Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Staycation" Drive to Oceanside

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An episode on the KPBS-TV show Wonderland San Diego inspired us to do a "staycation" day trip to Oceanside. Noah Tafolla did a great job identifying attractions worth seeing and experiencing.

We recommend Thursdays for a day visit, when Oceanside's Certified Morning Farmer's Market, is held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. along Pier View Way, virtually in front of several of the main attractions. Incidentally, there is a Sunset Market held Thursdays 5-9 p.m., also along Pier View Way, if you're spending an evening there. Both of these events are associated with Main Street Oceanside, an organization devoted to enlivening downtown Oceanside.

We found ample, unlimited on-street parking just north of the Civic Center and Library. Since we were a bit early for the museums, we decided to scope out the Farmer's Market. It's quite extensive, offering prepared foods as well as the usual organic produce and souvenirs. We decided early on that we would have lunch at one of the food stands.

The Oceanside Historical Society Museum, 305 N. Nevada Street, occupies a corner of the 1929 Fire Station No. 1, designed by famed Modernist San Diego architect Irving Gill. Although it's a small space, it has extensive archives of Oceanside's history. Among the more unusual artifacts exhibited in the Museum are two beer containers (with contents?) dating from the end of Prohibition. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10-2. Free admission.

Right next door is the Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way. Its architectural design is an amalgam of sleek modern glass of the Central Pavilion, which houses the museum proper, combined with the arcaded Mission Revival style of the Museum Store building, part of Gill's 1934 Oceanside City Hall. The Central Pavilion's architect, Frederick Fisher, received an Orchid award in 2008 for a successful 21st-century minimalist design that respects the historic fabric of Irving Gill's adjacent civic buildings. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10-4, Sunday 1-4, closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission (2010): General $8, Seniors 65+ $5, Free to military personnel and their dependents with IDs, and to students with IDs.

Three blocks west of the Museum of Art is the California Surf Museum, 312 Pier View Way. It moved into its new location on February 16, 2009. They had an impressive exhibit of women surfers while we were visiting. Open daily 10-4, Thursday to 8 p.m. Closed major holidays (check their Web site). Admission (2010): General $3; Seniors, Military and Students $1; free to kids under 12.

As we were walking back to the Farmer's Market for lunch, we spotted this mural, painted on the west side of the Surf Museum's old location at 223 N. Coast Highway.

We decided to settle at the one table located at the tamale food stand for our meal. Marie had one of the "lard-free" tamales ($2.50) while Doug had a fish burrito ($5) bought from an adjacent vendor. We had fun chatting with the tamale stand's owner and a local habitué who had just come over from his daily Web "surfing" session at the nearby library.

After lunch, we drove out on Mission Avenue to the San Luis Rey River Valley, about four miles inland from downtown Oceanside. Once we passed the suburban malls and residential tracts typical of Oceanside's outskirts, we spotted Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, the largest of the 21 California missions, resplendent on a knoll. It is located at 4050 Mission Avenue opposite the Rancho del Oro exit from State Route 76 Expressway. The About.com Web site has a succinct summary of the Mission's features.

The Mission was established in 1798, and after many years of arduous restoration, it is a beautiful landmark today. Note the blooming wisteria over the entrance to the sanctuary.

The intimate outdoor spaces, such as the cloisters (left) and the fountain are lovely to behold.

The Mission's Museum is definitely worth a visit. Open 10-4 daily except major holidays. Admission (2010): General $6;Seniors 65+and active military $5; youth 6-18 $4; 5 and under, free.

If you have time, visit the Mission's Gardens (free) connected by hiking trails over the 56-acre site.

Another attraction located about a mile west of the Mission is Heritage Park Village and Museum, 220 Peyri Drive. We decided to stop by before heading back to Oceanside. Note: access to Heritage Park from the direction of the Mission is tricky: El Camino Real, the old access road northwest of the Mission, is closed to public access, despite what the maps say. Drive back to Mission Avenue, turn right (north) on Douglas Drive (begin following "historical point of interest" signs), turn right (east) on El Camino Real to Peyri Drive, continue to the park.

According to the Nile Guide.com Web site:

The City of Oceanside assembled this collection of historic old buildings to celebrate the 1976 United States Bicentennial. Some of the structures filling this green, placid park include an old blacksmith's shop and livery stable, an early doctor's office, an antique jail, a one-room schoolhouse and two early newspaper buildings. The park grounds are open 9-4 daily; free tours of the buildings are offered on Sundays 1-4 or by appointment.

We strolled through the Village taking pictures throughout this pleasant setting.

Marie wanted to take a look around Oceanside Harbor as our final stop. Note the lighthouse in a Cape Cod-like setting. Noah Tafolla of Wonderland San Diego fame recommends the Harbor Fish and Chips Restaurant as a good place for fish tacos. This is where we would have had lunch if we hadn't found the Farmer's Market. We returned home after the harbor visit. Approximate distance: 75 miles from our home in Pacific Beach.

A worthwhile detour: During the spring (mid-March to mid-May), make a stop at the Carlsbad Flower Fields, 5704 Paseo del Norte (just off Interstate 5 Freeway and the Palomar Airport Road exit). Although the showiest flowers are ranunculus, there are other species represented, such as roses. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. during the season. Admission (2010): General $10, Seniors 60+ $9, Children 3-10 $5, Children 2 or under, free. Discounts are available online.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Staycation" Drive, Anza Borrego, March 2010

Thursday March 18, 2010

We decided to make our annual late winter trek to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, to see the wildflowers. Expectations were high, since this El Niño rain season had brought 7.41 inches to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center (as of March 15), at least 50 percent above normal.

We drove through Ramona, to snap a few photos to add to our recent blog, then stopped at the Dudley's Bakery and Café in Santa Ysabel. They had changed their operation quite a bit since our last visit in March 2009. Before, they kept their inventory behind the counter, where personnel would slice the loaves on request. Now, they have racks of pre-sliced bread arranged in front of the counter, to allow customers to pick their own loaves. (We suspect this approach was an attempt to save labor costs). We selected three: our favorite, apple pecan; a new Louisiana maple pecan; and a rosemary savory bread. Current prices are $4.65 per 24-ounce loaf; if one buys four loaves, the fifth one is free. Too bad we do not have sufficient freezer room to accommodate five loaves!

On our way to Julian the first time today, we noticed swatches of bright yellow daffodils. We learned that Julian was celebrating a Daffodil Festival the March 20-21 weekend. The last remnants of snow were gone and temperatures in Julian were in the 60s F.

We decided to take the Wynola Road cutoff to reach SR 78 and Banner Grade. County Road 3 (Yaqui Pass) took us to Borrego Springs past the now defunct Casa del Zorro Resort/Borrego Ranch Resort & Spa. We first checked out the picnic tables at Christmas Circle Community Park. However, this was a warm, sunny day with an intense sun and essentially no shade. We decided to head to the Visitor Center via Palm Canyon Road.

Even this weekday, the Visitor Center was swarming with people. But the grounds were in spectacular bloom. The painter indicated that Borrego Springs was hosting a plein aire art festival that coming weekend.

After our visit we decided to have our lunch among the palms in a picnic area located immediately south of the Visitor Center parking lot. Many of the tables were well-shaded and we dined in comfort. (Note: there is no parking or standing allowed next to the picnic area, but it's only a short walking distance from the main parking lot).

We spent early afternoon heading east on Palm Canyon Road (County Road S22), north on Pegleg Road and west on Henderson Canyon Road. The best flowers were on the east portion of Henderson Canyon Road, where the ground was hummocky and the drainage was good. Note the ranger-led group in the background of the second photo.

The comparatively cool, wet winter had resulted in an unusually abundant crop of field mustard (by now bereft of flowers), resulting in a green groundcover in the less well-drained areas, especially those along Henderson Canyon Road just east of Di Giorgio Road.

We took a run up Di Giorgio Road to its terminus at Coyote Canyon where we had seen beautiful flower displays in the past, but this year they were not especially noteworthy (perhaps the recent warmer weather improved things). Additionally, the sand looked a bit too treacherous for our little Corolla.

Our final stop in the Borrego area was a little fruit stand located at the northeast corner of Di Giorgio and Henderson Canyon roads, where we bought a large bag of tangelos for $3.

We returned to Julian via Banner Grade to indulge in a tasty, sinful treat-slices of Dutch style crumb-topped apple-berry pie a-la-mode at our favorite pie shop, The Julian Pie Company. There are several other pie shops in Julian, some perhaps better known, but we have always enjoyed the personable staff here. By the way, the pie was delicious and we recommend it highly. Note: they were mourning the passing of one of the founders of the shop, Keith Smothers, 69.

We finished the drive by driving past nearly-full Cuyamaca Lake and still snow flecked Cuyamaca Peak to Interstate 8 and home. Approximate mileage: 200.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Staycation" Drive to Ramona

Friday, January 8, 2010

We decided to make Ramona our destination for today’s “staycation” road trip. Our friend Jack Brandais suggested taking the Pomerado Road turnoff eastbound from Interstate 15. Turn left at the first light onto Highland Valley Road. This narrow two-lane road took us through San Pasqual Valley and along the flanks of 2,140-foot Starvation Mountain, to hook up with State Routes 67 and 78 to Ramona. The good rains we had during December 2009 had already greened up the countryside. Note: Highland Valley Road is steep and windy, especially the climb from San Pasqual Valley and Highland Valley to the Starvation Mountain highlands. Do exercise caution on this portion of the drive.

Photo of Starvation Mountain courtesy of Summitpost.org.

Our objectives were to browse the antique shops, have lunch, and visit historical buildings in the old stagecoach stop town.

We arrived in the unincorporated town about 10 a.m., to give us ample time to browse the shops. But our first stop was the Ramona Chamber of Commerce, 980 Main Street. We were hoping to find a map of historical sites much as Fallbrook’s Historical Museum had done for Fallbrook, but no such luck. However, there are several significant buildings we were able to identify through on-line research and in the field. These were the focus of our afternoon wanderings.

Ramona is another case where suburban strip mall development, mostly to the west, has adversely affected the old downtown. Many storefronts were vacant and available for lease. The Great Recession of 2008-9 had exacerbated the economic situation wherein some historical preservation projects had been halted due to the lack of funding.

Only some of the antique stores along Main Street were open, but the ones that opened their doors were well worth visiting.

We enjoyed browsing the Ramona Antique Fair, also known as the Squash Blossom Trading Co., 738 Main Street. It offers an extensive selection of antiques offered by sub-lessees, as well as Native American and Mexican art. Adjoining the Antique Fair was Old Town Candy Co., 734 Main Street. As the name implies, it is an old-fashioned candy store with cylindrical buckets filled with stick candies.

Across the street was Victoria Supply Co., 711 Main Street, a seller of stoves, decorative glass and other hardware. It seemed to specialize in reproductive decorative arts of the Victorian, and Arts and Crafts eras. Looking at the store’s façade, we can tell this business occupies a former bank building and several commercial storefronts dating back to the 1920s.

It was time for lunch, so we decided to go Mexican at La Cocina (the Kitchen in Spanish), located across from Victoria Supply Co. at 681 Main Street. They offered combination plates of enchiladas or rolled tacos, Spanish rice and beans at a cheap $4.95. The food was good and authentic, and popular with Anglos and Latinos alike. (Note: this place is small and quite popular, so one should try to be seated about 15 minutes before noon). The café occupies what appears to be a 1920s or earlier commercial building with a tin ceiling that has been preserved to this day.

After lunch, we sought out several historical attractions located in the 600 and 700 blocks of Main Street. One of the most significant individual buildings is the Ramona Town Hall, 729 Main Street. This imposing Romanesque/Mission Revival adobe building, finished in 1893, was designed by one of San Diego’s most famous architects, William S. Hebbard. The building has been under restoration following a 1995 arson fire. As of this writing, the Great Recession has essentially halted work on the building. Do peruse their excellent Web site for its history and the 2009 dedication of the structure as a historically significant site by E Clampus Vitus. Note: the building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a California State Landmark.

The Town Hall served as the only movie theater in town until 1947 with the opening of the Ramona Theatre, 626 Main Street. This well-restored Retro Art Deco building is now the Ramona Mainstage, currently a live performance house and nightclub. As of this writing, it appears to be on sound economic footing after years of decline as a cinema.

Our last stop was the Guy B. Woodward Museum, 645 Main Street. Hours: Friday-Sunday, 1-4. Admission $4 for a guide-led tour; $3 for a self-guided tour. The Amos Verlaque House, built in 1886 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the most noteworthy building in the museum complex. It is the only adobe house in existence in the United States designed in the French-Provincial style. The second-generation museum director, Ken Woodward [with Doug in the upper left photo], took us on a complete tour of the premises, which took about an hour and a half. The house is furnished in Victorian period. Note the beautiful dining room and the French Provincial kitchen.

A couple of unusual features are a wine cellar (reflecting the Verlaques’ French heritage), now the museum store; and a north-facing veranda painted in light blue, allegedly to fend off flies and other insects.

Other buildings and exhibits, some of which were moved on-premises, include a one-room schoolhouse (left photo), blacksmith, cowboy bunkhouse (above), an extensive hat collection and a one-cell jail. The Woodward Museum is a fun place to visit and we would recommend it highly.

Note: the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society (RPHS) has archived an extensive collection of historical materials at the Museum. The fee for a four-hour research session ranges from $25-100, plus the cost of duplicating materials. Obviously, this service is intended only for the serious researcher. The RPHS produced a book, Historic Buildings of the Ramona Area by Russell Bowen, printed in 1975. Copies are available in the San Diego City Library System. When we have a chance to review this book, we will update this blog posting.

Amos, the son of prominent San Diegan Theophile Verlaque, ran the adjacent general store that also served as a stagecoach stop on the stage line between Old Town San Diego and Julian. The general store, in somewhat modified form, exists today as the CATT Farm and Ranch Supply, 629 Main Street.

This row of rural mail boxes lies just west of town.

We headed home by way of SR 78 and 67 to Scripps Poway Parkway, I-15, SR 52 and I-5. Round trip from Pacific Beach was about 80 miles.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Staycation" Drive to Valley Center, San Diego County

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our son’s family gave us a $50 restaurant gift card that we could use at numerous restaurants in San Diego County, so we decided to use it on a “staycation” drive to Valley Center. Our choice for lunch was The French Market Grille, located in Rancho Bernardo, a community in North San Diego. The comfortable dining room reminded us of a bistro in the French countryside. Marie had grilled scallops Provençale done in a basil sauce ($15.75), and Doug had grilled rare lamb chops bathed in a rosemary sauce ($16). Both entrées were delicious. The owner, Patrick Halcewicz, stationed himself at a table near the bar where he could oversee his operation. After lunch we chatted with him while he was dining on his steak sandwich with pommes frites. He was originally from Paris and the cooking reflected this authenticity. He has established a second restaurant with a similar menu, Hexagone, located on Laurel Street in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego.

After lunch, we continued north on Interstate 15 to the Via Rancho Parkway exit, and headed northeast on Bear Valley Parkway. [Note: the name Bear Valley, we learned later, is highly significant to the history of Valley Center.]

We continued north past the heart of Valley Center to the Valley Center History Museum, located at 29200 Cole Grade Road, next to the county branch library. We recommend exploring the Museum’s well-designed Web site in advance of a visit. The original name of the settlement was Bear Valley, named after a giant grizzly bear that was killed in the area in 1866. See link for the Bear connection to Valley Center.

Noteworthy exhibits at the Museum include a taxidermy mounting of a grizzly bear; an overhead exhibit of experimental aircraft dating back to the 1910s, the outhouse-sized Lilac Post Office, once the smallest post office in the United States; a Betty Crocker display (Agnes White, the home economist who inspired the cooking legend Betty Crocker, lived in Valley Center and was buried in the local cemetery); a replica of a 500-year-old Native American village; and various artifacts dating from the 1840s.

Museum hours are 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; admission is free and ample on-site parking is available.

We finished this afternoon’s outing at the Valley Center Farmers’ Market, located on the grounds of the Valley Center Community Center, 28246 Lilac Road. This Certified Farmers’ Market is held every Thursday afternoon (check their Web site for hours).

Our route home took us along scenic Lilac Road and Old Castle Road back to I-15, SR 56 and I-5. Round trip distance: about 80 miles from Pacific Beach.