The cool getaway you need is only a couple of hours away. Palm Springs Life staff picks the best hotels, restaurants, shopping destinations, and must-see attractions from San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter to the Orange Coast (pictured: Laguna Beach) to Santa Monica and inland to the new downtown Los Angeles. Make your reservations, pack your bags, and escape to the coast!
SAN DIEGO — Return to Blue Lagoon
We are standing on a plateau overlooking the ancient coastal wetland south of Carlsbad. My husband Bart looks into the blue lagoon, where he had hoped to cast a fly until we discovered it was protected, off-limits even to catch-and-release. California Indians once lived along its shore. Today, snowy egret, deer, rabbit, and great blue heron share the lagoon with tranquility-seeking visitors.
Restoration of the Batiquitos Lagoon is an environmental success story. Industrial progress helped denigrate the area: the California-Southern Railroad crossed the lagoon in the 1880s, and the Pacific Coast Highway was constructed in 1912. Besides debris left behind from those construction projects, heavy rains and severe flooding in the 1920s and ’30s silted the lagoon, blocking its outlet to the Pacific and essentially turning it into a freshwater pond. Reclamation to restore the daily tidal action began in 1994. Now a flourishing wildlife preserve, the lagoon harbors an abundance of natural food, and the calm, shallow water makes an ideal nursery for young birds and fish.
Batiquitos Lagoon is the centerpiece of Aviara, a 1,000-acre resort community that includes a Four Seasons hotel, a cutting-edge spa, the only Arnold Palmer-designed golf course in the San Diego area, and a nonpareil Italian restaurant appropriately named Vivace, meaning “full of life.” An amalgam of the terms “aviary” and “terra,” Aviara reflects the resort’s harmonious relationship with the surrounding landscape. Set on a hilltop with breathtaking views of the ocean and lagoon, Aviara’s rolling valleys cradle the golf course overlooking the lagoon. As its full name — Four Seasons Resort Aviara — implies, the resort combines stunning natural scenery with some of Earth’s most civilized pleasures.
The hotel offers round-trip shuttle service down the steep hill to the golf course and lagoon. Walking the lagoon’s packed-dirt pathways beside thickets of wildflowers and stands of cottonwood trees, we caught the scent of anise. Later, seated on an outdoor terrace at the hotel bar, aromas of grilling meat wafted through the air alongside the music of a classical guitarist. At Sunday brunch the next morning, the same musician turned his instrument into a fountain of jazz harmonies. In contrast, during afternoon tea, a harpist gave the lounge an ethereal feel.
On Saturday, while Bart took on the challenging hillside golf course, I enjoyed a massage. To reach the spa and exercise rooms at the pool level, you pass sculptured walls of flowing water and follow the wondrous fragrances from flowers and candles. Guests meet their massage therapist in a sky-lit solarium. I could have selected one of the spa’s “indigenous California treatments,” such as the hydrating avocado body wrap or citrus sugar rub. Instead, I chose an aromatherapy massage. In a darkened room filled with Enya-esque music, a deft therapist massaged me with lemon, peppermint, and chamomile oils — a personalized combination to destress and energize.
Afterward, I headed up to the alfresco terrace at the hotel bar, where I met Bart, sipped martinis, and shared a seared scallop appetizer so fresh it still tasted of the sea. That addictive morsel sealed our determination to reserve a table for the hotel’s sumptuous seafood buffet, a popular Friday night event, during our next visit.
Our hunger fueled, we noticed an intriguing “Chef’s Tasting Menu” on display at the adjacent Vivace. An overabundance of sensual pleasure had piqued a “go-for-it” attitude that we continued to indulge. So, after an antipasto loin of venison filled with fois gras, we luxuriated in a primi course of fettuccine pasta sauced with veal Bolognese, followed by braised leg of rabbit laced in a morel and sherry wine sauce. We finished with moist peach compote served warm with a dollop of vanilla bean gelato.
By Sunday checkout time, we had sampled every Aviara dining area. We found the poolside restaurant serving imaginative dishes in a casual, open-air atmosphere. We followed our halibut-topped green salad with a cloudlike coconut ice cream. And the small Argyle restaurant at the golf clubhouse had perfected its myriad omelet offerings. So much food, so little time.
We found many ways to enjoy this lush and elegant resort — an island of peaceful plenty with ocean and city so close to its borders. Each offers reason enough to plan a trip. Altogether, they make an irresistible package of getaway pleasures. — Sharon Apfelbaum
Four Seasons Resort Aviara,
7100 Four Seasons Point, Carlsbad, (760) 603-6800, www.fourseasons.com/aviara
• Provençal fare prevails at chef/owner Jean-Michel Diot’s Tapenade (7612 Fay Ave., La Jolla), a 1930s-style bistro open for lunch and dinner. Named “Best of the Best (Money No Object)” by David Nelson in San Diego magazine. Information: (858) 551-7500.
• Nectar (911 Fifth Ave.) in the heart of the historical downtown Gaslamp Quarter promises an organic experience emphasizing locally grown ingredients, including herbs from its rooftop garden. Information: (619) 233-3300.
• Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A.R. Valentin, a painted record of California flowers, is on exhibit through Sept. 7 at San Diego Natural History Museum (1788 El Prado, Balboa Park). Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information: (619) 232-3821, www.sdnhm.org. Other museums in Balboa Park: Aerospace Museum & Hall of Fame, Museum of Photographic Arts, Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, and San Diego Automotive Museum.
• The San Diego Padres take the field at their architecturally impressive new digs. Designed with fans in mind, Petco Park (100 Park Blvd.) situates most seats to face home plate, and batting cages are at club level, where diners can watch players practice through a one-way window. Information: www.padres.com.
• Seaport Village (849 W. Harbor Drive) features 57 one-of-a-kind shops and galleries and nearly 20 eateries in three distinctive plazas that capture the ambiance of Old Monterey, Victorian San Francisco, and traditional Mexico. Watch ships sail across the bay while you explore. Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Restaurants have extended hours. Information: (619) 235-4014.
ORANGE COUNTY — Tibetan Treasures
If a slow boat to China’s out of the question, a slower drive to Santa Ana could be almost as enriching an experience. Bowers Museum’s impressive exhibition, Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, includes nearly 200 artifacts from the Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace, the Norbuglinkha collection, and the new Tibet Museum in Lhasa — most of which have never traveled beyond Chinese borders and all demonstrating the sophistication of art created for the nobility of this great world culture.
The exhibition, which continues through Sept. 12, offers a glimpse into a mysterious culture that most Americans see as isolated and struggling to maintain its traditions — a sort of Shangri-La flanked by the Himalayas in Central Asia. Museum President Peter Keller took six trips to the ancient land to negotiate the contents of the exhibition.
“People travel thousands of miles to see these priceless artifacts,” says museum spokesman Rick Weinberg. “This is the first time the finest examples of Tibetan art — sculpture, painting, and textiles — and ritual Buddhist objects are being exhibited in the Western world.”
The curators — Terese Tse Bartholomew of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Patricia Berger of University of California-Berkeley, and author Robert Warren Clark — organized the exhibition in four thematic sections.
In the first section, informative panels, an illustrated timeline, photomurals, and artifacts provide a primer on Tibetan history and culture. It includes the beautifully crafted, gilt copper sculpture of Songtsen Gambo — a rare surviving image of the king who united Tibet into a strong empire and established Buddhism as its dominant religion in the seventh century. This section also includes the Seal of the Fifth Dalai Lama (r. 1617-1682), the spiritual leader of Tibet who built Potala Palace in Lhasa to house religious and government offices.
The next section explores Tibetan Buddhism through unique objects, which include detailed descriptions of ritual context penned by Clark, a specialist in Tibetan Buddhist practices. Among the objects are Tibetan prayer wheels and the ornate Kapala, a bowl is made of a human skull, likely from the body of an important teacher. Use of the sacred skull showed respect for the deceased. In the accompanying audio, practicing lamas reveals rituals against a background of chant-ing and musical interludes featuring the distinctive trumpets, drums, and conch shells used in ceremonies.
The colorful and familiar thangkas, or devotional paintings, appear with exquisite sculptures in the third section. Many of the 20 thangkas were painted on stiffened canvas and framed with borders of Chinese brocade; others were embroidered, appliquéd, or woven into subjects that include deities and important Tibetan figures. Mahakala, a protector deity worshipped by all Tibetan sects, was immortalized in an important sculpture that dates to the 12th or 13th century.
The final section highlights art rarely seen in the United States — costumes, jewelry, and exquisitely crafted vessels, which were used during daily and ceremonial activities.
Following its Orange County debut, the exhibition travels to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and arrives at its final tour stop, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, next June. — Steven Biller
2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 567-3600, www.bowers.org
• Set against a backdrop of yachts and bay views, The Balboa Bay Club & Resort (1221 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach) — the only waterfront resort hotel in Newport Beach — has the feel of an Italian villa. The private, 55-year-old club boasts a guest register bearing the signatures of luminaries such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood, and many others. Guest rooms in the new 160-room hotel offer spacious alfresco patios with chaise lounges, plantation shutters, and art depicting the beach lifestyle. Duke’s Place — the lobby-level lounge named after John Wayne, a former member and club governor — evokes a nautical feeling with photographs of the actor in mariner-themed films and offers a perfect setting for a cocktail, light fare, and live jazz. Executive Chef Josef Lageder serves up innovative California cuisine in The First Cabin, the waterfront dining room. Amenities include private spa, fitness center, hot whirlpools, eucalyptus steam rooms, and dry saunas. Information: (949) 645-5000, www.balboabayclub.com.
• The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa (One Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point), a Tuscan-style bed-and-breakfast with major resort amenities, awaits you at this elegant seaside property. Each of the 400 guest rooms offers an ocean or golf course view and blends comfort and technology with an average of 535 square feet of space, private balconies, Web TV, wireless keyboards, and high-speed Internet access. The Gaucin Spa offers 27 treatment rooms, including couples rooms with fireplaces. The property also has an 18-hole championship golf course, three heated pools, tennis courts, and nature trails leading to a private beach. Chef Michael Mina’s restaurant, Aqua, specializes in seafood and highlights the resort’s dining venues, which include a bistro, lobby lounge and bar, pool bar and grill, gourmet deli/espresso bar, and golf clubhouse restaurant. An attentive staff offers room service, butler assistance, and business center services 24 hours a day. Information: (949) 234-3200 or (800) 722-1543, www.stregismb.com.
• Chat Noir (655 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa), a new Parisian bistro and jazz lounge in the heart of Orange County’s theater district (and across from South Coast Plaza), serves up traditional French brasserie cuisine — from Escargots with Pernod to steak frites to Crepes au Grand Marnier. Different rooms reveal sophistication in varying style and ambiance. Top-notch entertainment, traditional and contemporary cuisine, signature cocktails, and late-supper menus make restaurant impresario David Wilhelm’s newest bistro one of the classiest acts in Orange County. Information: (714) 557-6647, www.culinaryadventures.com.
• Las Brisas (361 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach), situated on a cliff above Laguna Beach and named after Acapulco’s most famous resort, is a history-rich restaurant — with a recently added ocean-view patio — that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as one of the best Sunday brunches on the Southern California coast. Information: (949) 497-5434, www.casagallardo.com/lasbrisas.
• Fashion rules at South Coast Plaza (3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa), Orange County’s premier shopping destination — Armani Exchange, Jimmy Choo, Stuart Weitzman, DKNY, Gucci, Lalique, Bottega Venetta, Burberry, and the list goes on. New stores include Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa, Brooks Brothers, J. Jill, Restoration Hardware, and Zara. Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Macy’s serve as landmarks in this impossibly enormous complex that keeps you fit while you shop. Information: (800) 782-8888, www.south-coast-plaza.com.
LOS ANGELES — Rediscover Downtown
You can probably recite a list of reasons to avoid downtown Los Angeles. We appreciate your effort — but beg to differ. What you need is a brisk walking tour to see the renaissance that’s making Grand Avenue truly grand — and well-timed visits to The Museum of Contemporary Art and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The Los Angeles Conservancy offers no less than 14 different walking tours to suit your interests and expand your horizons. Here are six favorites (for information about others, point your Web browser to www.laconservancy.org):
• Art Deco (every Saturday) — downtown’s Historic Core reveals the style of the late 1920s, noted for its geometric ornament, opulent materials, and lavish interiors.
• Biltmore Hotel (second Saturday) — Go behind the scenes at this venerable and glamorous landmark hotel.
• Broadway Theaters (every Saturday) — Broadway’s National Register Historic Theater District encompasses the largest concentration of pre-World War II movie houses in America.
• Highland Park (June 12 and Sept. 11) — One of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods, the Sycamore Grove area of Highland Park has a rich and varied history. This tour features visits to the Southwest Museum’s Casa de Adobe, a 1917 replica of an 1800s hacienda, and La Casita Verde, a Victorian home formerly known as the Ziegler Estate.
• Marble Masterpieces (July 10) — From light fixtures to floors, stair railings to sculptures, this tour explores the types and uses of marble in the historical and modern buildings of the financial district.
• Union Station (third Saturday) — See the last great railway station built in the United States, an inspiring structure combining the Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco styles.
All downtown walking tours begin at 10 a.m. and last approximately 2-1/2 hours (except the Biltmore Hotel tour, which begins at 11 a.m. and is 1-1/2 hours long). Tours are free to members and $8 or $10 (depending on the tour) for the general public. Reservations are required. Information: (213) 623-2489.
Meanwhile, MOCA at California Plaza (250 S. Grand Ave.) continues its popular exhibition, A Minimal Future?, through Aug. 2. The largest U.S. museum exhibition to examine the emergence and foundations of minimal art includes more than 150 selections and bodies of work from 1958 to 1968 by 40 American artists who emerged by the early-to-mid-1960s. Information: (213) 626-6222, www.moca.org.
And get tickets now for California Philharmonic Orchestra’s inaugural performances — Bolero! The Passion of Spain (July 25), Hollywood Blockbusters: Lights, Camera, Music (Aug. 8), and Andrew Lloyd Webber Meets Puccini: The Phantom Goes to the Opera (Aug. 29) — at Walt Disney Concert Hall (111 S. Grand Ave.). Information: (626) 300-8200. — Steven Biller
• Shutters on the Beach (One Pico Blvd., Santa Monica), Los Angeles’ only hotel with rooms smack on the beach, feels “more Cape Cod than SoCal,” says Lark Ellen Gould in the new book Los Angeles Off the Beaten Path. “The place is sort of like a sprawling summer beach compound that’s been in the family forever.” The family would have fine taste in art, as original pieces by David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein adorn the property’s common areas, which include two fine-dining rooms. Information: (310) 458-0030 or (800) 334-9000, wwwshuttersonthebeach.com.
• You could bump into a celebrity or a captain of industry at the 1920s Mission Revival (and pet-friendly) Hotel Bel Air (701 Stone Canyon Road, West Los Angeles). The lush 12-acre canyon grounds in the Bel-Air Estates neighborhood envelop 92 cottages with private garden entrances and Queen Anne furnishings. Ask about Chef Douglas Dodd’s in-kitchen Table One experience. Information: (310) 472-1211, (800) 648-4079, www.hotelbelair.com.
• Four Oaks (2181 N. Beverly Glen Blvd., Bel Air) offers exquisite French cuisine in an elegant, rustic setting (actually a transformed roadhouse). Our favorites: the Lavender Wood Smoked Salmon Cake appetizer and, for the entrée, owner-chef Peter Hugo Roelant’s Grilled Maine Lobster with Saffron Couscous with an orange and lime honey glaze and summer vegetables. Information: (310) 470-2265.
• The romantic garden, nocturnal sky, and classic Italian menu make Il Cielo (9018 Burton Way) one of Beverly Hills’ most romantic restaurants. Our favorite entrées: Zuppa di Pesce (clams, calamari, Hawaiian blue prawns, mussels, and white fish served with a light, spicy tomato broth) and Costolette di Agnello con Cipolline in Agrodolce, Barolo e Fantasie Dell’orto (lamb chops with celery root, petit red onion, baby carrot, and Barolo wine sauce). Information: (310) 276-9990, www.ilcielo.com.
• A few steps from Shutters on the Beach is Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only street with shops, bookstores, and cafés and restaurants. Hennessey & Ingalls, the West Coast’s largest art and architecture bookstore, shares the road with popular chain stores such as Z Gallerie, Urban Outfitters, Fred Segal, and Abercrombie. Inland, you’ll find the industrial Bergamot Station (2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica), named for a trolley stop and featuring more than 20 art galleries and the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Information: www.bergamotstation.com or www.smmoa.org.
Main Street between Venice and Santa Monica has become a boomtown — sort of a Worth Avenue or Greenwich Village — with retailers, coffeehouses, and high-end furniture stores. Along the way, stop at the city’s Heritage Museum (2612 Main St., 310-392-8537) and, just up the street, Moonlight Rugs & Art, which sells Eames-designed furnishings and art. We’ll assume you can find your way to Rodeo Drive, the epicenter of luxury shopping in Beverly Hills.