heritage, the highs and lows in vibrant contrast, not quite hidden San Diego.
If you go:
Access Barrio Logan by the I-5 freeway at the Caesar Chavez Parkway exit.
Take the Trolley. The Blue Line has a dedicated Barrio Logan stop just south of downtown.
Salud the newer restaurant wins top ratings weekly.
We think that trees are stationary. Still. Unless they’re one of Tolkien’s Middle Earth Ents, trees stay put, rooted in one place. We grow up climbing branches in trees that don’t speak or walk. They stand suspended in time and place but the truth is they move – a lot.
On a recent road trip through the Pacific Northwest to Redwood National Park, I watched tall, skinny cedars swinging their tops. Their limbs waved, caught by unseen breath. Along the highway stood chorus lines of pine. Their branches waved in updraft currents from speeding cars.
We drove through a giant redwood tree. The Chandelier Tree is a tourist attraction and had a line of cars waiting to pass through. After the drive and obligatory picture I looked up and up and up.
Topped with ruffles of green, the immense tree seemed none the worse for hosting a hole in its belly. It’s top hat of green rippled in the sunlight, shaken by a wind we couldn’t feel far below on the ground.
Driving into Redwood National Park, the redwoods were stunning in the afternoon sun. Young saplings grow quickly to their first 100 feet and then slow. Burls, bulging knotted lumps, harbor seeds that only activate when the tree is stressed or in danger.
The burl-wood base of one giant redwood tree.
In Redwood National Park there’s a meandering trail through Lady Bird Johnson Grove. The former first lady and President Richard Nixon dedicated the area in 1969:
“One of my most unforgettable memories of the past year is walking through the Redwoods…seeing the lovely shafts of light filtering through the trees so far above, feeling the majesty and silence of that forest and watching a salmon rise in one of those swift streams…all our problems seemed to fall into perspective and I think every one of us walked out more serene and happier.” ~ Lady Bird Johnson
Stopping on the trail and looking up into the treetops it’s easy to see Redwoods leaning and swaying as if to the whispers of unheard melodies. Those trees are some of the oldest creatures on earth and just might have lessons for the rest of us: Keep your roots strong but dance when you can.I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please share!