Hearst Castle Sculpture Garden
America’s great houses represent a bygone era when the industrial revolution gave rise to nouveau riche, who not only built corporate empires, but also a string of European replica palaces. The enterprising wannabes benefited from an influx of immigrant laborers as well as the fall of feudalism as the contents of impoverished royal households were shipped across the Atlantic to furnish these massive opulent part time residences. "Monarch of the Dailies" newspaper publisher and unabashed philanderer William Randolph Hearst constructed his castle on a ridge top overlooking the Pacific, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the profound political influence that he enjoyed, the picturesque 655 mile Pacific Coastal Highway started in San Simeon, linking the rural estate with the metropolises to the north and south. For more than 30 years civil engineer and architect trailblazer Julia Morgan designed the incomplete Hearst Castle comprised of numerous structures including the 60,645 square-foot Casa Grande. The ancestors of Hearst’s exotic menagerie still roam the 127 acre garden that is studded with antiquated statues, reliefs and mosaics. Herds of wild zebras are often seen from the highway. 


Catalina Island's Silver Peak Trail

Turn of the century botanist-poet Blanche Trask took up residence on the subtropical island in 1897 and after the tourists had abandoned the then tent city of Avalon for the winter months she did what few men or women then did. Hitching up the layers of skirts and petticoats, she trekked into the “Interior”, the area beyond the hills pushing Avalon against the sea, hiked up to “the heights so full of mystery and beauty, seldom seen by any”. She hiked through canyons, across meadows and over mountains to the low lying double exposed isthmus town of Two Harbors. She kept going to the northern tip of the island. Today, the 37 mile Trans-Island Trail takes visitors from Avalon to the West End, which remains undeveloped and untamed. When not on buffalo trails or the few dirt roads existent on the island, hikers are scaling fire breaks, most of which cut straight up and drop straight down thousands of feet at unbelievable grades. The Silver Peak Trail that follows the spine of the island affords 360 degree The-Hills-Are-Alive-With-The-Sound-Of-Music views for almost ten inspiring miles.


Galleta Meadow's Sea Serpent

Oddly fitting for the Chinese year of the water dragon, the newest addition to Dennis Avery’s (of Avery Business Supply) steel sculpture studded ranch surrounding Borrego Springs is a 350-foot serpentine "sea" dragon erected at the tail end of 2011 in the sands adjacent to the Anza Borrego State Park, east of San Diego. Paying tribute to the area’s fame for fossil discoveries, Avery’s “Sky Art” exhibit at Galleta Meadows Estate began to take form in 2008 when he contracted self-taught artist Ricardo Breceda to bring the past to life. Anatomically correct life-sized replicas of slinking muscle strapped saber tooth lions, grazing mammoths, nursing camels and battling raptors now stand out against the desert sky, along with the gomphotheres as the real McCoy did eons ago. Visitors are invited to hike, bike, horseback ride, and camp free of charge for up to three days on the estate amidst more than 130 freestanding welded sculptures.


Otter Toddler at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Inhabitants of the giant kelp forests that grow in the frigid coastal waters from Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point to Half Moon Bay, Southern Otters were hunted to near extinction at the turn of the last century. Conservation efforts conducted by organizations like the Aquarium of the Pacific have ensured that they are protected by law so that there are now approximately 2,800 otters living along the California coastline. The newest addition to the otter family at the Aquarium, is Betty, (named in honor of longtime supporter Betty White), who was found as a week-old pup upstate. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed her non-releasable because she had not yet learned the necessary skills to survive in the wild, she was transferred to the Aquarium where at ten months old she has earned the nicknamed of “Banshee” for wailing loudly when she isn't served her favorite meals.


Carlsbad: SoCal's Urban Surfer

Along a stretch of shimmering black pebbled shoreline dozens of diehard winter wave rogues bob on boards in the early morning wake as harbor seals and sea lions hunt in the kelp below. Coastal fog slowly rolls back out across the Pacific as the sun rises and by mid morning, just as the surfers are dragging their boards ashore to head off to their day jobs, the sky is once again cloudless. As is often said in SoCal, it’s just another perfect day in Paradise.


The Red Shingled Turrets of the Del

Built primarily by Chinese immigrants in 1887, the red shingle turreted Hotel del Coronado, referred to by locals as "The Del", with panoramic views of the Pacific was the first resort in the world to offer electric lighting and oil furnace heating. The largest turret looming ten stories above sea level capped a gilded ballroom, theater, and observation deck. A salt water pool, Japanese tea garden, and ostrich farm lured princes and presidents, as well as a host of Hollywood starlets. A makeshift tent city surrounded the hotel providing economy rooms for seafaring families on a shoe string budget.


Surfing the Sloughs

Fourteen miles south of San Diego and five miles north of the land where Tequila pours like honey is the surfing Mecca known as Imperial Beach, known locally as "IB." With 3.5 miles of mostly undeveloped coastline and the presence of the Tijuana Sloughs, three offshore reefs that create consistently large waves, it's little surprise that IB’s Boca Rio Beach became a notable training ground for serious enthusiasts and professional competitors despite the stingrays, sharks and killer whales. A walkable Surfboard Museum, a series of upright surfboard silhouettes with identifying plaques, commemorates 25 legendary Slough Riders that put this puny place on the map, including Dempsey Holder and Bob Simmons. IB was the setting for surf noir classic, Tapping the Source, and holds claim to the most southwesterly saloon in the nation.


Carillon Concert Beneath The Oaks

Bok Tower, east of Tampa and south of Orlando, with its huge brass door depicting images from the Book of Genesis shining like gilded gold, was built by Ladies Home Journal editor, Pulitzer Prize winner and peace activist, Edward Bok. Encircled by a reflecting pool, the 205-foot art deco, neo-Gothic carillon bell tower is set amidst 50 acres sanctuary of old growth moss cloaked oak groves and landscaped gardens designed by conservationist Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. that had surrounded Bok’s 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion, Pinewood Estate. Bok had intended to create a place that would "touch the soul with its beauty and quiet."  The sanctuary, originally called the Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower, provides visitors meandering trails and cloistered reflective spaces tucked back among ferns, azaleas, camellias and magnolia and besides a swan graced reflective pond. Daily concerts are held beneath the oaks at 1 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. at the Lake Wales National Historic Landmark. Adult admission is $12; Children’s tickets sell for $3.

San Diego's Mud Caves

Perched on the butte above the Seco del Diablo overlooking the Carrizo Badlands in the southeastern corner of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego are the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves. Formed more than five million years ago, there are 22 caves and nine slot canyons in what is recognized as one of the world’s largest mud cave systems. Many of the caves are difficult to locate but like all adventures, the reward is found at the end of the quest. One cave’s roof looms 80 feet above the floor and another actually has a second level. Others are bat havens or spectacularly speckled with light filtering in from natural skylights piercing the cave’s roof. Experienced cavers advise visitors to don a headlamp, helmet and kneepads and to NOT climb on top of the caves as mud roofs DO collapse. Also, mountain lions have been found sleeping in the caves, therefore, extreme caution is advised.

Lake Tahoe's Vikingsholm Castle
Vikingsholm Castle, the 48 room summer home of Lora Josephine Knight, sits at the bottom of a steep, mile long switchback driveway dropping 500 feet to the shore of Lake Tahoe. Born into money, at sixty, and without a husband, she built a castle in the sky. A socialite and business woman, owning portions of many large companies the least of which was the Union Pacific Railroad, Knight modeled Vikingsholm after Scandinavian manors because Emerald Bay, where Knight purchased 239 acres in 1928, including Fannette Island that sits in the middle of the bay, reminded her of the fjords she had seen while visiting Norway and Sweden. Although the island, a protected nesting ground for Canadian geese and the only island on the Lake, now houses her granite tea house, it was once home to an eclectic Englishman who had built a chapel there into which, as fate would have it, he would never be interred as he perished at sea


Salt Point State Park

Wildflower-draped ledges overlook one of the first designated underwater preserves along six miles of California coastline thick with bull kelp forests. Aside from diving and kayaking in the treacherous surf slamming the shoreline, Salt Point State Park in Sonoma County offers 20 miles of trails through Douglas firs, redwoods and through a rare pygmy forest, as well as across windswept meadows where century-old blocks long ago quarried to cobble the streets of San Francisco have been left in stacks.

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