Sometimes the best getaways are not the most obvious and you know the feeling when you stumble upon that extra-special experience that is good for lots of conversation around the water cooler Monday morning. California is blessed to have more than its fair share of these experiences and here are three that we can personally recommend.
Casa Tropicana Inn
For a simple overnight getaway to the beach, the Casa Tropicana Inn is about as easy as it gets. Located by the pier in a tiny beachfront community that is part of San Clemente, the Casa Tropicana is a bed-and-breakfast inn with only eight rooms, but each designed and furnished to offer more than just a hotel room. This is truly a boutique inn with stylish rooms and a lot of special attention to detail.
The Casa Tropicana is not a place to take the kids. It’s a quiet getaway just for you and your partner where you can strip down to the cozy robes they provide you, lay back on the comfy bed and enjoy a pampered feel with the beach right out your window. The flat-screen TV, Jacuzzi tub and mini-fridge with snacks make you feel right at home, while beach chairs, umbrellas and towels are ready for you to take just across the road to one of Southern California’s most perfect beaches. Breakfast comes in a basket to your room and, if you like, you can take it out on the deck where you can people-watch to your heart’s content. Good restaurants offer dinner right on the pier, a two-minute walk from your room.
You may have noticed San Clemente while driving Interstate 5 south of Los Angeles. On a clear, sunny day – and most of them are – it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road as you take in a landscape that includes San Clemente’s neatly terraced, palm tree-studded hills and the vast blue ocean with its distant horizon.
The beach, to us, is one of the main attractions of San Clemente – it’s possible to walk five miles altogether on a beach that is wide, scenic and – best of all – hardly used. There is no stumbling over other beach-goers as you search for some solitude among the masses. At this beach, there is nothing but solitude along great stretches of sparkling sand where you can plop down anywhere you like, set up your blanket, chairs and cooler and pretend that you’re Robinson Crusoe for at least the afternoon.
While in San Clemente, you’ll want to stroll down Avenida Del Mar where you’ll find a wide assortment of shops in a lushly landscaped setting. This is not some famous shopping district with designer stores and celebrities; rather it’s Main Street USA with the kind of shopping you might find in your hometown – a varied collection of shops, boutiques, antique stores, galleries and sidewalk cafes. It’s a fun place to spend a little bit of your San Clemente getaway.
For more information on the Casa Tropicana Inn, phone 949-492-1234 or visit www.casatropicana.com.
Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
Travel just an hour north from San Francisco and it’s like you’ve gone overseas – there at the end of the picturesque, winding road through such quaint towns as San Anselmo, you come to a preserved part of the California coastline that looks like it came right out of a commercial for Irish Spring.
But this is not Ireland. This is the Point Reyes Seashore, an awe-inspiring landscape that brings together the land and the sea in a concoction sure to stimulate the senses. Broad, sweeping, rolling hills of green work their way to the craggy cliffs that signal the beginning of the Pacific Ocean. Best of all, this area is relatively untouched by man. Take a hike on one of the 125 miles of trails and, with few exceptions, you’re sure not to be bothered by hordes of tourists.
A weekend away and a world apart might be a good way to summarize a getaway to the Pointe Reyes Seashore, a startling contrast with the metropolitan area that is so close to the south. Just about an hour’s drive from the San Francisco Bay, we found the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge. While not actually on the seashore – there are no lodgings on this part of the coast – this comfortable country inn is located very close to the action. The Seashore area’s Bear Valley Visitor Center is just a two-minute drive from the lodge, and the town of Point Reyes is only a little bit farther.
Even without the seashore nearby, the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge is an enchanting retreat of its own with its unique architecture – kind of a cross between a Cape Cod mansion and a modern hunting lodge – and its peaceful grounds. The lodge is located in the tiny town of Olema, where Sir Francis Drake meets Coastal Highway 1. There are a couple of restaurants in town and not much else, but our suite at the lodge offered a warm fire, plenty of reading materials and a gorgeous view from our balcony overlooking the lawns, walkways and streams that are all part of the inn’s two-acre backyard.
After settling in, we took one look at the sunny weather and decided it was time to quickly make our way out to the far reaches of the Point Reyes Seashore – about a 45-minute drive from the inn – where we wanted to visit the famed Point Reyes Lighthouse.
It sometimes can be foggy out here but, during our visit, we enjoyed clear views all the way out to the Seashore as we drove along the “Irish” countryside, making our way ever closer to the spectacular cliffs leading to the sea.
At the end of the road was the lighthouse, an easy -- if slightly uphill -- 15-minute walk from where vehicles are parked. The lighthouse is way out on a cliff and, just beyond, there are miles and miles of open sea. For more information on Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, phone (415) 663-9000 or visit www.pointreyesseashore.com.
Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch
The kids will vote for Disneyland every time but if you want to try something different this year – if only for a night – try stopping at the Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch on your way up or down the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a fun destination that will show your youngsters a little about farm life and help them understand the importance of California’s agriculture.
Agri-tourism is what they call it – the blending of tourism with California’s vast farmlands and orchards to offer city folk an up-close view of how an orange, for example, gets from the tree to your dining room table. With its location just outside of Visalia, Seven Sycamores is in a good location to break up that long drive between the cities of Northern and Southern California.
Bob McKellar is the host of Seven Sycamores and something of a visionary in the realm of agri-tourism. McKellar got to thinking about the growers in other parts of the country who were hosting weddings on their property and, in his first year, booked 30 weddings on his picturesque grounds.
The piece de resistance is that McKellar now offers visitors overnight stays in an authentic farmhouse – a kind of bed and breakfast experience except that McKellar lives down the road and not in the house, and the breakfast comes in the form of fresh groceries that guests cook up themselves. If the three-bedroom farmhouse is too big, guests can opt for an economy-sized bunkhouse nearby. Both come complete with hens and baby chicks wandering the grounds, as well as roosters who offer guests wake-up calls for no extra charge.
The accommodations are comfortable, even for a large family. A big living room and old-fashioned porch area provide comfortable spots to unwind, while the kitchen has everything you need to cook up your own farm-style meals. As part of your stay, the Seven Sycamores will ask you what you like for breakfast and then have your refrigerator stocked upon your arrival.
If that’s not enough for you, consider that McKellar also puts on his tour guide hat and personally escorts his guests through his 200 acres of orange trees where visitors will learn the differences between navel and Valencia oranges, the best ways to plant them, water them, harvest them and darn near enough info that guests could start growing oranges on their own.
For more information on the Seven Sycamores Ranch, phone 877-777-3536 or visit www.sevensycamores.com.