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Monday, September 21, 2015

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S BEST BEACHES - As Selected by Us



We live in beach country. No, we don’t live on the water or even particularly close but a half hour drive down the freeway and there we are.





So what are our favorite beaches in Southern California? Not too many that tourists come to see. Santa Monica is OK, Venice is a bit too weird for us, Malibu’s just too hard to get to…especially in a wheelchair.


Watch the Video!

Some of you are scratching your heads and wondering just what’s left. Plenty.  Read on, watch the video above, and you’ll find our choices for the best beaches in Southern California.

Starting at the south end of Orange County, one very well-known and popular beach starts us off. Laguna Beach is an artsy town full of coves popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. The main beach is a people watcher’s paradise.


Nearby, artist Robert Wyland…the famous painter of whale murals around the world…lives on the waterfront. On the lower floor of the house is his office, a shop, and a hallway leading out to his terrace on the sand. You’re welcome to spend some time relaxing there, looking through his telescope, and just drinking in the view.

As with most area beaches, parking is tough but you should be able to find something.


Up the coast is ritzy Newport Beach. Waterfront mansions abut expensive shopping malls and high end restaurants. In the middle of all this is Balboa Peninsula which protects Newport’s harbor.


In from the peninsula is tiny Balboa Island reachable by bridge from Pacific Coast Highway. That’s the boring way. Instead we launch from the Fun Zone amusement park on the little Balboa Island Auto Ferry, a barge-like boat that has been floating cars…three at a time…across the channel for almost a century.


Huntington Beach, incorporated in 1909, struck oil…literally.  Pumps are sprinkled through the town, which has now grown into a city with a population approaching 200,000. World renowned for its surf, it is not uncommon for major surfing championships to draw over 100,000 spectators.

The wheelchair friendly concrete pier allows good, close-up views of the local surfers tackling the swells.


Beginning surfers find the gentler swells and small town atmosphere of Seal Beach more welcoming than its big neighbor to the south. We like it for the number of great restaurants and laid-back ambiance. A winter’s night dinner by the fireplace at O’Malley’s Pub on Main Street, followed by an evening stroll to the pier is about as good as it gets.


Across the county line from Seal Beach, Long Beach is the largest waterfront city in California except for San Francisco. It’s also the 7th largest city in the state, just ahead of Oakland and just behind Sacramento with around half a million people living there.



There truly is a long beach here but the port’s breakwater kills any ideas of waves. While not popular with the surf culture, families with kids flock here for uncrowded beaches with safe waters. At the sailing center in Alamitos Bay, the sand on the beach is packed hard enough for wheelchairs to roll on.

We like to take in a dinner in Belmont Shore or Naples Island and stroll along the waterfront mansions nearby.


Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of the last wild stretches of coastline here.  From San Pedro to Torrance, the road hugs the coastal cliffs as it winds through cove after cove. In the middle, the Point Vicente visitor’s center provides a nice place to whale watch, have a picnic, and even access to a small beach nearby.


The views of Catalina and the neighboring lighthouse are spectacular on clear days.


Our tour ends just to the north at Tim’s favorite beach, Redondo. Along with a nice stretch of sand, we like it for the pier which is loaded with shops, restaurants, bars, and attractions.


After buying Letty a pearl at the oyster shop, we’ll have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants…either Kincaid’s on the pier or Gambrinus in the neighboring marina. Our food is digested with a lingering stroll around the pier before going home.

Next time you’re in the area, take some time to explore one of these great ocean side destinations away from the usual tourist trail…maybe we’ll see you there.





Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 18, 2015

Laguna Beach and San Juan Capistrano, California

This trip contains one of  the most popular videos we've yet produced.  Why?  I don't know, apparently you all like the beach!  Personally, I think our video on Morro Bay is a bit better, but you be the judge.  Anyway, here is my pick for the best beach in Southern California...

Watch the Video for this trip


It has the makings for a boring, frustrating day. The day after Thanksgiving usually presents us with nothing to do, unless you want to join the mobs at the mall. Not really our cup of tea (to be fair, my wife loves to shop but even she can’t stand the Black Friday stress).

It’s days like this that are made for a day trip. I know “staycation” is the new buzzword, but I just can’t stand that. Occasionally, though, we just like to go out for the day and see what we can find in our general area. That’s what we’re doing today. Hopefully, if you have a trip planned with Southern California…especially Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm…as your destination; you’ll find this information valuable.

I had always wanted to try the Original Pancake House, especially for their Dutch Baby pancakes, so we head down to the City of Orange for our closest location. While waiting for the server to take our order, the table next to use gets their Dutch Babies delivered and they looked burnt from having been in the oven too long.

Instead, we order a stack of regular buttermilk pancakes, some crepes with lemon/strawberry filling, and some “49er” cakes, which are very thin pancakes…sort of like a crepe that has not been rolled. All three are very delicious and we’ll give the edge…just a slight edge…to the 49er cakes.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Robert A. Estremo under CC-BY-SA license

Fully nourished and really stuffed, we head out on the road. Our next stop is the little town of San Juan Capistrano in Southern Orange County. This is roughly half way between Los Angeles and San Diego. We find a parking spot next to the train depot, across the street from the town’s mission.  Easily reached by wheelchair accessible trains run by Metrolink and Amtrak, all the attractions in town are within a block or two of the station.

The mission grounds are very beautiful but the original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. A side chapel has the twin distinctions of being the oldest California building still in use and is also the only documented existing building that Father Junipero Serra said mass in.

We’ve seen the mission many times before, so today we concentrate on the Los Rios neighborhood. This is the street time forgot, sitting across the tracks from the train station. Years ago, I would come here and walk down these shady, tree-lined streets and wonder how much longer it would last with the exploding development happening in this part of the county.

The residents must have wondered the same thing, now it’s a protected historic district. It’s still a neighborhood…families still live in the houses, small shops and a couple of cafes crouch up to the tracks, and it’s a place like no other you’ll find in the area.

Homes dating back 200 years line streets so quiet you can roll your chair along with few worries. A collection of fountains sits in front of little beauty salon. Around the corner, an ancient pickup truck sits in a chicken wire encased garage. Dozens of finches fight over the birdfeeder out back. A huge wall of bougainvillea lines the street.

Around the corner are a sleepy looking nursery and a petting zoo. Llamas sit in the sun waiting for food. A curious emu strolls up to see my camera. The luckiest turkeys in the world strut their stuff on the day after.

The 12:20 to LA arrives and we leave.

Back in the car, we head south to Dana Point and then double back up Pacific Coast Highway to our next stop, Laguna Beach. Even in late November, traffic still snarls in the downtown stretch that has traffic lights on every corner, none coordinated with the next. After the knot of traffic, we turn up a side street and find a spot at the curb to park about a block from the main beach.
Laguna is made up of a series of coves, the largest one, about a half mile long, makes up the main beach in the heart of town. An accessible boardwalk runs the length of the beach. On the north end, a step-free but steep access leads to the next series of smaller coves. When the water’s calm, these small coves attract hordes of snorkelers and scuba divers.

On the main beach, we find a concrete ramp that you can use to go to the high-tide line next to the northernmost life guard tower. In the summer, you can borrow a sand chair from the life guard to go all the way to the water. The mid-beach is a hot bed of beach volleyball, so we take a few minutes to watch. No pros practicing today, however. A musician plays for tips and a bird trainer puts on a pretty good show on the edge of the boardwalk.

We continue up the street where artist Wyland, the whale mural guy, lives and has a gallery. 

We stop to take a look at the art and to use his very nice, clean accessible restroom. A secret spot is located here. Outside the gallery is a hallway…continuing to the end and you’ll come out onto a private, quiet deck where Wyland has set up a small telescope overlooking the beach. It’s a nice place to come and get away from the crowds.

Back out front, we wander around the town a bit, doing a little window shopping and have a quick drink at one of the local pubs. I won’t name the pub…it’s a brew-pub…because the server tacked on an extra six dollars to the tip (which I found out while balancing my checkbook). That burns me up because the total bill was $9, to which I added $3 for tip…plenty, don’t you think?

Later, we head back up PCH and then inland to Placentia where we have dinner at one of our favorite Pizzerias, Tony’s Little Italy. This is a real hole-in-the-wall with only 8 tables and a giant mural of Wrigley Field covering an entire wall. The other walls have Cubs, Bulls, and Bears memorabilia along with a smattering of Angels, Cal State Fullerton, and other local team pennants, surrounding the two flat-screen TVs…usually showing whatever sports are going on in Chicago. This little piece of Chicago has some of the best deep-dish style pizzas around.

As Tony himself brings out our pizza and drinks, we bid farewell and hope to see you on another trip soon.

-Darryl

Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Robert A. Esterno under CC-SA license

Monday, September 14, 2015

Back to School - The Ivy League of the West, Claremont, California


It’s only 40 minutes away in good traffic but riding the train out here seems like you’re on the east coast, taking  the  Metro North out of the city. The streets are lined with leafy, mature trees…many that drop their leaves in late fall…the coffee bars filled with bearded college professors and students trying to get a degree within this lifetime.
Known as the “Ivy League of the West,” the handful of universities that make up the Claremont Colleges are names that regularly appear on each year’s list of the best… Claremont-McKenna, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Scripps.

There’s money, talent, and knowledge wandering around here. It’s also a good reason why so many people fall in love with the Inland Empire town of Claremont separated by two sets of hills, a valley, and four freeways from Los Angeles and bumps up right against the San Bernardino County line.

The heart of Claremont is a 10 square block area halfway between the 10 and 210 freeways along Indian Hill Boulevard known at The Village. It’s here where you’ll find the best of what the town offers.
Possibly the most transit-enabled town in the Inland Empire, Claremont is served well by Metrolink commuter rail from Union Station in Los Angeles and the buses of Foothill Transit. The trains and buses converge on the beautifully restored train depot at the south end of The Village making everything within walking distance and eliminating the need for a car.

If you do want to drive, that’s okay too. There’s plenty of parking and the area is bracketed by two major freeways.



Arriving in the morning, you can grab a quick breakfast at Crepes de Paris at the new addition to The Village, the Packing House, on the west side of Indian Hill Boulevard. The Packing House is an old citrus packing shed that’s be redesigned into a space for shops, restaurants, and nightclubs.  Night owls will want to visit the Hip Kitty jazz club here or the comedy club upstairs.

Walking off breakfast, head east to Yale Avenue…one block east of Indian Hill…where The Village’s “downtown” is.  The last Rhino Records shop exists here along with the world famous Claremont Folk Music Center. This little music shop, crammed with every instrument you can imagine, and many you can’t, is a popular stop for some of the world’s top musicians to stop by and give impromptu concerts.

Going a couple of blocks further east you come across the campuses of the colleges, all kind of mixed together.  Check bulletin boards…you can catch some free entertainment such as concerts or plays. The colleges are associated with SCIAC, a NCAA athletic conference, and you can catch some college sports there too such as football, basketball, and baseball.  The stadium where the Claremont-McKenna-Scripps Stags play…located in a little pine forest…is one of the prettiest you’ll ever see.
If you’re hungry for lunch, stop in one of the several cafeterias on campus or CafĂ© Sagehen, a full-service sit down restaurant serving upscale meals with wine and beer available. Back in The Village, a number of restaurants serve a great lunch too.  Pizza ‘n Such, Village Diner, and Espiau’s  are suitable for a nice midday meal.

After lunch, options include going to Bert and Rocky’s at the north end of Yale Avenue for ice cream and dessert; going up to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens a few blocks north on Foothill for some great wheelchair accessible hiking trails; or taking in a matinee at the Laemmle Theatre on Indian Hill and Bonita Avenue.



If you’re still around at dinner time, Claremont has two of the gourmet burger places in Southern California. The Back Abbey (in the alley behind the Laemmle) serves its signature burger…a large patty with aged gouda, mustard aoli, carmelized onions bacon, and fresh greens served on brioche… along with a nice selection of Belgian beers.

Just around the corner, back at the Packing House, is Eureka!...serving a range of gourmet burgers that is as good as the Back Abbey…along with their selection of local craft brews.
Looking for something more than burgers? Aruffo’s serves quality Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere back over on Yale.

Some people fall in love enough to spend the night. Casa 425, across from the Packing House, is the area’s trendy boutique hotel.
If you’re in Southern California, save a day to visit this pretty college town just a short drive…or train ride…east of Los Angeles.

For more information, visit The Village's website: http://thevillageclaremont.com/
-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 4, 2015

CALIFORNIA/NEVADA: Highway 395 and Nevada's Capitol - Carson City



After crossing the border we’re no longer in the Golden State. We’ve stepped over to a new metal…the Silver State of Nevada. Coming up on highway 395, the mountains drop away from under the road, giving way to the green expanse of the Carson Valley, guarded on the south by the towns of Gardnerville and Minden.


The steep, rocky Sierras still peer at us on the left where they hide the beautiful Lake Tahoe just over that ridge.


It’s not long before we roll into the capitol of the state, Carson City.  It’s not a huge place…Vegas and Reno are both much bigger…and before we know it, we’re downtown and hungry.



Smack in the center of downtown is the Nugget Casino where we can while away a little time at the slot machines and roulette table before heading into the coffee shop to get one of the great under $10 prime rib dinners you’ll get in a casino. Not Morton’s, but for the price it’s hard to beat this tasty, tender slab of meat served with baked potato, veggies, and salad.

We need to keep heading north where we’ll find Washoe Lake. Turning in from the highway, it’s along the eastern side of the lake…home to a family of bald eagles…where we’ll find our bed for the night at the Deer Run Ranch run by David and Muffy Vhay.


Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Rick Cooper under CC BY 2.0 license


The Vhay’s run an alfalfa farm here and David built this eco-friendly inn into the hillside near the barn.  The name comes from the herds of deer that roam the alfalfa fields where you can see antlers sticking up above the stalks.

It’s a wheelchair-accessible escape far from the busy cities and highway nearby. Bullfrogs croak in the pond and owls nest in the barn. Many varied guests…from the family looking to get back to nature to the gentleman who comes into town for a brothel tour…enjoy the quiet surroundings.

Over breakfast, after David tells us about the brothel fan (he’s not here today), he explains the process of growing and, more importantly, selling the alfalfa nearby. He gives discounts to local ranchers who come and pick it up, saving him the cost of delivery.


Upon checkout, we travel slowly along the banks of the lake looking for the eagles but are not having luck today. It’s back on 395 as we head up the the “biggest little city in the world,” Reno.


We try our luck at the Horseshoe Casino but the heavy smoke and the depressing empty buildings nearby tell us we should move on.


North of the city, we finally leave the ribbon of asphalt that we’ve been celebrating these last two weeks and head west on the big Interstate 80 back towards California.




A bit west, over the state line, following the river of the same name, we end up in the cute town of Truckee.  Truckee is a legendary train town. The station still serves passenger trains coming up from the Bay heading for Denver and Chicago.


The downtown area surrounding the station holds many boutiques, high priced snack shops, and a couple of really good restaurants.





After spending some time here, we turn south at the end of town and follow the Truckee River up the mountain to its source on the north shore of Lake Tahoe where we picnic on deli sandwiches and throw fish food to the giant…and I mean GIANT…rainbow trout living in the protection of the “no fishing” zone where the river begins.


From Reno, highway 395 continues its course back across the border along California’s eastern frontier, into Oregon and the cold, high country desert before reaching Pendleton and crossing over to southern Washington’s tri cities of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland.

Continuing north, you can follow it to Spokane and beyond, where it finally terminates across the Canadian border where it meets highway 3 in central British Columbia.





Not this trip, though. We say goodbye here in the beautiful high country on the border of Nevada and California on the edge of Lake Tahoe, not far from the mythical Ponderosa.



Truly a different take on California, highway 395 is a beautiful road connecting some of the most lonely, stark, and historical areas of this Golden State.


-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved