cable car san francisco california

Cable Cars – San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Poetry in Motion

As cliched but charming as the gondolas of Venice and the double-decker buses of London, San Francisco’s cable cars are a key component of the city’s unique character and the only national historic landmark that moves.

With an unmistakable “ding! ding! ding!” announcing their arrival on sunny and foggy days alike, the cars are a throwback to the late 1800s, when they were the best transportation up and down the forty-three hills of America’s most topographically endowed city. Today they still bustle along at a constant 9 1/2 miles per hour (running by cable, not motor), their three lines comprising the world’s only surviving cable car system.

The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines begin downtown below the busy high-end shopping area of Union Square and climb to the lofty neighborhood of Nob Hill, one of the city’s most elegant addresses and hilltop home to two of its most important hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, widely considered the city’s (and one of the world’s) best, and the landmark Fairmont. Rebuilt in an extravagant manner after the 1906 earthquake, this was where Tony Bennett gave his first public performance of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” back in 1962. The Powell-Hyde line ends at Fisherman’s Wharf, the famous waterfront tourist destination that still holds on to a good dose of charm. It’s worth joining the teeming humanity just to graze on take-away cracked crab and fish-and-chips from the harborside stands, and gaze at the spectacular views of Alcatraz prison—“The Rock”—and the majestic 2-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge, which you can also traverse for an exhilarating, wind-blasted walk and great views. Who knows who decided to paint it orange, but god love ’em.

If it’s Saturday, head for the nearby Embarcadero and the wildly popular Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, the city’s best and biggest. The vibrant markets of Chinatown are no less remarkable, packed with people (it’s the country’s second largest Chinese enclave), fresh vegetables, and things you didn’t know existed (or could be eaten).

In the heart of North Beach (the most enjoyable neighborhood to stroll around), Telegraph Hill offers some of the best vistas in town, particularly from the top of Coit Tower, where you can see the bay bridges, and islands. You’ll want to amble around Haight-Ashbury as well, a kind of retirement zone for ’60s hippies. Angle yourself atop Alta Vista Park, overlooking downtown, for the postcard view of the “painted ladies”-a row of brightly painted Queen Anne Victorians on the 700 block of Steiner Street. San Francisco’s wealth of architecture is one of its myriad treasures.

hotel del coronado san diego california

Hotel Del Coronado – San Diego, California, U.S.A.

A Beachside Dowager

It is eternal spring on the curved isthmus of Coronado, famous for its broad, family-friendly, and almost impossibly white beach—one of the nicest in a state that knows its beaches and gets to enjoy them 365 days a year. This is the home of the Hotel Del Coronado (a.k.a. the Del, a.k.a. the Grand Lady by the Sea), which sits like a Victorian wedding cake on 26 lovely beachfront acres, the largest oceanfront resort on the Pacific Coast. Open since 1888, the Del has hosted every American president since Lyndon Johnson, plus countless celebrities and film crews—most importantly director Billy Wilder, who chose the hotel as the principal setting of his 1958 film Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe. Rumor has it that the big, white hotel with red gables was where the visiting Prince of Wales first met American widow Wallis Simpson in 1920, and where author and neighbor L. Frank Baum allegedly found his inspiration for the Emerald City in his The Wizard of Oz.

Simply put—you can’t come to Southern California without staying here. Rent a bike at the hotel for a tool around the golf course, under the bridge that links Coronado with downtown, and along the harbor for the best view of San Diego.

Nor can you come to San Diego without visiting its world-famous zoo, one of the first in the world to display animals in naturalistic habitats free of cages or bars. Nearly 4,000 exotic animals (from pandas to Sumatran tigers) representing 800 species roam the park’s 100 hilly acres. There’s even summer nighttime viewing for those who’d rather spend sun-drenched afternoons lolling on the beach. However you spend your day in this archetypal Southern California town, be back at your Oz-like home for a poetic Pacific sunset on wave-swept Coronado Beach, where there is nothing between you and Honolulu.

pacific coast highway california

The Pacific Coast Highway – California, U.S.A

Highway to Heaven

Also known by those not from these parts as Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway is America’s dream drive. You can head south from L.A. to San Diego, or take the traditionalist’s route north to San Francisco and even  beyond, past the 19th-century fishing-town-turned-artist-colony of Mendocino in the direction of Oregon, whose own coastal stretch is often no less magnificent.

From the heart of L.A. it’s just 7 miles through cloistered Malibu to Santa Monica, but you’ll already feel a world away. The laid-back community’s beachfront promenade, the famed Santa Monica Pier, and the weekend Farmer’s Market (considered by many food professionals to be one of the best in the country) might cause a moment’s dalliance as you pursue your motoring route to points north.

Temptation is no less alluring as you skirt the environs of neighboring Santa Barbara, about 100 miles north of L.A. at the foot of the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains. This idyllic town, built originally around the 1786 Santa Barbara Mission (queen of California’s many Spanish outposts), remains a quiet throwback to the golden land of the California myth and is sometimes called the American Riviera. The town’s fine wineries are often compared to those of Napa of twenty years ago, while its dining options range from fresh produce at its enviable farmers’ market to the funky, Julia Child-blessed Super-Rica Taqueria on North Milpas Street, home to what many swear is the world’s finest corn tortilla. More than a dozen sprawling rancho-type hotels provide rest and relaxation, among them the 500-acre San Ysidro Ranch, a mystic getaway for the rich and famous since opening in 1893, and where JFK and Jackie honeymooned.

About 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, the fabled PCH begins to unfurl at its most majestic, carving an awesome ribbon of highway 500 to 1,000 feet above the roaring Pacific. Extolled as America’s road trip extraordinaire, with a host of don’t-miss braking points, the wild and rugged 90-mile stretch from San Simeon past Big Sur and on to the Monterey Peninsula is the uncontested high point of the coastal drive.

Situated atop what he called “Enchanted Hill,” publisher William Randolph Hearst’s 115-room San Simeon mountaintop mansion is a Spanish-Moorish hodgepodge that strikes horror into the souls of architectural purists. The “castle” and its 127 manicured garden acres are an homage to the romance, eccentricity, and extravagance that cost Hearst thirty years of his life and much of his family’s fortune, and remains to this day the most expensive private home ever built in America, an over-the-top billionaire’s Disneyland from a time of unashamed spending. Hearst’s feeding frenzy, in which he and his agents bought up and dismantled entire cloisters, ceilings, mantelpieces, choir stalls, and tapestries from around the world and reassembled them here, resulted in a mishmash of styles and periods, occasionally offset by subtle details of taste and refinement. A highlight of the tour (the only way to visit the grounds) is the home movies taken during the decades when Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, made the castle a playground for such Hollywood pals as the Marx Brothers, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Charlie Chaplin.

After such an excessive dose of man made extravagance, the natural masterpiece of Big Sur appears, a coastal wilderness located where the Santa Lucia Mountains encounter the roaring Pacific. It’s a poem of crashing surf and rugged scenery you’ll never forget: Henry Miller, called it “a place of grandeur and eloquent silence.” The area is still widely undeveloped and has a dramatic loneliness about it, with angry ocean breakers on one side and a narrow curving road that snakes along the edge of the mountains. Pfeiffer Beach is breathtaking—in fact, there’s precious little around here that’s not. Stop to take it all in with a drink or dinner at the well-known Nepenthe, with its outdoor patio suspended 800 feet above the surf. Owned briefly by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, it’s a traditional stopover for motorists seeking a stupendous vantage from which to view the sunset.

“Ventana” means window in Spanish, and Big Sur’s stunningly sited Ventana Inn, perched 1,200 feet above the Pacific, is your window to vast 50-mile vistas of dramatic ocean and mountains, visible both from your room’s private deck and from the inn’s many public windows. Across the road, the Post Ranch Jnn offers the same laid-back luxury and middle-of-nature feel, but with an environmentally conscious twist. Everything from your terrace is meant to be romantic, soothing, and relaxing, though you can also stretch your legs on the numerous nearby hiking trails, which take you out among the area’s grassy meadows, deep canyons, and towering redwoods.

 

 

monterey peninsula california

Monterey Peninsula – California, U.S.A.

Sacred Golf, Nature’s Wonderama and All That Jazz

Mother Nature worked overtime on the rugged Monterey Peninsula. Pacific Grove (a.k.a. Butterfly Town, U.S.A., famous as the resting stop for tens of thousands of migrating monarch butterflies) and the too-charming-thousands of migrating monarch butterflies) and the too-charming-for-words artsy town of Carmel-by-the-Sea are big attractions, but the old fishing town of Monterey remains the peninsula’s biggest draw. The boyhood home of novelist John Steinbeck, it hosts the Monterey Jazz Festival, a huge three-night affair that attracts more than 500 greats from around the world and is the oldest ongoing jazz festival in the nation.

Once famous for whaling and sardine- canning, Monterey was also California’s first capital and retains more than forty buildings built before 1850. The incredible marine life of the region is best experienced today at the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium on Steinbeck-immortalized Cannery Row. A magical “indoor ocean,” it’s home to 700 vari­eties of marine animals from the Monterey Bay, including fish, sea otters, sharks, pen­guins, and the mesmerizing and improbably beautiful jellyfish.

To complete your Monterey experience, check into the Old Monterey Inn, a beautifully renovated half-timbered Tudor built in 1929 with just ten perfectly appointed rooms.

One of the most stunning roads on either U.S. seaboard, the celebrated 17-Mile Drive connects Monterey to its peninsular neighbor Carmel, and is the only private toll road west of the Mississippi. A microcosm of the ragged coastline’s romantic beauty, it’s sheathed in rare wind-sculpted cypresses and dotted with ocean-sprayed outcroppings where hundreds of harbor seals and sea lions laze. Man-made highlights of the famous drive are the hard-to-believe multimillion-dollar homes, the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links, and five neighboring championship courses. Sacred ground for golfers, Pebble Beach’s ocean-hugging links are reminiscent of the demanding and windy courses of Scotland and Ireland, and are regularly ranked as one of the most spectacular (and expensive) tournament-class public courses in the world.

The tree-lined streets of the pretty, pros­perous, and pampered town of Carmel are filled with art galleries, jewelry and gift shops, and cafes, with a crescent of beautiful sandy beach just minutes away. The 1770 Carmel Mission served as the headquarters for the entire mission system in California (under Father Junipero Serra, who is buried here).

The town’s most high-profiled resident, Clint Eastwood, still makes his presence known.

The Hog’s Breath lnn (once owned by Eastwood) is fun for a Dirty Harry Burger or a night-cap near one of the outdoor patio’s fireplaces. For something more substantial, head out of town to the venerable 1850s Mission Ranch, a 22-acre seaside dairy farm that the actor rescued in 1986 (the same year he was elected mayor of Carmel) and turned into a rustic inn. Check into one of its thirty-one rooms, or at least stay for dinner at the ranch dining room, popular with locals.

 

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Hollywood – Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Where America Invents Itself

Ever since show-biz pioneers Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky were drawn to the climate-blessed West Coast in 1911, Hollywood ceased being a real  place and became a concept, a glittering Tinseltown synonymous with fantasy, glamour, and ambition.

It has long been true that the only stars you’ll see on Hollywood Boulevard are at the local wax museum, but Hollywood is in the midst of a Times Square-like renaissance as it attempts to re-create the excitement of the industry’s heyday.

A major catalyst in the area’s rebirth is the brand-new home of the L.A. Philharmonic, the $274 million Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry.

At Mann’s Chinese Theatre (still known to most movie fans as Grauman’s Chinese), you can literally walk in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Mary Pickford, and some 160 other stars of the silver screen from 1927 to the present, who have been immortal­ized in footprints, handprints, and the odd noseprint (Jimmy Durante’s). Nearby, the mile-long Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame honors more than 2,000 stars from 1960 on.

Most of the studios moved away long ago, and today only Paramount remains physically in Hollywood. For a glimpse of how movies are made, head over the Hollywood Hills to the San Fernando Valley and Universal City.

In addition to its decades of history as a film-producing studio, Universal Studios has become a major tourist destination and its pop­ular tour of the world’s largest television and movie studio is fun for the whole family, skep­tics included.

Special effects rides let you experience an avalanche, an earthquake, and a freak encounter with a 30-foot King Kong.

If you’re looking to rub shoulders with the likes of Harrison, Goldie, Meg, and Mel, then you’re in the right town. Scandia, Chasen’s, and the Brown Derby are no longer, but Musso and Frank Grill remains.

It’s one of the oldest restaurants in L.A., a watering hole for the industry’s hoi polloi since 1919. In burnished- wood and leather booths, industry types nurse Ketel One martinis and relish a defiantly 1920s menu fixed in time: chicken â la king, corned beef and cabbage, grilled calfs liver and onions, and eleven kinds of potatoes.

A little less retro in ambience, the casual-chic Ivy provides a rare outdoor-lunch opportunity with great star-spotting potential, and they’re even nice to tourists. Along the same lines is the perennially popular Spago Beverly Hills, where neck twisting detracts from Wolfgang Puck’s consistently great signature pizzas.

For a show-biz experience extraordinaire, the city’s finest and most nostalgic venue is the Hotel Bel Air, where stars young and old seek out anonymity and subtle service, blending unobtrusively into its 12-acre refuge of flowering native and sub-tropical flora.

Shaded pathways meander past swan ponds to hideaway Mission-style bungalows—Marilyn Monroe’s was recently transformed into a gym.

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The Getty Center – Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

A Futuristic Shrine to the Art of the Past

Masterpiece of famed architect Richard Meier, the 110-acre, six-building Getty Center was fourteen years and one billion dollars in the making, opening in 1997 as a modern Acropolis perched atop a Santa Monica mountain ridge and looking out over L.A. to the Pacific.

Designed to house the ever-expanding Getty collection of pre-20th-century art and a Iibrary of more than 1 million books on art history the hilltop citadel is a work of art itself, done in gleaming off white travertine marble and glass.

Luminous, sometimes soaring galleries rely heavily on natural light and are interspersed with courtyards, fountains, connecting walkways, and windows that frame views of the Robert lrwin-designed gardens and beyond.

Van Gogh’s lrises and five Cezannes (including his Still Life with Apples) are the Getty’s magnets to the masses, but the museum’s real strength remains its esoteric specialty collections, from Renaissance to Impressionism and 18th-century European decorative arts.

There is no more wonderful place to watch the sun set over the Pacific than from the wraparound terrace of the center’s restaurant whose cuisine of Californian, Asian, and Mediterranean flavors is attracting as much attention as the art.

The same innovative kitchen oversees a simpler menu at the popular cafe. Food is a big part of the Getty’s charms, exemplifying the attention the center devotes to atmosphere and all-around  experience.

Among the other museums that add art to L.A.’s pop culture identity are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Pasadena’s small but excellent Norton Simon Museum, San Marino’s Huntington Gardens and Galleries, and the Getty’s sister museum, the Getty Villa in Malibu.

This Pompeii inspired home was  commissioned from afar by the expatriate American oil billionaire John Paul Getty, ranked among the richest men of modern times. It was completed two years before his death in 1976, and although he never visited it, he chose to be buried there.

Today it is devoted to his estimable survey of Greek and Roman antiquities.

boulders golden door spa california

The Golden Door – Escondido, California, U.S.A.

The Spa of All Spas

Check your skepticism at the door and leave behind your eight-day weeks of cell phones, business dinners, nannies, deadlines, and insomnia.

Founded in 1958 by spa doyen Deborah Szekely of Mexico’s Rancho La Puerta spa, the Golden Door was the first wellness retreat to combine nascent American fitness concepts with European body treatments that have since become the gold standard.

Consistently rated among the finest spas in the land, the Golden Door’s 344 gorgeous acres accommodate just forty guests and are designed in a Japanese style, with meticulously trimmed greenery, meditative sand gardens, elevated wooden paths, and koi ponds.

Guests (women only except during four annual co-ed weeks and five for men only) spend almost all their time outdoors communing with nature while bliss­fully tuning out for the duration of their Sunday-to-Sunday stay.

All accommodations in the elegantly rustic ryokan-style Japanese inn are spare, serene, single occupancy to honor personal space. Four staff members to every guest ensure serious pampering.

Each guest is assigned a personal fitness trainer who tailors a daily schedule according to individual preferences and fitness and health needs. Begin your day with a sunrise hike or breakfast in bed, then relax at midafternoon with an hour-long mas­sage in your room.

A highlight of the week’s stay is the trailblazing cuisine. The Golden Door’s menu is low in fat and salt, yet sac­rifices nothing in flavor with most of its ingredients picked from their own organic garden.

Before you turn in, take a soak in a hot tub, followed by ki-atsu massage, the Golden Door’s own version of watsu.

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Death Valley National Park – California, U.S.A.

As Low as You Can Get

Its fearsome name draws folks from all over the world, but what strikes them upon arrival is not just the area’s brutality, but its spectacular and varied beauty, with parched Deadman Pass and Dry Bone Canyon standing in contrast to the dra­matic hills and mountains, such as 11,000-foot Telescope Peak.

Under the desert sun, hun­dreds of species of plant and animal life are indigenous to this parched environment, forty of them found nowhere else on earth.

The Valley is actually not a valley at all, but a block of land that has been steadily dropping between two mountain ranges that are slowly rising and sliding apart. More than 10,000 years ago a vast fresh water lake once filled Death Valley to a depth of 600 feet.

Today, after thou­sands of years of dry, hot weather, only crusty salt flats remain. Within the long and narrow park confines (140 miles from one end to the other—about the size of Connecticut), one of the most popular sights is Artists Palette, where mineral deposits have caused swathes of red, pink, orange, purple, and green to color the hills.

Others are Zabriskie Point, with its views of wrinkled hills, and 14 square miles of per­fectly sculpted Sahara-like sand dunes. Find the dead-end road that leads to the mile-high (and aptly named) Dante’s View, from which you can see 360 degrees for 100 miles, taking in both the highest and lowest points in the Lower forty-eight: Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet, and Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level.

Air-conditioned cars and luxury inns have improved on the experience that led 19th-century pioneers to give the valley its name. Among the latter, the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn is a ver­itable oasis of natural springs and palm gardens, with a lush 18-hole golf course thrown into the bargain.

Built in 1927, the stone-and- adobe Mission-style inn is historic, and, with its less expensive motel-style ranch next door, a longtime favorite weekend getaway for weary Angelenos.

You’ll hear every language in the world around the spring-fed pool, a floating vantage from which to watch the changing colors of the Panamint Mountains in late after­noon. At night, gaze up in wonder as the desert sky is filled with a sea of brilliant stars.

What: site, hotel.
Death Valley National Park: at the California/Nevada border, 300 miles northeast of Los Angeles, 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Tel 760-786-3200; www.nps.gov/deva.
Cost: admission $10 per car.
Furnace Creek Inn: tel 760-786-2345, fax: 760-786-2423; www.furnacecreekresort.com
Cost: doubles from $155 (low season), from $265 (high season).
Best times: Oct- May; dawn and late afternoon for the visual power and play of light.

canyon ranch resort tucson arizona

Canyon Ranch Health Resort – Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.

A World-Class Wellness Center

A pioneer among co-ed fitness resorts in the United States, Canyon Ranch opened in 1979 and has gone on to become one of North America’s most famous health and well-being meccas.

Set amid a gorgeous 150-acre spread of Sonoran Desert landscape in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains it consistently garners top ratings from travel and spa magazines.

The nonstop roster of complimentary (but optional) programs, classes, and pursuits can seem intimidating at first, until you figure out that, if you want, you can do nothing more than laze by any of the three outdoor pools all day.

Workouts are aimed at fitness of body, mind, and soul: In addition to more than fifty fitness classes daily, activities range from invigorating 6 A.M. 8-mile power hikes through saguaro-studded hills to evening discussions led by guest lecturers who explore an endless variety of topics.

Buff, traffic-stopping bodies are far outnumbered by more average types who come to escape high-stress lives and unhealthy habits.

Spa treatments are a paramount ingredient of the ranch’s all-around approach to good health-who can resist the massage with crushed pearls or deep moisturizing goat butter? – and the Southwest accented cuisine is memorable, with daily demos that prove you, too, can reproduce the chefs specialties.

In fact, the philosophy behind Canyon Ranch is that it provides guests with a vacation they can bring home with them-though that doesn’t stop many guests from coming back for a return visit.

For East Coasters who don’t want to go west, the spa also has a beautifully sited and equally Iauded sister facility in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts

What: hotel, experience
Where: 8600 E. Rockcliff Rd. (30 minutes from the Tucson airport). Tel 800-742-9000 or 520-749-9000, fax 520-749-7755; www.canyonranch.com.
Cost: high season 4-night minimum package

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Red Rock Country – Sedona, Arizona, U.S.A.

An Enchanting High-Desert Terrain and Its Oasis of Luxury

Local tale spinner Zane Grey introduced the spectacular Red Rock Country as the show-off backdrop for his 1924 classic Call of the Canyon. Most visitors experience deja vu when they arrive thanks to more than eighty Westems that found their perfect cowboys and-lndians’  locations here-among them Johnny Guitar, Broken Arrow, and Tall in the Saddle.

It is of little wonder that the striated “layercake” terrain and sandstone skyscraper formations have drawn a community of artists (beginning with Max Ernst in the 1950s) to Sedona, where rock-watching and gallery hopping are both major pastimes.

New Agers gravitate here for the electromagnetic centers – vortexes from which healing powers and natural energies emanate, they say (think Machu Picchu and Stonehenge).

True or not, there’s no mistaking Sedona’s specialness: The Yavapai – Apache tribe consider this sacred ground their Garden of Eden, believing this is where the first woman mated with the sun to begin the human race.

The unique 70-acre Enchantment Resort has perfectly insinuated itself into this desert milieu, sitting at 4,500 feet (and so escaping the oven like summers) amid an ancient, peculiarly eroded landscape that varies from pink and orange to siena and vermillion, depending on the day’s mood and the sun’s position.

Strike out from the front door of your adobe-style casita for an early morning’s hike or an open-jeep tour into the fantastical Boynton Canyon, and be back within the hotel’s luxurious cocoon in time for a poolside barbecue.

Be a humble witness to some of the West’s most ravishing sunsets, whether from your private patio or from the open terrace of the resort’s excellent Yavapai Restaurant.

What: site, hotel.
Where: Sedona is 120 miles north of Phoenix and 110 miles south of the Grand Canyon.
Enchantment Resort: 525 Boynton Canyon Rd. Tel 800-826-4180 or 928-282-2900, fax 928-282-9249; info@enchantmentresort.com; www.enchantmentresort.com.
Cost: doubles from $195 (low season), from $375 (high season).
Best Times: many arts and music festivals take place Jun-Aug, though these are also the hottest months (if dry); Jazz Festival in Sept.