Road Trip!

From a California mountain lake to a valley in Mexico …

Jim Walters Add a comment

… we found terrific destinations and lots of little adventures along the way

Palm Springs

Have a ring-a-ding weekend in a city with a celebrated Modernist heritage

Sleek furniture, Bakelite bracelets, op and pop art, vintage hi-fis—Modernism Week in Palm Springs each February is my idea of heaven. This era has always charmed me, so to attend is a dream, even if I can’t afford a $650 bracelet. It’s a taste of the golden age of Sinatra: midcentury splendor with snazzy homes by Donald Wexler, Albert Frey, and William Cody in profile against rugged mountains bathed in sunshine. I dined at a restaurant set in Cary Grant’s former manse, then wriggled out of my polka-dot frock at a ’50s-style hotel. Architecture tours, live jazz, and martinis flew me to the moon: We played Don and Betty Draper all weekend.—Anne Valdespino

The Journey

CORONA Explore a trove of memorabilia from superstar guitarists at the Fender Museum. See Steve Miller’s Pegasus Stratocaster and Kurt Cobain’s self-drawn designs for a custom guitar. The museum hosts a Johnny Cash exhibit with his concert duds, a handwritten lyric sheet for “I Walk the Line,” and a rubbing he created as an homage to the Shroud of Turin. Admission $10. 365 N. Main St., 951-735-2440, fendermuseum.com.

RIVERSIDE For those who love Simon Rodia’s folk-art masterpiece, the Watts Towers, there’s a low-rent garden of delights in Martin Sanchez’s Beer Bottle Chapel, a world of crazy sculptures fashioned from found objects. Its Baroque centerpiece is a minature “cathedral” with saintly figurines, an altar, and a chandelier covered in bottle caps. After your tour, hit Tio’s Tacos next door. A jolly hole in the wall, it serves down-home Mexican combo plates. Go for a classic crispy taco ($2.25) stuffed with shredded beef and fried to a crackly crunch, or a torta ($5.50) with queso panela, a soft, fresh mozzarella-like cheese. 3948 Mission Inn Ave., 951-788-0230. Duck into Tikal Bakery, where the Guatemalan tamale ($2.25) thrills: a banana leaf cradles pumpkin-colored mashed potatoes with chilies and a few chunks of pork. 3975 Mission Inn Ave., 951-276-0051.

CABAZON Shop till you drop at two malls. Desert Hills Premium Outlets has 130 designer stores including 7 For All Mankind and Juicy Couture. 48400 Seminole Drive, 951-849-6641, premiumoutlets.com/deserthills. Cabazon Outlets is smaller, with Le Creuset, Oakley Vault, and nearly 20 more. 48750 Seminole Drive, 951-922-3000, cabazonoutlets.com. This is food-court land, so grab a date shake at nearby Hadley Orchards or save your appetite for Palm Springs. 48980 Seminole Drive, 951-849-5255, hadleyfruitorchards.com.

The Destination
Mojave Resort
 A serene desert oasis

Pulling into the parking lot, I feel the same glee as when my parents finally let us out of the car on family trips: The perfectly restored midcentury hotel brings back a flood of memories. The low-slung white building’s tangerine accents repeat in the landscaping with colorful lantana and citrus trees. Every room has a small patio and access to the pool area with chaises and umbrella tables, as well as a cabana for lounging. Stylish touches include blond ’50s furniture, tangerine TV blankets, matching plastic trays, and orange Fiestaware coffee cups. There’s even a retro toaster at the continental breakfast buffet. The residential location isolates you from noise, but you’re within walking distance of El Paseo, the Rodeo Drive of the desert with designer shops and upscale restaurants. Rates on the Mojave’s 24 rooms vary by the season. Book a deluxe king June through September for $75 a night, but in winter, a suite is $239. 73721 Shadow Mountain Drive, Palm Desert, 800-391-1104, resortmojave.com.

Also worth checking out …

Stay in a gem. Orbit In ($129 to $259) has a poolside martini bar. 562 W. Arenas, 760-323-3585, orbitin.com; The Horizon Hotel ($109 to $700), oil tycoon Jack Wrather’s retreat, was designed by Cody. 1050 E. Palm Canyon Drive, 760-323-1858, thehorizonhotel.com.

Take a self-guided architecture tour. Pick up a map ($5.50) at Palm Springs Visitors Center. 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, 800-347-7746, visitpalmsprings.com. Or visit during Modernism Week. modernismweek.com.

Indulge, retro style. Dig into foodie-style diner breakfasts (chorizo chilaquiles, $10) at King’s Highway in the Ace Hotel, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, 760-325-9900, acehotel.comAmerican fare in Cary Grant’s estate at Copley’s (lavender-lemon pound cake, $10), 621 N. Palm Canyon Drive, 760-327-9555, copleyspalmsprings.com; hipped-up haute cuisine at Mister Parker’s (foie gras with pomegranate reduction, $18), 4200 E. Palm Canyon Drive, 760-770-5000, theparkerpalmsprings.com.

Big Bear
Unwind amid pines and wildflowers at this mountain retreat

That first sniff of pine … the absolute silence … the star-filled night sky. Big Bear is a few hours and a whole world away. Whether a weekend cabin retreat or a three-star hotel treat, the San Bernardino Mountains resort area is the place I go to recharge: a brisk hike before breakfast, an afternoon of exploring the wilds or The Village, a decadent dinner in town, catching a sunset over what once was the world’s largest manmade lake. The winter storms that washed out Highway 330 may add time to the drive but also guarantee that the scenery along the Rim of the World highway will be awash in colorful wildflowers this spring—the perfect time to visit.—Jim Walters 

The Journey
Highway 330 update Even if the road has reopened (visit dot.ca.gov), the longer drive up Highway 18 is more scenic. Tire chains may be required for wintertime treks; major automotive shops in O.C. sell sets for $60 and up.

CHINO HILLS The wrong turn for petrol puts us on westbound Eucalyptus. Just under the highway, on the right, we stumble across the site of the Battle of Chino. Plaques at a fire department building tell us that during the Mexican-American War, a band of Californios captured 24 Americans at the Williams adobe in 1846. Tract homes have overrun this battlefield. 4040 Eucalyptus Ave.

FONTANA While Costcos everywhere serve food, this one posts warnings to patio diners about strong winds that clear tables. Hold on to that pizza! Great “last stop” for supplies before heading for high ground. Don’t forget bags for shampoo and other bottles that may implode in your suitcase. 16505 Sierra Lakes Parkway, 909-770-5639.

RUNNING SPRINGS After half an hour of winding road, we unwind over breakfast at Old Country Coffee Shop. Order half-plate omelets, griddle fare, and Mexican dishes, each for less than $10. Tiny, and packed on weekends. 32019 Holiday Lane, 909-867-3100.

MOONRIDGE Kids getting cranky? Moonridge Animal Park is the cure. Rarely will they see timber wolves, black bears, and mountain lions this close. More than 150 orphaned and injured animals representing 85 species crowd this 2½-acre sanctuary and rehab center. Zookeepers conduct meet-and-greets; ours was with Cowboy, a one-winged horned owl. Kids will love the scat display showcase. $9 for adults, $6 for kids and seniors. 43285 Goldmine Drive, 909-584-1299, moonridgezoo.org.

The Destination
Marina Resort A rustic room with a view
“Sir, every room has a lake view,” the receptionist says with a smile. True, the Marina Resort sits on prime waterfront property, just across the highway from The Village with its shops and restaurants, and within minutes of the ski lifts at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. Along with its own private beach, the 42-room hotel offers volleyball, barbecue grills, boat slips, and a pool and spa. The lobby and rooms are mountain chic: rustic log furniture, antler lamps, and pine ceilings and trim. Doze off in a king bed with a generous supply of pillows, listening to the ducks outside. The gas log fireplace is a welcome touch on chilly nights. Standard rooms come with a minifridge and coffeemaker; suites and condos have full kitchens. The helpful staff is aware that the resort could use additional soundproofing; at check-in you’ll be asked to sign a form acknowledging you can be fined $200 for excessive noise. Rates range from $89 weekdays for a room, to $462 on weekends for a suite. No pets. 40770 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake, 909-866-5000, marinaresort.com.

Also worth checking out …

Plan dinner in The Village. The Peppercorn Grille is the best spot. They serve a rib-eye that melts in your mouth, but save room for crème brûlée. Dinners $12 to $30; reservations recommended. 553 Pine Knot Ave., Big Bear Lake, 909-866-5405, peppercorngrille.com.

Fuel up before your hike. Breakfast is served all day at the Teddy Bear Restaurant. Order waffles, sausage, and coffee for a ten-spot and change. 583 Pine Knot Ave., Big Bear Lake, 909-866-5415, teddybearsrestaurant.com.

Don’t miss Big Bear Discovery Center. Besides Bryce the gopher snake and his shedded-skin collection, the easily amused (myself included) can be mesmerized by an echo chamber on the patio. 40971 N. Shore Drive, 909-866-3437, nationalforestassociation.org.

Big Sur
Weekenders who love the scenic drive like to call it ‘The Big Chill’

While the rest of the world changes at whiplash speed, Big Sur’s dramatic landscape remains as ruggedly unspoiled and magnificent as it did when my husband and I discovered it half a lifetime ago. When we need to hit life’s reset button, we gas up the car, pack snacks in a cooler, and take the freeways to San Luis Obispo, then cut over to Highway 1 the remaining distance. As a romantic road trip alone, it gets an A+. Throw in a few fun discoveries and an 89-mile panorama of the Santa Lucia Mountains rising majestically out of the Pacific and you have an idyllic restorative for work-withered spirits.—Chris Christensen

The Journey
Highway 1 update Check for road closures before you go at dot.ca.gov.

SUMMERLAND Join throngs of Santa Barbara bicyclists who make Cantwell’s market and deli their pit stop. Made-to-order sandwiches are top quality. On weekends, go for the on-site mesquite barbecued meats such as the perfectly charred tri-tip ($10 with sides). Eat inside, on the patio, or in the picnic area. 2580 Lillie Ave., 805-969-5893, cantwellsmarket.com. Get your Zen on next door at The Sacred Space, a lush garden/gift shop in a restored adobe with koi ponds, fountains, and exotic hand-carved wooden Bali pavilions. Sip free organic tea, served ceremoniously on a bamboo tray, as you meditate or shop from among thousands of Buddhas. 2594 Lillie Ave., 805-565-5535, thesacredspace.com.

SANTA BARBARA Francophiles beat a path to Renaud’s patisserie and bistro for the best croissants (pain aux raisin, $2.55), breakfasts, and petite patisserie this side of Paris. Drool over the fried-egg sandwich ($8.25), served on pan de mie, with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes, and melted Swiss, or the Tropiezienne, an orange-vanilla mousseline-filled brioche ($4.35). 3315 State St. in the Loreto Plaza, 805-569-2400, renaudsbakery.com.

PISMO BEACH Kids love Pismo Lighthouse Suites ($139 to $369), with its play deck (miniature golf, giant chess board, and more), two-bath suites with sweeping ocean views, and complimentary breakfasts. Parents like its proximity to wine country. 2411 Price St., 805-773-2411, pismolighthousesuites.com. Walk to Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana for Barisi-style Lamb Lolli Pops ($15), cinnamon-infused cannoli ($6), rustic bread baked in the wood-burning oven, and an award-winning, 300-bottle wine list. 891 Price St., 805-773-2870, giuseppesrestaurant.com.

The Destination

Treebones Resort Campsite for the pampered
Sleeping in a yurt is not my cup of chai, but I was intrigued when a friend mentioned this unique place. Hidden above Highway 1 at the south end of Big Sur, this ecofriendly resort, composed of 16 large, round structures perched on a cliff for spectacular views, is glorified camping for city slickers like me. Along with the tent experience, you get hot showers that are communal, though private. The trade-off is that your yurt—Turkish for “home”—also has a gas-burning fireplace, sink, deck with Adirondack chairs, and expensive comforter. Throw in the destination-worthy Wild Coast Restaurant and Sushi Bar that offers seafood, Harris Ranch beef, and salads of vegetables picked daily from its lush garden, and you’re digging this one-with-nature deal. And, really, who needs a gym when you have 15 gorgeous trails to hike? Yurts run $160 to $195. 71895 Highway 1, 805-927-2390, treebonesresort.com; pass through Gorda and take the first right onto Willow Creek Road at the Treebones sign; drive through the resort’s gate to the parking lot.

Also worth checking out …

Don’t pass up Lucia Lodge’s fish ’n’ chips. Rated by Coastal Living magazine as one of the nation’s five best, they’re crisp, light, and well worth the indulgence. 62400 Highway 1, 866-424-4787, lucialodge.com.

Relax among redwoods at Henry Miller Memorial Library. Peruse the author’s artwork and letters, shop the bookstore, and, if you’re lucky, catch a hot concert. Last summer, Arcade Fire sold out a limited 300 tickets in 60 seconds. Highway 1 between Deetjen’s and Nepenthe, 831-667-2574, henrymiller.org.

For wood-fired American cooking, turn in at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant: bread baked daily; seasonal, local produce and eggs; organic coffee. Get there early or miss the famed jelly doughnuts. 47540 Highway 1, 831-667-0520, bigsurbakery.com. 

San Diego
Sleep like a Renaissance king and awaken in a bustling seaside city

The museums of Balboa Park, the Old Globe Theatre, the world-renown zoo—they’re all just a 10-minute stroll from the Britt Scripps Inn, which is ideally situated for exploring the heart of San Diego. If you must use your car, quick-and-easy drives take you to Hillcrest, Little Italy, Petco Park, and the downtown Gaslamp district. But the inn is so inviting you might arrive in “America’s Finest City” and be perfectly content not to leave your lodgings. Stick around for the afternoon wine-and-artisan-cheese gathering in the parlor, the perfect opportunity to meet fellow guests, and—if you strike up a bond—to check out the unique luxuries of their rooms.—Evan Henerson

The Journey
OCEANSIDE The 5 Freeway is faster, but U.S. 101 from here to Del Mar takes you through military towns and artists havens, past spas, inviting dive bars, and spiffy restaurants. Take Coast Highway south and park near Civic Center Drive. The Star Theater, built in 1956, is worth a gander for its neon and old-fashioned façade. 402 N. Coast Highway, 760-721-9983.

CARLSBAD The section of town that does not include Legoland can keep you occupied for hours if you enjoy the restorative waters, along with a facial or body wrap, at the Mineral Water Spa. At least pay your respects to the statue of Captain John A. Frazier, the man who discovered the tonic effect of the city’s waters. 2802 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad, 760-434-1887, carlsbadmineralspa.com. Catch a free Saturday concert at the Renaissance Institute of Music or any number of ballet or symphonic offerings. 300 Carlsbad Village Drive, 760-434-7466, riom-sd.com.Adjacent to the RIM, browse the Bwarie Gift Basket Co. at Village Faire shopping center. 760-730-1456, bwariegiftbaskets.com.

ENCINITAS No journey to San Diego is complete without a latte from Pannikin Coffee and Tea, located in a converted railway depot, 510 N. Coast Highway 101, 760-436-5824, pannikincoffeeandtea.com. Decorative finds both hangable and wearable can be found at the San Dieguito Art Guild and Off Track Gallery. Lumberyard Shopping Center, 937 S. Coast Highway 101, 760-942-3636, offtrackgallery.com.

CARDIFF BY THE SEA You’re a few dangerous steps away from VG Donut & Bakery with its killer maple bars. They bake doughnuts daily at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. so there’s always something fresh, and they sell cream pies, cookies, muffins, and brownies. 106 Aberdeen Drive, 760-753-2400, vgbakery.com.

The Destination
Britt Scripps Inn An elegant painted lady
Within this bed and breakfast’s nine rooms are an olio of styles, with names such as Gothic, Library, Governors, and my personal favorite, the Renaissance. Bedecked with period furniture and a queen-size bed, this room—this inn—invites a grateful collapse and a long sleep. The aromas of freshly baked breads, and an artichoke-and-Dubliner cheese omelet with pesto awaken you the next morning. All accommodations include flat screens, chocolate truffles on turned-down beds, and free Wi-Fi. Expect to pay between $269 and $325 per night; guests under age 18 aren’t permitted. 406 Maple St., San Diego, 619-230-1991, brittscripps.com.

also worth checking out …

Watch an outdoor show at The Old Globe Theatre. This season includes Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Tempest,” as well as Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus.” 1363 Old Globe Way, 619-234-5623, theoldglobe.org.

Visit a museum. The Mingei International Museum exhibits crafts such as Day of the Dead altars and a collection of tequila bottles. 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-239-0003, mingei.org.

Satisfy a sweet tooth. Extraordinary Desserts, a patisserie in a Zen tearoom, sells cakes, scones, and melt-in-your-mouth Valrhona chocolate shortbread ($3.95). 2929 5th Ave., 619-294-2132, extraordinarydesserts.com.

Baja, Mexico
Wineries and a foodie scene make the Guadalupe Valley a gourmet haven

When we feel the need to get away, my husband and I jump in the Jag and head south. Sprinting past the border at Tijuana, we head down a sinuous highway where steep desert cliffs meet the azure sea, then climb into the hills north of Ensenada to the Guadalupe Valley’s Ruta del Vino, with its three dozen or so wineries. Turning onto a bone-jarring dirt road, ranchera music blasting, we sing—loudly and off-key—suddenly feeling stress-free. Our destination: the secluded La Villa del Valle. It’s here on the terrace at dusk, a glass of tempranillo in hand, we let the valley’s quiet beauty wash over us.—Barbara Thornburg

The Journey
SAN YSIDRO-TIJUANA Despite warring drug cartels, Baja still hosts 25 million international visitors a year. The State Department has issued a travel warning and advises tourists to take precautions. If you encounter problems, call the U.S. consulate: 011-52-664-622-7400. And get Mexican auto insurance; it’s easier to buy before you go: 888-552-2252, bajabound.com.

TOLL BOOTH Follow signs for Rosarito, then take the Playas de Tijuana (Beaches) turnoff for five miles west along the border to Mexican Federal Highway 1D (Carretera Escenica). A cuota, or toll road, it’s smoother and safer than the 1 (Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada), and worth the $7 toll. 

ROSARITO BEACH Take Benito Juárez Boulevard, and look to your left for an iron horse rearing in front of Acentos de Mexico, a stylish Mexican furnishings store, 232 Benito Juárez Blvd., 011-52-661-612-0721. Retrace your route back to the cuota. From here, American-style addresses are scarce. Watch instead for kilometer markings—KM—followed by a numeral.

LA MISIÓN Stop at the Poco Cielo Hotel for an ocean-view lunch of chiles rellenos ($10) at Cielito Lindo, Highway 1, KM 59, 011-52-646-155-0606, pococielo.com. Stretch your legs with a walk on the beach. Then, return to the toll road and proceed 23 miles to the Ruta del Vino turnoff to Highway 3 (Carretera Ensenada-Tecate).

SAN ANTONIO DE LAS MINAS Stop at this tiny pueblo and taste the best of Real del Castillo, the area’s premier dairy region. Ask for cheese samples at Tienda de Quesos y Vinos, which also sells wine. You’ll find it in the building marked, Cremeria de los Globos. Try the creamy ones in basil, chili, and other flavors. Highway 3, KM 92, 011-52-646-155-3158.

The Destination
La Villa del Valle A scenic mexican hideaway
The two-story, six-room inn offers simple pleasures and an antidote to the 21st century. There are no TVs or room phones, although Wi-Fi is available. Laid-back pursuits include walking the labyrinth, yoga, a massage, or meandering through the garden. Its organic vegetables provide ingredients for Mexiterranean cuisine by award-winning chef Diego Hernandez, who prepares complimentary breakfasts and four-course dinners ($45). Float in the pool surrounded by sand-hued boulders, or opt for a siesta in the four-poster poolside bed. Take a tasting tour arranged by the hotel and don’t miss the 5:30 p.m. botana, or canapé, and complimentary wine on the terrace. Watching the valley sunset, soaking in the hot tub after dinner, and gazing at a gazillion stars will complete your bliss. Weekday rates, $175; weekends, $195. From San Antonio de las Minas, continue three miles to KM 88, and pass a communications tower on the right. At the Rancho Poiema sign, turn left onto a dirt road and follow the signs for 2.7 miles to the inn. 818-207-7130 or 011-52-646-156-8007, lavilladelvalle.com.

Also worth checking out …

Make a pilgrimage to Restaurant Laja. Taste the avant-garde Mexican cuisine of chef Jair Tellez. Highway 3, KM 83, 011-52-646-155-2556, restaurantelaja.wordpress.com.

Check out a hidden market. Comb through organic produce and valley products at Cavas del Mogor winery. Tours offered Saturday and by appointment on weekdays. Farmers market 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. Highway 3, KM 85.5, look for the El Mogor sign, 011-52-646-156-8156.

Sample 97 types of marmalade at La Casa de Doña Lupe. Highway 3, KM 73.5, take the dirt road opposite Domecq Winery and follow the signs, 011-52-646-155-2323, donalupe.com.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Orange Coast magazine.

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