Photography by Yuri Krasov

Carmel-by-the-Sea, a coastal California town like no other, is located within one square mile of tree-lined streets drowning in cascades of jasmine and bougainvillea. Cozy restaurants, art galleries, wine tasting rooms, and boutique shops abound, surrounded by intricate stairways, tinkling fountains and hidden gardens. There are no numeric addresses here; every house has a name, and its whereabouts are defined by a street name and a nearest corner. The town dwellers – mostly descendants of old European families – established a kind of a fairy tale village in a forest, where there are more trees than buildings.  There are no street lights, no neon signs, and walking on high heels is outlawed by a city ordinance. Not sure how it’s enforced, but you won’t want to stumble on stilts along the picturesque sidewalks burst by tree roots and wild calla lilies. It’s an ultimate romantic destination, and the most pet-friendly place, which makes people- and dog-watching here a special treat.

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Point Lobos State Reserve is located just two miles to the south of Carmel by the Sea. A vast expanse of cypress groves, mossy oaks, and ancient pines on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific can’t leave anyone unmoved by its rugged beauty. Hiking the trails of Point Lobos and resting on benches and boulders above its coves and lagoons, you can see the most picturesque wildflowers, and all kinds of wild animals from harbor seals and whales to deer and rabbits.

Migrating southward in winter, gray whales make a frequent appearance in this part of the Pacific. From any cliff, you can see three or four fountains simultaneously in different places, indicating exhaling giants moving in groups to their breeding and calving grounds off the Baja California coast.

5. Food Tour guides

3. Anton and Michel

Carmel Food and Wine Tour is the Number One activity in Carmel, according to TripAdvisor. The tours are led by an experienced foodie-guide Staci Giovino and her staff. Says Giovino, “We currently visit Anton & Michel (kobe beef short rib, slow-braised in hoisin and Guinness stout beer, served over grilled polenta with microgreens), Casanova (generations-old recipe, Parisian style gnocchi), La Bicyclette (artisan, wood-fired pizza with local, organic ingredients), Trio Carmel (gourmet olive oil and vinegar), Terry’s Lounge in the Cypress Inn (currently serving lamb curry meatball paired with their version of a Manhattan, soon to be changing), either Figge Cellars or Caraccioli Cellars for local, boutique wines, and Lula’s Chocolates. We hosted more than 1700 guests last year, and are on track to serve 2600 in 2015.  We have three tour leaders and can host groups of 45-60 (split into smaller groups).  We will be working with Destination America starting in April, to host their tour bus groups on most Tuesdays. Our private group business has grown exponentially along with the public tours, and we have hosted everyone from gaming companies to safety engineers. We have a guide who is fluent in Spanish to work with our Spanish-speaking guests.

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4. Anton and Michel  crepe SuzetteAnton & Michel is one of the newest fine dining restaurants in town – with sleek modern décor and artwork on the walls – serving classic cocktails, delectable lamb chops, and flaming crepe Suzette, prepared table-side.

9. Hofsas House mural

Hofsas House Hotel was founded 60 years ago by an adventurous woman of Bavarian descend, Donna Hofsas. She moved to Carmel from Los Angeles with her husband in the 1940s, and started a boutique inn – now a 38-room hotel, managed by Donna’s granddaughter, Carrie Theis.

The hotel is located on a hilly street on the edge of downtown, with outside terraces overlooking a swimming pool and the Pacific Ocean in a short distance. Hotel guests usually take their continental breakfast included with the room stay on the terrace, basking in the sun and enjoying freshly-brewed French roast coffee, seasonal fruit and hot from the oven pastries from a local bakery.

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Upon the completion of the hotel building, Donna Hofsas commissioned her friend, artist Maxine Albro, to paint a Bavarian-themed welcome mural by the entrance.  The artist, of Spanish descent, in her day traveled to Mexico, admired the works of Diego Rivera, and even worked side-by-side with him painting murals in San Francisco. Her most important commission was at Coit Tower, depicting California agricultural life. Today, a group of smiling Bavarian shepherds and shepherdesses in white stockings greets visitors from the Hofsas House mural even before they set foot inside the lobby, decorated with framed paintings by the same artist, and a unique shiny polished copper chimney.

1. Hofsas House wine and cheese

This year, Hofsas House Hotel is offering seven themed vacation packages to its guests:

  1. Third Night’s a Charm. Book 3 nights and the 3rd is 1/3 off. Offer valid through February excluding holidays and AT&T golf week. Mention Code HHCHARM when booking.
  2. Golfer’s Delight. The Hofsas House Hotel has partnered with two of the Monterey Peninsula’s best golf courses. Book a minimum 2 night stay and add on a round of golf. When booking use promotion codes: HHQUAIL and HHPOPPY.
  3. History Walking Tour. Two-hour guided walk past enchanting fairy-tale cottages, secret pathways, hidden courtyards and award-winning gardens. When booking use promotion code: HHWALKS.
  4. Movie Star Tour. Monterey Movie Tours is a two-tours-in-one outing featuring both magnificent landscapes and blockbuster scenes from some of the 200 movies filmed across the Monterey Peninsula. When booking use promotion code: HHSTARS.
  5. Wine and Cheese Package. Nine different Carmel tasting rooms on the Wine Walk by-the-sea with a Wine Tasting Passport. The Hofsas House concierge offers wine passports at a discounted price with any one-night stay. Special wine and cheese package with a bottle of Monterey County wine and cheese from the Cheese Shop. Purchase Wine Passports and/or Wine and Cheese package when booking Hofsas House Hotel.
  6. Tail Wagging Package. Hofsas House is one of the most dog friendly hotels in Carmel. Guests receive a complimentary Doggie Welcome Package upon arrival that includes Hofsas House dog Frisbee, Hofsas House collapsible dog bowl, special dog bed, letter from Cajun – onsite Pet Concierge, special dog amenities package, tips and recommendations for your four legged friends stay, walking trail and hiking guide, a package of treats, Costal Canine Magazine—offering the best four legged options for visiting Carmel. Minimum two-night stay.
  7. Take a Hike at the Hofsas House Hotel. Experience Big Sur hiking trails ranging from tranquil walks along a coastal waterfall to miles-long ascents through the redwoods and into the rugged wilderness or take in magnificent Point Lobos State Park. After a day of hiking the Big Sur coastline, guests relax in the hotel’s heated swimming pool or European dry saunas. Package includes a gift certificate for Carmel’s 5th Avenue Deli and complimentary Point Lobos day pass. Minimum two-night stay. Mention HHNature at booking. More information and reservations at: www.hofsashouse.comsunset by point lobos

I did not think of the Greater Palm Springs area as a budget metropolis. It consists of the communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. As I drove around I noticed the names of streets: Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Fred Waring, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, etc. They had one thing in common- they are all dead and they all lived, at least part of the year, in the Palm Springs area. Lucille Ball owned a hotel there. More residents included: Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Judy Garland, Bill Gates, Cary Grant, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Autry, Dean Martin, Ann Miller, Errol Flynn and Jean Harlow.

The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when tourists with health problems arrived to sample the dry heat. They were comfortable in the microclimate because the mountains blocked the cold winds. There were also inventive architects that designed unique vacation homes using prefabricated panels, folding roofs, glass-and-steel houses with open-design plans, air-conditioning, swimming pools and very large windows. In those days Hollywood had a “Two Hour Rule” meaning that contracted employees had to be available within two-hours from the studio in case last minute filming had to be done. Palm Springs fit that window.

The film colony and tourists discovered this desert playground in the early 1940’s. There were golf courses, tennis courts and more swimming pools than anywhere else in the United States. There was even gambling at several clubs in Cathedral City. After World War II the area added spas and new homes. The Palm Desert Corporation built office buildings and more homes and country clubs. Thirty years later this area became the city of Palm Desert. Bob Hope, a longtime resident, was appointed Honorary Mayor. Palm Springs became known as the “Golf Capitol of the World.”  Polo was revived, as were tennis tournaments.

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Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in 1954 and Harry Truman also spent considerable time in the area. In 1962 John F. Kennedy came to town on the first of several trips. President Gerald Ford had visited Palm Springs during his term as Vice President and in 1976 returned to build a home there. Mrs. Ford had her alcohol and drug center in Rancho Mirage. Then mayor Sonny Bono founded the Palm Springs International Film Festival which is held every January. This year it was January 2-12th. The area has been rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars.

The last time I was in Palm Springs the downtown area was seedy, even around the Spa Resort Casino. It reminded me of the areas of Atlantic City that were off the boardwalk area. Then the renaissance began, slowly at the beginning, with gay people from the San Francisco area being priced out of their homes and shops. They found their new area in Greater Palm Springs and the movement started. Great weather 10 months of the year, mountains nearby, and wind energy for cheap electricity, an international airport and well maintained highways and roads. No potholes caused by rain and snow, as in my hometown of NYC.

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As the older (my) generation died off, younger people moved in. Yes, there is the Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert (El Paseo) but there is also Highway 111 & Interstate 10 with Costco, Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and all the budget motel/hotels/fast food restaurants and outlet stores. There are also other casinos in Rancho Mirage, Coachella, and Indio and in Cabazon (on the highway to & from Los Angeles, next to the 180 store Desert Hills Premium Outlet stores where I shopped and bought several items).

I spent 4 days with Sally Jessy Raphael and her husband Karl Soderlund at their home. Sally has excellent taste and the home reflects that. Everything in quotes were from her notes to me.

“I consider the Palm Springs area to be an inexpensive place to live. The weather is ideal 10 months of the year. There is very little rain and it is dry and mild with temperatures between 65-80 degrees. True it is hot in July & August but I love the heat and everyone has air conditioning. There’s lots to do. Even though we don’t play golf there are more than 100 courses in the region for our guests to use. This is a big tennis town and lots of swimming pools. The area is also a good place for hikers and rock climbers. There are mountains everywhere. It was also voted the cleanest city in America. There are no bad areas and I always feel safe, many times not even locking my front door.”

“The International Film Festival is wonderful and I believe it is the 3rd largest in the US. The McCallum Theater has a different show almost every night with big stars. The casinos also have great shows. Almost half the population is young and the schools are well run. The town is very health conscious. The gays have done a lot opening small boutiques, restaurants, B&B’s etc. People are very friendly. There are lots of art fairs and galleries. (Sally is an accomplished artist with several gallery exhibits). Also, because of the abundance of wind turbines electric rates are low. You saw the airport- no roof and two non-stop flights a week from NYC. I like the slow pace of life here and the excellent nightlife.”

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There is a lot to see and to do in the Greater Palm Springs area. I will concentrate on 3 places where I spent considerable time. The Living Desert; Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I briefly stopped at the following attractions that are worthwhile if you have more free time than I had: San Jacinto Mountain Range (drove around them coming from Temecula to Palm Desert. Don’t try at night); Palm Springs Art Museum (had 15 minutes there), Cabots Pueblo Museum (5 minutes from Two Bunch Palms) & El Paseo Shopping Avenue (had lunch there).

I met the CEO of Two Bunch Palms located in Desert Hot Springs (30 minutes from Palm Desert) several months ago at a press dinner here in NYC organized by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. He was kind enough to invite Sally & her husband Karl to accompany me there for spa treatments & lunch. This 77-acre resort was built in 1930. It had become rundown when the new owners took over in 2012. There are 70 newly refurbished rooms including 13 suites with outdoor patios and/or courtyards (18 years and older only). The Wellness Spa has 19 indoor/outdoor treatments rooms, 2 mud baths (my choice of treatment) and 2 water therapy pools. There is a lap pool, two tennis courts, fitness room, many movement & enrichment classes and a huge earth mount dome dedicated to yoga. The tour I was given by cart also included nature trails, a duck & turtle pond where you can feed the fish and a new conference center.

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We had lunch in the farm-to-table restaurant Essense where Chef Cossi Houegban prepared a fabulous lunch.  We changed into our swimsuits and relaxed by the natural spring artesian waters that are 169 degrees and are cooled to 90 and 104 degrees in the Grotto. The waters contain lithium, calcium and magnesium. The best value is the day spa. Non-resort guests can gain access to the facility with a minimum reservation of one (1) 60 minute treatment along with a Day Spa Fee ($40 weekend/$25 weekday) that allows access to the Grotto, the pool and the grounds from 10 am to 6 pm. World Away Day Spa packages are also available and designed to include at least one treatment, gratuity, lunch credit and the day spa fee ($195). For more information- www.twobunchpalms.com

I spent 3 hours at The Living Desert, both walking and using their tram. You really need 5-6 hours to see everything. It was established in 1970 by people who foresaw the impact that resort development would have on the local desert ecosystem. This led to the interpretive nature trail and preserve in Palm Desert. The grounds have been expanded to 1,200 acres of which 1,000 acres remain in their natural state. A desert oasis was created with animal enclosures and small animal exhibits. Then came a walk-through aviary and an animal care center that I visited watching an operation take place. They soon accepted threatened and endangered species. An Education Center followed as well as Eagle Canyon, home to mountain lions, Mexican wolves, bobcats, badgers and many birds. Before the turn of the century they completed an amphitheater for a twice-daily Wild Wonders show as well as the Village WaTuTu with a new café, gift shop and new exhibits featuring striped hyenas, camels, sheep and goats. In the early 21st Century they added a children’s play park, an exhibit housing a reticulated giraffe and ostrich and a butterfly pavilion. Soon there was an added endangered species carousel and camel rides. I actually managed to see most of the above, ending at the very large model railroad exhibit. For further information- www.Livingdesert.org

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The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located in the rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs. The dream began in 1935 but construction was not complete until 1963. Not one cent of public funds was used for either the construction or operation of the tramway. It was an engineering challenge and was labeled as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road. Helicopters flew over 20,000 missions during the 26 months of construction, hauling men and material needed to erect the four other towers and the 25,000 sq. Mountain Station. It is 10,834 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto. In 2000 there were new cars installed including the world’s largest rotating tramcars. Since it opened over 18 million people have travelled the 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride, which begins at the Valley Station- elevation 2,643 feet and ends at the Mountain Station- elevation 8,516 feet. The cost of a ride is- $23.95 for adults & children 3-12 are $16.95. It’s a very small world; the last time I was in Palm Springs I met Greg Purdy the PR person for the Palm Springs Follies (no longer in business). Greg is doing the same work for the Tramway and honored me by riding up and back with me. For further information- www.pstramway.com. For more information about Greater Palm Springs-  www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

If there’s a better season than winter to experience California desert I’d like to hear about it… or better yet see it for myself. Meanwhile, when record freeze was bracing the American East and Midwest, and pouring rain (finally!) was falling all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the sun was shining brightly, and palm trees were gently swaying over blue pools in a charmed corner of the world known as Greater Palm Springs. It took us several hours in a problem-free Enterprise Rent-A-Car vehicle to get there from SF, and slightly over an hour to get back on Alaska Airlines uneventful flight for an exciting and relaxing.
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JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

Located in Palm Desert, this aquatic oasis is designed to satisfy every whim of its guests so they would never want to venture beyond its 450-acre territory. Several eateries on the premises include the Lobby Bar and the Sushi Bar; Starbucks – also in the hotel lobby; voted “Best Seafood Restaurant” Fisherman’s Landing Market & Grill; and a few full-service restaurants on the shores of the resort’s own lagoon – poolside Oasis grill, waterfront Rockwood Grill, Blue Star Lounge, and Mikado, a Japanese steakhouse with teppanyaki dining. To get there, diners can board one of white-and-blue speedy boats that take passengers in the open-air lobby area and bring them back every 10 minutes. The lagoon, adorned with fountains and populated by black and white swans, geese, duck, carp, and pink flamingoes, stretches to the far reaches of the five heated pools and two 18-hole championship golf courses.

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The Spa at Desert Springs offers wonderful massages, and has its own sunlit pool, its own café, steam rooms and saunas, a beauty salon, and an adjacent fully equipped gym, actually filled with health-conscious travelers.

A long chain of retail outlets with resort and gift wares stretches along the Colonnade of Shops, and even a contractor hawk trainer can be seen on the roof giving some practice exercises to his winged predator in-between guest-ordered lectures and demos.

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

No trip to the area is complete without a breathtaking ten-minute ride up the mountains on the world’s largest rotating tramcar to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The two Swiss-built glassed cabins carry 80 passengers at a time up Chino Canyon from the 2,643-foot Valley Station to the 8,516-foot Mountain Station, passing as many climatic zones along the way as are found on a long Pacific shore stretch from Mexico to Canada.

At the top, where the temperature drops 20-40 degrees even in the middle of blazing-hot summer, the Mountain Station has Long Valley Deck surrounded by pines, covered with fresh snow in wintertime; Desert View Terrace with views of rugged mountains and a forest of windmills on the valley floor; an exhibition of flora and fauna indigenous to the area; a visitor center with park information and trail maps; a movie theater showing a documentary about the building of the Tramway in incredibly harsh conditions, and new tromp l’oeil murals by the local artist Keith Blum.
There are also Peaks Restaurant and Pines Café at the Mountain Station, now led by the new chef Kevin Land. Food stuffs are delivered to the top on the “first tram” early in the morning, before the crowds flock in, and water – in a special reservoir under the passenger cabin. Reportedly, some dishes have to be prepared in the valley and taken here, since the lower-oxygen mountainous conditions change the way food is being cooked and especially baked.
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Desert Hills Premium Outlets

The little town of Cabazon can get really overpopulated with eager shopper battalions arriving by car and bus in great numbers, especially during the winter holiday season. Every- or almost every imaginable international brand has a factory outlet here, and tourists from as close as Los Angeles and as far as the Peoples’ Republic of China take full advantage of it. In the frenzy of gift shopping at the lit with myriads of Christmas lights East Village and West Village with a combined collection of 180 designer and name brand stores, the shoppers make a quick stop at Blaze Pizza, where the new speedy method of combining thin crust with a choice of sauce and toppings reduces lunch time to mere minutes.
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Shields Date Garden

This unique “all about dates” farm and shop in the town of Indio features an incredible amount of date samples, recipes, and packaged varieties, plus a 1950s film “Romance and Sex Life of a Date.” Founded in 1924 by a husband and wife team of a mechanical engineer and a teacher from back East, Shields Date Garden is still producing those sweet hard-to-grow fruits, and is famous for date shakes, date ice cream, and fragrant citrus. Mr. Shields was the inventor of date sugar and the date crystal. Date sugar adds flavor to recipes and date crystals are a dry blend of dates used in cooking, on cold cereals and in date milkshakes. The Coachella Valley produces 90% of the dates in North America.
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Cathedral City

In the Center of Coachella Valley, the tiny, neat and trip Cathedral City has a remarkable Town Square with an elaborately sculpted and adorned with glass mosaic pieces Fountain of Life, symbolically depicting blooming palm trees surrounded by desert animals. Right next to it, there is Mary Pickford Theater – home to a small museum displaying personal belonging, some costumes, and two documentaries of “the girl with the golden curls” considered the most famous and beloved woman in the world in the silent film era. Equal in her international fame to Charlie Chaplin, the hard-working comedienne starred in 50-80 moving pictures a year, until the talkies which she contemptuously compared to lipstick on Venus de Milo ultimately ended her brilliant career.
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Joshua Tree National Park

The true treasure of the California, Joshua Tree National Park lies in the overlap between the Colorado and Mojave deserts and stretches over 794 000 acres. The eastern half of the park is dominated by cholla cactus, palo verde, and ocotillo, while the western half contains forests of whimsically twisted Joshua tree amid giant smooth boulder stacks – the result of prehistoric volcanic activity in the area.
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Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

One of the newest hotels in the city center, Hard Rock is filled with rock musicians’ instruments, stage costumes, amplifiers, and other paraphernalia, and features over-the-top décor in the designer lobby, pool area, and in every room, each marked by a dedicated album from a legendary group.
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Sparrows Lodge

This brand new hotel, built to resemble a 1950s lodge, has only 20 rooms that surround a swimming pool with a hot tub and a fireplace. The rooms have cement walls with pebble trim, and a slate rock shower area with rough lead piping. Folding leather chairs and wooden tables constitute room furnishings, and the “papa bear” rustic beds are covered with Salvation Army-style thin blankets. There’s a cozy couch in front of a fireplace in the entrance area, and at the opposite end of the swimming pool that takes the center stage on the property – a breakfast nook and a bar with enough space for guests and their dogs in this pet-friendly establishment.

Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information 1-800-969-3767; www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

Photography by Yuri Krasov

 

One of the most beautiful coastal towns, Pacifica is found along the beloved by travelers picturesque Highway One, mere a 20-minute drive from San Francisco. So close to the busy metropolis, yet so far away from its hustle and bustle, the town is shrouded in summer fog that rises from the cold oceanic waters, and gets sunnier by wintertime when the temperatures of air and water equalize in seasonal harmony. Known as a surfer’s and fisherman’s paradise, Pacifica holds many unsung treasures for art and nature lovers as well. It’s good to visit any time of year, with numerous things to see and do.
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Built by a San Francisco attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey in 1908, the fortress-like building on a hill was supposed to shield his family forever from natural disasters like the catastrophic 1906 earthquake. In its more than a century-long history, the Castle hasn’t suffered any damage from shaking ground, but took its fair share of disasters from a motley crew of its occupants who came in the wake of the original owners. They have ranged from an illegal abortion clinic and a Prohibition-era speakeasy the “Chateau Lafayette” to a communications center for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II to guard against Japanese saboteurs potentially coming ashore from their submarines.
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In 1959, Sam Mazza, a theater painter and decorator for 20th Century Fox, purchased the Castle – not to live in it, but to “store his junk,” and thus created a museum of theater décor with its 24 rooms filled with period furnishings and artwork that had been used in films or onstage.

Lately, the Sam Mazza Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, was using the Castle for its charitable work to promote arts and education, and for private events. Now the museum is open to the public for monthly Sunday tours with an experienced and knowledgeable guide. (The upcoming tours are scheduled for November 29, December 20, and next year January 18, February 21, and March 8).

Sanchez Art Center

Located in a former elementary school building, Pacifica Center for the Arts is home to various performance arts and multiple artists’ studios. Sanchez Art Center, founded in 1996, began with a group of local artists who saw the potential for studio and gallery space in the unused school building. It now includes 18 studios, three galleries, and an arts education room. The Main Gallery holds four major exhibitions a year by well-known and emerging artists. Two annual juried competitions, Left Coast Annual, and the 50/50 Show are judged by distinguished jurors, while a lot of gallery space opens on a regular basis to the artists from the community, including children, seniors, and disabled adults.
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Lovey’s Tea Shoppe

This tiny tea house is filled with mismatched china, toys and figurines, gingerly covering every surface in a cozy sun-lit dining room. There are dozens of black, green, flavored and herbal teas to choose from, all served in whimsical teapots and accompanied by finger sandwiches, greens-and-fruit salads, homemade soups, hearty lunches, or scones and crumpets with clotted cream and berry preserves. According to the shop owner, Muna Nash, women love to bring here their kicking and screaming husbands and boyfriends for high tea, but all of them leave with a smile on their faces, and many become regulars of this sweet, warm and delicious place.
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Moonraker Restaurant

In Pacifica, this glorious salty air beach town, the culinary emphasis is understandably placed on fresh seafood, and there’s hardly a better place to enjoy it than Moonraker Restaurant overlooking the famous Rockaway Beach. Every window offers a panoramic ocean view, and a Sunday brunch buffet is nothing short of spectacular. From oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab, and smoked salmon to soups, salads, vegetables, meat dishes, and overwhelmingly lavish desserts, the Moonraker has it all, including your morning champagne and mimosas. A wonderful place to enjoy with a family or a company of friends! The regulars say that from the restaurant windows they often see migrating whales in season (December-January and February-April). According to the National Marine Sanctuaries of the West Coast, Pacifica is one of the richest areas in the world for marine mammal life.
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Puerto 27 Peruvian Kitchen and Pisco Bar

This new restaurant, packed on any evening, serves Latin-American staples and Peruvian specialties. Spicy tangy starters include Ceviche Elegancia (classic Peruvian ceviche with white fish, aji rocoto leche de tigre, red onion, lime, sea salt); Mushroom Empanadas (maitake, shiitake, beech mushrooms, spinach, corn, Jack cheese); Jalea Mixta (calamari, shrimp, scallop, yucca, salsa criolla, black mint tartar sauce), and Anticuchos de Corazon (beef heart skewers). Among the mains Lomo Saltado (steak strips), Aji de Gallina (chicken stew), and Choritos (mussels in tomato-chorizo sauce) are the stars.

Nick’s Restaurant

Built in 1927, the historical landmark restaurant is still owned and operated by the fourth generation of the founding family. Located right on the Rockaway Beach with raging waves and silvery foam under a full moon, this respectable establishment, well-known way beyond its native town, serves classic libations, generous portions of fish and meat dishes, and decadent desserts. Live music plays on weekends over a dance floor that’s never vacant.
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Devil’s Slide Trail

Hikes and walks in Pacifica are a great addition to bicycling, Segway tours, watersports, and other outdoor adventures. A newly opened Devil’s Slide Trail stretches for a little over a mile on a former Highway One segment known for its dangerous landslides and associated with them accidents and closures. Last year, with the opening of an engineering wonder – Tom Lantos Tunnels – the San Mateo County Parks Department began converting this segment of the old highway into a non-motorized trail opened to hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders. An easy walk along the Devil’s Slide Trail grants unparalleled panoramic views of the endless Pacific and dramatic cliffs populated by seagulls and cormorants.

Mori Point Trail

Even on a foggy day, a leisurely walk to Mori Point is a fascinating experience. With an endless ocean beach of one side, and the Alister MacKenzie-designed Sharp Park Golf Course on another, the trail opens to stunning seaside vistas, and to golfing greens surrounded by dramatically crooked cypresses bent by the Pacific winds.

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Hotels in Pacifica

Pacifica Beach Hotel across from the surfer’s favorite Linda Mar Beach is a great place to watch sunsets from you room window, and to relax in a Jacuzzi tub right in your room after vigorous outdoor activities like surfing, boating, scuba, fishing, paragliding, hiking, birding, cycling, golf, tennis, bowling, archery and horseback riding. Pacifica Beach Hotel: (650) 355-9999, www.pacificabeachhotel.com.

Other accommodations include America’s Best Value Inn Pacifica: (877) 784-6835, www.pacifica-bestvalueinn.com; Best Western Plus Lighthouse Hotel: (650) 355-6300, www.bestwesternlighthouse.com; Holiday Inn Express & Suites: (650) 355-5000, www.hiexpresspacifica.com; Pacifica Motor Inn: (800) 522-3772, www.pacificamotorinn.com; Sea Breeze Motel at Rockaway Beach: (650) 359-3903.

For more information about the destination of Pacifica, California, please visit http://visitpacifica.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The name of Mount Shasta presumably comes from a Russian word “schastie” which means “happiness.” One early morning my husband and I stuffed our car trunk with everything from swimsuits to parkas, and headed up north to the snow-covered 14,179-foot peak towering over Shasta Cascade in the far north of California.

We couldn’t make it to Mt. Shasta because of the grey soot in the air that was spreading from wild fires in Oregon. Instead, we decided to concentrate on nearby Lake Shasta and the many wonders that surround it.
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Our first stop at Redding – the central city of the Shasta Cascade region – was for lunch at a new restaurant View 202 with incomparable views of the Sacramento River. Executive Chef Sean Gafner works with local farmers to create elaborate menus using a wide variety of their produce.

Starting with a Summer Mule cocktail, made with Russian Standard vodka and house-made lemon sorbet, and served in a chilled copper mug, we realized that we were at the right place.

Lobster Lettuce Cups were prepared with summer squash, heirloom tomato, avocado and basil.

Grilled Steelhead, sustainably caught in Columbia River, was served with rice and Brussels sprouts from neighboring farms.

Since it was over 90 degrees outside, I was especially impressed with a frozen dessert Café Liegeios made with double chocolate ice cream, vanilla bean ice cream, coffee ice cream, espresso granite, whipped cream, and crispy espresso meringue bits. No wonder View 202 has been voted the “Best of the North State” in six different categories.
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After lunch, we explored the city. Right in the middle of it there is a 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park with a museum, a zoo, an aquarium, arboretum, botanical gardens, and a year-round aviary, where visitors can walk through Parrot Playhouse and have exotically colored and constantly chatting parrots land on their heads and shoulders.
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The most famous part of the Park is Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River built by a Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

In order to protect the spawning grounds of the Chinook salmon underneath, the 710-foot-long bridge is fully suspended, without any footings in the water, and its walking surface is made of translucent glass, beautifully lit at night. With a 21-story high pylon that supports the entire construction, and thanks to its exact north-south orientation, the bridge serves as the world’s tallest working sundial.

Making a short trip to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area we started to fully appreciate hot midday air and the abundance of sunshine. At the popular Brandy Creek Beach we found a place to relax in the shade and take a dip in the cool clear water coming from the snow caps of the Cascade Range.

We tried to make a dinner reservation at Jack’s Grill – Redding’s landmark steakhouse in operation since 1938, but the exceedingly popular place didn’t accept reservations. Opened during the Great Depression by World War I aviator Jack Young, the restaurant, co-owned by Don Conley since the late 1970s, continues to serve the same hearty fair that used to feed miners and construction workers after a 16-hour workday, and maintains the same level of pricing (on a contemporary scale). People line up to get inside the legendary eatery, and no one minds waiting for a table at the bar where bartender and co-owner Mike Woodrum is mixing drinks with a speed and dedication of a true virtuoso.
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By sunset, we were heading to Shasta Lake Properties overlooking Lake Shasta, owned and operated by Ken Tellstrom – formerly a world champion in wakeboarding. The owner, and his fiancée Ashley were on the premises while we were settling down for the night in Dream View Vacation Home with floor-to-ceiling windows, two spacious bedrooms, living rooms, and terraces on two levels.

They took us on a tour to a larger vacation home of Shasta Lake Properties, called Lodge View – a spacious wooden house, decorated with hunting trophies and suitable for 8 to 10 people. (To view these homes visit their website, www.shastalakeproperties.com).
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After a relaxing evening watching sunset over the Lake, and then a sky, filled with bright stars of Milky Way, we had the most quiet country night, and woke up to a symphony of birds.

I made a quick meal of bread and cold cuts that looked positively chick in a glass-walled breakfast nook of the cottage flooded by the morning sunlight.
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We drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park, and entered through the north gate to enjoy the mirrored surface of Manzanita Lake and pick up maps and brochures at the park Visitor Center.

From there, we started moving along the scenic drive lined with massive granite boulders, back in 1915 ejected from the Lessen Peak volcano three miles away. At the park’s largest hydrothermal basin, Bumpass Hell, we walked over bubbling mudpots, boiling springs, and hissing stem vents emitting strong sulphuric smell.
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Our up-close and personal encounter with the magical world of not-so-dormant volcanoes ended up peacefully at Drakesbad Guest Ranch located within the park.

The wooden cabins of this mountain valley retreat, famous since 1900, are equipped with rustic furniture, basic utilities, and kerosene lamps – there’s no electricity inside. A stay includes three meals a day at a rather nice restaurant on the premises with excellent service. Another major draw of the compound is a swimming pool fed by hot springs, which allows for a delightful nighttime swim under a starry sky.
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First thing next morning we were boarding a shuttle boat for a ride toward North Gray Rocks on the east shore of Lake Shasta. Here lies another natural wonder of the area – Lake Shasta Caverns.

Up on a hillside with stunning views of the lake below, our expert guide Dave Mundt, led our group inside the 250-million-year-old cave adorned with glowing stalactites and stalagmites. He pointed his flashlight to “curtains,” “chandeliers,” “sheep,” and even a “royal couple on thrones” shaped out of lime stone and calcite by wind and water.
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Our next stop was at McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park, home to the 129-foot Burney Falls formed by underground springs coming to the surface from a water reservoir hidden in porous volcanic basalt. Flowing at 100 million gallons a day all year round, the spectacular waterfall emits brilliant mist of shiny droplets, and is framed with lush greenery on all sides, blue skies above, and rough boulders underneath.

After a full day spent with Mother Nature, we were back to Redding checking in at Best Western Plus Hilltop Inn for a comfortable stay with included breakfast and a swimming pool.

Happy with our adventures, but tired and hungry, we had a big dinner at the Cattlemen’s Restaurant that adheres to “Cattlemen’s Code” – feel and flavor of the Old West, aged and hand-cut beef, and old-fashioned Western hospitality.

More information about Redding-Shasta Cascade region and everything it has to offer can be found at:

www.ShastaCascade.com, Virtual Visitors Guide: http://issuu.com/scwa/docs/visitors_guide_2014

http://view202redding.com/, http://www.turtlebay.org/, http://www.nps.gov/whis/index.htm,

http://shastalakeproperties.com/our-properties/dream-view/, www.nps.gov/lavo, drakesbad@calparksco.com, http://lakeshastacaverns.com/, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=455,

www.TheHilltopInn.com, www.cattlemens.com/red.htm.

Photography by Emma Krasov

When my female friends and I decided to leave our husbands, boyfriends, and male companions at home and venture into the city on our own, we settled at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco overlooking the Embarcadero waterfront.

The reason for choosing this hotel was its prime location right on Market Street across from the historic Ferry Building Marketplace overflowing with California bounty. Other reasons for staying at Hyatt were spacious rooms with sweeping views; an architecturally stunning lobby mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest hotel lobby in the world; the hotel’s reputation for service excellence, and a new initiative called “Hyatt Has It,” inspired by insights from female travelers.
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This initiative deserves a few good words. During the customer outreach campaign implemented by the hotel, on the top of the list of suggested things to have at hand were frequently forgotten items, like toothpaste and razors, and requests for healthy menu offerings, like smaller portions and gluten free dishes. Hyatt Regency San Francisco responded by providing guest amenities and services tailored to individual preferences. Now a forgetful traveler can request and keep anything from deodorant, hair brush, and nail polish remover to lint mitt, Woolite, and wine opener. Hyatt guests can also borrow or buy phone and computer chargers, power adaptors, humidifiers, tea kettles, yoga mats, and many other useful things.

The guests’ dietary requests were met with compassion and understanding by the Hyatt staff. Our group had a chance to learn it firsthand at the Skinny Cocktail Reception at the penthouse Regency Club, and during Healthy Balance Breakfast at the Eclipse Café in the gorgeous lobby.

Upon our arrival on Friday night, I briefly stopped in my room to change for dinner. I was very pleased with the balcony high above the Bay, the elegant furnishings, the snow white bed with many-many pillows, and was slightly shocked by a KenetMD amenity set on my bathroom counter. What woman wouldn’t love to have it all in one place – not only lotion and facial wash, but also foot lotion, lip balm, pulse point fragrant oil, and even face and pillow mist!
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But I had to hurry – a hotel limo was waiting downstairs to take us to the “bachelorette’s party central” – Asia SF. On the outside it’s an unassumingly looking club on a street corner, however it’s booked solid every night and the patrons are admitted in groups at particular times so they wouldn’t interfere with the ongoing show presented by the beautiful transgender “ladies of Asia” on top of a long bar.

While the graceful performers are dancing and lip-sinking in their leather, feathers, and sequined outfits, the serves, dressed in black, deliver creative cocktails named after each lady dancer in the joint, and Asian-inspired cuisine – tuna sashimi, miso-glazed salmon, chicken satay, grilled shrimp, crab cakes, and tender cuts of meat.

Since our visit fell on a Friday night, we received a special Friday-Saturday-only service – red carpet arrival photos; and had a chance to dance a little ourselves in a downstairs bar before our reservation time.

“The more you drink the more beautiful we look” – a joke du jour at Asia SF that never fails to make birthday parties and wild girly gatherings laugh. Our wild night at the club ended with rather child-like, but very enjoyable miniature ice cream cones of exotic flavors – coconut, yams, and Jack-fruit.
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Early Saturday morning we followed Cynthia Motta, Hyatt Regency Banquet Chef, to the Ferry Building Farmers Market on a scouting/buying tour in preparation for our Chef’s Table dinner that night.

Focused and confident in her chef’s white, Cynthia proceeded from one vendor to another, sampling and buying fresh strawberries and dried herbs, smoked trout and purple potatoes, trumpet mushrooms and sauerkraut – all the ingredients she carefully planned for an elaborate and exquisite meal we were about to enjoy in her kitchen.

When it came time for dinner, Chef Motta’s 8-course Ferry Building Farmers Market Menu was served with so much style and panache that our private ladies-only event felt like a royal reception at some kind of a secret fairy society.

Each course was as original and creative as the next, and harmoniously balanced in taste, presentation, and portion size – ahi tuna sashimi with citrus verjus, seaweed salad, and avocado; potato and leek vichyssoise with thrice cooked potatoes, spring garlic, and crescenza; smoked trout and quinoa salad with Cara-Cara oranges, English peas, and yogurt dressing; Mt. Tam risotto with lacinato kale and grilled artichoke; sablefish with spicy carrots, Zuckerman’s asparagus, wild ramp and lemon-basil oil; Prather Ranch country pork rib roast with jalapeno kraut, cousous pillow, and apple chutney; Marin Sun Farms grilled lamb chops with Far West mushrooms, Rancho Gordo beans, and quince pepper jelly; and Swanton’s strawberry shortcake with fresh basil biscuit, chamomile zabaglione, and wildflower honey.
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On Sunday, we ventured out to try our own cooking skills at La Cocina, a remarkable San Francisco institution that serves as an incubator kitchen for budding entrepreneurs. Developed in the Mission District as a visionary program designed to streamline marketing success for low-income food producers, La Cocina provides affordable commercial kitchen space, helps with loan opportunities, and insures access to industry experts and markets for its participants. Among those who benefit from La Cocina’s shared resources and effective support system are many rapidly growing small businesses mostly owned by talented women from immigrant and underprivileged communities.

Dionne Knox, a successful owner and chef of Zella’s Soulful Kitchen in Oakland, CA, who greeted us at La Cocina’s well-equipped kitchen space, took up a challenging assignment of teaching our group how to cook some of her popular dishes: pan- fried chicken, white cheddar mac-n-cheese, honey buttered corn bread, and green salad with red wine vinaigrette.

Even though our master chef Dionne repeated several times that we are making a “basic” fried chicken and a “basic” green salad, some mishaps, like twice the amount of vinegar to half the amount of oil were bound to happen. Cooking for a group of people larger than two is never easy, but with the tireless help of our mentor and La Cocina’s youthful staff members, an excellent meal of Southern staples was eventually put on the table and enjoyed by all.
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To round up our weekend, we headed to one of the many wondrous museums of San Francisco. A small but highly informative Antique Vibrator Museum is located inside Good Vibrations store. The company motto “Creating a buzz since 1977” refers to its function as an education-based retailer of high-quality sex toys and other related products displayed in a clean, safe, and female friendly adult store with welcoming and well-trained “sex educator sales associates.”

In her presentation to our group, the museum curator and staff sexologist Dr. Carol Quinn relayed a fascinating history of a vibrating medical device invented in 1869 by an American physician for treating “hysteria” and other “female disorders.” The museum holds the largest antique vibrator collection for display in the world, accounting to over 100 artifacts from 1800s to the modern era.

For more information, visit www.sanfranciscoregency.hyatt.com, www.asiasf.com, www.lacocinasf.org, and www.goodvibes.com.

For many years, when I heard “San Diego” four things came to mind: (1) Sea World; (2) Chargers; (3) Padres; and (4) Utah winters are too cold, and I wish I could move to San Diego where the average temperature is 57 degrees to 72 degrees.

Having visited San Diego this summer, I have a few things to add to the list:
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U.S.S. Midway Museum. I’ve seen aircraft carriers before but haven’t ever been that interested in a tour. However, my kids were, so we changed our itinerary to include it. It was fascinating. Often called “a city at sea,” the U.S.S. Midway was “home” to 225,000 sailors during its 47 years of commission. During that time, the Midway saw action in Vietnam and was the Persian Gulf flagship in Operation Desert Storm. Most visitors spend 3-4 hours on the Midway, and there are a lot of kid-friendly things to do while aboard.
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San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Zoo boasts over 3,700 animals (with more than 650 species and sub species) and pioneered the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural animal environments. The kids especially enjoyed the Koalafornia Adventure, the Skyfari gondola, and the guided bus tour. However, no one was more pleased with the Zoo experience than my eight-year-old son, Chase, who has always dreamed of seeing live panda bears. The San Diego Zoo (one of the few zoos in the world which houses pandas) was happy to oblige.
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Anthony’s Fish Grotto. For nearly 70 years, Anthony’s has been satisfying customers with delicious food and seaside ambience. Attached to the restaurant is Anthony’s Fishette which doesn’t require a reservation. We decided to go this route and were favorably impressed with the famous fish and chips, as well as the succulent clam chowder.
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Bahia Resort. We stayed in a number of hotels during our trip, but none was nearly as stunning as the Bahia Resort. Located on the intriguing Mission Bay, Bahia has offers a unique resort destination—close to a number of great beaches and near Sea World. Our particular bayside suite was clean and spacious. The outer wall of the suite was a big window—giving us a beautiful view of the ocean.

La Jolla. Because of its fantastic natural scenery, La Jolla (Spanish for “the jewel”) is one of most unique locations in the San Diego area. Several “must sees” include: La Jolla Cove (which boasts a picturesque beach and tons of sea caves for snorkelers and kayakers); Sunny Jim Cave Store (for $4 a person you can descend to the Sunny Jim Cave via a manmade tunnel); Children’s Pool Beach (a favorite spot for children, divers, and swimmers—courtesy of a wave wall which protects the beach from crashing waves); and Seal Rock (100 yards north of Children’s Pool Beach and a hangout for a significant seal population).
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Old Town San Diego. San Diego was the first European settlement in California, and Old Town San Diego (a historical site) gives visitors a feel for what life might have been like in the mid-1800’s. There are 17 points of historical interest—including museums, galleries, and shops. At one of the venues, we had a great time feasting on authentic tacos while watching some entertaining Mexican dancing. While you’re in the Old Town, don’t miss out on the impressive, newly-renovated, and interactive Mormon Battalion Museum.

Coronado Island. Coronado is actually a peninsula, but it has a definite island feel. In fact, there are only two practical options for getting onto it: (1) the stunning and arching San Diego-Coronado Bridge or (2) ferry. Since its incorporation as a city in 1890, Coronado has been attracting visitors because of its quiet simplicity, beautiful views of the downtown San Diego skyline, family-friendly and remarkably uncrowded beaches, Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado Island Park, and Ferry Landing marketplace (with its more than 30 restaurants, shops, and art galleries).

San Diego is often referred to as “the birthplace of California.” It is the eighth largest city in the United States, the second largest in California, and one of the fastest growing in the nation. After a very pleasant visit there with my family, it’s not hard to see why. http://www.sandiego.org/, http://www.midway.org, http://www.oldtownsandiego.org, https://www.lds.org/locations/san-diego-mormon-battalion-historic-site, https://www.gofishanthonys.com, http://www.bahiahotel.com, http://www.lajolla.com, http://www.coronado.ca.us

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Heading to Stonepine Estate and Equestrian Center on a calm sunny afternoon, I planned so many things to do in Carmel Valley – one of the most precious jewels of Northern California!

Point Lobos State Reserve nearby, with its wild ocean coast framed by cypress and pine, where one can simultaneously see silvery seals resting on the rocks and grazing deer on a cliff covered with wild flowers, was at the top of my list.

Carmel Valley Village, with local wine tasting rooms, art galleries, and a wonderful bakery, was another place not to be missed.
Then, since a 2-night stay seemed like a lot of time, I was contemplating a pleasure ride along 17-Mile Drive, and just an hour or two at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

All my plans were doomed though, not due to the lack of time, but simply because once entering the Stonepine grounds it was very hard to imagine leaving this incredible historic retreat, and not spending every available minute enjoying its beautiful nature, serenity, and meditative solitude.

Built by the Crocker banking family in 1929, the castle-like house is still decorated with Italian marble columns and fireplaces, French wood paneling and tapestries, and period furniture and art pieces. It is surrounded by manicured green lawns, landscaped gardens leading to a blue swimming pool, a tiny pond with a waterfall and a tea house, and farther away, there are 400 acres of rolling hills, oak groves, grassy knolls, and soft ground tracks around the equestrian arena of the oldest operating thoroughbred ranch west of the Mississippi.

Stonepine’s current owners, Gordon and Noel Hentschel, travel industry entrepreneurs who purchased the estate in 1983, opened its doors to American and international visitors and created the premier private resort – a U.S. “Purple Shield” member of the Paris-based Relais & Châteaux.
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Known as a stellar location for business affairs as well as affairs of the heart, the estate offers period-decorated suites in Chateau Noel and freestanding houses and cottages on the grounds for rental or special events, corporate meetings and weddings.

European-trained staff, Carmel Valley wine tours, area golf, and reservations at local restaurants are available to the guests as well as in-room massages, riding lessons and horseback trails.

For our wedding anniversary, my husband and I took advantage of one of the three Stonepine vacation packages. Ours was aptly called, theEstate Experience. It included two nights in one of the luxurious accommodations; wine, cheese, and chocolate-dipped strawberries upon arrival; breakfast each morning; fireside dinner at the chateau; massage for two, and afternoon tea at the chateau library, loggia, or the waterfall pavilion.

We drove our favorite California Highway One, followed the signs to Stonepine, took a side road, hidden in the lush forest, and soon arrived by a masterful statue of a charging stallion next to the gate marked “CN” for Chateau Noel. The moment it opened in front of us, I knew that there was no other place on Earth where I’d rather be spending my special day.
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The air was warm, fragrant, and filled with incessant chirping of happy birds. The forest was calm and majestic. The cream-colored house with a tile roof looked like a fairy tale castle. Two Rolls-Royces were flanking its entrance, and an old-fashioned door bell announced our arrival.

Upon check-in we settled in a spacious Hermes House, across from the chateau, tastefully decorated with equestrian sculptures and framed vintage Hermes scarves. Vaulted ceiling in the entryway, living room with a huge fireplace, dining room with a glass door to a private back yard on a bluff, kitchen with bay windows, and master bedroom with a hot-tub in a well-appointed bathroom – and only rolling hills around. I felt like in a beautiful dream.

For dinner, we headed to the chateau, but decided to eat outside, at the loggia, overlooking a rose garden.
After champagne and hors d’oeuvres on a white leather couch we sat at a white-tablecloth table for two with fine china, crystal glasses, and a bouquet of red roses.

The sky became darker, and the cicadas louder and only our server appeared noiselessly with every new dish, and then disappeared again. Butternut squash soup with crème fraiche was followed by a salad of organic baby arugula, scooped watermelon and feta cheese. I liked my roasted Cornish game hen stuffed with California wild rice, mushrooms and almonds, and served with broccoli florets, red cabbage, zucchini, and cranberry sauce. Dark chocolate mousse with port for dessert was simply irresistible.

Next morning, our lavish breakfast was served in the Hermes House kitchen even before we woke up. Hot coffee was quietly bubbling in the coffeemaker.
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We happily sat by the window. Suddenly, we noticed a large brown cat crossing a horse paddock behind our house. Something about this cat wasn’t right… Too long legs, too massive neck, large ears with black tufts, short bobbed tail… “Bobcat,” exhaled my photographer husband, and clung to his camera.

Later we learned from a staff member that seeing a bobcat, a coyote, or even a mountain lion at Stonepine is quite possible. Wild animals roam around undisturbed, and in hot weather might drink from a little pond by the waterfall.

We spent a wonderful day walking the trails in the forest, reading on a lawn under oaks, and swimming in the pool surrounded by potted lemon trees. We watched horses being gently walked around racetracks, had a couple’s massage in our house, performed by two skilled masseuses from a nearby spa, who arrived with their folding tables and aromatic oils, and then it was time for our afternoon tea.

We decided to have our five-o’clock at the waterfall pavilion behind the emerald lawn of the chateau’s enormous back yard.
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Our attentive server delivered a 3-tiered tray with classic finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and house-made jam, and petit fours. The soothing sound of waterfall was the only noise in the quiet afternoon, filled with sunshine and joy.

In the morning, it was time to say goodbye to a hospitable estate, but not before we had a fluffy stuffed omelet and fresh croissants with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee in the main dining room of the chateau.
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I thought about the two other Stonepine vacation packages – Carmel Valley Wine Discovery and the Equestrian Immersion, but I would have to wait for the next big occasion in my life… and they were well-worth the wait…

The owners, who recently introduced these three new packages designed to give travelers a taste of the Carmel Valley estate living, wine country, and equestrian adventure, also launched a program that donates 20% of all room and event proceeds from these packages to charity, and visitors get to choose one of the nine charities supported by the Hentschels.

“Philanthropy is one of our family’s core values and we know that many travelers also want to give back to causes they support, and what easier way to do it while one is traveling. Our children grew up here so not only is Stonepine filled with love of family, but we have poured our hearts and souls into the estate to make it the most unique retreat our visitors have experienced. The introduction of a philanthropic component for our guests is a convenient way for everyone involved to benefit,” stated the Stonepine owners.

Each of the nine charities is 501(c)(3) qualified and can be utilized as a tax deduction: Women and Children in Need: Foundation Against Child Exploitation & Human Trafficking; Migrant Clinicians Network; Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey; Science and Medicine: National Alliance on Mental Illness; Natividad Medical Foundation; Casa Esperanza and Animal Abuse and Adoption: Training Racehorses Off The Track (TROTT); The SPCA for Monterey County and Mustang Heritage Foundation

 

While most of the nation is knee deep in ice, snow and freezing rain, the unsurpassed place to be is Santa Barbara, California in sunny, superb weather. This picturesque seaside resort offers endless pleasures highlighted by its awesome annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), now in its 29th year and just weeks before the Oscars, recently tributed Oscar notables for 2014: Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, Cate Blanchett, Bruce Dern, Robert Redford and more.

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Opening night kicked off the SBIFF with anticipation and excited fans. ECO friendly Santa Barbara welcomed renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle to introduce her documentary “Mission Blue” to raise awareness of ocean underwater disasters.
Joined by directors Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon, Ms. Earle is dedicated to preserving oceans for posterity. Festival tributes followed with an evening for Best Director David O. Russell (“American Hustle”) and award-winning actress Cate Blanchett received Outstanding Performance Award for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” She told everyone,“It was confronting and excruciating and terrifying and hilarious and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
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In Santa Barbara, the lifestyle is casual with high style events paced with sophistication. Of all the events in the city, the SBIFF is the most special and quite accessible, you can hob nob with Oscar contenders, view up to 200 films, premieres and Oscar nominated pics and attend industry panels represented by writers, producers and directors of the top movies. Banners and searchlights draw crowds to The Arlington Theatre, the historic and beloved venue in Santa Barbara.
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On any given day, it’s the place to meet people from every US state and numerous countries of the world; everyone on State Street is talking about films. The SBIFF has the knack of bringing people together to gab about what they saw and what they will see. When film buffs are not in the theatres between 8 am and 10 pm, there’s plenty of seaside fun and sights to see. There’s time to enjoy sailing, fishing, kayaking, whale watching or dining at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Nearby is the popular Funk Zone with wineries, designers, art galleries and more to explore. A must see is the Mission Santa Barbara and the historic Courthouse for photo opportunities.
Red Carpet evenings are always dazzling, especially when Santa Barbara’s esteemed resident and superstar, Oprah Winfrey of Montecito, was honored with the Montecito Award for her prolific body of work to a sold out audience. She was greeted with a standing ovation and she followed it with, “I appreciate you all coming out, but really, you could have just come over to my house.” She noted that it was an honor to be honored in her hometown and proclaimed, “I love you Santa Barbara.” We all loved her in Lee Daniels,“The Butler, “ and in “The Color Purple.” Another exciting tribute was in recognition of the successful 5 film unique collaboration of director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, the Cinema Vanguard Award, which represents their fearless and uncompromising work.
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So what’s a feast for a film festival? Not only were there celebrities in Santa Barbara, its restaurants, wineries and hotels were stars of the Santa Barbara Film Feast. Savoring here were the best plates, wines and special packages combining lodging, film tickets and restaurants. More than 36 prix-fixe menus offered memorable tastes of 3 courses before or after films. Some of my favorites were great food at Paradise Café, Olio e Limon Ristorante, Blue Agave, Santa Barbara Winery and Grassini Family Vineyards tasting room; plenty to pick and chose. Santa Barbarans like to eat and see films about food. They watched “Make Hummas Not War,” “Cesar’s Grill,” and “A Year in Champagne.”

Forever handsome Robert Redford, who grew up in California, was in Santa Barbara to receive the American Rivera Award for his major impact on American film. Redford admitted,” I spent a lot of time in Santa Barbara, surfing and spending time in the mountains. You all in Santa Barbara have a wonderful community and this festival… well, I’m just happy to be a part of it. I take this honor very seriously and with humility.” He was recognized for his amazing performance in “All is Lost” and so many others, as well as his lifelong mentoring of filmmakers at his Sundance Institute, named for his breakout role as the Sundance Kid. Welcoming Redford to the SBIFF was a great moment and he received the award from Festival Director Roger Durling.
In the final days of the festival, actor Bruce Dern was honored as a Modern Master for his 50 years in film and “his part of a lifetime” in “Nebraska.” Closing night of the SBIFF was a special evening hailing the popular romantic trilogy: “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and the closing film “Before Midnight.” The director/writer Richard Linklater, actor/writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke greeted fans and discussed the film after the screening.
The 700 volunteers were again applauded and festival winners were announced:
Panavision Spirit Award Independent Cinema: “Noble” (Ireland)directed by Stephen Bradley and Best International Film Award:”Eastern Boys” (France)directed by Robin Campillo.
See the complete list of winners at sbiff.org.
You can be sure that Santa Barbara is a fabulous destination year round, especially during the SBIFF, just refer to Travel and Leisure Magazine, who recognized the city at SBIFF 2014, as a Media Sponsor of the film festival. Find out everything about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at www.sbiff.org or call 805-963-0023. Film Feast at www.SBFilmFeast.com and about Santa Barbara at www.santabarbaraca.com. See you next year Jan. 15-Feb.1. at SBIFF 2015.