Out with Mommy

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Trew-Chariot-Back-640x471This year’s epic snow sports season is likely to go strong into late spring and even early summer months. Some North American resorts have reported on high-snowfall years that their slopes stay open as late as the Fourth of July. So gear up in style for spring skiing and riding with these slick head-turning fashions and take advantage of some great near-the-end-of-season sales prices.

Pull on your big-boy/girl bibs

Bibs are back in a big way. The sister of the full-on zip-up onesie snowsuit of the 70s, ski bibs are rising up as the nouveau chic on the slopes. Not only do they look stylish and sassy, they are the far better choice for snow wear than traditional ski or snowboard pants. Bibs are perfect when you want a bit of extra warmth over a fleece pullover or under layer, but you don’t want to wear a vest. For aggressive riders and steers, the bibs come up high under the arms to prevent snow from getting in your waistband. They also stay up, so you don’t find yourself constantly tugging and adjusting your waist band, which is especially a hassle with gloves on.

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A hot and hip company, Trew, is leading the revival of bibs, with their high-performance bibs, that style spotters are seeing all over the best resorts this season, like the Trewth ($399) men’s bibs that set the standard for tit-to-toes coverage, or Trew’s already legendary women’s Chariot bibs ($399) that tackle the biggest complaint about bibs for women, with its “she pee” side zip (check it out here https://trewgear.com/trew/trew-updates/article/bathroom-break-in-your-bibs), that makes bathroom breaks easy and fast.

They also have beaucoup pockets for stuffing glasses, digital lift tickets, lip balm, wallets and other necessaries for the slopes. The styling of the Trew bibs, with bright colors and water repellent materials and fashionable bright colored zips and trims, will make you stand out in the snow. When it’s time to chill out in the lodge, you can roll them down to the waist, but they look pretty cool anyway you wear them.

Who wears the pants?

All that said about bibs, if you choose to go traditional, Trew has perfected snow pants, with the plentiful pocket design and fashion forward colors and trim, with an adjustable Velcro strip to keep the waistband snug. The pants for a little larger opening at the leg for heftier snowboard boots. For women, the Tempest ($349) features an adjustable waist, long legs, and three-dimensional articulated panel design that fits all shapes of physiques.  For guys, the Eagle ($349) pant is articulated and ventilated for sidecountry stash runs, with durability for long days hot-lapping your local mountain, and relaxed for comfort.

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As with all the Trew stormproof wear, their technologically advanced proprietary material, Dermizax®NX, is tops in breathability and toughness. The water-repellent membrane keeps you dry after fall, and next to the skin the material keeps you warm yet it is breathable, with ventilation openings.

As someone who has gone through many snow pants due to rivets popping, zippers tearing off we’re getting stuck, and seems tearing open, Trew has impressed me with its durability, looking and wearing like new for an entire season.

Top it off

For spring shredding, pair bibs with a lightweight water-repellent cold breaker like Trew’s Stella ($190) women’s fly freeride shell that has set the standard for the industry with its tailored-to-flatter, articulated-to-shred, and built-to-last design.

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Layer up

Underneath it all, Trew’s women’s lightweight Nuyard Merino ¼ Zip (sale priced $109) is ultimate hi-tech baselayer, woven with NuYarn merino, a  warmer, softer, better thermal-regulating and more mobile wool than its traditional merino brethren.  For warmer days, the Merino Sweater ¼ Zip (sale priced $55) keeps out the chill and regulates as you move, and it looks sharp and stylish for hitting the lodge apres ski.

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Hot mitts

Serius Heat Touch Torche component gloves ($394.99) may be the first gloves you have to read a manual to use, but hands down you will be wearing the smartest gloves on the mountain with these on your mitts. These three-in-one gloves have a battery-heated component glove that slips inside an insulated shell. They can be worn together or separately and with or without the heating batteries. The heat can dial down for spring skiing or up when you are at the top of the peak and the temps drop. Charge the batteries for about three hours, insert the batteries into the wrist cuff and press the button to the desired heat level.  What’s even smarter, and you can swipe away on your smart phone screen while wearing these gloves.

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Pack it up

Nothing’s more of a drag on your travels than hauling a bulky duffle around stuffed with all your gear.  You don’t have to lighten your load and leave stuff behind, instead get rolling with the massively spacious Eagle Creek ORV Trunk 36 ($419) or ORV Trunk 30 ($359).  This bag fits all your winter adventure gear plus the kitchen sink, with lots of pockets and compartments to keep wet stuff separate from dry and all your gear easily accessible. Some extra bells and whistles include an Equipment Keeper Porter Key with bottle opener, exterior and interior compression straps, and an external pocket for easy grab items. All that and a waterproof boot bin, to boot.

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Sundance Mountain Resort offers year-round family friendly activities

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When most of us think of Sundance, we think of the film festival founded by Robert Redford in the 1980s. The indie filmmaker event moved many years ago to nearby Park City, Utah, but still today Sundance Mountain Resort remains a beacon for creatives and independent spirits, and it has become known as a wonderland for families, where they can spend quality time together and make lifelong memories.

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Purposefully kept small, true to Redford’s vision when he took over the former Timp Haven in 1968 and developed it to create this idyllic resort, Sundance prides itself as a sanctuary committed to the balance of art, nature and community.

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Many families we met at Sundance say they vacation year after year at the resort because of its smallness and the appeal of its family friendly offerings, such as a top-notch children’s snow sports school, art and pottery classes, wooded paths and mountain streams for exploring, and activities such as evening snowshoe hikes with owl spotters.

The wild, wild best

The resort sits on 5,000 acres of beauteous mountain land just outside of Provo, Utah, on the slopes of Mount Timpanogos in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Locals and those who return year after year to this best-kept secret in Utah ski country refer to it as Shangri-La.

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A true testament to an enterprise that is well-managed from the top down, the staff, from the hotel check-in clerks to the ski instructors, are impressively professional and enthusiastic about their work. And like a dedicated CEO and true believer in his mission, Redford himself skis at the resort at least a few times a season, ensuring the resort runs at peak level.

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Accommodations are limited to approximately 400 guests at the privately owned or leased 115 cabins and a dozen mountain homes at the resort. Our ski party of two adults and two kids stayed at one of the resort’s chalets nestled in the wooded property, which felt like a private retreat. Paths from the villas lead to the restaurants and other resort buildings, or guests can utilize the resort’s fleet of SUVs to shuttle around the resort.

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The chalets on the property speckle the woods of the hillsides, and in a heavy snow they are barely visible except for their rooftops and chimneys. After one snowy night we awoke to a fresh foot of powder on our doorstep, perfect for snow man making and a snowball fight in our front yard.

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Inside, the cabins are luxurious yet designer-rustic.  Each feature breathtaking views of the mountains, a private deck, expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, wood-paneled and slate stone walls, an open floor plan with a climb-up loft – a favorite with the kids, a kitchen, large fireplace, and rooms outfitted with alpine chic pine and leather furniture and hand braided rugs.

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Our cabin was also stocked with board games, which we played by the fire, until the tired kids passed out before 8 pm, after a day on the slopes.

Mountains of food

When it comes to dining, you can’t go wrong with any of the resort’s restaurants, which all have stellar reputations for their culinary excellence. The romantic candlelit Tree Room Restaurant is the most formal offering, yet the ambiance is comfortable and inviting. Décor includes Native American art from Redford’s personal collection.

For more casual and family friendly dining, the frontier-themed Foundry Grill features fresh hearty fare and pizza from its open kitchen. Après ski and into the night, the late crowd can enjoy drinks and live music at the Owl Bar, the site of the original Redwood Bar where Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang hung out. For quick pick-me-ups, the Creekside Café offers sandwiches and soups at the base of the mountain, and for the adventurous, the Bearclaw Café is a treat at the top of the back mountain, for skiers skilled enough to get there.

Snow, snow on the range

While the dining is superb, it’s the mountains that are the main attraction of Sundance.  For those old enough to remember the Redford classic “Jerimiah Johnson,” these are the mountains that provided the stunning backdrop for the film. Though quaint in size compared to other local resorts, such as Park City Mountain and Deer Valley, Sundance holds its own when it comes to the quality and variety of terrain for all levels of skiers and boarders, and the resort boasts four chair lifts and a beginner tow lift, with the newest quad lift, Reds, carrying 500 people uphill per hour.

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During our visit near the holidays, which is peak ski season, the staff remarked that the “crowds” were large, but not once did any of our party wait more than five minutes for a chair lift; and even during the busiest hours for renting and returning skis, we did not experience any long waits more than 20 minutes.

Heading for the hills

Sundance is easily accessible, about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City airport. Rather than brave the mountain roads after dark when we flew in at night, we opted to stay overnight at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. If we had not been so eager to get to the mountains, we would have certainly stayed longer at this gorgeous hotel, which offers the only five-star luxury accommodations in Salt Lake City and features one of the most beautiful displays of holiday lights and Christmas trees in the world during the holidays.

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Sundance’s proximity to the airport makes it an easy ski-in, ski-out resort, but its location lower on the mountain range, at about 12,000 feet, means the resort has a shorter snow season than its neighbors at higher elevations.

The compact season is a boon to the resort, as the resort hosts more guests after the snow melts. When other area resorts are winding down with dwindling crowds for spring skiing, Sundance is gearing up for its busiest time of year, when spring and summer vacationers come for horseback riding, mountain biking, zip tours, and, of course – for fans of Redford’s “A River Runs Through it” — fly fishing.

Like the plot of that film, the great outdoors and the notion of family is treated as sacred at Sundance. The resort’s fame may be born of its celebrity owner and the Hollywood-once-removed SWAG-circus festival that bears its name, but otherwise this serene retreat is an escape from city life, and a place where visitors can reconnect with nature, and their families.

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.


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