Friday, March 20, 2015

San Diego – Kissed by Sun, Surf and Sizzle

San Diego took me by surprise. It had sizzle, lots of it! Set against the boundless Pacific, the city is blessed with sandy beaches, rocky headlands, crashing waves, and a climate where flip-flops, shorts, and a T-shirt are all you need.

Furthermore, it has far more major attractions than most cities. My dearest and I clambered over the hulking aircraft carrier, Midway, impressed by its gargantuan size and the number of airplanes it once shot into the air. We rode a tram to historic Old Town, settled in 1769 and the birthplace of California. We wandered past a haunted hotel, bands playing, theaters and sipped margaritas in a cantina.

Next up were San Diego’s two major family attractions. We wept for the whales at Sea World. And grinned at chimps at the Zoo.

Balboa Park, the world’s largest cultural park, boasts 15 museums plus theaters, gardens, and more. We visited the Tutenkahamen exhibit at the Natural History Museum, watched buskers, visited artisan shops, and rode a carousel. Balboa Park is San Diego’s greatest asset.

Another surprise! San Diego may have surpassed Portland as the nation’s craft-beer capital. At the Ballast Point Brewing Company, where they offered 50 of their own beers, all on tap, we lined up a Habanaro Ale (hot!), a Thai Chili lager, and an Indra Kunindra (a curry stout). What frothy, foaming fun! San Diego has more than eighty craft breweries and their number is increasing rapidly. Next day at Draft, we could choose from 100 different local beers, 70 of them on tap.

The culinary scene is hot. At Indigo Grill, renowned executive chef Deborah Scott explained our dishes including a Korean Bibimbap in a fiery-hot tureen and an Anticucho Board of Peruvian and Chilean street food of skewered and grilled meats. Bliss! Two days later, we enjoyed another over-the-top dinner at Oceana Coastal Kitchen at Catamaran Hotel.

At Cabrillo National Monument, a statue on the end of a jutting peninsula honours Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, the first European (Portuguese) to land on the U.S. west coast (in 1542). We strolled along sun-washed pathways to an old lighthouse while enjoying sweeping views. At the adjacent Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, thousands of white tombstones marched dramatically up and down the rolling landscape.

My dearest and I enjoyed Mission Bay and La Jolla and the sight of
surfers, sea lions lazing on rocks, flotillas of kayaks, long seaside walkways, wild bars, and the sun staring down from an azure sky like the eye of a Cyclops. Torrey Pines State Reserve offered great hiking with waves crashing on rocky headlands.

Sadly, the time to leave arrived. Driving north, we soon arrived at Temecula. The Old Town looks like a western movie set, and I expected John Wayne to emerge with drawn pistols. The surrounding dry rolling hills host a rapidly growing wine industry with about 40 wineries. We sipped an oaked, complex Sangiovese at Robert Renzoni Winery before
heading off.

If You Go You Gotta Know
General San Diego info:
Old Town:
Midway Aircraft Carrier:
Balboa Park:
Sea World:
San Diego Zoo:
Draft (great beer restaurant):
Sofia Hotel (downtown):
Catamaran Resort (Mission Beach): www/
Indigo Grill:
Oceana Coastal Kitchen:


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Palm Springs a Sun Haven

Palm Springs, California, draws Canadian snowbirds like a neodymium super-magnet. Visitors love the posh, clean, multi-malled region of gated communities where golf carts roam the streets, happy hours rule, and the sun beats down from a cloudless sky. This urban paradise is set in a hot, hilly desert terrain which is starkly different to anything in Canada, especially in winter.

My dearest and I discovered that Palm Springs first gained prominence in the 1950s when movie stars including Frank Sinatra and Rat Pack settled here so they would be within driving distance of Hollywood studios. We saw memorabilia at the Hard Rock Hotel, which is like a museum. Sammy Davis Jr.’s day and night funky suit was one of my favourites.

Many activities kept us busy. I loved walking amongst and clambering into about 45 airplanes at the Palm Springs Air Museum, all lovingly maintained by volunteers. I chatted with Chris Demarest, an artist who has painted about 100 pictures of the airplanes and related scenes.

Ally enjoyed the Sunnylands Center & Gardens, part of the historic Annenberg estate, with its phenomenal desert gardens. And there was much more including the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens featuring a train set that stretches over an enormous area — as a wannabe “engineer” I was enthralled.

Sprawling malls are everywhere inviting shoppers to enter. Golf courses abound. Restaurants and bars are numerous, and they all offer great Happy Hours, and with real deals!

One day we passed through the San Gorgonio Pass, the northern entrance to the Coachella Valley and a place of mighty winds. The air was hazy with dust and desert sands blew across the highway. More than 2,500 (!!!) giant turbines were spread everywhere across the desert and hills, looking like an enormous plague of giant white locusts.

The surrounding hills proliferate with good hikes and fantastic views including the trace of the feared San Andreas Fault. Best is the nearby Joshua Tree National Park with its rolling desert landscape of precariously piled reddish granite boulders and distinct, isolated Joshua trees. We climbed to the top of a large granite massif and enjoyed hauntingly beautiful rock formations like the Jumbles and the Skull, which became more intense and blood red as the sun sank lower.

Little wonder snowbirds flock here.

If You Go You Gotta Know
General Palm Springs info:
Air Museum:
Sunnylands Gardens & Annenberg Estate:
Hard Rock Hotel:
Joshua Tree National Park: