Redding, CA: Shape Up In Shasta Cascade

The breathtaking Shasta Cascade region offers world-class rivers, lakes and trails making it the perfect location to shape up with a plethora of outdoor activities....

Long Beach CA: Hotel Maya

Paying homage to this mysterious culture stands the Hotel Maya along the harbor in Long Beach. Complete with the unique and spectacular architectural style of the stepped pyramids, Hotel Maya welcomes guests into their "village" of modern structures assembled to create this luxurious seaside resort.

Murphys, CA: Murphys Haunted Hotel

When you arrive in the authentic town of Murphys, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, the locals will ask about where you are staying. If your response is Murphys Historic Hotel, expect the response to be, Haunted! That hotel is haunted!

San Diego, CA: The Keating Hotel

Southern California. Italian design. Ferrari. Stainless steel. Maserati. Bang and Olufsen. Rain showerheads. Just one of these by itself is damn sexy. Put them all together, add a king-sized bed, and you have the uber sexy Keating Hotel.

Arrowhead, CA: Mountain Swimming Hole

Nothing beckons the old days of hiking up the mountains to a nearby waterfall and jumping into the water feet first. Local photographer Sam Katz brings us back to those old memories with a look back.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cambria, CA: A Coastal Traveller's Delight

Over 20 years ago, on a drive up the coast, I left a piece of my soul on the bluff of Cambria. We had only passed through, stopped for a picnic, and continued driving, but those moments overlooking the ocean clung to my heart, beckoning my return. The breathtaking view was even more stunning than my memory when I stepped out of my car, 20-plus years later, and inhaled the glory of pines and sea.

Cambria is an extraordinary small town, settled in a small nook between forested mountains and a jagged, rocky coastline. With approximately 7,000 residents, the town doesn’t promise to be anything but quaint, enjoyable, and welcoming to out-of-towners. Gift shops, eateries, wine bars, a Victorian Tea House, and one lone beer bar ramble along the main drag, which is segmented into a West Village and an East Village. Such simplicity is a rare find; a vacation town that loves being a vacation town, and accommodates guests so. A long strip of inns stretches out on Moonstone Beach Drive, where the ocean bluff is a simple walk across the road.

squirrelOn the bluff, a 2-mile length of boardwalk, with stairs down to the beach and generous viewing decks greet visitors. The stunning view from any deck goes on for miles, and in the evening hours, one can see the lighthouse up the coast, still serving on the peninsula. Walking upon the boardwalk, arm in arm, listening to the roaring ocean, breathing in the aroma of salt, pines, and the wildflowers that abound along the bluff, we were greeted with other smiling couples, also walking arm in arm. Serenity engulfed us, and no words need be said, as the spectacular views and gentle breezes released us from the world beyond Cambria, and reminded us the world we are graced with is truly awesome. Numerous benches are placed along the bluff, lining the boardwalk, inhabited by peaceful couples enjoying the sunset and cuddling close.

Moonstone Beach BarWith a promising mixture of spectacular views and fresh seafood, Cambria delights visitors with delicious restaurant options. The Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill and The Sea Chest are the two options most recommended by locals for seafood. One must arrive early, very early, for seating at either one, or call ahead for reservations. To determine which restaurant was the best, we found asking locals to be a daunting task, as they all have their favorites. But these were the only choices that everyone could agree upon for views and seafood.

Charlie Red PoetLocals all recommended dining at Madeline’s in town overall. Serving French cuisine, Madeline’s exceeded our expectations. Trolling the wine tasting rooms and cute gift shops, we met fun, interesting people. Charlie, the owner of Red Poet Winery, set up a tasting for us of not only delicious wines and fabulous local olive oils, but entertained us with facts about the town and some of the people who reside and visit. He shared that after Memorial Day, prices for the Inns triple until September, as well as the weeks between Christmas and New Years Day, and again on the week of Valentine’s Day. The town simply shuts down during the month of January, as most merchants take that month for vacation. Charlie recommended visiting in October, as the Indian Summers are so pleasant, prices are low, and the town is lively. Lelie at Black Hand Winery also served up a great wine tasting for us, shared her favorite dinner recipe, recommended other eateries and fun spots to visit, and was highly informative about wine in general.

Hearst CastleA trip up to Hearst Castle seemed in order, as it is only minutes away. For anyone who has not visited the spectacular home of William Hearst, you don’t know what you are missing. For anyone who has been, the draw to return is strong, and the numerous tours all offer different perspectives of the enormous grounds and multiple residences. Intricate details abound throughout the estate, hidden among the incredible statues, breathtakingly enormous architecture, and opulent furnishings.

The merchants, servers, and townspeople in Cambria have created a welcoming tourist town that doesn’t feel at all touristy. They are pleased to have out-of-towners visit, and look forward to serving us. Most seem to love what they do, and love their little town. Beyond the breathtaking views, the serenity that abounds everywhere one goes, and the array of entertaining ways to spend one’s time, the warmth we received from all of the locals created a sense of feeling welcome.

Cambria, CA: Madeline's of Cambria

Madelines of CambriaOn the main drag, tucked in between the little shops and realty offices in the tiny coastal town of Cambria, is a small restaurant, Madeline’s. Chef David at Madeline’s is praised by all of the locals as having the best food in Cambria, bar none. Many insisted we go to Madeline’s for the filet mignon, chicken with Brie, and after dinner be certain to have the “Chocolate Thing”. In the early afternoon we walked into Madeline’s, and Chef David made reservations for us himself. When I asked, he said he was indeed making the “Chocolate Thing”. Bartender Kelly served up a few wine tasters for us, and an exquisite cognac, just to whet our palates.

Madeline's CambriaThat evening, dinner was exquisite, and everything, including the “Chocolate Thing” was everything we were promised. The Chicken with Brie was a tender chicken breast wrapped around a small portion of brie and fresh herbs, coated with a breadcrumb mixture and lightly pan fried in butter to a golden perfection. Served with exquisite scalloped potatoes, sliced nearly paper-thin and layered with heavy cream and gruyere cheese, and baked. The potatoes were so phenomenal, I nearly asked for seconds! The freshly steamed broccoli was tender crisp and lightly seasoned, complimenting the seemingly simple yet incredibly delicious meal.

filet mignon madeline'sThe filet mignon was a generous portion of buttery steak, flavorful, that cut into tender, moist slices of angus delight. Seasoned lightly on the outside, pan seared and doused with a pan jus, each bite seemed to bring about thoughts of cattle roaming the coastal countryside grazing on grasses that blew in the Pacific breeze.

With a great selection of hard-to-find wines, Madeline’s offers not only the perfect wine for your meal, but appropriate advice when asked which wine would suit the palette. Pairing wines is often spoken of, but when a restaurant specializes in bringing the best of local wines and creating dishes that compliment those wines, then the service is complete. William, our server, asked a few questions before recommending a wine, and made excellent suggestions. Pleased with every glass for every course, we were able to enjoy the best of both offerings.

In any great restaurant, dessert must be decadent and climactic, in order to not be overshadowed by the main course. The “Chocolate Thing” was spectacular! Layers of chocolate crust, and the best dark chocolate, semi-dark chocolate, chocolate sauce all served in a fluffy bed of freshly whipped cream, drizzled with just a bit more chocolate sauce, the entire dessert was almost too beautiful to eat. So rich and smooth, each bite was pure ecstasy. This is a chocolate dessert I will dream of for years, as only a true chocoholic would. Truly, the “Chocolate Thing” should be renamed the “Chocolate Dream”.

Madeline’s is far more than a place to eat. Our server William was so courteous, kind, and willing to please, we felt we had made a friend before dinner was completed. Chef David took the time to leave the kitchen and speak with each guest, welcoming them to his restaurant and thanking them for their patronage. He is a warm, friendly, and outgoing man who loves what he does; preparing exquisite food for his customers. In a romantic and serene atmosphere, a couple can enjoy an extraordinary meal, great service, great wine, and the company of one another.

Madelines of Cambria

Madeline's Restaurant

Open Daily 5 - 9
Closed Wednesday

788 Main Street
Cambria, Ca 93248

Phone: 805.927.4175

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Temecula, CA: Yard House of Temecula

yard house temeculaTemecula is often synonymous with wines, the old west, antique shops, and golf. But thanks to a real estate boom in the 1990s and early 2000s, Temecula, CA has seen an influx of vibrant, urban living that has brought with it a more contemporary, modern lifestyle.

Yard House opened its doors to Temecula in 2009 as a centerpiece to the city's newly redesigned Promenade Mall, offering diners the finest in eclectic cuisine in the heart of Southwest California's energetic nightlife.

Our first step inside revealed modern, industrial decor with combination of angular steel beams and round pipes. Contemporary music showered down from the ceiling mixing with a cacophony of energetic, youthful clientele, while colorful artwork in the form of paintings and pottery reflected flair of an au courant touch.

yard house temeculaAles and lagers are the choice of Yard House patrons, contrary to the Temecula's well-known reputation for wineries. And you'll find 132 taps in all, enough for the establishment to claim as the largest collection under one roof. And not just domestic pilsners, but craft brews from small breweries throughout the west coast, including those in Southern California.

We started with Shrimp Ceviche Spoons from their Snacks menu, a mixture of mango & papaya salsa with seasoned tortilla strips, neatly placed on a set of four shiny spoons. Tangy is the word that seemed to dominate our thoughts culminating the freshness of the mango and papaya, bell pepper and corn.

shrimp ceviche yard houseFrom their Appetizer menu, we tried the Lobster, Crab & Artichoke Dip, combining maine lobster, blue crab, artichoke hearts, with a four cheese blend of feta, jack, parmesan and cream cheese, centered inside a mixture of tortilla chips and flat bread. The panko bread crumbs created a layer of crunch on top, while an olive oil blend teamed up with black pepper and parsley added extra flavor dimension.

Do you think you've already tried the best Mac & Cheese ever? You may give it another thought after trying Yard House's own version of the popular fare. With a blend of cheddar and parmesan, smoked applewood bacon, chicken breast, wild mushrooms, and truffle oil, tossed together into a cheesy, chunky, pasta party, we found it to be the ultimate expression of creative Americana.

yard house pan seared ahi tunaBut the Pan Seared Ahi, which we understood to be among the restaurant's most popular item, to be the most impressive. Large chunks of soft, silky sashimi grade tuna, seared rare over jasmine rice, and doused with a chinese black bean sauce, fried basil, and accompanied with asparagus, was a sight to behold. Easy enough to cut with a fork, the tuna was a perfect fit for the lightly sweetened, black bean sauce, which had touches of soy sauce and ginger.

To satisfy the sweet tooth, we recommend the Trio Sampler, a mini serving of their lemon soufflé, peach apple cobbler and chocolate soufflé. The lemon soufflé was tangy, with rich lemony flavor, real whipped topping, that reminded us running through the sprinklers on an August afternoon, and finishing up with a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade.

yard house trio samplerThe chocolate soufflé was lightly sweet, just right, warm and moist with a contrasting compliment of cold ice cream and mint leaves, like sensual kisses of Godiva chocolate that takes your breath away.

But we couldn't leave you without recommending a glass of Yard House's very own Belgian Trippel Ale. Brewed in Belgium by Brasserie de Silly, an award winning brewery since 1850, we found it to be a excellent belgian trippel in its own right, well balanced between a candied malt flavor, hoppy finish, and just enough kick to leave you smiling in between sips.

Yard House of Temecula
40770 Winchester Road (Promenade Mall)
Temecula, CA 92591
(951) 296-3116

Sun-Thu: 11:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Fri-Sat: 11:00 AM - 1:15 AM


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Buellton, CA: Firestone Walker Brewery Restaurant

firestone walker brewery restaurantWith the popularity of craft brewing reaching new highs throughout California, comes the quest to build the perfect brew pubs, beer bars, and brewhouse restaurants.

And with that said, Firestone Walker Brewery may have built the perfect restaurant in Buellton, CA to showcase their award winning ales alongside the finest eats in the Santa Ynez Valley.

When one steps through the doors of the Tap Room Restaurant, richly appointed with oak tables and brushed stainless steel bars, they are brought into a dark, airy, pub with the sounds of music and chatter, vintage posters and decorations reminiscent of 1940's film noir.

firestone walker taproom restaurantUpon taking our seats at a table upon the balcony, we were treated to a basket of warm sourdough and butter. I started with a glass of Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale, the company's flagship brew, an English style pub ale with a balance of roasted malt and hops, that continues to bring the brewery awards and accolades.

Our server then brought us crab cakes, which we were told continue to be a popular appetizer among the restaurant's regulars. Light and fluffy, seated over a pour of rice wine vinegar aioli, and accompanied by a side of mixed mizuna, carrots, and diakon radish slaw, it was an experience that combined the best of Maryland and Central California onto one plate.

firestone walker beerBut we were here for two of the Taproom's favorite main courses, the Seared Ahi Tuna and Daniel's Pork Chops. Seasoned with herbs, then crusted with parmesan, and splashed with a red wine reduction, Daniel's Pork Chops were thick sliced and every bite welcomed our mouths with moist, tender, chewing and a full, rich flavor of the "other white meat". Meanwhile, the Seared Ahi Tuna, was seared rare, adorned with sesame seeds, and accompanied with wasabi-aoli snow peas and a red onion slaw.

Guests can order the brewery's beer sampler, consisting of your choice of any four of Firestone Walker's many brews on tap. We particularly liked their Double Jack IPA, pairing well with the pork chops, and the Walker's Reserve Porter, pairing up with the ice cream-topped brownie and raspberry sauce.

Firestone Walker Brewery Taproom Restaurant
620 McMurray Road
Buellton, CA 93427
(805) 686-1557 x 18

Dinner: Sun-Thu: 5:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Dinner: Fri-Sat: 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Lunch served in bar: Fri-Sun: 11:00 AM - 4:30 PM


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Santa Ynez, CA: Grace in the Valley

santa ynez inn
Santa Ynez Inn
Grace, elegance, and comfort best describe the Victorian era. Opulent surroundings enmeshed with a welcoming warmth, the Santa Ynez Inn embodies Victorian elegance.
Our trip began on the Highway 126 heading into Ventura County. Released from the frantic sense of traffic, the road became peaceful as the views spread out into farmlands, dotted with the occasional oak tree and busy little fruit stands. The miles slipped away until we reached the picturesque city of Cliffside on the 101. Breathtaking views of the ocean, wind coursing through the sunroof and music flowing from the stereo left no desire for conversation as we cruised through the happy seaside village.

In Santa Barbara we exited the 101 and strode briskly up Highway 154 towards Cachuma Lake. Upon reaching the top of the pass, we were pleased to see the Santa Ynez Valley yawning before us, welcoming us to our destination.

...we spoke little and groaned much as we dove into not only our own meal, but each others.

Built less than 10 years ago, the Santa Ynez Inn feels as if it has stood in it's place for over a century. Regal, beautiful, and elegant, the moment one walks into the lobby, the senses are engulfed with richness. The confident ease of the staff welcoming guests and truly making them feel at home for their stay only further enriches the experience of comfort. Our room was spacious, luxurious and beautiful, with extras such as a steam shower, whirlpool bathtub, and a large walk in closet, complete with refrigerator and coffee/tea bar.

vineyard house restaurant santa ynez
Vineyard House Restaurant, Santa Ynez
Once we arrived and unpacked, it was time for the complimentary wine service in the main dining room. With the fireplace lit, the tables were set with crisp linens and fine china, and the dining room was the hub of activity in the early evening. Guests were treated to chair massages, a selection of locally vinted red and white wines, gourmet cheeses, crackers, selected meats, and dried fruit. Delectable and refreshing, the wine service set the tone for the rest of the stay.

A short jaunt through Solvang into Buellton brought us to The Taproom at the Firestone Walker Brewery Restaurant. Feasting on rich clam chowder, fresh chopped salad and deliciously succulent Crab Cakes, we sipped the 8 selected beer tasters and reveled in the bustle of the restaurant. High upon our perch on the deck overlooking the restaurant and bar, we enjoyed not only the incredible food, attentive service, but the raucous atmosphere one seeks when one ventures out for an evening.

We topped off our evening with the decadent Daniel's Pork Chops, served with sweet potato fries and broccolini, and the Chef's specialty, Seared Ahi Tuna. No words were spoken while relishing our meals; only groans of pleasure and smiling nods of agreement as we shared bites from one another's plates. Just when we felt we could consume no more, our lovely waitress brought dessert; Fudge Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream, with chocolate sauce and fresh raspberries. More groans exhuded from our table, until all plates were clean and glasses happily emptied.

santa ynez shops
Shops along downtown Santa Ynez
The drive through sleepy Solvang back to the hotel was peaceful and serene,
leading us into the welcoming arms of the Inn. We were greeted with a roaring fire in the fireplace, and even more desserts awaiting us in the dining room. We strolled up to our room for the night, dessert plates in hand. Pleased to rest after such a phenomenal day, we found our bed turned down, and sweet cookies on a china plate on our pillow, promising sweet dreams.

The morning was filled with more spectacular food, with fresh fruit, breads, creme fraiche, and homemade granola. The granola, we have been told, became so popular among guests that the Inn began making extra to sell for guests to take home. After stimulating our palates on these offerings, we were served our breakfast, Ricotta Pancakes with Raspberry Compote, and the Asparagus Frittata with Bacon Balsamic Salad. Once again, we spoke little and groaned much as we dove into not only our own meal, but each others.

With our appetites satiated, we headed to the lower level for a good, hard workout in the fitness suite and a long, hot, steamy sauna. Utilizing the steam shower in our room afterwards, we felt refreshed and revived, and struck out to see the little village. Quaint shops abound, with fun merchandise and practical wares for shoppers. After a long stroll in the Spring sunshine, we ventured into Don Carlitos for a drink. Rodrigo, our handsome bartender, kept our glasses full and the suggestions flowing when asked what we should try next.

don carlitos santa ynez
Don Carlitos, Santa Ynez
Santa Ynez may be small, but it had everything we needed and wanted in a romantic weekend getaway. If one should ever become bored with the many restaurants and shops within walking distance, Solvang, Buellton, and Los Olivos are only moments away, all offering a vast array of wine tasting, incredible foods, and local interest. The graciousness we experienced at the Santa Ynez Inn seemed indicative of the warmth and personality of the locals in the area, and it is easy to see why. When one lives somewhere so beautiful, how could anyone be anything but happy all of the time?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Coming Soon!

Stayed tuned for fun and exciting places on your road trip through California!