Archives for posts with tag: Southern California

Image from iOS (10)

The advantage of living in southern California is that a weekend escape feels like somewhere completely different. From San Diego, I could be in the mountains to the East, in Mexico’s buzzy Valle de Guadalupe sipping on wine, or eating my way through Los Angeles to the North in a few hours more or less.

At Joshua Tree National Park, two hours from Los Angeles or San Diego by car, desert vibes are in reach too.

To get there, head East on I-8 toward Palm Springs and take CA-62 toward the high desert.

There are several entrances to the park, which requires an entrance pass for purchase at any of the visitor centers.

Accommodations vary, from your standard Holiday Inn, to camping in the park and a spectrum of basic to desert chic Airbnbs. We stayed two nights in a charming red casita (an Airbnb – rent it here) near one of the park’s three entrances, meaning we were conveniently located less than 20 minutes from the park.

We traveled to Joshua Tree in June, or the beginning of the area’s off-season. Though, with an estimated 3 million visitors predicted for the area this year, Joshua Tree is on track to becoming a year-round destination–despite the heat that hammers down on you by 9am.

Due to rising summer temps, the park ranger at the visitor center counseled against the four-mile hike I bookmarked. Instead, he recommended a number of shorter nature walks to complete before the afternoon became too brutal. Had we visited in the fall or winter, I’d be inclined to book at least three nights in Joshua Tree to complete longer hikes, or to even camp one night (max, because I’m high maintenance like that) in the park.

Below are some photos from the weekend:

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(Cholla Cactus Garden, late afternoon)

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(Part of our Airbnb in Joshua Tree)

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(Sunrise breakfast at our Airbnb in Joshua Tree)

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(Corned beef and hash brunch at Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree)


If you’ve been following the blog for a bit, you will know that I enjoy a good brunch, and that’s just me being modest. One could say that I live for leisurely weekends and brunch was invented for just that.

Throughout my brunchventures (brunch + adventures) I have found it difficult to find a dish that combines sweet and savory on one plate. You could argue that I just order two plates (which I have) or to just pick a side, which I have also done. The former can get expensive, especially if I am ordering an a.m. cocktail, which I usually am while the latter leaves me full yet incomplete.

During a recent day-trip to Santa Barbara, I was pleasantly surprised to find the brunch dish I’ve been searching for at Scarlett Begonia, a charming restaurant tucked into the Victoria Court shopping center just off that main drag downtown (State St.).

The sweet and savory came in the form of the Pork Belly Bourbon French Toast; maple-glazed pork belly served with almonds, fresh fruit – blueberries, strawberries – and a poached egg to pair with the thick-cut piece of brioche French toast. The pork belly was generous as well, which I like to see. What a well-balanced meal; definitely not from a nutrition perspective, but we’re not talking about nutrition.

Unfortunately, there were leftovers even after stuffing myself to capacity. I opted not to take the leftovers with us. A meal this good never tastes the same after you’ve nuked it outside of the restaurant.

On the other hand, I’ll make my way back North next weekend to catch the tail end of the Music Academy of the West Festival. You’ll know where to find me in the likely hours of 11 – 2.

We sat outside. I'm a sucker for ambiance. Photo credit: Scarlett Begonia

We sat outside. I’m a sucker for ambiance. Photo credit: Scarlett Begonia

By car, you are one of the herd, confined by the unpredictable flow of traffic. On the train, expectations are predetermined by a schedule. Theoretically, I would board Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner at 11:30 a.m. and arrive in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles and my final destination a few hours later.

The train rolled in a few minutes past the half hour. I climbed aboard slightly annoyed. It was the July 4th weekend, and I had a social schedule to keep. The top deck was sparse; I committed to one of the many open window seats and plugged my iPhone into an empty outlet. I scrolled through the #Amtrak Twitter search results to see what my fellow Amtrak passengers thought about their experiences. Unfortunately, it looked like there were major delay issues on the East Coast. A power outage, apparently. Fortunately, I was in California.

With that perspective, all was forgiven as we glided North from the Oceanside stop; past the surfers at San Onofre, the sparkling view of the sand and shore, colorful beach umbrellas ruffling in the breeze – the folks on the sand enjoying the bright, sunny day just like me. Because I’m on a train. And those folks crawling the opposite way on the I-5? They probably wished they took the train. I could almost feel the strain in my right foot toggling from the gas and brake pedals, a sporadic routine that is guaranteed on that wretched drive. Been there, done that way too many times. No thanks, not this weekend.

I felt in complete opposition to what it usually feels like to make the drive; on the day I took the train, I felt calm and quiet. Even the steady clang of the bell as we arrived at each stop and the intermittent blasts of the train’s warning horn (or whatever it’s called) felt welcome. After a while, it blended into the periphery.

Inside, the seats were wider and boasted more legroom than a domestic flight. The shushing of the air-conditioning and the pleasant rumble underfoot as it carried on put me at ease. Why haven’t I thought of train travel before?

This was the way America traveled the country before cars and planes; this was their way, it wasn’t novelty, the way I treated it. Train travel was their ticket to the future, a coal-fired exchange for more time, opportunity, exploration. I considered this as the conductor stopped at my seat as I unlocked my battered iPhone, flashed the QR code and was recorded as another passenger on its daily route.

View of Oceanside, CA from Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

View of Oceanside, CA from Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.


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