Our family lived in Southern California for several decades before moving to Eastern Washington in 2004. We enjoyed our life in the Sunny Southland but felt it was time to leave — and we have no regrets about this decision. We still love to travel to SoCal, especially in the winter, as it is the best time of year to visit. The temperatures are pleasant (usually mid-60s — while the rest of the country is chilly), the sky blue and dotted with fluffy clouds (not gray and opacified by smog), and the hills are lush and green (not brown tinder like they’ll be late summer).
We own a timeshare in Newport Beach, which we bought almost a decade ago. The Marriott Newport Coastal Villas is a lovely resort in one of the finest settings in Southern California. With great views of the Pacific (and on a clear day of Catalina Island as well) and Newport Harbor, the resort is located above Crystal Cove State Park and the Pacific Coast Highway. Crystal Cove State Park is a true gem, one of the last beach nature preserves in the area. We’ve always enjoyed visiting its tide pools and walking on the beach or hiking on the trails on the mesa above the beach. The park contains a small abandoned village where farmers once lived, their simple homes now being remodeled and used as vacation rentals. They’ve added a Beachcomber restaurant to this village, but we’ve never eaten there. During this visit we were surprised at how extensive the beach had been eroded in the recent winter storms, with about 4 feet depth of sand being washed away and exposing many rocks on what once was smooth sand beach. Still, its a great place to go for a walk and watch the seagulls, sandpipers and pelicans. Sea lions and dolphins often frolic just off shore and these are always entertaining.
We were with on this vacation with my dad and brother, who wanted to return to our old stomping grounds in Ventura County, so we headed there for a visit. Its a bit of a drive, but Dad always loved going to Ventura Harbor and we enjoy driving thru this less crowded part of Ventura county, where strawberry fields, avacado and lemon groves are still plentiful, and where one of our favorite seafood restaurants, Andrei’s is located. So we walked around the Harbor area a little, enjoyed the beautiful views of the water and snow-capped mountains in the distance. And we had another terrific meal at Andrei’s. Try their fried calamari dinner or Captain’s Combo — its great! The Channel Islands National Park visitor center is in this complex of buildings, and whale-watching cruises and trips to the Channel Islands depart this harbor, but we did not partake in those fun adventures today (though we have many times in the past). At the end of our visit we were treated to a magnificent sunset over the Pacific. The oil derricks in the Channel didn’t distract from the beauty of the moment.
It had been years since we visited the Long Beach area, so one day we drove to the relatively new aquarium in Long Beach (Aquarium of the Pacific). Its a really fine place to visit, not quite as elaborate or extensive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but still with plenty of huge tanks and hundreds of species of fish to occupy your attention for a day. Especially memorable were their shark exhibits, including the large “petting” tanks of sharks and manta rays (they feel sort of like soft wet rubber). We enjoyed the brightly colored fish in the tropical fish exhibit and also the avarium outside, home to dozens of magnificiently colored Lorikeets. We walked around the Harbor and enjoyed views of the Queen Mary (once the largest ocean-liner, now a floating hotel, which we’d visited years earlier) and the dome which used to hold the Spruce Goose (not quite sure what’s in there now).
Newport Beach is close to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. We had just visited Disneyland last fall, so this time only went to Downtown Disney for some shopping (always nice to get gifts from this resort for friends and family). And then we headed to Knott’s Berry Farm for dinner. Knott’s is a bit of a poor cousin to the magnificent resort that Walt Disney founded, but we always enjoyed visiting the park with our kids when we lived in California. Its a lot cheaper, has plenty of fun rides and is well known for Mrs. Knott’s Original Chicken dinner — still the same meal that Cornelia Knott cooked up over 50 years ago (biscuits, rhubarb, fried chicken, cabbage, and mashed potatoes and gravy, washed down with boysenberry lemonade and boysenberry pie). Sure tastes mighty fine!
Another good place for a day trip from Newport Beach is Mission San Juan Capistrano. This mission offers a nice preservation of the early Spanish influenced period of California history, around 200 years ago. The ruins of the old church are still there. An earthquake destroyed the original chapel shortly after it was built, killing dozens of Indians. It was never rebuilt; rather a small chapel was constructed elsewhere on the grounds. The place is well-shaded, nicely landscaped, and fun to walk around in. The old fountains have koi lazily looking for handout, which we enjoy watching. Nothing quite like the changing rainbow of colors as they swim near the surface.
A few trips around Newport and, of course, a walk to the end of the Newport Pier. It was a fun and relaxing time and we’re glad we could share it with our family.
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