Sunday Drives- Huntington Harbor

HB Pots

When I was a kid my Mother would take me  on a Sunday drive just to get out of town.  We would pick a place up the coast and just go.  The best time was when I could take a friend and most of the time we would giggle in the back seat for no apparent reason.   I did however pay attention to where we were going and I enjoyed the sights along the way.

Push the clock forward some 40 years and I still like to go on Sunday drives.  For this week’s staycation, the Sunday drive was actually on Saturday and it wasn’t just one friend, it was a car load of 5 including me. We picked a place up the coast and off we went.   Things haven’t changed since I was a kid, the giggling turned to laughter and there was plenty of it.  Funny how a Sunday/Saturday drive makes you feel happy.

We choose as our first destination Huntington Harbor some 60 miles up the coast from Oceanside.    From the 405 freeway you get off on Warner Avenue and proceed west for a few miles until you end up on Pacific Coast Highway.

Huntington Harbor is a community in the north end of Huntington Beach in Orange County, California. This residential development consists of five man-made islands with waterways that are used for boating.

HB Canal 2 HB Canal HB north end HB NOrth side 2

Along PCH we saw a small street fair and decided to check it out.  I went off snapping photos and found a little area with shops and restaurants which looked like a relaxing place to have lunch and enjoy the day.  20 minutes later we were on our way again with one t-shirt purchase under our belt and all of us ready to explore the next area.

HB Shops and restuarants

We drove north and passed through a small community called Sunset Beach.  Located south of Seal Beach, this small town has a population of fewer than 1,000 people and consists mostly of houses on the beach.  There are  however,  restaurants and shops on Pacific Coast Highway.    Adding to the charm of this town is the Water Tower House which hovers 85 feet above the ground just west of PCH.    At first glance it looks like an actual water tower but in reality it is a 3,000sq ft  tri-level home with 360 degree views.    They say it is available for vacation rental and with its uniqueness and proximity to the beach, I am sure that it is  a great place to stay.

However,  at that height, heaven help you if the elevator breaks.

Surfside Tower

Just a few miles away we arrived at Seal Beach.  As of the 2010 census the population in Seal Beach was around 24,000, so a small town for Southern California standards. A majority of the cities acreage is devoted to the Naval Weapons Station with the rest either modern and expansive beach homes or small cozy cottages.

Seal Beach sign

The main attraction is the Seal Beach Pier which is the second longest wooden pier in California stretching out some  1,865 feet.

SB Pier

Finding parking on this fall day was abundant, considering Seal Beach is full of activity and beach goers during the summer months.    We took a leisurely stroll on the pier while admiring the 360 view along the way. You can see the Tower house from the pier too.

SB from pier house

SB Pier looking toward beach

SB view from pier Long Beach SB view from pier--Tower

With a transportation strike going on at the nearby Long Beach port, cargo ships dotted the horizon waiting their turn to finally be unloaded.   Quite a sight to see  these huge ships just sitting there with their goods stacked high. I am sure a few Black Friday products are anxiously waiting to make their way to the stores.

SB Pier looking towards ships

At the base of the pier sits Main Street with its eclectic array of restaurants, shops, etc.  Spanning a few blocks, it is a popular destination for locals as well as visitors.

SB street

The next stop is one of my favorite places, Alamitos Bay.  It seems like Alamitos Bay is endless with its nooks and crannies, canals, and channels scattered about.   I am going to do a staycation and rent a boat some day to explore it all, including the Naples Canals.

There are different sections sprawled out over the bay with restaurants, boat rentals, and shops.  We didn’t spend a lot of time there as we were hungry and ready to eat, however I made a mental note to come back during Christmas as the whole bay is lit up with small Christmas tree barges during that time.

Alamitas Harbor towards ships Alimitas looking at docksAlamitos Christmas

With Stomachs full, we set out for Belmont Shore and the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial pier. Belmont Shore is a region of Long Beach that’s buzzing with a variety of shops, restaurants, visitors, and beach-goers.

Finding plenty of parking again for a mere $2, we parked and took a walk on the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial Pier.  The pier had an old fashioned look to it and I mean that in a good way. Even though it was re-built in 1966, walking on it felt like you took a step back in time. The restaurant on the end looked like it was being refurbished and I am sure once finished,  it will be a great place to eat a meal while enjoying the view of the Pacific. In the meantime a snack bar is available for its pier guests.

From the end of the pier you can see downtown Long Beach,  Long Beach port with its enormous cranes, the break water , the Queen Mary, a huge cruise ship dwarfing the Queen Mary, the oil islands, and of course the patiently waiting cargo ships.  Although others prefer a less chaotic view from a pier, I found the view very interesting. The mix of ships against sailboats, against industry, against historical icons like the Queen Mary, can keep me there for hours.

Veetrans PierVeterans pier towards clouds

Veterans pier from streetVeterans pier regatta

Watching the sun set directly over one of the oil islands, we were ready for our trek home.

Veterans pie sunset

However, one last stop, Naples Canals, a small neighborhood of Long Beach.  The islands of Naples are divided by canals which open into a main channel of Alamitos Bay.   The center of Naples features a large fountain and most of the streets have Italian names such as Sorrento and Tivoli.  The pedestrian walkway along the front of the homes spans the whole neighborhood and you can view the elaborately decorated homes at Christmas, while enjoying the canal below.  Fido is welcome but bring the leash. These artificial canals were created in the early 1900s and on any given day or evening you can hear the soft sound of a gondolier singing Italian songs as he gently steers his gondola through the romantic canals. You can rent one too at,  although not all gondoliers have the chops to sing. At sunset it was beautiful and at Christmas it is a must see.

So homeward bound with sight-seeing overload, giggled out, and just plain tired.  Just like when I was a kid except this time I was the driver and the kids were actually middle aged woman.

If you want to spend a full day just discovering our back yard here in Southern California, I suggest following our route and seeing for yourself the hidden gems of Huntington Harbor, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, Alamitos Bay, Belmont Shore, and finally Naples Canal. You won’t be disappointed.


Palm Spring Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs 1

Had a fast and furious trip to Palm Springs this past weekend and didn’t get a chance to ride the world famous Palm Springs Tramway. With it being the world’s largest rotating tramway, it is a must as a California staycation activity. The other large rotating tramways in the world are in South Africa and Switzerland, not exactly our backyard. So it is quite a treat to have something like this so close to home.

Unfortunately, the closest we got this time was at the Coachella Valley floor with a 300mm lens straining to find an actual tram on its way up. Some 8,500 feet up the mountain we were able to see where the tram ends at the top of San Jacinto Peak, sadly no trams were in sight.

Tram top

Tram 2

I did check some info about the tramway and here it is:
At the bottom station, you enter the tram to begin your twelve and a half minute ride up the rugged and sheer terrain of Chino Canyon. The tram makes two complete revolutions during the ride so that you can see in all directions without moving yourself. The tram is roughly 18 ft long and has a max capacity of 80 people.

Once you reach the top station, you are in a different temperature zone. The air can be as much as 40 degrees cooler than the bottom floor. So be sure and check the temperatures at the top to dress appropriately. You could be swimming in the pool in Palm Springs and an hour later be playing in the snow at the summit.
As well as playing in the snow during certain seasons, you can also take a burro ride or hike the many trails around that area.

There are also two restaurants as well as gift shops at the summit but the real star of the trip is the spectacular view!
Cars depart at least every half hour from 10 a.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. weekends and holiday periods. Last car up is 8 p.m. with the last car down at 9:45 p.m
Since we didn’t do this staycation activity ourselves, we are giving you only a few shots of the mountain and the top station.

The spectacular view and the thrill of the ride is up to you!!!!

Palm Springs 2

Pacific Beach and Crystal Pier

Pier entrance with flags

Pacific Beach  known by the locals as PB is a town that is just south of La Jolla and north of Mission Beach, California.    PB has always been known by many as a party town because it was largely populated by a younger crowd including students and surfers.  The low rents and proximately to the Pacific Ocean appealed to the young crowd and still does.

However, more and more professionals are moving to the area because of rising costs in rents and property.   Still appealing to this youthful crowd,  PB is known as one of the best areas for its nightlife because of its variety of bars and restaurants.

With 3 miles of boardwalk and its lively atmosphere, PB is a great place to hang at the beach, eat, drink, or just people watch.  Along with the funky beach bars and restaurants, PB also has sophisticated and modern hotels and fine dining establishments.

PB from Mt Soledad

The main surfing beach is at Tourmaline Surfing Park.  Tourmaline Street features a medium sized parking lot, bathrooms, and a small picnic area nearby.  While mostly a surfing beach, on any windy day the kite boarders and windsurfers come out to play.

PB looking North

In the summer  PB is hopping and as mentioned a popular place to be.  There are paid parking lots along the way but I am told parking can be challenging if you don’t get there early enough.

As in most beach cities you can find rental places for bikes, bodyboards, surf boards, surreys, etc. Surfing and swimming is segregated in some areas and North PB is lifeguard protected and a great place for the family.

A big draw for me in PB is the Crystal Pier cottages. Always looking for a place to stay and report as a California staycation, the cottages sit right on top of the pier. Your patio situates you right on the edge of the pier with a a great view of Mission Beach to your south , La Jolla to your north and of course the beautiful Pacific Ocean to the west.  Depending on the tides you will be right over the water or right over the beach. Either way, it looks like a fantastic place to stay.

PB cottages view from pierPB front of cottagePB pation on pierPB pier  the end

There are one bedroom suites, two bedroom, as well as studios. All Cottages and Suites come with fully equipped kitchenettes, separate bedroom and living room, private decks  and room to park one car. Crystal Pier also provides a gated key entry and night security.

A little pricey, the cottages range from $175.00 to $525.00 per night but that is to be expected as it is a unique place to stay and I feel worth the price. The $525 price is for the two bedrooms so cram in a few people to share the cost.

You can walk to the restaurants and nightlife that PB is famous for, you can enjoy the beach below, fish off of the pier, or journey to close by San Diego for all of its attractions.

PB looking south

– See more at:

Also, visit Mt. Soledad that is close by. A great memorial for our soldiers plus great views that are featured in these photos.PB Flag

Photos: Debbie Colwell

Santee Lakes

Santee--Floating cabons

Santee Lakes
We had heard about Santee Lakes in a recent article about their new floating cabins so we had to see for ourselves as a possible new California staycation.

I was very impressed with Santee Lakes and the surrounding park like area.   When we first drove by one small lake,  I thought to myself, “That can’t be it? Where are the cabins?”   So we pulled up to the entrance and were informed that there were actually seven individual lakes and the floating cabins were on the seventh lake.  You had to pay $5.00 to get into the facility for the day and to view all the lakes, so we gladly paid the fee and proceeded on to explore the area.

The seven scenic  lakes are stocked with fish year round and not surprisingly there were plenty of poles lining the shore.  With amazement we saw a few anglers that were finished for the day with a few sizable fish on their string.   Fishing there requires no state license but you must acquire a permit at the general store which cost $8.00 for the day.

Santee on the side

Don’t feel like fishing? No problem, there is plenty more to do. There are 6 playgrounds for kids, a boulder island adventure course, pedal boat , canoe, or rowboat rentals,  bike and surrey rentals, or  hike along the trails aligning the lakes.     For bird watchers Santee Lakes is home to over  170 different species of birds, so bring your cameras and binoculars.

Santee Lakes is located in the east county just outside of San Diego, in the city of Santee.  Along with the 190 acres of park and lakes, there is also a 300 site campground accommodating RV’s with full hook ups. A clubhouse sits nearby with two swimming pools(one heated) and a Jacuzzi. The pools are perfect as there is no swimming allowed in any of the lakes.

The park opens at 6:00am Friday through Sunday.  It hosts a variety of events throughout the year including summer movies, trout openers, 5k’s, etc.  Food and drinks are sold at the general store and restrooms are always nearby.  Dogs on leashes are also welcome.

So on to what we were most interested about, the floating cabins.   Resembling houseboats, the cabins sit on a private dock floating just offshore.   There are three cabins and each can be rented for $100-$145 a night depending on the date.  Occupancy begins on April 1st., so check them out early of you are interested. We were thinking of getting a group of people so we could take over the whole dock.  I can imagine myself watching the sunset from my floating patio with a cocktail in one hand and a fishing pole in the other. Each of the floating cabins sleeps four.

Santee-Floating cabins 2

Santee-View of both cabins
Looking far towards the flaoting cabins

There are also 7 cabins on the shore and each cabin includes shared pedal boats for exploring the lake. Adirondack chairs line the porches and there are also barbecue and fire pits.

LAnd front view of cabins

Santee-Cabins on shore

We peaked inside one of the waterfront cabins and it wasn’t extravagant but cozy enough. Not really roughing it when you have air conditioning, two flat screen TV’s, and a DVD player.   The kitchens are stocked with cooking utensils but you bring your own linen, toiletries, firewood, etc.   The waterfront cabins sleep 6 if you include the bunk beds.

Seems like a great weekend getaway to me with a relaxed and serene setting.  Not too far from the city, you still feel like you are getting away. It’s a place you can watch the stars, hear the silence, and just relax.