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Mission Inn Riverside: Land of 4 Million Lights

The annual "Festival of Lights" at the historic Mission Inn in Riverside is a holiday tradition for many people. The inn is decked with more than 4 million colorful lights!

The annual “Festival of Lights” at the Mission Inn in Riverside is a holiday tradition. The historic inn is decked with more than 4 million colorful lights!

Looking for a fun & festive place to bring the family over the holidays? Visit the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in downtown Riverside. This time of year the historic inn, which resembles a Medieval castle, is decked out with an array of holiday displays illuminated with more than four million colorful lights!

The annual Festival of Lights is a holiday tradition for many families, who come from all across Southern California to ooh-and-ah at all of the colorful lights and beautiful decorations. A tall Christmas tree lights up the wood-paneled lobby not far from wall portraits of several US presidents, all visitors to the historic Mission Inn over the years.

Outside, the gardens at this national historic landmark feature an array of holiday displays, showing elves at work, or children from around the world celebrating the holidays. Santa Claus is on site, happily taking toy orders for kids of all ages.

Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn Riverside

The annual Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn in Riverside is a holiday tradition. The historic inn is decked with more than 4 million colorful lights! (Photos Traffic411)

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The Christmas tree at the Mission Inn is so giant - it wouldn't fit in a single photo! (Photo Traffic411)
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Festive bears welcome visitors to the historic Mission Inn in Riverside during the 21st Annual Festival of Lights. (Photo Traffic411)
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(Photo Traffic411)
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(Photo Traffic411)
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Portraits of several US presidents who have visited the Mission Inn adorn the wood paneled walls in the lobby. (Photo Traffic411)
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(Photo Traffic411)
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This elf gets ready to shoot a cannonball at visitors in the garden of the Mission Inn in Riverside. There is something magical about these little dolls, they seem almost real! (Photo Traffic411)
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(Photo Traffic411)
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The historic Mission Inn in Riverside's Festival of Lights is a holiday tradition for many families. (Photo Traffic411)
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View of the courtyard at the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, which opened in 1876 as a two story adobe guest house. (Photo Traffic411)

The colorful lights are most spectacular at night, but there is a lot to see in the daytime. I visited for their decadently delicious (and apparently famous) Sunday champagne brunch, and the inn was crowded with lookie-loos, but not nearly as crowded as it is at night. The 21st Annual Festival of Lights continues through January 5, 2014.

Traffic411 Insider’s Tip:  Take Amtrak or Metrolink to the Riverside-Downtown station. The Mission Inn is about a half mile (15 minute walk) away. Or, valet parking is available at the Inn, starting at $10.

Distance from LAX: 69 miles


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El Matador Beach: Picture Perfect!

El Matador State Beach in Malibu features some of the most scenic coastline in California (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

El Matador State Beach in Malibu features some of the most scenic coastline in California (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

Are you looking for a great photo op that will make you the envy of your friends & family (especially those who live where it’s snowy & cold)? Look no further than El Matador State Beach in Malibu.

Tall rocks form archways in the shallow waters west of Zuma Beach. Sea birds perch on branches of wind blown cypress trees atop the craggy coastline.  El Matador’s pristine beauty and golden light is a favorite location of photographers (nature and portrait) and artists who want to capture the remote beauty of this stretch of California coastline.

Related: Hike Solstice Canyon Malibu

There’s a small parking lot above the beach (or parking on Pacific Coast Highway) with a stairway that leads down to the sand.  You will probably find a little more privacy if you visit on a weekday. There are no restaurants or shops at El Matador, making this possibly one of California’s best kept secrets.

El Matador State Beach

Picture Perfect! El Matador State Beach in Malibu may be one of California's best kept secrets! Enjoy these gorgeous photos by Ken Pfeiffer.

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View of El Matador State Beach in Malibu from the parking lot above (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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Stone arch at El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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A view of the Malibu coastline from El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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Traffic411's Lisa Osborne poses at El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

From Santa Monica, this beach is on the far end of Malibu. If you want to explore sea stars (starfish) and other sea life while you’re here, visit nearby Leo Carrillo State Beach at low tide. Tide pools are home to a lot of sea creatures.

Traffic411 Insider’s Tip: The daily parking fee ($8) will give you access to some other state beaches & parks, including the prime-tide-pool-viewing spot Leo Carrillo State Beach.

Distance from LAX: 33 miles (55 minutes)


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Labor Day: 5 free (or low-cost) So Cal Staycations

Palisades Park Santa Monica is a popular spot for a walk, workout or picnic.

Staying in town over the Labor Day Weekend? There are plenty of fun places to explore across Southern California, without spending much money. And, with gas prices at their lowest levels in months, why not hit the road? Here are five free (or nearly free) So Cal day-cations.

Palisades Park: Santa Monica

Palisades Park stretches several blocks across a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica shoreline and Pacific Coast Highway.  Stroll along the tree-lined pathway from San Vicente to the Santa Monica Pier or Third Street Promenade as you take in the gorgeous views. Pack a picnic, or choose from a variety of restaurants to enjoy a meal. The famous Santa Monica Pier is an easy walk from Palisades Park, and admission is free to the pier amusement park.  Tourists from around the world visit Santa Monica and the Malibu coast, so it’s definitely worth the drive across town.

Related: Parking in Santa Monica

Malibu, CA

California's Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) between Oxnard and Santa Monica offer is one of the most beautiful drives in the USA. The New York Times calls this drive through Malibu one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the USA! Here are some photos I took along the way. Story to follow soon, in case you want to try this 30 mile coastline drive yourself. I highly recommend it!

[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/malibu-ca/thumbs/thumbs_malibupointdumenaturalpreserve.jpg]59540Point Dume Natural Preserve, Malibu
Point Dume offers a hiking trail down a hill to a beautiful secluded beach.
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How's this for a camping spot?!? Thornhill Broome Beach State Park is an ideal place to cool off in the summer. Bring your camper, motorhome or fifth wheel and you're all set!
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This stretch of California coastline is among the most beautiful in the state. Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) is also a great alternative to the 101 freeway when traveling between Ventura County and Los Angeles.
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Malibu Coast

Pacific Coast Highway will likely be very busy over the holiday weekend, but if you’re patient and feel like a scenic road trip, the PCH drive through Malibu (Santa Monica to Oxnard) offers some of the most stunning views of the California Coast. North of Point Dume, to Ventura County, the coast is undeveloped. You might even recognize the view since it’s a popular location for new car commercials.

A cascading fountain greets visitors at the entrance of Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks, CA

A cascading fountain greets visitors at the entrance of Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks, CA

Gardens of the World

Soak up botanical beauty at this best-kept Conejo Valley secret, located across the street from the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center.  Admission is free to Gardens of the World, a stroll through the grounds will take you on a tour of lush landscapes from around the world.

Balboa Island, Orange County

Balboa Peninsula and the Fun Zone arcade are a quick ferry ride away from Balboa Island.

A stroll on Balboa Island will have you feeling like you’re in New England. The quaint streets and bayfront homes are surrounded by water, which will help to keep you cool.  Parking is tight on the island, especially on a holiday weekend. You might want to park in Newport Beach, and walk  across the small bridge that leads to Balboa Island.

Hollywood Bowl

It’s a Los Angeles landmark, but a lot of locals have never been to The Hollywood Bowl.  Movie music takes center stage this weekend, with a concert by John Williams ( Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Arc) and a tribute to the Henry Mancini and director Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) fans will enjoy the tribute to Henry Mancini and director Peter Sellers.

I recently attended a Hollywood  Bowl show at the last minute and was surprised to get a ticket for well under $20. You don’t need the best seats in the house to enjoy the experience. This weekend, tickets start at just $15, and you can avoid online ticketing fees when you buy tickets on site at the box office, just call ahead to make sure it’s not close to a sell out.

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Spontaneous L.A: Hollywood Bowl

You don't need to have the best seat in the house to enjoy an evening at the Hollywood Bowl. For under $40 a friend and I enjoyed an L.A. Phil concert, which was being filmed for television.

There’s still time this summer to enjoy a concert under the stars at The Hollywood Bowl, and experiencing the beauty of this iconic venue doesn’t have to require a lot of planning  or burst your budget. A friend and I recently enjoyed a spontaneous evening at the Hollywood Bowl for under $20 each.

On a whim, my friend Judy called  in the late afternoon saying she’d read good reviews in the L.A. Times about Verdi’s Requiem with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and it’s new music director. She called the Bowl and there were plenty of tickets still available, starting at $16.50.  She picked me up and we headed to the Bowl intending to buy the least expensive seats.  Despite being rush hour, getting there was a breeze. We enjoyed the evening of music under the stars for about the same price as popcorn & a movie.

You should try this, too. Regardless of what you see, it will be a memorable experience. And, with just a little more planning, pack a picnic meal (bringin in food, drinks and even bottles of wine are often allowed, check ahead of time), or purchase gourmet snacks and beverages on-site. Arrive early, so you can get a spot on a comfy bench with small table top to enjoy your nosh.

Traffic411 Tip:  Save time and money on parking (Hollywood Bowl lots have stacked parking, you can’t leave early) Take the Bowl Parking Shuttle, or public transit.

Distance from LAX: 25 miles


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Gaviota Coast, Santa Barbara

Tajiguas, looking toward Refugio State Beach, along Santa Barbara’s Gaviota Coast (Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411 Photo)

Here’s a gem of a drive, only 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. The Gaviota Coast offers beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, great surfing spots, and what might just be the most beautiful coastal campgrounds in California.

Santa Barbara photographer Ken Pfeiffer describes some of the fun things to see and do along this gorgeous stretch of  Central California coastline:

Santa Barbara and Gaviota  State Park are about 30 miles apart. Toward the middle is Refugio State Beach.  One mile to the right of Refugio is El Capitan State Beach.  One mile to the left of Refugio is one of my favorite beaches, TajiguasThen another mile left is Arroyo Quemada, a cool funky little community right on the beach, and then another mile to the left is Arroyo Hondo nature preserve. Just to the left of Gaviota is (the private community of ) Hollister Ranch, but the road is not on the map. The beach is REALLY cool between Isla Vista and Gaviota. 

Watching waves at Tajiguas beach on Santa Barbara’s Gaviota Coast (Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411 Photo)

Radio personality Melody Morgan is a huge fan of the campgrounds at El Capitan State Beach.  “My favorite place on the planet! Just north of Santa Barbara on a bluff overlooking the ocean. You walk down a wooden staircase to the beach. Beatuful views plus lots of trees for shade, nice facilities (showers, wood for sale). Book early, it sells out fast.”

Related: Wine Lovers – Santa Ynez Valley

“The Gaviota Coast has recently been threatened by development,” said Pfeiffer. “The more the public is aware of this precious gem the more likely it will continue to be protected as a natural resource we can all enjoy together.”  Read more on the efforts to protect this gorgeous stretch of California coastline.

Gaviota Coast, Santa Barbara

Located just north of Santa Barbara, California's Gaviota Coast might offers beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, great surfing spots, and what might be the most beautiful coastal campgrounds in California. (Photos by Ken Pfeiffer for Traffic411)

[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas-5_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]7260Tajiguas Beach, looking toward Refugio State Beach. Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas-4_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]340Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas-6_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]300Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]310Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas_snail_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]410Snail on Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara's Gaviota Coast (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Snail on Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara's Gaviota Coast (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas-2_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]240Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_tajiguas-3_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]250Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_toward-refugio_pfeiffer_traffic411.jpg]220Tajiguas Beach, looking toward Refugio State Beach. Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
Tajiguas Beach, looking toward Refugio State Beach. Santa Barbara County, CA (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=http://traffic411.com/wp-content/flagallery/gaviota-coast-santa-barbara/thumbs/thumbs_kenpfeiffer_headshot.jpg]270Santa Barbara photographer Ken Pfeiffer.
Santa Barbara photographer Ken Pfeiffer.
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Other nearby sites to see include Lake Cachuma and the Danish themed city of Solvang.

For more information on exploring the Central California coast, from Santa Barbara to Big Sur and places in between, take a look at this from the Los Angeles Times.

Traffic411 Insider Tip: Do a day trip from Santa Barbara, or take Highway 101 on your next drive to Northern California to enjoy this breathtaking scenery.

Distance from LAX: 121 miles


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Dad’s Choice: Laguna Beach

The view from Las Brisas restaurant, above Main Beach in Laguna (photo Las Brisas)

The view from Las Brisas restaurant, above Main Beach in Laguna (photo Las Brisas)

What dad would not want to spend Father’s Day in Laguna Beach? This quaint seaside town one hour south of Los Angeles offers breathtaking views of some of Southern California’s most beautiful coastline. Breathe-in fresh air from a bench in the park at the Main Beach Park Playground, or take a walk and enjoy the view.

If you enjoy having your toes in the sand, stroll along the waterline south of Main Beach during low tide. If the tide starts to come in, you can always take stairs up to a sidewalk on Pacific Coast Highway.

My dad loved the beach, and we’d often head to Laguna for a meal and a walk. The Cottage (now apparently closed) was one of dad’s favorite spots. The large shady/sunny outdoor patio was a great place to enjoy breakfast or lunch, right across the street from the ocean.

Visit The Greeter’s Corner, a coffee shop with a large outside deck facing the ocean. The food is good, prices are decent and the view and fresh air are amazing.

Hungry for seafood and a view? Stop by the Beach House.  A steep driveway takes you to this classic dining spot that hugs the side of a cliff, offering an up-close ocean view.  For a fun menu of upscale delights in a kitschy setting, Dizz’s As Is is a local favorite.

Nearby: Balboa Island, CA USA

My dad’s favorite breakfast spot of all time was just north of downtown Laguna at the border of Newport Coast. The Beachcomber Café in Crystal Cove offers open air dining  on the sand in the historic district of Crystal Cove State Park. There is a parking lot on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway with a shuttle that will take you to the restaurant.  An added bonus, you’re just steps away from a beautiful stretch of beach for an after breakfast/lunch/dinner walk.

Laguna Beach and Balboa Island (pictured here) were two of my Pop's favorite OC getaways.

Las Brisas is an upscale Mexican restaurant perched on the cliff adjacent to Main Beach. This Laguna Beach institution features a large outdoor bar patio surrounded by colorful rose bushes. Las Brisas is a great choice to celebrate a special occasion, or a comfortable spot to sip an icy beverage, enjoy the view or enjoy a So Cal sunset.

Related: So Cal Burgers

Montage Laguna Beach is a world-class resort offering panoramic views of The Pacific Ocean. You don’t need to stay at the hotel to enjoy the scenery. Walk the grounds or have a drink on the deck of the cocktail lounge. The Montage sits on the land that was the filming location of several classic movies, from “Treasure Island” to the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz comedy “The Long Long Trailer.”

Along with being home to several great restaurants, Laguna beach is an artist’s enclave, there are plenty of art galleries to browse in the quaint downtown shopping area.  And, festivals, from The Pageant of the Masters to the Sawdust Festival, there’s often something special going on in Laguna Beach.

Distance from LAX: 52 miles

Traffic411 Tip:  Make Laguna Beach a scenic side trip when you’re traveling between OrangeCounty and San Diego. Driving North on the 5 (Santa Ana Freeway), exit “Beach Cities’ in Dana Point, take Pacific Coast Highway north through Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar and Newport Beach and rejoin the 405 from Mac Arthur Blvd. Reverse course if you’re driving South on the 405, exit Mac Arthur Boulevard.

See what it’s like in Laguna Beach right now: Check out the live Laguna Beach Earthcam


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Lake Balboa, a secret Valley oasis

Lake Balboa in Van Nuys is a way to beat the heat of the sizzling San Fernando Valley summers.

The San Fernando Valley sizzles with triple digit heat during the summer months, but Lake Balboa can offer valley-dwellers some respite from the swelter.  The lake is located inside the park formerly known as Balboa (now it’s called Anthony C. Beilenson Park) and is part of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, which also features parks, golf courses, and other recreation activities.

Located in Van Nuys near the busy 405/101 freeway interchange, Lake Balboa is surrounded by a large grassy park.  There’s a walking path with benches (some shady) around the perimeter of the lake. Bring a picnic or a blanket to relax on the grass. Ducks, swans and other birds flock to the lake and would be more than happy to share any of your snacks, although there are warnings against feeding the wildlife.

During the summer months, Balboa Lake has pedal boats for rent and there’s kayaking (although you first need to complete the Kayak Fitness Orientation). There are also hundreds of cherry blossom trees, with festive pink blooms when in season.

If you find yourself in the valley with a little time to kill (perhaps you want to wait out rush hour traffic), or just want to meet a friend for some exercise, Lake Balboa is a terrific place to visit.

Distance from LAX: 23 miles

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  Golfers, bring your clubs. Balboa Lake is adjacent to two golf courses with putting greens and driving ranges.

 


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Wine Lovers: Santa Ynez Valley

Rideau Vineyards in Solvang is one of my favorite spots for wine tasting in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley. (Photo: tastesoflife.blogspot.com)

If you have seen the movie Sideways, you know that the Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara wine country)  is home to some terrific wines, and it’s a scenic and easy drive from Los Angeles.  Whether you’re a fan of reds or whites, there is something for every wine lover in this beautiful Southern California wine country. And, it’s a romantic spot for Valentines.

The little town of Los Olivos offers several tasting rooms on one street, so you can park your car and walk to sample a lot of wines including varietals from Andrew Murray, Arthur Earl, Tensley, Qupe, Daniel Gehrs and more.

As for beautiful scenery, my favorite winery is Rideau Vineyards.  Owned by New Orleans native Iris Rideau, the place is surrounded by vineyards with an old-style feel.  It’s a relaxing place to sample delicious wines and relax in beautiful surroundings. Be sure to try the Tempranillo!

The quaint Santa Ynez Inn is my pick for a romantic place to stay.  The boutique bed & breakfast it’s a bit pricey, but the rooms are plush, quiet and very romantic. Each room is unique, decked out in pillows, plush bedding, thick rugs and most, if not all, have a Jacuzzi tub and fireplace.  It’s a great, private hide-way to romance your sweetheart.

If you’re looking for something more affordable, nearby Solvang offers a lot of options, including a Best Western. Solvang is a Dutch-themed village with an old world European feel. A fun daytrip while you’re in the area.

Santa Ynez is about a two hour drive north from Los Angeles, some of the route you’ll be hugging the coast, a gorgeous drive up the 101 freeway. If you’re already in So Cal, it’s an easy getaway for a one or two night stay.  And, it’s not far from Santa Barbara, another favorite spot for lovers.

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  Do a day trip to Solvang or Santa Barbara if you have time. Chumash Casino is nearby, if you wish to try your luck.

Distance from LAX: 132 miles (2 hours 15 minutes, when it’s not rush hour)

Helpful links to help plan your getaway:

Los Olivos wine tasting

Wine tasting at Rideau Vineyard (tastesoflife.blogspot.com)

Santa Ynez Valley: Living the Life


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