Who can resist California? Crazy traffic. Cool people. Sun. Ocean. Food and Wine. Maybe a star or two? It’s a spectacular treat to book a trip to the sunny coast. I used to visit more regularly, but it’s been two years since my last visit….too long. The last time I visited was during August 2015, the dog-days of summer. The state was crisp and toasty, the hills smoking from forest fires. I remember feeling intensely conflicted. I was touring the growing fields with a spectacular group of people and learning so much about my food sources, yet, my heart was breaking to see the land and its people suffering. Beauty and beast rolled together. I’ve found California to be like that. It doesn’t just host its guests. It opens their eyes and changes them in ways they’ll never imagine.
But this visit, I found that spring in California is more mellow. It rained several times while I was there. A refreshing mist that left everything dewy and green. We had sunny days, too. The mix of warm weather, cool breezes, gentle rains and ocean terrain uplifted my winter-worn spirit. It was fun to watch my husband relax and come alive again, too. We both needed a little springtime refreshment, California-style.
Our trip wasn’t long, only 4 days. We flew into LAX, road-tripped up the Pacific Coast Highway to Napa (with a slight detour), and then returned through San Francisco down the main highway to LAX. We are now seasoned California drivers. And while most travelers would shy away from that much driving, it actually opens up new terrain for us. Who knows what road trips are ahead? We’re ready.
Traveler’s note — This was probably one of our “spendier” trips. We had delicious food and stayed in some great accommodations, but it definitely stretched our travel budget and took some creative planning. We saved quite a bit of money by booking early and taking advantage of internet deals. That’s another plus of cruising California before mid-March, there are far more cost-saving deals available. Also, by calling hotels and restaurants directly, I was able to add a few additional perks at no or minimal charge. Of course, there was the one restaurant that called me back saying my visit may be more alfresco than I wanted….they were remodeling and would have no roof during the time we wanted to visit! Oh well, Brix, thank you for the heads-up. We’ll visit you next time!
We touched down at LAX midweek (Wednesday), 5:30 pm local time. Within 2 hours we had retrieved our luggage and rental car, made it to our hotel in Beverly Hills, changed, and were calling our Uber to meet up with friends at Wally’s Beverly Hills. Wally’s is a taste treat excursion of wines, meats and cheeses. We enjoyed a magnificent charcucterie (pronounced shar-koo-tuh-ree) and cheese platter paired with Cabernet sauvignon. We arrived before 9 pm and the place was bustling, standing room only. I think it was well-past 11:30 pm before we were seated, but no worries. We were now on California time and the restaurant is open until 2:00 a.m.
While I should have been paying far more attention to the Cabernet my friend was ordering for us (I learned later it was a $200+ bottle of Orwin Swift’s Mercury Head Cabernet), instead I was enamoured with the whimsical mosaic displayed behind the meat and cheese counter. The story goes that wine bar owner, Christian Navarro, was inspired by a famous Chinese painting and had it recreated as a mosaic for his restaurant. The inspired artwork seemed perfectly placed in the colorful, entertaining environment of food, wine, and Beverly Hills characters. But the best part of the evening was reconnecting with friends. We had a great time that evening, and I’ll always remember Wally’s fondly.
The next morning we continued our role as tourists and headed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Our stroll brought up memories of Happy Days, To Sir With Love, Top Hat, Tea For Two, and more well-loved films and shows.
We also caught a glimpse of the set-up for the Beauty & The Beast premiere. We were a little too early for spottings of Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast) or Luke Evans (Gaston), but it did spark a creative interest in the film version. So, of course we spent our St. Patty’s Day evening seeing the film. It’s a bit long (over 2 hours), but worth it. Emma Watson brings new life to Belle’s winsome yet fearless character. and you gain a deeper understanding of the odd young woman determined to live more than a provincial life. It is rated PG, not G, so there are topics lightly explored that aren’t touched on in the animated version. The theatrical costumes and set designs exceed the excruciating detail of the animated version. And, I once again became enchanted with the dear teapot, Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and the Parisian candlestick, excuse me candelabra, Cogsworth (Ian McKellan). I love both the animated and film version, but if you ever get a chance to see a theater production of Beauty & The Beast, I highly recommend it. The theater version will truly make the story come alive, and your heart will beat for the Beast in a way it may have missed during the other productions.
Our final and most enjoyable stop in Beverly Hills was at Hugo’s Restaurant. Cozy, warm and inviting, Hugo’s lavishes its guests with a menu of clean food created with local, whole ingredients. Each dish is inspired by Founder Terry Kaplan’s commitment to sincerity and originality. The staff is friendly and competent. Even though I dined on more glamorous meals during my trip, my dinner at Hugo’s was the most memorable and enjoyable. I had the Orange Mustard Chicken (antibiotic-free), sauteed with orange juice, Pommery Djion mustard, garlic and honey. It was served with a simple side of organic brown rice and veggies. It was so delicious that I forgot to take a picture! But, I did photograph dessert…
This was possibly the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten. Of course it’s made with organic carrots, but its most heavenly feature is the mascarpone cream topping. No need to scrape off layers and layers of the traditional sticky, sweet cream cheese topping normally found on carrot cake. The light and airy cream filling compliments the carrots and finely ground almonds leaving your taste buds room to explore the orange zest and spices. The meal left me satisfied rather than bloated. And, for once I wasn’t drowning in salt or sugar by the end. Food love.
Pacific Coast Tour
The next morning we headed out of L.A. by 6:00 a.m. en route to Napa Valley via the Pacific Coastal Highway (PCA). We made it as far as San Simeon Bay, across from the Hearst Castle. Unfortunately, a mudslide had occurred earlier in the month, and the PCA was closed just south of Big Sur. So we altered our course and took Hwy 46 where we enjoyed gorgeous views of California’s greenest hills and pastures. Eventually we connected to Hwy 101 and continued our trip to Napa. The rest of the coastal highway exploration will have to wait for our next trip.
Our first scenic stop was at Estes Bluffs State Park. Naturally scenic, we wished we had brought a picnic breakfast.
Wildflowers, rocks and water… it doesn’t get much better for this nature lover.
I love California cows! They peacefully graze among the hills, effortlessly tuning out the rest of the world. Oh, to be a California cow!
Since we hadn’t brought breakfast along with us, we stopped in Santa Barbara at the Savoy Cafe & Deli. Organic greens, eggs, camp toast and plenty of coffee were the perfect refueling foods.
We continued up the coast enjoying the view. We made a final stop at San Simeon Bay, which is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Across from the Bay, way up on the top of the hill, is the Hearst Castle. If castles are your thing, it’s open to tourists for a fee.
However, the Hearst Corporations donated the beach area to the county back in 1953. You can spend as much time as you’d like there for free. Elephant seals are a familiar site at this beautiful stop. This seal put on quite a show swimming and honking. Spring is their mating time so I don’t think the show was really intended for us.
Since the PCA was closed at Big Sur, we headed back to Hwy 46 where we were awed by the stunning hills and intensely blue sky. There wasn’t an official Scenic Byway so made our own. The breathtaking view was worth it. I can’t remember when I’ve seen a sky so blue and hills so lush and green.
It made every minute of our unexpected detour worth it.
We arrived at the rustically, charming Hotel Napa Valley, Old World Inn just a shade after 7 pm. We missed the wine tasting, but were able to enjoy the evening dessert special, a homemade flourless chocolate torte. It may have spoiled our dinner, but we certainly didn’t care!
We loved our stay at the Old World Inn. Our second-floor room was large with a fireplace and adjoining bathroom suite. The inn is very clean, quiet and located in a lovely neighborhood within walking distance to shops and restaurants. Breakfast, dessert, wine tasting and an all-day gourmet coffee/tea bar are included in the daily rate. We had the added bonus of taking advantage of an early-season March rate-special, making the inn much more affordable. The hotel manager, Ruby, was fabulous and took care of everything we needed. My only tip is that since it’s an older building (that’s it’s charm), you need to give the water a few extra minutes to heat up! But wait for it. There’s nothing like a divinely hot shower or a soothing Jacuzzi after a long day of travel.
That’s exactly what we did. We enjoyed a simple dinner, a hot shower, and then climbed into that very cozy bed. The lights were barely turned off and we were asleep. The following day was misty and raining, but the driving was handled by Platypus Tours. The only thing we had to do was sit back and enjoy the wineries. More on that later this week…..
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