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EAT, DRINK & PLAY   -   GET OUT OF TOWN
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Generally, it is the travel writer's job to tell you to where to go. There are times, however, when duty compels him to do otherwise, and he steers you away from certain destinations. This is one of those times. Looming just beyond Christmas is one of the greatest potential travel debacles of modern times. Not the Wal-Mart return line on December 26; the Rose Parade.
Every few years my side of the family gets a yen to celebrate a white Christmas. Nana, Papa, Mom, Dad, April and I traditionally head for the north shore of Lake Tahoe and rent a house for a week. Three years ago we decided we'd had enough of sunshine and 80-degree temps on Christmas morn and it was time to find a winter wonderland. But we had a small problem. My grandmother's cardiologist said she had to stay below 5,000 feet of elevation. Since Nana was lugging around an oxygen tank at the time, everyone felt it was best to heed her doctor's advice.
It's the most wonderful time of the year! College football is in full swing, ushering in the celebrations of the season: tailgate parties, office pools, and if you're a USC fan, post-game pilgrimages to the Original Tommy's at Beverly and Rampart. They are as much a part of the Trojan tradition as Traveler, the Fight Song, and Tommy Trojan himself. I don't know why that it is. Perhaps it has to do with the restaurant and school mascot sharing the same name. Whatever the reason, 'SC newbies learn about Tommy's their first week on campus. I knew how to get there before I found my classes.
I had lunch with the governor a while back. Yes, that governor. I'm not sure why he wanted to have lunch with me. I'm not a big campaign contributor, or even president of the Kindergarten Cop Fan Club. He didn't actually invite me to dine with him. Come to think of it, we weren't even in the same restaurant. If you really want to know the truth, I didn't even see him. But his wife walked right by me, his motorcade of hulking black SUVs sped past the restaurant, and several people around us said he had been nearby.
As far back as I can remember I've been excited about airplanes and flying. My dad and I had a Saturday morning ritual when I was a kid. Pancakes at Dupar's, followed by an hour or two hanging on the fence at Van Nuys Airport watching planes of every size and shape come and go. While my school-age classmates were into the NFL, I knew all about the RAF and could identify a P-51 Mustang with my ears.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a top destination for wine enthusiasts and people who think they're wine enthusiasts after watching "Sideways." That's all well and good if high-priced fruit juice is your thing. But I like caps on my bottles, not corks. So you won't find me meandering the back roads outside Buellton, periodically stopping to smell, sip, swirl and spit. Instead, I'll be at Firestone Walker Brewing Company's Tap Room restaurant deciding which beer to sample.
My dad doesn't camp. "I did enough of that in the Army," he explains. Given that his Army camping was in Vietnam, I can see his point. But it didn't stop me from talking up my adventures in the great outdoors. I hoped my experiences might inspire him to give camping a second chance. When he said he might be open to a short trip, I tempted him with a summer weekend in the Eastern Sierra. Crisp mountain air. Trout-filled lakes and streams. Snow-capped granite peaks. Quality time with his granddaughter. He fell for it.
Santa Barbara is famous for many things: luxurious resorts, fine dining, distinctive wine country, expensive real estate, inviting beaches, high-profile zoo. OK, maybe not the last one. The Santa Barbara Zoo is overshadowed by the area's other attractions. And it's nowhere near as large as its more famous cousins in Los Angeles and San Diego. But those two things make it a destination that's sure to please parents and kids alike.
There is a question I can't answer: Why is a weekend spent camping at Jalama Beach so relaxing? I've tested countless theories over several research-intensive weekends, and with Memorial Day (which officially kicks off the camping season) right around the corner, now is the perfect time to share my findings.
You don't have to go far in Southern California to find yourself in a far-away country, or even on a different planet. We live in the world's largest movie studio back lot and familiar locations are constantly changing costumes to take on different roles. If there were Oscars for such a thing, Malibu Creek State Park, formerly owned by Twentieth-Century Fox, would certainly deserve one. Its varied terrain was Tarzan's domain in the 1930s, was ruled by primates in the "Planet of the Apes" movies, and stood in for Korea on the "M*A*S*H" television series.
Solitude can be hard to find in our wild places amidst noisy shuttle busses, RV parks and souvenir stands. Separating yourself from the crowds is not impossible, however. An hour in the car coupled with another hour on a boat can get you away from the masses to Channel Islands National Park, one of the most spectacular yet uncrowded of the almost 400 national parks in the United States.
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