Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sweet Nostalgia - Joseph's Bakery: San Pedro CA

Tucked away on a quiet side street in San Pedro, California, is Joseph’s Bakery, and it is truly a retro gem. Stocked with baked goodies, it's been in business 43 years and boasts a vintage cash register that rings in at 55 years. Ka-chiiinngg!

This ain't no Starbucks

My sister and brother-in-law live nearby, and after a neighborhood stroll we were up for a little nosh. Sis suggested we skip the nearby Starbucks with the 180 degree ocean view (they have those down there) and hit the bakery. And I'm glad we did. No de-caf soy vanilla lattes for us! Instead, we got a few slices of pizza, a couple of lemon bars and a brownie. All were tasty – but for me, the real draw was the place itself. So next time you’re in San Pedro, take a carbo-loaded, sugar-coated step back in time and check out Joseph’s Bakery.

Joseph's Bakery
1027 South Meyler Street
San Pedro, CA 90731

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ghost Town Bound: Los Cerrillos NM

Back in February 2009 I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time. It really does live up to the brochure – brilliant blue skies, fabulous historic buildings and dramatic interplay of shadow and light. But after a couple of days of wandering through the main plaza area ogling fine art and hulking pieces of turquoise jewelry, I tired of $25,000 price tags. I suspected there must be more to this Southwest story. So, for those of you whose net worth is less than several million, I suggest heading out of town.

Main Street, Los Cerrillos, NM

To explore the surrounding environs, I contacted Santa Fe Walkabouts, a husband-and-wife run company specializing in day tours. I expressed to my trusty guide Sue that I wanted to experience something a little less chi-chi than Santa Fe proper. She had the perfect suggestion. After a lovely afternoon hike in the Cerrillos Hills, we stopped in the ghost town of Los Cerrrilos. This is a special place, and an impressive example of an authentic western town, one that would make Clint Eastwood sit tall in the saddle and take squinty-eyed notice. I had the good fortune of being there on a day when no one was there, so I got the full-ghost town hit.

Thanks again to Sue for this insightful suggestion and rewarding field trip.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Earthly Delights - Quail Botanical Gardens:
Encinitas CA

OK, I admit - sometimes botanical gardens can make my eyes glaze over after the third Latin plant name. (Dead language for live things? Go figure.) Latin terms aside, I do find these gardens great for a stroll, and Quail Botanical Gardens (a.k.a. San Diego Botanic Garden) seemed pleasing enough with its variety of exotic plants and impressive collection of bamboo species. A couple of things in particular set this one apart from other botanical gardens, and make this diversion visit-worthy.

Mary Jane's tiki snack bar
For starters, a cheery coffee/snack bar-meets-tiki hut greets you when you enter. Mary Jane, the sole proprietor, explained that she bought the business after she bailed out on twenty years of corporate life. (Right on, sister!) After a nice chat over a decaf latte, I entered the grounds.

Again, lots of interesting plants. But the real show stopper was the life-size topiary mariachi band, which was charming in a creepy, Edward Scissor Hands sort of way. (Apparently, the face masks were molded on the artists who designed the figures.) In addition to the mariachis, there’s also a foliage-covered waltzing couple and prancing woman. A garden party in the truest sense of the word.

Topiary meets mariachis
If you’re into pushing the plant envelope, or just like odd things, these figures alone are worth the price of admission.

San Diego (a.k.a Quail) Botanic Garden
230 Quail Gardens Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024

Village by the Sea: Carlsbad CA

Unlike many So Cal coastal destinations, Carlsbad is surprisingly low key and has a homey, almost retro feel – like someplace out of Sunset Magazine circa 1964. The beaches are clean, and there’s a nice mix of shops and restaurants.

Statuary lines up at El Corral Pottery
El Corral Pottery caught my eye for it’s fun display of fountains, statuary and colorful ceramics (Fiesta Ware fans take note). This business has been around since 1947 – and feels like it in a good way. I’m sure many a post-war So Cal mom stocked up here on tableware and patio décor. And although the store has lots of merchandise, its not overflowing with stuff. It’s almost like the selection has been lightly edited so you can really see and appreciate the items.

Waitress Christine standing by
Up the street from the pottery place is long-time Carlsbad establishment, The Armenian Café. Here I enjoyed lamb souvlaki on their deck complete with an ocean view, and the quaint setting and friendly staff helped take the edge off of the touristy prices.

And there’s one more charming touch - when you leave, there’s a bell you can ring that let’s other diners know you enjoyed your meal. My lamb souvlaki was a bell ringer so I gladly complied.

El Corral Pottery
3040 Carlsbad Boulevard
Carlsbad, CA 92008

The Armenian Cafe
3126 Carlsbad Boulevard
Carlsbad, CA 92008

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mission Accomplished: San Juan Capistrano CA

Ever since the successful completion of my fourth grade diorama project (depicting candle making on a rancho), I’ve had an affinity for California missions. And although I haven’t been to them all, I’ve been to several, most recently San Juan Capistrano.

Let me tell you - this is one upscale mission. It’s well-groomed and well-funded (not unlike the surrounding Orange County residents). The church is gorgeous and glittery. The lovely grounds are criss-crossed by rustic paths lined with roses, marigolds and lavender. There’s also an impressive fountain, a koi pond and some very striking cactus.

However, I found the mission’s most impressive feature to be the ruins of the original church, destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. Wow! World-class ruins in Orange County. Who knew? Prior to visiting, my idea of So Cal ruins was more along the lines of an empty Tower Records store.

So, is Mission San Juan Capistrano worth checking out? Yes. I suggest hitting it on a weekday and arriving early. That way, you can stroll in peace and get your “Old California” hit (albeit a pristine one) before the crowd arrives.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675