Marina Del Rey 2018


Four years ago I decided to start staycationscalifornia.com and the very first story was on Marina Del Rey.

So why Marina Del Rey for the first one? It actually started from a childhood memory. I know, I know, me and my childhood memories, but this one obviously left a lasting impression.

It was many years ago and I was a young spectator watching outrigger canoe races in the Marina Del Rey harbor. My older sister was a participant in this regatta where teams from all over the state raced in distances from a quarter to a full mile.

To kill time in between races, I sat in a restaurant patio sipping on a Shirley Temple and listening to tropical music that was piping out of the speakers. The soft piano and cool bird sounds made you feel like you were in an exotic locale not in the middle of Los Angeles County. It was a warm day, the bay was full of boats, and a mild breeze was streaming through the trees. I thought that this was the most relaxed I have ever been in my life and I was only ten years old!!!

So I wanted to go back and see if it still held the magic that it had many years ago.

A Magical Place
Since that first time, I had been back to Marina Del Rey four times, this story being the fourth. The people I took with me all said the same thing, that Marina Del Rey made them feel good, that they actually got a feeling of well-being.

Was it the boats, the water, the proximity to the ocean and the negative ions? I don’t know but I too love Marina Del Rey.

How can a place make you feel like that? It just does.

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The West Side
As of the 2010 census the city’s population was just under 9,000. It seems like most of the people live in the town homes, condos or apartment homes that are situated on the west side of the harbor. No houses surround the bay unlike places like Newport Harbor where there are mostly homes and mansions.

Each condo complex had a different structural design and it seemed like every decade was represented. At the very end of the harbor the condos look almost like they belong in a mountain area while the other newer buildings have industrial looks with colored glass windows. Nearby, cement trucks and workers were busy constructing what looked like four more buildings with at least six stories each.

Population 10,000 on its way!

Smaller channels held most of the residences and even the condos not facing the water were still suitable because the harbor was just a short distance away. Plus, I saw some amazing pool areas that looked like perfect places to hang out during those hot California summers.

We also discovered that the ocean was just about a mile down the road so the locals also had that sandy playground. For visitors, that beach is the legendary Venice Beach and nearby is the equally renowned Venice Canals. There is a lot to see all within a few miles of each other.

Near the condos, I remember from before that there was a little store that had tables, chairs, as well as umbrellas out front for kicking back and enjoying the harbor. I knew it had a clear view across the bay of the colorful Fisherman’s Village. So it was time to get a cold one and relax for while. It was not to be!
There was a huge yacht right out front that blocked the whole view! I mean this thing was massive.

I went on the dock to check it out and had to go the very end to snap a shot of the village. I was practically hanging on to the dock pilings to get my camera around for the shot.


Somewhere behind that huge yacht is the little store

I then looked up at this enormous boat or ship, whatever it was and wondered what billionaire owned it. On research later, it was in fact owned by a billionaire and it came complete with a heli-pad and a sizeable pool.

On any other day, I would have been impressed by the sizable luxury craft that was moored next to it but it now looked like a dinghy in comparison to this massive yacht.

Besides this mini cruise ship, Marina Del Rey is home to 5,000 various sized vessels and has often been a location for movies and television shows.

It was time to head on over to the other side since here was nothing to see here.

The North End
Our next stop in the harbor was on the north end where the charming Jamaica Bay Inn sits on the part of the harbor that actually has a beach. The little inlet was calm and quiet which was ideal for launching kayaks, sail boats, or SUP’s. A roped off area was set up for swimming and looked to be a great place for the family.

We drove around toward the south side while passing by bay side restaurants, the beautiful Ritz Carlton hotel, and the newly remodeled Marina Del Rey Hotel.

Heading South
The best part of the harbor is Fisherman’s Village towards the south side. As we saw from across the bay, this waterfront mall has the look of a New England fishing village with its Cape Cod architecture and bright colored buildings. Add a small lighthouse to the scene and you can almost imagine you are on the east coast.

This touristy area has boat rental places where you can drive them yourselves or be pampered on a Hornblower dinner cruise. Whale watching tours are also available during the season. Water crafts of every size, motor or no motor can also be rented for the hour or whole day.


Looks like Cape Cod

On our annual ditch days, places during the week are usually dead and this was no exception. The crowds were either not here or waiting for the weekend, I wondered how the businesses stayed alive.



.In a little arcade with a short hallway full of historical photos, there were souvenir and novelty shops filled with your typical t-shirts, postcards, and local treasures.

The center of the village has a wide open courtyard area surrounded by an Italian restaurant, an ice cream stand, and a coffee shop. Seating areas are set up to enjoy the top notch entertainment that happens on the weekends. The music is free and ranges from jazz to top forty. We were lucky on one previous visit to see a high caliber funk band playing tunes from the 70’s and 80’s and the crowds were either chilling out or dancing to the upbeat grooves.

The bay front restaurants in the village are a huge attraction and there is one in particular that I really like because it has a cozy open patio with a full view of the harbor. Although I have never eaten at Whiskey Red’s , I think it is the place that I hung out in when I was ten years old!

Putting on the Ritz
A bay front balcony room at the Ritz Carlton has my name all over it although it is easily north of $300 for the night. It will be a splurge that one day I will make.

In the meantime, I absolutely love visiting Marina Del Rey. There is so much to do whether you stay for the weekend or week. Plus Los Angeles and Hollywood are so close by, as well as the craziness of Venice Beach. For the holidays you just have to spend some time to stroll the heavily decorated and holiday spirited Venice Canals

In my case, a full day visit is good for now. I get my fix of well-being and head home a happy person.
I hope you get the same feeling if you happen to visit this wonderful place.

Maybe that feeling is because there is every era represented and you can transcend time while living in the present moment. I left that ten year old behind many years ago but that kid still comes out in full force when visiting Marina Del Rey… I hope your inner kid does too.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Sidebar: It took the wonderful search engine of Google to find out all these years later that the music I heard way back when, was the American piano player and composer Martin Denny.

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Huntington Beach

Surf City USA
Huntington Beach is a seaside community in the heart of Orange County with a population of over 200,000.  There is so much to do in this city but let’s face it; HB as it is known, is all about the beach, the ocean, and surfing!

When I was a kid they held a worldwide surfing championship at the pier and for us locals, it was just as popular as the Super Bowl or the World Series.  Crowds flocked to Huntington Beach to watch world class athletes perform at its famous surf break.  We would always arrive there as early as we could to get a prime view from the pier.

In the early days, the contestants rode ten feet long surfboards and it always amazed me how they accomplished such smooth footwork while moving back and forth on the board.  At the end of the wave, they would whip the board in the opposite direction for a stylish cut-back, as it was called.  Sometimes for more points, they would casually stride across the board towards the nose to execute the crowd pleasing “Hang Ten” maneuver.

Over the years the boards got  smaller and smaller so today the riders fly, snap, cut , carve, gyrate  across the wave on boards half of the size of their predecessors.  Both styles are just as impressive in my opinion.

The crowds still turn up for this huge event much to the happiness of local merchants and vendors.  It is a world renowned contest and with such a long history with the city, it is no wonder they call Huntington Beach, “Surf City USA”.

With miles of wide sandy beaches and prime surfing waves, the city embraces the surf culture.  There are over 50 surf contests held per year including the aforementioned US Open of Surfing.   It also is home to the International Surf Museum, the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, and the Surfing Walk of Fame.

Main Street, Surf City. USA
It seems appropriate that there should be a Main Street in Surf City, USA and in fact there is!  It is across the street from the pier and the surf culture is alive and well.

On the corner of PCH and Main Street you start with the massive Jacks Surf Shop and make your way down several blocks of more surf shops, souvenir stores, and boutiques filled with all of the latest surf culture styles.

Just look up and you will see balconies filled with customers enjoying a meal or a drink at one of many eclectic eateries and bars. The view from their tables allows them to see the scene below or the pier and beach in the distance.  High above on these patios seemed to be the preference because these places were packed.

Want dessert? No problem, as there is plenty of little shops spread out over a few blocks to satisfy any sweet tooth or craving.

The Pier
Once finished shopping or at the very least window shopping, make your way across the street to the pier.

Unlike many of the piers in California, this one is made of cement instead of wooden planks. Massive crowds stroll this 1,850 long pier every weekend and nearby there are festivals, art shows, music, Farmers Markets, etc.

Besides the surfing contest, many other events call Huntington Beach home. There are professional volleyball tournaments, film and food festivals, Woody car shows, half marathons, and even an air show.

In fact they were preparing for the half marathon the day we visited. Huge tents were everywhere as well as vendor set ups, and concession stands.   It was proof that HB really knows how to hold an event.

They even have the world famous and best happening of all, wiener dog races.  Thousands of these short legged animals race for glory at the Village of Old World located in the middle of town.

On and around the pier there are musicians playing music ranging from guitar players, to keyboardists, and even one guy who played the guitar, drums with his feet, and harmonica all at the same time.

On top of the pier sits cute little souvenir shops, a kite shop, and the ever popular Ruby’s Diner is at the very end.

Surfers dot the coast as far as you can see and from this vantage point they are fun to watch just like they were thirty years ago during the largest surf event in the U.S.  Dozens of volley ball nets are set up on the beach and the courts were full with half dressed players enjoying the sunshine.

Just south of the pier, new hotels, time shares, condos have now been built and there is yet another area that has restaurants and shops.  The parking lots for beach goers are huge and expect to pay about $15 for the day.  Although I saw plenty of parking spots open, I know during the summer these spaces can be very scarce.

As I watched a surfer gliding across the wave it brought back memories, as I have surfed here myself. The surfers look the same, the pier looks the same, the beach looks the same, but the crowds are just a tad larger. The tiny little surfing shops have turned into larger clothing filled palaces, and the restaurants have ambiances that rival any fine resort.

It is a fun place to visit and enjoy the day at the beach with shops and restaurants nearby. Visit Huntington Beach when you can and put on your bucket list to give surfing a try, there are plenty of rental places and plenty of waves to share, after all, it IS “Surf City USA.”

When I write my mortgage and property tax checks, I sometimes get dismayed on how much more we pay than other places in our country.    Then I close my eyes and remember a day just like today, where I am dressed in shorts and a t-shirt while the warm mid day sun beats down on my face.  It is a crystal clear afternoon and I am standing on a pier watching the surfers and the volley ball players.  The blue Pacific Ocean spans for miles and the beach is filled with life and activity. It is the middle of winter on the first week of February and the rest of the country is drenched in snow with temperatures in the teens.

Then I open my eyes and gladly sign my name to the checks.

This is why we pay the big bucks; this is why I love California.

 

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Three and a Half Days ,Summerland, Carpenteria, Downtown Ventura

Last year we wrote a story entitled “Five and a Half Days” in which we visited San Francisco, Sausalito, Napa, Fairfield, Suisun Bay, Benicia, The Delta, plus visited the Jelly Belly Factory, fished Grizzly Island, and so much more yet only in five and a half days. We never felt rushed and spent hours just leisurely kicking back or fishing along the rain saturated banks of the delta.
This time we are doing a mini version called, Three and a Half Days. On this trip, we visited Cayucos, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Oceano, Summerland, The Dutch town of Solvang, Carpenteria, Downtown Ventura, and Santa Barbara. We visited a butterfly grove, an ostrich farm, we saw six piers plus drove on, we fished at night under a full moon, we saw otter and seals, and made it back home in time to watch the 6:00 news. As with the other trip, we never felt rushed.

Summerland and Carpenteria
On our drive home, we decided to check out a few of the smaller cities that dot the map just south of Santa Barbara., Summerland was one such place. As with other towns on the central coast, unique homes line the hills with what I am sure are spectacular ocean views. Don’t blink because from what I could tell, it only has one main street with restaurants and shops. The rest of the area was filled with private homes. It’s just as charming as Cayucos yet a lot smaller and I’m sure lodging is very limited. If you want relaxation, peace and quiet with beautiful beaches nearby, it is worth a try to find a Bed and Breakfast or an Airbnb.

After a short drive through the community, the 101 freeway entrance was just ahead, so we hopped back on towards Carpenteria.

Another attraction I have passed by many times without stopping on this coastal route was Santa Claus Village. It sat right at the edge of the freeway and you couldn’t miss it with its giant Santa Claus head atop one of the buildings and the rest of the shops all dressed up in holiday attire.

On this occasion since we were just cruising and exploring, we decided to take the off ramp on to Santa Claus Lane. It was a short drive that passed by a small beach and dead ended after the village. Much to my dismay, Santa Claus Village wasn’t there!! It was torn down to make way for new retail stores, restaurants, and even a few surf shops. No hint of Santa anywhere! I guess I blew it and should have stopped there when I had the chance many years ago. They say the eighteen foot tall Santa head now has a new home in Oxnard, California.

Not being able to visit the village, we set our sights on the beach that we passed by earlier.

With easy parking, we got out of the car to take a little stroll on the sand. As always, the eyes were ever vigilant for the illusive sea glass. A few people were walking their dogs on water’s edge and I admired the homes that were propped up on the beach or on the bluffs nearby.

The sand was soft on the feet and the water was a sparkling blue. A few wet suited surfers sat just offshore waiting for a set of the waves while a few kids splashed around near shore braving the 60 degree water. I know, I know, 60 degrees is balmy to some of you from the Mid West or Northeast.

Continue reading “Three and a Half Days ,Summerland, Carpenteria, Downtown Ventura”

Three and a Half Days, Solvang and Santa Barbara

Last year we wrote a story entitled “Five and a Half Days” in which we visited San Francisco, Sausalito, Napa, Fairfield, Suisun Bay, Benicia, The Delta, plus visited the Jelly Belly Factory, fished Grizzly Island, and so much more yet only in five and a half days. We never felt rushed and spent hours just leisurely kicking back or fishing along the rain saturated banks of the delta.

This time we are doing a mini version called, Three and a Half Days. On this trip, we visited Cayucos, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Oceano, Summerland, The Dutch town of Solvang, Carpenteria, Downtown Ventura, and Santa Barbara. We visited a butterfly grove, an ostrich farm, we saw six piers plus drove on two, we fished at night under a full moon, we saw otter and seals, and made it back home in time to watch the 6:00 news. As with the other trip, we never felt rushed.

Part Three

Solvang

On our way to Santa Barbara, we decided to do a quick excursion over to the Dutch village of Solvang.

I say Dutch because all of the architecture in the town is Danish. Way back when, it used to be just one main street, however, it has turned into several streets filled with shops, restaurants, bakeries, etc.

Even on this crowded weekend day, it didn’t seem bad because over those several streets there are, quite a few nooks, crannies, courtyards, and little alcoves filled with various retail or food establishments. You can easily stroll through the crowds while spending hours shopping, eating ,or just looking around.

Besides the delicious bakeries, there are wine tasting rooms, festivals, parks, interesting novelty shops, and more.

I love the Danish architecture which adorns most of the structures, even the gas stations got in on the spirit.

It is a great place to visit for the day even if just to enjoy the scenery or see an Ostrich or two… yes, I said Ostrich.

Continue reading “Three and a Half Days, Solvang and Santa Barbara”

Three and a Half Days, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Oceano

Last year we wrote a story entitled “Five and a Half Days” in which we visited San Francisco, Sausalito, Napa, Fairfield, Suisun Bay, Benicia, The Delta, plus visited the Jelly Belly Factory, fished Grizzly Island, and so much more yet only in five and a half days. We never felt rushed and spent hours just leisurely kicking back or fishing along the rain saturated banks of the delta.

This time we are doing a mini version called, Three and a Half Days.  On this trip, we visited Cayucos, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Oceano, Summerland,  The Dutch town of Solvang,  Carpenteria, Downtown Ventura, and Santa Barbara.  We visited a butterfly grove, an ostrich farm, we saw six piers plus drove on two, we fished at night under a full moon, we saw otter and seals, and made it back home in time to watch the 6:00 news.  As with the other trip, we never felt rushed.

 Part Two

Pismo Beach
After spending the earlier part of the day in Avila and Cayucos, I wasn’t ready for the more crowded scene at Pismo Beach.

Even though it has a lesser population than Avila Beach, it is better known and has a higher volume of visitors.  Part of that reason is that Pismo Beach has a unique attraction… you can drive on the beach!!

Pismo Beach is six miles south of Avila and has a whole different feel.  I liked it there, although after visiting the other two cities first, it felt like it was inflicted with TMP (too many people.)

We headed to the pier first as this seemed to be where most of the tourist attractions, shops, restaurants, and TMC congregate.   The beach was just as terrific as Cayucos or Avila and the pier although on the smallish side, added to the scenic atmosphere.


Pismo Pier at Sunset

I wanted to walk on the pier but it was closed just like the others.   So I did my obligatory walk on the beach for sea glass hunting and yet again only found a few less than prime pieces.

Butterflies
We had heard about a butterfly grove at the state park, so we decided to drive past town to see it for ourselves.   Each year thousands of orange monarch butterflies flock to Pismo Beach to find shelter from the cold northern winters.

We were lucky that we were in the middle of the migration period that runs from October to February and were able to see this phenomenon.

Walking into the grove, you are not sure where to go or where they  are amongst all of the tall eucalyptus trees.  It doesn’t take long to figure it out though as you soon run into a gathering of people all looking up into the trees.

The thing is, you can’t really see them.  So I took my telephoto and there they were, thousands of them hanging on to the limbs!!  It was an amazing


Closer view of butterflies

The grove provides a few telescopes that are set up for anyone to use plus they have informative talks scheduled at designated times and guides to help you.    At the time we visited, they reported that there were over 14,000 monarchs present.  I wonder who did the counting.

Anyway, if you are ever in town during this time frame, be sure and check out the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

Continue reading “Three and a Half Days, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Oceano”