Carmel-by-the-Sea is Magical

My husband and I recently visited Carmel to celebrate our 23rd Anniversary and it was magical.   The meaning of magical is “beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life”.   This describes Carmel perfectly.  Synonyms for the word magical include extraordinary, remarkable incredible, amazing – I think you get the idea.  It was a perfect anniversary trip but I guess that shouldn’t be a big surprise though since Carmel has been rated as #3 “Best City for Romance in the World” by Travel Leisure Magazine!  Our trip was memorable from start to finish!

Carmel-by-the-Sea, called Carmel for short is a small town in Northern California about 150 miles south of San Francisco.  This isn’t your typical California beach town with miles of beach and lots of palm trees though.  Carmel does have a beautiful white sand beach and it is next to the ocean but instead of palm trees it has tall pine trees and wind sculptured cypress trees.  Add the adorable storybook like European style cottages that are scattered throughout the town and you feel like you just walked into a fairy tale surrounded by a beautiful forest.   The town was founded in 1902 and was originally inhabited by a large population of artists, writers, and poets and definitely has a European feel to it.

Carmel is small (only one square mile) but it is loaded with charm and interest.   The town is also known for being one of the most dog friendly towns in the world thanks in part to the actress and dog activist, Doris Day.  Over 20 years ago she and a partner opened the most famous dog friendly hotel of all,  Cypress Inn.   The Inn not only welcomes dogs but also has a “dog parade” each night in the hotel lobby!   Many other hotels, restaurants, and stores welcome them as well.  There are adorable dogs everywhere you go!

Day 1

We arrived in Carmel and checked into the absolutely charming Hofsas House.  Hofsas has so much Bavarian inspired character that you will feel like you just landed in Germany! This family owned hotel embodies European Hospitality and is celebrating 70 years of providing guests with comfortable accommodations and personal service.  There is so much about this warm and welcoming hotel that will delight you in many ways.

Hofsas is one of the larger hotels in town and includes 38 uniquely furnished rooms.  Our room was cozy and roomy with a small fireplace and wet bar.  It also came with a great view that overlooked the beautiful pine trees and a view of the ocean in the distance (ask for the 5th floor).   All the rooms at Hofsas have Dutch doors which allow you to open the top door to let in the cool and crystal clean ocean air.  Being from Texas where it’s frequently hot with the air conditioning going all day long, this was like being in Heaven.

We also had access to a patio area on the top floor where we enjoyed quiet and beautiful sunsets with our wine and cheese pairing (and a couple of extra friendly seagulls).

The Hafsas House provides a delicious continental breakfast each morning with fresh baked pastries from a local bakery and French roast coffee plus fruit and juice.  It is also one of the only hotels in Carmel that has a heated swimming pool which is a great bonus if you like to start or end your day with a swim!  Other amenities include European Style Dry Saunas, pet friendly rooms, wine pairings, Carmel Wine Walk Passports, and much more.  They have a meeting room available that includes a full kitchen and fireplace for gatherings such as family reunions, business retreats/meetings and wedding receptions.

The Hofsas staff was friendly and helpful and the owner, Carrie Theis can answer any of your questions about the interesting history of her family operated hotel (she’s the original owner’s granddaughter) and Carmel itself.  She gave us lots of suggestions on dining and activities.  The hotel is on the west side of San Carlos between 3rd and 4th streets.  For information about Hofsas House go to:  Hofsas House  or call # 800-221-2548

 

 

The downtown area is just a short walk from the Hofsas House and is  loaded with it’s own charm.  The weekend was beautiful (60ish degree weather) and we enjoyed strolling through many of the cute and unique shops.  Carmel has tons of cozy and delicious restaurants, amazing art galleries (over 80 of them), and courtyards that you just want to hang out in for a while and soak in the scenery.   Carmel Valley is home to several wineries and in recent years Carmel has added at least 14 wine tasting rooms to downtown Carmel!  You can buy a Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport and easily walk (at least at first – ha) to all the tasting rooms.  We enjoyed tasting all the different wines, learning about the wineries, and meeting lots of new people!

After our day of shopping and wine tasting we walked down Ocean Avenue to the beautiful Carmel Beach area.  The beautiful white sand beach hugs the width of  village of Carmel and overlooks the Pacific Ocean with a beautiful view of Pebble Beach Golf Club in the distance.  The area also provides scenic paths along the beach for walkers, joggers and dog walkers.  We enjoyed hanging out there for quite a while just gazing at the ocean, the surrounding scenery, and marveling at how lucky we were to be there!

Our first night in Carmel we dined at a local restaurant called The Forge in the Forest that’s been voted “Best Outdoor Dining” in Monterey County for almost 20 years.  The Forge  has tons of history which includes being a well-known blacksmith’s forge that produced much of the hand-wrought hardware that still adorns a lot of buildings in Carmel and served as a meeting place for many famous artists and writers such as Henry Miller and John Steinbeck.  The restaurant’s interior is decorated with antique copper walls and the patio is literally a forest of beautiful gardens surrounded by a canopy of pine trees and vines. The patio has outdoor fireplaces and seating which lends itself to a perfect patio setting and therefore a perfect experience for outdoor dining.   The food and service was wonderful. The Forge is also known for its dog friendly patio called Dog Pound Patio where pooches can order specialty items from their own menu while you enjoy the patio.

Day 2

The next day we got up and grabbed a picnic lunch from 5th Avenue Deli.  The deli is also just a short walk away from our hotel and has a huge delicious variety of sandwiches, salads and desserts.   We chose Point Lobos Reserve just a few miles outside Carmel to do some light hiking and check out the ocean scenery.  Point Lobos is at the Northern end of Big Sur and the scenery is breathtaking!  Jagged and rocky cliffs, beautiful ocean scenes, deep forests, wildflowers, and wildlife galore!  Points of interest in this oasis of beauty includes Whaler’s Cove (where we ate our picnic lunch and watched scuba divers enjoy the cove) and the amazingly beautiful and slightly hidden China Cove.   If you go to Carmel don’t miss the opportunity to see the incredible natural beauty surrounding it!  There are endless places for scenic runs, hikes and walks to be experienced and all of them are breathtaking!  For more information go to:  Scenic Runs Hikes & Walks

Another must see is  historic Mission Ranch Resort.  The Ranch was one of the first dairies in California in the 1880’s and was purchased and preserved by former Carmel Mayor, Clint Eastwood. He rescued this landmark resort from condo developers, and renovated the entire property and turned it into a resort.  The Inn now consists of  unique hotel rooms located within ten buildings on the property and includes a restaurant. This beautiful patch of land has a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean,  Point Lobos, and a picturesque scene of  sheep grazing in the pasture with the Pacific Ocean in the background.  Does it get better than that?  Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant

The second night of our European influenced trip continued with a trip to Switzerland as we dined at Lugano’s Swiss Bistro located in The Barnyard in Carmel.  It was a completely delightful experience!  The large menu includes Swiss traditional cuisine such as fondues, Schnitzels, seafood, salads, sausages, and pastas.  From the creamy cheese fondue through the slightly breaded schnitzels and ending with chocolate fondue, I’m just not sure I’ve ever eaten so much and so well.

Everything was delicious, authentic, and memorable.  Owner Nargis Lengacher and her late husband Andre created this one of a kind restaurant with a love for all things Swiss and the food and interior reflects that.  The red and white checkered tablecloths and a wide array of charming collections of cuckoo clocks and wooden figures make it a fun, warm, and inviting place to be.   The restaurant also includes live music on some nights and has a dog friendly patio.  Andre Lengacher was the originator and promoter of Oktoberfest Monterey Bay for the last 7 years and was known to many locals as Mr. Oktoberfest. For more information about this Carmel treasure go to:  Lugano Swiss Bistro Carmel

Day 3

My husband and I got up the next day and said a sad farewell to Carmel and headed off to the Scenic 17-Mile Drive in Picturesque Pebble Beach with a short stop at one of the most beautiful golf courses on the planet Pebble Beach Golf Course.

After checking out the pro shop and the club house, admiring the incredible view, and accidentally  meeting the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Course owner Peter Ueberroth (what a thrill and what a nice man) we continued our scenic drive.  It did not disappoint.    With every twist and turn of the road  another breathtaking scene is revealed.  Dramatic coastal cliffs, crystal blue water, white sandy beaches all surrounded by huge green forests.  In the middle of this incredible drive is one of my favorite spots on earth, the famous iconic Lone Cypress setting on it’s pedestal over the water.    Magical.

Our trip was perfect in every way and we can’t wait to go back!  It’s hard to explain the magic that you feel when you’re in Carmel but you will understand when you go and experience it for yourself.

Fun Facts about Carmel:

Former Mayor of Carmel

It has been over 20 years since Clint Eastwood, also known to his fans as “Dirty Harry,” was mayor of the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea, but visitors still ask “Is Clint Eastwood still the mayor?” referring to his one term that ran from 1986 to 1988. His campaign slogan was “Bringing the Community Together,” and he stressed his desire to build bridges between the business community and the residential community. His strategy worked and though he enjoyed his experience, he did not to run for a second term.

Permit Required to Wear High Heels

Though often mistakenly thought of as an urban myth, the municipal code of Carmel bans wearing shoes having heels more than 2 inches in height or with a base of less than one square inch unless the wearer has obtained a permit for them. While the local police do not cite those in violation of the ordinance, this seemingly peculiar law was authored by the city attorney in the 1920’s to defend the city from lawsuits resulting from wearers of high-heeled shoes tripping over irregular pavement distorted by tree roots. Permits are available without charge at City Hall.

No Chain Restaurants

With no fast food restaurants in the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the city’s charming eateries and tasting rooms offer a full range of cuisine and wine tasting all within walking distance from the over 40 hotels and inns. From Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants to casual eateries and pubs, great dining is abundant, but don’t plan for your typical Starbucks venti frappuccino instead plan a stop at one of the many family owned coffee shops for specialty drinks and your morning cup of joe.

Ice Cream Ordinance

An unusual law of prohibiting selling and eating ice cream on public streets in Carmel-by-the-Sea was on the books and the repeal of the law happened to be one of the pro-business focus points of Clint Eastwood’s campaign for mayor in 1986. He and the new council elected along with him to overturn the ordinance and other similar laws that they considered to be too restrictive to businesses and visitors.

No Street Addresses

Unwilling to see their village become “citified,” Carmel’s founding fathers rejected the practice house- to-house mail delivery in favor of a central post office. To this day, there are still no addresses, parking meters or street lights, and no sidewalks outside of Carmel’s downtown commercial area. Those seeking directions receive hints such as “fifth house on the east side of Torres Street, green trim, driftwood fence” or by the legendary names adorning most houses, such as “Hansel” or “Sea Urchin.” It is, by the way, bad luck to change the name on a Carmel cottage.

Source:  Carmel Fun Facts

There’s so much to do and see!  For more information about this beautiful city by the sea go to:   www.CarmelCalifornia.com and  www.carmelfun.com 

30 Hours in Avalon, Catalina

Catalina HeaderThe island of Santa Catalina has taunted me from 22 miles off the coast of California since I first visited Laguna Beach in 2009.  Sometimes completely shrouded by the marine layer, often appearing only as a silhouette on the horizon at sunset, and occasionally giving us glimpses of glowing rocks on the east end when the morning sun reflects back through a clear sky, Catalina is an intriguing presence when you live along the coast of Southern California. My family, in celebration of our wedding anniversary and my husband’s birthday on the same weekend, finally visited for a short one-night stay to get a taste of what the island has to offer.

Blog Catalina - 05Inhabited for at least 8000 years, the island is thought to have once been called Pimu by the natives, who greeted its first European visitors in 1542. On the eve of St. Catherine’s Day in 1602, a Spanish explorer renamed the island Santa Catalina. In years following, the island hosted hunters, smugglers, ranching, mining, and military operations, was awarded in 1846 as a Mexican land grant, and purchased in 1894 by The Banning Brothers who developed roads and attractions until a fire destroyed the city of Avalon in 1915. William Wrigley, Jr. (yes, that Wrigley) bought the island in 1919 and developed Avalon as a resort destination, bringing his Chicago Cubs baseball team to the Island for spring training in the 1930-1950’s. In 1972 Wrigley deeded 88% of the island to the non-profit Catalina Island Conservancy to protect and restore the land and its wildlife, keeping it undeveloped and wild.  The island holds a unique place in the history of motion picture production as Hollywood’s exotic back lot, beginning as early as 1911. Production crews and sets could be sent to the Island by barge and the vast mountains and beaches could be transformed into almost any place in the world, from the coast of North Africa, Tahiti, the American frontier, the lost continent of Atlantis and the home of Jaws. Although closed to tourism and filming during World War II, it picked up again afterwards and was once again an exotic yet convenient location for Hollywood in the 1950’s, and continues to be so today.

Friends with their own boats go back and forth as their lucky hearts’ desire, but for most us the options are the frequent Blog Catalina - 01
departures from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, Newport Beach, and San Diego on vessels operated by Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer. These modern boats offer comfortable airline-style seating for the hour-long trips to and from the island. For a special experience, however, nothing beats arriving by air. Given the special occasions for our visit, we chose to spend a little more and travel via Island Express helicopter, a thrilling 15-minute ride departing from Long Beach and soaring over the ocean before landing in Avalon. Our pilot entertained us during the brief journey with facts about the water depth and whale watching, and pointed out our hotel as we hovered over the town before landing. It was a truly wonderful way to get our bearings before we started exploring!

Blog Catalina - 04A short cab ride through the town of 3500 permanent inhabitants brought us to Hotel Catalina’s Courtyard Garden Suites, our home base for the short visit. Booked last minute with requirements including a bed for the munchkin in our room and a jacuzzi on the property, it was  a charming choice in the center of town. After quickly checking in we walked around the quiet and glistening streets, enjoying the off-season coolness and bright beautiful colors all around us. We lunched at El Galleon with views of the beach and harbor from our table, and then walked along the water until the drizzle started falling again. We ducked into Three Palms Avalon Arcade for mini bowling, air hockey and arcade games that resulted in handfuls of prize tickets for our daughter. As the sky cleared we walked to the 40-year-old Catalina Island’s Golf Gardens, known as one of the world’s most beautiful and challenging mini-golf courses. Given the off-season rainy weekend, we had most of the course to ourselves, surrounded by gardens and educational signs explaining the story behind each of the holes’ themes. After another leisurely walk along the waterfront, we returned to our hotel for some jacuzzi time before dinner. I had booked a table at The Avalon Grille, an upscale yet island-casual restaurant along the waterfront that I knew would be perfect for my husband’s birthday dinner on Saturday night. The staff could not have been nicer to us, and the 6-year-old was as impressed as we were with the food, ambiance and service. Back at the hotel we returned to the jacuzzi, and then sat by the courtyard fire pit playing cards until the chill chased us back into our room.

Sunday morning we had time for breakfast, a short tour and lunch before boarding our boat back to the coast. My Wrigley Botanic Garden Catalinahusband had hoped to start his birthday with a stand up paddle along the coastline but the choppy sea was not ideal, and island tour times wouldn’t work with our early afternoon transportation reservations. So after breakfast at The Pancake Cottage we walked around The Catalina Casino to Descano Beach to inquire about kayak and paddle board rentals and campground facilities for future visits, chatted with a group of scuba divers, took a self-guided tour of the Catalina Island Museum, and took a cab up to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. The garden, originally supervised by the late Ada Wrigley, places a special emphasis on plants that grow naturally on one or more of the California islands, but nowhere else in the world. After $2 trolley ride back to town we stopped for lobster rolls at the Bluewater Grill on the waterfront before it was time to leave.

Although the intention of our short visit was to relax and get acquainted with the island, my one regret is not getting a chance to see the buffalo. A herd of North American Bison has been roaming the hills of Catalina since 1924, when 14 were transferred over for the filming of The Vanishing American. By the 1980’s, the herd had grown to as many as 500, far more than the island could support. Since then the conservancy has taken control of the population, for the good of the animals and the island’s vegetation, shipping some to land reservations in South Dakota. Bus and jeep eco-tours of Catalina that give guests the opportunity to see the roaming animals will be at the top of my to-do list when we return.

Blog Catalina - 03Getting back to Long Beach was a comfortable and easy hour-long ocean journey on the Catalina Express as we had upgraded to the Commodore Lounge for priority boarding, wide reclining leather trimmed seats, and a complimentary beverage in a lounge environment with great ocean views. Although they neglected to tell us to arrive early so that we could sit together (seats in the lounge are first come – first serve), we moved about and were able to enjoy the view of our new California home as never before: from the sea.

Special notes:

Plan to visit on your birthday and get lots of special discounts! With proof of your birth date you travel free on the Catalina Express boat, get 20% off a helicopter ride, get a complimentary ice cream cone at the candy shop Lloyd’s of Avalon, discounts on hotel rooms, tours, massages, and more! We even got a discount for our anniversary. For more about the promotions, visit http://www.catalinachamber.com/specials/birthdaycatexp.

Catalina is in a constant state of drought, and unlike other parts of California, they can’t simply pipe water in. At restaurants you will have to ask for a bottle of water, and hotels will request that you not have your linens washed every night. To do our part, we bathed at home before leaving the coast on Saturday morning and carried bottles of water with us on our trip. We suggest that you do the same. 

GoodbyeCatalina

 

30 Hours in San Diego

USS Midway Museum

Vacations don’t always require long flights and big budgets. Since moving to Southern California, I set a goal for my family to take short trips exploring our new state. Follow along as we find the best places for both family and romantic getaways close to our new home.

San Diego, California’s second largest city, is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains to the east, and Mexico to the south. Its diverse neighborhoods are spread out over 4,200 square miles and nestled along 70 miles of sunny Southern California coastline, with a gentle Mediterranean climate and a welcoming vibe. Consistently rated one of the top family destinations in North America, San Diego is the ideal destination for children of all ages offering a variety of family friendly activities and world-class attractions throughout the year. And luckily for us, it’s only a little over an hour south of our home in Laguna Beach.

Elephants at the San Diego ZooOur first priority for the weekend was the San Diego Zoo, first opened in 1916 and now encompassing 100 acres in Balboa Park. Pioneering the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats, the zoo is home to 4,000 animals of 800 rare and exotic species. We knew we would have to commit our entire first day there, and even then we couldn’t see it all! We started the day with the 35-minute narrated tour on a double-decked bus to learn the layout and pick our favorite spots to return to and explore in detail. Some of our favorite parts were the Chinese Giant Panda cub Xiao Liwu,  the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge with a mock polar bear snow den and Arctic research helicopter, and The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey, where a herd of eight elephants roam a 2.5-acre exhibit that includes a 120,000-gallon pool and gentle rolling hills surrounded by a replica tar pit, fossil dig and children’s play area. Our 6-year old daughter Inara is still talking about the adorable koalas in the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback, and we were all amazed that we got to see the 3-month old baby gorilla riding around on its mother’s back and later breastfeeding right in front of the viewing window. As a parent who who is very concerned about the future of our planet, I was also appreciative of the exhibits addressing the threats animals are facing due to climate change, and providing guests with suggestions for reducing our carbon footprint.

San Diego Zoo

As it was a last minute trip, we waited until after our day at the zoo to decide where we would stay that night. After a quick search on Expedia, we settled on the Hotel Solamar, a stylish boutique Kimpton Hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Deigo. The neighborhood is a historic 16.5-block district founded in 1867 when it was the Wild West complete with Wyatt Earp running three gambling halls, and now housing a thriving dining, shopping, and nightlife scene. It was a bit too chilly to enjoy the hotel’s rooftop pool but that didn’t stop us from trying, and we hope to get back again to fully experience that option. For dinner we rode Uber to The Fish Market, a seafood restaurant on the harbor founded in 1976 by fishermen, and had fun posing by “Unconditional Surrender,” a statue of the famous WWII sailor kissing a nurse.

Day 2 started with a big breakfast at Broken Yolk Cafe (but not as big as the one Adam Unconditional Surrender San DiegoRichman finished to win the Iron Man Challenge there in 2010, on Man vs. Food) and then set out once again for the harbor. We entered a floating city at sea and walked in the footsteps of 225,000 sailors who served our country aboard the USS Midway Museum. Part of the Navy fleet for 47 years and active during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, the USS Midway was one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers and the museum highlights the city’s rich military history. We listened to passionate docents everywhere on the ship, and Inara loved climbing on the aircraft all around us.

USS Midway Museum

A narrated Hornblower Cruises harbor tour gave us a different view of the city, passing by Shelter Island, ship-building and dry-docking facilities, Coronado Island, and under the 2-mile-long San Diego- Coronado Bridge. With a large sightseeing deck and full snack bar, it was a perfect way to pass an hour or two on a beautiful afternoon before getting ice cream in Seaport Village to enjoy while walking along the water towards the last stop of our visit.

With so many museums to choose from Hornblower Harbor Cruise SD and limited time, we decided to let Inara have some fun at the New Children’s Museum downtown across from the San Diego Convention Center before heading home. A highly-engaging, multi-sensory experience, it was a wonderful opportunity for her to work off some energy, and for us to build and play with her. The museum offers opportunities for children to experience the arts in ways that are meaningful to them, like climbing, sculpting, painting, and banging “drums” with kitchen utensils-turned-instruments. The current exhibit, FEAST, features 13 artist installations and 8 other projects centered around food in unexpected ways.

San Diego WWII

We were sad to leave the city that afternoon, knowing there was still so much left to experience! We left with albums of photos, homemade clay bowls, and the comfort in knowing that San Diego is close enough to visit again soon. Suffice it to say that 30 hours is not a long enough time to see this beautiful city! There seem to be special events every weekend, which means plenty of excuses to return. A few that caught my eye happening in the coming months include:

  • Celebrating all things Irish at the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, held March 14 at the corner of 6th Avenue and Juniper Street near Balboa Park. The day includes a 10:30 a.m. parade and an all-day Irish festival featuring food, beer gardens, musical entertainment and more.
  • On April 19, EarthFair in Balboa Park celebrates a range of eco-friendly practices and environmental causes. Offerings include earth-friendly and organic foods, wildlife preservation education, displays of alternative energy vehicles, pet adoption services and more.
  • From May 7-10, knee-slapping good times abound during the San Diego Annual Gator by the Bay Zydeco, Blues & Crawfish Festival, held at Spanish Landing on Harbor Island. The event features 25 bands on five stages along with dance lessons, food and Cajun cooking demonstrations.

For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.

The Center Stage Studio (and My Second Childhood)

CSS's cast of Annie takes a bow

CSS’s cast of Annie takes a bow

When we first realize that our child is interested in our own passions, the first thought is elation. I KNOW that! I know how that world works, I did it once too! We can chat with the other adults running the program as if we are old colleagues. We know the requirements, the routines, the general culture around it. And of course there’s that evolutionary parent pride, knowing that they must have gotten some gene that made them more like you.

CSS summer camp production of Matilda

CSS summer camp production of Matilda

But then the next emotions come through: yeah, I know that world. I remember the hard work, the heartbreak, and all the things about it that scared me and made me doubt myself.  Is that what my child will go through? How will she balance it all? Will she be better than me? And I worry, have I subconsciously pushed her into something she wouldn’t have otherwise chosen? I’ve certainly taken her to more theater than sports events. I’ve sung show tunes as lullabies since the day she was born. I will plunk down money to see a show faster than for clothes or beauty products (obviously), and surely she’s sensed that. So how can I make sure that she only does it because she really wants to?

Inara as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Inara as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Thankfully when we moved out here to Southern California, I found The Center Stage Studio, a triple threat school in Orange County (Aliso Viejo), California. We have a 30-minute drive from Laguna Beach and it is well worth it for what they do. Triple Threat in that world means acting, singing and dancing, the foundation skills of a successful career on the stage, specifically in musical theater. Each semester a new show is chosen, and there are classes every day of the week that kids can join. Each class has its own cast, and everyone gets a part regardless of their level of training or talent. The mini versions of Broadway hits are performed at the end of the semesters (or ends of special camp weeks in the summer and winter) on an impressive stage with a shared set, with shared costumes, and the kids get head microphones to wear so they can be heard by all of their fans in the audience. The studio provides training, but even more importantly it provides fun and confidence. My little one still doesn’t grasp the concept of being nervous; it’s all just play for her. And as long a she feels that way, I will enjoy every moment of this “stage mom” life.

Scene from CSS's Annie

Scene from CSS’s Annie

And if it becomes something more than play? She has far more opportunities than I ever had. The studio is run by true professionals, and she’s trained by and alongside Broadway and television veterans ready to take a kid to the next level when they (and their parents) are ready. CSS has over 500 students rotating through the school a year, in shows and classes for all elements of performance. Inara spent a week learning a mini version of the Broadway show Matilda over the summer (one of my favorite Broadway shows), this fall she played a tiny blond Miss Hannigan in Annie, and in the spring she will join one of the casts of Seussical The Musical. During this upcoming winter break the studio is offering 2 week-long camp sessions to do a Frozen-themed musical for all the little Elsa and Anna wannabes in Orange County. And for those mamas like me who may have a missed calling or two, they even occasionally offer adult classes. Every city has its own offerings for performance training, but we feel very lucky to live near The Center Stage Studio and will be involved as long  as we live in Southern California (and as long as my mini-me wants to be).

It’s a wonderful feeling to pass the proverbial torch on to our kids. And the answer to the question “Will she be better than me?” has already been answered: undoubtedly. And I couldn’t be more elated.

CSS Summer Camp cast of Matilda takes a bow

CSS Summer Camp cast of Matilda takes a bow

 

 

 

 


 

Center Stage Studio is located at 27101 Aliso Creek Road Suite #136, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656 Phone: (949) 305-9758

For General Info, Registration, Birthday Parties, email: csseventskristen@gmail.com

Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy

Author's daughter watches the glassblowing demonstration at the Sawdust Art Festival's Winter Fantasy

Watching the glassblowing demonstration at the Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy

For those of us lucky enough to live in or be visiting Southern California this month, a can’t-miss event is the Sawdust Art Festival’s 24th Annual Winter Festival. As this is our first winter living in Laguna Beach, we were eager to attend the opening day festivities on Saturday. We spent the afternoon and evening walking the sawdust-covered paths through the hand-crafted village with new friends; the kids got their faces painted while the adults enjoyed wine, the weather was SoCal-perfect (Hats and gloves? Purely for fashion’s sake!), and we all filled our heads with visions of local art under our trees this year.

Playing with the pretend snow at Sawdust. Photo Credit: Mary Hurlbut

The festival grounds have been transformed into a winter wonderland, where 175 artists create, display and sell the most unique holiday gifts in all of Southern California, including jewelry, clothing, fused and blown glass, ceramics, woodwork, forged metals, painting, photography, sculpture, clothing and textiles. The experience is heightened with live holiday entertainment, fabulous outdoor cafes, art classes and demonstrations for young and old, a petting zoo, and of course Santa himself, ready to hear Christmas wishes and pose for photos taken by Laguna Beach photographer Mary Hurlbut. Special activities for families and kids include pottery wheel throwing in holiday-themed shapes at the Ceramic Center, and many art and craft projects at both the Children’s Art Spot and Studio One. The Towne Square at the entrance of the festival grounds offers plenty of photo opportunities, including Santa’s House and Sleigh and falling “snow!”

Jayne and her family visit Santa at Sawdust. Photo credit: Mary Hurlbut

My family visit Santa at Sawdust. Photo credit: Mary Hurlbut

Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy: Holiday Tradition will continue over the next four weekends, including the Friday after Thanksgiving, from 10 am to 6 pm each day: November 29, 30 & December 1, December 7, 8, December 14, 15, December 20, and 21, offering plenty of time to do your holiday shopping. Also, November 29th just happens to be Small Business Saturday; what better small businesses to support than your local artisans? Special community events include partnership with Toys for Tots every Sunday of the festival. Toys for Tots is a foundation with a mission of collecting toys to distribute as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. Visitors can show their support by contributing new unwrapped toys for children, newborn to 17, every Sunday during the festival. Those that donate a new toy with a value of $5 or more will receive free one-day admission to the Winter Fantasy that Sunday.

Adult admission is $7; $6 for Seniors (65+); $4 for children (6-12); FREE for children (5 & under); and $10 for a Season Pass. The festival is located at the Sawdust Art Festival, 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. For additional information, please visit www.sawdustartfestival.org or call 949-494-3030.
Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy 2014

4 Smart Spots for The OC Coffee Break

Whether it is a “triple venti soy no foam latte” (yes, there is such a thing) or a simple cup of strong, black coffee, everyone needs a caffeine fix in the morning. Today marks National Coffee Day (again there is such a thing), and so we thought we would celebrate The OC coffeehouses that have become smart spots for our morning needs. 😉

hiddenhouseHidden House Coffee Roasters, San Juan Capistrano
True to its name, this micro-roaster finds itself nestled between a few oak trees just past the San Juan Capistrano Amtrak station. With hardly much room between the register and the door, Hidden House manages to squeeze its roaster, large sacks of beans, and even a few tables into its establishment. You will appreciate their cold brew coffee, cappuccinos and how they serve their espresso with a glass of mineral water, as is proper in order to cleanse the palate after its consumption.

keancoffeeKéan Coffee, Newport Beach
For Martin Diedrich, founder of Kéan Coffee, great coffee has been part of the family for several generations. As coffee farm owners for much of the last century, the Diedrich family developed a deep, intuitive understanding of coffee. Martin and his wife Karen became business partners, and named Kéan Coffee after their only son. Kéan Coffee sits in a small shopping center with a few outside tables along its long windows. Kéan roasts their own coffee on a drum roaster in the back corner of their store. From its beginnings in 2005, Kéan Coffee has operated as a sustainable, environmentally responsible business, setting an example for many others to follow. Kéan Coffee takes the coffee experience to the next level.

lagunacoffeecoLaguna Coffee Company, Laguna Beach
This coffeehouse is an oasis on the California Coast. The certified Mocha Java beans and Beachcomber blend is the main attraction here, but if you’re hungry they also serve delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. I first discovered this coffeehouse because of their live jazz music and their posh vibe, and immediately my senses were heightened because of the great smell of freshly roasting coffee right here in-house. Relax with a cup of espresso, listen to some good music and enjoy a delicious panini.

portolacoffeelabPortola Coffee Lab, Costa Mesa
Portola is located in the OC Mart Mix. When you finally happen upon Portola, standing freely in the middle of the mall with baristas in lab coats…it’s a bit unexpected, but in retrospect, completely logical. Beans are carefully sourced and roasted on-site. The coffeehouse’s brewing methods span time and technologies, all with a heavy emphasis on a barista’s skills: the siphon filter method is a throwback to an industrial age that used vapor pressure and a vacuum to produce a clean cup of coffee. Move to the modern-era with the BUNN Trifecta machine, which offers several settings to fine tune each brewed cup, or opt for the manual pour-over. Portola also offers a Japanese cold brew for those warm, California days. Portola has studied the science of the perfect cup of coffee.

Hope you enjoyed these few spots, and let us know if there are any more! 🙂

The Buddy Holly Story

The Buddy Holly StoryI have never been a big fan of jukebox musicals. They can be fun but in general it’s lazy musical theater, meant for audiences afraid to try anything new. The shows take a collection of already published music from one particular person or band or genre, and either loosely connect them in an effort to form a story (Mamma Mia!, Movin’ Out, Rock of Ages) or use them in telling the story of the singer/band (Jersey Boys, The Boy from Oz). Critically, occasionally they work well and often they fall flat, but audiences (particularly those not familiar with or appreciative of the more original work on Broadway) tend to love them. Producers do to, because they come with an established fan base ready to splurge on tickets to see music they already know performed by people who remind them of the musicians they already love, and they get to say they saw a piece of theater. For those of us who prefer edgy, sexy, and original music (Cabaret and Pippin are two of my favorites), it’s frustrating to see more and more popping up on Broadway when there is plenty of original work to use, but at the same time I love any reason to get people in theaters. And one of the best parts of these types of shows, particularly the smaller casts of touring productions, is that you get an impressive group of extremely talented people playing multiple roles and multiple instruments. Big Bopper

The Buddy Holly Story is one of the original jukebox musicals, originally opening in 1989 and running on London’s West End for 12 years before a successful Broadway run and international tours. It was critically acclaimed and popular before the more formulaic eye-roll-inducing Mamma-Mia-inspired flops took over the Great White Way (Lennon, Good Vibrations, Ring of Fire, Hot Feet). The production I saw last night, currently playing at The Laguna Playhouse, is a cast of 14 dancers-singers-actors-musicians, many of whom have been playing these roles in multiple productions. For Todd Meredith, this marks his 15th time in the title role, in addition to performing all over the country in a Buddy Holly tribute band along with bassist (and trombonist) Bill Morey, who is in his 5th production of TBHS. Pinch-his-cheeks-adorable Emilio Ramos reprises his role of Ritchie Valens (almost stealing the show with his La Bamba, my favorite performance of the night), and a boisterous Mike Brennan plays the Big Bopper for the fifth time. This isn’t just a job for these guys, these are parts they were born to play and they are killing it up there. I am not ashamed to say that when it came to the end of the story, the night the proverbial music died, I got a little teary-eyed. And I KNEW how it would end! This little jukebox musical and its stars grabbed at my heartstrings.

The Buddy Holly Story

Why not go? If you hate Buddy Holly music (and who hates Buddy Holly music?!) you won’t like this, because that’s pretty much all it is. If you prefer shows with elaborate sets, precision choreography, deep plots or spectacle, this show is not for you.

Why go? Do you find yourself tapping your feet or singing along every time Peggy Sue, That’ll Be the Day, Chantilly Lace, or Johnny B. Goode comes on the radio? Are you AT ALL interested in the history of American music? Do you need a wholesome show to take your kids or in-laws to? Most importantly do you (like me) enjoy  watching really talented people doing what they do best and having a hell of a good time doing it? Then go. Go, sing along, get up and dance, and leave the theater with your cheesy cardboard black geek glasses remembering the short life of the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.

SIDE NOTEif you see it at The Laguna Playhouse, or ANYTHING at The Laguna Playhouse and you measure 5’4″ or below, don’t get balcony seats. I had to sit on the edge of my seat to see anything below the performers’ shoulders. Petite problems. 

The Buddy Holly Story is playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, California through August 10th. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com. For other productions around the country and the world, visit www.buddythemusical.com.

 

 

 

Sundays in the Park

Jayne and Inara in Bluebird Park, Laguna BeachFresh air, laughing children, food and wine, dancing neighbors and live music; there are few things that elicit a more favorable response than a classic summertime music concert in a park, especially when it’s free. A quick Google search shows how many options there are nation-wide for experiencing free musical concerts in public spaces, and we are all better for it. My family has enjoyed performances in Central Park in New York and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and now thanks to the Laguna Beach Arts Commission we have this opportunity again in our new home of Laguna Beach.

Fifty-two year old Bluebird Park is enclosed by fencing and surrounded by quiet neighborhood streets. The park includes a soft grass lawn, picnic tables and barbecues, drinking fountains, shade trees, sidewalks, curvy slides built into a hillside, scooter/tricycle paths with tunnels and bridges, big kid areas for climbing, spinning and playing basketball, little kid playing area with sand and baby swings, and clean and safe restrooms. As a parent, if you are anywhere in the middle area of the park you can see almost everywhere else. Dogs are not allowed so although they are missed, it makes it even more comfortable for parents to let all the munchkins run loose. Situated in Bluebird Canyon, only 4 blocks inland from Coast Highway (that’s PCH for most of California), it gets enough of an ocean breeze that it doesn’t get too hot, and it’s inland enough that the wind doesn’t get too cold. In short, add the music and all the fun residents of Laguna Beach with their food and wine, and you get a family paradise in 1.7 acres. Bluebird Park Laguna Beach

When my husband and I were dating, he brought me to this beautiful town by the sea every opportunity we got to get away. Usually we had to fly out Sunday afternoons and would miss the opportunity to experience the Sunday evening concerts in Bluebird Park, with the exception of one time. I remember how happy he was then and how romantic the evening was, with our packed picnic dinner we had prepared earlier that day and a few bottles of wine, laid out on our picnic blanket on the lawn. I’m sure I fell more in love with him then. The acoustics in the canyon were perfect for the music, played on a tiny hill on one end of the park with little amplification needed. We loved being there together but we both hoped to be back one day with my daughter so that we could attend the affair as a family. This past Sunday night, five years after we met, we finally had that opportunity as they kicked off their 31st season of music. Grateful Dead fan at Music in the Park, Laguna Beach

The genre is different every week, and this season started off with a Grateful Dead tribute band, Cubensis. We hadn’t paid attention to the schedule in advance, but we figured it out fairly quickly by the crowd. The people-watching was a blast and seeing my little Manhattan baby twirling around with adults in tie-dye handing out stickers and “Free Hugs” was priceless. With our picnic blanket nestled amongst early-afternoon campers on the front row with only the dance area between us and the band, my husband and I held each other and chatted with new neighbors, once again enjoying a picnic dinner we’d cooked together. But this time we also watched my daughter as she danced and played around the park, slid down the hillside and played tag with neighborhood kids. We followed her to the monkey bars holding hands, glasses of wine in the others, and in a perfect moment he admitted how happy he was to be back in Bluebird Park, this time as a family, for the occasion. It really is that special.

If you live in Orange County or will be visiting this summer, make time in your schedule for music in Bluebird Park Sunday evenings. The bands play from 5-7pm and you can claim your picnic spot no earlier than 3pm. The park is located at 798 Blue Bird Canyon Drive, Laguna Beach and parking is limited so walk and/or take public transportation if you can. Next week (July 20th) we look forward to Zydeco with Lisa Haley and the Zydecats (of course- we got married in New Orleans!), then Soul with Stone Soul (7/27), Beatles music with Beatroots (8/3), Irish with The Fenians (8/10), Reggae with Lesterfari & Kings Music (8/17), and finally Blues with Tom Nolan Band to close out the season on August 24th. Suffice it to say that if we are in town, we’ll be there. And in the Laguna spirit, we can always make room for one more.

Music in Bluebird Park Laguna Beach 2014 Schedule

YesVideo: From Memories to Retelling Stories Digitally

YVStoryTourThese past few months, I have been honored to be a YesVideo Storyteller, their ambassador program. Part of the benefits of being a “Storyteller” is traveling to their headquarters in Santa Clara, California, and take a tour of their facilities. Since 1999, YesVideo has been providing services and programs for families to protect and share generations of memories. They believe in designing products that our own families would enjoy and building processes that we would trust to handle our own irreplaceable memories. First, they started out by mailing customers CD-ROMs, then moved toward mailing DVDs and now making it easy to share the memories via email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and NOW even EMBED VIDEOS on your blog. Along with mailing in your “memories,” you can go into a retail drop-off location like Costco and pick up your “stories” within a few weeks.

“YesVideo is the platform for America’s Family Memories,” said YesVideo’s CEO Michael Chang. “17 million tapes will be lost forever this year. YesVideo wants to change this.” YesVideo brings back memories. Their mission is to help families rediscover & share precious moments held on old film reels, VHS tapes,etc. They currently have 1.8 million video in their YesVideo Cloud, which is connected with Amazon Cloud. Did you know that 125 million minutes of video securely via the cloud with 30% of users are sharing with friends and family? AMAZING!YesVideoBarCodesThe YesVideo tour, given by VP of Operations Lisa McCabe, began at the beginning of where “your stories” enter the facility, the loading dock. From the moment they receive your memories, YesVideo understands that you are entrusting us with your precious and irreplaceable “memories.” They assign ever videotapes, etc with a barcode. They take this responsibility extremely seriously and treat your memories as we would treat our own, like gold. So much, that they have installed tons of video cameras in the facilities to ensure the security and safety of each “story.”YesVideoReelsThe video transferring begins of your media. It is truly amazing to see all the reels going. The sounds bring me back to my childhood. 🙂
YesVideoEditingThen, it moves to editing, where they use an algorithm to make chapters in “your stories.” Each chapter a picture is grabbed to be put on your DVD cover.YesVideoLisaMcCabeThen, the edited videos are burnt on your DVD and placed in the YesVideo Cloud. Did you know that YesVideo has the greatest number of VHS players than anywhere in the world?! If you want to donate yours, they are always accepting more. 😉YesVideoPlayersDuring the last step called “Order Fulfillment,” YesVideo brings up your order record and the system lists all of the items that correspond to your order. This list consists includes your original media, DVD disks and cover sheets for the DVDs. We complete the inventory of your order by scanning the barcode on each item in your order. This ensures that we have the correct DVDs matching to each piece of original media. Once YesVideo has fulfilled and sealed your order, it is boxed up and shipped back to you via UPS.YesVideoPackingI personally want to thank the great YesVideo host and hostess of the mostest, Eber Legarreta and Sharleen Reyes. You know how to show people great food and fun places in the Bay area. I also want to thank CEO Michael Chang and VP of Operations Lisa McCabe for taking time out of their busy schedules to show us what makes YesVideo the place where the world should be bring their Family Videos. Thank you!

Business Travel: Silicon Valley, California

Business_Travel_Silicon_ValleyI am a firm believer in the idea of adding fun to a business trip. It’s not always easy to find free time when you’re traveling all over the place representing your company or brand, but business travelers should carve out time to enjoy themselves whenever possible. Fortunately, a perk for being a YesVideo ambassador was traveling to their headquarters in Silicon Valley. This brand knows how to work hard and play hard. The digital revolution transformed Santa Clara County, California, into the home of some of the world’s biggest technology companies. So, if you are here on business visiting one of these companies, here’s is what I would recommend for you in Silicon Valley.

Local Charming Hotel
Looking for a quality hotel in the Silicon Valley that has more local charm than big name behind it? Try The Plaza Suites in Santa Clara, California. It is a great value for the money with a ritzy-looking front lobby and comfortable suites. Located near the 101 freeway, it’s a great place to stay for business trips, a university visit or a weekend getaway.ThePlazaSuitesThe_Plaza_Suites_Pool

Amazing, Comfort Restaurant
Pedro’s Restaurant offers a varied and unique selection of authentic Mexican creations. Share their delicious Pedro’s Sampler Platter, which comes with mini beef chimichangas, sopes, taquitos and cheese quesadilla, served with with jalapeno cream cheese and guacamole. Their Sweet Corn Tamales are also a perfect way to start out your meal. Indulge in their Carnitas Tacos or Enchiladas Las Hadas for the seafood lover, which comes with snow crab and bay shrimp in two flour tortillas with salsa del mar and a sliced avocado.Pedros_Restaurant

Stan’s Donut Shop is a local favorite and a staple in the community since 1959. This bakery has got all your favorites and some more fun flavors for the adventurers. 😉

Getting There
Silicon Valley is well served with scheduled flights to San Jose International Airport from Southwest, American Airlines, jetBlue, United and Delta.

Getting to Silicon Valley
There are lots of different options. Local light rail is connected by a free airport shuttle bus, or you can get one of the scheduled bus services that service the airport as well. San Jose Airport connects to Caltrain by VTA bus line 10, a free shuttle between the airport and the Santa Clara Caltrain station and transit center. Various other local VTA bus lines also leave from this transit center. Taxis also serve the airport and can transport you to Sunnyvale for around $25 one way, for example. Limo transfers and Uber are also available from outside the airport terminal.

Must-See Sights
Silicon Valley is home to the company that basically powers the entire computer industry: Intel Corporation. You can learn all about the history and operations of this groundbreaking tech company at its sleek, ultra-cool museum with fun and interactive exhibits for all ages. It has big touch screens, a fun Name Machine to create letters in the binary code of 0s and 1s, and a kiosk where you can send digital composite photo postcards to friends. Although these are largely closed tech campuses, outside Google’s campus at Building 44, 1635 Charleston Road, you can do selfies with a big green Android, or a colorful Jellybean, Cupcake, Frozen Yogurt, Gingerbread Man and more sculptures of the company’s mobile operating systems. Still saving up for that race car? Get your fast and furious fix at K1 Speed, an indoor go kart racing track. And be warned: These aren’t your mother’s go-karts. They can get up to 45 miles an hour!1653652_10203009615419841_690413714_n

NextSpace for Getting Things Done
Traveling on business and need a place to work? It’s the sharing economy to the rescue! Coworking could be just the answer you’ve been looking for, and I HIGHLY recommend checking out NextSpace, a creative hub of economic activity, bringing together entrepreneurs and freelancers. Located in the Historic Lion Building on the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets, NextSpace provides a cafe, workstation, office and conference space for you while you are on business travel.