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