Redondo Beach Pier

Redondo Graphitt sign
Redondo looking towards old side
Redondo Beach Pier

Redondo Beach is not exactly one of your sleepy coastal California towns. Located minutes from LAX airport in Los Angeles County, it is one of a few beach towns that comprise of what is called the South Bay. Along with Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, Redondo is where L.A. goes to the beach. As you can imagine it can be incredibly crowded in the summer.

On one extremely warm day in early March, you could have sworn it was smack in the middle of summer. People flocked to the beach that day as if it was a boiling hot July weekend. With parking often a problem in these Los Angeles beach towns, it was nice to find a space in the first parking lot we drove through. Because of the crowds, the pier offers multi level parking and additional lots are scattered around the nearby area.

The Pier
The Redondo Pier is a hub of activity with all the shops, restaurants, arcades, boat rentals, and more. Seafood was abundant as local vendors were selling it out in an open market, or you could dine at one of the many sit down restaurants. I am not a fan of seafood so my face scrunched up a few times as a plate full of sea urchin or crabs passed by on its way to a table of anxiously waiting dining guests. I was in the minority though as the restaurants were packed full and the lines to buy the fresh seafood were especially long.

Small shops selling various items were lined on one side of the small marina while on the other side sat the gaming arcade which was alive with all the usual sights and sounds of video games old and new. At the entrance of the new cement section, you can rent kayaks, SUP’s, paddle boats, book a boat tour, or take a ride on a glass bottom boat.

Redondo-Looking towards little shops
REdondo-Glass boat
Redondo-Towards piers and resturants
Redondo-Towards pier
Redondo-Sign INT Market
Redondo-Lighthouse Building

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Belmont Park, Mission Beach

Belmont Park is an amusement park built steps away from the sand and boardwalk in Mission Beach, California.

Its claim to fame is the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster which stands tall for all to see as you approach the entrance to the park.    Built in 1925 this icon is a part of San Diego’s history and has been restored to give riders the thrills of an old- fashioned roller coaster with its steep drops and fast turns.  I didn’t ride it on the day we visited but our crew said it was actually pretty fast and a lot of fun.  It doesn’t match up to the coasters of today with their elaborate twists and turns and their sole purpose to outdo each other.  This is just a plain old fun coaster that is worth a try.

Bel--Roller coaste rwith flags Bel--Roller coaster showing cart

The amusement park has other adult thrill rides as well as old favorites such as the Tilt O’ Whirl.  There is something for everyone including bumper cars, carousel, rock climbing, zip line, and a sizable arcade.

Bel-Looking down by games

The arcade had all of the newest games with the exception of a few Pac Man and Skee Ball machines scattered about for you nostalgic types.  It also houses the Lazer Tag room.

Bel--Lazer Tag
Lazer tag didn’t sound that appealing to me especially since I was under the weather and didn’t have much energy.  So I choose to sit that one out.  However, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give it a try at the last minute. We entered into a room where you picked out a vest with a name on it like Ultra, Lightning, Atlas, etc.

We formed two opposing teams and were led into the room to begin play.  All of a sudden my adrenaline kicked in making me feel like a middle aged Rambo.  I stayed on the lower level and proceeded to dominate a Mom and her two small girls.  I ran around the room hiding behind pillars until my prey came in sight, I’d shoot and then run off to the next area.

Once in a while my vest squawked and I could feel myself being hit but no worries, I was getting in a lot of hits myself. Never mind if it was against the two young girls and Mom who were really just standing around and not doing much of anything.   As the game wound to an end, I circled around a pillar and there they were again, the two kids just standing there!   I pelted them with my imaginary laser power one last time and took off feeling like I was really good.

Stepping out the door the results are posted for all to see. To my dismay, I came in last on my team. I guess I wasn’t that good after all.   Laser tag was surprisingly fun and I would definitely do it again.  This time I would aim a little better. Buy their unlimited pass so you can go in all day and at any time. One time just wasn’t enough to get the feel for it.  Also, watch out for sneaky 7 year olds, obviously they shot me more times than I thought.

The climbing wall, I left to my Nephew who attempted the hardest wall first. As he made his way up at least three quarters to the top I think it occurred to him that it was really hard.

With only a few foot holds, you really had to work hard on that expert course.   There were other levels that had more frequent holds and one that had huge round holds for the smaller kids.  The zip line hovered above and traversed over a small area.  It seemed like a good chance to at least try it before attempting the larger and scarier ones that are popping up all across the state.

Arlo Rock Climbing

Outside in the center of the park were your typical carnival skill games. I challenged my nephew to the water squirt game where you shoot water from a gun into a clown’s mouth to see who pops the balloon first.  Again I thought I was dominating but the pop came from my nephew’s side, not mine.   It must be my eyesight, yeah that’s it.

There were a few sit down restaurants as well as your typical sweets and snack bars along the way.

On one side of the park sits a sizable parking lot with a smaller one on the other side. Be careful, it can get packed in the summer so you might want to start off early.

I was impressed by the Wave House Beach club located just behind the park and nestled right up to the sidewalk and beach.    Each table actually sits on sand giving you the ultimate beach bar and restaurant experience.  Your view is that of the boardwalk, sand, and ocean beyond.

Bel--Wavehouse cafe
Bel--Wavehouse sign

Wavehouse cafe -1

The Wave House is home to the Flowrider stationary wave which is a must see.  This free standing wave breaks just like an ocean wave with one small exception, the water is only a few feet deep and when you wipe-out you fall on padded cement.  Unlike the soft landing you receive on an ocean wave, riding this wave can come with injuries and the reason you have to sign a waiver to ride.


One of two standing waves at the park, the larger wave has a built in lip where the water hits and gives the form of a breaking wave.  On this day it was not in operation but I have seen it many times and you can sit for hours watching the skilled prone and stand up riders perform.  This is not for the faint of heart as you do not want to try this one without some experience.   The Wavehouse did develop a smaller wave that sits at the other end of the restaurant for beginners as well as advanced riders wanting to hone their skills.

Bel--Snall wave

We walked the boardwalk for awhile and only imagined how busy it must be on a summer day.   Nearby you can find other restaurants as well as a rental shop where you rent bikes, bodyboards, surfboards, etc.


If you stay for the weekend, Mission Bay is close and Sea World is only a few miles away.

This qualifies for one of our weekend getaways because beside Belmont Park, there is so much more to do around the area.

Bel--View towards La Jolla

If you are looking for something to do just for the day consider Belmont Park.  The entrance and parking are free and you can also view the Flowrider wave for free.

Sounds like a perfect day.  Oh and by the way, try the laser tag and see if you can beat my last place.

Again, Faces have been blurred out to protect privacy.


Mendo-On the way there

When I first heard the name Mendocino it seemed like a perfect name for a song title.  I could imagine a little soulful ditty or a number one pop hit with smooth lyrics describing this remarkable town.

My curiosity got the best of me and I looked it up on Google and sure enough there were songs written about Mendocino.    Nothing of course matched the popularity of blockbuster hits such as, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” or “Do you Know the Way to San Jose,” however, I was pleasantly surprised that at least there was a song.

After visiting the amazingly picturesque town of Mendocino , it actually did inspire me to compose something that could possibly be sung by generations to come just like the two blockbusters I mentioned above.    With inspiration in my soul and a song in my heart, I unfortunately discovered that apparently you have to have a little something called musical talent to actually create a song.   Imagine that?

Oh well, I guess I will put aside the soul and the song for the moment and do what I can do…write about it.

So with musical inspiration, I give you… Mendocino.

On the Road Again
Here at Staycations California, we like to include places and activities in all parts of California and not just the more populated Southern region.   In researching Northern California I saw an article about the Mendocino Wine Festival which was coming up in a few weeks.  The story also featured photos which amazed and impressed me on how breathtaking it appeared with its rugged coastline, the sea cliffs, the bay, the quaint village, and the green landscape full of redwoods.  It was then and there that I decided I had to go.

All I had to do was find out exactly where it was and how to get there.

Mendo- A cove
Mendo- Coastline

Do You Know the Way to San Jose
Three weeks later on a Weds afternoon I am off to Mendocino. Our accommodations were in Fort Bragg which is about 10 miles away, but we knew we were close enough to drive over to Mendocino very quickly.

This turned out to be true because there are very few traffic lights between Fort Bragg and Mendocino and the view is so beautiful it takes away all your sense of time.  That amazing view consisted of chiseled bluffs, rock formations off the coast,  beaches full of driftwood, and of course the ocean itself.  It’s unlike Southern California where there is a traffic light every 50 feet and the view consists of the car beside you and a doughnut shop or 7-Eleven on the corner.

Getting to Mendocino from San Diego is another matter.   In reality, if you do know the way to San Jose, you are at least headed in the right direction.  As we drove through the bay area and into San Francisco, we were excited to discover that we would soon be crossing over the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.    We stopped briefly at a vista point on the Sausalito side to take some snaps of the bridge as well as the sprawling skyscrapers across the San Francisco Bay.

Mendo-Golden Gate
Mendocino is situated on the coast about 150 miles north of San Francisco.   Once you leave Highway 101 and head west, you begin the hour-or- so drive on winding roads that take you through the redwoods and the local wineries.

Along the way there are at least 5 tasting rooms so you can stop and sample the local wine but keep it to a few grapes as the roads on the way are tight and dark. The redwoods cover the sky making it dark even when the sun is out.


Somewhere Over the Rainbow
The sun was rapidly setting, and we were anxious to get to the coast to catch what we hoped was going to be an impressive sunset.  No such luck as these roads would only let you drive so fast.

When we did finally reach the end of the road, the sun was long gone and all that was left was a small sliver of blue twilight sky on the horizon.  Fortunately, it was just enough light for us to get our first glimpse of the coast.

Even with diminished light we could still make out a river spilling out onto a vast empty beach with redwoods butting up against a steep cliff.  The sea was home to every size rock formation and the beach was full of driftwood.  I couldn’t wait to see it in the daylight, and I thought to myself, “ Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Southern California anymore.”

Mendo-Beach nearby

My Kind of Town
Mendocino was all it was cracked up to be and was just as stunning as the photos I saw on Google many weeks before.   Perched on a bluff overlooking the river and the Mendocino Bay, sits the part of town that caters to vacationers and visitors.  This area features quaint little shops, trendy boutiques, art galleries, bars, and restaurants.   The pastel colors of the buildings bring a Cape Cod or coastal Maine feeling to the town.

Mendo-Town close up from distcnce-TpwersMendo-Church
 Mendo-The Town G

The bay featured a long empty beach covered with driftwood, pristine sand, and a few Geese grooming themselves in the river. In the water, a lone surfer braved the medium sized waves on this crisp January day.

Mendo--From cliff in distanceMendo- Geese
Mendo-Geese 2Mendo-Bridge

In 1971 Mendocino was placed on the National Register of Historic Places so the residential part of town is rich in Victorian architecture and history.    Also scattered about are old or restored water towers and windmills with one such water tower now serving as a hotel for visitors.

Early settlers used the towers to supply themselves with water from the nearby river.   They must have been refurbished as they looked new and added to the city’s historical charm.  In parts of the town, you feel like you are back in the early 1900’s and parts are every bit the 2000’s, though both eras blend nicely together.

Mendo-Water tower

The views in Mendocino are magnificent and while standing on some of the streets you can see all the way down to the bay.    Take a drive outside of town and enjoy the gorgeous coastline while breathing in the salt air.   On any given day in the whale migration, head for a hillside bluff and you will see at least one or two of these wonderful mammals heading south.

Mendo--Looking down street towards water

I Left My Heart in Mendocino 
The pace is obviously slower here and the lack of traffic lights makes it easy to get around. I had to acclimate when I came back home to Southern California where it seemed like every light was at least 10 minutes long.  Don’t get me wrong… I love my So Cal, but Mendocino is so worth the 12-hour drive.   Yes, 12 hours and don’t even ask me how to get there by airplane.  Split it up and stay in Morro Bay one night like we did, then make the second half of the drive the next day.

Honestly, I could live in that area, but I am not ready for that quiet of a life.  For now, San Diego County is for me.  I did however leave a piece of myself back there… my heart.  I know that sounds really, really corny, but it is true.

I love it there.

Southern California Here I Come, Right Back Where I Started From
Traveling back on I-5 it didn’t take as long as when we drove up and, obviously it was not as scenic.

Leaving the redwoods on our way to Interstate-5 we were brought back to reality once we said goodbye to our last vineyard.   I had to pull over a few times to take a photo and was amazed by the beauty of this part of the wine country.   It made me wish that I liked wine so I could taste all of the wonderful flavors from each and every tasting room.   Then again, maybe not such a good idea, since I was the driver.

Mendo-Wine vines
Mendo-Ducks near grape vines

Mendo-Redwoods drive there

Onward we drove with a book on tape in the CD player and the dogs fast asleep in the backseat.   We hunkered down for the long drive with hopefully an excellent narrator reciting the words from an equally brilliant author.

With memories of this magical place in Northern California etched forever in our brains, we were hoping the drive wouldn’t seem so long.

The truth is, it WAS long, but well worth it!!!!!

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell