AutomobilesDining in Los AngelesTravel

The Summer of Loving LA 

ruyan view

The New Normal in LA is Back to Normal

In the same way that you don’t notice your kids growing up day-to-day, but others exclaim how much the kids have changed when they haven’t seen them in a while — the people living in LA are not as keen to how dramatically the city has transformed over the past few years, like I am, as a visitor a couple times a year. Vacationing in LA this past summer, I was delighted to find that the city had emerged from its unruly phase after the pandemic, and now acts like a nice, well-mannered city.  

One obvious difference is the shrinking number of tent encampments. Though they still dot the freeway underpasses and median strips along the side streets, the sprawling bivouacs of campers across the city have vanished. Also, traffic is significantly lighter at all hours as a byproduct of the new remote work culture. Likewise, the streets, stores and restaurants are less crowded. Around town, very few people sported masks, and generally, people seemed kinder and more relaxed. The tiny cookie shop where last year I was barked at by the masked clerk when I entered because I did not see the sign, “one customer allowed inside at a time,” had a short line inside, and the unmasked clerk was cheerful and buoyant.

For a tourist, these are good changes overall, though some of the pandemic fallout has diminished LA, such as permanent closures of restaurants or businesses and others that still struggled to make a comeback.

A favorite restaurant of mine in the Valley, Sun Café, an oasis off Ventura Blvd near Universal Studios, used to be a thriving spot for vegans in the know. After the parking lot across the street was commandeered by homeless and drug dealers during the pandemic, patrons stopped going to the eatery. The proprietors were forced to sell, and sadly the new owners continue to experience sparse crowds.

Other of the old haunts I frequented when I lived in LA for nearly two decades were back to normal. The WeHo Bistro was again serving their to-die-for garlic truffle fries and the gorgeously colored Aperol Spritz drinks to a full house. Trejos Tacos was back to dishing up their inventive bad-ass street tacos. And the Michelin Plated Restaurant, The Lobster, at Santa Monica Pier, is back to packing in locals and tourists for incredible sunset views and outstanding lobster bisque.

Enjoying Aperol Spritz at WeHo Bistro
Plentiful chips and salsa at Trejos Tacos.

Otherwise, most attractions around town have recovered well. A year ago, when we toured the Peterson Automotive Museum, we had to make reservations, submit to a screening that included taking our temperature, and wear masks. This year, the experience was completely carefree. My son and his cousin, both aged 16, who initially balked at the idea of going to a museum, were marveled by the expansive collection of vehicles. They snapped dozens of pics posed next to one-of-a-kind antique cars along with famous rides like the time-traveling DMC-12 DeLorean of Back to the Future, Scooby Do’s van, and the Honda S2000 from “2 Fast 2 Furious.” As a special treat, we toured the Vault, a vast garage of priceless and historical cars parked end-to-end. We were regaled by the docent’s stories of the bulletproof Mercedes owned by Ferdinand Marcos that could produce an oil slick to escape pursuers, and a 1998 Cadillac De Ville Parade Phaeton, more commonly known as the Popemobile.

Another attraction that rebounded with vigor is Cinespia, arguably the greatest outdoor movie event in LA, or anywhere. With thousands gathering blanket-to-blanket on the lawn of Hollywood Forever Cemetery to see films projected on Rodolph Valentino’s mausoleum, this exciting night of picnicking, music and movies has provided memorable film fan experiences for more than 20 years. My teen tourists where thrilled to see Fight Club under the stars, surrounded by patrons wearing black-eye make-up and dressed in flamboyant fur coats and torn and bloodied button-down shirts and ties, like Brad Pitt’s and Edward Norton’s pugilistic characters in the movie. As with every classic and modern classic film screened at Cinespia, the event featured a photobooth recreation of the set, in this case a boiler-room fighting ring. As a generous perk, the photos are posted for viewing on Cinespia’s site for free.

Of course, no trip to LA is complete without cruising Hollywood Boulevard. Compared to the near-empty streets with shuttered shops during 2021 and 2022, the place was buzzing during our visit. On a lively Saturday night, the strip was best explored in the luxury and grandness of a Ford Expedition, the vehicle that served as our crib on wheels for the week.

The boys loved rolling down the windows and opening the enormous sky roof and cranking up the bass on their Apple Music playlist, aptly named Mosh Pit; and I loved that they could sit in the 3rd row and adjust the stereo to play as loud as they desired on the rear speakers without splitting my eardrums in the driver’s seat.

Living large in LA, in a ride that was a trip in itself.

They had a prime seat to sightsee around Hollywood, and I won Mother of the Year by driving them around town in this impressive ride. At first, I was intimidated to drive such a wide-body vehicle through the streets of LA, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to maneuver; plus, when other drivers saw me coming, they would pull to the side to let me pass. It was almost like a parting of the crowd for the guest of honor. It seems when people see a car like this approaching, they show deference, perhaps because of its large size, or perhaps to get a better view to see if there’s a celebrity passenger in the back.

Ready to roll, on a midnight cruise in Hollywood.

After day after day of tourist-ing and partying into the wee hours of the morning — which for the adults in our group included some curiously strong drinks at the Abbey in WeHo, leading to a search party and a missing person’s report, which is a whole ‘nuther story – we departed LA feeling feted, entertained, and well hosted. Our trip was like a lovely dinner party, with a guest list of people you actually like, good food, enjoyable conversation, and a few antics to make the experience memorable. Our week stay was just the right amount of time too. Los Angeles is again a great place to visit, and in fact, one day, I might just want to live there, again.

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AutomobilesDining in Los AngelesEntertainmentThe Left CoastTravel

Loving LA Despite Itself

cinespia screen

How a Black Eye Made Me Remember Why I Keep Going Back to LA

I usually visit Los Angeles a couple of times a year, returning to the hangouts I frequented when I lived in the city six years ago. I also make it a mission on each trip to discover new places and adventures. My most recent trip didn’t disappoint, as the good and bad of the town never fails to bubble up, like the ooze of La Brea Tar Pits.

It had been a year since my last trip to LA in summer 2021, which had started well with COVID’s dissipation but then ended badly with an unexpected surge in infections that sealed up the city once again. This time, the pandemic was almost a memory, as masks were the exception, tent encampments were fewer, and crowded public events were back in swing.    

Not knowing what might happen with the COVID situation, I planned a lot of outdoor and open-air activities, which I figured were a safer bet for avoiding rubbing elbows with the unmasked masses. I also found a way to avoid waiting in line to buy tickets for attractions like Universal Studios and the Van Gogh exhibit by using Tiqets, an online booking platform. The service offers a flexible cancellation policy, in case circumstances change, and they offer special deals and packages, like express access passes for Universal Studios Hollywood, perfect for short vacations so you can skip lines and enjoy more of the rides and shows.

The incredible surround-sight-and-sound Van Gogh Experience was pleasantly uncrowded, especially since my group took advantage of the VIP access tickets with an hour early entry. Plus, we all got a cool poster and $10 for the gift shop, which I applied toward a Starry Night jigsaw puzzle, which I will put together, someday.

As I always do on my LA visits, I explore the touristy attractions. It only makes sense when you’re in one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations to enjoy cruising the Sunset Strip and strolling the Hollywood Walk of Fame — but also to do the things that makes LA LA, like hiking Runyon Canyon, and going to Cinespia, my favorite outdoor movie event, where thousands of movie lovers flock with their blankets, coolers and LED votives for an alfresco dinner to DJ tunes followed by a modern classic movie. While the Cinespia enterprise has grown exponentially since I first started attending 20 years ago, expanding into multiple cinematic locales, I still gravitate toward the original venue of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There I have enjoyed beloved films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Point Break, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard (yes, in December, because it is a Christmas movie), and Dirty Dancing (the latter on July 4th, complete with fireworks timed for Patrick Swayze’s climatic lift of Jennifer Grey, projected on Rudolph Valentino’s Mausoleum.

As has been my LA story, when I am in LA, something dramatic, and sometimes traumatic happens. This time, I had a bad fall, breaking and spraining my fingers, suffering a concussion-inducing face contusion, and banging and bloodying my knee, thanks to the dark alleyway and awkward steps leading to my Airbnb accommodations. After a trip to Cedars-Sinai Urgent Care, I was wrapped in a cast and doped up on pain killers. This is when my perspective became a little foggy yet clearer about what was different in LA this trip.

While many of my plans – like my favorite bike ride on the path from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach — had to be scrapped due to my injuries, I carried on, as the show is apt to do in Hollywood. So I did what I could, which was eat and drink, at least a few times a day, at some of my favorite restaurants and bars, like Hugo’s in West Hollywood, Real Food Daily (where I never fail to see a celebrity enjoying the city’s finest vegan menu), WeHo Bistro (for to-die-for French onion soup), Sun Café on Ventura Blvd., (best vegan smoothies around), and the Abbey (where the burgers and fries are passable, but where else can you drink and watch nearly naked men dancing on the bar, surrounded by statues of saints?).

In a couple of days, I was cleared to drive, so my friends were relieved of taxi duty. Luckily, I had the next best thing to a chauffeur, which was a Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4. Of course, I was doing the actual driving, but it hardly seemed like it. Despite busted fingers and my hand bandaged up like Rocky, I was able to navigate the side streets like a champ. I’ve been driving SUVs for 16 years, so I am used to sitting up high, which is a definite advantage driving LA streets, otherwise known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. For instance, I was easily able to steer around a guy dancing in his underwear in an intersection (an actual event during my trip), and quickly react to the usual entitled LA drivers cutting me off to get one car length ahead. I felt insulated and protected by the heft of this car, such that if, heaven forbid, someone pulled out in front of me, I would probably plow through them War of the Roses style and be just fine. I was also thankful for driver assist and auto parking features that helped compensate for my compromised dexterity.

During every trip back to LA, I take account of what got worse, what stayed the same, and what changed for the better. For instance, my old go-to grocery store in Santa Monica, formally a Lucky’s, then an Albertson’s, is now a Gelson’s. Chalk one up for improvements. Other upgrades include my son’s old playground in WeHo by the public library, which is now the home of a spanking-new aquatic center; and new green bike lines that sprouted up throughout Santa Monica and West Hollywood – though even with these dedicated bike lanes, motor vehicle drivers still encroach on biking right-aways, but it has it helped improve biker safety by a degree. Another sign of progress was that almost every public bathroom was all-gender.

Things that have changed and stayed the same can be summed up in an incident that occurred when I was leaving T.J. Maxx in Santa Monica. A security guard tackled a homeless guy stealing a purse. That’s the usual thing. The new thing was that the guard was wearing latex gloves, presumably for COVID.  Another stayed-the-same thing was that the Abbey was packed. The new thing was large screen TVs behind the bar flashing, “Warning. Beware of pickpockets. “Again, I presumed this was due to the COVID-driven pre-recession climate ratcheting up crime rates. There were fewer tent cities, especially at the beaches, though there were plenty of the usual vendors selling sage and crystals.

Despite my spill at the Airbnb, I felt lucky for the rest of my trip. Maybe because of my injury and not in spite of it, people treated me nicely. Like the woman at the Walgreens who looked at my broken fingers and my blackeye and whispered quietly to me, “Are you OK?” Others stared sympathetically at me, held doors, smiled and otherwise extended kindnesses to me, possibly assuming I was a victim of domestic violence. I experienced this kinder-and-gentler LA all the way to my gate at LAX, when the United Airlines boarding agent took a look at me and invited me to board early, gave me an entire row to myself despite a full plane, and checked my carry-on for free.

As I clicked my seatbelt around me, I realized I had forgotten my scapular, a religious amulet I wear on flights for the protection of the Virgin Mary. Usually, I would’ve considered this a bad omen and freaked out; but as I reached into my jean pocket, I found a scapular patch, which I had found lying on a bench during my visit to Universal Studios. I pinned the scapular to my shirt, over my heart, and I relaxed into my five-hour-10-minute flight back to DC. So went another typical, atypical trip to LA, where good, bad and the surgically enhanced come together in a way that happens “Only in LA.”

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleTravel

Almost unmasking LA before a summer surge sent us packing


Trying to stay ahead of the curve during a pandemic vacay to LA

I went back to Los Angeles this summer, taking a vacation from my new hometown of Washington, D.C. My second trip to the city since the start of the pandemic started much better than when I visited over spring break, in April 2021. LA had made huge strides toward reopening. Restaurants welcomed diners indoors, attractions and theme parks re-opened, and stores removed mask mandates for the vaccinated. But then that all changed.

How it started, and how it ended

When I arrived in early July, all over LA, there was an aura of optimism, from Hollywood to the beach cities, the populace was eager for a return to pre-pandemic life. Then, a few days before the end of my three-week visit, things took a turn. Just like that, COVID-19 case numbers went up by 60 percent in a single day, and city officials renewed mask orders for indoor public spaces.

After two weeks of feeling a new sense of freedom in the air and sunshine at the end of the tunnel, a stop into the Insomnia cookie shop in WeHo took me aback. As I donned my mask and entered the store, a vigilant employee loudly ordered me outdoors because only one customer was permitted in the store at a time. The tide had turned, again.

Mask, and mask again

Over spring break, masks were still ubiquitous, and tensions remained high between the cautious and the anti-maskers who felt face coverings were unnecessary — or an encroachment on their freedom. As the city readied for July 4rth Independence Day celebrations, it was rare to see a masked face anywhere, except for those behind the register or prepping and serving food, and most businesses had taken down signs regarding masking.

Shopping at Bay Cities Deli
Customers were not allowed inside to eat at the counter at Apple Pan

The only hold outs for masking I visited were the Apple Pan, the historic luncheonette on Pico Blvd., and Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica, where their vigilant masking enforcers put the Soup Nazi to shame.

Most of the “hygiene theatre” had faded away. At store entrances, gone were attendants whose job it was to politely screen patrons for masks and offer a squirt of hand-sani. While most people maintained some semblance of social distancing, the six-feet directive was six-feet under.

A rare sign of the times, before the renewed masking edict

Nobody puts LA in a corner

At Cinespia, LA’s longest-running outdoor movie event, the July 4rth screening of Dirty Dancing hosted a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees, sitting blanket-to-blanket, across the Hollywood Forever Cemetery lawn. As patrons dined al fresco and grooved to the tunes of the pre-show DJ, they were as high as Baby’s triumphant lift, without a mask or any other reminder of the pandemic in sight. When post-show fireworks exploded, the throngs cheered wildly. It was a true celebration of freedom.

Cinespia picnic before the show
The throngs at Cinespia, a welcome reprieve from social distancing, and masks
Mingling before “Dirty Dancing” started at Cinespia, like old times
The exhileration of freedom, celebrated with fireworks at the July 4 Cinespia event

At Knott’s Berry Farm, it was child’s play as usual. Despite reservation-only admission, the park seemed as busy as any pre-pandemic summer. Early in the day, patrons wearing masks were sprinkled about, but as the sun rose and temperatures hit 85 degrees, masks came off. Social distancing was almost nonexistent. Picnic tables were more spread apart than usual at eateries, but lines of closely packed-in kids were the norm. Even in indoor settings, such as the in-park restaurants, it was rare to see a mask. The good part was that kids seemed oblivious that there ever was a pandemic, as they squealed with abandon on the thrill rides.

Cool kids enjoying a sunny day at Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, without a pandemic cloud over their heads

Museums along the Miracle Mile were open, though operating at a reduced crowd capacity. Petersen Automotive Museum offered pre-purchasing of tickets and required an online wellness check and masks for visitors. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also featured reservations-only entry for specified time blocks plus on-site wellness screenings and temperature checks before entry for indoor exhibits. Outdoor public art exhibits, such as the Urban Light lamppost field, and dining at the Resnick Pavilion were free and open.

Checking temperature at LACMA
Mask required at Petersen Museum
Social distancing but mask-free at the outdoor public art “Urban Light” installation at LACMA

Pandemic after-party

Nightlife continued to pick up where it left off when lockdowns started in March 2020. Cooped up for nearly a year and half, clubbers were out in droves. In West Hollywood, the world’s most famous gay bar, The Abbey, was crammed with people, though there were slightly fewer tables than usual, spread out on its expansive patio.

In Hollywood, with COVID case numbers falling midway through the summer, The Hollywood Partnership (THP), an organization dedicated to promoting patronage of the district center, ramped up its efforts to attract more visitors.

“By all accounts, domestic tourism is thriving,” said Kristopher Larson, President and CEO of THP.  “Hotel occupancy is back into the 60th percentile, a figure which already exceeds previous recovery projections for the year. We’re also seeing continued growth in pedestrian vibrancy on the Walk of Fame, and our pedestrian counts through June 30 have already reached levels comparable to fall and winter of 2019 pre-pandemic.”

Many Hollywood establishments, like The Dudes’ Brewing Company, did their part to help revive the strip by appealing to its lifeblood of tourists the good old-fashioned way: great happy hour prices for drinks and food, along with offering expansive fresh-air patio seating. Art Paz, a Dudes’ manager, also doubled down on providing attentive customer service, despite the fact that most restaurants remain understaffed due to many service workers staying home during the pandemic. “Good drinks, good food and good service will keep them coming back,” said Paz.

Hanging with Gus the manager at the Dudes’ Brewing Company in Hollywood
Happy Hours made happy again, with spaced-out outdoor seating at Dudes’

Sheltering space

Starting early in the summer season, tourist draws like Marina del Rey were flourishing. The newly renovated Marriott Courtyard Hotel on the harbor welcomed a steady flow of guests through July, and its upscale waterfront eatery, Brizo Bar & Restaurant, was fully committed nightly, requiring reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Like many of the properties across LA that saw a precipitous drop in clientele during the pandemic’s worst surges, the hotel took the opportunity to remodel as well as revamp its offerings, including expanding its outdoor dining and contactless mobile room-service, enhanced cleaning protocols, reservations for the pool, and 24-hour turnarounds on rooms.

An empty pool at Marriott Courtyard Inn in Marina Del Rey
The gym to ourselves at the hotel
Lucky to get a reservation at Brizo to enjoy the scenic outdoor patio overlooking the Marina
Lots of open space around the hotel grounds
The deep cleaning procedures showcase on the hotel’s private channel

Enhanced cleaning throughout the hotel are intended to help pandemic-stressed guests sleep well at night

Glossing over deep cleaning

If the sparsity of available accommodations in July was any indication, tourism was on track to surpass pre-pandemic occupancy levels. Hotels across LA maintained premium season pricing, and even reasonably priced Airbnb places were rare to find, partly because many hosts who bought investment properties were driven out of business when COVID hit, and guests canceled in droves.

For our family’s extended stay, I opted for a no-frills two-bedroom, two-bath Airbnb rental in Beverly Hills for $250 per night. But despite promises of “deep cleaning,” the wipe up after the last guest was cursory at best. Even if there were no pandemic, I would’ve appreciated a quick sweep under the bed, which would have netted a previous guest’s credit card along with medical papers indicating the person was being treated with antibiotics.

Boom or bust

No one needs to tell anyone in LA, whether they are a tourist or a full-time resident, about the high cost of housing there. While many Californians are suffering the economic impacts of COVID-19, wealthy buyers have capitalized on low interest rates, driving elevated prices even higher. In September 2020, California’s median home price reached $712,430 — outpricing homes for working families.

This fact hit home when I took a trip down memory lane to my old residence in South Carthay from which I moved five years ago. I met the new owner of my duplex, a 29-year-old retired adult film actress. She was one of the lucky ones who bought early in 2020, landing a deal of $1.6 million for my former 4,000 sq.-foot duplex, complete with a pool and four-car garage. In today’s market, it would be at least $2 million. Ridiculous home prices have driven people onto the streets and are the reason many Airbnb hosts don’t give a darn about meticulous housekeeping, because rentals right now in LA can demand a premium price without grand offerings.

The mean streets of LA

One major visible consequence of COVID-19 remains the tent towns of homeless people, who have encamped along highways, beaches and the even borders of some of LA’s most affluent neighborhoods. With the lifting of eviction bans expected at the end of summer, putting more people out of their homes, surely these homeless camps would have grown, but due to Biden’s recent stay on the ban, this explosion of homelessness may be abetted a while. For now, LA has adapted to their new living situation, such as when I got directions from a seller on Craigslist who advised, “You can park beside the building, next to the homeless camp.”

Tent cities along the beach and across LA highlight a depending housing crisis

Social distancing disorder

While they may be a few feet farther apart, people are once again all up in other people’s faces in LA. After an 18-month hiatus from normal socializing, it’s no wonder people have forgotten their manners. Servers at restaurants, where a labor shortage has impacted their ability to properly service customers, told me that patrons have become more demanding and have less patience for slow service, ironically blaming those who are working – and not those sitting out the pandemic and collecting unemployment.

A usually decorous friend who lives in West Hollywood told me she was shushed twice in one week, at a hair salon and then at a nail salon, because her voice was disturbing others. She surmises either she has forgotten how to use her indoor voice after many months of quarantining, or other people have become less tolerant. From my own observations and experience, it seems to be a little of both, not just for her but for many of us.

Traffic signs

Indeed, both the good and the bad of LA have re-emerged post pandemic. Traffic has returned across the city. While I enjoyed quicker travel times over spring break, it was exciting to see the activity on the roads again, including an only-in-LA experience of being caught in the middle of a literal Ford-versus-Ferrari drag race on the 405 when a Mustang and an 812 GTS blew past my Lincoln Nautilus at a minimum of 100 miles an hour.

One drive I have always loved in LA is along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. On a quiet Monday night, I cruised up the coast to see how my old favorite hot spots had weathered the pandemic. As I turned onto PCH in Santa Monica, an overhead sign flashed a warning to any covidiots still undecided about what they should do if they wanted to get to the end of the pandemic. It read, “This Is A Sign to Get Vaccinated.”

A sign to help those who are lost find the way out of the pandemic

On a Monday night in Malibu, the Gladstone’s crowd was not applauding the sunset like they had done for 44 years, because the restaurant was closed up tight – a casualty of the pandemic, but other hotspots like Moonshadows, Geoffrey’s, Dukes, Malibu Seafood and our ultimate destination, Paradise Cove, were hopping, proving that you cannot keep a determined tourist down and out, in Beverly Hills, or the beach cities.

Masks are the new black

Midway through my visit, Mayor Eric Garcetti called for people to mask up again indoors. With the revived orders, the rancor of the arguments about them resuscitated, casting a pall on LA once again. But while LA was the first, they were not the last to call for a reshowing of face coverings. In the weeks to follow, one by one, as the Delta variant surged, cities and states asked people to once again mask up indoors, vaccinated or not, based on their area’s incidence of COVID-19 cases.

Ebb and flow

With a wave of new COVID cases sweeping across the city, there was a sudden and sad turnabout in the lightness and liberty that I had experienced during the first part of my visit.

Perhaps as a cosmic analogy to the changing tides in hopes, a massive dump of 17,000,000 gallons of raw sewage off the shore of El Segundo closed down the beaches for the rest of our trip. It was too stinky to even get out of the car at the Blue Butterfly Preserve, which we hoped to visit on our way to LAX.

As our plane soared over the ocean, I looked longingly at the City of Angels beneath us, with great optimism, on a wing and a prayer, that our next trip back in a few months will be maskless, carefree, and coronavirus free.

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The Left CoastTravel

A wild, winter wonderland in Keystone Colorado

mountaintop koo

Colorado’s mountain resort offers a Kidtopia of family activities

What makes Colorado’s Keystone Resort a family destination is much more than its Kidtopia of children’s activities or other kid-friendly events and attractions. The idea of families spending time together in the historic ski resort community is as old as its hills.

In the 1930s the resort became popular with vacationing families who came to the mountains to enjoy the Rockies’ spectacular vistas and ample snowfall. Visitors would traverse the ranges with their wooden skis by day and gather with family and friends to dine at fine restaurants by night.

As the resort grew and matured, it stayed faithful to creating a family-friendly experience. Besides hosting one of the best youth snow sports learning centers around, the Children’s Ski and Ride School, Keystone is home to the industry’s leading Kids Ski Free offer for kids 12 and younger, for guests who book two or more nights. For our family’s annual alpine vacation, Keystone was the perfect destination.

For my son and his cousin, who were at different levels of snowboarding ability, we worried they would not want to be split up for their semi-private lessons. It ended up their instructors were “the coolest,” and they not only didn’t mind being separated, they met new friends in their classes. They also had great stories to tell each other about their adventures and proudly showed off their certificates of achievement of leveling up in their skills.

Of course you can’t talk about the kids experience at Keystone without mentioning the resort’s signature Kidtopia program of free, daily kid-centered events and activities. A particularly popular event is the annual Kidtopia Music Experience in March, a series of concerts and activities where kids can dance their snow pants off, yodel their hearts out in singalongs, play musical games, and learn all about different instruments, topped off by spectacular fireworks. 

Every day, all around the resort are family and kid-oriented activities. Around 3:30 pm when many of the trails close for the day and night skiers begin to arrive, it’s party time at the base. The resident DJ at the base turns up the volume, and the skiers and boarders fill the River Run Village for après ski happy hours, skating at the ice rink or warming up around fire pits with hot cocoa and s’mores.

For the whole family, there are attractions and amenities like a Family Ski Trail, designated free family parking, and complimentary red wagons for carrying gear and excited kiddos. For skiers and riders of all levels, there’s 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, including three peaks—the highest at an elevation of 12,500 feet, five above-tree-line bowls, night skiing and an in-bounds cat skiing program. Even on peak days, with so many trails, the runs are rarely crowded, and super-fast chair lifts like the new six-person Montezuma Express, keep people moving swiftly up the mountain. When we took lessons, we skipped the lines altogether through a special lane just for classes, like a Disneyland Fast-Pass.

History buffs will enjoy the lore of Keystone, from the story of the Dercums and the Bergmans, the resort’s First Families, to tales of gold miners and loggers who established the first homesteads and villages. Many of the historical figures and towns of the region are memorialized by lift and trail names, like “Lower Gassy,” “The Frenchman,” “Jackwhacker,” and “Saw Whiskers.”  A particularly poignant memorial is Ina’s Bridge, a creek crossing that leads from the River Run Village to the base of the slopes. The bridge, adorned with a plaque and flowers left by visitors, is named in memory of Ina, a beloved woman who worked at the resort for decades, known for her cheery disposition and ready smile, who passed away in 2019 at age 93.

Besides skiing and snowboarding, there’s plenty to do and places to eat in and around Keystone proper, which stretches seven miles along the Snake River. There are two major villages, the Lakeside Village and River Run Village, where there are dozens of shops and restaurants, from Pizza on the Run to the upscale casual 9280’ Taphouse. On-mountain dining includes the Alpenglow Stube, a two-gondola ride up the mountain, and the Overlook Grill at Summit House, for awesome views at 11, 640 elevation.

For a truly exquisite four-course dining experience, the humble looking B&B, Ski Tip Lodge, which served as a stagecoach stop in the 1800s and became the original lodge for the resort, boasts superb service and a unique rustic gourmet menu – with entrees such as elk and venison loin, earning it acclaim as one the best restaurants in America.

For adventurous diners, there is a sleigh ride dinner experience, which departs from Lakeside Village, that carts guests back in time, bundled under blankets in a horse-drawn sleigh through a snow-covered valley, while a wrangler tells tales about the area and spun jokes. As part of the tour, our guide informed us that bathroom facilities for the evening would be two outhouses, and she pointed out which was which: “The women are always right, and the men get what’s left.” Guests also threw out jokes on the 20-minute ride: “What’s a deer with no eyes?” The answer: “No i-dear.”

The sleigh ride ended at a homestead-era log cabin built in the 1800s, featuring a roaring fire, a hearty dinner, and entertainment. While we adults regaled in the folk singer’s James Taylor ballads, the boys’ long day of riding the mountain caught up with them, and they collapsed after their steak dinners, falling into a brief slumber at the table. They woke up pretty quickly when it was time to go back to the condo. Temperatures had fallen to freezing and the blankets, covered with a glaze of ice, offered a chilly ride home, though hollering the whole way seemed to warm them up.

There are many options for accommodations at the resort, from the luxurious River Run Townhomes to the convenient Hyatt Place Keystone. Our family resided at the The Springs Condominiums, in a premier model which featured two spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen and a living room with a hearth.

Each night after a day of skiing and snowboarding, we gathered in the living room to tell stories around the fireplace and lay out our gloves and boots to dry. The boys loved that the condo featured an outdoor heated pool with a waterslide. They were amazed that they could be surrounded by snow mounds while they stewed in a hot tub. In the evening, the boys enjoyed playing billiards in the condo’s game area, or when they were weary, they sat out on the condo’s balcony, bundled in their parkas, while they people-watched and drank hot cocoa.  

In all, we experienced four fun-filled days at Keystone. After two days of lessons, the boys progressed impressively in their snowboarding skills, and they are ready to take on some steeper slopes; and after a couple days of refreshing my muscle memory on the slopes, I even dared a few black diamond trails, high in the backcountry, where breathtaking views were as thrilling as the skiing.

My only complaint about our Keystone vacation was that it was too short. When it comes to family activities, we just touched the tip of the iceberg – or as it were, the peak of the snow-covered mountain.

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The Left CoastTravel

First Time to LEGOLAND is a Charm


The Good, the Rad, and the Fun at Southern California’s Theme Park for Young Children and Kids of All Ages

By Sueli Hasten

My 10-year-old son loves building with LEGOs, and he loves theme parks, so we had high expectations for our first visit to LEGOLAND California.  We were thrilled that it was all we hoped for, and more.

The trip was approximately a two-hour drive from our home in Los Angeles. Our timing for a visit was great, as starting in spring 2019, the park is observing its 20th anniversary. To celebrate, the park has opened new features, like the LEGO Movie 2 Experience, the LEGO City 4D-Officer in Pursuit attraction, the LEGOLAND Express Train, and a recreated DUPLO Playtown, complete with a slide, hide and ride through and interactive play area.

Our stay in the Castle Hotel, one of the two themed hotels on the property, was a LEGO-lover’s dream. We were awed by the impeccable decorations around of the hotel, both outside the hotel – including a beautiful pool and a private entrance to the park — and the colorful and festive interiors. It’s really a LEGO paradise. Everywhere you look are images of LEGO characters, and there are play areas with bins of LEGO bricks throughout the hotel so children can play all the time.

We entered the room and were ecstatic. The bedroom had a double bed and a second small bedroom with a bunk bed and an extra bed underneath it. The bathroom, beds and decor of the room got my son’s highest recommendation, “Cool!”

In the rooms there is also a treasure chest with clues for a scavenger hunt game. To open the chest, the children must answer four questions, such as: “How many pictures of LEGOS did you see in the reception area?” “How many pictures of a LEGO queen do you see on the lobby balcony?” By solving all of the riddles, the four learn four numbers that unlock the chest, which contained a magazine and two small Legos gifts.

The evening we arrived, we went to dinner at the property, enjoying a kid-friendly meal of mac ‘n cheese, a beef dish, mashed potatoes, hot dogs, and salad, followed by a dessert of cookies and a delicious banana pudding. Then it was off to bed to rest up for a full day at the park.

The next day we woke up around 7am and headed to Castle Hotel Dragon’s Den Restaurant, which is complimentary for guests. The wait was about 20 minutes to get a table, which seemed interminable for a fidgety boy eager to get to the park, but thanks to the buffet-style service we were able to quickly enjoy a traditional American breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, brioche, sausage, two types of breakfast potatoes.

After breakfast, we headed to the park and toured the new areas of the park. One of the attractions that caught my son’s interest, Discover Adventure Explore, was in the SEA LIFE Aquarium.  The attraction features a kind of submarine, where you have a tablet to “track” the treasure in the sea, besides of course, an immense aquarium with several species including many sharks, fish, starfish and stingrays.

It is also worth mentioning that in this part of the SEA LIFE Aquarium there is an interactive screen that helps children learn more about the species of animals they have there, like a modern museum of aquatic creatures.

Then we headed to some of the popular rides.  One of our favorites the Fun Town Police and Fire Academy, where we had to douse a make-believe fire with hoses and compete with other guests to get our fire engine back to the start, using a pump that required us to work as team to move our fire engine. Another favorite was the Kid Power Tower, where again we had to use our strength as a team. In this case, we had to pull ourselves up on a bench using our arms, racing the other guests.

We also loved visiting the some of the very popular areas of the park, such as the Star Wars LEGO area (StarWars Miniland), the mock-up of some well-known spots in US cities such as the White House, Hollywood Sign (LEGO-wood), and the Golden Gate Bridge. We also had a great time at the new park attraction, LEGO Movie Experience, where we go to see sets that were used in scenes from the LEGO movie.

Our first trip to LEGOLAND will not be our last. As the parent of a young child, I appreciated that the majority of children there were between the ages of 2 and 12, so it is a much more child-friendly park than some of the others in Southern California. There was plenty to do, with more than 60 rides and attractions, plus shows and other attractions, not to mention the hotels, which themselves are a wonder. We learned that the park has free birthday admission for kids under 12, so we already know when we will visit next!

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When Doing Less is More, in Kaua’i


To each her own Kaua’i, the Hawaiian Island where adventure beckons and leisure reigns  

They say that each of the Hawaiian Islands has its own personality, and it did not take more than a few hours for me to figure out the character of Kaua’i.  Just ask any Hawaiian and you will get schooled on their state. As I traveled the island, I was amazed at how every local, usually a transplant, possessed encyclopedia-worthy amount of knowledge about the island.  I learned that each of the state’s eight main islands is very different, and each has their own history, culture and pride.  When a native of Kaua’i wanted to tell me what his island was all about, he said to truly experience it, I should do nothing.

Kaua’i is the laid back, decompressed island.  The oldest and fourth largest island is a surfer’s haven that embodies the lifestyle where locals chill and invite visitors to do the same. Everyone who lives on Kaua’i has a story of what brought them there and how they ended up staying.  I heard countless tales of those arriving with round trip airline tickets that became a one-way ticket to a new life. I also spoke to many locals who were born on the island, and several had never been off the island, and they had no desire to leave.

While tourists are welcome to kick-back and relax, for type-A visitors, Kaua’i hosts a plethora of activities for non-stop action.

Doing Kaua’i

Kaua’i is famed for many things, including its lush mountainous terrain, which has starred as the backdrop for every Jurassic Park movie. It is also known for its legendary surfing beaches, such as the surfing area off Makua Beach called Tunnels, which became infamous as the spot of a 2003 tiger shark attack on Bethany Hamilton’s in which the top-ranked surfer lost an arm.

Many of the beaches are beautiful to look at but are not for frivolous frolicking in the waves. The day we attempted to swim in the ocean, our shuttle driver from the Hanalei Resort reported that he had tried to surf that morning, but he turned around because the swells were too big.  That same day, we heard from another beachcomber a tale of a young man who narrowly escaped an attack by mounting a tiger shark and punching it in the eye after the shark toppled him by biting his surfboard. The quick-acting surfer then jumped back on his board and paddled to shore, limbs intact.

The many faces of Kaua’i

As different as each Hawaiian island is, each side of each island can have its own culture, climate and topography. To really get a feeling for each island you need to explore all its coasts. On the sunny side of Kaua’i, we visited Aston at Poipu Kai resort, a beachfront condominium community.  It was a hot and humid night when we arrived late, well after check-in time. I was worried the room would be muggy  when I learned the resort had no air conditioning, and I was skeptical when the management sent two room fans; but with the balmy ocean breeze coming through the windows, we slept comfortably and soundly.  The condo was nicely furnished with bamboo furniture and tropical printed draperies, with an open loft style upstairs master suite and two baths. Outside our window were beautiful bright pink flowering vines and a cute blue tile-lined swimming pool with an ocean view, where we were the only users. The grounds were quiet even though it seemed from the abundance of cars in the parking lot that the resort was at capacity.


The resort is near the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i, which was hosting the last evening of a cultural celebration, so we walked to the hotel to peruse the hand-carved jewelry and crafts displayed and to watch hula performances of children as young as five years old who confidently and gracefully told the stories of the island’s history with their interpretive dance.

We learned a good lesson about Kaua’i that night, when we walked home in the dark. We observed that total darkness that engulfs the island after sundown is incredible for star gazing, though it is hazardous for pedestrians. We nearly stepped on a dozen frogs and wished we had brought a flashlight and bug spray.

All about Po’ipu

By daylight, Poipu is a great place to stroll around and a central location for many activities Close to our accommodations we found a darling boutique shopping center, the Shops at Kukui Ula, where we found great prices on Tungsten and Koa wood ring, which we had set out to find after we spotted them in an ad in the Hawaiian Air inflight magazine.

The mini mall also had a great café offering a decadent turnover pastry chock full of warm melty coconut flakes, and a very cool Italian eatery, Pizzetta, with a delightful patio overlooking a garden and a lively happy hour with half-priced appetizers, including my fave, calamari, and $4 Mai Tais.

Po’ipu Beach Park was a three-minute drive from the Aston, but we could have walked in less than 10. There we ran into some handsome and friendly lifeguards who warned that swimming around the island could be treacherous where no lifeguard are present. They noted that there had been 11 drownings last season. With that cautionary bulletin, we decided to forgo swimming and sunbathed instead, in front of Marriott Waiohai Beach Club, which was a popular spot for snorkelers and stand-up paddle boarders.

Determined to find the beach less-traveled, we ventured on where the danger of no lifeguard didn’t bother the hard-core surfers at the secluded Kihili Quarry Beach, where we took our Avis rental car down a quarry road so obscure that it was not even on our GPS navigation map. While we only got our feet wet, we enjoyed the view of the surfers until the sun started to set.

Another day of Kaua’i   

Don’t worry if you forget to set your iPhone alarm clock in Kaua’i, the roosters will wake you up bright and early, each morning, afternoon, and in fact all day long.  The gorgeously colored wild roosters and their chicken mates can be seen strutting and pecking everywhere on the island, running amuck in parking lots, on sidewalks, in stores and restaurants and even in the halls of our hotel.

Evidentially too tough for human consumption – and without natural predators, and out-numbering the feral cats which have given up hunting them, the feathered pests have proliferated in Kaua’i, necessitating “Please do not feed the chickens” signs throughout the island.  As with everything else in Kaua’i, the natives have a live-and-let-live attitude and have embraced the phenomenon with abounding rooster souvenirs and artwork art at the local galleries and gift shops.

Accommodating Kaua’i

To gain an appreciation for many parts of the island, we changed accommodations, staying at a few different resorts and condominiums. Our goal was to explore each of the regions and its highlights, such as the cliffs of the Napali Coast on the North Shore, the coconut groves of the East Side, the Wailua Falls of Lihue, the commercial center of the island, the beaches and history of the South Shore, and the art community of Hanapepe Town and the scenic vistas of Kokee State Park of the West Side.

Our second stop on our whirlwind six-day trip was the Hanalei Colony Resort, a quiet and comfortable resort, situated in an area of pristine natural beauty on Kaua’i’s lush north shore. The resort holds the distinction of being the only commercial property existing in this spectacular setting. The resort also features ocean front dining at the Opakapaka Grill and Bar and the Napali Art Gallery and Coffee House, where you can enjoy your morning java and shop for treasures created by local artisans.

Next we lodged at the Kaua’i Beach Resort, called Kaua’i’s most authentic resort, with breathtaking ocean views of the eastern shores of the Garden Isle and an expansive property of 25 acres which features four swimming pools, including two lagoon pools with waterfalls and a sandy bottom.

We found many excellent places to dine, starting with Postcards, the most-recommended restaurant, where we feasted on the famous Postcards Platter of pupus including crunchy seafood-filled rockets with coconut curry, crab cakes, spice-encrusted seared ahi, the Hanalei taro fritters.

We also enjoyed the lively atmosphere of Tortilla Republic Grill, serving fresh Mexican fare with an expansive selections to tequilas at their margarita bar.

Other mentionable restaurants on the island include the Kaua’i Grill at St. Regis Princeville, which is fantastic but not the cheapest place; Bar Acuda, for excellent tapas dining; the Tavern at Princeville, known for its gorgeous setting and good food; Common Ground, offering awesome organic farm with the best breakfasts you’ll ever taste; and Hanalei Coffee Roasters, serving up scrumptious breakfasts and great coffee.

Waterfalls, waterfalls, everywhere

What else can you do in Kaua’i, you ask? Everything, if you don’t take the natives’ advice and just chillax. You can test your bravery at Zip N’ Dip Expedition at Princeville Ranch Adventures, where you can soar over breathtaking jungle valleys on ziplines and stop for a dip in a waterfall swimming hole. The thrill was intense, especially when the guide told us to get a running start on one platform over a 60-foot ravine because there was a wasp nest in a tree near the cable. I kept thinking about tracker-jackers in Hunger Games, but our party made it to the other side unscathed.

It seems all adventures in Kaua’i involve a swimming hole. At Silver Falls Ranch, we trotted through the mountains on horseback, breathing in the fragrance of the yellow ginger and cooled by the balmy trade winds, on a journey to a waterfall where we could swim in the chilly, refreshing pool below. That outing proved particularly exciting when I, the least experienced rider, lucked out by getting the most spirited horse, who reared up when we hit some deep mud he didn’t like. Thanks to the attentive and quick acting guide, I stayed in the saddle, and I walked away with a good story.

Down the road a bit, will also enjoyed the exhilaration of unpredictable twists and turns on an ATV course, courtesy of Kauai ATV. Suited up with rather unflattering one-size-fits-big nylon gym shorts and T-shirts, which we donned in order to spare our clothes from the mud onslaught, we traversed the jungle in our mud buggies, which resemble giant go-carts with awesome shocks.


Our caravan of about eight buggies slogged through a muddy fire road through Jurassic Park country – also the setting for nearly 200 other movies — through sugarcane fields and under the Wilcox Tunnel, Kauai’s only drivable tunnel. Our buggies took a beating, rattled over rocks, ripped through ditches and mud puddles and griped the ground through steep off-road trails before arriving at a midpoint rest stop where stripped to our bathing suits under our clothes and jumped into – you guessed it – a swimming hole of refreshing mountain water from a cascading waterfall.

Our afternoon was made more exciting by the resounding boom of repeated gun blasts from a local neighbor who was hunting boar on his land adjacent to our rest stop.  A couple of the locals along on the ride, two 20-something women, guessed at the fire power, “Sounds like a 35 to me.” It was either that, or maybe some baby T-Rexes out playing.

Oceans of fun

No trip to Kaua’i would be complete without a snorkeling adventure, and Blue Dolphin Charters was glad to oblige us with a Napali Snorkel Adventure with Captain Andy. Being that it was a time of year when the waves can get rough, we were glad we took the advice of a shop keeper at the marina and downed Dramamine before boarding. Forewarned, we were not among the 10 people aboard who barfed, including a few kids, who were very unhappy for the duration of the cruise.

Due to the choppy water, the captain changed up the schedule, which was supposed to end with snorkeling, and instead anchored us at a secret spot where only one other boat was within eye shot. I bought an underwater sea camera at the marina but should have practiced with it before diving in, as I missed a money shot of a giant sea turtle that swam less than two feet under me and then came face-to-face with my snorkeling buddy.  After about 35 minutes we were ready to come up, as stinging plants had started to cling to our legs and other exposed skin. Obviously, this was a common occurrence, as when we emerged from the water, the crew was waiting with a spray that quickly cooled the sting.

Listening to the natives

We packed in as much activities as humanly possible in our week-long visit to Kaua’i, but I had one regret before leaving.  I wished we had been able to follow the advice of the natives, and just do nothing. While I wouldn’t trade our adventures for anything, I longed to just hang out on the beach, sip coffee at an ocean front café and watch the water, spend an entire afternoon browsing at the local shops, sit atop a cliff and take in the beauty all around me. The most important lesson I learned from our travels was that to truly experience the islands you need to stay a while, if not forever.

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LifestyleThe Left CoastTravel

Luxury lodging without the Beverly Hills Markup at Hotel Elan


Boutique style and comfort close by WeHo and Beverly Hills

Elan Hotel is a rare find in Los Angeles – lodging smack-dab in the middle of some of the city’s most desirable attractions – yet reasonably priced. For a luxury boutique hotel at the crossroads of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, one would expect a commiserate price tag, but this stylish, five-star-service hotel offers everything a business or pleasure traveler could want, including the comforting assurance of no hidden fees.

As someone who used to live just outside of Beverly Hills, I have a fondness for the area. The Grove, the ultimate SoCal lifestyle shopping center, is within walking distance, as are several other shopping hubs, including the Beverly Center, and the discount department store plaza, the Beverly Connection. There’s plenty of great restaurants close by too, including several of my very favorites in LA – Fig & Olive, Fogo De Chão and Little Next Door.

If you don’t feel like going out, no worries, the hotel has an excellent continental breakfast, complete with Wolfgang Puck coffee, all complimentary with your stay. Likewise, in the evening, the hotel hosts a lovely wine and cheese reception in the lobby, which not surprising many guests take advantage of, making the lobby lounge a lively and social place around 5 pm daily.

To make cruising to the Sunset Strip, Mulholland Drive, or the legendary Pacific Coast highway a breeze, the hotel features a rental car package deal with Enterprise, the Élan’s California Cruisin’ Package, which includes an expanded continental breakfast, an overnight stay in an Executive King Room, valet parking, nightly turndown service, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a mid-size car rental from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The car rental arrangement includes complimentary delivery of the car to the hotel and unlimited mileage within California.



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Your own private peninsula at Portofino Hotel & Marina


Redondo Beach’s boutique hotel offers visitors what they want from a waterfront hotel

Sometimes the road less traveled is the simply the one that others have not yet discovered, and that’s fine with me, if I get to keep the best-kept-secret of The Portofino Hotel & Marina to myself. Well, maybe it’s not just I who stumbled upon this quant boutique property on the water on its own peninsula, off the beaten path of tourists, but I was glad to share it with other appreciative visitors who value its unique locale and attendant amenities.

While this hidden gem is in plain sight in Redondo Beach, a waterfront community flanked by other, more-crowded beach cities, it remains subdued and quiet – unless you count the barking sea lions (hence the sea lion plush animal in every room). It offers just about everything you would want when visiting a hotel in a coastal city — a harbor view; ocean breezes; plenty outdoor activities, like boating, paddle boarding, biking and other recreational activities; and easy access to shopping, dining, nightlife and places you want to be around LA.

The hotel itself is an oasis in the area, with its nautical-chic décor, ocean- and harbor-view rooms with private balconies, and a laid-back luxury vibe, where guests are encouraged to relax and breathe in the Southern California lifestyle. Visitors can unwind in the large lobby lounge, boasting floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the King Harbor and marina, or enjoy fresh California fare at the hotel’s own fine casual dining restaurant, BALEENkitchen, which features its own front-row seating to the Pacific Ocean.



The Portofino has become a haven for both business and leisure travelers, who relish its location on the water but out of the crush and stress of some of the jam-packed LA beach cities. Redondo over the years has relaxed and mellowed with age, attracting those who seek an escape but also those who appreciate the city’s history and its potential for revitalization.

A $300 million waterfront project was recently stalled, but swells of locals and visionary developers see the Redondo Beach area, and it’s historic pier and waterfront, as ripe for new life. Residents and business developers continue to advance plans to recapture some of the city’s history as a renowned vacation spot and create a new look and vitality that will propel the area into the future, as a magnet for those who gravitate to all that the waterfront can offer.


The Portofino is poised either way, to serve as a port for those passing through or those seeking a staycation, where guests can feel the ocean air and look out from their room – or from a chaise lounge by the hotel’s harbor-side pool — and see the sail craft gliding across the water, among paddle craft, and of course, the harbor’s resident sea lions.

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One fine San Diego


A short list of best places to visit around the city called America’s finest

Before I moved to Southern California, I asked some natives advice on where to live. They told me pros and cons of the major cities, but no one had anything bad to say about San Diego. The more time I spend there, I see why.

There’s a lot to do in this quintessential coastal city, and plenty to recommend it, whether you are looking for a place to land for a short time, or forever. As an LA denizen, I have taken the approximate three-hour road trip to San Diego many times to explore this laid back metropolis that calls itself America’s Finest City, and here are some of my favorite places to stay and dine.

An Island of its Own

While Coronado is not within the city limits of San Diego, this quaint resort island, located across the San Diego Bay, is definitely worth a side trip. Coronado owes its enduring appeal to the forethought of its founders who zoned the shoreline to restrict commercial businesses, such as taco shops or souvenir stands. While there was debate among residents when the 1.5-mile bridge that connects San Diego to the island opened the city to tourism, the island remains carefully developed and has avoided the rampant commercialism of many other Southern California beach resorts.

The In-Del-ible Resort

One of the main attractions of Coronado is The Hotel Del Coronado, a grand Victoria hotel built in 1887 which has been designated a California Historical Landmark. Renowned for its iconic red-shingled spires and the charm of its original all-wooden construction, this elegant and old-school luxury hotel has hosted generations of families, who come back year after year to celebrate its family friendly traditions.

Its most famous attractions, besides its five-star restaurants, Olympic-sized pool and ocean front location, include an antique elevator with an operator in uniform, an enormous Christmas tree in the lobby during the winter holidays, along with an ice rink over the courtyard, and bonfires and s’mores on the beach year-round. The property was recently acquired by Hilton, but for purists who liked The Del just like its been for the last 130 years, everything has pretty much stayed the same, except for a few 2.0 upgrades, like the video wall behind the check-in desks and the swanky lounge music piped into the lobby.



Also on the island is the Glorietta Bay Inn, across the street from The Del and overlooking the marina on the back side of the island. This hidden-in-plain-site gem offers a similar historical mystique to its more famous neighbor and in fact once served as the residence of the Del’s owner, John Spreckels, an ambitious and inspiring mogul of steamboats, ocean liners and railways.

Spreckels left an indelible legacy with the masterpiece resort he built, and the Glorietta pays homage to him by preserving the original elegance of his home. The inn features a presidential suite, with its own elevator, that sits atop the original building with panoramic views of the bay, featuring a vista of swaying palm trees by day and the twinkling lights of the marina at night. While the historic touches are maintained, the rooms feature modern technology, such as a charging bank with multiple USB ports as well as an awesome hi-fi Wi-Fi Bluetooth speaker combo alarm clock.

While the ultra-luxurious beds and other amenities offer visitors the comforts of home, the Glorietta is set apart from its competition by its small-hotel hospitality, such as the refreshing lemonade offered at check-in, a complimentary breakfast each morning to be enjoyed in the sunny courtyard, a kids’ game room and other communal sitting rooms, along with warm cookies and milk served nightly.


Dining across San Diego

One thing there is no shortage of in San Diego is restaurants. Driving through the quarters of the city, there seems to be an endless collection of eateries of every persuasion. No matter what your tastes are, you can find a restaurant to suit your appetite.

Après Surf

If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view. The dining room features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors. Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free street show of fire dancers and Cirque-du-Soleil-like AcroYoga performers.

Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty of strong drinks and good food.

They are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a froth of guava foam. The hanger steak and grilled romaine salad are also popular, and for a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” is a regularly changing recipe.


JSix Degrees of Delicious

Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets in the East Village, JSix features California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay. The modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls lend a cool yet relaxed vibe, with a bar where the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint.

Chef Sinsay has created a menu of many of his favorite personal dishes like Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, in the fashion of street vendors in the Philippines. The chef makes food into works of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette.

Sinsay says he is writing a book about his culinary arc, from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” Luckily, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a dining experience one does not have to travel half the world to enjoy.

San Diego Attractions


A major attraction of San Diego is its hospitable climate, making the city and its surrounding area ideal for all manner of outdoor recreation. Visitors who want to take full advantage of the year-round moderate temperatures and sunshine can enjoy a plethora of activities, including whale watching and sailing; bike, kayak and other adventure tours; yacht cruises; nearby theme parks including Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Disneyland in Anaheim, LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, and SeaWorld (which I have forsworn because of the animal shows, but they do have some great rides); a hot new adrenaline park; pick-your-own strawberry fields; horse racing at the nearby Del Mar racetrack; museums and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at Balboa Park; and shopping at Seaport Village. The city makes the best of its natural amenities, providing a fine way of life for those call it home and offering visitors many fine options for adventure, earning the city its deserved moniker as one of California’s (and one of the nation’s) finest.

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Camp Beverly Hills – Glamping SoCal Style


Taking it easy while roughing it

Many of my fondest childhood memories are from summer camp — minus the time a huge hairy spider jumped onto my sleeping bag. That traumatizing incident aside, I loved camping as a kid; but as I have gotten older, and dare I say more delicate, my favorite thing about camping has been coming home and taking a real shower and sleeping in the clean sheets of my own bed.

Now that I have a child of my own, I didn’t want to deprive him of the wonders of camping, but just the thought of sleeping on the ground makes my back hurt. Thankfully, I learned about the compromise of communing with nature by day but slumbering comfortably in a cozy bed at night through an experience called “glamping.”

There’s no room service, though glamping resorts are designed for those who love nature but also crave creative comforts. If five-star accommodations under the stars sounds like your sort of outdoor adventure, here are some SoCal campsites to check out.

Ventura Ranch

At the recently revamped Ventura Ranch, the camping experience includes deluxe cabins featuring indoor bathrooms, kitchens, AC and heat, and other hotel-like amenities, all surrounded by Mother Nature. Guests can rise from their comfy accommodations, walk out onto their private deck and gaze upon a sunrise over a mountain range of greenery, and perhaps be greeted by one of the many colorful peacocks that roam the property.






KOA’s Ventura Ranch’s glamour camping is the best of both worlds for the whole family.  While parents relax at the climate-controlled cabin, the kids have plenty to do, from swimming at the site’s new huge pool; ziplining across the camp; bouncing on an enormous trampoline-like Jumping Pillow; tie-dying T-shirts, painting planter pots, launching home-made rockets or otherwise getting creative at one of the camp’s organized crafting sessions; or just running wild or hanging out on the grounds and hiking trails.




The camp and programs were designed with families in mind, with daily opportunities for kids and parents to participate together and have fun as a family, many of which are complementary, such as BYO-blanket outdoor movie nights and a flashlight-guided Big Foot tour.


Though you may be off the grid in spirit, KOS features Wi-Fi at most campgrounds, and even an app that lets you find a campground easily filter by amenities and location and make reservations on-the-go.


El Capitan Canyon

The scenic El Capitan Canyon on Santa Barbara’s coast has sunsets to relish nature abounding all around. It’s the perfect setting to rock climb, hike, swim and enjoy a multitude of outdoor adventures; but for those who want to get dirty all day but clean up and retreat into their own comfy cabin at night, El Capitan Canyon has just the accommodations, from fully furnished yurts to luxurious cabins, with all the comforts of home.


They may be called cabins, but most folks could live in the little cedar home structures at El Capitan Canyon. There are cabins to suit ever taste with features including front porches, vaulted ceilings, master bedrooms with a vanity and separate entry, full baths, ample closet space, luxury bed linens, kitchenettes with a microwave oven, mini-fridge, wet bar sink and coffeemaker. Some cabins offer upstairs lofts accessible by a ladder – where kids love to “camp in.”  Upgraded cabins feature a skylight, dual sinks, large indoor shower and access to a unique outdoor shower.


Catering to the glamping crowd, El Capitan offers a number of packages to suit their clientele, with amenities such as cabins with an indoor gas fireplace, a large soaking bathtub. Their packages also include items such as marinated tri-tip delivered to your cabin for a DIY fireside dinner, paired with a bottle of Santa Barbara wine along with wine glasses, a bundle of firewood and a throw blanket, for enjoying a romantic night of stargazing.


Other options include aromatherapy or hot stone massage with essential oils blended from the Canyon Spa Garden. For the kids, there are s’mores kits, mugs of hot chocolate and throw blankets to cuddle up by the campfire telling stories.



And don’t worry, you don’t have to pack all the cookware and supplies that can make camping a hassle. With the fireside meal package, beverages, tableware, and the grilling tools and firewood needed to cook over the fire pit. Or if you prefer you can enjoy gourmet meals prepared at the Canyon Market and Deli.


And unlike camping experiences where a good night’s sleep is something you have to return home to get, at El Capitan Canyon quiet time is enforced as of 10 pm each evening until 9 am, so you can turn in early and sleep in if you wish. It’s just like the Ritz, though you wake each morning to the sweet sound of birds singing.


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