JOIN US AS WE EXPLORE THE BEAUTY AND SITES ON THE CALIFORNIA COAST 2015 Week 1 San Diego to Topanga to Santa Barbara


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Published: January 1st 2016
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Our route from Ocean Beach outside of San Diego via route 5 to San Juan Capistrano to Topanga Canyon via that horrible route 73 toll road, 405 and Highway 1


Our trip began the first week of October, 2015 in San Diego, CA.Two months before our departure my husband had a serious fall that resulted in brain surgery. Six days before we left I had knee surgery. It was time for a vacation!

We flew into San Diego to share in the joy of my nephew’s wedding on Sunday, October 11. My husband, sister, her husband and I enjoyed our first Airbnb in Ocean Beach (OB), a quiet little town easily accessible to beaches and the city of San Diego, without the hassle of parking and driving congestion in the city. This began the first week of my husband’s and my three week long coastal California vacation.

10/8/15 Day 1 Ocean Beach and San Diego, California


On our first night we all decided to drive into Old Town San Diego for dinner. It was after 7PM and all available parking was taken, which surprised us since it was a Thursday night and not yet a holiday. The restaurants were all very busy, (most of them Mexican) and we were informed that after 5:30PM, in most restaurants here, you would need a reservation, which we did not have. My sister did not want Mexican food so that limited our choices in this obviously touristy section of San Diego. We ended up at Pizza Bella, Italian Bistro on Congress Street, the only non-Mexican restaurant we could find that had tables available (probably a bad sign regarding food quality). There was ample parking in a lot almost across the street and that helped our restaurant decision. The delicious smells of Italian sauces caught our noses and pulled us into the cute little interior courtyard lit with soft twinkling white lights. But there was only one other table of diners, a sign that four hungry people chose to ignore. The salad we ordered first was good but nothing special. We ordered a large thin crust margherita pizza to share that was neither thin nor a margherita; it had way too much cheese and hardly any basil. Our waiter very pleasant but if you want good Italian food I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant.

10/9/15 Day 2 The San Diego Zoo with my grandchildren!

Lucky for us, children were free in October (except for an additional $12 to ride the Kangaroo Bus, the Skyfari Aerial Tram and other special tours and attractions. The normal day use fee is $38 per child. The steep price of $48 per adult was a shock to my husband but after spending a whole day in the #1 zoo in the world he understood why the cost was so high but it is a high cost if you have a large family and go during their season.

The zoo opens at 9AM and we were all there when it opened ready to hike, explore and learn all about this amazing zoo and its inhabitants. The Skyfari did not open until 10AM so we spent most of our day hiking and exploring the diverse population around the zoo’s extensive grounds. I was amazed that a two year old and five year old would be able to last from 9AM to 4PM! We did stop for lunch and ice cream at the zoo’s Sabertooth Grill located near the Elephant Odyssey. The grill featured locally sourced fresh California cuisine, a nice plus. After walking around the entire zoo the kids left and my husband, sister and I rode the Skyfari Aerial Tram to get an overview of the entire zoo. One word of caution: you must get off at the end of each trip and get in line again to go on a return trip. Even that late in the day we found the wait to be over half an hour for a return ride so we found a Kangaroo Bus to bring us closer to the entrance to the zoo.

Later that evening we met for dinner at Ortega’s, a tiny, authentic Mexican restaurant in Ocean Beach. This family friendly restaurant had a troubadour serenading our table during dinner. The servings are ample here and appeal to a large crowd but some can be pretty spicy. I had the chile relleno plate and found I needed a beer to cool down my tongue.

10/10/15 Day 3 OB, Del Mar, La Jolla

In the morning we found a great local breakfast haunt called Newbreak Coffee and Cafe on Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach. They offer a wide variety of options for breakfast and lunch including wraps, muffins, scones and delicious vegetarian quinoa bowls as well as really good coffee! (I can highly recommend the coffee and the quinoa bowls.) After breakfast we drove up to Del Mar to shop and then (as if we needed to eat again) went to Jake’s for lunch. We sat overlooking the surfers and beach bodies as we poured over their menu (I recommend the ahi tartare tacos with wasabi cream cheese!)

Heading south from Del Mar we stopped at the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla. Our two golfers in the group needed to get their golf fix, even if it meant just peeking.

Just a bit south of the golf course is the Torrey Pines Gliderport where people who are crazy enough to jump off cliffs with what resembles a large umbrella and a few pull cords like to ply their craft. We watched a few practice runs with hang gliders but by the time we arrived the instructors and students were about to call it a day. The Torrey Pines Gliderport played an interesting role in the aviation industry of Southern California. Beginning in 1930, this site was used for motorless flight. Many aviation pioneers flew here including Charles Lindbergh who established a claimed distance record from this spot in 1930. The gliderport, affiliated with the National Park Service is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is unique in that it was the only legal site where unlicensed aircraft could fly in a civil airway. You can find the gliderport off of Torrey Pines Scenic Dr or visit www.flytorrey.com for more information.

Further south we found an art fair on the main street in the Village of La Jolla, an upscale community incorporated as part of the chartered City of San Diego in 1850, now with its own “special” zip code. The stately Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church graces the eastern end of Girard Ave. The church was built in 1936 by the celebrated architect Carleton Monroe Winslow who created the building in Contemporary Spanish Mission design. It captures the Spanish influence that is iconic in this region.

Dinner was a repeat performance of Ortega’s in Ocean Beach. We had wanted to eat at OB Warehouse but it was fully booked, as were most restaurants, due to the annual (very busy) OB Octoberfest. Ortega’s provided an intimate and quiet respite from the noisy crowds, plus we knew the food would be reliably good, (and it was).

10/11/15 Day 4 The Big Wedding at the Bahia Resort on Mission Bay, San Diego.

We all assembled at 10:30AM on the resort’s beach for this beautiful and well organized wedding. My granddaughter was the flower girl and at age 5, she took this job very seriously! After the nuptials were pronounced, the wedding party and guests boarded the beautifully appointed William D. Evans Sternwheeler paddlewheel boat for cocktails, dancing. This ship was well appointed in vintage ornamental pressed tin ceilings, stained glass skylights, period brass and iron works throughout the boat. Winding wooden staircases lead to the ship’s three floors. The party started in the Boiler Room Bar on the first level, we all dined on the second level dining room. After dinner the dance floor was cleared on the third level, the music began as we sailed on the two hour cruise of Mission Bay. We parted company late in the afternoon to rest up for the evening bonfire on the beach at Mission Bay before bidding everyone a fond farewell.

10/12/15 Day 5 San Juan Capistrano to Topanga Canyon

After a saying goodbye to family and friends Dave and I began our exploration of the California coast. First stop: San Juan Capistrano. We had lunch in the Hummingbird Cafe located on the far side of the train depot. The restaurant is tiny and seating is arranged in small tables outdoors under several canopies. As it turns out it was unusually hot with temps ranging in the lower 90s and no air movement. We suffered in the heat despite the shade canopies. The restaurant’s specialty is Greek food that was good but not outstanding.

I was excited to visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano in October because everything I read said this was within the time frame that the famed swallows “came back to Capistrano” made famous by the song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” by Leon Rene. In reality, the swallows have not been back to this mission for many years because for centuries the land that surrounds the mission had been mostly farmland where an abundance of insects would have been a magnet for hungry birds. Now with the rapid commercial and urban development those farms have disappeared and with them, the swallows who foraged on the insects that were most plentiful then.

The mission was founded in 1776, the 6th of 9 missions established by the Spanish Franciscan Catholics. True to its origin, the many stone buildings surrounding a large common (now beautifully decorated with gardens and benches) reflect the Spanish architecture and design where early parishioners grew their food. Before the church was built, over 500 indigenous peoples called this land their home. The mission is recognized for having the oldest building in California that is still in use. The recently canonized Friar Junipero Serra was revered throughout the mission noting baptismal fonts and areas where Father Serra lived and conducted mass. Audio tours are available for a nominal fee.

We left San Juan Capistrano heading north on the I-5 around 3pm. It was a Monday but at the end of Columbus Day weekend we thought we had left well before rush hour. Traffic was heavy southbound but I decided to use my GPS to find the fastest route to Topanga in the Santa Monica Mountains. Not being from the LA area we did not know that if you get on route 73 north it was a toll road that could only be paid online within 5 days. Once on this road there was no way to exit to pay an actual human being. No other person we spoke to around that area had ever heard of this toll road and if you are traveling beware, it is very difficult to pay either online or over the phone.

It was dusk by the time we made our way up the switchbacks on Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Grand View Drive (with even tighter switch backs) but we were rewarded with our lovely Topanga Tree House Airbnb and its beautiful view of Topanga Canyon. We were glad to unpack, sit on the inviting porch swing facing the canyon and share the homemade gluten-free cookies that Deb, our gracious hostess made for us. The cookie appetizer took the edge off but soon we wanted more. We took Deb’s suggestion and drove back down the narrow switchback road to Topanga Canyon Bistro in the tiny village of Topanga. We drank some wonderful local wine and ate a delicious locally sourced organic burger and salad outdoors under twinkling lights while we listened to live music. It was the perfect end to a long day.

10/13/15 Day 6 Getty Center and Beverly Hills

In the morning we again made use of Deb’s expansive local knowledge and drove about 10 minutes down to Pacific Palisades to have an amazing breakfast at Cafe Vida. We ate outside among locals who frequented this sweet little cafe. Deb recommended their gluten-free pancake with almonds and berries and real maple syrup (I asked for only one instead of the stack). It may be up there with the best pancake ever, gluten-free or not. With this breakfast I enjoyed a refreshing green juice. My husband had the 2 plus 2 plus 2 (all locally sourced). We were both happy campers.

The massive Getty Center is a short drive from Pacific Palisades. Built of travertine stone, the museum fuses the organic nature of its surroundings with its strong architectural elements. It sits high on a 110 acre hillside overlooking LA. This museum is a must for anyone near the Santa Monica - LA area, but if you go, plan to spend the day. The museum is free but parking (in a garage) is $15. A free tram will transport you to the top of the hill where the architect Richard Meier designed this expansive contemporary museum. The extensive 134,000 square feet of gardens surrounding this museum were
The Getty Center's Central GardenThe Getty Center's Central GardenThe Getty Center's Central Garden

Note the "rebar bougainvillea trees" in the distance.
designed by artist Robert Irwin who called his creations “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art”.



We picked up the free iPod Touch for the mobile tour of The special exhibitions called “Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” as well as for all the permanent collections in the museum. We were especially pleased that the iPod Touch is equipped with a special telecom assisted hearing device allowing people like my husband to clearly hear the descriptions of each exhibit.

It was especially warm in the late morning for the Getty Center Central Garden Tour but I was eager for the tour despite the heat. Free umbrellas were offered for sun protection but since I was juggling my camera and a water bottle I had no free hand for an umbrella. I looked for shade. Although the tour focused on the gardens, much was explained about the architecture and the unique collaboration between Meier and Irwin. I was especially impressed with the rebar sculpted bougainvillea on the lawn beneath the museum. As good as the garden tour was, we were both glad to seek the cool air-conditioning inside the museum.

Since we had a large breakfast and planned an early dinner we opted to have a small lunch from the food court in the large open spaces between the museum buildings. The food was both reasonable and very good. I especially like the view from the museum terraces. The hills surrounding the museum reminded me of Tuscany. Late in the day the smog/fog had lifted affording us a beautiful view of LA and the Pacific Ocean.

I think we viewed every collection in this massive museum from its opening hours at 10am until we left at 5:30pm. We needed a drink and some food! Fortunately good friends who are from the LA area recommended Crustacean in nearby Beverly Hills. Crustacean, on Little Santa Monica Blvd, serves Vietnamese fusion that focuses on the principles of Eastern medicine with a balanced “Yin and Yang” approach to their cooking. Their culinary aim is to serve simple, fresh food that is rich in antioxidants and healthy herbs. You can easily spend a lot of money at this restaurant but we ate sensibly and ordered “small” portions that were more than ample, and delicious! We were not disappointed.

Across the street from Crustacean is probably the most high-end Rite Aid (or any other drugstore) I have ever seen with a well lit bamboo floor “runway” leading to a wide array of excellent small food items as well as other offerings you don’t normally see in a store like this. I needed a note book to write my travel diary but ended up also buying quite a bit more. Well it is Beverly Hills after all.



10/14/15 Day 7 Getty Villa and Santa Barbara

Dave and I enjoyed our coffee on the porch swing postponing our departure from the Topanga Canyon Tree House, but by 9:30AM we began our descent to Pacific Palisades to tour the Getty Villa at 10AM. Because the Getty Villa was closed on Tuesdays, I had ordered our timed $15 parking tickets for Wednesday (very important to order ahead). Like the Getty Center, the museum itself is free. And like the Getty Center, the water was turned off on almost all the fountains due to the severe drought in CA.

We took a tour of the beautiful Italianate villa constructed by oil magnate J. Paul Getty in 1974 because his home that previously housed his art collection, became too small to house everything. The villa was originally designed in 1968 to represent the famous Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house in Herculaneum destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. This same villa was renovated in the mid ‘90s and finally in 2006 now exhibits Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities in its Roman inspired architecture and grounds. We took a tour of the beautiful gardens and detailed interiors but I do think we could have spent much less time at this museum than we did. I would safely say 2 hours is plenty of time vs a whole day at the Getty Center.

The lunch food was cafeteria style at the villa and the selection was nothing that we cared for so we left for Santa Barbara via Malibu Canyon through the Santa Monica Mountains eating snacks in the car arriving at our 3rd Airbnb in the foothills of the Santa Barbara Mountains.

Mission Santa Barbara was very close to where we were staying so we stopped to see the mission but missed gaining entrance by 10 minutes (we should have left the Getty Villa sooner!). We drove through Santa Barbara with a dinner destination in mind: Brophy Bros., suggested by several people including Deb in Topanga. Brophy Bros is not especially easy to find since it is hidden by other restaurants on the waterfront but we persisted and are so glad we did! This “local” wharf restaurant overlooks the harbor, the mountains, and from our upstairs porch table we were able to watch the sailboats come and go and the ships bringing their catch to be unloaded into trucks. We watched load after load of hand picked sea urchins being dropped into a big truck to be sold to local sushi restaurants featuring this delicacy. My husband and I had the most memorable calamari dishes ever followed by excellent clam chowder and a delicious Asian sesame salmon salad. Enough reason to move to Santa Barbara! After dinner my husband and I walked onto the piers to talk to the fishermen as they brought in their catch.


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