Formally and historically known as Carlsbad by the Sea, the shorter moniker of just Carlsbad, is what most people use.

About 114, 000 residents live in this coastal town located just about 30 minutes north of San Diego.

When I moved there many years ago, Carlsbad was the prettier big sister to its neighbor, Oceanside.

Not so much in recent years as Oceanside has cleaned up its image and I am happy it did, since I live there now.

It was hard to write about Carlsbad because I resided there so long and couldn’t conjure up anything fresh, it was like, “been there, done that.”

So I drove around Carlsbad over a few days and realized just how interesting and beautiful it really is!!

It is a contradiction in space, it is a town of opposites, it is everything and more. OK, enough of the riddles. What I mean is that this city has so much open space even though they have built, a huge amusement park, an Army Navy Academy, a giant mall, an airport, and much more.

Yet, if you look hard enough you will discover tons of open space with walking trails, lagoons, marshland, and beaches.

Maybe I am describing any city, but for Carlsbad the open spaces are amazing, while the built upon is just as awesome!

As an example, it is one of a few towns in San Diego County that has a giant mall, yet nearby by is a peaceful lagoon where you can stroll around and feed the ducks. Frenetic activity versus tranquility, that is… Carlsbad.

As travelers from all over the world visit the amusement park Legoland, nearby the local growers are tending to hills and hills of strawberry fields, bringing an agricultural feel to the city. Roller coasters versus farmland, that is…Carlsbad.

Another feature that brings on the crowds to the area is the blooming of the colorful Renunculas.

Ablaze with colors of orange, pink, yellow, and red, the hills come alive with these flowers every year while just a few traffic lights away is yet another shopping center and a Costco. Flower fields, versus flat screen televisions, that is… Carlsbad.

The 39.11 square miles of Carlsbad are filled with so much to see and to do.

Besides Legoland there is the Museum of Making Music, Carlsbad Village, and the La Costa Resort where many a professional golf or tennis tournament has been held. Tiger Woods and Serena Williams have been here!

Driving through Carlsbad and checking out every nook and cranny is where the magic really is. It is what I like to call ‘Off the Beaten Path’

So here we go. First, off we checked out the heart of Carlsbad at what they call the village, which isn’t too much off the beaten path but a place you have to go.

This is the main downtown commercial area and the hub for restaurants, shopping, hotels, plus resorts.

Every type of food imaginable is here as well as surf shops, clothing stores, and wine tasting.

Visit the courtyard of the quaint Village Faire. where live music can be heard from the ever-popular Coyote Bar, while more unique shops and restaurants can be found.

We window shopped for a bit while listening to the tunes flowing from the bar, then headed to one of three lagoons encompassing the city.

So, our second stop was the Agua Hedionda Lagoon which is connected to the Pacific Ocean and then flows easily under the 5 Interstate Freeway.

The coast portion does not allow boating of any kind, no kayaks, SUP’S or any kind of watercraft. You can fish from the shore and that’s it. There are trails around for biking or hiking and impressive views of the ocean. They also have a new attraction where you can learn about oysters, including shucking them, and then eating all if you care to. For those of us that would rather have a root canal than to eat an oyster, they will pack them up for you to take home.

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The Metrolink

Oceanside to Los Angeles

Oceanside has a bustling transit center featuring three main train lines that travel through on a daily basis. Amtrak journeys around the country, the Coaster is mainly around San Diego, and the Metrolink goes as far north as Ventura.

Living here all of these years, you would think I would utilize it more, but I don’t.

One time I went across country on the train, another up north to Santa Barbara, and a few times to San Diego.

Not having anything planned for the weekend, we saw something online about the Metrolink costing only $10 for a round trip ticket for the day. So, we thought it would be fun to jump on and explore up north.

Quick videos to show you some of the ride. Here leaving Oceanside

The Plan

The plan was to go to San Clemente to walk around the shops, visit the pier. and, then stop for lunch at San Juan Capistrano. The train stops twice in San Clemente with one of the stops landing right smack in front of the pier. You disembark and there is no better stopover as you are near all of the action. Besides, the pier, there are shops, places to eat, and of course that beautiful beach. We gave a brief thought about bringing our bathing suits then going for a swim but decided that was for another time.

San Clemente Pier

The next stop in San Clemente was also next to the ocean but about a mile north of the pier. There again, you could get out and go to the beach but with less activity as by the pier.

We stayed on to see one of the next stops in San Juan Capistrano. Arriving in San Juan, the now slowing train, slid by quaint little shops where you could easily get lost browsing for hours.

We were excited to investigate these crafty stores, all filled with eclectic stuff such as out door decorations, antiques, pottery, etc. However, that was not to be as I will explain later.

We also saw cute restaurants with tree-lined shaded patios and ambiance for days. Our goal was to walk to Ruby’s Diner which we knew was close to the widely visited Mission San Juan Capistrano. Honestly, we didn’t know exactly how far away that was, but we knew it was pretty close.

Coming into San Juan Capistrano

However, we were surprised that the ground was super wet, it was raining, well, actually a hard sprinkle. The train was super cool from a fine tuned air conditioner and sitting in wet clothes didn’t sound like fun.

So, we stayed on to see the next stop in Laguna. After San Juan, the train started to turn away from the beach, it was actually inland Laguna Niguel we were going to, not Laguna Beach.

The Scenery

From Oceanside, right away you are greeted with a wide-open view of the harbor and Camp Pendletons secluded beaches. The ocean is to the west the whole time. In parts it feels like you are right on the beach and almost as if a wave is going to hit the train at any moment.

It is a stunning drive. The ocean was so sparkling clear on this day as you drive by both crowded and uncrowded beaches. On some deserted beaches there were only a few people, so I looked to the west to see where they were possibly parking, there was nothing. I’m thinking that they must have hiked or walked a few miles just to get the place all to themselves.

This part of the trip up north, is worth every penny.

However, as we turned east, there was no more sea, no more beach.

We stopped at Laguna Niguel but it was still wet out and we didn’t see anything we could do so, we stayed put and further north we went.

We passed by a few towns then decided to check the schedule and see when the train travels back to Oceanside. As it turns out, if you got off at each stop at this point, it will be another two hours before the train comes back around south. So, wherever we stopped and disembarked, at this point, we would have to kill two hours.

This meant that, we missed our two stops for lunch and strolling around the quaint shops in San Juan Capistrano. Mainly because the Metrolink did not operate very late on a Sunday.

It was decided that we would go to the Union Train Station in Los Angeles because there are things to do around there. From the gorgeous beaches to industry in Los Angeles, here we come. We were actually OK with the new plans.

We passed by so much, including, Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm although they weren’t that close.

We Googled that you could get a taxi to either for a short six-mile ride or grab a bus. One of the stops landed you right at Angel Stadium. This is where most of the passengers got off as there was definitely a game that day judging by the people we could see in the stadium.

Angel Stadium

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The sun was setting and illuminating the skyline of Los Angeles. It was the end of the day, and each skyscraper was radiant with colors of yellow and orange.   It was a magical sight.   My front seat passenger agreed on how beautiful it was and was hurriedly taking phone photos while we zipped through the frenetic traffic of Highway 101. In between obstacles of cars, buildings, signs, and power lines she tried to get a shot, but it was near impossible from our current vantage point and speed.  Still, she managed to get something.

I have seen snowcapped mountains, sun splashed lakes, and colorful beach sunsets, all of which are beautiful in their own right.  However, a conspicuous row of skyscrapers lit up from the sun with various colors, can be just as stunning in my opinion.

It was if the city was giving us a vibrant good-bye to the fun filled day that we just experienced in its neighboring city…Hollywood.

Hooray for Hollywood

I have been to Hollywood many times despite the fact that it is almost two hours from my house. Our guests didn’t want me to do much driving once we got there so, they booked a bus tour as well as entry to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

It was decided what we would do for the day, the tour, the museum, Hollywood sign, movie star homes, the Chinese movie theater, and Rodeo Drive.  All within miles of each other but at least 30 minutes apart, thanks to traffic and streetlights.

The Bus Tour

First up was the bus tour in a combined package, including the wax museum. The boarding area was just a block away and all of us headed straight up to the open-air top floor although, I bee-lined it for the shaded area.

Riding on top of the double decker is the place to be as it seems like you have a bird’s eye view of everything.

However, gone are the cheerful tour guides that used to stand atop the bus spouting out interesting facts and humorous antidotes via microphone. Today, you plug in a supplied set of earphones near your seat and a voiced-in person talks to you at the volume you select.  Occasionally, the mysterious voice said something funny, but it didn’t have the same appeal as a live person.

Nonetheless, the facts that we heard for the almost two-hour trip were fascinating and informative.

Along the way, we saw the CBS building, Paramount Pictures Studios, the Capital Records building, The La Brea Tar Pits, the star packed Ivy Restaurant, LA Farmers Market, The Petersen Auto Museum, and, much, much, more.   There are many stops where you can get off and investigate further, then hop back on at a later time.

Three Famous Streets

The bus tour took us through two of the most well-known streets in Hollywood but couldn’t go down Rodeo Drive because of weight limits imposed.  So, we came back later to visit that infamous Boulevard.

Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive is not long, and it only takes a few minutes to go from point A to point B.  However, this two-mile-long street probably has more money in its stores than five malls combined.

This is where the super-rich come to spend.  On a lucky day you may see stars or entertainers with multiple bags in their hands.   Sitting proudly on the Blvd., the world-famous stores, jewelers, and designers all vie for the black cards and Benjamins of their wealthy customers.   You’ll see names like, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Versace, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier to name a few.

It is worth a few minutes of your day if you are in the city just to drive by.  Now, as far as going into the stores, I can’t help you there as I have only gawked from the comfort of my car.

Hollywood Blvd.

Do you remember this famous song ‘Celluloid Heroes’ from the Kinks? Its lyrics were as follows, “You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard.  Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of.”

It is so true; miles and miles of terrazzo and brass stars are set into the sidewalk with the names of movies stars, singers, musical groups, or even politicians. I must admit some of the names I did not recognize, as the song said.  However, because of my age, I did know a lot of the old-time movie stars, directors, and such.  Unlike the teenager in our group who kept saying, who? Who? Who?  I felt like I was walking with a barn owl.

Continue readingHOLLYWOOD

The Top Gun House in Oceanside

If, I am remembering the Top Gun scene correctly, Tom Cruise motorcycles his way up a steep hill and lands on a side street to the home of his love interest, played by Kelly McGinnis.

She supposedly lived in a cute little Victorian cottage dressed in blue and white, with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean from the patio.

He was already late and she was clearly waiting for him. Then what does he do?  He asks her if he can take a shower…really?   Seems rude to me, but oh well, it is Hollywood.  They soon settled on the porch and enjoyed a nice evening until it was time for him to scurry off, riding on the now famous motorcycle.

So, in 1986, Hollywood came to the quirky little town of Oceanside, some 30 miles north of San Diego. I say quirky, because it has been that way at times until lately where it has turned into a coastal gentrification.  Out with the old, in with the new.

The movie gave us a chance to gawk at the tiny home while watching the movie, with screams of, “Hey, I know that house, I know that street!”

It soon became the ‘Top Gun’ house to residents and visitors alike.

It sat by itself on a corner for many years, even after its claim to fame in that blockbuster movie.

Originally, it was the Graves house on North Pacific Street and it really did have those awesome coastline views.   It was built in 1887 and was Dr, Henry Graves vacation home. It was subsequently sold to others and in 1986 as mentioned; it was rented out to Paramount Pictures for two weeks to film.

With or without the movie notoriety, the home still has architectural value as one of few oceanfront Victorians in San Diego County.   Note the decorative wood work and gabled roof.

So what and where is it today?

The city moved it from that lonely corner, and it now sits a few blocks away to become part of the new ‘look’ of Oceanside.

Gone are the empty corners and bye-bye to the sleepy town feel.   Nowadays, it is all grown up and fancy. Just like the infamous and touristy Huntington Beach.

One of many seating areas along the new resort feel of Oceanside.

The Top Gun house is now a pie shop right smack in the middle of all of the action. On the weekends, lines are 30 deep to get inside.  The menu is sparse, but I hear the pies are actually good, but small.  I was happy to hear that they are made with strawberries from local fields and apples from nearby, Julian.

Inside the pie shop.

 Red brick and bright blue umbrellas welcome you to a seating area to enjoy the pies, views, or just to people watch.

Inside the Pie shop and keeping with the decor of the era.

A nice place to relax.

Up front, there is a replica of the motorcycle that Mr. Cruise rode and now serves as a fun photo opportunity for kids or adults.

At first, I thought that it didn’t fit the décor of the two new resorts with their modern or Cape Cod facades.  However, I am getting used to it and I actually think what they made it into is a good idea. It is better than falling prey to the local termites like it was when it was down the street.

One of two new resorts in Oceanside.
The Top Gun House nestles between these fancy resorts.

The Sea Bird Resort.

Now, it has a fresh new coat of paint and is all dressed up to meet the tourists.

It is funny how a few minutes in a movie made this such an iconic symbol for Oceanside. 

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGinnis walked around this cottage many years ago.

But for Oceanside, it is so much more, it is nostalgia.

In ending, I still can’t get over that infamous scene, and can’t imagine going to someone’s home for dinner, walking in late, then asking if I can take a shower.  I know, I know, I need to get over it.  It was only a movie.

Ignore me,… instead, come on down to Oceanside and head to the pier once there, look east and there it will be…The Top Gun House.

Stories and photos: Debbie Colwell

The Funicular at Strands Beach in Dana Point

A couple friends sent me a video of something that I didn’t know existed in Southern California.    An actual tram that transports you down a long steep slope and then ends at a ramp where you can continue the trek to the beach.

 I had to investigate this myself since I was given a general idea of where it was. As it turns out, I found it quite easily near Dana Point in Orange County.

We zeroed in on it at Strands Beach which is only a few miles north of Dana Point Harbor, however it was closed. It was only open until 5:00pm and from what I understand, as of right now, only the weekends.

The other option to get to the beach was to take the long stairway to the bottom.

Bring on the Stairs!!

Since the view from top was only of the ocean, our curiosity killed us on what the actual beach looked like.  So, like daring out-of -shape ninjas, we began our journey down the stairs…and there were a lot of them.   Finally arriving at the end of the stairs, there was still a paved trail to go before you actually touched the sand.  I had to stay up with the dog and couldn’t take pics but I’ll have to come back one day this summer to snap a few.   

One of us did make the trek and reported back that the beach was stunning. Even though it was high tide, there was still plenty of sand for chairs and family activities.

Except for the harbor and neighboring Doheny Beach, Dana Point is known for its location high above the coastline.  On this beach, the view was spectacular because of the towering cliffs that spanned as far you can see.

It was a cool day and the water was still chilly but even with that, it still looked inviting to take a swim. 

So now back to the stairs.

I am here to report that, walking the stairs up, isn’t really that much fun unless you are super fit and love getting your heart rate going.  It is pretty steep, but they managed to make it easier by breaking up the amount of stairs at given sections. Sometimes you will walk up eight stairs, then two, then, five, then a landing area.

The landing area is handy as you can stop and look at the view or fake like you are looking at it, while actually trying to catch your breath.  Whatever your reason, the setting is amazing.

So we made it up the stairs no worse for the wear but agreed that we still wanted to come back and check out this tram.

A few weeks later, we were up in the area and decided to go take a look again. This time, the tram was working!!

Bring on the Funicular!!

The Funicular is what they actually call  this tram and a new word that I learned for the day.

The definition of a Funicular is: “A  type of cable railway system that connects points along a railway track laid on a steep slope.”

That is exactly what it was and we were ready to try it, but first, a little bit about it.

The Funicular was built in 2007 and is open to the public during daylight hours. As of today it was only open on the weekends though.   It holds no more than 8 people and is about a two minute ride each way.

The California Coastal Commission built it with the intent to make it easier to access the ramp leading down to the beach.  Also, for families who had tons of chairs, beach equipment, toys, etc.

It operates on the weekends year-round during daylight hours and all week between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

When I rode it, there were only three others on the ride down and one on the way up. I am sure in summer it is packed.

During the ride you get a nice few of the ocean as you descend. It is a remarkable view made even better as the vehicle moves so slowly.

Leave it up to the affluent Dana Point to have in its city, what is basically an elevator to the beach.  I have seen steeper cliffs in Northern California where they make you hike your butt up and down if you want to get to the beach.

Not here, we have the wonderful Funicular.

I know it is better for my health to walk, but heck after a day at the beach with sun beating down on me, a nice cool ride up the hill sounds just about right.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell