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EAT, DRINK & PLAY   -   GET OUT OF TOWN
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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.
Sometimes you just need to hide out. Find a place where you can hole up for a few days and not change any diapers, pick squished bananas out of a high chair, or utter the phrases, "Stop hitting your sister," and "I don't know where you left your shoes."
If you have your own shower, a king-size bed and a hot stone massage, can you really call it camping?

That's debatable. At El Capitan Canyon they call it "glamping," aka glamour camping.
My brother-in-law Javier had been talking for years about putting together a weekend mountain biking trip to the Central Coast to ride his favorite trail.

But like a lot of "guys-trip" ideas us 30-something husbands and fathers discuss, it got lost in the shuffle of our more mundane weekend duties. That is until my other brother-in-law, Tim, got his report date for Marine Corps Basic Training.
As far as timing goes, scheduling Valentine's Day in February was a brilliant move. I don't know who makes these decisions, but I'm sure it's a woman.

She undoubtedly scanned the calendar for a time when men would be free from obvious distractions. February certainly is the obvious choice. The Super Bowl is a distant memory. March Madness is still weeks away. What a perfect time for a girlie holiday!
If your mother, or mother-in-law, is anything like my mom, then she expected you to have your Christmas list compiled and submitted weeks ago.

And if you are a son, or son-in-law, like me, you have more urgent priorities during the holiday season - like making your college football bowl picks for the office pool.
Given that our nation is at war and in the high season of spin from another presidential campaign, it seemed fitting to visit the Norton Simon Museum and see their current featured exhibit.
Maybe I'm getting old. I've forgotten how much helmets make you sweat. How hard your body works to keep a small motorized vehicle from spinning out of control. How acceleration leads to exhilaration.
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