Category Archives: California
Much more than a surf and beach getaway, Oceanside is a dining destination where parking is abundant and you can always get a seat at the table or bar. That is unless you need to get into the 35 seat speakeasy, 101 Proof, on a busy night. The city ripples with tantalizing eating and drinking options. And not just individual places, the Thursday Night Market overflows with curated vendors offering affordable and unique tastes. Choose from plank fired Salmon, Ghawazee small plates, Japanese cakes, Polish pierogi, gluten free pastries for example. Entertainment fills a plaza with live music, Bungee jumping, henna painting. Strolling, eating and enjoying the crowd makes for a relaxing night. I loved simply watching an expert baker toss pizza crust overhead next to a wood-fired grill at one the best places to eat in Oceanside.
Get a taste of the freshest, organically-certified produce from the weekend stand at Cyclops Farms. Meander up to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the Pacific. Farmer, Luke Girling, spent the last few years filling this huge, residential acreage with unique greens, fruits, and flowers for local chefs. His inspiration has caught on as part of an urban farming movement that’s filling suburban neighborhoods with clean and bountiful harvests. The community loves it too. As I stood there on the morning of a tour, he waved to the street several times as neighbors passed by. Follow his Facebook page to sign up for one of the exclusive ‘Water Bill Dinners’ he hosts monthly at tables on the property.
The Millers Table
Staci Miller has a flair for unique details, creating a restaurant that’s an experience, as well as delicious presentations. The intimate space contains a huge community table decorated with lights and candles. Focusing on artful sandwiches, inspired vegetables, and fresh locally sourced proteins, the culinary team serves their creations without waitstaff. Curious about your hummus, where the delicious rolls come from, what the best wine or beer pairing is? Ask Staci or her team as they stop by the table. Savvy locals know to call ahead for seats or order a picnic basket for a patio or beachside meal.
Local Tap House
Don’t let the casual vibe fool you. LTH takes great food and drink seriously. Yes, the patio is pet-friendly, garage doors open to the sea breezes and bicycle teams may fill tables. It’s all affordable fun based on a menu full of surprises. LTH embodies a laid-back beach style with an eye to delicious quality.
Wrench and Rodent
With a name like that you’d better be good. Chef and founder, Davin Waite, twists his punk rock sensibilities into the freshest seafood presentations imaginable. Each ingredient is ‘chef selected.’ The ‘Sebasstropub’ is irreverently decorated (yes, there be rodent art,) and small, with a large patio in front and back, and an entrance from the parking lot through a taco shop. Sushi lovers wax eloquent. Fish connoisseurs hum with approval. Just go!
This new restaurant is making waves in the San Diego culinary scene. While Chef William Eick serves ‘small plates based on a contemporary American cuisine’ don’t assume that you’ve had anything like this. The restaurant is slender, intimate, and set along the main downtown block of Mission Boulevard. 608 is definitely buzzworthy as one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.
Mainstreet Oceanside Sunset Market
Getting to the best places to eat in Oceanside
- Urge Gastropub and the 101 Proof Speakeasy
- Cyclops Farms Stand and Water Bill Dinners
- The Millers Table, a neighborhood eatery on the South Coast Highway
- Wrench and Rodent, Sebasstropub on South Coast Highway
- LTH, Local Tap House, in a former market building on South Coast Highway
- 608 Oceanside – American cuisine reimagined on Mission Boulevard
- Mainstreet Sunset Market in downtown Oceanside
I’ve been in and out and past Oceanside so many times while cruising between San Diego and Los Angeles. It was been so much fun discovering more about this coastal gem and I thank the Oceanside Visitors Bureau for arranging a tour for the members of IFWTWA. I’ll be back!
Sharing is caring! Here’s a pin about the best places to eat.
Anticipation ran high and rumors began before the rainstorms stopped. Is this the year for desert wildflowers Superbloom? Winds, hard rains, and long years of drought have stymied the annual desert blooms over the last few years. So we waited to see if the conditions were right for the desert wildflowers to pop and finally got lucky.
Watch this video about the desert wildflowers road trip:
Careful timing and preparation for a desert road trip can save your life
The area can be scorching with temperatures regularly over 105 degrees for a good part of the year. Make sure your car is topped out with antifreeze and water whenever you go. There’s a steep climb to navigate over the mountains from the San Diego region. It’s also one of my favorite drives. The boulders surrounding the summit are formidably beautiful and the views as you emerge from cloud-filled peaks are breath-taking.
When heading east along the southern route, it’s also good to know what the wind conditions are. Take extra precautions or another route if you have a high profile vehicle. I’ve seen trucks blown onto their sides and it can be a long wait for assistance in the remote area.
We set our trajectory to the timing of the first desert wildflowers reports. Wildflowers emerge first in the south just north of the Mexican border. We headed there guided by various tracking sites (see the list below.) There’s a wash on a side road from the freeway that leads to Calexico and it’s been our lucky spot.
From there we reversed our route driving north along Highway 78 towards the town of Ocotillo Wells. Before we crossed the freeway we made a pit stop for coffee at the Ocotillo Wells Chevron truck stop. A great discovery was the freshly made coffee in individual Keurig-style machines. We also discovered some pretty unique snacks on the counter (and left them there!)
Ocotillo Wells is a tiny town but worth a slow cruise. The locals keep it light with creative yard art. It’s also where off-roaders find repair and body shops. We cruised through on our way to lunch in Anza Borrego. (Read more in my earlier post about desert nomads and where the locals eat)
Campers and weary road warriors often stop at the Agua Caliente Hot Springs. The pools are managed by the county, so this isn’t a spa experience. The adult-only indoor pool has jacuzzi jets and the outdoor pool is family friendly. There are lockers, changing rooms and a few other amenities.
Once you’ve entered the Anza Borrego Park bee-line to the Visitors Center. It’s natively landscaped and a carefully-positioned building full of interactive exhibits, trail experts, and information about where to go. Movies will entrance the kids and the gift shop is a fun diversion too. The Visitor center packs its calendar with lots of events whether desert wildflowers are out or not.
Borrego Springs – First Dark Sky Community
Star-gazing is wonderful year round in the Borrego Springs area. As the first Dark Sky Community in California, airplanes flying into the small airport angle their lights down and lights are modified on streets, businesses, and homes. Check out star-gazing opportunities if you are staying in the area.
Make sure to save time to see some of the immense metal sculptures that dot the desert landscape. Sculptor, Ricardo Breceda planted his ‘Sky Art’ in the open reaches of the area. Most evolved from his imagination (A giant sea dragon crosses the road!) to Plio-Pleistocene animals and dinosaurs. Spanish explorers, turtles, fantasy creatures and bighorn sheep make great photo opps. In fact, on busy weekends, you might have to wait in line to get your shot. (See link to map below.)
The flowers drew us to the desert this year and we weren’t disappointed. So many plants were in stages of blooming and the desert floor had a low mesh of green growth that I’d never witnessed before. Nature wasn’t wasting a moment to take advantage of the rainfall. Our bonus as we headed home and up the incline into the cloudy summit was a full rainbow.
***Check out my earlier post about the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve north of Los Angeles for more wildflower encounters.
Tips for finding desert wildflowers:
- My go-to site for desert wildflowers is Desert USA, which covers more than the Anza Borrego region.
- The Anza-Borrego Foundation has information and daily updates during desert wildflower season.
- The Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce also has info on what to see and do year round.
- A Package of information about what to find in Anza Borrego is available from the Desert USA Store
- Don’t miss seeing the gigantic metal sculptures. Here’s a guide to finding the 130 sculptures scattered throughout the desert region.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
- Sign up for the Academy newsletter and be among the first to get notices about special screenings and events. Enter the Oscar Night Lottery!
- 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.
- Follow the People Magazine Oscar Fan Contest and enter for a chance to win.
- Visit the original Los Angeles Farmers Market day or night.
- If you can’t make it to the Academy Awards or related events, don’t despair. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences is opening a state of the art museum that will be open to the public in 2019.
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The 2017 IAGTO Sustainability Award
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.
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.
Dirty Harry played here
Can anyone visit Pebble Beach Golf Resort?
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.
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.
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
Download a coupon for 2 for 1 wine tasting coupon!
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.
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.
If you go wine tasting at the Temecula wineries:
- 2 for 1 Wine Tasting Coupon! Mount Palomar winery exclusive.
- Taste the Palomar Mountain wines, have lunch, enjoy live music or dinner theater in the Mount Palomar, Anata Bistro and Bar.
- Stroll through the gardens, attend performances, shop, and sip in Europa Village
- Arrange tours, transportation and explore all there is to do in the Temecula wine country with help from the Visitor’s Center.
My wine tour and lunch were arranged and hosted through my membership the IFWTWA.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Knotts Website: https://www.knotts.com/
Tickets at the Buena Park Visitors Center: http://visitbuenapark.reservedirect.com/da/knotts-berry-farm-buena-park
California Welcome Center: http://www.visitbuenapark.com/visitors/california-welcome-center/
Riding a Segway through San Francisco:
- The Electric Tour Company has weekly specials and a detailed website. (Say hi to Aaron for me!)
- 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.
Duc Loi Market
Craftsman and Wolves
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re hungry for delicious, local food in the Valencia Street area:
- Try one of the several Edible or Drinkable Excursions around the SF Bay
- Tacolicious and Mosto on Valencia Street
- Taste small batch chocolate inside Dandelion Chocolate Roastery
- Eat a Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich from the Duc Loi Counter
- Pick up fresh tortillas at La Palma Mexitessen
- Take your dinner with you from the Bi-Rite Market
- Savor a stunning dessert from Craftsman and Wolves
- Find out where the San Francisco Organic Ice Cream Truck will park next
- Sip a tiki cocktail with your Lao Issan dinner at Hawker Fare
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Nomads in the desert at the Road Runner Complex
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.
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.
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. Among GPS services are 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.
Great Apps: Google Maps or Waze
GPS installed in your car is a great driving tool but Apps can be a great alternative. Google Maps will give you alternatives and Waze offers even more route changes. Waze introduced Carpool options where you sign up and find others to share or rides.
When I ride to Los Angeles I’ll plug in the car’s GPS coordinates for my destination before leaving San Diego and then check on Google Maps to see how the two compare. I’ve also found that having a dashboard, cell phone holder is a great way to keep from getting distracted juggling your phone while checking route conditions.
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.
More tips to master transportation in Southern California: Ride-sharing and Vacation Driving Tips
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.
Trivia Answer: US 101 is considered a two-digit route, its “first digit” being 10.
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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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.”
More about San Diego whale watching:
- Hornblower Cruise schedules and events in San Diego online
- The San Diego whale and dolphin watching season runs from from Dec. 13 to April 24th
- Review whale sighting reports online at sandiegowhalewatching.com
- 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:
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Hello Betty Fish House has a California beach theme and fresh eats inside or out.
- Swami’s on Mission Avenue is one of the first healthy eating cafes in San Diego
- 333 Pacific is a Cohn family restaurant with a bit more polish than most in the pier neighborhood. Stylish cocktails and sumptuous fare.
- Masters Kitchen and Cocktail is a few blocks from downtown on South Coast Highway. It’s one of many innovative brew pubs / casual dining spots in the area. (Of course I had to include my namesake!)
- Living Tea Brewing Company serves fresh, organic Kombucha in their storefront at 302 Wisconsin Avenue. It’s also available bottled around San Diego.
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…
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.
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.
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.
About Collaboration Kitchen
- Support the campaign to help Chef Tim Johnson get a new kidney
- Follow the Collaboration Kitchen Facebook Page
- 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
- Here’s the Mushroom Hunter’s bible: Mushrooms Demystified
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Read more: My post about a surprise, Thanksgiving mushroom harvest.
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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
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.
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.
Elvis Events: Visit the Elvis Honeymoon site for tickets
- January 4th, Elvis’ Birthday Tribute
- Weekend with the King: First weekend in May
- Annual tribute to the King: August 22nd
- Elvis Halloween Contest
- Rock-a-Holly Christmas: Various dates in December.
Thank you to Visit Palm Springs and Best of Best Tours for enlightening me about the the celebrity past and hosting my tour.
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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.
“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.
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.
Where: 1077 East Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs
Support the effort and follow the Robolights Facebook Page
More about Kenny and his art at his website.
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
Interested in more vintage glamour? Read my post about the Cicada Club in West LA.
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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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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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