Señor Carrillo and His Peacock Amigos

Me casa, es su casa! Ah, try to imagine the early days of California and the beautiful, sprawling rancheros that existed, surrounded by soft rolling hills and fertile land.  Picture sturdy adobe structures, grand stables and rich land dons riding off into the golden sunset.  Now toss in a few dozen colorful peacocks, and you’ve captured the essence of the historic Leo Carrillo Ranch in Carlsbad.

This place is a slice of authentic San Diego history not many know about, but definitely should. Originally the home of movie star Leo Carrillo during the golden age of Hollywood, he built this Old California-inspired ranchero as a retreat for himself and his family.  In 1937, Leo scooped up 840 acres of prime Carlsbad real estate (with ocean views!) at the unbelievable price of  $77 per acre (OMG!) He immediately began construction of 18 structures for his ranch, and over time, increased his spread to 2,538 acres.

Leo loved peacocks, so he decided to populate his get-a-way with dozens of peacocks who roamed around freely.  The friendly fowls loved the place so much they never left.  Today scores of them are still hanging around the place, descendents of Leo’s original birds. And, that’s what really gives this place its charm!

Leo was quite a guy and appeared in close to 100 movies with huge classic film stars like Clark Gable, Henry Fonda and Bette Davis.  Many of the movie posters can be seen in a converted farm house that’s now the visitor center and where you can watch a short video about Leo, his movie career, and his contributions as a conservationist.

Leo passed away in 1961, and his heirs sold much of the land.  Thanks to the City of Carlsbad, his home and several buildings were preserved, and the site is now a Historical National Landmark that opened to the public in 2003.  Located in a 27-acre canyon, there are lots of tree-lined trails to discover (so wear comfy shoes).  And, of course, you’ll have the company of countless brilliantly-colored peacocks who are extremely photogenic and just as proud of their home as Leo was.

This is one of my favorite San Diego staycation tips.  I learned about it from a friend of mine who’s getting married there (yes, they do events because the site is that gorgeous!)  What is your favorite San Diego staycation place to go?

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Horsing Around the San Diego Natural History Museum

Who likes horses?  Umm . . . how about pretty much everyone.  Besides dogs and cats, horses are at the top of the list when it comes to animals having extraordinary bonds with humans. If you want to spend a little quality time learning more about them, check out THE HORSE, an exhibit now showing at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

The exhibit explores the evolution, nature, and history these magnificent creatures have had with humans throughout the ages. I’m not a big horse person myself, I don’t own one or go riding much, but I do know their relationship with humans runs deep. And, after seeing THE HORSE, I definitely have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for that relationship.

You’ll see early cave drawings, peruse a few skeletons, learn about extinct species and follow the horses path to domestication. And, you’ll get great perspective on man’s unique bond with horses for work and survival; during wartime; for trade and transportation; hunting and sports; and even companionship.

Here are a few of my favorite highlights:

  • My hubby is from Kentucky, home of the Derby, so he was thoroughly impressed by the Triple Crown display (and so was I). The exhibit tells the story of a three-year-old colt, Citation, in 1948, that won the coveted award. It’s a major accomplishment to win the Triple Crown — a horse must be three-years old, win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, all within a few weeks – May to early June. Citation’s trophies, including the shiny Triple Crown, are on display.
  • A cool model of an immense horse decked out in full metal armor worn in the Middle Ages during wartime that carried men into battle.  It must weigh a ton, literally!
  • A very detailed, life-size terra cotta horse from the village of Tamil, India.  The massive horses were created by potters and offered to the god Aiyanar.
  • A display of unique children’s horse toys from old times to modern day.

The exhibit is here through January 2013.  A little staycation tip: All the museums in Balboa Park run specials every Tuesday.  Locals get FREE admission to this particular museum the first Tuesday of the month. Great staycation incentive!

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Cafe 21, Ole!

Try a refreshing rosemary and lemon sangria.

The first time I ate at Café 21 was a few months back.  Wow! The food and Sangria were so good, I asked my family to take me back for my birthday.  In a word, the food is “awesome.” In three words, the Sangria is “to die for!”

We arrived for lunch around noon and were handed brunch menus which was a nice touch, considering it was a Friday — not your normal Sunday brunch routine.  The menu is great with a variety of interesting dishes all with a gourmet twist.  They also have daily specials.

I had a delicious egg white omelet with fresh vegetables served in my own personal skillet. My son had a Monte Christo sandwich (a special) that was gone in about 30 seconds – he’s 13 years old so food doesn’t last long around him anyway, but he loved it.  My husband had a special spicy Monte Christo sandwich, and his disappeared just as fast.  My daughter had strawberry pancakes with kiwi syrup, so good!

Now, back to the Sangria.  They make their own homemade Sangria, and it’s lined-up in containers as you enter the restaurant.  There are about half a dozen flavors.  So far I’ve tried the strawberry-basil and the rosemary-lemon, both were exceptionally flavorful and tasty.  Try a glass, and you’ll be saying ole in no time!

And, if you love tea, they have quite an assortment — freshly done. When you order, you get a tea plunger that fits right on top of your glass filled with ice; once it’s done seeping you simply place it around the rim and it goes straight into the glass. Now that’s fresh ice tea!

Café 21 is located in the Gaslamp Quarter. There are a few patio tables in the front, great for downtown people watching. Inside it’s modern, rustic with a kickback vibe complete with a bucket of silverware on the table.  If you go to their Web site, it says the food has Azerbaijan roots, and there’s definitely a hint of Old World charm about the place.

As for the service, it was outstanding on my first visit; less so the second time around.  We had to ask the server for silverware three times because there were no forks in the bucket. Not a huge deal though, it would take more than that to keep me away from the place.

I highly recommend Café 21 for staycation foodies. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out another great review on the place.

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Breathtaking Views at Cabrillo National Monument

A perfect staycation view.

They say the best things in life are free. If so, the Cabrillo National Monument is one of them.  Okay, almost free. But that’s only if you count the $5 you pay to enter the grounds and to park your car, a pretty good deal.

As far as outstanding ocean views go, the Cabrillo National Monument is an unparalleled must-see for staycationers! And, if you like squirrels — and who doesn’t — there are plenty of the little guys running around the park adding to the ambience and keeping you company while you take in the seascape.

These little guys can be seen scampering around and posing for photos.

Once there, expect to see a larger-than-life statue of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo surrounded by San Diego Bay and outstanding views of North Island and the city. There’s also a visitor center and exhibits tracing Cabrillo’s 1542 voyage and explaining his early days of discovery sailing into the bay.

Up the hill a bit from the monument is the Point Loma Lighthouse built in 1854. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it’s one of eight original lighthouses built on the West Coast.  You can enter the lighthouse and check out  what life was like back in the 1800s (sorry, no Wi-fi).

There are also tide pools where you can catch a glimpse of an amazing ocean ecosystem and see little sea stars and other tiny creatures in their natural habitat.  Finally, there’s a two mile hiking trail where you can soak in the sun and check out the local plant life.

A few tips:  Before setting out, check the weather. My posse and I went in July, and even though we got there around 1 p.m., the marine layer hadn’t burned off so it was a bit overcast.  Also, the tide pools are best seen at low tide.  And, save your parking receipt, if you don’t have enough time to experience everything, it’s good for one weeks worth of free re-entry!

Oh, one more thing.  If you go, ask lots of questions.  The park rangers and volunteers are very approachable and super-friendly.  The squirrels are too!

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Take a Hike

The main path alongside Lake Poway is lined with shady oak and eucalyptus trees.

This morning was one of those incredibly beautiful July day’s where I felt pretty lucky to live in San Diego — a soft breeze was blowing, the temp was about seventy degrees and the sky was clear and blue — it doesn’t get much better.  My family, a couple of good friends and I had already decided to kick-start our morning with a nature hike at Lake Poway’s Blue Sky Ecological Reserve.  We couldn’t have picked a better summer day.

The thing about Lake Poway though is you can go hiking just about anytime of year because of San Diego’s great weather.  And the views are nothing short of spectacular!  If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and close to North County San Diego, I highly recommend Lake Poway as a must-do for your staycation itinerary. The lake is surrounded by the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, a 700-acre canyon filled with oak trees and flanked by chaparral-covered hills. There are scenic hiking trails for all levels that are open and free to the public year round.

We picked a 2.7- mile trek that was suitable for our group which included three energetic teens and the parents of said teens trying to keep up with them.  We left around 10 a.m. and were back in plenty of time for an early picnic lunch that we enjoyed on the park’s abundant, grassy picnic area.

Lake Poway offers all types of fun activities. The last time we were here, my kids rented pedal boats, which they loved!  There’s lots to do:  Fishing (including night fishing during the summer), hiking, boating, pedal boats, archery, horse back riding, camps and nature classes for kids, and there’s even a summer concert in the park series.

Be sure to add Lake Poway to your staycation check list!

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Old Town Saturday Market & Hercules

Check out one-of-a-kind finds at Old Town’s artisan street market.

Everybody loves Old Town.  (Even dogs and roosters, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Old Town is the birthplace of San Diego and rich in California history. More importantly, you can always count on finding lively mariachis, bathtub size margaritas and the smell of que bueno Mexican food wafting through the air!  But did you know every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. there is a free local artisan street fair?

With my teenage daughter in tow, I recently checked it out and discovered dozens of talented San Diego artists displaying their personal work.  One of the most interesting artists was a glass blower who makes some of the coolest and unique vases and jewelry for a great price. My daughter bought three hand-crafted necklaces suitable for gifting for just $5 bucks. There was also an artist who creates interesting ceramic art — incredibly vibrant colors, modern and geometric. What caught my eye were his sports paintings on ceramic tiles.  Very cool for sports enthusiasts. My son is a huge baseball fan, and  I purchased him a baseball themed art tile suitable for display or hanging in his room, which the artist happily signed.

I’m not an art connoisseur by any means. But this is a fun (and free) way to spend a few hours staycationing — especially for anyone who likes to shop and browse for hand-crafted arts and goods.  The real highlight of my visit though was on my way out. That’s when I met Hercules.  Hercules is an incredibly gentle mixed Rottweiler whose best friend is a little red rooster who rides on his back.  They’re both locals who love exploring San Diego almost as much as I do. Who says dogs and roosters can’t staycation too.

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There’s no place like home

Shelter Island in San Diego.

Ahhh, San Diego.  The land of endless summers and a kick-back vibe.  It’s the reason locals love living here, visitors never want to leave here, or end up moving here.  And I should know.

Originally from L.A., I first visited San Diego when I was 12 years-old with my mother. She was on a business trip, and I was fortunate enough to tag along with her to Shelter Island where we stayed for almost a week.  Even though I was only a kid, it didn’t take me long to figure out San Diego was alot less smoggier than L.A. and much cooler.  And not just the weather, from the attitude of the desk clerk at the hotel to the other kids I met on the beach, everyone seemed so chill.  This was a place that I could definitely get used to.

It took awhile, but fate finally intervened. Some 15 years later I met my husband-to-be who lived in San Diego, a transplant himself from back east. We married in 1992, and we made our home in San Diego.

Fast forward to 2012, and I’m writing a blog about all the great things I love about San Diego.  Why?  Because every year we plan a family vacation.  Nothing fancy, of course, more like a get-a-way from routine. And as we make our plans, we always gravitate back to one thing — how lucky we are to live in one of the best vacation cities in the nation — actually, the world.  Truth be told, our best vacation  memories have been made right her in our hometown enjoying the San Diego Zoo, Old Town, Balboa Park, SeaWorld, or even better, one of the hidden gems only we locals know about.

So read on to learn about many of San Diego’s best places to staycation — some well known, others just word-of-mouth or interesting spots to explore.  I have found that some of the best spots are those that I hear about from neighbors or friends, so please let me hear from you too!  Feel free to comment telling me about your favorite San Diego staycation spot.