Archive for the ‘Beaches’ Category

School’s in — hit the beach!

September 12, 2013


September is my favorite time to visit the beaches of L.A. Camp field trips are over, school’s back in session, and temperatures are still uncomfortably hot anywhere east of the 405. Even those with unscheduled time seem to forget that the beaches are open after Labor Day, meaning you will practically have the sand and waves to yourself if you show up with a chair and a book.

My favorite Southern California beach is Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County. Marked by 50-foot cliffs that mask all that PCH traffic, it’s a remarkably clean three-mile stretch of sand that is perfect for walking, especially at twilight. It’s a long drive from most parts of L.A. and parking is steep ($15 at last count), but it’s a breathtaking beach that will sweep you away from the traffic and hassles of life in L.A. as easily as any Hawaiian vacation.

A more accessible option for sweltering Eastsiders is Torrance Beach, just south of Redondo. There’s a fee lot just south of Miramar Park, but also often plenty of free street parking on Paseo de la Playa. A long ramp makes it easy to push a stroller down to the strand and there are public bathrooms and outdoor showers. The refineries that anchor the beaches to the north like Hermosa and Manhattan are nearly obscured, and Palos Verdes Peninsula juts off the south. Being in Torrance also gives you an excuse to visit the King’s Hawaiian Bakery on Sepulveda; pick up some of the famous rolls or sample island dishes like Kahlua pork or Char Siu and eggs (I’m partial to the King’s Hawaiian French toast).

Tips for Leading a Peaceful Life in Los Angeles

September 24, 2012

A friend from the East Coast, who recently spent miserable stretches of time on the 101 freeway, asked ‘How can you live here?…With kids??’

My simple answer was ‘I never take the 101 Freeway.’ Here’s the longer answer…

1. Don’t try to go the beach at noon on a summer weekend. The 10 will be a parking lot, guaranteed. Go before 9:30 a.m. or take the day off and go during the week. Better yet, go in October when it’s still hot but everyone’s mind is on school and Halloween. Or go in January, when you’ll probably see more wild dolphins than you ever have in your life.

2. Avoid major freeways between 8 and 10 am or 4 and 7 pm weekdays. If you must go then, check Sigalert before leaving the house and plot your route based on that. I’ve planned spur-of-the-moment day trips to Laguna Beach and Malibu based on red-free traffic patterns.

3. Do a little research before you go…but not too much. Advance prep applies to everything from Disneyland to that mid-summer hike in Topanga Canyon. (It may look close to the ocean, but chances are it’s 15 degrees hotter.) Let yourself be surprised too, by the no-name tamale stand or the spinoff trail that leads to an even better view than the one mentioned on Yelp.

4. Never, ever take the 101 or the 405. Moorpark Street in the Valley parallels the 101 and Sepulveda runs along the 405. They’re usually fast and much more scenic and interesting.

5. Make at least one farmer’s market a part of your weekly routine. Year-round strawberries, live music, pupusas, spit-roasted chicken, croissants, sunflowers…You can pretty much find one somewhere in L.A. at any day or time of the week, and spending even an hour is guaranteed to lift any mood.

6. Open your mind. So many people who hate L.A. base it on their drives from LAX to a hotel in El Segundo or Hollywood. Let’s face it, Cienega and the 5 Freeway are not the city’s best assets. But that strip mall Peruvian restaurant just might have the best ceviche you’ve ever tasted. Get past the stucco and adjacent laundromat and go inside. And the chaparral-covered hillside you pass every day off Avenue 52 might end up being an Audubon Society-sanctioned nature preserve with one of the best outdoor children’s gardens in the city.

Bottom line: Plan a little, make time for detours, and avoid the 101 at all costs.

The library and the beach

May 22, 2012

The words Marine Research Library and kids just don’t seem like a good match. So I have always avoided the stairs leading up to the library at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. Between the whale fossils and touch tanks, authentic shark recordings and nearby beach access, it always seemed like a full day anyway by the time we reached that sign.

Boy, were we wrong.

The library is an oasis from the Cabrillo Beach crowds that just happens to understand exactly what kids need to settle down. Its oceanfront reading table, which is as long as a dining table at Versailles, is full of sea creature sketches and boxes of beautiful crayons and markers, just beckoning the little ones to sit down and check them out. Surrounding it all is a decade’s worth of National Geographic magazines, books on marine life and displays on the damage plastic can do to the ocean (I guarantee you will never purchase a disposable umbrella again). Half a dozen computers are available, too, also with ocean views.

The $400 weekend getaway

May 10, 2012


It came down to this: Two exhausted parents needed a quick getaway while grandparents were in town to babysit. Should we spend our limited budget on one night in a luxury hotel near home or two nights at a no-frills beachfront inn? We opted for the extra time and booked a room for $125 a night at the three-story Inn on the Beach in Ventura. We weren’t disappointed, and the whole weekend was enhanced by the fact we weren’t racking up the credit card bill.

Don’t expect luxury at the Inn on the Beach, but it’s clean and friendly. You will be accosted by Victorian-esque wallpaper (pink and green and very unhip) upon entering the lobby and rooms, but this is quickly trumped by the uninhibited ocean views from all the 2nd and 3rd floor rooms. We took long walks on the beach, discovered a great fish and chips place nearby, and spent hours reading and watching the waves from the balcony. I won’t soon forget waking up the first morning and sipping my first cup of coffee while gazing at those magnificent Pacific waves.

One of these days, we’ll check out the Langham Pasadena, but we have no regrets at all about our budget beach getaway. All in, the weekend cost us about $400, including gas and meals.


Harbor seal haven in Carpinteria

April 29, 2012


It isn’t often that you hear about a great California coastal destination by word of mouth. Seems like it has all been written about, photographed, and visited before. But my neighbor recently told me about a little-known place her Santa Barbara-based daughter had shown her: the Carpinteria Seal Rookery. About 100 harbor seals make their home at the bottom of the Carpinteria cliffs south of town. In December, they give birth and from a viewpoint atop the cliff, anyone can watch the mamas and babies frolic, waddle, argue, dive for fish, and sleep. It’s a beautiful show and worth the half-mile walk from the parking lot. It’s also an ideal place to stretch your legs to or from a trip up the coast. Be sure to stop and say hello to the friendly hot dog vendor near the entrance.

More information:

Hidden Laguna

July 23, 2010

Laguna Beach in the summer is often anything but peaceful. But there are pockets of solitude, especially when you wander south of the Main Street beach area. This lookout at the end of Brooks Street (pictured above) is an idyllic place to watch the sun set or observe some surfing action up close. There’s always lots of elbow room in the tiered sitting area.

Another place to escape the crowds is Splashes restaurant, tucked away at beach level of the Surf & Sand Resort. The views of the ocean rank among the best along the Pacific coast, and after a meal you can walk right down the stairs to a fabulous, often uncrowded, stretch of sand. Go for the views; stay for the mouth-watering cuisine of new chef Jeff Armstrong (chilled tomato and buttermilk soup, BBQ lamb loin, sweet corn ravioli). Or just get a bottomless cup of coffee (it opens early) and regroup for an hour or three.

The beach in April

April 9, 2010

What to do during spring vacation on a day that temperatures hit 80? Go to the beach! We chose Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro for its easy parking setup and straight drive down the 110. The unsettling sight of 15 school buses greeted us, but most were there for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and the beach itself was fairly peaceful. A tip: Walk a few extra yards to the beach on the other side of the bathhouse. The water is clearer and cleaner with more waves than the beach that faces the San Pedro harbor. It was Theo’s first trip to the beach as a walker and he had a blast. He couldn’t get enough of the water.

After two hours of beach time, we walked over to the aquarium (the school groups were gone by then) and spent a half hour checking out the giant crustaceans and whale bones. It’s a super little museum, and only asks for a small donation. All in, we spent $9, including parking.