Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Much as I'd like to escape in December "stuff" seems to get in the way, so let me clue you in on an alternative solution-a DAYcation! Thanks to my Coaster buddy, Terry, I plugged into a company that plans all kinds of interesting and varied excursions (some even multi-nights). Check out http://www.daytripper.com/ , 3585 Adams Avenue, San Diego, 92116, 619-299-5777 or 800-679-8747. They offer many departure pickups all over San Diego including one in Orange County, depending on the tour. Each tour is assigned an activity level from easy, moderate, to high which allows you to determine the possibilities for you. I recommend that you sign up for their mailing list to get their catalog and be on their email list for specials. Check it out!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009 - Christmas Around the World at Reagan Library

Each year, the Reagan Presidential Museum in Simi Valley includes an additional holiday exhibit entitled "Christmas Around the World",a collection of 30 uniquely decorated Christmas trees representing the cultural traditions of countries President Reagan visited during his eight years in the White House. Taking the bus was definitely a factor both because of the distance and the rainy weather. Christmas music added to the experience and each of us had our favorite. The China tree was especially creative festooned with pandas and dragons. Amazed at how much Reagan memorabilia there was, the presentation was very organized and well laid out. Mementos from his childhood, Hollywood career, courtship of Nancy, and politics included movies, a car, booth at Chasen's restaurant (a favorite dining spot) and videos . I found it particularly awesome to walk through Air Force One, once used by President Reagan and six other presidents. The enormity of the plane was noted when we enjoyed a sumptious catered buffet luncheon under its wing, complete with a souvenir cup. If you are planning a visit to the library try to go when the holiday display is there. It will be even more enjoyable.

Sunday, December 6, 2009 Christmas at the Castle Green

For our first venture, Sheryl and I departed the La Costa Park and Ride at 8:30 A.M. with a full bus consisting of about 6 couples and mostly single women with an age range from 35-70 I'd say. A coffee break at El Toro on the way gave us time to take a quick peek at the Christmas Plants and trees at Green Thumb Nursery, a long time fav of mine. En route for the next hour or so we were treated to apple or cranberry juice and granola bars to tide us over until lunch in Old Town Pasadena. Arriving on Green Street at 11 A.M. we were given both shopping and lunch time. Old Pasadena (not old to me as it was my stomping grounds in the 60's)is comprised of major stores like Crate and Barrel, Armani, Chico's etc. along with small specialty stores, dining, and entertainment. For a listing of stores to go http://www.oldpasadena.org/ . If you plan to drive from San Diego you would go north on % to the 57 to the 210 west. Allow about 2 1/2 hrs driving time.

En route we detoured to a quick drive-by tour of the Rose Bowl and other areas of historical Pasadena finally arriving at our destination on Green Street. Deboarding the bus, we checked out a tip for a store called Gold Bug and found a macabre, unique jewelry and decor store with MAJOR attitude. On to Dots Cupcakes, 21 N. Fair Oaks, 626-568-3487 where under the guise of "research" for my pastry chef friend, Pam, we had to sample. Minis at $1.50 each were just the right size for variety (and there are many choices). I purchased both a hazelnut with white chocolate ganache frosting and chocolate with caramel fleur de sel frosting. Two days later they were still moist and oh, so flavorful. Don't miss it. A quick sandwich at the Aux Delices Bakery and Cafe, 16 W. Colorado Blvd, 6o26o-796-1630 and we were fueled. Their bakery case was tempting with raspberry tarts piled high with fresh raspberries. Being cooks we couldn't resist a stop at Beyond The Olive, http://www.beyondtheolive.com/, for different flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegars. They also produce their own here. If you purchase one of theirs you can be green by bringing the bottle back for refills. Peach Balsamic Vinegar (theirs and I can't wait to try it via a salad dressing) and roasted garlic olive oil (not theirs but great for sauteing) were additions to my shopping bag. We passed and were impressed with The Scarlet Tea Room, 18 W. Green St., 626-577o-0051, but didn't have enough time to indulge in a sit down and we thought it was a little pricey. A save for the future we decided. Also discovered an old favorite of mine from the Belmont Shores area, Russell's, 30 N. Fair Oaks Blvd., 626-578-1404 . In order there is great chili, pies, and hamburgers. Do try it for casual, yummy, comfort food. Running out of time before we had to rendezvous with the bus we made a quick dash into Stat's Floral supply, 120 S. Raymond Ave., 626-795-9308. My Christmas trees have been decorated using their stock and ideas since 1972, although the one in San Juan Capistrano is much closer for us San Diego folks.
12:40 and we are on the bus going around the corner amazed at the line stretching around the block for Castle Green. One of the perks of being on a tour is getting to enter first, yay! Castle Green is normally closed to the public, but for one afternoon during the holiday season (and another in the Spring) to those interested in history, creative interior design, and cultural heritage the Friends of Castle Green open its doors to the public for a $20 self-guided tour. Docents are also available. The hotel played host to vacationing business tycoons, movie stars, and even presidents, but now is the private residence of designers, musicians, collectors, artists, and producers, among others. It is also used as a location for movies, commercials, TV shows, and weddings. One enters the Main Salon and walks at his own pace through the corridors and inside all the individual condos which are all differently decorated especially for the holidays. I will digress for a bit and give you a little history.
Originally it was the Hotel Green built by Edward C. Webster in 1887. With elaborate plans he donated land to the Santa Fe Railroad for a passenger terminal next to the hotel. Overextended, he lost the hotel to G. G. Green who expanded it by adding two annexes designed by Frederick Roehrig who used a combination of Moorish, Victorian, and Mission Revival styles. Seven stories high with 550 bedrooms and 350 bathrooms it had the distinction of being the only fireproof hotel in California (hence the concrete floors to be found in almost all the units). Two circular towers attached to the two corners gave it is nickname of Castle Green.
Starting at the Penthouse on the top floor we worked our way down. On each floor there were anywhere from 2-6 condos opened by the owners for viewing. Wandering through, talking to almost all the owners, and admiring the different treatments given each unit took us about 3 1/2 hours. We marveled over how these units varying in size from @800-1200 sq ft could be so different and yet seem spacious. Each had charming little balconies and while the kitchens were very small some had a sub zero frig or Viking range scaled down to fit while preserving the historical element of the unit.
Our first condo, 610, is owned by Martin Sheen's son and his partner. We were fortunate enough to find his mother decorating their tree and actually got to be up close and personal with Martin himself. We found one condo for sale for $385,000 ( a bargain considering that all the utilities are included and given the location-walking distance of major shops and restaurants). Several are for rent @ #2,000 a month. The laundry room is in the basement, a covered parking space insured and usually the appliances. I'm told listings are often found on Craig's List. Our two favorites were one on the second floor which formerly was occupied by Tim Burton and another on the upper floors.
Arriving back in the Main Salon and Lobby where we enjoyed the beautiful Christmas tree and floral arrangements we found a smorgasbord of appetizers and desserts by varied caterers-everything from Asian Slaw, Bruschetta, mini cheesecakes, a chocolate fondue fountain, cookies, nachos, shrimp cocktail, and coffee, tea, and hot cider. Yes, we indulged (I'm told that presentation is not the norm). A pianist serenaded us with Christmas carols and a good time was had by all.
Back on the bus at 4 we were given bottled water, Chex mix or cookies, and a special little gift of a candy can pen, chocolates, and small notepad bagged for us by Daytrippers-a nice touch. They are very organized and really do think of everything. Kudos to Karrie, our tour guide, and Miranda, the driver. In case you haven't done a shore excursion or guided bus trip it is customary to give a tip of $1-5 to each at the end of the trip. After a short stop in San Juan Capistrano we arrived back in La Costa at 6:30 P.M. vowing to do this again next year and to check out more day excursions sponsored by Daytrippers. Try it-you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009 -Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn, Riverside

Continuing with the local finds for Christmas spirit Susan and I set out for the Mission Inn in Riverside to view their much touted Festival of Lights. Arriving early afternoon we decided to check out downtown Riverside around the Inn. We started with a stretch of Main Street that is purely pedestrian. Many antique and collectible stores are interspersed with restaurants. One of the more popular eclectic collections was Mrs. Tiggy Winkles at 3675 Main Street. I liked Magnolia's, 3643 Main Street, and Maria's Antiques (where I found some divine votive holders)3563 Main Street. Not lacking in lunch spots we chose the Tamale Factory at 3663 Main Street (the sweet corn tamales with tomatillo sauce -YUM!) The menu selections (placed while in line) were healthy and unique and the prices reasonable. Simple Simon's, 3639 Main Street, came highly recommended but the line was long. Specialities there included fresh-baked sourdough bread, soups, and sandwiches, also reasonable prices. Full service restaurants, eclectic, ethnic, fine dining, coffee stops (yay Starbucks) snacks and more are plentiful in this area.
After exploring we checked in to the Mission Inn , 3649 Mission Inn Avenue, 951-784-0300, http://www.missioninn.com/ . Never having been a mission in reality, it is like Hearst Castle wit restaurants-Duane's Prime Steaks & Seafood, an AAA 4 diamond steak house,Las Campanas Mexican Cuisine and Cantina,Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro, and the Mission Inn Restaurant, their signature comfort food restaurant. There is also 54degrees, a wine bar. Hotelier Frank Miller began promoting the Inn around the turn of the century. He traveled the world and added wings to the inn just seven years after its 1903 opening, each one a souvenir of a different architectural twist that had impressed him: Gothic, Moorish, Tudor, Italian Renaissance, Japanese. Every facade, balcony, stairwell, light fixture and window got its embellishment-Tiffany stained glass, gold leaf, marble, tiles, ironwork etc. It isn't a resort-no tennis court, putting greens, game arcades, just a large swimming pool , an elegant garden, and Kelly's Spa.
Our package at $229 included a $25 restaurant credit and valet parking (well worth it as the line of people approaching the hotel all day and night lined up for blocks). Our room was elegant yet historic , spacious and airy, with pleasing colors. As with most historic hotels the soundproofing is lacking. Dining on the Patio at the Mission Inn Cafe was a must -all the better to see the lights and characters above us. We opted for the Grilled filet of Alaskan Halibut served with marbled mashed potatoes, citrus cream sauce , seasonal vegetables and fruit salsa. Our meals were delicious and the atmosphere amazing. We never knew where to look next as twinkling lights, statues of carolers, and animated figures dazzled us. Little did we know that those sights were just a harbinger of the courtyard and outside visuals. From the day after Thanksgiving two million bulbs and hundreds (yes ,literally) animated and real characters put the Inn into a Disney Electric Light Parade mode . Viewed from across the street it was Currier and Ives all over again. Awesome... we decided that we would return next year, but the day after Thanksgiving this time because when the lights go on for the first night of the season there is a fireworks extravaganza . Children and families abounded all agog at the spectacle. Not to be outdone the pedestrian mall came alive at night with an ice skating rink, gingerbread stands, hot cocoa and cider, kettle corn, funnel cakes, a Santa picture opportunity, and school choirs serenading. If you venture to Riverside for this unique sight it might be well worth the $$ to spend the night. It is jammed and fighting the crowds for parking isn't pretty. The hotel also offers guided tours for a small fee.
The Mission Inn can be reached via State Highway 60, 90 or interstate 215. There is also a Metrolink station less than a mile away .