Succulent Cafe – Oceanside, California

Some places draw you in from a single photo. I was browsing Instagram one day and saw a picture of someone drinking coffee surrounded by walls of beautiful succulents on all sides and when I discovered it was in the San Diego area, I was so thrilled and couldn’t wait to go.

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Succulent Cafe in Oceanside is a succulent shop in the courtyard of the Apotheque Spa with a coffee cart at the back. It’s more about the plants than the coffee, and there are several tables where you can sit amidst the carefully crafted succulent pots.

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Many of the succulents are lovingly planted in unique containers, and all are for sale which means if you fall in love with one (or many), you can take them home with you!

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Sitting in the courtyard is a magical experience. If you are anywhere near the area, I hope you will stop by and appreciate the artistry that went into creating this cafe/shop. Sometimes exploring your own neighborhood can reveal the most surprising finds. What have you discovered in your own neighborhood?

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Luxury on a Dude Ranch: Exploring Contrasts at The Alisal

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On my first trip to The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort (oh yes, there will be many more), I experienced the type of vacation I didn’t think existed anymore. Think the Dirty Dancing Kellerman Resort meets Santa Barbara, with a dash of horses. It has an old school feel with all of the modern comforts.

Tucked behind the town of Solvang about 45 minutes outside of Santa Barbara, Alisal’s grounds are fully embedded in the local nature. In springtime, the fields burst with yellow mustard flowers up to your ears, literally. Cantering through them off-trail on a is a memory that will not fade for a long time. The Santa Ynez mountains are known for wineries, and the hills remind me a little bit of parts of Italy.

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The ranch casually, yet luxuriously meets every vacation need with spa, fitness center, two golf course and large pool, but I was there for the horses (though the pool was very useful in cooling off between the morning and afternoon trail rides!).

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The attentive wranglers handle every riding need, pairing you up with a horse to match your skill level and personality. Having very little riding experience outside of an arena, I was tentative at first, especially about cantering on trails, and the wranglers not only picked great horses for my rides, but also checked on me often during the rides to make sure I felt comfortable. This personal attention helped me to feel confident on the trails and enjoy the feeling of freedom that comes from being immersed in nature on horseback.

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The wranglers make the horse-rider pairings the day before your ride so they can have your horse saddled up for you when it’s time to ride. You walk up to the board to confirm which horse you are riding, then the wranglers retrieve your horse from where it is tied up, help you mount, and organize you into groups of about 4 to 7. You will always get to ride with your friends if you are going on the same level of ride. I have no idea how they keep this all straight with so many people at so many different levels, but they accomplish it effortlessly.

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After a warm-up trail ride at intermediate level, which involves only walking and trotting, I was ready for an advanced ride, where you canter in spots, allowing your group to go a bit further and see a bit more in the 1.5 hour ride. My first advanced ride took us to the top of this hill overlooking Solvang and Buellton below. Perfect spot for a water break and picture taking!

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Some of my favorite trails go around the lake, which also offers fishing and boating activities. We encountered so much wildlife on our lake rides – there is a bald eagle nest high up in one of the trees, and we saw not only the adult eagles, but also to babies still in the nest unable to fly! We saw baby deer that still had their spots, and of course the beautiful black and white Alisal cows.

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The best ride of all was the breakfast ride. This happens only a couple per week and it is a must. You can ride a horse out to the historic Adobe Camp, or opt for the hay wagon. Beginners take off first since it takes longer for them to get there at a walking pace, then the trotting intermediate group, then our cantering advanced group, and finally the hay wagon, and we all arrive at the Adobe at around the same time for a cowboy breakfast (if cowboys had chefs making custom omelettes and logo embossed pancakes). Over the best pancakes in history, fresh fruit and coffee, we sat at picnic tables making new friends, while being serenaded with music and cowboy poetry. It was on the breakfast ride that I got to ride the much-loved, often-requested, rarely-available Paint horse named Parker, and like every other person who has the pleasure of riding him, I wanted to bring him home as a souvenir.

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Did I forget to mention the petting farm? Miniature horses, guinea pigs, rabbits, and friendly roosters. I could hug and squeeze them all day!

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There are so many things that make this place special, but the most memorable for me are: the effortless luxury that makes you feel cared for in a relaxed way; the gourmet food made from local ingredients (breakfast and dinner are included in the rate); and the best bunch of trail horses you will ever encounter, probably anywhere. People travel from all over the U.S. to enjoy the unique Alisal experience, so I feel very lucky that it is just a 5 hour drive from my house, and I plan to make it an annual adventure! Until next time…

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3 Things to Do in Oceanside, California

If you live in Southern California, you have probably sat in traffic driving through the Oceanside / Camp Pendleton area many times, but chances are, you may have not explored what it has to offer once you exit the highway. Here are 3 things that are worth exiting the highway for.

 

1. Walk down Oceanside Pier and meet the famous brown pelican named Charlie

Oceanside’s Pier is by far its most well known attraction, and as far as piers go, it has a lot to see. First, you have to meet “Charlie the Brown Pelican” and his friends. You can feed them anchovies or just observe them against the backdrop of Oceanside beach, like I did.

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20140628-20140628-IMG_0102The waves are perfect for surfing on both sides of the pier – the south side for beginners and the north side for more experienced surfers. I can’t think of many other places where people surf so close to the pier so you get a unique vantage point when watching them catch waves directly below you.

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The beach will be packed on a summer weekend, but parking is easy and free just a block from the beach, or you can park right at the beach for a small fee. I was pleasantly surprised by the easy access to the beach and pier.

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2. Visit the Mission and the Oldest Pepper Tree in California

I’d love to see all of the twenty-one Spanish missions in California. They are spread evenly from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north, about 30 miles apart, or a day’s journey by horseback. Tradition says the priests sprinkled the routes between missions with mustard seed so the paths were blooming in bright yellow. Follow the yellow bloom road!

The mixture of Spanish and Moorish style architecture at Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia makes me feel transported to Spain or Morocco.

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Say hi to the oldest pepper tree in California in the garden area – it’s nicely framed by a brick archway so you can’t miss it.

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3. Explore the Harbor

There’s something about a lighthouse that makes a scene so much more picturesque. The Oceanside Harbor has a beautiful lighthouse amidst the busy marina. With many shops and restaurants, and the best latte I’ve had since Italy (at the Nautical Bean), I will be back here again and again. Like at the pier area, parking was easy and free, which adds to the overall pleasant experience of visiting Oceanside!

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If Edward Scissorhands Lived in San Diego

If I had scissors for hands, I would definitely be creating bunnies and dinosaurs out of bushes, no question. What would motivate a person with *hands* for hands to do this, however, I would love to know. This work of art that requires consistent upkeep is really someone’s front yard.

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It would be fun to go with a few people who know cartoons really well and try to name all of the characters  you can recognize in this one-of-a-kind garden. Harper’s Topiary Garden is in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood. If you run into the owners, ask them what inspired them to create such an enchanting garden, and then thank them for sharing their whimsy with everyone. They seem like people I’d like to have over for tea and macaroons!

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Address: 3549 Union St. (between Upas St. & Vine St.), San Diego, CA 92103

 

 

 

Catch the Lavender Fields Before They’re Gone

The beginning of summer brings so many joyful things – longer days, warm nights, and for a fleeting window of time – blooming fields of lavender! The Keys Creek Lavender Farm in Keys Creek, California, just a few miles from Escondido, is open to the public every year during the months of May and June for tours, special events, and general wandering about.

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The first thing you notice when you arrive (other than the surprise of the final two miles to the farm being a dirt road), is the intensely sweet smell of lavender that is nothing like the usual smell of lavender products you find everywhere. It is such a popular scent, yet I find that few products capture the actual smell of fresh lavender. It smells sweet like honey, and it’s hard to not dive into a bush face-first, except for those bees, oh, and that it’s not allowed.

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Speaking of which, I was rather disappointed to discover that I couldn’t even walk through between the rows of lavender to get THAT PICTURE – you know the one I mean, of me traipsing through rows of purple with arms out and face upturned to the sky. Sadly, the farm kindly asks visitors to stay on marked paths surrounding the fields.

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Despite the restrictions, you can get very close to the lavender and breathe in its honey-like, herbal scent and take in the surrounding views. Unlike many lavender fields, the Keys Creek Lavender Farm is set in a hilly area, so you can walk to the top of the small hill and see some stunning views.

If you are in the San Diego or Orange County area, it is worth a visit, especially on days when they may have a special event going on such as afternoon tea or an evening concert. While you’re there, pop into the gift shop full of lavender goods, including bunches of dried lavender. Depending on when in the season you visit, different varieties of lavender will be peaking, but no matter when you go, you can be sure of a sea of purple!