THIS ITEM APPEARED EARLIER THIS WEEK IN SUN MEDIA AND POSTMEDIA PAPERS AND WEBSITES IN CANADA
You know about San Francisco and Beverly Hills. Not to mention Palm Springs and San Diego. But there’s a lot more to California than the big names. Here’s one former resident’s look at some of the other great places in the state.
CAPITOLA This might be the best California town never mentioned in a Beach Boys’ song. The beach features soft, golden sand with a good-sized wooden wharf with a restaurant and colourful locals out fishing. The west end of the beach has a string of tiny, colourful vacation homes in shades of brilliant green, cotton candy-pink and other shades. Grab an outside table at Margaritaville or Zelda’s or any of several other beachfront restaurants and watch the world go by. There’s great shopping in town, and also a small river that’s lined with cute homes and a cool, overhead train trestle.
HIGHLAND PARK This residential area immediately north of downtown Los Angeles was not a place folks tended to head to 10 or 15 years ago. But it’s become a super-trendy spot in town with locals and celebrities who enjoy the casual feel. It’s also on the Metro public transit line, making it an easy hop from downtown. Café Birdie is a fun dining spot with an inventive menu. The Highland Park Bowl is a classic bowling alley with a stunning, old-style interior, cool light fixtures and a great bar.
AVILA BEACH This is a tidy little town on the Pacific Ocean north of Santa Barbara and south of San Luis Obispo, an engaging city in its own right. There’s a gorgeous beach with beautiful, craggy cliffs and great tide pools that kids will want to explore. You’ll find a few small shops and a couple restaurants on the water, too. Try the Avila Lighthouse Suites for comfortable, spacious units on the water. There’s also a pretty and inexpensive golf course.
MURPHYS The wineries of the Sierra Nevada foothills aren’t as well known to Canadians as Napa Valley or Sonoma, but they make excellent wine. Ironstone is probably the best-known winery in the area; a massive place with beautiful gardens and a lovely shop with wine gear galore, as well as a restaurant. There are a dozen or more wine-tasting rooms on the cute main street. Hovey Winery makes lovely Barbera and other Italian varietals. I also like Tanner Vineyards. The Murphys Hotel was once featured in a Hotel Hell episode with Gordon Ramsay.
BORREGO SPRINGS This is a bit of a funky spot in the desert between Palm Springs and San Diego. They used to attract a lot of celebrities out this way but things have quieted down the past few decades. Still, there’s considerable charm to the area and to the surrounding countryside, which is ablaze with wildflowers in spring. Try the Borrego Palm Canyon nature trail or check out the wild metal sculptures (dragons, scorpions and other quirky items) along the side of the road at the Sky Art Desert Sculpture Gardens.
LIVERMORE VALLEY This is a pretty valley about 45 minutes east of San Francisco and is home to a variety of excellent wineries. Wente Vineyards is billed as America’s oldest continuously operated family winery They make excellent Chardonnay and some very good Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties, and their amphitheatre brings in top-notch entertainment. Take one of the beautiful, winding roads through the hills such as Mines Road, which leads to Lake Del Valle. Or try the San Francisco Bay Outlet Mall for fabulous shopping deals. Both Livermore and nearby Pleasanton have lively, walkable downtowns. In Dublin, grab a dog at Casper’s Hot Dogs; the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. There are other outlets in the East Bay Area, too.
PASO ROBLES For my money this area makes the best value wine in the state; luscious, deeply-flavoured Cabernet Sauvignons and gently spicy Syrahs with plenty of giddyup. The city has a wonderful, old-time town square that’s used for festival, concerts or just tossing around a frisbee. There’s a variety of nice coffee shops and great restaurants all around the square. The Ravine Water Park is a great spot for families, and you’re only a short drive from the ocean.
JULIAN For fruit of an entirely different order, head to the apple orchards around Julian, a small town in the mountains northeast of San Diego. You’ll find a series of pie shops, including Julian Apple Pie and Mom’s. Grab a cup of hot coffee and dig in. The town has a western/cowboy feel, with old-style buildings and a great deal of charm. It’s also a nice spot to go on a hot day as you’re up at a higher elevation (1,300 meters) with cooler temperatures.
LAGUNA BEACH This Orange County town has one of the prettiest stretches of sand in a state with more than its share of them. The Pageant of the Masters is a yearly performance that’s part of the city’s renowned Festival of the Arts. The Cliff Restaurant sits on a bluff above the beach with one of the prettiest views in California, and crazy-good sunsets. If you’re looking to splurge on a hotel, try the handsome Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, with a lovely beach front and ocean-inspired spa treatments.
JENNER This small town is located along one of the most dramatic sections of the California coast, where the Pacific Coast Highway snakes along cliffs that plummet to the sea and huge rocks rest in the water off shore at that just-right-for-Instagram angle. Café Aquatica is a pretty spot for coffee or a bite to eat. It’s built on a wide portion of the Russian River near the ocean, with picnic tables and wooden chairs, plus occasional live music. Look for great views of the water at River’s End Restaurant and Inn.
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DEAL OF THE WEEK: WestJet is offering very good deals to Hawaii, which is usually quiet and more affordable this time of year. I found a flight from Toronto to Maui this fall for $725. (www.westjet.com)