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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.
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After a long winter it’s finally time to come out of hibernation, and there’s no better way to celebrate the season and warmer weather than with a little food and a little wine. April is packed with food festivals for the next few weekends, so now’s the time to cancel those plans with the family and head out on your own getaway. Here’s three spots worth checking out.
Pebble Beach Food & Wine – April 10 – 13
If you’re not already in California you have until tomorrow to get there, as the events surrounding Pebble Beach Food & Wine kick off tomorrow and run throughout the weekend. Expect celebrity chefs, cooking demonstrations, plenty of sips and samples, and of course event after event tailored to your food favorites. Most of the cooking demonstrations start at around $100, and things go up from there.
Plenty of tickets are still available on what they call an “a la carte”—ha—basis, but you can also go all in an order a package of events. Things start off at around $1,000 for their magnum set of events, and things get pricier as you select from the jeroboam or imperial options.
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People who live in proximity to the coasts have their summers planned out with visits to the Atlantic or Pacific, but those caught in the middle might find a trip to a local lake to be more accessible and more affordable. From Nevada to New York, there are hundreds of lakes to choose from, so be sure to investigate what lies within a few-hour drive of wherever you call home. Below, we feature three that we can recommend as great weekend getaways:
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.
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The Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe
Getting out into the wilderness is a must for many adventure travelers, but long, grueling mountain bike rides are not everyone's idea of a vacation. Luckily, some of the country's most beautiful and historic routes have been tastefully commercialized, offering shuttle services that allow you to tackle only part of the trail, mainly the downhill and beginner-friendly sections. Below, we list a few that we've personally experienced, and we encourage you to look for similar opportunities on your next trip to the mountains, wherever it may be.
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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:
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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.
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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."
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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.
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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).
Looks like the luck of the Irish came early for us, a rainbow stretching across Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park.
This year, the park celebrates its 150th anniversary, and we're here to take a look at both the past and the present, reflecting on how it all began and where it is today. When Abraham Lincoln created the Yosemite Grant in 1864, it was the first time the Federal government ever set aside a piece of land for preservation.
Follow along with us next week as we walk through and explore this incredible landscape in central California.
[Photo: Will McGough]