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EAT, DRINK & PLAY   -   GET OUT OF TOWN
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Onscreen, Maverick schooled his proteges in the finer points of fighter-jet flying. Overhead, in real life, jumbo jets winged across the night sky.
This one was the do-over, our second attempt to reach the summit of Mount Whitney in one very long day. On the previous attempt, my son Drew and I got close enough to see the summit, a little more than a mile away, but were forced to turn around when a sudden thunderstorm rolled in and smothered the peak.
The string of state park campgrounds along the 101 north of Santa Barbara - El Capitan, Refugio and Gaviota - are popular destinations, and for good reason. They boast prime beachside locations, plus they are well-known, given their visibility from nearby Highway 101. That combination means it can be almost impossible to get a site sometimes.
It's nearly 10am as I follow the fire road into Sycamore Canyon. Although the sun is shining bright, it's still cool down here amid the shade of oaks and profusion of greenery.
Getting out of town during spring is difficult for us. With four kids in four different sports, if we're traveling, it's to a race or a meet. And when we're home, someone always needs a ride to practice.
In Southern California you can add an ocean view to almost any dining experience, no matter how simple.
We bumped and rattled along Soda Lake Road, following its winding path north. Low hills rippled away on the left. The corrugated Temblor Range rose far to our right. Ahead, the unbroken flatlands stretched for miles under a ceiling of clouds before dissolving into the gray horizon.
Long before it became a hashtag and aspirational lifestyle, April and I lived the van life. We spent a summer driving across the US in our VW Vanagon - two months, 30 states and 10,000 miles.
Camping is a four-season activity in California. While all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey elsewhere, we're packed and ready to get away, especially to the beach.
A day after turning 16, my daughter Brooke stood amidst a group of other nervous hopefuls waiting to be called forward. The tension was palpable. Months of training, planning and dreaming led to this moment. Would she get what she came for?
Biking through Ventura County
It seems counterintuitive to drive inland when visiting Santa Barbara during the summer. If it's coolest by the beach, why turn toward the mountains that rise behind the town like a backstop?
Parents of teenagers don't often hear these words: "That was so cool, Dad! Thanks!" But then it's not every day that kids get to pilot a flying dragon. Or at least simulate it.
The morning sun illuminated the tent. I listened for signs of life in camp, but no one stirred. Fully awake, with no chance of falling back asleep, I slowly unzipped the door and stepped outside, careful not to disturb my two still-sleeping teenagers.
What do you know about Santa Cruz? If you answer Boardwalk, "The Lost Boys," and banana slugs, then keep reading.
There was a significant gap in my knowledge of California's coastline. I grew up in Southern California, lived on the Central Coast and spent time exploring the state's far northern coast, but the stretch between San Francisco Bay and Santa Cruz remained unexplored for me.
We have four teenagers in the house now, so travel plans generate scrutiny and prompt unasked-for opinions.
The climb up Half Dome is as much mental as it is physical. Sixteen miles of hiking and 4,800 feet of elevation gain require fitness and training. But it's the last 400 feet that get in your head.
As a father of two teenage daughters with busy schedules, it's not often I get them all to myself. But a day off school for them and work for me gave us the perfect excuse to go exploring in LA.
This is why we live in California.
That was my thought as we paddled in the Ventura Keys late on a Sunday afternoon. While much of the country looks forward to months of shivering, I'm on the water wearing board shorts and a long sleeve tee-shirt and watching the sun set behind a scrim of fog.
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