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If you're a kid growing up in Southern California, there are a few things you can count on at school (besides budget cuts). Chances are you'll reconstruct a California mission with sugar cubes and red licorice. And you'll go on a whale-watching field trip.
Some people celebrate 40 with an "over the hill" party theme. Not my buddy Mike. He wanted to climb the hill, specifically 8,800-foot Half Dome in Yosemite. And take a dozen dudes with him. Yeah, it was an ambitious 40th-birthday plan, but that's Mike.
Dude, I hate to break it to you, but Cupid is calling you out again. Yes, Valentine's Day is right around the corner. But don't panic. This year, you are all over him. Like red velvet on a box of chocolate. You might think he's got your number, but read on, and you'll be the man with the V-Day plan.
Fat snowflakes blotted out the gray afternoon sky as we drove through Kings Beach on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in search of a Christmas tree lot. April looked out the window as they clumped on the green branches of towering pine trees, and quietly laid a carpet of white on the road in front of us.
There's so much to love about multi-day bicycle tours - the sights, the smells, the disbelief. People can't fathom the idea of riding a bike when they can drive a car. So, on our 195-mile, three-day ride from San Luis Obispo to Santa Clarita along Highway 1, we got some strange looks. And no, I wasn't wearing spandex shorts.
Each summer my dad and I take my two older kids to the Eastern Sierra to go "fishing." I use that term loosely because we have yet to catch a fish, and with each trip the fishing becomes less important.
"Daddy, pool!" exclaimed 2-year-old Amber as she stood on the balcony of our sixth-floor room and peered through the railing at the expansive body of water below. She could have been talking about the impressive panorama of the Pacific Ocean and the bluffs of Rancho Palos Verdes that spread out to the south. But no, she meant the swimming pool.
From the 101 freeway, Santa Maria certainly resembles our own hometown of Santa Clarita. Tile roofs, big-box shopping centers and neatly-manicured neighborhoods.

But get off the freeway and start exploring northern Santa Barbara County like we did on a recent weekend and you'll find a unique Central Coast destination with a vibrant wine country, hidden foodie gems and a glimpse of California's past.
The afternoon breeze rustled the palm trees overhead and carried the scent of the Pacific three blocks inland to where I sat at the corner of California and Santa Clara streets in Downtown Ventura.
I wouldn't call myself a camping expert. But having spent a summer driving 10,000 miles and visiting 30 states while living in a VW van, I consider myself an experienced camper.

So in honor of Memorial Day, which is the unofficial start of summer and the camping season, I'm sharing some of my favorite spots to pitch a tent - or park a van - in California.
Aquarium of the Pacific has an abundance of ocean life on display in its tanks and petting pools. Sea snakes, sea horses, anemones, urchins, abalone, eels, seals and more. But what really grabs the attention of a 5-year-old boy? Sharks.
There comes a time when a man needs to get away with his friends. Not a weekend in Vegas that involves missing teeth, forgotten weddings, stolen tigers, or naked Asian mobsters in the trunk of the car. Just a night out. Call it a man-date, if you will.
Let's face it guys, Valentine's Day can be one crazy-making holiday.
Stress, pressure, expectations. The quest to create the perfect romantic evening or get-away can lead you down the road to insanity.
Put away the straitjacket this year. I'm not a doctor, but trust me when I tell you how to avoid a psychotic Valentine's Day: Commit yourself to The Sanitarium for a weekend.
Remember those days when you were a kid and you could float in the pool with nothing to do but let the sun sprinkle freckles on your back? And then someone would cannonball in and set off an endless round of trips off the diving board?
I think I was in first grade the first time I visited Knott's Berry Farm. My dad took me as a reward for my grades in school. We rode the Log Ride, ate sugary snacks and toted around large stuffed animals my dad won on the midway.
Morro Bay is a different kind of California beach town. Unlike some of its more pretentious coastal cousins, it's a down-to-earth, come-as-you-are kind of place with an eclectic waterfront and a lot of fog. It also boasts a horizon-dominating 576-foot high domed rock my 3 year old referred to as "that mountain thing."
Drew's first fishing pole lasted about 10 minutes. We were drifting in a rented boat at the far end of Lake Sabrina. My dad had his line in the water, and I was taking turns casting for Laurel and Drew. Nobody was getting any bites, but it didn't matter. The kids were excited to be on the water and using their new poles.
"Daddy, do watermelons grow on trees?" Questions like these are inevitable from a 6-year-old. And it was a good one. Watermelon is considered a fruit, and Laurel knows from the citrus trees in our backyard that fruit grows on trees.
As I dip my paddle into the calm water off Catalina, I know the mainland is somewhere to my right. But thanks to the morning fog and haze out in the channel, I can't see it. And that's what makes Catalina the perfect get-away. Twenty-six miles of ocean ensure that everyday life is out of sight and out of mind.
I'm smitten with San Diego. But what's not to love about our neighbors to the south? They've got a scenic waterfront, tons of great things for kids and adults to appreciate together, postcard weather and they're producing our next generation of heroes.
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