From the Pacific Ocean to the Sonoran Desert, there are experiences aplenty in the wild and wonderful West
If you’re looking for a break from the desert, head to Oceanside, San Diego’s North Shore! This past-meets-present destination of discovery pairs offbeat experiences with that quintessential laid-back beach vibe. Home to legendary icons of surf, the California Surf Museum (surfmuseum.org) will teach you the history of hanging ten with a collection of vintage surfboards and exhibits on the most prominent surfers. Then it’s time to hit the waves yourself! Book a lesson with a local surf pro (visitoceanside.org/surfing-in-oceanside-california) and experience the thrill of Oceanside’s coastline in action.
If getting in the water isn’t your thing, take a stroll along the 1,942 feet-long Oceanside Pier (visitoceanside.org/oceanside-pier) or experience year-round dolphin- and whale-watching excursions (visitoceanside.org/whale-watching). The spectacular weather will make you eager to rent a beach cruiser, surrey or e-bike from Wheel Fun Rentals (wheelfunrentals.com) or hop on a fat-tire scooter with Ride Oside (rideoside.com). For a bird’s-eye view of the coastline, catch some air with Go Jump Oceanside (gojump-america.com) or soar into the sunset on a Waverider helicopter tour (waveriderhelicoptertours.com).
Stay awhile at their newest oasis the Seabird Resort (theseabirdresort.com) for unparalleled views of the Pacific, plus renowned art curated by the Oceanside Museum of Art (oma-online.org). Looking for a historic hangout in the heart of downtown? Book a stay at The Brick Hotel (thebrickhotel.com) and catch the excitement of weekly Thursday markets.
Looking to satisfy your inner foodie? Dive into flavor when you explore the award-winning craft beverage and culinary scene with Valle (valleoceanside.com), newly recognized in the prestigious Michelin guide this restaurant will transport your tastebuds to Baja Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley. If you want a full taste of this dining destination, adventure to multiple hotspots in one curated session with Carla & Linda’s Walking Food Tour (visitoceanside.org/blog/carla-linda-walking-food-tour-oceanside-california). Craft beverage fans cantake advantage of O’side Sips (visitoceanside.org/oside-sips) and sample the wide range of handmade beverages from local brews to wine tasting, locally distilled spirits, distinctive coffee and more with special discounts and tiered rewards.
Ocean Park Inn: A Hotel Reimagined
Family-owned since 1967, Ocean Park Inn is a storied San Diego hotel. Located at the ocean’s edge in the heart of Pacific Beach, waves of happiness are just a few steps away. The beachfront hotel offers guests an immersive Southern California experience, whether it be for couples, families, or business-leisure travelers.
Over the past several years, the property has undergone three phases of property-wide renovations, which include a comprehensive reimagination of the 71 guestrooms and interiors, as well as refreshed exteriors, pool deck and lounge. Recently, OPI completed phase four of the renovations, adding new amenities, including continental breakfast and beverage service.
OPI’s guestrooms and common areas were envisioned by Los Angeles-based bespoke interior architectural design firm Clear on Black. The sophisticated, streamlined furnishings and vintage local photography in the guestrooms are paired with crisp hues of cool mint green, black, white, and sun-drenched yellow, creating an atmosphere of pared-down elegance and chic retro luxe. The mid-century meets the beach vibe, complete with accents in tribute to the hotel’s original tiki-themed design, is the perfect setting for a Southern California beachfront getaway.
Set to flow with the property’s mid-century meets-the-beach vibe, the building exterior and pool areas were recently enhanced to align with the upgraded interiors. With the sparkling Pacific Ocean as the backdrop, guests can enjoy the sunshine on the oceanfront pool deck, which encompasses an abstract mid-century pattern made of recycled rubber and features sleek white sun loungers with teak accents to complete the clean, modern aesthetic.
The whimsical lobby showcases contributions from local artists, including an art installation by Randall Engstrom of Randall’s Sandals, ocean-inspired tabletops by Brett Olson of Wave Surface, and a photographic walking tour of Pacific Beach by photographer John Cocozza.
Guestrooms and suites are equipped with private patios and balconies, most with stunning ocean views. Amenities include direct access to San Diego’s pristine beaches, a heated pool and spa complete with sunset views, a selection of leisure equipment available on the property, ample gated valet parking, 24/7 concierge service and so much more.
Ocean Park Inn’s take on an elevated European-style continental breakfast features classic morning favorites. Guests can enjoy the following complimentary items from 6:30 am 10 am: make-your-own golden waffle station; scrambled eggs; turkey sausage; sork bacon; hash browns; classics such as cereal, yogurt, pastries, toast, and fruit; Also available will be a selection of juices, including orange, apple and cranberry.
In addition, the hotel recently unveiled a new beverage amenity available on the weekends. Guests can choose from a selection of rotating slushies, including spirit-free selections, in flavors such as strawberry margarita, frozen lemonade and piña colada. The slushies cost $15 or $22 if purchased with an OPI branded souvenir cup. Refills are available for $12 so the slushies can be enjoyed poolside all day long.
Guests can also purchase a variety of seasonally rotating beverages such as canned cocktails including June Shine margarita, June Shine vodka soda and passion guava margarita; seltzers, such as passion orange guava, raspberry lemonade, tropical cherry, watermelon and mango strawberry for $12; a wine selection offering Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling rosé, for $12 each; beer from Abnormal Beer Co. including a Blonde and a Hefeweizen for $6 and the Bour Pour IPA and Hazy Dream Unfiltered IPA for $8 and more to be announced as seasons change. All beverages can be purchased from the front desk as well as ordered in advance to be stocked in the room.
Ocean Park Inn is located at 710 Grand Ave., San Diego. For more information, please visit oceanparkinn.com and follow
@oceanparkinnsd on Instagram and Facebook.
Fifteen minutes north of downtown San Diego, you will find Birch Aquarium, a hidden gem nestled among the cliffs of La Jolla. As the public outreach center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Birch Aquarium’s hands-on exhibits explore the latest in ocean exploration, while introducing guests to a variety of amazing creatures.
The newest and most charismatic residents at Birch Aquarium are the Little Blue Penguins. In the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins habitat, guests will meet the world’s smallest penguins and follow them on their journey from hatchlings to adults, highlighting the challenges they face in a changing climate while celebrating the features that make them so unique. Don’t miss daily penguin feedings and talks.
In the Hall of Fishes guests come face to face with a giant Pacific octopus, a rescued loggerhead sea turtle, moon jellies and leopard sharks, to name a few. Get a diver’s eye view of leopard sharks, moraye eels and a giant black sea bass as they weave through the Giant Kelp Forest. Out on Tide Pool Plaza, guests will take in stunning ocean views while getting hands-on with local tide pool animals including juvenile sharks; then it’s off to Seadragons & Seahorses, one of the largest seadragon habitats in the world.
Birch Aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended summer hours in July and August. Tickets are $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17 (free ages 2 and younger). Note that the aquarium often sells out, so advanced reservations are required. Visit aquarium.ucsd.edu for more information or to make a reservation.
City of Cottonwood
Cottonwood is centrally located in the Verde Valley, the heart of Arizona’s wine country. It’s the perfect place to make your home base while exploring the wineries on the Verde Valley Wine Trail (vvwinetrail.com) or visiting Jerome or Sedona. Explore a region rich in history, natural beauty and word-class wines with 10 tasting rooms in Cottonwood alone.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Dead Horse Ranch State Park (azstateparks.com) offers an abundance of hiking trails, camping spots, fishing lagoons, and horseback riding and birdwatching opportunities. For a family-friendly dinner and a fun western show, head to Blazin’ M Ranch western town (blazinm.com). Other singular Cottonwood dining and drinking establishments include Belfry Brewery (belfrybrewery.com), Merkin Osteria (merkinvineyardsosteria.com) and Cork & Catch (corkandcatch.com).
Staying awhile? Hang your hat at Origins Bed & Breakfast (originsbedandbreakfast.com), which offers a complimentary, three-course breakfast, and each guestroom is named after a distinct element of the desert, such as Copper and Canyon. Views of the Verde River, Mingus Mountain, red rocks of Sedona and beige bluffs of the Verde Valley add to its unique Southwestern charm.
Old Town Cottonwood serves as the city’s focal point and is the ideal spot to stroll, dine, stay and play in the heart of it all. Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind antique, framed artwork or handmade piece of jewelry, the independent shops in Old Town Cottonwood cater to every type of visitor.
Pima Air & Space Museum
With more than 400 historic aircraft and 125,000 aviation artifacts, Pima Air & Space Museum (pimaair.org) is one of the largest aerospace institutions in the world. This Tucson landmark encompasses six hangars and 80 acres of outdoor space, plus an expansive restoration facility where projects range from repainting to refurbishing rare aircrafts. Pima’s collection features examples of international flight from every era in civil, commercial, military and experimental aviation, including an Air Force One, NASA’s Super Guppy, the oldest surviving SR-71 Blackbird, and the last B-36 Peacemaker ever built.
Admission includes the 390th Memorial Museum, an independent military museum, and the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, which recognizes leaders in aviation innovation, including 19th-century hot air ballooning pioneers, modern-day aerospace engineers and other trailblazers in advanced aircraft and missile technology.
The museum is pet- and family-friendly and includes a restaurant, playground and interactive activities for people of all ages to explore their inner aviator.
Exploring Pinal County
Experience many of Arizona’s unique attractions with a road trip in Pinal County, the heart of Southern Arizona, between Phoenix and Tucson.
You’re in Arizona, so slip into the saddle for a horseback riding adventure at Apache Junction’s Superstitions O.K. Corral Stables. Then head up the Apache Trail (AZ88) into the Superstition Mountains to Goldfield Ghost Town, an 1890s gold mining town, and Historic Goldfield Museum. Entrance is free, with fees for some attractions, including a zipline, narrow gauge railroad, mine tours and gold panning, with free gunfight shows.
The San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a 10,000-acre rural/suburban park with picnicking and a well-equipped visitor center. The Park has more than 20 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Look for petroglyphs and Sonoran plants and animals from javelinas to Gila monsters. Events include stargazing with provided telescopes.
Coolidge is home to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, a true Arizona treasure. The four-story building was built in about 1350 by the Hohokam Indians and named Casa Grande (Big House) by Spanish Missionary Father Eusebio Kino in 1694. This was the first historic site to receive protected status by the United States Government in 1892.
The Museum of Casa Grande provides a detailed look at the area’s heritage. Explore the early days of Arizona with artifacts and exhibits from pre-history to modern day and many special programs and events each year.
Don’t miss Skydive Arizona in Eloy, the world’s largest parachuting resort and frequent host of National and World Skydiving Championships! Check out the famous Bent Prop Saloon & Cookery.
The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch in Picacho fills that need for something different on this road trip. The family-owned ostrich ranch and petting zoo has been featured on numerous television shows. There are many different critters to feed with an amusement park, outdoor recreational activities and affordable family fun for all ages.
Discover the Town of Fountain Hills
Who says there’s no water in the desert? The titular water feature of the Town of Fountain Hills runs every hour on the hour for 15 minutes from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. When all three pumps are engaged, its spray reaches a full height of 560 feet – the fourth tallest fountain in the world! A state-of-the-art LED lighting system allows for colorful customization based on holidays and other seasonal happenings.
More water fills a 34-acre lake set in a beautiful 64-acre park, a popular destination for picnics and strolling. It’s also the setting for community events including the Greening of the Fountain on St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Fest, Oktoberfest, Music Fest and Independence Day.
Craving even more outdoors time? Pop over to the town’s 18-hole championship disc golf course, home of the world-renowned Memorial Championship. Or hit the Overlook Trail, which offers arresting views of the lake and fountain – and Four Peaks and Red Mountain in the distance. Other popular hiking excursions include the Adero Trail, Fountain Hills McDowell Mountain Preserve, McDowell Mountain Regional Park and Fountain Hills FIT Trails, which connect throughout the region. Mountain bikers frequently use Fountain Hills as their base camp for a long-haul ride up the Beeline Highway (SR 87).
Culture vultures will be captivated by Fountain Hills’ public art walk, River of Time Museum, Fountain Hills Theater, Fountain Hills Chamber Players, Fountain Hills Community Chorus and myriad art galleries. There are more 150 sculptures throughout the town, so you can craft your own art tour en route to Emerson Art Gallery and Fountain Hills Artists Gallery.