California Travel Guide
Monday Five Thirty / Santa Barbara Travel / California Travel / Santa Ynez Travel / Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail / Drinking Travel / → All Tags
In celebration of the most needed happy hour of the week, this column, called “Monday, Five Thirty,” takes a look at all things booze from around the world. Last week, it was a potent after-dinner drink made of "gum drops." This week, we head to California wine country.
If the hand-holding haven of Lotusland is Santa Barbara's best kept secret, then its proximity to the Santa Ynez wine country is a close second. From downtown, a scenic drive up Highway 154 will take you up "into the valley," past Lake Cachuma and through the towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, and Buellton. Northern California gets most of the attention when it comes to wine on a national level, yet the Santa Ynez Valley was put on the map when it was featured in the book turned movie, Sideways.
They don't call it the "American Riviera" for nothing. Santa Barbara's beauty is everything but subtle, which really makes our job easy. It's a total point-and-shoot kind of town, each corner revealing another wonderful vantage point that delightfully combines the ocean, mountains, and the mission-style architecture and colors.
The aerial views you see below were taken from the tower on top of the Courthouse, which is free to access and a good place to get a full bird's eye view. The others are from the beaches along Cabrillo Boulevard, the final sunrise coming from our hotel room at the soon-to-be Hotel Milo.
Santa Barbara distracts many with its beaches, wine country, and ocean-hugging mountains, but amongst the protective landscaping that hides the estates of neighboring Montecito sits the area's best kept secret: Lotusland, a 37-acre outdoor garden containing 3,000 plant species from all over the world.
Originally designed to be a retreat for Tibetan monks, the property features about two dozen unique garden plots that allow you to immerse yourself in different ecosystems. One minute you're strolling through an arid, hardy cactus garden, and the next you've entered a peaceful, Japanese-themed plot of land, an aloe garden, or are walking under tropical trees. One of the crown jewels of Lotusland is its Cycad Garden, a species that dates back nearly 300 million years.
As far as the central coast of California goes, the small town of Ojai often gets lost in the shadows of destinations such as Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Big Sur. It’s a bit understandable given the reputations of those latter towns, but a look at Ojai reveals its value as a weekend getaway for those living within driving distance and as a stopoff for travelers driving Highway 1.
Though not on the coast, the “Valley of the Moon” is considered by many to be an energy vortex, similar to Sedona in that people find its aura to be powerful and even healing. This is one reason why the town is known as a rejuvenation and relaxation destination with many spa and retreat facilities. Its position in a valley adds to that charm, comforting visitors into a rural California nest of citrus farms.
Tacos and Mexican food may be the first things to come to mind when you think of the food scene in Los Angeles, but don't sleep on the city's other ethnic offerings that, according to The Daily Beast, score big points for their unwillingness to cater to a general audience.
"(The restaurants are) making no concessions to you, and the food thrives because of that," said Kogi BBQ Chef Roy Choi. "They’re cooking from the heart. They’re not considering, ‘Uh, would that be too spicy?’ You’re just in their part of town. You are the one percent.”
In the event you haven't heard, as many as 25 baggage handlers at LAX were involved in the theft of thousands of dollars in valuables from checked luggage, according to the NY Daily News. Items stolen included jewelry, electronics, and clothing, among others.
We know it is so easy to have a little faith and toss your jewelry bag or iPod into your checked luggage, but as this sting proves, it really, truly is not a 100% guarantee that your things will come out the other end. As you might imagine, the process to file a claim for a missing item is equivalent to chasing a rabbit down a hole, so the best line of defense is to keep valuables close.
This week, Saudi Arabia's flagship air carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines, completed the first run of its new flight to LAX from its capital city Riyadh. The flight will go three times a week on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with a stop over in Jeddah.
“Saudi's inaugural flight to Los Angeles is a manifestation of our continued efforts to expand our global reach to better service our valued customers,” said Chief Executive Officer and Director General Designate Abdulaziz Alhazmi. “The services to LAX, following our launch to Toronto, Canada in October last year and the resumption of our flights to Manchester, UK, are just some of the components of this initiative to claim our rightful place among the world`s leading carriers.”
Ski Travel / Lake Tahoe Travel / California Travel / Heavenly Mountain Resort / Homewood Resort / Diamond Peak / North Star Resort / → All Tags
If you've never been, it'd be easy to take Lake Tahoe for granted as a skier, especially the past two years where the winter has been mild and significant snow dumps have eluded the region. We understand why that would make one hesitant in terms of booking a trip, but as we learned earlier this month, a lack of snow can't cover up the sheer beauty of North America's largest alpine lake.
There are over a dozen ski areas in Tahoe, and many of them offer views of the lake. Squaw Valley and Kirkwood get a lot of attention, yet some of the best vantage points are found from the hills that hover closer to the shoreline. We recommend visiting several mountains next year to check out the different terrain, but be sure to hit at least one of these to experience the full effect of the lake:
Adventure Travel / Yosemite National Park / California Travel / Mariposa Grove / Giant Sequoias / → All Tags
Our Assistant Editor Will McGough hiked amongst the giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. Below, he describes his experience.
As I was walking through Mariposa Grove and seeing the sequoia trees for the first time up close and personal, I was having trouble envisioning any amount of words that would do them justice and describe them appropriately. It split me down the middle. For a traveler, it's a hell of a feeling. For a writer, it's just hell.
Along with its cousin, the more slender and usually taller Coast Redwood, the giant sequoia tree is one of the largest living things on earth with a height up to 250 feet and a 25-foot diameter. About 500 of them call Mariposa Grove home, one of only 75 groves in which they are found today (all of them are in California). The oldest trees are approaching 3,000 years old, meaning they were saplings well before the fall of the Roman empire in the late fifth century and seedlings at a time when the world's population was only 50 million in 1000 BC. That's incredible.
Adventure Travel / Yosemite National Park / California Travel / Horsetail Falls / Firefall / → All Tags
Travelers wishing to see the waterfalls of Yosemite National Park at their best should schedule their trip during the spring months, when the winter snow melts and plunges down towards the valley floor in full force. The summer months, by contrast, are extremely dry and the waterfalls tend to turn off.
Those visiting Yosemite during the colder months should be warned of the chance of snow closures and reduced accessibility, but those within weekend or day-trip distance of the park might be interested to know that winter does offer visitors the chance to see a pretty cool phenomenon that happens only during a certain window of time in February, when the setting sun shines in a unique way on Horsetail Fall and creates a "Firefall."
Mailbag / Lake Tahoe / South Lake Tahoe / North Lake Tahoe / California Travel / Adventure Travel / Ski Travel / → All Tags
If you're driving south along the western side of the lake, Emerald Bay, shown in the photo above, is the gateway to the town of South Lake Tahoe. That's a big thing to remember right there, the fact that we refer to South Lake as an actual town, compact and comprised of hotels, restaurants, casinos, and Heavenly Mountain. You can see its size on the map below, marked off in yellow - the only of its kind in the region.
Adventure Travel / National Parks / Yosemite National Park / California Travel / Mariposa Grove / → All Tags
This year, Yosemite in California celebrates its 150th birthday, dedicating the entire year to its past, present, and future as a leader amongst national parks in the States.
It was the first time the Federal Government ever set aside a piece of land for preservation when Abraham Lincoln created the Yosemite Grant in 1864. Specifically, the grant protected Yosemite Valley, seen above from the classic "tunnel view" lookout, and Mariposa Grove, which harbors the huge sequoia trees found in southern part of the park (we'll take a closer look later this week).