Out with Mommy

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Need a weekend away from the kids?  How about a stay-cation where you can feel a world away but you’re close enough to bolt home if the babysitter needs you?  The Shade Hotel in Redondo Beach is just the escape.

shade-redondo-beach-exterior-41 The chic and modern hotel is so waterfront that peering out of the sliding glass doors of the guest rooms you would swear you are floating on a ship.  For a true feeling of communing with the sea, guests can enjoy the bird’s-eye view of the sail boats bouncing in the harbor below while soaking in their private outdoor tub, discreetly situated off the boudoir, on the balcony.

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Dining is conveniently at Sea Level restaurant, located at the hotel’s culinary building across a breezeway adjacent the lobby.  The restaurant serves a chef-driven menu of California coastal cuisine, including a raw bar of fresh oysters and craft cocktails to be enjoyed in the LA-lively bar inside or outside, under the stars, by the patio fire pits, along the spectacular seascape boasting views from Palos Verdes to Malibu.

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During the day, enjoy the quiet roof top pool, or grab a complementary cruiser bike and head to the beach path just a couple hundred feet from the hotel’s entrance.  Other hotel perks include day passes to the Bay Club fitness facility, a short walk across the neighboring parking lot of Bluewater Grill Seafood, and a partnership with Trilogy Day Spa for special treatment packages.

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The Redondo Beach locale is up-and-coming, and though the immediate neighborhood has a number of warehouses and visible smoke stacks across the skyline, the area continues to evolve into a hip and happening destination, with more restaurants and trendy shopping popping up, such as Riviera Village, featuring more than 300 boutiques, restaurants and galleries.

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While the term “boutique” generally connotes small, the rooms of this three-story, 54-room property are spacious, and each is fully equipped with mini-fridge, coffee maker, and other comfort amenities, and there are plenty of USB plug-ins and Wi-Fi to keep all manner of tech connected.  The rooms feature chromatherapy, whereby guests can tune the color of the neon accent lights in the room to set a particular mood.

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The hotel’s efficient service is on par with that of a grand hotel, yet the Shade delivers cool luxury with a laid-back feeling, beginning with check-in, when guest are guests are greeted with a glass of champagne.  Rooms start around $249 per night.

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img_3980A beach, a city, and a harbor for ships and visitors

Living 17 years in LA, I visited Long Beach about half a dozen times. It served as a halfway meeting point for me and friends who lived in Orange County. We had brunch and dinner there on occasion, and I visited the aquarium with my son and went whale watching once, but I never really considered Long Beach a destination. That was before I had the opportunity to spend an entire weekend there, and I truly got to know what this 55-square-mile city offers unique from its neighbors.

Long Beach has 11.5 miles of beach, which is how the city gets its name, but what sets this  Southern California seaside town apart is its urban environment by the waterside. Think Seattle or Miami, but with constant sunshine, and relaxed attitude of Southern California, along with a desirable geographic position 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

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Whereas across the Southern California coast, denizens can brag that they can snow ski in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon, Long Beach one-ups that boast with the promise that residents can go sailing or deep sea fishing, or even visit the island of Catalina for lunch, then go skiing, and be back by dinner time to dine at a world-class metropolitan restaurant and hit the nightlife in the city, until the wee morning hours if they wish.

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It is a vast city, with a plethora of diverse offerings in the area of culture, cuisine and arts.  The latter category of arts happens to be one of most thriving for the city in the last decade, in which the city has dedicated 1% of its revenue to developing arts programs. Long Beach is the home of the Museum of Latin American art, along with the long beach museum of art, which combines contemporary collections and classical architecture with an oceanfront view. The city is also known for its street art, including the gigantic outdoor murals of the Pow! Wow! international art collective.

The local art scene inspires much of the culture of the town, from the awesome award-winning architecture of the Long Beach airport, named one of the 10 most architecturally beautiful airports in the world, to Retro Row, a 1950s-inspired walk back in time into a mid-century throwback of restaurants and coffee shops, barbershops, and furniture and decor shops that seem like a scene out of  Mad Men, for which in fact the set designers of said show often visited for props, wardrobe and inspiration.

One cannot talk about Long Beach without mentioning the RMS Queen Mary. The behemoth transatlantic ocean liner, built in 1936, that is three times larger than the Titanic, is permanently docked on the Long Beach shoreline, where at now serves as a tourist attraction and hotel where visitors can stay in one of the refurbished first class state rooms.

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In speaking to locals of Long Beach, it seems everyone has a connection to the Queen Mary. Many have worked there, or their friends or family members have, and many have their own personal stories about the lore of the old ship, purported to be haunted by ghosts.
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The boat has been floating at its current resting place since 1967, and it rises twice a day, up and down with the tide, hosting hundreds and even thousands of tourists daily for tours and special events. Visitors and ghost chasers revel in the stories told by the Captain and Commodore and the many knowledgeable docents who share a passion for the ship as strong as any Brit’s fealty to their royal figurehead.

Aside from the Queen Mary, there is much more to the shoreline and the bounty of the sea that is an essential draw to the city. The Long Beach aquarium is also world renowned, housing more than 11,000 animals and nearly 500 different species and featuring exhibits that allow visitors to get an up-close perspective and even touch the animals displayed there, in addition to sponsoring many learning programs for visitors of all ages.

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In addition to these two major attractions there is also a wharf area with seafood restaurants, like the renowned Parker’s Lighthouse, offering tourists and locals spectacular views along with the region’s best and freshest seafood. The culinary scene, like the city itself, has great variety, such as renowned authentic Mexican food at Lolos Mexican Cuisine; The Attic on Broadway, a southern comfort food eatery; the trendy Sip Bar & Lounge at the Marriott Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, featuring the “ocean to fork” culinary creations of award-winning Top Chef contestant Executive Chef Janine Falvo; and L’Opera, a sophisticated fine dining restaurant featuring Northern Italian fare.

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Lest we forget to mention the shopping, Long Beach is home to one of the area’s newest outlet malls, called the Pike Outlets, which not only has a number of premium discount stores, such as Restoration Hardware and Columbia sportswear, but it also features a Ferris wheel that has become an attraction in itself.

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While a day trip is an easy excursion from Los Angeles, for out-of-towners and those who want to stay overnight, the city offers a growing number of hotels, from the downtown Hyatt Regency, which offers spectacular vistas of the city to the quaint feeling Hotel Maya, a Hilton Doubletree hotel, which though is a sizable property of 200 rooms, has the charm of a boutique hotel, with views overlooking the bay and it’s own marina, which maritime guests can slip into and then stay overnight on their boats or in hotel rooms.

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The hotel also features Fuego restaurant, famous for its handcrafted margaritas made from its expansive selection of premium tequilas. Its best-kept secret its small private beach, Playa Maya, for which the hotel developers brought in thousands of pounds of sand to create an inviting alcove with lounge seating around fire pit which are the scene of s’more making and merry making in the evenings.

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The hotel offers bike rentals which I took advantage to take a quick, three-minute ride to the Queen Mary, then I doubled back and headed into the city, which was easily accessible by bike designated bike paths. I rode to the Pike and took a break by the Rainbow Lagoon Park and a spin by the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, which was dark on the weekend I visited.

On a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the city was quiet, almost deserted, which is part of the diverse character of the city that is a lure to visitors. It is a bustling city during the weekdays, and a laid-back beach city on the weekends – a city that embodies work and play. While tourists may find its appeal as a central outpost for visiting Los Angeles and many of Southern California’s other major attractions, such as Disneyland, California Adventure, and Universal Studios Hollywood Long Beach in itself has the draw of a tourist destination, with its features as a metropolitan city, with the added appeal of a sunny beach comprising its boundaries.

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As a port city, where cargo ships dock from around the world, and to which trucks haul goods back and forth, Long Beach can experience a fair amount of traffic, and the tangled maze of roads to the harbor, with the abundance of signage directing visitors to the various attractions, can make it a navigation feat to find one’s way around at first. Once I got the hang of the roadways, with the help of Waze, I was able to steer myself around like a native, and in fact I found a few short cuts. While I got a good sense of Long Beach by staying there for a weekend, I learned there was a great deal I have yet to explore in this sprawling beach, I mean, city.

 

1467229383047Our family recently had the opportunity to cruise in style in the 2017 CT6 on trip to Buena Park, California.  If you know anything about Buena Park, you know that like Texas, everything around those parts is big.  There’s a lot more land and space compared to neighboring Los Angeles, and wisely developers have built enormous entertainment complexes there to attract people who want to get out of the city for some fun. So it was fitting that we made our road trip to this sunny SoCal vacation destination in this spacious and grand high-end Cadillac car.

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For starters, with two kids along, an awesome entertainment system is essential. The CT6’s backseat is the ultimate modern kid play pen.  Not only is it huge, with rear-seat legroom of 40.4 inches, it is fully equipped with a comprehensive infotainment system with dual adjustable 10-inch HD-Blu-Ray compatible diagonal screens that retract into the front seatbacks, along with wireless phone charging and connectivity for surfing and streaming on smartphones, laptops, tablets and other devices.

But it’s not all about the kids. This is a grown-up car packed with pleasures for adults. Audiophiles will delight in the dynamic range and clarity of the 34-speaker Bose Panaray audio system, designed specifically for the CT6 and inspired by the technology in professional concert halls and high-end home audio systems.  It’s basically a concert on wheels.

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Aside from the incredible entertainment technology, the CT6 is loaded with high performance technology to make driving and riding in it an absolute power trip. Some highlights of the Premium Luxury 3.6L CT6 are the 335-hp 3.6L V6 engine with auto stop/start and Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation), active chassis controls with V-Series-derived Magnetic Ride Control, active rear steering, driver assist package with night vision, rear camera mirror, automatic front and rear braking, and adaptive cruise control.

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With these features, the Cadillac CT6 takes drivers to a higher threshold of involvement, with technologies that make them more aware of their surroundings, chassis systems – including active technologies – that make the most of control in all conditions.

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One great new feature we loved was the Auto Vehicle Hold, a feature that prevents forward or backward vehicle creep when the driver’s foot is off the brake. For long drives and city drives, this is great for reducing fatigue during heavy stop-and-go traffic, and it improves vehicle control on steep grades. Another handy feature was the True 360-degree camera that can see and record video all around the vehicle, which provides security when you are exiting your car, and it also reduces blind spots around the vehicle, so you can spot the kids and their scooters before backing over them.

With all of this assistive technology, it’s like having a backseat driver that sees everything and reacts instantaneously without being annoying.

As far as large luxury cars go, this is one of the lightest on the road, thanks to its aluminum-intensive architecture that incorporates 11 different materials to give it strength, performance and efficiency thresholds that put it in the top class of the world’s elite luxury performance sedans.

And forget all that stuff about luxury cars being built for comfort not for speed.  This sedate sedan can peel out when needed.  Under the hood it features the new Cadillac Twin Turbo V6 engine that provides an estimated 400 horsepower (298 kW) and 400 lb-ft of torque (543 Nm) that provides race car power on demand.

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Cadillac lives up to its brand with the CT6 with ahead-of-its-time creature comforts including a Quadzone climate system, which employs a secondary full-HVAC system that allows passengers to personalize temperature and airflow for each seating position, along with ionizing air purification.

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My only consideration about driving a big luxury sedan like this was that the kids wouldn’t think it was cool. But that theory was shot full of holes when we emerged from the trampoline park and the kids took dibs on who got the key fob to run up to the car so they could trigger the welcoming lights outside the car when we approached; and then they scrambled to get in and plug in.  It was like their own private crib, gansta style.  No worries here about not being cool.

The starting MSRP for the 2017 Cadillac CT6 is $53,795.

 

Most people think of Carlsbad, California, as the town where LEGOLAND is located. The theme park is certainly a main attraction, but Carlsbad has much more to offer, including many unexpected charms, as our family discovered on a recent trip.

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About 90 miles from LAX, or two to three hours by car depending on traffic, Carlsbad can be a day trip or a great weekend getaway from Los Angeles or vacation destination. We visited during the summer, which is a popular time for families, because the kids are out of school, but it’s also a great time for other reasons, including great beach weather, and not to mention it is peak strawberry season.

We started our weekend vacation early at the LEGOLAND Park, and the kids loved the newest attraction at the park, Heartlake City, especially appealing to girl guests. It features live musical performances with ‘tween-themed dance numbers, with lots of girls in frilly pink costumes.

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img_6124We first started coming to LEGOLAND when the kids were five, and while we expected our kids, age 7, to outgrow LEGOLAND at their age, we were thrilled to see they were still excited to ride their favorite rides, including the Dragon roller coaster, which we were able to experience at least five times, thanks to the short lines early in the morning, and they had not yet tired of the LEGO Technic Coaster, which they were now tall enough to ride on their own.

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img_6128As we do every visit, we loved racing other families in the Police and Fire Academy relay, though as usual, our rig came in last. As a special treat, we got tickets to visit the water park adjacent to LEGOLAND, which was a refreshing way to cool off after a day of traipsing around the park in the sun. Our favorite waterslide is always the Orange Rush, because all four of us can ride together as we spin down a giant slide and ride the walls of a huge half pipe.

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After a full day at the theme park and water park, we discovered a strawberry field right just outside the park entrance near the freeway exit. We decided to do a little impromptu strawberry picking. For $20, we got a bucket that the whole family could fill up, and we were told we could eat as many strawberries as we wanted while we were picking them. Since it was late in the afternoon, the heat had dissipated, and it was perfect timing for us to be out in the shadeless fields.

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The kids loved competing to find the most outrageously large strawberries in the most bizarre shapes. We ate so many strawberries we almost didn’t have an appetite for dinner, but when we told the kids we were going to Bistro West, suddenly they were hungry again.

Bistro West is one of our favorite restaurants in Carlsbad. It’s just a few miles from LEGOLAND, and they have a terrific farm-to-table fresh summer harvest menu. Chef Jason also prepares an inventive kids menu with many healthy choices, and they even have a Bow Wow Hour on the patio for guests with pets. They also feature an expansive vegetarian menu and a gluten-free menu of over 20 items. As always, the kids ordered their favorite calamari appetizer with dipping sauces, and the grown ups shared one of their unique signature pizzas, topped with pear Gorgonzola and prosciutto. Besides the excellent food, the kids also love watching the “bubble wall” fixture in the restaurant that mesmerizes them with is changing colors.

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We told the kids we wanted to make this Carlsbad trip an educational experience, and at first they grumbled, but once we arrived at the Museum of Music Making, they changed their tune. While the antique instruments were more captivating for us adults, the kids gravitated immediately to the experiential area of the museum, where they got to put on headsets and play the drums so that only they could hear the sound effects.

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The kids were enjoying themselves so much they hardly realized they were learning as they explored all of the hands-on exhibits. We lucked out on the day we visited as the museum was hosting a drum circle. This was a new experience for all of us. Each of us chose a drum from an assortment of big and small styles, and a leader set the pace and chanted and sang while we beat our drums in rhythm.

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As the kids were getting antsy about being indoors in such a beautiful day, our next stop was at a local skate park. My son had been in skateboard camp for the last two summers, and he thought he had seen the best skate parks Southern California had to offer, until we drove up to Alga Norte park.

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The skate park, the largest in San Diego, features more than 10,000 feet of curved and flat ramps, two pyramids, two stairways, several bowls and pipe grinding ledges. It was skateboarder’s heaven. While there were plenty of teens at the park, there were also a good number of younger skaters, and there was a beginner’s area, which is ideal for learners, since at some parks the newbies often get run over by the older, more experienced skaters. Best of all for parents, there was a shaded picnic area where we could sit and spectate.

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img_6172Onto the second to last stop of our whirlwind tour, we headed to Carlsbad State Beach, which was directly across from our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. Even though we live in LA, less than 15 minutes to Venice and Santa Monica beaches, Carlsbad beach remains one of our favorites in Southern California.  We were easily able to find metered street parking, though there were a number of parking lots near the beach. We accessed the beach from a paved path down from the sidewalk along the shore, and we set up our base camp near the water.  Even though it was a mid-summer weekend, we were delighted to be one of just a half dozen families in sight, and we felt like we had our own little slice of beach to ourselves.

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img_6052The kids played in the sand with some buckets and shovels we brought along, courtesy of the hotel, and we watched some surfers who seemed to be catching some decent waves. The kids loved that near the restrooms there was a tower of showers, were all the surfers and beachcombers rinsed off the salt and sand, and the kids got to help some surfers wash off their boards.  We were very impressed at how friendly the local surfers were and considerate of their little admirers.

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After the beach, we headed for the Harbor Fish Cafe. Despite its humble appearance, this little restaurant is one of the hottest spots in town. It is popular with both locals and tourists, though it is known less for its great seafood than its awesome views, especially at sundown.  As we experienced the vivid pink-orange hues of the sky as the sun set over the water, we were happy that the kids were already starting to nod off at the restaurant.

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Back at the hotel, we all crashed, like the waves on the beach. We had considered a day trip to Carlsbad, but we were glad we had opted to make it a weekender.  The Hilton Garden Inn is an affordable option for families, with suites that have separate living areas with pull-out sofas and private patios. They also have fabulous views of the ocean across the street, and a large outdoor pool and whirlpool, plus free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, so while the kids slept I was able to get some work done.

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The hotel is also two miles from LEGOLAND, which was the primary reason we felt the location was ideal for us, but little did we know the park was just one of many terrific family attractions close by, including an adorable beach community and shopping Village that we had overlooked on previous trips, because we were focused on the theme park.

As we took a final stroll along the beach and got some smoothies for the road before we headed back to LA, a group of motorcycle riders on Harley’s rode by us down the main drag. As a fan of Sons of Anarchy, the TV series about a bad boy motorcycle club in a town called Charming, I was intrigued to get a closer look at the riders. But instead of tough guys, these riders looked like retired corporate executives, sporting shiny luxury bikes, as they rode in orderly formation and pulled up to the juice bar where we were sitting. As the cyclists joined us at the yellow painted picnic tables, and we enjoyed our smoothies in the sunshine, I chuckled to myself, that really, this was the town that truly should be called Charming.

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The first thing you pick up on meeting the folk of Temecula Valley wine country is that they love where they live and what they do.  Take one part wine, two parts passion, add family, and you get a blend of people dedicated to their craft of wine making and their lifestyle in this best-kept-secret valley of Southern California.

Home to about three dozen wineries, a number that increases almost annually, Temecula is growing in popularity as a wine country destination in California, partly because of its warm and inviting hospitality and optimal climate for growing grapes but mostly because of its outstanding wines that continue to win national awards, often to the chagrin of their brethren wine makers to the north.

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Temecula’s wine roots

Owner of Baily Vineyard and Winery, Phil Baily, a pioneer of the Temecula Valley winemaking business, recalled how he took a risk in 1986 when he announced his new winery would release its first vintage in the French Beaujolais nouveau tradition, after just a few weeks of fermenting.  Baily had beginners luck, earning the praise of wine aficionados and critics, including a Los Angeles Times reviewer, who helped put Baily on the map.  The rest is history.

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Now Baily helps his fellow winemakers hone their craft.  While his neighbors are his competitors, they all share the goal of making better and better wines in Temecula

Nick Palumbo, owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, a forty-something winemaker who is one of the youngest owners in the region, says the spirit of collaboration has made Temecula a great place to make wine.

“If I have a problem, I go to these guys who have been doing it for decades, and they make me work for the answer, but they share their education and expertise.  They understand that if one of us does well, we all do well,” says Palumbo.

Palumbo, a former New York indie rocker and chef, bought a farm and moved to the area in 1998.  He lives on the farm with cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens along with his wife and four children and says Temecula has answered his dreams of having a livelihood and lifestyle where he can spend quality time with his family and pursue his passion for marrying his love of food and music.dsc_0498

“Wine and food and music are all intrinsically related,” said Palumbo.  “It’s a great life.  We keep it simple.  We grow grapes, and we make wine.”

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A Valley awash with passion

The note that repeats throughout conversations with denizens of the region is the good life that valley brings.  The small town feeling, where everyone knows everyone, is a point of pride for the people who live there, and it’s what attracts new growers to the area.

David Bradley is typical of the atypical winegrower who landed in Temecula.  At age 14 Bradley learned to pilot hot air balloons, and he and his wife Gail now own California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures and Videmia Winery in Temecula.

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As Bradley toured above the region’s vineyards, he met many of the characters in Temecula who made wine. He learned about their craft and shared facts and lore about the region with passengers. Bradley continued to educate himself, gleaning from his experience as a pilot who studied the subtleties of region’s climate, and utilizing his familiarity with science as the grandson of a chemist, and eventually he realized his dream of buying a vineyard and winery where today he and his wife and close-knit family of four boys make wine together and enjoy the bounty of the land.

After returning from a 6 am sunrise balloon tour, Bradley is just getting started with his day as the heat rises to 90 degrees, and it’s only 8:30 am.  He and his boys are showing some tourists the wonders of wine, with hands-on, or rather feet-on interaction, including a stomp competition where visitors smash grapes in a barrel barefoot to produce carafes of juice (don’t worry, it’s used in compost, not for drinking).

As Bradley stands in the shade of an umbrella by the winery’s makeshift restaurant, consisting of a bar and a mishmash of patio chairs and tables dressed with floral tablecloths and adorned with centerpieces of glass jars with olive branches, he removes his safari hat and runs his fingers through is shoulder length spiral-curly hair and reminisces with visitors about his love of wine and the Temecula lifestyle.  Just then, two of the family’s mutt dogs that roam the property dash through the crowd chasing a wild rabbit.  They don’t catch it, but the tourists delight in watching the dogs sniff around frantically in search of their prey.  Bradley looks at the crowd, as if to say, “Need I say more.”

Passion meets paradise

If you needed more convincing about the wonders of Temecula Valley, just ask Maria Mello, who worked at Vindemia as an intern, splitting her time between Palumbo’s winery and Vindemia Winery.  After studying winemaking techniques in France, Germany and South Africa, she connected via LinkedIn with Bradley and planned a trip out to see this budding wine country.

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Mello, who is now back in school pursuing her doctorate, was intrigued by Temecula as an up-and-coming wine country where she could bring her latest techniques and concepts to a place where viticulture was still blossoming and receptive to new ideas, rather than to areas like Napa or Sonoma, where she felt the old ways are more established. Upon meeting Bradley, Mello learned like many in the valley who know him and his family, Vindemia is a place where learning and challenging the expected is a lifelong passion, and it was a perfect proving ground for her as a budding winemaker.

The Temecula Valley way

The wineries of Temecula Valley are like each wine — each has its own unique flavor, personality and experience.  While the list of wineries is too long to inventory here in this article, and each winery cannot be summed up in a sentence, here are a few highlights of the Valley’s offerings.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery boasts captivating views of the Valley and a philosophy that art and wine belong together, so they blend their handcrafted fruit-forward wines with live music, local art and gourmet food.

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Miramonte Winery is an artisan winery specializing in adventurous, succulent Rhone-based varietal wines.  This cliffside winery is also known for its gorgeous garden verandas, casual chic tasting room, and jam packed music and events calendar.

Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards, which offers lodging at the Wilson Creek Manor, is the most family oriented of the Temecula Valley wineries, with a playground for children and the welcoming party of Gerry and Rosie, the founding grande dame and gentleman of the winery, who frequently tour the property escorted by their pet pig Molly on a leash.

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Ponte Winery is a romantic getaway surrounded by 300 acres of mature vineyards and views of rolling hills. Ponte began farming the vineyards in 1984 and opened the winery in 2003. The winery’s excellent service has become a benchmark for great service among Temecula wineries. Their motto is “If you like it, it’s good wine.”

Maurice Car’rie Winery offers a charming arts and crafts fair every weekend, and features an inviting picnic grounds where patrons can browse the fair and enjoy a bottle of wine.

A few of the wineries offer accommodations in addition to the few hoteliers in the area, including Temecula Creek Inn, which features excellent restaurants on site and a unique 1800s bunkhouse for special events.

While a trip to the Valley to explore the wineries any time of year is worthwhile, the area hosts a number of events to showcase the wineries, such as tastings, art and crafts shows, and tours. Besides wineries, the area also offers quaint shops like the Temecula Lavender Company, the Old Town Sweet Shop, and the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which offers tastings of their variety of flavored olive oils. For kids, the Penny Pickle’s Workshop is a cornucopia of fun activities for curious young scientists and adventurers.

For more on the wineries in the area and what’s happening in Temecula Valley wine country, visit www.TemeculaWines.org.

A 1991 movie, LA Story, made fun of Los Angeles and its lack of history and culture.  Steve Martin cynically gives Sarah Jessica Parker a tour of our fair city exclaiming, “Some of these buildings are (wait for it) … 20 years old!”  But indeed there are some Angeleno landmarks and traditions that date back more than 100 years, and my family recently got to experience one, Hotel Del Coronado, just 2.5 hours south of LA, but a world away from the glitz and hustle of the city.

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Hotel Del, as it is affectionately known, attracts families that return generation after generation, to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, most notably Christmas, at this luxury beachfront resort.  The iconic red-shingled roof of the wooden Victorian-style main hotel is immediately recognizable and has played the backdrop not only for memorable family vacation photos but also for many Hollywood movies.

Since its opening in 1888, the hotel has hosted many of the silver screen’s greats, such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Mae West, and today it still serves as a getaway to the rich and famous, from Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, to a slew of Presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama.

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The hotel is one of the largest all-wood structures in the United States, and its famed Crown Ball Room, which served as inspiration to the writer of Wizard of Oz, L. Fred Baum, who often stayed there, features a wooden ceiling installed with pegs and glue — not a single nail.

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Its architectural and cultural history alone make Hotel Del a destination worth visiting, but its welcoming, family friendly atmosphere and family traditions keep families returning year after year.  Most famously, the hotel hosts a legendary month-long winter holiday celebration featuring a beachside outdoor ice skating rink, thousands of festive white lights and an giant Christmas tree in the lobby, an homage to America’s very first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree at the hotel, in 1904.

The lobby’s brass-gated elevator, complete with a uniformed elevator operator, and the dark wood-paneled stair cases and the bright, wide-open enormous hallways to guest rooms harken back to an era of grand hotels, adding to the nostalgia of the Hotel Del, and serving as a wonderment to children, who look forward to coming back to the hotel each year for holidays and vacations.

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The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977and a California Historical Landmark in 1970 and has been named by USA Today as one of the top ten resorts in the world.  Despite its age, the hotel has kept up with modern times with multiple renovations, including more than $10 million in upgrades, including the addition of a few dozen limited-term occupancy cottages and villas a couple hundred more rooms, in addition to the 399 original rooms.

The amenities include an Olympic-sized salt water pool, tennis courts, and many lush gardens and gazebos around the property, along with shops and restaurants.  Of course, with the digital age, Hotel Del added Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs, electronic key cards and all the modern comforts that today’s luxury travel expects.  But while many hot spots come and go, Hotel Del has stood the test of time.

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For many of today’s visitors, like our family, the Hotel Del represents the best of new and old, where grandparents enjoy the charm, comfort and familiarity of a magical place where their own childhood memories were made, while they watch their grandchildren play on the beach and make memories for a lifetime.  For our family, our visit this holiday season was the first of what we plan to make an annual tradition.  And maybe one day we will be lucky enough to come back and see our own grandchildren fall in love with the Del.

Exhibit Displays Herd of Baby Elephant Sculptures Painted by Artists and Celebrities

If you thought whales were the biggest animals to watch in Dana Point, get ready for a spectacle of huge proportions as Dana Point hosts the Elephant Parade: Welcome to America, on display until November 17.  Don’t worry, animal lovers, this is not a show of live elephants.  These beautiful creatures are life-size painted works of art, designed by artists and celebrities, with proceeds of the open-air exhibit benefiting the Asian Elephant Foundation (TAEF), a charity dedicated to the welfare of the Asian elephants.

Visitors to Dana Point can view 80 of the baby elephants of the full herd, which has traveled worldwide from London, Singapore, Milan and Amsterdam.  Seven of the creations recently traveled to Nokia Plaza L.A. LIVE for a two-day stint just outside Wells Fargo Private Bank, the parade’s Grand Patron sponsor.

The custom created sculptures were painted by artists, celebrities and pop icons including Khloe Kardashian, Andre Miripolski, Sona Mirzaei, Laura Seeley, Lily Tomlin, Cesar Millan and Chor Boogie.  Other artists who have contributed to the worldwide exhbit include Sarah, Duchess of York, Diane von Fürstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, Peter Beard, Goldie Hawn, Ricky Gervais and Katy Perry.

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Elephant Parade was founded in 2006 by father and son team, Marc and Mike Spits. While on holiday in Thailand, Marc was introduced to a baby elephant named Mosha, who became the world’s first elephant to be fitted with a prosthetic limb after stepping on a landmine.

“We’ve created a social enterprise built on a successful model of art, business and charity resulting in very tangible, timely preservation efforts,” commented Mike Spits, co-founder of Elephant Parade. “If we don’t take action now, the Asian Elephant could become extinct in just a few short decades.”

The local arts community and the Resorts of Dana Point, including The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, St. Regis, Monarch Beach, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach and Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, have embraced the project, which is attracting visitors nationwide to the shoreline Southern California shoreline destination.

Art aficionados can bid on the original creations at auction November 17 or purchase half-sized tribute pieces.  For fans with a little less space, three-and-a-quarter-inch souvenir replicas are selling for as little as $31.  Funds raised through all efforts will support the Elephant Parade, which to date has raised more than $5 million for the conservation of the majestic mammals.

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For a map of where the elephants are displayed, guides on where to stay in Dana Point or other information on the Elephant Parade, go to www.mydanapoint.com.

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Stampede: (from left to right) Rob Koscelnik, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach-Dana Point; Mike Spits, founder, Elephant Parade; Bruce Brainerd, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel; Johnny So, St. Regis Monarch Beach; Jim Samuels, Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa.


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