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OC Side Trip: Balboa Island

Gingerbread House sits on a private dock on Balboa Island, this Orange County jewel is decked out for the holidays (Photo Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

Gingerbread House sits on a private dock on Balboa Island, this Orange County jewel is decked out for the holidays (Photo Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

If you find yourself heading to, or passing through, Orange County during your Southern California holiday travels, Consider a stop at Balboa Island.

Whether you have an hour or a day, this quaint seaside community offers comfortable weather, gorgeous views and festive decorations this time of year. This is a great pit stop if you are on a Southern California road trip and need to stretch you legs or grab a snack or bite to eat.

Rows & rows of one and two story beach houses stand shoulder-to-shoulder along narrow streets on the island, surrounded by a waterfront sidewalk along the Island’s perimeter. Park your car on any side street, and you can walk the circular path and easily return to your vehicle once you’ve had enough exercise.

Related photos & story : Balboa Island, CA USA

Along your holiday stroll, you’ll see homes and docks decorated with gingerbread men, Christmas Trees and other holiday decor.

gingerbread men, gingerbread house and a Christmas tree decorate a dock on Balboa Island, Newport Beach, CA

Waterfront homes & docks on Balboa Island in Newport Beach are decked out for the Christmas holidays (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

Year round, keep an eye out for the Teddy Bear House, a home jam-packed with stuffed bears of all sizes. There’s also a tall Statue of Liberty perched on a dock, near an American Flag blowing in the breeze.  You’ll see boats and yachts of all sizes, paddle boarders and a ferry shuttling cars, cyclists and pedestrians to the carnival across the waterway on Balboa Peninsula.

Lady Liberty stands proudly on this Balboa Island private dock year-round. Just one of the sights to see as you stroll around the Island (Photo Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

Lady Liberty stands proudly on this Balboa Island private dock year-round. Just one of the sights to see as you stroll around the Island (Photo Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

Balboa Island gets decked out for the holidays, with Christmas wreaths and decorations lining the bridge onto the Island and its main street (Park Avenue). I love being here around the Fourth of July, too, when the red, white and blue ribbons and decorations are on display.

My dad loved being at the beach and Balboa Island was one of his favorite places.  One of the last walks we took together was on Balboa Island. He was using a walker and the smooth sidewalks and flat terrain made for an easy stroll.  Keep Balboa Island in mind if you are looking for a quick side stop on your Southern California vacation. Happy Holidays!


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Santa Barbara Festivals: Best Bets

Italian street painting festival, I Madonnari, livens up the grounds of Old MIssion Santa Barbara over Memorial Day Weekend (Photo: I Madonnari Festival)

The colorful Italian street painting festival, I Madonnari, comes to Old Mission Santa Barbara Memorial Day Weekend (Photo: I Madonnari Festival)

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost here. And, Santa Barbara knows how to Summer! The city nicknamed the “American Riviera” is home to an array of uniquely dazzling festivals, year-round.

Memorial Day weekend is considered the ‘unofficial’ start of beach season, so why not celebrate at the colorful I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival?  The grounds of Old Mission Santa Barbara shape shift into an Italian city, where street painters using chalk sketch massive images.

Asphalt is an artist's canvas at the I Madonnari street painting festival at Old Mission Santa Barbara (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Asphalt is an artist’s canvas at the I Madonnari street painting festival at Old Mission Santa Barbara (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Asphalt is their canvas as they create (or recreate) colorful works. This festival benefits the Children’s Creative Project, a non-profit which brings art into Santa Barbara area schools. Admission is free and the colorful drawings will stick around for a few days following the Memorial Day Weekend.

Colorful dancers shimmy down State Street at Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice Parade (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

Colorful dancers shimmy down State Street at Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Parade (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

The Summer Solstice Celebration is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular events, drawing 100,000+ visitors. Many line State Street to be dazzled by the colorful dancers, drummers and pageantry of the Solstice Parade. No commercial entries allowed, so this parade is 100% home-grown Santa Barbara. Along with the parade on Saturday (noon, June 20, 2015), there’s a three-day weekend festival in Alameda Park, featuring live bands, artisans selling clothing and crafts as well as an array of food and drinks.

Watch: Sights & Sounds of Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Parade 2013!

July brings the French Festival, which ties in with France’s Bastille Day, and the Greek Festival, to Oak Park. Ooh La La! Or, should I say, Opah! You will delight in the native dishes and desserts being served.  I enjoy attending summer festivals in Oak Park because they are free, not too large, and it seems like there’s a different one every weekend. You can drop in a couple of hours or spend the day indulging in traditional foods or enjoying free entertainment.

Accordian clown at Solstice Parade (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Accordian clown at Solstice Parade (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

“Old Spanish Days of Santa Barbara,” aka “Fiesta,” takes over the downtown area on August 5-9, 2015.  This granddaddy of Santa Barbara events features horses with riders in traditional Spanish attire. A rodeo and other events mark the nearly week long celebration. Click this link for details on the rodeo and other events.

“Old Spanish Days Fiesta is about the heart of Santa Barbara’s residents and their passion for life,” said Cas Stimson, president of the 2015 Fiesta. This year’s theme is “Fiesta Romantica.” The first Fiesta was held in 1924 to pay tribute to the Spanish traditions  of Santa Barbara’s founding families.

The fun doesn’t end with summer.  The California Lemon Festival comes to Goleta in September; followed by the California Avocado Festival in Carpinteria and the Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival.

Kids of all ages enjoy Santa Barbara's unique mix of local events. (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Kids of all ages enjoy Santa Barbara’s unique mix of local events. (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

While we’re on the topic of Santa Barbara festivals, I have to mention the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). The main event takes place in Winter, just ahead of the Academy Awards. SBIFF has become an important stop on the road to Oscar, where nominees can schmooze with peers and try to drum up last minute Academy votes.  Building on its success, SBIFF has added a few mini-festivals called “Waves,” including a French Wave, featuring cinema of France, in July.

Click here to see a year-round list of Santa Barbara festivals and events.

Traffic411 Insider’s Tip: Highway 101 into Santa Barbara (especially northbound) is usually busy in summer, and it will be jammed over the Solstice weekend. If you’re planning to attend the Solstice parade, arrive several hours early. Or, get a room and spend the night.

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Santa Barbara Wine Industry Ages Well

Santa Barbara County adds another AVA with Los Olivos, bringing the total number of distinctive wine growing areas to six. (Photo Traffic411)

Santa Barbara County adds another AVA with Los Olivos, bringing the total number of distinctive wine growing areas to six. (Photo Traffic411)

We’re barely into 2016, and it’s already been a good year for Santa Barbara wine industry.

In January, the federal government awarded Los Olivos its own AVA (American Viticultural Area). The designation recognizes a wine-grape growing region as being distinct from surrounding areas in climate, soil and geographical features.

Tune-in to my podcast with Fred Brander of Brander Vineyards and Morgen McLaughlin of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association

“I think each place in the Santa Ynez Valley has its own right area for different varietals,” said winemaker Fred Brander. The owner of Brander Vineyards led the decade-long effort to achieve the AVA designation for Los Olivos.

“Bordeau varieties mainly do well (in Los Olivos), certainly Sauvignon  Blanc…. the reds have been longer to perfect, namely Cabernet Sauvignon…. it’s a matter of applying some really careful viticulture.” Brander, who has a background in chemistry, was one of the first winemakers to plant grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley 40 years ago.

Fred Brander, owner of Brander Vineyards, was one of the first winemakers to plant grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley 40 years ago.

Fred Brander, owner of Brander Vineyards, was one of the first winemakers to plant grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley 40 years ago.

“When Cabernet is grown right, it can make some great wine,” added Brander. “Of course it has to be grown in Los Olivos. You can’t probably make the best Cabernet in Santa Rita.”

Brander explained the new Los Olivos AVA covers “the area between Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon with the Santa Ynez River being the southern boundary, and for the northern boundary we picked the 1000 foot elevation.”

“It’s very exciting to have a new AVA, because it provides more clarity and more spotlight on our unique growing region,” said Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. “Santa Barbara is one of the most unique growing regions in the world. Having a new AVA helps us to better tell the story.”

McLaughlin explains that Santa Barbara County is different than other California wine countries. “Most regions are more similar, in that they have one or two signature wine grape varieties. We are blessed in Santa Barbara in that we have more than 50 varieties that do so well.”

Anyone who has spent much time in Santa Barbara County has probably noticed that wines have become big business, and a tourist magnet. A new economic impact report revealed that the wine industry adds more than $1 billion annually to the Santa Barbara County economy.  McLaughlin says even she was surprised by the eye-popping number.

“The report shows that our wine and grape industry provides…. $1.7 billion annually to economic vitality to the county……  That’s not only from wine making, but it’s also from grape growing, tourism, the restaurant business, those who sell and pour Santa Barbara County wines, retailers, tour companies. There’s a lot of different small businesses that benefit from the wine industry in the county.”

“Santa Barbara remains the most exciting wine country area in all of California,” said Brander.

Los Olivos becomes the sixth AVA for Santa Barbara County, distinguishing itself from Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley wine growing areas.

Interested in staying strong and healthy?  Subscribe to my new podcast Lisa.FM Thrive! on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, Libsyn, or listen on Tune-In and AromaThrive.com. Thanks in advance for sharing this podcast with your friends, rating the podcast and posting reviews!

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Taft’s Oildorado Days

The Oildorado Days 'sheriff' and his posse rounded me up, fortunately I was able to talk my way out of going to jail! (Photo Traffic411)

The Oildorado Days ‘sheriff’ and his posse rounded me up, fortunately I was able to talk my way out of landing in the pokey! (Photo Traffic411)

I probably have my father to thank for my love of driving and the open road. As a child, my family was heading off on a road trip nearly every weekend in the summer, often to waterski at Lakes Naciemento or Mead.

So, when I had a chance to attend an Oil Summit in Kern County this week I went for it, even though it was a long day trip from Santa Barbara (note: watch for my upcoming post on the Summit, including my chat with iconic oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens). I’m so happy I did, in part because I got to experience the small town of Taft during it’s big city pride celebration.

Oildorado Days (which takes place every five years) is Taft’s way of paying homage to its earliest citizens. At one time the headquarters for Standard Oil (now Chevron), this town was built around oil. Today, a good portion of its 7,000 residents work in the oil business. There’s even a life size Oilworkers Monument.

Also Read: Stuck on Highway 166

Here’s my podcast with Taft city council member Josh Bryant. Josh tells me about some Oildorado Days activities including western traditions (the beard and bun contests), parades and even a three day music festival. This year’s Oildorado Days bash wraps up this weekend, but I still want to share this podcast with you, just in case it perks your interest enough to want to mark your calendar for the next Oildorado Days in 2020.

Josh Bryant explains what’s cool about Oildorado Days, along what’s so wonderful about visiting or living in Taft.

Taft's Oilworker Monument pays tribute to the city's earliest residents, and current citizens. (Photo Traffic411).

Taft’s Oilworker Monument pays tribute to the city’s earliest residents, and current citizens. (Photo Traffic411).

The Taft Monument to Oilworkers is the largest bronze sculpture in California (according to photographer Ben Victor, click to see his beautiful images), and worth seeing when you visit downtown Taft.

 

 

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Giant Sharks Swarm SB Museum of Natural History

Visitors to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History can get an up-close look at the largest sharks that ever lived. "Megalodon" is on exhibit through August (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Visitors to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History can get an up-close look at the largest sharks that ever lived. “Megalodon” is on exhibit through August 30, 2015. (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is a cool place to visit any time of year.  Set in the city’s rustic Mission Canyon area, just around the corner from Old Mission Santa Barbara, it’s a lovely, peaceful place to spend the day.

And, if you are an ocean lover or fan of creatures that roam the sea, you’ll want to visit the museum this summer to explore “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived.” This exhibit runs through August 30, 2015.

While you’re there, be sure to check out some of my favorite exhibits at the museum, including the Chumash Indian hall & planetarium. Click to listen to the podcast below for my insider tips on what to see at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.

The museum hosts special events year-round, including the Santa Barbara Wine Festival. This is one of my favorite area wine festivals because so many of the best Santa Barbara area vintners are pouring. But, pace yourself, a LOT of wine is flowing, it’s set in a relatively small area, and it may be a sunny, warm day. This year it’s coming up on Saturday, June 27 (2015).

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Finally, butterfly lovers – mark your calendars. “Butterflies Alive,” the interactive exhibit where you walk among hundreds of live butterflies, will be back in the Spring/Summer of 2016.

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  Pack a picnic when you visit, there are several parks and shady spots nearby to enjoy your meal outdoors.

Check out the museum’s website at SBNature.org

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Santa Monica Daycations

A great thing about living in Southern California is you don’t have to travel far to at least FEEL like you are on vacation, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Palisades Park Santa Monica

Palisades Park is a beautiful place to talk or relax, taking in gorgeous views of the Santa Monica Bay.

Santa Monica is a favorite quick getaway for me.   Walking in Palisades Park with it’s beautiful green grass, palm trees and well-manicured rose garden is a gorgeous sight to take in plus it’s atop a bluff that overlooks the beautiful Santa Monica coastline.  And, with temperatures rarely getting out of the 70s, Santa Monica comfortable place to relax and cool off year-round.

From Palisades Park, you can see the Santa Monica Pier with its solar powered Ferris wheel.  This is the spot where a Los Angeles police detective recently broke the Guinness World Record for the longest Ferris Wheel ride (he went round and round for 25.5 hours!  At least he had a close up ocean view from the pier).

Related: Carnival By the Sea Pacific Park, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel, Guinness World Record Location

From Palisades Park, you can see the Santa Monica Pier, where a man recently broke the record for longest Ferris wheel ride.

The Third Street Promenade is only two short blocks away.  There are several blocks of unique of boutiques and restaurants for browsing, shopping and dining, including a Barnes & Noble book store.  Cupcake lovers will want to visit Yummy Cupcakes, one of my guilty pleasures :), across the street from the Promenade on Wilshire at Third Street.

Also See: Parking in Santa Monica

If you’re looking for a more car-accessible shopping district, Montana Avenue is only a short drive away (Montana Avenue crosses Ocean at Palisades Park).  So, hop in your car or catch the Big Blue Bus up Montana to 14th Street.  Coffee & tea lovers have their choice of  Starbucks, Peets or  Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf all within two blocks.  Pick up some groceries or takeout deli dishes at Whole Foods Market.  Blue Plate offers fresh & healthy comfort food in a casual atmosphere. For something a little more upscale, try R+D Kitchen.  For a little pampering at a bargain price, drop by Montana Nails for a pedicure.

Pacific Coast Highway is just down the California Incline from Santa Monica’s Palisades Park.

Related:  Malibu Drive: PCH Oxnard – Santa Monica

So, hit the road to celebrate summer.  And check in often, Traffic411 is updated regularly with all kinds of vacation and staycation ideas to inspire you to hit the road to explore the beauty of Southern California.  Be sure to bookmark these real time traffic maps, and check in from your smartphone.  Traffic411’s real time traffic maps will route you around traffic tie ups in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Ventura County 24/7.


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Cliffside Respite: Wayfarers Chapel

The architecture of Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes showcases the church's gorgeous cliffside setting (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

The architecture of Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes showcases the church’s gorgeous cliffside setting (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

You might feel as if you are in Big Sur along the Northern California coast when you visit Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The glass church perched atop a seaside cliff is surrounded by tall pine trees and other trees, lush plants and colorful flowers while offering gorgeous views of the Los Angeles coastline with Catalina Island in the distance.

Designed to blend in with nature, the architecture of Wayfarers Chapel makes the most of this pristine setting.

The glass church is a popular wedding location, and it seems to be welcoming to everyone, although the ‘official’ religion that worships here is the Swedenborgian Church. According to it’s website, the Chapel also serves as a memorial to Emanuel Swedenborg, 18th century scientist, philosopher and theologian.

Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, Wayfarers Chapel (5755 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) is located across the road near the lavish Terranea Resort and Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles (see related Traffic411 post “So Cal Resortist“). Stop in for a quick visit to experience the serenity and peace of this very special place.

Wayfarers Chapel: Cliffside Retreat Rancho Palos Verdes

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The architecture of Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes showcases the church's gorgeous cliff side setting. You'll feel like you're in Big Sur when you walk the grounds of this Christian church, located near Terranea Resort and Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles. (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)
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The architecture of Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes showcases the church's gorgeous cliff side setting. You'll feel like you're in Big Sur when you walk the grounds of this Christian church, located near Terranea Resort and Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles. (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)
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The architecture of Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes showcases the church's gorgeous cliff side setting. You'll feel like you're in Big Sur when you walk the grounds of this Christian church, located near Terranea Resort and Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles. (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)
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The beach at Rancho Palos Verdes near Wayfarers Chapel. (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

Distance from LAX: 26 miles (35 minutes)

Traffic411 Insiders Tip:  While you’re here, explore the walking trails near Trump National Golf Club, experience the ‘California Casual’ vibe of the world-class Terranea Resort. The Port of Los Angeles and San Pedro lighthouses are also nearby.

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Tours: Wild Ways to See Santa Barbara

Spending spring break or summer vacation in Santa Barbara? There are some adventurous city tours you wouldn’t expect to find in this upscale stretch of Pacific coastline nicknamed the ‘American Riviera.’

Guests on the Santa Barbara Land Shark tour get to see the city by land and by sea without leaving the amphibious bus. Here's a shot of Stearn's Wharf.

Guests on the Santa Barbara Land Shark tour get to see the city by land and by sea without leaving the amphibious bus. Here’s a shot of Stearn’s Wharf.

Santa Barbara Land Shark

You’ll see Santa Barbara by land and sea without leaving your seat when you hop on the Santa Barbara Land Shark.

Your friendly tour guide will keep you entertained with fascinating facts about Santa Barbara as you glide through city streets from the beach, to the historic courthouse, the zoo and other points of interest.

Then, you’ll zoom right into the water, as your amphibious tour bus becomes a boat.  I’m not a big fan of bus tours, but the seats are comfy on this tour and Holly,the tour guide, held my attention throughout the 90 minute tour. The Land Shark is a fun tour for both Santa Barbara locals and visitors.

hot rod limo

(Photo Santa Barbara Hot Rod Limo)

Santa Barbara Hot Rod Limo

If you are looking for a more intimate adventure and enjoy feeling the wind whipping through your hair, take ride on Santa Barbara’s Hot Rod Limo.

Jennifer and Phil who visited Santa Barbara enjoyed their wild ride aboard the bright yellow hot rod.

“We had a tour of SB on a “Hot Rod” this 8 seater open top east long yellow bar with red painted flames up the side with a big open engine..the woman driving was playing very loud music..was absolutely nuts!”

The driver’s personality adds to the attraction. “The driver, India, really made the trip what it was.  What a character…. she just keeps laughing. God, I thought, how fabulous is that and can I have what she’s on please.”

Now narrated, Hot Rod tour was not when Jennifer & Phil took the tour last year. But Jennifer said their tour guide offered interesting facts and tidbits as she zoomed around town. “We couldn’t even hear a word of the commentary she was giving, the couple in front of us passed the commentary back to us and we’d tell the couple behind us and so on.  It was (like a game of operator)…Mad! It all added to the fun…and..you got to know the other passengers quickly.”

(Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

(Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

Santa Barbara Trolley Tour

If you’ re looking for something more mainstream, try the Santa Barbara Trolley Tour. You can see the city on board a classic trolley car.

All of these tours depart from the Stearns Wharf area. Check their websites for tour times.

Santa Barbara Tours

Spending spring break or summer vacation in Santa Barbara? There are some adventurous city tours you wouldn’t expect to find in this upscale seaside town dubbed the ‘American Riviera.’

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Tour guide Holly points out sights around Santa Barbara on the Land Shark tour. (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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The colorful Chromatic Arch is one of the sights you'll see when you take a Santa Barbara tour (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).
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Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf and East Beach (popular with volley ball enthusiasts) are very close to the 101 Freeway (Photo Traffic411)
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You might see a kite surfer or a cruise ship moored off the coast when you tour Santa Barbara (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).
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Guests on board the Land Shark enjoy a bus and boat tour in one! (Photo Traffic411)
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Sunbathing seals are one sight you might see on the Santa Barbara Land Shark tour (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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Santa Barbara Trolley Tour (Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).
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Zoom through the streets of Santa Barbara and see the hisoric Mission on a Hot Rod Limo tour (photo: Santa Barbara Hot Rod Limo)

Traffic411 Insider Tip: Bring along a light sweater.  Although it’s likely to be sunny, the air can feel cool, even in the summer.

Distance from LAX: 96 miles

 


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L.A.’s Spiritual Oasis

The Self Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades is a relaxing place to visit, walk, or sit in quiet meditation. (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

The Self Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades is a relaxing place to visit, walk, or sit in quiet meditation. (Photo Traffic411/Ken Pfeiffer)

A short walk from the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find the peaceful grounds of the Self Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades.

An oasis in the city, this is a beautiful place to come to relax and unwind. Take a leisurely walk around the lake, or sit quietly on one of the many stone benches nestled next to foliage and fountains.

The Self Realization Fellowship is a non-profit spiritual organization  founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda. It offers meditation classes, retreats and worship services.  People of all faiths are welcome to visit the grounds. Admission is free, donations are appreciated.

The first time you visit, you might be surprised to see this beautiful, peaceful oasis so close to busy Pacific Coast Highway.  The grounds are not visible from Sunset Boulevard, so you could drive right by without knowing it’s here.  Once you find it, you might want to visit regularly to relax and recharge.

Traffic411 Insider’s Tip: Park on Palisades Drive, and walk to the beach (near Gladstone’s Malibu) before or after you visit. There are also good restaurants in the shopping center on Palisades Drive.

Distance from LAX: 16 miles


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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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