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Eat & Drink

Locando del Lago roasts up a beast of a communal dinner

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Regulars and newbies make a night of the Northern Italian restaurant’s authentic Morso Della Bestia feast of a whole animal

When you think of Italian hospitality, you think of the kind of warm familia ambience that welcomes guests at Locanda del Lago; and when you think of the heartiness of a satisfying Italian dinner, it is a table filled with generous servings of meat, pasta and wine, like that of the restaurant’s monthly feast, Morso Della Bestia. If you are not familiar with this Italian tradition, translated as “Bite of the Beast,” it is a banquet that is the epitome of Italian cuisine – a celebration of food, family, friends and life, Italian style.

The last Thursday of every month, Lago hosts this communal, four-course dining experience, featuring a different animal roast each month, along with rustic Northern Italian dishes for which the restaurant is known, with recipies originating from Italy’s Bellagio on Lake Como, an homage to the hometown of restaurant’s founder.  Of course, to complement the meal, diners may also select wine pairings.

As is the case with all of the menu items at Lago, the fare is fresh-sourced locally from farmer’s markets and other purveyors with whom the restaurant has long-term associations, as this business places a high value on trusted relationships, doing business the way it was done in the Old Country.

The restaurant usually seats between 30 to 40 guests to this RSVP-required event, at which the main course has featured whole-animals, such as boar and venison, or on occasion lesser daunting beasts, like rabbit, goose, or even tuna. Chef George Pincay endeavors to use all parts of the animal for a variety of dishes, featuring generous portions, served throughout the night, giving time between courses for guests to pace themselves and preserve an appetite while they socialize.

 

 

Guests who come as couples or even solo diners will find by the end of the evening they have made new friends; and in fact, one group of wine aficionados has attended the event together for many years, adding to their club and their friendship circle each year.

The staff have become part of the meal as well, with the owner, West Hooker-Poletti, and his wife, Karin Fumagalli, and general manager Megan Heritage, who is lovingly referred to by staff as the restaurant’s “soul,” often joining the gathering, and many regulars call their servers by name, and joke like family, such as one patron who elbows Lago’s tall, lean and handsome resident mixologist, Mirco Pallotti, in the ribs and teases, “I order the six packs, but he wears them.”

While Morso Della Bestia is one of Locanda del Lago’s most popular events, the restaurant hosts an ample crowd most nights, with the restaurant dining room and outdoor seats filled nightly at the location on Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade.

If the Bite of the Beast is not your taste, say if you are vegetarian, Lago hosts another night, Meatless Mondays, that may be more your style.  Or if you prefer to stick to libations, check out the bar for local flavor and stocked with a curated wine list of more than 400 vinos from across Italy, along with organic, local liquors. The restaurant keeps a full calendar of events and celebrations and is open to serve its extended family of regulars, tourists and new friends seven days a week.

Locando del Lago is located at 231 Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica. Street parking and several Santa Monica public parking structures are walking distance, with 2-hours free or $3 flat rate on weekends.

 

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left Coast

Fred 62 – They’ve got your number

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Iconic Los Feliz diner serves up everyday, anytime food for everyone

I was afraid my picky, eats-like-a-bird 10-year-old son would not find anything to nosh on at Fred 62.  Trained by his health-conscious dad at a young age to have a taste for only healthy, gourmet food, he generally scoffs a restaurant fare, but we were in for a huge surprise.

For a sure bet, we ordered one of my son’s favorite appetizers, Crispy Calamari, served with sriracha and remoulade; and for the grown-ups we got the Avocado Toast with chili flakes and Chickpea Fritters.  But when the food arrived, the tables were turned, and my son devoured the toast and fritters first, then did damage on the calamari, and that just whetted his appetite.

His eyes lit up as he slurped up the Noo Deli noodles, a steaming bowl of vermicelli, in spicy lemongrass broth with Thai veggies, which was followed by a “freshwich” of seared ahi tuna, wrapped in rice paper and served with a Japanese dipping sauce.

He then began sharing off our plates of “Pastramid” Short Rib combo of short rib slow smoke short ribs with coleslaw, jalapeno pickles and spicy mustard on a potato roll, served with French fries, and Moroccan Tajine Eggs with harissa, Castilian sausage, and green olive tapenade. He polished it all off with a Chocolate Peanut Butter shake.

All of this food was consumed by a boy who basically eats every other day.  He declared, “Let’s definitely come back to this place.” And of course, we will have to, as we didn’t even try the famous griddle treats, like the Bearded Mr. Frenchy, a fluffy brioche French toast with cornflake crust, or the hearty comfort food meals like the Partridge Family, a dinner of pan-friend chicken, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, gravy, sautéed greens and a mini waffle.

 

This 20-year-old funky retro-themed restaurant, easily recognized on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz by its bright lime green exterior and orange awning, is known as LA’s coolest all-nighter diner, open 365 days a year, where hard partiers can get munchie-satisfying delights from the Stoners & Drunkards menu, like F-Bomb Mac n Cheese Balls, Falafel Sliders or Frito Pies, anytime in the wee morning hours.

 

It is a rare diner that has a cook called a “chef” and that promises food prepared “mindfully and with care,” which is what makes Fred 62 an anomaly in the diner universe. Owner and chef, Fred Eric, had a unique vision of Fred 62 when he opened the restaurant with the concept of a diner serving food that people want to eat every day, serving it all day and all night, every day of the year.  Two decades later, he’s still cooking with gas and expanding his menu of enlightened diner food with more healthy menu offerings for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free patrons.  For those who love a surprise, he offers daily “Fred Plate” specials.

After enjoying a meal at Fred 62, make a day of exploring the hood, including a variety of eclectic stores selling everything from clothing and rare books to housewares and jewelry made by local artisans, or stop in for a flick at the vintage cinema house, Los Feliz 3, or see a live production at Skylight Theater.  Fred 62 is located at 1850 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left Coast

Turningfire brings fresh and inventive fare to satisfy creative types

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Eagle Rock eatery turns up the heat with flavorful rotisserie cuisine

Turningfire Modern Rotisserie in Eagle Rock is a year-old restaurant with a fire-brand new concept that is skewering traditional rotisserie cuisine. Michael Rolibi came up with the idea of a rotisserie restaurant with a modern twist in a setting he calls premium casual, which is a tic up from the newly branded fine casual category.

Rolibi, a career changer who achieved enough success in his first professional life to pursue his passion of opening an eatery, is the author of most of the restaurant’s eclectic menu of unexpected taste combinations. Rolibi’s original recipes includes rotisseries of free-range poultry, natural pork and beef dishes that are flavored with proprietary, made-from-scratch freshly ground spice blends, marinades sauces, dressings and condiments.

 

Besides the rotisserie entrees, which can be ordered up a la carte or as a meal plate with a protein, side and a salad, Turningfire makes mincemeat of stodgy old-school meatballs with a modern blend of pork and beef with added crushed fresh tomatoes and a topping of ricotta salata, for the most-tastiest meatballs ever. The menu also features a short list of sandwiches, among which is the most popular chilled Cali Gold, with lemon lavender chicken, mesclun, orange shallot vinaigrette, avocado spread, lemon aioli and tomato.

Other twists on traditional fare include LA Street fries, which are thick hand-cut potatoes covered with frilled chile corn, pickled red onion, cotija cheese crumble, grilled scallions and cilantro lime creme.

Despite what the rotisserie namesake implies, many of the restaurant’s dishes are vegetarian, including flatbreads and a number of gourmet salads loaded with ingredients like purple kale, golden beets, toasted pepitas, watermelon radish, roasted white yams, spicy pickled carrots, jicama and other out-of-the-box, not out-of-the-bag bag veggies and fruits. There’s also an excellent kids’ menu with healthy versions of approachable favorites, like chicken cheese quesadilla, served on whole wheat tortilla.

Inside, the restaurant impresses with a contemporary and clean design, with textured concrete floors, light spilling through a glass brick front, and lofty wood-beam ceilings.  The space is sleek but cozy with about 30 duets, foursomes and bar tables of butcher-block-style table tops surrounded by iron modern chairs, with the furnishings and trims all painted in earth tones.

The restaurant’s interior, envisioned by North Hollywood designer Janelle Wright, achieves its purpose in making food colors pop against the muted color palette, enhancing the appeal to the human palate.  The chic style is a nod to the trendy tastes of the Eagle Rock neighborhood, an area that is gentrifying so fast that restaurant concepts are popping up on a nearly monthly basis on the main strip of Colorado Boulevard.

Turningfire is located at 2146 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, and is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

 

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Entertainment

Outdoor entertainment into autumn, LA style

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Mild temperatures keep LA outdoor nightlife lively into fall

LA outdoor nightlife

Southern Californians don’t know how lucky they are. While East coasters are storing their patio furniture for the long winter, SoCal dwellers can enjoy shirtsleeves outdoors for months to come. Even at night, when temperatures drop to their lowest, a sweater or light coat is all one needs for a comfortable evening under the stars. So rejoice Angelenos, and enjoy the bounty of alfresco activities into autumn, such as these venues and events that define LA outdoors nightlife.

I-See-a-Bowl

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in LA who would not agree that the Hollywood Bowl is the most fabulous place to experience an outdoor concert. With a full summer series that trails into early fall, the Bowl hosts international musical headliners, such as this season’s lineup of artists including Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Pentatonix, Kool & the Gang and The Village People, Blondie and Garbage, movie soundtrack sing-alongs, and of course many of world-class symphonies like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and resident Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Over the years the 17,500-seat amphitheater has expanded to include a number of food venues inside the complex, along with 14 beautiful picnic areas so patrons can BYO-picnic, but in addition to its unique ambience, this iconic landmark continues to be most renowned among music lovers for its phenomenal acoustics, owing to the natural hillside setting in which it resides, where sometimes coyotes can be heard howling during lulls in the music. The bowl is the kind of place that makes you glad you live in LA, and it’s worth every moment of waiting to get out of the stacked parking.

 

Screen time

Well into fall weekends, Cinespia, the original and the largest outdoor movie event, hosts movie nights on the lawn at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Drawing crowds of thousands, this remains one of the coolest events in LA, with guest DJs spinning tunes and throngs spreading out across the vast grassy grounds in font of Rudolph Valentino’s mausoleum, with their low-back chairs, gourmet picnic dinners and flameless candles. Film aficionados talk along with and cheer their favorite lines from modern classics like Superbad and The Princess Bride and horror flicks that seem apropos among the headstones, like Night of the Living Dead.  Get there early to stake your space with a blanket, or pay a bit more for early access and VIP reserved seating.

Another excellent outdoor movie event is Showtime’s Eat See Hear, held at unique settings around LA, including Autry Museum in Griffith Park, La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles State historic Park, Rose Bowl Stadium, ROW Downtown LA, and the Santa Monica pier. This movie event boasts the largest outdoor screen in the West has a big focus on food trucks, and the Showtime sponsorship and dog friendly nature of the events distinguish it from others around town. With the variety of venues, it feels like a different event each time you go. For a slightly increased ticket price, patrons can get “Fashionably Late” seeming in the most desirable front-and-center section.

Endless summer

While the list of outdoor evening events in LA is nearly as long as the line at Pink’s on a Saturday night, other don’t-miss venues and attractions that are open into October or later, including The Greek Theatre at Griffith Park, The John Anson Ford Theatre in the Cahuenga Pass, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which hosts Jazz at LACMA through November.

 

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Eat & Drink

Hey hey hey, it’s Fat Sal’s

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Unabashed non non-fattening sub and burger restaurant serves up what every bro wants

As the name Fat Sal’s Deli implies, you would not expect to find quinoa salads and kale here. This is a burger and sub joint. And also chili, and shakes. The subs are, well, fat, some of them filled with everything but the kitchen sink. If you think I’m exaggerated, get a gander of the Fat Jerry, loaded with shaved rib-eye, French fries and a fried egg on top.

 

This is the anti-salad place. If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, no worries, the fat fries can be a meal in themselves. Take the buffalo chicken cheese fries, which are topped with chopped chicken fingers, melted cheddar and mozzarella, buffalo hot sauce, and blue cheese dressing. Talk about a hot mess, this is a fat mess, and delicious and fattening and decadent by design.

As evidenced by the majority of the patrons being guys, this place is a bro hang out, with most of the women tagging along with their dates, though there were a few females indulging in some satisfying subs, perfect for a girls night out. For those trying to watch their figures, there is an Albacore Tuna sandwich and a token Grilled Cesar Salad option.

At the Fat Sal’s location in Hollywood, the open air patio and HD stereo system filling the air with R-rated rap music is inviting to their target crowd of urban hipsters, and the chunky concrete slab table tops, metal stools and wooden booths create fitting ambiance for a fast casual meal of hearty hamburgers and subs. It’s a place one can enjoy going to occasionally, but if you made it a habit, you wouldn’t be able to get out the door.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

Six best brunches in West LA

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Beachside Brunchin’
 

There’s no better way to brunch than being near the ocean while sippin’ on a mimosa or Bloody Mary. After all, brunch without booze is just a sad breakfast. While Los Angeles is known for having some of the best brunch spots, we want to shed some light on the west side. Here are some of the best brunch spots in the beach cities of West LA.  

1. SURFSIDE VENICE BAR + GRILL – Venice Beach  
 

Venice Beach recently welcomed Surfside Venice Bar + Grill to the boardwalk and with that, they’ve been serving brunch not only on the weekends, but seven days a week. To highlight what Surfside serves, Chef Jesse Gutierrez has created a brunch menu that features Gold’s Standard brunch burger which is their house burger with bacon, cheddar cheese and a sunny side egg on a brioche bun. The Pipeline Burrito is every breakfast burrito lover’s dream served with scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, cheddar cheese, and country potatoes served with a side of wipeout salsa. Paying homage to the community is the Muscle Beach Tofu Scramble with black beans, onions, cilantro, country potatoes, tomatoes, wipeout salsa and avocado — lot’s of avocado, served with house-made corn tortillas. The Cinnamon French Toast Plate topped with homemade whipped cream and seasonal fresh mixed berries is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth. And for those searching the globe for the perfect breakfast sandwich, look no further as The Boardwalk breakfast sandwich is served with two eggs, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese on a toasted baguette. “The brunch menu is delicious. I didn’t want to go 5 days without serving it!” Gutierrez says. When it comes to beverages, Surfside has a full bar and a must try is their House Bloody Mary with their secret Cajun bloody mary mix and of course, a Mimosa.
 
Surfside Venice serves brunch daily from 11:00 a.m – 2:00 p.m. Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: Surfside Venice
Surfside Venice is located at
23 Windward Ave, Venice, CA 90291
 
2. DOMA KITCHEN – Marina Del Rey
 
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If you’re looking to unwind after a long week by brunching on the Westside, Doma Kitchen in Marina Del Rey has just released their new brunch menu — and it’s something to roll out of bed for!
 
Every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this MDR hotspot is dishing out some of the best items in town. Brunch favorites include Lamb and Waffles featuring lamb, two fried eggs, and homemade Belgian waffles, perfect for those craving something sweet and savory. The Latkes and Eggs include two house-made potato pancakes, two sunny-side up fried eggs, served along side a cup of fruit, sour cream and apple sauce. Bacon lovers can get their fix with the Pancetta Scramble including cage free eggs, pancetta, scallions, home fries, toasted bread, herb butter and fig jam, and the Brighton Beach Benedict is something not to be missed with potato latkes, arugula, smoked salmon, poached eggs, Malta’ise sauce, red onions and capers. Doma’s Nicoise Salad is full of fresh mixed greens, Italian tuna, hard boiled eggs, green beans, warm potatoes, cherry tomatoes, capers, olives, red onions, fresh dill, topped with red wine vinaigrette. For those looking to soak up the last nights alcohol can indulge in Chef Kristina’s Double Chicken Avocado Burger a house ground chicken burger topped with smoked gouda, arugula, tomatoes, avocado and served on a brioche bun. 
 
Doma Kitchen also has a full espresso bar featuring Red Bay Coffee blended beverages, lattes, coffee and tea. Check out their full menu here.
 
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Photo Credit: Doma Kitchen
Doma Kitchen is located at 
4325 Glencoe Ave, #8, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
 
3. THE ROCKEFELLER – Manhattan Beach & Hermosa Beach
 
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Just steps from the beach, begin your weekends a day early with brunch at The Rockefeller. Starting 11 a.m. on Fridays and 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, their brunch includes dishes such as their popular Breakfast Burrito made with braised short ribs, bacon, egg, pepper jack cheese, guacamole, hashbrowns, as well as Chicken & Waffles with bacon butter and maple syrup, French Toast made with french brioche bread, macerated berries, maple syrup, and powdered sugar, and their delicious Apple Fritters with caramel dipping sauce. The large open patio windows, bottomless mimosas with four flavors of peach, guava, watermelon, and orange, and endless selection of craft beer on tap makes The Rockefeller the go-to brunch spot to people-watch and have a relaxed day party that will seem never-ending.
 
Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: The Rockefeller
 
The Rockefeller is located at
 
1209 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
422 Pier Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
4. THE STANDING ROOM – Hermosa Beach
The Standing Room is a unique, boozy brunch spot near the beach with a menu that can satisfy and adapt to all cravings. Each dish has a unique Asian-American twist, usually with Korean or Hawaiian influence. 
 
If you’re craving a hearty breakfast, the Loaded Loco Moco comes with a half-pound beef patty, caramelized onion, cheddar cheese, kimchi fried rice, and a fried egg with homemade short rib gravy poured on top. For the active runners and yogis, they have healthier options such as their Garden Vegetable Egg White Frittata made as an arugula salad and tossed with spring vegetables. If you’re looking for something a little more classic, they can whip up their Hawaiian Bread French Toast to satisfy your sweet tooth, which comes with Nutella, sliced bananas, and toasted coconut. 
 
Aside from the food, the restaurant offers drink specials during brunch, such as bottomless mimosas, Irish coffee, and various Deep Eddy specials including Bloody Marys, Screwdrivers, Greyhounds and more. 
 
The Standing Room serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 1pm. Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: The Standing Room
The Standing Room is located at
1320 Hermosa Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
5. R10 SOCIAL HOUSE – Redondo Beach
R10 Social House is situated on one of the South Bay’s best locations– right on the marina. With floor to ceiling windows and multiple patios plus two full bars, it is the perfect spot to spend the afternoon drinking and enjoying the ocean breeze. Priding themselves on using all natural ingredients, everything from their ketchup to alcohol mixers are made in-house to ensure the highest quality and flavor being served. Choose from the wide variety on the brunch menu– from their Watermelon Summer Salad to their Huevos Rancheros to their Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, everything is sure to be a hit and keep your party going from the night before. 
 
Brunch is served every Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: R10 Social House
R10 Social House is located at 
179 N Harbor Dr, Redondo Beach, CA 90277
6. PRIMO ITALIA – Torrance
 
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For truly authentic (and truly delicious) Italian cuisine, Primo Italia has become the South Bay’s go to spot, using the freshest produce Southern California has to offer. True to its Italian roots, Primo Italia changes their menu with the seasons, reflecting the best of each and their brunch menu is no exception. Only available on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., their menu includes Panettone Toast and Rucula, a traditional Italian toasted bread dipped in eggs and milk and served with fruit, Ricotta Pancakes, served in a cast iron pan with homemade syrup– or for the truly adventurous they have regular Italian dinner items such as Lasagne and Maine Lobster.
 
Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: Primo Italia
Primo Italia is located at 
24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505
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AdventureLifestyleOutdoorsThe Left CoastTravel

A summer snow skiing vacation in Lake Tahoe

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Mountain resorts make history by extending ski season to July Fourth

 

Careful what you wish for

For the first time in history, mountain resorts in Lake Tahoe have officially extended their ski season through July 4th weekend. After several dry winters, the Lake Tahoe resorts saw their snowiest season on record, reporting 700 inches of snow, approximately 300 percent more snow than a normal season. While the Reno-Tahoe area has always attracted many year-round visitors, for art and culture events and outdoor activities on the mountains and Lake Tahoe, this year visitors will enjoy an epic après ski.

 

For anyone who didn’t make it yet to Tahoe for the 2016-17 ski season, or for those who didn’t get enough, excellent powder and no crowds make it a perfect time to visit. And that’s just what a couple of my besties and I did, on a blizzard of a vacay of skiing, dining and lounging, hitting five resorts, in five days.

Parking it at Parc Foret

Our posse met up in Reno, where we enjoyed ultra-luxurious accommodations at the Parc Foret at Montreux. If you haven’t heard of it, this enclave of the Montreux master-planned development of luxury homes, about 30 minutes from the Reno-Tahoe airport, is a high desert oasis with year-round appeal, known for its 300 days of sunshine, world-class golfing, nearby casinos and nightlife, and of course, its proximity to the mountain resorts.

As we arrived at Parc Foret and got directions from the guard at the gatehouse to our abode, we kept looking for the landmark of the clubhouse, but we got confused, because we mistook every gigantor eight-bedroom manse on the street as the clubhouse.  “Oh, there it is; no, that’s a house. Now I see it, oops, that’s another house…”

 

 

The custom-built homes in the Montreux development impressed us with both their grandeur and design. We were lucky enough to experience the Stay and Play package, whereby potential homeowners are invited to reside a few days in the community – a clever marketing tactic, as its pretty impossible not to fall in love with the place.

Our modest 7200-square-foot house featured an open floor plan on the first level with a full kitchen and marble bar that opened into an enormous family room with a long, wall-to-wall gas fireplace, a perfect for gathering place to hang after a day on the mountain.

Each of us had our own grand master bedroom and bath, and there was plenty of space to spread out, from the downstairs game room and bar to the sunny deck overlooking the snowy woods. We also enjoyed lounging around our outdoor fireplace, right outside the front door.

We felt very at home at Montreux, where we were taken in at the clubhouse by the residents with whom we made fast friends, dancing the night away at a private party, as the DJ played surprisingly current rap and hip-hop. We were tempted to hang out there all day and skip the skiing, but the mountains kept calling our names.

Looking at the slopes through Mt. Rose-colored goggles

Our first stop was Mt. Rose, which is so close to the airport – about a 25-minute drive – that the resort offers discounted lift tickets for those who show their same-day airline boarding passes.

The resort is known for its spectacular views and its mellow attitude.  The resort features terrain for all levels as well as the longest continuous vertical in North America; and at 8,260 feet elevation, Mt. Rose is Tahoe’s highest base resort, which means the resort often has the best conditions even on the warmest spring days. As far as amenities, Mt. Rose is pretty much hard-core skiing, with not a lot of frills, but this may all change soon as the owners plan to develop it soon into a luxury resort.

Skiing large at Squaw Alpine

Our second day we spent at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadow, now known as Squaw Alpine since the two neighboring resorts merged in 2012.  The resort is massive in size, boasting a combined 6,200 acres and 43 lifts and 270 trails, attracting 6000,000 skiers a year. Although lift tickets and amenities are interchangeable, the two resorts feature distinctly different feels to visitors.

Squaw, famed as the site for the 1960 Olympics and recently voted as the top resort in North America by USA Today, is a high-energy resort that attracts many professional skiers, though it has a variety of terrain, including 25 percent beginner’s slopes. Alpine Meadows is known for its down-home and approachable hospitality and its easy-riding progression parks and wide-open bowls, with terrain for all levels of skiers.

Because of Squaw Alpine’s size and resources, it has amazing offerings. From tubing and snowmobiling, to dog sledding and ice-skating, there’s just about no snow sport you can’t do there. There is also a lovely village at Squaw with terrific dining and shopping and generally except for holiday weekends, it’s not too crowded.

Wishing upon Northstar

On day three we hit Northstar California, aptly named for its location on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The resort is part of the Vail Group which also includes the Tahoe resorts of Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood, which all have the reputation as resorts dedicated to a premier visitor experience.

It was a bit of a drive from Parc Foret, about an hour and half, but we were glad to make a day of our venture to this luxury destination. Northstar features a Ritz-Carlton and other upscale accommodations and dining for visitors who like their skiing experience made easy. On-mountain dining includes the popular Zephyr Lodge, accessible by tram for pedestrians, which makes mincemeat of the standard chili and hot cocoa lodge fare with gourmet cuisine, which of course comes at a cost, but the typical Northstar clientele are not too concerned about a $25 lunch.

Northstar prides itself in its laid-back luxury, which is exactly what it sounds like. You’re treated like a VIP, but the tenor of the staff and the vibe in the village is definitely not uptight. The resort features amenities such as a valet who will carry your skis to the snow’s edge, though if you are staying in the luxury accommodations in the village, there’s hardly a reason for such a service, since the slopes are about 100 feet from your door step. In true ski-in-ski out fashion, one of the gondolas actually travels underneath the village condominiums.

Treasure of Sierra-at-Tahoe

As a storm came in, we rushed on our second to last day of vacation to Sierra at Tahoe. Unfortunately, the only road up to the mountain was bumper-to-bumper with other vacationers on the holiday weekend with the same idea. We spent more than 90 minutes edging up the hill for the last 7 miles to the top. The situation got a little desperate after morning coffee, forcing us to make an unscheduled stop behind a snow mound for a potty break.

The lumbering ride up to Sierra-at-Tahoe is worth the trip though. Having the only half-pipe on the south shore, Sierra is popular with snowboard riders, and because of its focus on value and affordable lift ticket packages, it draws many day users, making base camp a vibrant place to hang out. Being on the south shore, Sierra is also close to the night life and casinos, so it has become a favored resort of the party crowd.

In keeping with their theme of fun in the snow, Sierra’s kids lessons and the Smart Terrain classes for all ages are led by qualified instructors, upon whom the resort has bestowed the Certified Unserious badge, a designation that guarantees, among other things, that staff are dedicated to guests learning in a fun environment suited for their skill level.

 

Heavenly Can’t Wait

Our last day was at Heavenly Mountain Resort, which in my experience skiing there for more than 25 years has always lived up to its name. As the resort with the highest elevation of the Lake Tahoe area resorts, with a peak elevation of 10,067 feet, Heavenly has some of the most magnificent vistas. For skiers who like their terrain raw, Heavenly has no shortage of intense backcountry terrain, along with plenty of varied terrain from wide-open cruisers fo plunging 1,600-foot chutes. While they didn’t need it this year, Heavenly owns the largest snow-making system in the area, so even during dry years, they usually have decent conditions.

Our last journey down the mountain was on Roundabout, a winding narrow intermediate trail that traverses the mountain at a leisurely pace, sometimes where we had to use our poles to push ourselves. It’s a good thing the mellow terrain allowed us to catch our breath, as it would have been taken away by the spectacular views we got to enjoy all the way down.

Cool digs

We changed our accommodations our last two nights to the new Hotel Becket, a Joie de Vivre property.  It was quite a switch from our Parc Foret three-bedroom luxury home, but we expected and got a different experience at this uber cool millennial lodging spot. Directly across from the Heavenly Village of restaurants and bars, and sporting its own Ten Crows Restaurant, this happening hotspot is social central.

The hotel has everything a guest needs for a quick and comfortable slumber, wide screen TV, Wi-Fi, spa services, etc., and guests’ choice of rooms, either the rustic alpine charm of the Sierra-style Woods rooms, or the newly renovated and contemporary Village rooms, with architectural details such as reclaimed barn wood doors. But honestly, the target clientele of this hotel does not spend much time holed up in a hotel room, no matter how luxuriously appointed.

Rent-and-go

Hands down the most aggravating part of the skiing is returning rental equipment, but our newfound friends at Tahoe Dave’s made it a breeze.

Getting our gear there was much smarter than renting at each resort. We kept the gear overnight and saved ourselves the hassle of waiting in lines to rent and return gear each day. The folks at the shop were highly knowledgeable and helpful. They are also great salespeople, as they convinced us to buy the top-of-the-line ski goggles with chroma-pop lenses, which we were glad we did when we skied in blowing snow and the goggles did their job of amazingly sharpening the definition of the contours on the terrain.

You’ll be coming year-‘round the mountain

Even if you don’t want to hit the slopes for summer, there are plenty of warmer-weather attractions that will be in full swing during the overlap of spring skiing and summer season, such as scenic gondola rides and even a mountain coaster at Heavenly, as well as mountain biking, hiking, camping, ropes courses and ziplines, river boat tours, fishing adventures, water sports on the chilly waters of Lake Tahoe – and fun events like Squaw’s Peaks and Paws dog swim fest – bring a boon of year-round business.

While for ski resorts generally the rule is there can’t be enough snow, the 2016-17 season was a challenge. Some resorts brought in snow melting equipment from New York to clear parking lots. Also, because of the fierce storms and winds, many chairlifts were grounded and slopes opened late or not at all due to dangerous weather conditions.

The good news of course is that a more than 60 feet of snow is slow to melt, and for the first time ever, après ski will include Fourth of July fireworks.

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The Left CoastTravel

The little wine country that could: Temecula Valley Wine Country

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The first thing you pick up on meeting the folk of Temecula Valley wine country is that they love where they live and what they do.  Take one part wine, two parts passion, add family, and you get a blend of people dedicated to their craft of wine making and their lifestyle in this best-kept-secret valley of Southern California.

Home to about three dozen wineries, a number that increases almost annually, Temecula is growing in popularity as a wine country destination in California, partly because of its warm and inviting hospitality and optimal climate for growing grapes but mostly because of its outstanding wines that continue to win national awards, often to the chagrin of their brethren wine makers to the north.

Temecula’s wine roots

Owner of Baily Vineyard and Winery, Phil Baily, a pioneer of the Temecula Valley winemaking business, recalled how he took a risk in 1986 when he announced his new winery would release its first vintage in the French Beaujolais nouveau tradition, after just a few weeks of fermenting.  Baily had beginners luck, earning the praise of wine aficionados and critics, including a Los Angeles Times reviewer, who helped put Baily on the map.  The rest is history.

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Now Baily helps his fellow winemakers hone their craft.  While his neighbors are his competitors, they all share the goal of making better and better wines in Temecula

Nick Palumbo, owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, a forty-something winemaker who is one of the youngest owners in the region, says the spirit of collaboration has made Temecula a great place to make wine.

“If I have a problem, I go to these guys who have been doing it for decades, and they make me work for the answer, but they share their education and expertise.  They understand that if one of us does well, we all do well,” says Palumbo.

Palumbo, a former New York indie rocker and chef, bought a farm and moved to the area in 1998.  He lives on the farm with cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens along with his wife and four children and says Temecula has answered his dreams of having a livelihood and lifestyle where he can spend quality time with his family and pursue his passion for marrying his love of food and music.

“Wine and food and music are all intrinsically related,” said Palumbo.  “It’s a great life.  We keep it simple.  We grow grapes, and we make wine.”

A Valley awash with passion

The note that repeats throughout conversations with denizens of the region is the good life that valley brings.  The small town feeling, where everyone knows everyone, is a point of pride for the people who live there, and it’s what attracts new growers to the area.

David Bradley is typical of the atypical winegrower who landed in Temecula.  At age 14 Bradley learned to pilot hot air balloons, and he and his wife Gail now own California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures and Videmia Winery in Temecula.

As Bradley toured above the region’s vineyards, he met many of the characters in Temecula who made wine. He learned about their craft and shared facts and lore about the region with passengers. Bradley continued to educate himself, gleaning from his experience as a pilot who studied the subtleties of region’s climate, and utilizing his familiarity with science as the grandson of a chemist, and eventually he realized his dream of buying a vineyard and winery where today he and his wife and close-knit family of four boys make wine together and enjoy the bounty of the land.

After returning from a 6 am sunrise balloon tour, Bradley is just getting started with his day as the heat rises to 90 degrees, and it’s only 8:30 am.  He and his boys are showing some tourists the wonders of wine, with hands-on, or rather feet-on interaction, including a stomp competition where visitors smash grapes in a barrel barefoot to produce carafes of juice (don’t worry, it’s used in compost, not for drinking).

As Bradley stands in the shade of an umbrella by the winery’s makeshift restaurant, consisting of a bar and a mishmash of patio chairs and tables dressed with floral tablecloths and adorned with centerpieces of glass jars with olive branches, he removes his safari hat and runs his fingers through is shoulder length spiral-curly hair and reminisces with visitors about his love of wine and the Temecula lifestyle.  Just then, two of the family’s mutt dogs that roam the property dash through the crowd chasing a wild rabbit.  They don’t catch it, but the tourists delight in watching the dogs sniff around frantically in search of their prey.  Bradley looks at the crowd, as if to say, “Need I say more.”

Passion meets paradise

If you needed more convincing about the wonders of Temecula Valley, just ask Maria Mello, who worked at Vindemia as an intern, splitting her time between Palumbo’s winery and Vindemia Winery.  After studying winemaking techniques in France, Germany and South Africa, she connected via LinkedIn with Bradley and planned a trip out to see this budding wine country.

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Mello, who is now back in school pursuing her doctorate, was intrigued by Temecula as an up-and-coming wine country where she could bring her latest techniques and concepts to a place where viticulture was still blossoming and receptive to new ideas, rather than to areas like Napa or Sonoma, where she felt the old ways are more established. Upon meeting Bradley, Mello learned like many in the valley who know him and his family, Vindemia is a place where learning and challenging the expected is a lifelong passion, and it was a perfect proving ground for her as a budding winemaker.

The Temecula Valley way

The wineries of Temecula Valley are like each wine — each has its own unique flavor, personality and experience.  While the list of wineries is too long to inventory here in this article, and each winery cannot be summed up in a sentence, here are a few highlights of the Valley’s offerings.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery boasts captivating views of the Valley and a philosophy that art and wine belong together, so they blend their handcrafted fruit-forward wines with live music, local art and gourmet food.

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Miramonte Winery is an artisan winery specializing in adventurous, succulent Rhone-based varietal wines.  This cliffside winery is also known for its gorgeous garden verandas, casual chic tasting room, and jam packed music and events calendar.

Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards, which offers lodging at the Wilson Creek Manor, is the most family oriented of the Temecula Valley wineries, with a playground for children and the welcoming party of Gerry and Rosie, the founding grande dame and gentleman of the winery, who frequently tour the property escorted by their pet pig Molly on a leash.

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Ponte Winery is a romantic getaway surrounded by 300 acres of mature vineyards and views of rolling hills. Ponte began farming the vineyards in 1984 and opened the winery in 2003. The winery’s excellent service has become a benchmark for great service among Temecula wineries. Their motto is “If you like it, it’s good wine.”

Maurice Car’rie Winery offers a charming arts and crafts fair every weekend, and features an inviting picnic grounds where patrons can browse the fair and enjoy a bottle of wine.

A few of the wineries offer accommodations in addition to the few hoteliers in the area, including Temecula Creek Inn, which features excellent restaurants on site and a unique 1800s bunkhouse for special events.

While a trip to the Valley to explore the wineries any time of year is worthwhile, the area hosts a number of events to showcase the wineries, such as tastings, art and crafts shows, and tours. Besides wineries, the area also offers quaint shops like the Temecula Lavender Company, the Old Town Sweet Shop, and the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which offers tastings of their variety of flavored olive oils. For kids, the Penny Pickle’s Workshop is a cornucopia of fun activities for curious young scientists and adventurers.

 

For more on the wineries in the area and what’s happening in Temecula Valley wine country, visit www.TemeculaWines.org.

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The Left CoastTravel

Mountains of fun at Sundance

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Sundance Mountain Resort offers year-round family friendly activities

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When most of us think of Sundance, we think of the film festival founded by Robert Redford in the 1980s. The indie filmmaker event moved many years ago to nearby Park City, Utah, but still today Sundance Mountain Resort remains a beacon for creatives and independent spirits, and it has become known as a wonderland for families, where they can spend quality time together and make lifelong memories.

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Purposefully kept small, true to Redford’s vision when he took over the former Timp Haven in 1968 and developed it to create this idyllic resort, Sundance prides itself as a sanctuary committed to the balance of art, nature and community.

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Many families we met at Sundance say they vacation year after year at the resort because of its smallness and the appeal of its family friendly offerings, such as a top-notch children’s snow sports school, art and pottery classes, wooded paths and mountain streams for exploring, and activities such as evening snowshoe hikes with owl spotters.

The wild, wild best

The resort sits on 5,000 acres of beauteous mountain land just outside of Provo, Utah, on the slopes of Mount Timpanogos in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Locals and those who return year after year to this best-kept secret in Utah ski country refer to it as Shangri-La.

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A true testament to an enterprise that is well-managed from the top down, the staff, from the hotel check-in clerks to the ski instructors, are impressively professional and enthusiastic about their work. And like a dedicated CEO and true believer in his mission, Redford himself skis at the resort at least a few times a season, ensuring the resort runs at peak level.

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Accommodations are limited to approximately 400 guests at the privately owned or leased 115 cabins and a dozen mountain homes at the resort. Our ski party of two adults and two kids stayed at one of the resort’s chalets nestled in the wooded property, which felt like a private retreat. Paths from the villas lead to the restaurants and other resort buildings, or guests can utilize the resort’s fleet of SUVs to shuttle around the resort.

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The chalets on the property speckle the woods of the hillsides, and in a heavy snow they are barely visible except for their rooftops and chimneys. After one snowy night we awoke to a fresh foot of powder on our doorstep, perfect for snow man making and a snowball fight in our front yard.

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Inside, the cabins are luxurious yet designer-rustic.  Each feature breathtaking views of the mountains, a private deck, expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, wood-paneled and slate stone walls, an open floor plan with a climb-up loft – a favorite with the kids, a kitchen, large fireplace, and rooms outfitted with alpine chic pine and leather furniture and hand braided rugs.

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Our cabin was also stocked with board games, which we played by the fire, until the tired kids passed out before 8 pm, after a day on the slopes.

Mountains of food

When it comes to dining, you can’t go wrong with any of the resort’s restaurants, which all have stellar reputations for their culinary excellence. The romantic candlelit Tree Room Restaurant is the most formal offering, yet the ambiance is comfortable and inviting. Décor includes Native American art from Redford’s personal collection.

For more casual and family friendly dining, the frontier-themed Foundry Grill features fresh hearty fare and pizza from its open kitchen. Après ski and into the night, the late crowd can enjoy drinks and live music at the Owl Bar, the site of the original Redwood Bar where Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang hung out. For quick pick-me-ups, the Creekside Café offers sandwiches and soups at the base of the mountain, and for the adventurous, the Bearclaw Café is a treat at the top of the back mountain, for skiers skilled enough to get there.

Snow, snow on the range

While the dining is superb, it’s the mountains that are the main attraction of Sundance.  For those old enough to remember the Redford classic “Jerimiah Johnson,” these are the mountains that provided the stunning backdrop for the film. Though quaint in size compared to other local resorts, such as Park City Mountain and Deer Valley, Sundance holds its own when it comes to the quality and variety of terrain for all levels of skiers and boarders, and the resort boasts four chair lifts and a beginner tow lift, with the newest quad lift, Reds, carrying 500 people uphill per hour.

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During our visit near the holidays, which is peak ski season, the staff remarked that the “crowds” were large, but not once did any of our party wait more than five minutes for a chair lift; and even during the busiest hours for renting and returning skis, we did not experience any long waits more than 20 minutes.

Heading for the hills

Sundance is easily accessible, about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City airport. Rather than brave the mountain roads after dark when we flew in at night, we opted to stay overnight at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. If we had not been so eager to get to the mountains, we would have certainly stayed longer at this gorgeous hotel, which offers the only five-star luxury accommodations in Salt Lake City and features one of the most beautiful displays of holiday lights and Christmas trees in the world during the holidays.

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Sundance’s proximity to the airport makes it an easy ski-in, ski-out resort, but its location lower on the mountain range, at about 12,000 feet, means the resort has a shorter snow season than its neighbors at higher elevations.

The compact season is a boon to the resort, as the resort hosts more guests after the snow melts. When other area resorts are winding down with dwindling crowds for spring skiing, Sundance is gearing up for its busiest time of year, when spring and summer vacationers come for horseback riding, mountain biking, zip tours, and, of course – for fans of Redford’s “A River Runs Through it” — fly fishing.

Like the plot of that film, the great outdoors and the notion of family is treated as sacred at Sundance. The resort’s fame may be born of its celebrity owner and the Hollywood-once-removed SWAG-circus festival that bears its name, but otherwise this serene retreat is an escape from city life, and a place where visitors can reconnect with nature, and their families.

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Dining in Los AngelesThe Left CoastTravel

A short weekend in Long Beach

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img_3980A beach, a city, and a harbor for ships and visitors

Living 17 years in LA, I visited Long Beach about half a dozen times. It served as a halfway meeting point for me and friends who lived in Orange County. We had brunch and dinner there on occasion, and I visited the aquarium with my son and went whale watching once, but I never really considered Long Beach a destination. That was before I had the opportunity to spend an entire weekend there, and I truly got to know what this 55-square-mile city offers unique from its neighbors.

Long Beach has 11.5 miles of beach, which is how the city gets its name, but what sets this  Southern California seaside town apart is its urban environment by the waterside. Think Seattle or Miami, but with constant sunshine, and relaxed attitude of Southern California, along with a desirable geographic position 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

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Whereas across the Southern California coast, denizens can brag that they can snow ski in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon, Long Beach one-ups that boast with the promise that residents can go sailing or deep sea fishing, or even visit the island of Catalina for lunch, then go skiing, and be back by dinner time to dine at a world-class metropolitan restaurant and hit the nightlife in the city, until the wee morning hours if they wish.

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It is a vast city, with a plethora of diverse offerings in the area of culture, cuisine and arts.  The latter category of arts happens to be one of most thriving for the city in the last decade, in which the city has dedicated 1% of its revenue to developing arts programs. Long Beach is the home of the Museum of Latin American art, along with the long beach museum of art, which combines contemporary collections and classical architecture with an oceanfront view. The city is also known for its street art, including the gigantic outdoor murals of the Pow! Wow! international art collective.

The local art scene inspires much of the culture of the town, from the awesome award-winning architecture of the Long Beach airport, named one of the 10 most architecturally beautiful airports in the world, to Retro Row, a 1950s-inspired walk back in time into a mid-century throwback of restaurants and coffee shops, barbershops, and furniture and decor shops that seem like a scene out of  Mad Men, for which in fact the set designers of said show often visited for props, wardrobe and inspiration.

One cannot talk about Long Beach without mentioning the RMS Queen Mary. The behemoth transatlantic ocean liner, built in 1936, that is three times larger than the Titanic, is permanently docked on the Long Beach shoreline, where at now serves as a tourist attraction and hotel where visitors can stay in one of the refurbished first class state rooms.

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In speaking to locals of Long Beach, it seems everyone has a connection to the Queen Mary. Many have worked there, or their friends or family members have, and many have their own personal stories about the lore of the old ship, purported to be haunted by ghosts.
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The boat has been floating at its current resting place since 1967, and it rises twice a day, up and down with the tide, hosting hundreds and even thousands of tourists daily for tours and special events. Visitors and ghost chasers revel in the stories told by the Captain and Commodore and the many knowledgeable docents who share a passion for the ship as strong as any Brit’s fealty to their royal figurehead.

Aside from the Queen Mary, there is much more to the shoreline and the bounty of the sea that is an essential draw to the city. The Long Beach aquarium is also world renowned, housing more than 11,000 animals and nearly 500 different species and featuring exhibits that allow visitors to get an up-close perspective and even touch the animals displayed there, in addition to sponsoring many learning programs for visitors of all ages.

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In addition to these two major attractions there is also a wharf area with seafood restaurants, like the renowned Parker’s Lighthouse, offering tourists and locals spectacular views along with the region’s best and freshest seafood. The culinary scene, like the city itself, has great variety, such as renowned authentic Mexican food at Lolos Mexican Cuisine; The Attic on Broadway, a southern comfort food eatery; the trendy Sip Bar & Lounge at the Marriott Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, featuring the “ocean to fork” culinary creations of award-winning Top Chef contestant Executive Chef Janine Falvo; and L’Opera, a sophisticated fine dining restaurant featuring Northern Italian fare.

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Lest we forget to mention the shopping, Long Beach is home to one of the area’s newest outlet malls, called the Pike Outlets, which not only has a number of premium discount stores, such as Restoration Hardware and Columbia sportswear, but it also features a Ferris wheel that has become an attraction in itself.

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While a day trip is an easy excursion from Los Angeles, for out-of-towners and those who want to stay overnight, the city offers a growing number of hotels, from the downtown Hyatt Regency, which offers spectacular vistas of the city to the quaint feeling Hotel Maya, a Hilton Doubletree hotel, which though is a sizable property of 200 rooms, has the charm of a boutique hotel, with views overlooking the bay and it’s own marina, which maritime guests can slip into and then stay overnight on their boats or in hotel rooms.

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The hotel also features Fuego restaurant, famous for its handcrafted margaritas made from its expansive selection of premium tequilas. Its best-kept secret its small private beach, Playa Maya, for which the hotel developers brought in thousands of pounds of sand to create an inviting alcove with lounge seating around fire pit which are the scene of s’more making and merry making in the evenings.

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The hotel offers bike rentals which I took advantage to take a quick, three-minute ride to the Queen Mary, then I doubled back and headed into the city, which was easily accessible by bike designated bike paths. I rode to the Pike and took a break by the Rainbow Lagoon Park and a spin by the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, which was dark on the weekend I visited.

On a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the city was quiet, almost deserted, which is part of the diverse character of the city that is a lure to visitors. It is a bustling city during the weekdays, and a laid-back beach city on the weekends – a city that embodies work and play. While tourists may find its appeal as a central outpost for visiting Los Angeles and many of Southern California’s other major attractions, such as Disneyland, California Adventure, and Universal Studios Hollywood Long Beach in itself has the draw of a tourist destination, with its features as a metropolitan city, with the added appeal of a sunny beach comprising its boundaries.

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As a port city, where cargo ships dock from around the world, and to which trucks haul goods back and forth, Long Beach can experience a fair amount of traffic, and the tangled maze of roads to the harbor, with the abundance of signage directing visitors to the various attractions, can make it a navigation feat to find one’s way around at first. Once I got the hang of the roadways, with the help of Waze, I was able to steer myself around like a native, and in fact I found a few short cuts. While I got a good sense of Long Beach by staying there for a weekend, I learned there was a great deal I have yet to explore in this sprawling beach, I mean, city.

 

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