Thursday, June 14, 2012

California Dreaming

I visited California for the first time for my 30th birthday and fell in love with the state instantly. I could not believe how beautiful it was. On that trip, we traveled from San Diego to San Francisco, primarily up the coast. The day after we arrived in San Diego, I turned on the morning news and learned that there had been a freak November snow storm in Julian. I hadn't seen snow since I left New Jersey when I was six years old. I looked at a map (this was before smart phones!) and learned that Julian was just 90 miles east of where we were staying. I was ecstatic! Despite the fact that the warmest clothes we packed were sweatshirts and jeans, we went for it. Alana and Chase got to see snow for the first time and build their first snowman (using cherry tomatoes that a local woman offered us for eyes). It was incredible. In less than two hours, we were back at the beach in 65-degree weather. 

Since that first trip, we've been back to California three times - in 2004, 2005 and 2007. (After that, we added on to our house and the economy simultaneously went down the toilet, thereby hampering any further trips to the Golden State (or anywhere else for that matter!).) :( Some of my family's fondest memories, though, are from our trips to California. These are the things that I dream of:

1. Horseback riding on the beach - This was the most fun I've ever had on vacation. We did this in Oceano on the central coast. I'll never forget that there was a goat on the farm who had eaten all of the reservations for July. We had a blast!

2. Islands Fine Burgers and Drinks - More specifically, Hula Burgers and Kona Pie. Islands has been my favorite restaurant since they opened in Florida in the early 90s. The restaurant's non-smoking only policy, implemented in Florida long before the law was officially passed, led to their demise. They are still going strong in California, though. In spite of the fact that I do make a killer knock-off of Kona Pie (if I do say so myself), I still eat there several times when I'm on the West Coast!

Alana and Chase at Hyatt Huntington Beach
3. Huntington Beach - I LOVE Surf City! It really is the coolest town. My very favorite thing about Huntington Beach is their Friday Market that is held by the pier every (you guessed it) Friday afternoon. It's like a combination farmer's market and craft fair. The beach there is huge and there is a special "walk" that runs along the beach for pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, etc. Main Street is clean and has a bunch of cool surf shops and excellent restaurants, like The Sugar Shack (best omelets EVER) and the Aloha Grill. Another reason I love Huntington Beach is because it is home of my favorite hotel on earth - The Hyatt Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. This is my "splurge" hotel. It will probably be a very long time before I stay there again, but I'm thankful for the great memories (making s'mores in the fire pits) and the awesome photo opportunities (the grounds are gorgeous) that I've had there.

4. Long Beach - Probably one of the cleanest cities I've ever been to. We've visited the Aquarium of the Pacific a couple of times and toured the Queen Mary on one of our trips (but the kids were "creeped out," so we didn't stay long). Long Beach is really the only part of the Los Angeles area that I really enjoyed (except Venice Beach reigns supreme for people watching - we actually saw a guy wearing a sign that read "Will work for pot." At least he was honest!) 

Pismo Beach
5. Pismo Beach - When I think of a "sleepy little beach town," I think of Pismo Beach. Both times that we've visited this town along the central coast, we've stayed at a cool place called Cottage Inn By the Sea. It looks like it could be part of a fairy tale. I never knew what a "bluff" was until I stayed there. It is perched high up on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Let me tell you, the Pacific is COLD. Only my feet touched the water and went numb, but the views were amazing. Another great memory of Pismo Beach is eating Pismo clam chowder (the creamy, delicious kind - though it seems wrong to call it "New England" in California) served in a freshly baked sourdough bread bowl at the Splash Cafe. Mmmm...

Santa Barbara
6. Santa Barbara - Another incredibly beautiful town along the coast. The weather is perfect there and the people are so friendly. The first time we went, Chase wasn't quite two years old, but he was into motorcyles. He was wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt and we saw some bikers on the wharf. One guy actually offered to let Chase sit on his bike. It was so sweet! I seem to recall that they had a public skate park right on the beach too. I'd love to take Chase back there today (he's into a different kind of wheels now!). 

7. Northern San Diego County - Carlsbad and Oceanside are two more "sleepy little beach towns" that I feel in love with. Oceanside is home to the California Surf Museum (which we've visited on every trip), the Longboarder Cafe (which I'm hoping is still there so that I can get a turkey-avo melt), and my favorite tile company in the world - Oceanside Glasstile! :)

8. The Most Beautiful Drives Ever - Nothing beats driving along the coast with nothing between the road and the ocean but SAND (and maybe some rocks)! I was amazed to find that hotels are not built on the beach in many places, but across the Pacific Coast Highway. California is the one place that owning (or renting) a convertible makes sense (though I've never done it...yet.)
Driving down the coast in San Diego County
California is where I learned to love avocados, saw the bluest skies I've ever laid eyes on, and reignited my love of roller coasters (I rode Montezuma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm by myself on my 30th Birthday just to prove that I still could.) I know that Chase would LOVE to go back to Knott's Berry Farm, Disney's California Adventure, and give Six Flags Magic Mountain a try!

In a little over a week, I will be traveling to San Diego for ISTE. As soon as I saw the location of ISTE 2012 at last year's convention in Philadelphia, my heart was set on going. When I found out that I was going to be able to represent VocabularySpellingCity at ISTE this year, I was ecstatic. I've been to enough conventions to know that there isn't much down time, but I'm hoping to at least get to see the beach, possibly visit Oceanside, and have a Hula Burger and Kona Pie at Islands while I'm there. I'm sad that my family won't be joining me on this trip, but I hope that someday in the not-too-distant future we'll be able to go back to California and make some more wonderful memories.