Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Two Surly Girls in Old Towne Orange

The moment the Rose asked me if I had taken her to “The Twilight Zone,” I feared that I had made a grave error when it came to choosing our destination for the day.

It all started on the 55 Freeway heading north to Orange CountyOld Towne Orange Historic District (about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles; www.cityoforange.org), when a truck in front of us blew its tire and we subsequently ended up with most of the rubber on our car (on the headlight, the hood...you get the picture)! Evidently…this was not a good omen for the forthcoming events of the day.

Once we recovered from the tire mishap, we continued to the Chapman Avenue exit and then headed left toward the old town square of the largest National Historic District in the state of California (dating back to 1888).

The Old Towne Orange Historic District is a one-mile-square area centered around the original plaza, complete with a beautiful fountain and multicolored rose gardens, fully loaded orange tree and additional palm and pepper trees, and inviting benches. The plaza is surrounded by a roundabout with connecting streets that jut out in four directions to reveal numerous dealers of antiques and collectibles, art galleries and restaurants (including the step-back-into-time Watson’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain, established in 1899, which after having a meal at the Rose now affectionately refers to as “the worst restaurant she’s ever eaten at in her entire life”...mostly for roast beef that was akin to eating either cowhide or a shoe, take your pick).

Parking off of a side street would prove to be among the least arduous tasks of the day. The most arduous: trekking through a town we found out that neither of us had the desire to be in for more than 15 minutes...especially in the day's 90-plus-degree temperatures and stifling humidity).

After finishing our overpriced lunch ($25 for a roast beef sandwich, fruit plate and two drinks) at Watson’s, we realized that folks are attracted to the drugstore/soda fountain largely for its ambience, with its vintage signs (think Pepsi-Cola and Carnation Ice Cream) and jukebox, along with unusual finds such as licorice whips, and obviously not for its stellar food and service.

We moved on quickly to the plaza area...or as I like to call it, “a welcome oasis in the center of antique hell.” Here, the Rose had a moment of rare enjoyment on this particular day while becoming enamored with the “high standards” of the surrounding preservation efforts and attention to architectural detail that she thought made the area look very special and loved. She also was fond of the roundabout surrounding the plaza, which she said reminded her of a traditional European town center.

Surveying our surroundings, we chose North Glassell Street for our main “mooch” (i.e. British term for look around). We popped into the women’s apparel and accessory shop Fresh Produce (109 N. Glassell), where things were looking promising as the Rose found plenty of good-quality items that fit her atypical length and size. However, her mood would soon dissipate following a delightful stop to the next spot on our tour.

The Gallery on Glassell (115 N. Glassell, www.galleryonglassell.com)—a funky mix of art and gourmet food—was hands down our favorite foray of the day. Lucky to find owner Jim Hathcock (pictured below) on the premises, we asked him to tell us about his unusual place. Turns out gourmet food is an art form for Hathcock, who started his business 14 years ago in a 100-year-old building as an art gallery showing landscapes and lifestyle scenes from all over the world created mostly by California artists.

Three years ago, when he came to the realization that galleries can often intimidate some people, Hathcock added a food department showcasing Italian, Spanish and French gourmet items to make the space more warm and inviting to visitors.

“There also was a lack of places to buy the things you need to make meals great,” says Hathcock, who uses importers with a California presence to stock his shelves with everything from Spanish cookbooks, paella and fully cooked chorizo (with lean cuts of beef and pork and lots of paprika) to Italian-made wheat pasta that has not been genetically engineered to duck confit, duck fat (“to make real French fries,” he says)…but no foie gras, which recently was banned from California restaurants and gourmet shops.

There’s still time to catch the gallery’s summer acoustic guitar series, held every Sunday, from June through the end of August, from 8-10 p.m. Not only does it feature an extremely talented 17-year-old student of Santa Anas Orange County School for the Arts on acoustic guitar, but guests also can relax and partake in samples of Jones Coffees made in nearby Pasadena.

By the way, if you have some time during your visit to Old Towne Orange, be sure to continue down North Glassell to Chapman University. There you can view the campus-wide Chapman University Collections, comprising everything from Holocaust-related artifacts to the contemporary Phyllis and Ross Escalette Permanent Collection of Art (www.modernluxury.com/riviera-orange-county/articles/museum-without-walls).

Leaving the delightful gallery/food shop, this is the point where it all went downhill…fast. What I failed to mention to the Rose (and for this I will be forever reminded) is that Old Town Orange also is considered “The Antique Capital of Southern California.”

While both of us are great appreciators of history and its significance, we both seem to have a shared aversion to what the Rose calls estate sale finds being labeled as antiques. Perhaps its the Rose’s memories of being dragged through antique shop after antique shop after antique shop (I’m stopping here, although she went on for another five minutes) by her female family members that has caused her to have such disdain of “old household goods being called antiques.” Likewise, the Peach has been inundated with her fair share of  “finds” from her mother’s and sister’s antique booths one too many times (no offense, to my mother and sister; it’s just not my thing).

“I mean how many blipping antique stores can you have in one place?!?!?!,” the Rose asked incredulously.

So...after trying our best to enjoy one of the said antique shops (both immediately feeling antsy and a tad woozy from the smell of rust and dingy drapes), we rushed from the horrid heat and humidity and the “ever-enclosing” antique shops back to the safe haven (and 10 degree cooler) environs of Laguna Beach and the beachside Starbucks.

The Rose’s entire summation of the trip to Old Towne Orange: “We came, we saw and we will never return.”
Ahhhhh…there’s no place like home.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Surf City, Here we Come!

What’s that? A knock at the door…before 9 a.m.? Pondering the farthest reaches of my brain for who could possibly be calling on me before I had barely even finished my first cup of coffee, I dislodged my kitty Freckles from my lap and made my way to the door to find the Rose standing outside.

Did I forget the time she was coming, I wondered? Or, did she even ever give me a time? Whatever the case, she was here…I was not ready…and we didn’t even have a set destination for the day. Wait here with Freckles, I told her, while I get myself ready to go. I’ll hurry, I assured her, adding that I would even forego a shower (oh, stop! I had one late yesterday), brush my teeth and throw on some clothes really quickly, and then we’d be on our way.

Some 15 or so minutes later, we were ready to go…to where, we still didn’t know. With only about three hours for exploring before we had to pick up her son, George, at school, our intended destination had to be somewhere nearby.

I suggested the Old Towne, Orange Historic District—listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring antiques, collectibles, art and dining—and she agreed. Once on our way north down Pacific Coast Highway, through Laguna Beach, however, I changed my mind and proposed a quick trip to the quintessential California beach community of Huntington Beach—better known as “Surf City USA,” for its abundant beaches; sunny, warm Mediterranean climate; local surfing; and casual lifestyle. (Quiksilver, Surfline.com, the Association of Surfing Professionals and USA Surf Team also are housed here, and the city hosts more than 30 national and international surfing championships each year as well.)

Let’s go, the Rose said, and about 15 minutes later, after driving through Newport Beach, we arrived in HB and made our way to Main Street Huntington Beach and the Huntington Beach Pier (the two areas most frequented by visitors). We grabbed a spot in the Pierside Pavilion parking garage, off Main Street (which cost us $10 for about three hours; that’s if you don’t opt to have your vehicle cleaned while you’re away). At that point, the Peach—with all of that coffee under her belt—had only one thing in mind…the nearest bathroom! After a hurried dash to find the elusive bathroom, we were then ready to explore. (*Note: Public parking also is available at Olive and Main, as well as Walnut and Main, and there is plenty of metered parking along the streets).

Named for railroad magnate Henry Huntington, who provided the city with access to the Red Car lines that used to crisscross Los Angeles and end in Long Beach, HB is situated just 15 minutes north of Laguna Beach. I admit I’ve rarely ventured down to the town, though, only once to stay overnight before I had a house in Laguna and another time to have dinner with girlfriends at the famed Duke’s restaurant (named for Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku, who is credited with popularizing surfing worldwide during the 1920’s), at the foot of the pier (below).

Other than that, I’d never actually taken the opportunity to stroll downtown Main Street (with its shops, restaurants and other sights, such as the Surfers’ Hall of Fame and Surfing Walk of Fame that line the streets (www.surfingmuseum.org/walk_of_fame.html), or the pier (one of the longest recreational piers in the world at 1,853 feet), at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and 
Main Street, where visitors and locals alike fish; dine at  the two-story Ruby's Surf City Diner; shop for souvenirs; and check out the surfers and sunsets. Don’t feel like walking, like the Rose and I? Why not rent a Segway or bike and go on your way.

Evidently, the Rose and I picked a good day for our trip. It had rained the night before and was still overcast, which evidently was enough to keep the usual hordes of visitors rocking the area for its nightlife, dining and shopping somewhat at bay.

Our first pit stop was Heavenly Couture. With a sign saying, "$15 for everything in the store" (and even less for accessories), how could we resist? After a mooch (again, if you haven’t been reading, that’s the Rose’s word for look around); a lesson on the need for clothing adorned with shiny objects from the Rose (“A bit of bling is a beautiful thing," she says); and maybe a purchase or two (I’ll never tell), we again continued east down Main Street. We passed the surfer’s version of Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant (complete with surfing trophies and related memorabilia), along with a sign touting $10 all-day bike rentals, before scooting into another shop—Model Citizen—where the Rose spotted a fabulously comfy pair of sandals that she couldn’t live without (pictured below on left).

Crossing the road to make our way westward down Main Street and toward the pier, the Rose wished the Main Street Wine Company was open for business, while I thought the same upon spying the closed International Surfing Museum (surfingmuseum.org), off of Olive Avenue, which includes sections on Duke Kahanamoku, surf music and art, and classic surfboards, plus a Surf Theater devoted to the first “Endless Summer movie.” Walking just around the corner, however, a 1990 mural by artist Don MacDonald on the north wall of the museum did catch my eye with its life-sized depiction of surfers in action.

Back on Main Street, I spotted the banners overhead advertising Surf City Nights. The free street fair and farmers market is held weekly, between Orange and PCH, Tuesday from 5-9 p.m., and features street acts and performances, live music, kid’s activities, sidewalk sales and restaurant samples.

We noticed it was increasingly more difficult to navigate our way down this side of the street, as it was becoming jam-packed by the minute with diners waiting to grab a spot in the outdoor seating areas of the popular Longboard Restaurant & Pub and Sugar Shack Café.

Earlier, I shared with the Rose that I had one goal in mind for the day: to find the perfect straw fedora. When we entered the Hollywood Hat Lounge, I knew my search was over! Picking through and trying on a large selection of the store’s best-selling fedoras in all colors, including black, I settled on the perfect white straw model with black band for only $15...and my quest was complete. Most everything in the store ranges from around $20 to $30, including not only fedoras but also caps, and sun and cowboy hats for men, women and children.

With my new hat in hand, the Rose and I made our way to check out the pier, passing Wahoo’s Fish Taco; food and retail vendors; and the Surfing Walk of Fame (www.surfingwalkoffame.com/duke.html), featuring the great surfers who have captured championships at the pier during the past 50 years.

Approaching the end of Main Street, we made our way across PCH and toward the pier, stopping off along the way at the oceanfront Pier Plaza to check out the Art-a-Faire (www.hbartafaire.com). Held every Friday, from noon to 7 p.m. (or sunset...whichever comes first), the event showcases more than 50 vendors selling handmade gifts and crafts, from glass sculptures to wind chimes to hats to artwork and jewelry and much more. My favorite: artist Stephanie Wirkkala’s Jewels for the Loo—hand-crafted ceramic floor bolt covers for toilets (or “toilet bling”) that cost $20 for the first pair and $15 for each additional set (www.JewelsfortheLOO.com). How’d she come up with the idea, I asked? “Well, I was looking around and found that no matter how expensive the toilet was, you still have those crummy bolt covers,” she said with a laugh.

Walking by the expansive beach (just a portion of HB’s 8.5-mile stretch of sand), we saw that the area already was quite peopled with sunbathers, swimmers and volleyball players at 11 a.m. We also spotted bleachers and other structures going up in preparation for the annual Nike U.S Open of Surfing (usopensurfing.com), set for July 28-Aug. 5.

At that point, we were ready to walk the pier, where we spotted surfers on both sides (want to try your hand at it? Check out Huntington Surf & Sport, for one, for daily surfboard rentals and lessons); fishermen; and, at the end...Ruby’s.

On our return trip down the pier, the Rose was sure to point out the nearby off-shore oil rigs just to make me feel at home (as I’m always fond of telling anyone within listening distance that I hail from a family who owns oil wells in Arkansas...really!). The fun windsocks and souvenirs at the pier shops also captured our imaginations.

We crossed back over PCH and returned to the car, noting that on the next trip we’d have to take a little more time and check out the nearby Huntington Beach State Park. Situated just south of the pier, the beach is a popular spot for surfing, biking, skating, surf fishing and bonfires.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The English Rose and The Georgia Peach: Island in the Sun

The English Rose and The Georgia Peach: Island in the Sun: The Rose and I picked a beautiful, warm and sunny Southern California day for our midweek excursion. But, wait, we were without a dest...

Island in the Sun

The Rose and I picked a beautiful, warm and sunny Southern California day for our midweek excursion. But, wait, we were without a destination. Knowing we wanted to travel north on Pacific Coast Highway, we put our heads together and opted for Balboa Island (www.balboaisland.com/). OK, so we’ve both been there many times before, but as anyone knows, there’s always something new to be unearthed in the OC’s oceanfront communities.

An undeniably charming seaside sanctuary in Newport Beach, Balboa Island was founded in 1899 when early-day developer W.S. Collins purchased 1,000 acres around Newport Bay for $50,000 and dredged the harbor to create the man-made land mass.

Balboa Island was incorporated into the city of Newport Beach in 1918, and it actually consists of three islands—Main Island, Little Island and Collins Island.

Today, after crossing a short bridge over Newport Harbor onto the island, both locals and visitors will find the shady, tree-lined main drag of Marine Avenue filled with numerous shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, art galleries and even a cow! (Note: Rather than continuing on PCH to get to Balboa from Jamboree Road, turn off and enjoy a leisurely drive down Bayside Drive, complete with an eye-catching Bougainvillea-filled pedestrian walkway overhead.)

Once on the island, it seems as if you’ve crossed over into the olden days, where dogs laze away the day on the sidewalks and locals tell stories and swap gossip outside the town coffee shop before returning to their quaint seaside homes. (By the way, they might be quaint, but they ain’t cheap! While original property went for a couple hundred dollars, many homes on the island today cost well in the millions.)

With the busy summertime tourism season quickly creeping up on Southern California, the Rose and I were thrilled to have found an empty parking space just as we entered the island (not an easy feat when tourists are staking their claim to any spot they can get their hands on not only on Marine Avenue but on every available side street as well).

As we exited the car (following a few anxious minutes waiting for a novice parallel parker—ahem, the Peach—to make sure she was within the lines), some funky handmade pillows outside Bauble on Balboa (www.baubleaccessories.com) caught our eye. Called “Geography Pillows,” we learned they are embroidered by hand at Catstudio (http://catstudio.com/), and each 19-inch-by-19-inch pillow can be embellished with numerous landmarks from all of the 50 US states, plus cities, regions and resorts, and international locales ($170, plus tax, and $210 for all other locales besides Canada and the US).

After scanning a picture album showing off all of the available pillows, the Rose knew she had to order the special, limited-edition “Diamond Jubilee” cushion for someone special. One of only 300 created (with each pillow numbered on the back) to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years as Monarch in June 2012, the original design takes 35 hours to make and celebrates the city of London through sites ranging from Hyde Park to Covent Garden.

Expect to find many more fun offerings at Bauble on Balboa, which moved to the island three months ago from The OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa. Manager (and fellow Laguna Beach resident) Mary Quellmalz says the store—owned by Pam Schmider—is known for its eclectic, whimsical spin on the classics and accessories, with some of the most popular items (other than the pillows) including tea towels with quippy sayings and handcrafted Orange County cuff bracelets from Evocateur. But that’s not all that’s on the shelves: Be sure to look for plaques, wall clocks, paperweights and much more.

We exited the store to the sound of the 12 o’clock bell at the island’s St. John Vianney Chapel, and made our way to CandlEssence (www.cecandles.com/home.html), the Peach’s favorite shop on Balboa. Here, Owner Neil Roberts can usually be found making his long-burning, intoxicatingly scented pillar candles daily on site.

Among the many aromas to be found at CandlEssence, Roberts says Blood Orange still is, and always has been, the most popular. But on this visit, I strayed from my typical preferred Lemongrass selection and chose instead the Lemon Verbena (yes, yes, I do like lemon!).

Be sure to say hello to the highly sociable shop mascot Oliver while you’re visiting CandleEssence (and don’t forget the treats and toys, Arf!).

As we left the candle shop—both the Rose and I in utter disbelief that we are so blessed to live in such a wonderful place like this—we continued down the street to one of our preferred lunch spots, Wilma’s Patio (www.wilmaspatio.com/). The congenial waiters add to the fun vibe at this community restaurant, which is owned and managed by the Staudinger family and has been serving up a diverse menu for the past 15 years amid local artwork, two patios and, of course, a bar.

After the Rose (who fancies herself a total trendsetter) kicked off a frenzy of Arnold Palmer requests, we settled back in our booth and ordered some grub: the French Dip for her (oh, the fries that came with that!) and Wilma’s Salad for me (complete with bay shrimp, hearts of palm, feta and black olives, with a side of strawberry vinaigrette dressing). If you visit Wilma’s, be sure to try some of the recommended dishes, including anything Mexican (coming from the family recipes of the cooks), the clam chowder, fish and chips, and breakfast (with waffles, pancakes, French Toast, Balboa Belly Bombers—warm French rolls stuffed with egg—and more served throughout the day).

Next stop Family T’s, the Peach’s second-favorite shop on the island (yes, it does seem to be all about me on this trip, doesn’t it?). After a quick pause to shoot a picture of local landmark “Bessie the Cow (pictured above), the Rose headed to a nearby bench while I ventured in to Howard Silver’s longtime souvenir T-shirt/sweatshirt shop. I was disappointed not to find Howard (who always knows just what I want). But Paul, who works on Wednesdays, was just as eager to accommodate my wishes. I ended up with a new gray Balboa Island sweatshirt to replace the one and only very worn and tattered Tahoe sweatshirt that made the move with me from Atlanta to California. (P.S. If you can't find a T-shirt or sweatshirt here, then...well...youre crazy!)

Happy with my candle and sweatshirt in tow, I allowed the Rose to select our next destination. She chose Esprit Provence, a retailer of all-things French farmhouse design including colorful linens (table runners towels, tablecloths and more), along with Melamine dinnerware and trays and pure-vegetable Heavenly Soaps with shea butter that are scented with luscious flavors such as lavender and flowers, cedar sandalwood, lychee rose, ocean and seaweed, and vanilla oat milk.

The one place we both wanted to check out before leaving the island was next on our list: Olive Oil & Beyond (www.oliveoilandbeyond.com/), which is known for “the rarest and freshest virgin olive oil and ultra-premium basalmic vinegars,” says Persian-born Principal/Founder Matthew Pour.

Think two walls filled with every variety of olive oil and vinegar you could possibly imagine—all just waiting to be sampled—ranging from lemon Australian, cinnamon pear and 18-year aged Italian balsamic (the Rose’s choice to take home), to olive oils infused with everything from basil to wild portabella mushroom and citrus. Pour keeps 300 varieties on hand, and rotates them depending on the season. Take home a bottle of your choice for as little as $18.

From there, it was an all-out “mooch” session. (If you’ve followed our blog—and, if you haven’t, shame on you!—you know that’s the Rose’s British term for having a look around.) We passed by—and somehow managed not to stop off at—the community’s numerous treat purveyors. Anyone for frozen yogurt, or a frozen banana or Balboa bar, both chocolaty concoctions invented right here on the island?

Then, we landed in Heart of the Island (www.heartoftheisland.net/), a treasure trove of artwork, stationery, matted and framed art, pillows, mugs, coasters and more (the Rose was particularly fond of a cross with one of her favorite sayings, “Faith, Hope, Love”). That was followed by a trip to Sunny Days, a women’s boutique carrying the popular Coobie bras (with no hooks, snaps or under wire, making them popular among breast cancer survivors) and Pete & Greta cargo pants. I received a scarf lesson while there, but let it be noted: I’m not quite ready to venture into that territory quite yet.

The final stop for the day was Martha’s Bookstore (www.facebook.com/marthasbookstore), a family-owned gem hidden at the end of a bougainvillea- and flower-covered patio.

Browse through the shops interesting selection of books and gifts. Then, once you have chosen your read, why not stop for a while in the inviting seating area situated just outside the front door?

Satisfied that we had indeed covered quite some ground in such a short time, and with yet a bit more time to spare, the Rose and I wanted to take the auto ferry across to Balboa Peninsula before making our way home.

As only three cars are allowed on a ferry at once, and again with the summertime season starting to pick up, the Rose and I were forced to wait several minutes for our turn, along with several cyclists and pedestrians (none of us which seemed to mind, by the way).

Once onboard, the Rose and I reminisced about our childhoods, when we both—from opposite ends of the world—would enjoy fun-filled trips on ferries with our families.

Drawing farther away from Balboa Island and our short trip back in time, we inched closer along the shimmering blue water to the Ferris wheel marking our disembarkation spot on Balboa Peninsula. That, we agreed, we’d save for another day.