ON THE ROAD AGAIN: OVERLOOKED CALIFORNIA GEMS

You could visit California a thousand times and still miss many of its charms.

What is notable about Napa, Pismo Beach, and Ojai is that they are places that California residents like to escape to for long weekends.

Located about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco, Napa Valley is renown of course for its wine and wineries. While famous brands as Mondavi and Sutter Home draw a lot of visitors, lesser known wineries often have more beautiful grounds and are more generous in their sampling policies. The Chateau Montelena, in the town Calistoga, has their offices and wine tasting center in a 17th century European-style castle. On the other end of the Napa Valley, is the Artesa Winery whose spectacular grounds and panoramic view are unparalleled.

There aren’t any wineries in the downtown Napa itself but its numerous parks, boutiques, and walking path along the Napa River make it a very charming town. Located in the heart of the city is the Napa River Inn, which back in the 19th century was a sugar mill. The pet-friendly Napa River Inn is a member of the National Historic Hotel register and is located two blocks from the Napa Valley Wine Train station. The Wine Train is a great way to enjoy a gourmet meal and sample some of the area’s wines while enjoying a three-hour excursion through Napa County.

Pismo Beach was a desired vacation destination for Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. “Pismo Beach and all the clams you can eat!” said an ecstatic Bugs before realizing that he “made a wrong turn in Albuquerque” and that he and Daffy were nowhere near the central California beach town in a famous Warner Bros. cartoon.

This beach town is a popular vacation spot for middle class residents who live in inland sections of the Golden State. It is also an ideal rest midway spot for those driving down scenic US 1 from San Francisco to LA. Pismo Beach is also a mere 20-minute ride to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

While there are no longer many clams here, there are a lot of seafood restaurants and inexpensive oceanfront lodging properties as the Cottage Inn whose friendly staff welcomes you and your pets.

Traveling farther south in California is the town of Ojai that is located in the foothills of Topa Topa Mountains and whose pink sunsets over those mountains are even more beautiful than those over the Pacific that you can observe from any of the state’s beaches at dusk.

Ojai has more public tennis courts than any other town in California and such legends as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Douglaston’s own John McEnroe played at the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament when they were starting out. The tournament is held at the end of April every year and is sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association, the governing body in charge of the US Open in Flushing Meadows which gets underway in a couple of weeks.

Ojai has become a second home to such entertainers as Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen, Larry Hagman, and rock legend Dave Mason who are drawn to the small town that is free of paparazzi and gawkers. They also enjoy the artistic vibe of the city that is home to many painters and sculptors.

A fun way to see the city is to ride on the town’s mass transit system, the Ojai Trolley, which will take you all over for fifty cents. The trolley stops by Suzanne’s Cuisine, a top-notch restaurant that serves seafood from the Pacific at reasonable prices, as well as by the Lavender Inn, a charming bed and breakfast that will also welcome your cats and canines as guests.

After working your way down California, you might as well head down to San Diego which is far cooler than New York in the summer and far warmer than it in the winter. You can’t go wrong with its picturesque beaches and family attractions as Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, and the Wild Animal Park.

There is no shortage of lodging here and my top choices are the elegant but not stuffy Grande Colonial located in the village of La Jolla one block from the Pacific, and the Hyatt Regency at Aventine, located just off I-5, which has a resort feel with its Olympic pool and its proximity to the city’s best restaurants.

For more information log onto: www.visitcalifornia.com