So Cal Dreaming – A Staycation Guide
Living in Southern California doesn’t suck. I’m reminded of this every time I see an orange streaked sky over the Pacific.
Friends and relatives sigh over my sun and surf filled snapshots, “Do you know how lucky you are? You’re living the dream!”
I am lucky, I won’t argue. And it definitely can be hard to focus when you see a group of beach-bound tourists at your local Starbucks. But the truth is that most locals don’t spend all their time on the beach or driving down the PCH with the top down. We have jobs and school carpools and kitchen floors to mop, same as everywhere else.
That said, living here has made me a more discriminating traveler. After all, why spend a fortune on plane fare, and lose two days to tedious travel, when paradise can be found a mere ten minutes from your own front door?
Instead of flying away, I’m quite happy booking a local vacation – aka staycation.
Like any vacation, planning ahead is an essential part of any staycation. Equally, or perhaps even more importantly, you have to observe the three staycation rules:
1. Thou shalt not cook or clean,
2. Thou shalt not “squeeze a little work in” or “stop by the office real quick,”
3. Thou shalt not engage in any of the daily drudge-work of your non holiday existence
Are you SoCal locals ready to get away from it all without leaving? Pack your day-bags and let’s go. Don’t worry, if you’re not local, these are amazing spots to visit for you too.
Dreamy Beaches & Picnic Spots
Salt Creek Beach is the sort of place that you immediately recognize from something – a California dream, a movie, your imagination. Its vast stretch of sand, lifeguard towers occupied by red-suited heroes, and fresh ocean breezes meet most people’s expectations of a “California Beach.” There is ample parking in the public lot at the top of a wide paved path.
During the summer season, you can catch a golf cart lift down the hill to the beach, or more importantly, back up. This is a boon to the elderly, less fit, or families carrying enough beach gear to supply an army. Good news, there are clean public restrooms and a classic snack shack at Salt Creek Beach.
If you want to see the ocean without getting wet, park yourself just up the hill from Salt Creek on the giant grassy lawn/park. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch and fly a kite. This hillside boasts near constant breezes which makes it a perfect space for kite flying.
There are also picnic tables and benches scattered about for onlookers or anyone who wants to stop there and enjoy a novel.
The public beach and lavishly landscaped park below the Montage hotel sparkles like an ornately set gem, carved into the coastline. Even the plants shimmer and show off with their year-round blooms.
This is a great place to stroll, people-watch, and daydream. Wealthy tourists mingle easily with locals, humbly appreciating the view. Immersed in so much beauty and fresh air, anything seems possible. Bringing binoculars is a good idea; you are likely to spot migratory whales or dolphins in the surf below.
Adventure Calls. Answer!
So Cal boasts bragging rights to the fact that it’s theoretically possible to surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon. In the cooler months we remind ourselves of this with afternoon jaunts to Wrightwood for sledding, tubing, and general snow-play fun.
Once you’ve arrived in Avalon you can experience what it’s like to fly from mountaintop to ocean-front, covering a distance of almost a mile on a series of ziplines above the tree canopy.
If you’re looking to soar over the mainland, consider Sky Sailing. Not for the faint of heart (or those with a fear of heights/flying), but the experience designed for one or two passengers is a great way to escape the everyday!
California is famous for drive-thru eateries. In-N-Out is one of the most iconic. Simple delicious drive-thru fare is a cheap and crowd pleasing what-to-eat-for-dinner solution. Pick up your burgers and head straight to the beach. Sand makes everything taste better.
Ruby’s Diner on the PCH, with its retro classic cars theme, keeps you feeling far from your home, and time, even when you’re only a few miles from your driveway. The vintage cars parked out front also provide a great photo op.
For a proper seashore experience, head to Jon’s Fish Market http://www.jonsfishmarket.com/ in Dana Point. This is where locals line up for a plate of the freshest fish and chips prepared from the daily catch. After eating, stroll the harbor and dream some vacation dreams.
Make time for play
Sometimes it’s the little things, like eating fudge or taking your vehicle on a car ferry, that launch you into “vacation” mode. Just like that, you put on your vacation hat.
Head to Balboa Island and follow signs to the ferry stop. There you’ll wait in the short queue to take the car ferry across to the peninsula. It’s a short ride that will set you back just a few dollars. The car ferry is definitely a far more exciting way to arrive than by bridge, and far more picturesque.
Once you’ve crossed over, head to the Fun Zone where you can play arcade games, eat a variety of fried treats and hand dipped ice cream Balboa Bars before having your fortune mechanically told by Zoltar the magnificent.
Go Luxe or Go Home
One of the nicest things about a staycation, is that it makes it a little easier to rationalize the occasional splurge.
The Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel is one of the fabulous local resorts that we return to every year or two, if only for a night or two. It’s less than ten minutes away and about a million miles from home.
Since I happen to be partial to my own comfy mattress, I personally favor two local luxe hotel daycations that include everything but the overnight accommodations.
The Spa at Montage http://www.montagehotels.com/lagunabeach/ offers a daypass to anyone who purchases an hour long service. This includes use of the luxurious hotel spa facilities and private spa pool overlooking the ocean.
The Bungalows at Pacific Edge take it a step further, offering up a private beachfront residence for the day, complete with a VIP room attendant, valet parking, and catering. The 5 bungalows each accommodate up to ten guests, so you can bring friends.
Does this list have you dreaming of your own So Cal staycation? I’m just getting started. Check out my So Cal Staycation ideas for more places to eat, stay, relax, hike and play in the Southland.