Epic beaches. Flawless weather. Enough craft beer to fill a baseball stadium. San Diego’s appeal to Valley vacationers is well-documented, but planning is vital. You can lap up San Diego like just another tourist, competing with crowds, visiting the same old amusement parks and wading through a sea of shops selling novelty shot glasses festooned with beach balls and pelicans. Or you can follow the advice of locals and uncover the area’s hidden treasures and lesser-known destinations.
New in “America’s Finest City”
Been there, done that? Check out these recent additions to the SD culture scene.
1. Little Italy boasts two new, hip restaurants. Juniper and Ivy (2228 Kettner Blvd., 619-269-9036, juniperandivy.com) offers “refined American food with left-coast edge,” courtesy of Chef Richard Blais, a winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars. Craft and Commerce (675 W. Beech St., 619-269-2202, craft-commerce.com) reopened after an extensive remodel, revamping its menu and adding a new executive chef.
2. Wood-fired pizza, healthy salads, charcuterie, craft beers, national and international wines. Need we say more about La Jolla’s coolest new hangout Wheat and Water (5737 La Jolla Blvd., 858-291-8690, wheatandwater.com)
3. Obviously, the San Diego Zoo isn’t new, but its Africa Rocks (2920 Zoo Dr., 619-231-1515, africarocks.sandiegozoo.org) exhibit, opening on May 22, is. Visitors can see a diverse group of animals that are native to Africa (and seen in the movie Madagascar), like honey badgers and lemurs.
4. San Diego Air & Space Museum (2001 Pan American Plaza, 619-234-8291, sandiegoairandspace.org) features an array of exhibits and artifacts about aviation and space history that are out of this world. New exhibit: the interactive “Be the Astronaut” experience.
Grand Slam Vacation: The Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego’s downtown historic district is well-known to Valley vacationers, with a well-trod shopping and nightlife trail. But it’s also dynamic, with new restaurants popping up every year, and arguably America’s finest baseball stadium. gaslamp.org
First Base: The Hard Rock
Celebrating its 10th year, the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego (207 Fifth Ave., 619-702-3000, hardrockhotelsd.com) oozes fun with on-site venues like the 207 Bar, which has showcased talents like Adele and Lady Gaga before they became superstars. Enjoy a cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop pool lounge Float and have a Michelin-level dinner at legendary sushi restaurant Nobu. Naturally, you’ll also find rock memorabilia everywhere from the restrooms to the conference centers. This combination of party in the front, business in the back is why the Hard Rock is unofficially referred to as the mullet of hotels.
Second Base: New Restaurants
Steakhouse/lounge STK (600 F St., 619-624-2400, stkhouse.com) and pan-American sushi hotspot Lionfish (435 Fifth Ave., 619-738-7200, lionfishsd.com) are two new upscale dining options in the Gaslamp. Find a 14 oz. dry-aged Delmonico at the former, and beet-cured salmon sashimi and sausage-stuffed squid at the latter.
Third Base: Baseball and Brews
Baseball and beer are natural bedfellows, perhaps nowhere more than in hop-head haven San Diego. Last summer, AleSmith Brewing Company (9990 AleSmith Court, 858-549-9888, alesmith.com) opened the Tony Gwynn Memorial Museum in its tasting room. Enjoy a local craft beer while viewing memorabilia from the late, beloved San Diego Padres Hall of Famer. Proceeds from sales of its San Diego Pale Ale .394 (an homage to Gwynn’s batting average in 1994) benefit the Tony & Alicia Gwynn (TAG) Foundation for underserved communities.
Home Plate: Petco Park
Looking to catch a D-backs game during your San Diego sojourn? You should, because Petco Park – the San Diego Padres’ home stadium – is truly a jewel of the baseball world, with an open-outfield design that affords fans exultant views of downtown (100 Park Blvd., 619-795-5000, padres.mlb.com). Who needs the Chargers when you have this? (Don’t actually say that to a local. It’s still a sore subject.)
3 Chefs to Know
San Diego is rife with Prohibitionist lore, from the rum-running fishermen of Del Mar to the cross-border Tijuana drinking scene. Pay homage by visiting these modern speakeasies.
The entrance to this jazz club/speakeasy is an unassuming door with a law office sign instructing you to ring the buzzer for entry. You’ll be met by a doorman and briefed with the house rules. 548 Fifth Ave., prohibitionsd.com
• The Noble Experiment
Located in the Gaslamp, this speakeasy is hidden behind a door disguised as a wall of kegs inside The Neighborhood taproom. Push the right side to enter and get there by 7 p.m. to beat the crowd – or, better yet, make a reservation online. 777 G St., 619-888-4713, nobleexperimentsd.com
• False Idol
San Diego’s first hidden tiki-themed bar is located within Craft & Commerce in Little Italy. If Polynesian fare and a strong Mai Tai are your things, you’ll love False Idol. 675 W. Beech St., falseidoltiki.com
San Diego’s Northern Secret: Solana Beach
Just like Las Vegas locals who eschew The Strip, San Diego has its own clique of townies who disdain the tourist-y hustle and bustle and treasure their own stash of hideout spots. One of them is Solana Beach.
Oft overlooked by tourists, this enclave 20 miles north of downtown San Diego was named the friendliest beach city in Southern California by the Los Angeles Times and is home to 12,000 people. That’s just 1 percent of the population of San Diego, but with all the fun.
Cedros Street offers more than 120 shops, businesses and restaurants on one long stretch, including a design district where you can peruse original furniture, home decor and art and bring a piece of Southern California home with you.
Fletcher Cove is a popular but not overly crowded beach that is also a draw for local surfers. Solana Beach originally had no accessible beaches, so an entryway was carved out with hydraulic pressure – a job that took one man with a fire hose three months to complete in 1925. Nearby, hikers can get their fix with Annie’s Canyon Trail, a moderate and a strenuous loop that opened last year. The tougher trail involves a little rock climbing, but is worth the work for the view at the peak. If you’ve successfully climbed Camelback Mountain, you can do it. Search Annie’s Canyon Virtual Hike on YouTube for a peek.Finally, Solana Beach is also known for its beloved annual Fiesta del Sol (fiestadelsol.net), which this year runs May 20-21. The free event is loaded with food trucks, family activities, arts and crafts, live music and much more.
The co-founder of Upward Projects summers in San Diego with his family, and has acute preferences when it comes to eating, playing and shopping.
“The Garden Variety Burrito at Haggos Organic Taco in Encinitas.” haggosorganictaco.com
Favorite seafood dish:
“The seafood curry stew at Fish 101 in Encinitas.” fish101restaurant.com
Best Beach Threads and Vintage Gear:
“Seaweed and Gravel. Cool store.” seaweedandgravel.com
Favorite Family spot:
DeMarco has mad respect for the organic Japanese principles practiced at Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe. “And it’s great for the kids,” he says. chinofamilyfarm.com
Pier for pier, sunset for sunset, break for break, the best beaches in California reside in Orange County. And of all the O.C. beach towns, Newport Beach, with its roughly four miles of clean, uninterrupted coastline, is the most user-friendly of them all. It’s a near-perfect hybrid of its neighbors: not as squirrelly and crowded as Huntington to the north, more spacious and lively than Laguna to the south. And the fun doesn’t end with the sun.
Resort vs. Rental
Come summer, Newport Beach rental owners boot the UC Irvine tenants living on nine-month leases and start renting by the week and weekend to vacationers. So should you rent or resort it?
Most of the Newport beachfront rests on a narrow isthmus called Balboa Peninsula, meaning no house is more than a five-minute walk from the beach.
Newport’s main resort/hotel area straddles in the back bay area formed by Newport Harbor. Pretty views, but no beach access.
You’re cooking for yourself. There’s a Safeway down the street.
Waterline at the Balboa Bay Resort (1221 W. Coast Hwy., 888-894-2788, meritagecollection.com) shaves black truffles over its braised short rib ravioli.
On the peninsula, walk down to Swellegant Vintage for a guayabera shirt or a funky knit sweater (etsy.com/shop/swellegantvintage), and score a $5 bike rental at Newport Cruisers (newportcruisers.com). Check out the mansions up and down Newport’s 3-mile boardwalk.
The Newport Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (900 Newport Center Dr., 949-640-4000, marriott.com) is nary a stone’s throw from Fashion Island (shopfashionisland.com) and its orgy of elite retailers (Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom).
Four weekday nights in July for a beachfront, 2-room listing on burrwhite.com: $2,657
Four weekday nights for two standard rooms at the Balboa Bay Resort: $4,577
* Unless you have ninja cooking skills, like Bernie Kantak or someone.
Overnight Option No.3: Island Hotel Newport Beach
Everything feels sunnier and breezier at this haute coastal hotel, located a short stroll from the Pacific Ocean and loaded with luxury amenities including a spa, fitness center, heated outdoor pool, business center and 24-hour in-room dining. Hotel restaurant Oak Grill serves locally sourced, farm-fresh California cuisine, while the on-site Aqua Lounge provides a sleek, turquoise-toned nightclub setting for dancing and drinking craft cocktails. Rooms and suites come with views of the city, Newport Beach or the back bay. 690 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, 877-591-9145, islandhotel.com
NB Beach Bar Crawl
For such an upstanding, upscale place, Newport has a ton of dive-y beach bars. Let’s explore.
1. Start at Malarky’s Irish Pub. $3 mimosas during the day, volume beer consumption all night at this Guinness-soaked Newport institution. 3011 Newport Blvd., 949-675-2340, malarkyspub.com
2. Mutt Lynch’s. It’s been there, overlooking the water for decades, and it’s always been a pit. But the name. How can you not love the name? 2300 W. Oceanfront, 949-675-1556, muttlynchs.com
3. Blackie’s by the Sea. Known simply as “Blackie’s” by locals, it’s the kind of place that stocks – and sells! – pickled eggs. 2118 W. Oceanfront, 949-675-1074, blackiesbythesea.com
4. Beach Ball. The granddaddy of Newport dives. Railroad-apartment-shaped, it’s a vaguely Lynchian and sinister drinking hole with a pair of well-used billiards tables in the back. Keep an eye on your friend. 2116 W. Oceanfront, 949-675-8041, beachballbar.com
3 Chefs to Know
— Craig Outhier
3TV News Anchor
An O.C. original – his dad was the fire chief for the City of Orange – Lee grew up in the Newport borough of Corona del Mar and loved hitting the locals-only 1000 Steps Beach just south of downtown Laguna Beach.
His favorite restaurant?
“If you say this restaurant to anyone, then you’ve got instant street cred as a local in Corona del Mar. Favorite restaurant: The Quiet Woman. The front door is stained glass with a headless woman. Amazing. It’s a very dark, piano bar restaurant. The steaks are amazing. The staff is cool, once you get to know them.”
No great American city has been slandered as mercilessly as Los Angeles – not even Detroit. But is L.A.’s reputation as a silicone metropolis, where “the only cultural advantage is the freedom to turn right on a red light,” as snooty New Yorker Woody Allen famously opined, now obsolete? L.A. has the Getty Center. It has a reinvigorated downtown. It has a phenomenally diverse dining scene. Meanwhile, improved mass transit has opened up the Southland in ways even Woody might have admired.
Bitchin’ Beach Hotels
Can you visit L.A. and not go to the beach? The very thought seems profane. Here are a pair of beachside-stay solutions.
• Beach House Hotel
Most of the elegant, split-level studio suites in this luxury beachfront hotel offer panoramic views of both Hermosa Pier and the 26-mile coastal boardwalk known as The Strand. (Warning: The urge to eavesdrop on passersby as they walk and bike under your balcony will be too much to bear.) As such, we’re comfortable declaring it “L.A.’s ultimate beach hotel.” If the armies of toned beach volleyball players on the sand below don’t hammer that point home, the mesmerizing crash and moan of the Pacific surely will. 1300 The Strand, 310-374-3001, beach-house.com
• Hotel Erwin
Want panache? This Venice Beach boutique hotel has it in spades. Sitting among the brightly colored storefronts and spirited street artists that populate the Venice Beach boardwalk, the 119-room charmer is crammed with original artwork, board games and books, with framed glossies of rock and R&B greats throughout every floor. Enjoy L.A.’s famed sunsets at High Rooftop Lounge, the only rooftop bar in Venice Beach, and enjoy the eclectic all-day menu at Barlo Kitchen & Cocktails. The hotel also provides bicycles, and offers a $100 tattoo voucher with its Ink & Stay package. Hmm. What’s the kanji symbol for “tourist”? 1697 Pacific Ave., Venice Beach, 310-452-1111, hotelerwin.com
Mo Cars, Mo Problems
L.A. traffic remains as heinous as ever, so may we suggest something radical? Go carless in four easy steps.
1. Stay at Loews Hollywood Hotel
This sleek high-rise (1755 N. Highland Ave., 323-856-1200, loewshotels.com) offers the L.A. weekender several enticing advantages. First, it’s dead center within the Hollywood sight-seeing nexus, next door to the TCL (née Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre, the El Capitan Theatre, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, et al. Second, it offers impeccable people-watching. (We’re pretty sure that was Kendrick Lamar and crew in the valet roundabout.) Third, it’s a block from a Metro subway station, perfect for your...
2. Downtown Daytrip
Long a sight-seeing black hole, downtown Los Angeles has flourished in recent years with big-ticket cultural venues and countless adaptive reuse projects. Take the Metro Red Line from Hollywood/Highland to Pershing Square and eat at Grand Central Market (317 S. Broadway, 213-624-2378, grandcentralmarket.com), a confederacy of food counters and micro-restaurants. (Our favorite: Sticky Rice, a casual Thai diner that serves a crisp, life-affirming green papaya salad.) Afterward, hike up the street to the Museum of Contemporary Art. (250 S. Grand Ave., 213-626-6222, moca.org). Drink in some Rothkos. Expand your mind.
3. Enjoy a beach day
The same Metro subway system (metro.net) that got you downtown can also take you to Santa Monica. A brutal 90-minute drive during rush hour, the 15-mile stretch between Hollywood and the beach is a comparatively genteel 60-minute subway ride on the Blue Line. Visit Santa Monica Pier. Shop at the Promenade. Wear sunscreen.
4. Taxi/Uber/Lyft to the airport
And come back home.
Burn 2,000 Calories… and Replace Them!
With its never-ending menu of boardwalks, outdoor stairs and celebrity-endorsed boutique gyms, L.A. is built for activity and self-indulgence. Jog and eat. Yin and yang.
Rent a beach cruiser at Hermosa Cyclery (20 13th St., Hermosa Beach, 310-374-7816, hermosacyclery.com) and bike The Strand (see “Beach Hotels”) all the way to Venice. You’ll ogle pretty houses. You’ll see the beachside oil refinery where Ridley Scott shot the intro to Blade Runner. You’ll cross Ballona Creek and see muscle-heads pump iron at Muscle Beach. (Only $10 for a day pass.)
Looking for L.A.’s answer to Piestewa Peak? Try hiking Griffith Park (laparks.org/griffithpark), Hollywood’s unspoiled, weald-like appendage. Pro tip: Take the bird sanctuary trail at the end of Vermont Trail Drive to experience the true summit hike and best views of downtown. Hike it twice to reach your calorie goal. Then go back to Loews for a hybrid sports/Thai massage from Frances, the hotel’s talented Brazilian therapist, who combines different therapy techniques into a bracing cocktail of wellness.
Bust out a morning kickboxing sesh at Prevail (5957 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 323-452-0101, prevailboxing.com), preferred Hollywood locale of such celebrity trainers as Erika Hammond and Rob Kellner. Then hop on the subway to downtown and have a quick bite at Grand Central Market (see “Mo Cars, Mo Problems”) before walking across the street to Angels Flight (angelsflight.org), a historical pygmy railway connecting downtown with the Signal Hill area. But you will not ride the train (it’s closed until Labor Day, anyway). You will hike the 300 feet of adjacent stairs. Six times, M’Fer.
Like a hybrid of Clever Koi and Ocean Club, Chef David LeFevre’s Fishing with Dynamite (1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, 310-893-6299, eatfwd.com) mixes Asian-infused innovation with eerily fresh sourcing. You could slurp down LeFevre’s electrifying oysters, served with a tart and dreamy mignonette sauce, all night and not make a dent in your calorie deficit. To settle the matter, order the Koshihikari Rice. Colloquially known as the “$25 Rice,” it’s a risotto-like bowl of sin packed with crab and shrimp, and made buttery with sea urchin and egg yolk. Sublime.
Chef Curtis Stone is a wizard with braised endive, but that’s not why you visit Gwen, his hybrid butcher-bistro in Hollywood (6600 Sunset Blvd., 323-946-7513, gwenla.com). You go for the meat, baby – best experienced via a five-course tasting that includes the chef’s legendary charcuterie-terrine assortment, a pulse-raising canvas of foies, lardons, cheeks and other glorious fleshy abominations. Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold is a notable fan.
French cuisine is always a dependable vehicle for calorie replacement. And when it’s the celebrated retro-rustic French cooking of Chef Tony Esnault at downtown restaurant Spring (257 S. Spring St., 213-372-5189, springlosangeles.com), all the better. Standouts included the escargots, served Provençal-style on a warm quilt of fennel-kissed tomato ragù; and Esnault’s famously sensual risotto au safran, with come-hither hints of saffron and frank propositions of Parmigiano-Reggiano. For dessert: molten chocolate ganache with lemon-honey sorbet. Lucky you did that sixth flight of stairs.
3 Chefs to Know
Bonus Activity: Do a La La Land Tour
Following our L.A. itinerary to the letter, you will have almost completed a shot-by-shot remake of the Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone Oscar winner.
Hermosa Pier: After their jazzy interlude at The Lighthouse Café (a real-life place located just up the street), the duo strolls the pier and sings “City of Stars.”
Griffith Park: Sebastian and Mia perform the showstopper “A Lovely Night” overlooking the San Fernando Valley, right off Mt. Hollywood Drive.
Angels Flight: Though closed since 2013, the historical micro-train got a one-day workout during a La La Land montage sequence.
Grand Central Market: In the movie, the couple visits Sarita’s Pupuseria. We didn’t try that one, but pupusas are always a good idea.
Loews Hollywood: Not featured in the movie… but as part of the Dolby Theatre complex, it is where Emma Stone met the press during her post-Oscar victory walk.
Visit discoverlosangeles.com for more information.
— Craig Outhier
Author and Booze Critic
The former East Valley Tribune scribe and current Thrillist columnist likes to hop on his bike and do a loop of his Venice neighborhood.
“I start at the Corner Door, have one of their nice cocktails, then go next door to Hatchet Hall, then continue a half-mile to Scopa Italian Roots, which has a secret back bar with one of L.A.’s best rare-spirits collections. Then I go across the street to the mini-mart to get a Gatorade, then bike to the pier and have a drink at the Venice Whaler, because when you’re doing a booze loop, it’s important to commune with nature. Then I walk to Hinano Café, a world-famous dive bar, which only serves beer and wine and for [expletive’s] sake don’t order the wine. Then on the way back home, I class it up again at The Tasting Kitchen and have a $20 Negroni.”
Dubbed “California’s Riviera” by admirers, this beachside community of 88,000 – about the population of Litchfield Park – has an outsized effect on the Golden State’s cultural gravity. Home to movie stars, dot-commers and winemakers, Santa Barbara has a mythic quality as both an artists’ enclave and high-dollar retreat, sitting on the ceremonial border between Southern and Central California, forever suspended in time. Snug and compact, it’s also purpose-built for a quick weekend getaway.
3 Resorts by Personality
Ultimate Girlfriend-Bonding Day
Filled with pampering and raw earthly beauty, this itinerary has you covered.*
• Morning Horse Ride
“These are no plugs – they’re real horses,” Charlie Picerni of Santa Barbara Beach Horseback Rides says proudly, saddling up a handsome palomino on his ranch property in Carpinteria just east of town. Affable and talkative, Picerni is a veteran horseman who also happens to be a child of Hollywood – his father had a 40-year acting career. As such, Picerni’s insider-y stories about Yul Brenner and other Golden Era stars are almost as enchanting as your amble to the beach on one of his steeds. 805-688-5984, sbbeachrides.com
• Brunch at Les Marchands
We’ve seen a lot of captivating brunch menus, but few like the stunner at this combo wine bar/cafe in the Funk Zone. “Breakfast poutine with sausage gravy” and “fried chicken with cheddar-jalapeño biscuit” taste as good as they read, and the A.M.-tuned cocktail selection – including a perky Aperol spritz – is unlike anything you’ll find in Phoenix. 131 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, 805-284-0380, lesmarchandswine.com
• Afternoon Wine Tasting
It’s wine time. Start at the Les Marchands wine bar – the staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the flights are smartly programmed. Afterward, we recommend leaving the Funk Zone and walking/biking/Ubering north to the Presidio, where the Urban Wine Trail tasting rooms – including Jamie Slone Wines (jamieslonewines.com), owned by the race car driver and former Valley resident – are less numerous but generally better. urbanwinetrailsb.com
• Salt Cave Siesta
You’ve had your fill of wine, and now it’s time for a cleansing snooze. Set right off the main State Street drag, this underground chill cave is coated floor-to-ceiling in purifying Himalayan salt. You step into a reclining chair, curl up in a blanket and meditate as a micro-circulator distributes toxin-leeching salt throughout your body. Or so they say. It is relaxing. 740 State St., Santa Barbara, 805-963-7258, saltcavesb.com
• Spa Session
A fantastic, four-level complex built around a rotunda staircase, The Spa at Bacara (see “3 Resorts”) certainly feels like the capital of Santa Barbara wellness. Inside, it has all the whimsies that distinguish elite spas from also-rans, including a clothing-optional “European” sun deck on the top floor. There’s even an on-site hair salon if you feel like gussying up after your rub.
Tool back down to the Funk Zone for dinner at Santa Barbara’s most talked-about restaurant, The Lark, a nouveau Southern small plates concept with a fascinating patio built from an upcycled aviation hangar. It’s buzzy, scene-y and fun, and the roasted Brussels sprouts – done in a classic Roman garum fish sauce with serrano – will be the best you’ve ever had. 131 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, 805-284-0370, thelarksb.com
*Also suitable for sensitive males.
— Craig Outhier
3 Chefs to Know
As executive chef at the stylish new steakhouse at Bacara Resort & Spa (see “3 Resorts”) – Lesage has everything you want in a rising chef. He’s young. He’s French. He sharpened his farm-to-table technique at a pair of Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, L’Astrance and Bras. And he super-charges resort standards like a blue crab cake, served with a playful celery root and apple remoulade.
One of the Golden State’s old-guard star chefs, Downey is the father of California cuisine in Santa Barbara County, and was one of the first to call out farmers on his menu at his eponymous downtown restaurant. Classic dish: crab salad with papaya and ginger-lime dressing. 1305 State St., 805-966-5006, downeyssb.com
The brains and toque behind Crudo and Okra visits Santa Barbara frequently and confirms our love for Les Marchands. Other recs from the Phoenix chef:
“Lucky Penny for breakfast and coffee, Yoichi’s for sushi (he used to work for Nobu), and La Super-Rica” for its famous tacos. Of the local wineries: “Barbieri wines was one of our favorites. It [was started] by a master sommelier who used to work with [Valley chef] Alex Stratta at the Wynn.”
Torn between a family-friendly beach romp in Southern California and a sophisticated adult sojourn to wine country in Northern California? Who says you have to choose? Get both in San Luis Obispo, a chill – and occasionally chilly – hybrid of oceanfront and farmland that feels like a eugenics-engineered lovechild of San Diego and Napa Valley.
Wine on the Farm
It seems almost too good to be true for wine lovers: a tasting room paired with a gourmet deli, set in a beautiful wooden building on a sprawling farm compound with a vineyard, and there are cottages to sleep off your wine buzz. It is blissful reality at Old Edna Townsite (1655 Old Price Canyon Rd., San Luis Obispo, 805-710-3701, oldedna.com), one of the area’s first settlements that at various points in time housed a post office, a butcher and an antique shop before current owner Pattea Torrence purchased the property in 2000 and undertook a comprehensive restoration, rejuvenating the farm and creating four beautifully appointed rental homes onsite.
Nine years later, Craig and Nancy Stoller opened a tasting room for Sextant Wines on the property (1653 Old Price Canyon Rd., San Luis Obispo, 805-544-3362, sextantwines.com) along with The Gourmet Deli, which serves traditional wine-pairing fare (charcuterie, panini, cheese platters, crudité) as well as a very California rotating taco special. Pair spicy barbacoa with a slightly fruity and floral Sextant Wines Pinot Noir for a tongue-tingling good time.
Old Edna Townsite and Sextant Wines are the perfect entrée into exploring San Luis Obispo’s thriving wine scene, which is too often overshadowed by its northerly
sisters in Napa, Sonoma and Healdsburg, and by its up-and-comer neighbor Paso Robles. Learn more about SLO Wine Country in our Great Escapes piece dedicated to it later this summer. Look for it in the August issue of PHOENIX magazine (slowine.com).
Hike the Coast
Hikers accustomed to cholla-lined trails and saguaro-capped summits here in the Valley will be astonished by the comparably exotic beauty of the Pecho Coast Trail, bordered on one side by verdant cliffs overrun with wildflowers and on the other side by a steep drop to crashing ocean waves below. Guided treks are offered for a $5 cash donation through a partnership between PG&E, the California Coastal Commission and the Port San Luis Harbor District (pge.com/trails). Docents identify wildflowers and wildlife on the journey and take hikers to the historical Point San Luis Lighthouse (pointsanluislighthouse.org), which hikers can tour for an additional $5 donation.
— Leah LeMoine
3 Chefs to know
Enjoy “California Coastal Cuisine” in a dining room with panoramic views of Avila Pier, just steps above the beach. Mathers’ skill, fittingly, lies in seafood preparation. His Arctic char with confit sweet potato makes a dynamite pairing with local winery Chamisal’s “Stainless” Edna Valley Chardonnay. 268 Front St., Avila Beach, 805-595-4050, oceangrillavila.com
Front Office Guy
The Cal Poly alum now lives in Tempe and works as Cultural Development Director for the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
“It’s a wonderful place to live because it lives up to its nickname of ‘SLO Town.’ Everything moves a little slower in San Luis Obispo. There’s just a different energy and feel about San Luis Obispo where everybody is just nice and happy and more relaxed than they are in most other cities in the United States... Firestone Grill is probably the most famous restaurant in SLO. It has excellent tri-tip sandwiches and burgers. Another thing about SLO Town is there are no drive-thru restaurants. They go out of their way to ensure that San Luis Obispo remainse SLO.”
Something’s fishy about Monterey. Most recently, it made headlines as the idyllic seaside setting for the Stepford-y community in Big Little Lies, HBO’s juicy new murder mystery/melodrama. In reality, the cute little beach town on California’s craggy central coast is a lot more down to earth. This is the former “Sardine Capital of the World,” after all, the place that inspired John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row, written about the area’s hardscrabble inhabitants. Nowadays, finding fun things to do in Monterey is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Under the Sea
It’s all about ocean dwellers in Monterey, from jellies and otters at the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium to whale-watching (and dolphin-spotting) with marine biologists. Experience the Pacific by land and sea with this trio of aquatic adventures.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The world looks to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and not just for its spectacular water habitats for sharks, cephalopods, rays and countless schools of fish. Since it opened in 1984, the aquarium has been at the forefront of ocean conservation and education, spawning the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in 1987, the Tuna Research and Conservation Center in 1994 and the Seafood Watch online program and consumer guide (now available in a user-friendly app for smart phones and tablets) to help diners make sustainable seafood choices. Any chef worth his sea salt uses Seafood Watch to ensure responsible sourcing. A groovy kelp forest, interactive displays, live feedings, an oceanic art gallery and a surprisingly good onsite café net the rest of us. 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, 831-648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org
Immerse yourself in Monterey’s sardine boomtown beginnings with a trip through the old canning district, now a buzzing beachside “downtown.” Originally settled in the 1800s by Chinese salmon fishermen and Portuguese shore-whalers, the area hit its stride as the epicenter of sardine canning during World War I, when the demand for preserved food spiked among soldiers on the frontlines in Europe. By the time Steinbeck immortalized it in 1945, Cannery Row was in decline. Thanks to the efforts of restaurant managers Ted Balestreri and Bert Cutino, who founded the Cannery Row Company in 1976, the strip was rejuvenated and transformed into the picturesque waterfront esplanade it is today. canneryrow.com
Monterey Bay Whale Watch
Marine biologist and activist Nancy Black has been studying killer whales for more than 25 years. She brings that lifelong dedication and passion for marine life to her whale-watching tours, the only of their kind in the bay led by a crew of marine biologists with an emphasis on education. “There’s no place like it in the world,” Black says of Monterey Bay’s unique temperature and underwater canyon that draws gray and blue whales during their annual migrations. Captain Black and her guide Isaiah Foulks brim with Monterey tips, from the best hiking and diving spots (Point Lobos State Park and the Breakwater, respectively) to the best spot for seafood ravioli (Paluca Trattoria). 84 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, 831-375-4658, montereybaywhalewatch.com
Soar with the Seagulls
The best accommodations in Monterey County are at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands (120 Highlands Dr., Carmel, 831-620-1234, highlandsinn.hyatt.com), a gorgeous property in Carmel-by-the-Sea that was founded as an artists’ colony 100 years ago (see Last Look, page 184) before being converted into a cluster of cliff-overlooking casitas and suites. The hotel offers a stunning aerial tour of the Monterey/Big Sur coastline at sunset in a state-of-the art Cessna, customizable with Champagne, roses and a video of your flight. Inquire for pricing.
Hidden Gem: Golfers’ Paradise
Pebble Beach Golf Links gets all the press, but Monterey County is also home to Poppy Hills Golf Course (3200 Lopez Rd., Pebble Beach, 831-250-1819, poppyhillsgolf.com), a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course that meanders through the storybook Del Monte Forest and is home to the Northern California Golf Association. It’s also home to one of the best restaurants in the county (see “3 Chefs to Know”).
— Leah LeMoine
3 Chefs to Know
Chad Minton & Alvaro Dalmau
California Market at Pacific’s Edge
Minton’s California cuisine – fresh Monterey Bay catches with local produce – is the perfect accompaniment to the views of the Big Sur coast from CMPE’s clifftop perch at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands hotel. Executive sous chef Dalmau ups the freshness with a plant-based tasting menu at dinner. 120 Highlands Dr., Carmel, 831-622-5450
Ted & Cindy Walter
When the daughter of a fisherman marries a classically trained chef, an award-winning seafood restaurant is a delicious inevitability. Cindy was a driving force behind the sustainable seafood movement in Monterey and she and Ted have embraced MBA’s Seafood Watch program since they opened their intimate, romantic restaurant in 1997. You can’t go wrong with anything on the seasonally changing menu. 701 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 831-655-3311, passionfish.net
Co-host, AZTV 7’s Arizona Daily Mix “Monterey was a quick drive from my home in Salinas. I love the Monterey Bay area, ocean views, fresh smell of salt water and seafood along the bay from gourmet, oceanfront restaurants. One of my favorite places to visit and stroll through is Fisherman’s Wharf… My personal favorite is the Old Fisherman’s Grotto – best clam chowder by the sea.”
Santa Cruz is dang happy. A 2016 Gallup poll on well-being ranked the small surf town on the northern tip of Monterey Bay the happiest city in California and the third happiest in the country. Foremost on the smile meter: These beach bums scored first overall on the biggest predictor of well-being, saying they “learn or do something interesting every day.” Whether they’re surfing, riding coasters at one of the last remaining seaside amusement parks on the West Coast, hiking the redwood forest just seven miles inland, or making the freshest farm-to-table cuisine you’ll ever have (without a hint of irony), Santa Cruzans know they’ve got something good.
3 Ways to Find your Happy in SC
Local lore claims Santa Cruz as the birthplace of mainland surfing: Legend has it three vacationing Hawaiian princes brought their plank boards here in 1885. But while this may be surf nirvana, if you’re more klutz than Slater, there are plenty of ways to live the beach life without getting on a board.
So-named for its totally Instagram-able, wave-carved, arched sea cliff, Natural Bridges State Beach (2531 W. Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz) is the quieter, more picturesque option for beach lounging compared to the main beach framing the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. After a day spent building sandcastles and exploring tide pools, check into the Beach Street Inn and Suites (125 Beach St., Santa Cruz, 831-423-3031, beachstreetinn.com), a friendly hotel done in cheerful blues with killer views of the ocean and wharf.
If the waves and the wetness are keeping you from getting out on the water, try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) instead. Kayak Connection (413 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-479-1121, kayakconnection.com) offers a slew of kayak tours and SUP classes in addition to hourly rentals. An early morning solo paddle is surprisingly serene. Cruise up the sheltered Santa Cruz Harbor, get a stellar arm workout and ogle the huge yachts parked next to humble sailboats, all while staying blessedly dry.
From beach life to mountain life in 20 minutes flat, Roaring Camp Railroads (5401 Graham Hill Rd., Felton, 831-335-4484, roaringcamp.com) is a fun diversion for sunburned families. Once a gold-panning settlement in the 1830s, Roaring Camp became a mountain resort with a narrow-gauge steam engine railroad that takes tourists chugging through colossal redwood trees.
“It was just a real kind town,” says Oregon native Nesh Dhillon, director of Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, of why he decided to stay in Santa Cruz instead of pursuing an M.D. Dhillon grew up hunting and gardening, and maintains a deep appreciation for where his food comes from. It’s a feeling he’s translated into expanding the 27-year-old market, which boasts a huge selection of regional, certified-organic growers at five venues throughout the county.
At the downtown market, which runs year-round on Wednesdays adjacent to Santa Cruz’s teeny-yet-charming main drag, Nesh says he has a “soft requirement” that vendors source from the market’s growers. That means the decadent fair trade raspberry chocolate truffles from the Ashby Confections booth are made with fruit grown by a farmer a few stalls over, as are ingredients for crusty sourdough loaves and rosemary shortbread at the Companion Bakeshop tent. It gives farm-to-table a whole new meaning. santacruzfarmersmarket.org
— Lauren Loftus
3 Chefs to Know
Kendra Baker & Zach Davis
Penny Ice Creamery
Baker and Davis head the hyper-local food empire The Glass Jar. Their first venture was Penny Ice Creamery, which uses sustainable ingredients and local produce in its creative, scratch-made batches of organic ice cream. Think: strawberry pink peppercorn and mascarpone kumquat. 913 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 831-204-2523, thepennyicecreamery.com
The former Arizona Republic photojournalist was a proud Banana Slug at UC Santa Cruz.
“Santa Cruz is a beautiful beach town. One of my favorite things to do is drive just north of the city and walk across Highway 1 and visit some of the more secluded beaches. On some days you can even see whales, dolphins or sea lions.”
The area we now think of as the birthplace of many of humanity’s greatest technical achievements was once called the Valley of Heart’s Delight. How fitting. Until halfway through the 20th century, the Santa Clara Valley was thick with spectacular flowering bows of apricot, cherry and plum trees in orchards spreading south from the San Francisco Bay. After World War II, the fruit trees were scrapped for multi-billion-dollar tech companies making silicon semiconductors and staffed by nerdy young engineers with the next great idea in their back pockets. The region’s nickname may have changed, but it’s still a verdant valley ripe for the picking for laissez-faire vacationers and tech geniuses alike.
Live Like a Zuckerberg… in Old San Jose!
Not everything in Silicon Valley is tech-oriented. There are still remembrances of things past dotted throughout the valley and the hills that surround it. Take a break from the tech rat race and explore the eclectic culture of this diverse community. Even tech titans need balance.
Horseback riding at Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards
Dating back to 1893, this family-owned 28-acre organic vineyard is also home to a few dozen horses and ponies with access to 23 miles of riding and hiking trails among the rolling hills of the Fremont Older Preserve overlooking Silicon Valley. Follow up a one-hour guided trail ride with a round of wine tasting on the winery’s quaint patio. The Viognier is particularly tangy and refreshing. (22647 Garrod Rd., Saratoga, 408-867-9527, garrodfarms.com)
Stay in Downtown San Jose
The cultural and political hub of Silicon Valley, San Jose boasts a charmingly small downtown despite being the third most populous city in all of California. To truly indulge in the new money/app-creator fantasy, stay at the Fairmont San Jose (170 S. Market St., San Jose, 408-998-1900, fairmont.com/san-jose), a grandiose hotel with stately quarters and a luxe sunken lobby bar that hosts live music on weekends.
San Jose’s Japantown is one of only three remaining in the U.S., and it’s teeming with fascinating, and heartbreaking, history. A docent-led walking tour from the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (535 N. Fifth St., San Jose, 408-294-3138, jamsj.org) will guide you through the town’s curiously large number of ukulele shops and landmarks, including memorials dedicated to the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during WWII, leaving the area a ghost town for years. Make sure to cap off the tour with some manju (a Japanese term for confection) at Shuei-Do Manju Shop (217 Jackson St., San Jose, 408-294-4148). The peanut butter mochi is outrageous.
Gaga for Google?
Tour the titans of the New Economy on a Silicon Valley tech tour.
“Silicon Valley is one big expanse of nondescript buildings,” says Sharon Traeger, who runs private tours of the region and San Francisco (visit traegertours.com for pricing). But behind the sprawl, she says, are really interesting stories – of virtuosos like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and William Shockley, whose creations turned the world on its head.
Traeger’s Silicon Valley tour is open to both techies and novices, and is fully customizable. Get your photo taken in front of the thumbs-up sign outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. Hop on one of the beach cruisers parked throughout the sprawling Googleplex campus in Mountain View for a quick ride around their Android sculpture garden. Drive by Apple Park, the massive, eerie, circular “spaceship campus” due to open later this year before exploring the expanded Apple Store on the current campus.
Tech pilgrims can go even more in-depth, driving by the homes and, more importantly, garages where innovative companies like Hewlett-Packard were formed and the first Apple computer was built. Traeger will also deposit tourists at the Tech Museum of Innovation (thetech.org), a neon-colored interactive science and technology center in downtown San Jose. Exhibits for kids and kids-at-heart include a robotics studio and a space exploration wing in which you can try your hand at navigating a jet pack.
— Lauren Loftus
3 Chefs to Know
Buck’s of Woodside
Some major tech deals have gone down at owner MacNiven’s pancake joint, packed to the gills with oddities from around the world like a flea circus and Shaquille O’Neal’s shoe. Hotmail and Tesla were purportedly founded here, while PayPal secured funding over lunch. The fries aren’t bad, either. 3062 Woodside Rd., Woodside, 650-851-8010, buckswoodside.com
Co-Founder of Tuft & Needle
Marino worked at a tech start-up in Palo Alto before moving to the Valley.
“Living in Palo Alto was a time of growth for me, and places like the Stanford Theatre and Palo Alto Creamery, that I went to a few times a month, make me very nostalgic for that time. I’m a creature of habit, and you could consistently find me at Coupa Café (where we made our first T&N sale) or The Rose & Crown, where Pliny the Elder was always on draft.”
San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country – in 2016, in fact, it was ranked No. 1 by GOBankingRates. It can be easy, then, to forget that San Fran was once the capital of free. Beat writers, anti-war protestors, artists and immigrants have always called the place home, managing to eke out rich lives despite having zero riches. Much of that free-love philosophy remains today in the face of skyrocketing rents. In fact, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, when hordes of flower children converged on the city, rejecting materialism in favor of sharing and community. Seize that spirit for yourself and experience this land of plenty without spending a fortune.
Getting Started: The Art of the Pass
While the hippies of 50 years ago would likely have scoffed at visiting San Francisco’s touristy attractions, this is 2017 and savvy nouveau hippies have evolved to appreciate a good deal. Stick it to the man by taking advantage of one of these multi-attraction passes that get you into many of the city’s museums, exhibits and activities for a whole lot less.
San Francisco CityPASS
Valid for nine days, this $89 booklet gives you four admission tickets plus – perhaps most valuable – a seven-day passport on Muni (Municipal Transportation Agency) buses, trains and cable cars. Booklets contain passes to the California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, 415-379-8000, calacademy.org), a superlative science museum with working ecosystems including a glass globe rainforest in the middle of the lobby. citypass.com/sanfrancisco
Go San Francisco Card
Save up to 55 percent on more than 30 Bay Area attractions. The catch? You must cram everything into one day. For $65, use your card to get into as many places as possible, such as the infinitely interesting Exploratorium (Pier 15, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, 415-528-4444, exploratorium.edu). Seriously, kids and adults alike will love testing out the museum’s many experiments that challenge the limits of the human mind. smartdestinations.com/guide/sfo
3 Chefs to Know
How to Do SF on $200/Day
Not every trip to San Francisco needs to include $15 Ghirardelli chocolate sundaes and expensive tchotchke shopping trips to Fisherman’s Wharf. Escape the price traps and tourist crowds by exploring the grittier sides of the city.
Room: The Tilden Hotel
345 Taylor St., San Francisco, 415-673-2332, tildenhotel.com
Affordable and utterly cool, the Tilden was re-designed to be an oasis in the middle of the Tenderloin – AKA the last frontier in the face of San Francisco’s ever-expanding gentrification – with a hummingbird garden and a new craft cocktail bar and eatery called The Douglas Room.
Cost: Rooms start around $135.
Breakfast: Hooker’s Sweet Treats
442 Hyde St., San Francisco, 415-441-4628, hookerssweettreats.com
Get your mind out of the gutter and start your day the way your doctor never intended, with coffee and salted caramels at Hooker’s (see “3 Chefs”). Their scones and bread pudding are sinful, too.
Cost: Caramels $2 each; coffee $3
Morning activity: The Tenderloin Museum
398 Eddy St., San Francisco, 415-351-1912, tenderloinmuseum.org
The Tenderloin neighborhood embraces its dodgy reputation as the city’s epicenter of vice thanks to a history mired in gambling halls, brothels, speakeasies and gay nightclubs. Explore the museum’s collection or splurge on a walking tour of notable nearby sites, including spots where the Grateful Dead and Miles Davis recorded.
Cost: $10 for entry; tour additional $5
Lunch: Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building, San Francisco, ferrybuildingmarketplace.com
The mammoth blue-gray Ferry Building opened in 1898 as San Francisco’s main transportation hub. A century-plus later, and the ferryboat operator stalls have been swapped out for booths showcasing local farmers, artists and food producers hawking everything from pottery thrown in Sausalito to couture honey made by Bay Area beekeepers. Pack yourself a hodgepodge picnic lunch. The cheese sandwiches at Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick are particularly portable and tasty.
Cost: Sandwich $8.25
Afternoon activity: Presidio
For the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head to the Presidio. Formerly a U.S. military fort, the Presidio offers hikes to satisfy forest and beach lovers alike with plenty of scenic vistas overlooking the bridge, bay and ocean. Baker Beach on the far southeastern side of the park is the perfect picnic spot, with wide sandy beaches and unparalleled views of Golden Gate and the green hills of Marin beyond. Free PresidioGo shuttles will haul you across the park to Downtown.
Dinner: Panchita’s Restaurant No. 2
3091 16th St., San Francisco, 415-431-4232
The Mission District is home to the city’s highest concentration of Chicano and Latino populations, and your best bet for a Latin meal. At Panchita’s, pupusas – traditional Salvadoran masa patties stuffed with meat or veggies and gooey cheese – are topped with complimentary cabbage slaw and hot sauce found by the bucketful at each table.
Cost: Pupusas $3 each
Evening activity: Clarion Alley
Between 17th and 18th streets and Valencia and Mission streets, clarionalleymuralproject.org
Imagine if the murals of Downtown Phoenix were more political and clumped together in one long strip: That’s the Clarion Alley Mural Project. Since 1992, the grassroots project has paved the way for more than 700 murals to grace the fences and garages of this Mission District alley. It’s a (free) free speech zone… and a dynamite place to take photos at Golden Hour.
Bonus Activity: City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl., San Francisco, 415-554-4000, sfgov.org/cityhall
If the prospect of willingly spending time at a city hall sans jury summons seems odd, you’ve never been to the ornate spectacle of granite known as San Francisco City Hall. Spend an evening (it’s open until 8 p.m. on weekdays) wandering the marble steps of the grand domed hall – a full 42 feet taller than the dome of the nation’s Capitol – where you’ll likely spot a wedding or three. In addition to the permanent ground floor display showcasing the city’s history at the forefront of marriage equality, check out “Jim Marshall’s 1967” exhibit (sfartscommission.org/gallery), on display through July 31. Featuring 80 photographs from the iconic photographer, this free show chronicles the local hippie movement and rock ‘n’ roll scene with photos of legends like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Cost: Free
SF Hack: Fly on the Cheap
The least expensive way to get to SF? Probably the $57-$74 one-way tickets to Oakland from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport offered by Allegiant Air. Or hitchhiking. allegiantair.com
— Lauren Loftus
Reporter at KJZZ 91.5 FM
The investigative journalist grew up in Berkeley, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism. “I love wandering down alleyways in the Mission and checking out the dozens of murals you can see in an area spanning just a few blocks. Some were painted decades ago and reflect the neighborhood’s Latin American roots. The organization Precita Eyes offers walking tours every weekend, plus they restore murals and teach kids how to paint new ones.”
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