Gardens, Sculptures and Fountains at The Huntington Library Botanical Garden.

We spent our weekend exploring the grounds of the Huntington Library Botanical Garden. The botanical has 16 themed gardens spread out over 120 acres, a beautiful and well maintained area that we found ourselves getting lost in for hours looking at different types of plants and flowers.

The garden with sculptures and water fountains especially appealed to me due to its love theme. For a while, we walked around the area, admiring the sculptures with their own expressions and baroque influences. Each of these pieces has a description of what it’s about, a homage to the 17th and 18th centuries. The setting was incredibly romantic.

Other gardens that I liked was the Chinese Garden because of its unique Chinese inspired structures, bridges and rock formations. I felt like I teleported to a whole new country.

There’s also a room dedicated to Caligraphy that discussed many styles I had no idea existed. It was quite interesting to see the various strokes associated with the different styles. Definitely do not miss it.

Onsite there’s a coffee shop available for refreshments and snacks, galleries, restrooms and a library. There’s so much to see here that you may want to make it a whole day affair. It can also get very hot if you go in the middle of the afternoon so, bring a hat and make sure to wear sunscreen.

There is a price of $25 (weekdays) /$29 (weekends) per adult, with weekend reservations required. Visit their website for more information. You can also visit the gardens for free on the first Thursday of every month. Tickets for the free day are released a week before the date, so keep an eye out for the release. The website will show a link that takes you to an online ticket reservation site and they are in high demand, so make sure you register as soon as possible.

Huntington Botanical Garden is one of the LA attractions worth visiting. There is a lot more to see than what I can describe here, and of course, it is best to see it in person.

Lakeside Sunday

Rancho Santa Margarita Lake

After a long work week and flipping through movies after another, Netflix finally got the best of me. I knew I had stayed home far too long as I was starting to feel a bit crazy. I had to get out of the house so, I drove to Rancho Santa Margarita Lake for a dose of sunshine and nature.

Rancho Santa Margarita Lake is probably one of the best lakes around in Orange County. It has an easy 1.1 mile loop trail with outdoor fitness stations, free parking, benches, a recreation center with a pool and is within walking distance to restaurants (yes, they have Starbucks too!). My favorite part of the lake is the backdrop view of the Santiago Peak or Saddleback Mountain while strolling through the paved pathways.

After my 2nd loop of the lake I sat down in one of the benches and watched the birds and turtles swim in the water. It was a much needed break from the daily routine.

Visiting Julian in San Diego

soup

Surprisingly, I’m not a fan of celebrating Valentine’s Day but, my bf likes it and had made plans for us to go to Julian for the day. He thought I would actually like the town and since I’ve never been before it was a perfect getaway for both of us.

Julian is about a 2 hour drive from Orange County. It is a gold mining town, with approximately 1,000+ population, and 1 hour east of San Diego. The town is famous for its apples which explains the amount of options to find apple pies and apple ciders in town varies.

Downtown

We arrived by noon in downtown and the traffic was already visible. Even though there were a ton of street parking, our luck was not on our side and opted for a paid parking lot for $5 (not too bad). After we parked, we walked through downtown perusing through stores and restaurants. I was surprised of how busy it was in town. I saw people crossing the streets everywhere, lines formed outside the restaurants and car jams on the streets. It seemed that everyone had the same idea in coming to Julian that day.

The downtown area itself had a ton of restaurants to choose from. We saw various types of shops that sold soaps, guns, clothes, jams and food. If you want a quick order of an Apple Pie go to Julian Cafe. There’s a to-go order section where you can buy a whole Apple Pie or slice (they have other flavors too), drinks and other types of food. I am not a big fan of pies in general so I can’t speak for the taste of their pie. However, this was the only place we saw that didn’t have a very long line in compare to other places nearby.

Julian Grille

Finding a restaurant in town was tricky because everyone was busy and had a wait of 30 min. to an hour long. Also, I was picky in wanting an outdoor dining with a quieter scene, good food and with a shorter wait. We looked at a few places and decided on Julian Grille. They seemed to have the shortest wait, definitely an outdoor dining option and had great reviews online. As it turned out, we were not disappointed.

Julian Grille is a mix of French, Italian and American classics with a bungalow style restaurant. I enjoyed the ambiance there and the food was pretty good! We ordered their Trout special with mushrooms and caper sauce, a starter with a Butternut Squash Soup and an Apple Cider to drink. I definitely enjoyed our meal and I can’t seem to stop thinking about how good the hot apple cider was.

Eagle Mining and Co.

After lunch we decided to do the mining tour. It was located a few minutes away from downtown, through narrow streets and hidden behind a few residential areas. The overall tour took about 40 minutes long that started with a bit of history, followed by a walk through mining tunnels and finally the tour ending outside showcasing how they used to dig for gold. The mining tunnels were cool and probably the best part of the tour.

One thing to note is to double check the admission fees prior to visiting the site as the website may not reflect the current rate. We were lead to believe that it would cost $10 (as promoted on their website) but, once we got there it was actually $15 pp. That part was disappointing, although, not the end of the world.

Lake Cuyamaca

Our last stop was Lake Cuyamaca. We decided to do a mini picnic here for the rest of the day and we were well prepared for it with a basket full of foods and drinks. The lake was quite a beautiful scene. The water was serene, birds were chirping, kids were playing, the trees all around us reflected in the water and there were fishermen at the small dock waiting to catch fish. We were ready to relax ignoring the fact that there was still snow and the weather was very cold. A few minutes into our snacking we started shivering under our sweaters and tried to brush off the cold except it was unbearable. Sadly, our picnic outside ended and had to move everything back in our car. We finished off our picnic in warmth of the car heater and eventually headed home. All in all, I’d come back again to Julian on a different day and try out a few other restaurants. I think the town is not enough to explore in one day.

Christmas Lightings in Orange County.

From Christmas decorations to lighting displays, it feels to me like the holiday spirit is in full effect around here. Last night, I decided to see a few Christmas lightings near my neighborhood. It was something that I’ve never done before and I thought the one in Dana Point was done quite nicely.

If you’re interested in viewing a few neighborhoods that have lighting decorations up you can see a list on this map. Pls. keep in mind that I haven’t seen every single one on this map to vouch for how they look and all. Although, I can confirm for the Dana Point Harbor location. Happy Lighting Hunting!

A Few Hours in San Diego.

Me in San D iego

Lately, San Diego has been a hot spot to visit for us as it is quite easy to get to and contains a ton of places to see. On our recent visit to Old Town, I was a bit surprised why I’ve never been there before. The place had a history featuring eclectic restaurants, historical sites, colorful shops and an apparent Mexican heritage that made this place unique. We spent a few hours roaming around, eating and then headed over for the rest of the day in La Jolla and watched the sunset.

A weekend in Catalina Island.

Catalina Island
Catalina Island 2020

A hop on an express boat to Catalina Island will get you to the island in less than 2 hours. Once the boat docks, the island is in your hands. Whether you’re there to sightsee, eat, drink, or camp; Catalina Island has a bit of everything for everyone at any age.

Stay
On this trip, my bf and I stayed for a night at St. Lauren Hotel. It was his first time on the island, therefore, it made sense for us to spend a weekend in order for us to truly enjoy the experience. Our hotel (known for its pink colors) was very close to the main square (about 5 minutes walk) yet far enough from the noise. Due to COVID19, there were a few hiccups that we faced as expected. Long story short, there was lack in communication from the hotel but, once we passed the checking in issues everything turned out nicely.

Our room, surprisingly, it was decent. We had a partial view of the ocean with natural lighting illuminating from our 3 window panes. At one point, we were watching the sunset right from our bed and the issues we had at the beginning of the trip became a distant memory.

Eat
Eating at restaurants was another hurdle for us as they were only accepting first come and first serve basis. No one seemed to be taking any reservations whatsoever, therefore, if you want to eat at any particular place you’ll have to get your booty there early or find elsewhere to eat. This can be frustrating especially when you’re hungry but, again this is COVID times and nothing will be the same as it was before so, be patient and plan ahead.

A host at Descanso Beach Club gave us a helpful tip. She suggested to arrive earlier before rush hour if you don’t want to wait or come during that sweet spot after lunch and before dinner time. We took her suggestion in consideration and came back to Descanso Beach Club right before dinner. Boy, she was spot on! The restaurant was 100 times quieter than the first time we tried to get a seat in the middle of rush hour. This time, we showed up at the right time and was seated at a table that overlooked the ocean. We were definitely content.

We ordered a few items from poke over rice and wings plates to the Buffalo Milk drink. Everything we ate and drink were pretty tasty.

Another restaurant we tried was the Blue Water Grill located at the main square. We were seated on the waterfront patio where we ordered the wedge salad, calamari and the chipotle swordfish. We thought the food here were much better than Descanso Beach Club.

For breakfast, we grabbed coffee and pastries to go from Catalina Cookie. I heard about this place when I researched for places to eat and drink in Avalon, Catalina. It had good reviews and I can tell you that their coffee and pastries were delicious! Conveniently, they were located near our hotel too.

Do
If you’re not camping or on a boat in Catalina then, you’re bound to be looking for activities like we did that can be done on foot. The first day on the island we roamed around looking at stores, trying to find places to eat on a whim and basically getting our feet wet per se. We walked on the pier to check it out and on a spare of the moment we ended up going on a 45-minute Semi Submarine Tour that turned out to be quite pleasant. For $39 per person, the Semi Submarine tour allows you to feed fish from your seat. I wasn’t expecting that at all but, I liked the overall experience.

The rest of our trip was spent riding on a golf cart where we went in a loop around the island for an hour. I highly recommended it as it allows you to see viewpoints of the island that are worth taking photos of. In one of the stops, you can also see the botanical garden if time allows for it. We decided against it on this trip because we wanted to do other things but, the botanical garden will be on our list for the next time we return.

Transportation & Tickets
To get to the island make sure to reserve your spot in one of those express boats ahead of time. Each ports have scheduled trips and some are more limited than others. Also, look for ticket deals. At the time I was researching for our mini getaway, I found one or two deals. Make sure to read the fine print as some might no longer be available. See links below.

Ports: Newport Beach, Dana Point, Long Beach or San Pedro
See Catalina Express
Newport Beach Catalina Island Groupon Deal (read the fine print)
See Costco Catalina Island Deal

Lastly, if you want to enjoy the island without the crowds it is best to come in the weekdays or Sunday. We arrived in the middle of Saturday on this trip and the island was jam packed with tourists. It was quite difficult to get a table in the restaurants we wanted or even a spot to sit on the beach without rubbing elbows with other people. However, Sunday was quite the opposite. We were able to do everything we wanted and had plenty of time left for anything else we needed to see. In short, come when the island is less crowded if it is feasible.

Morning Hike at Las Ramblas

Hiking Las Ramblas

Today’s morning hike kicked my booty the rest of the day because I am beat! This was my first time hiking at Las Ramblas Trail located in San Juan Capistrano. Though worth it, I did not expect the trails to have very steep hills. The whole hike took about 5 miles where we took 2 different trails called “Las Ramblas” and “Patriot Hill”. Both had good views of Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano which made the hike worth it. One downside is the lack in shades so, if you decide to come here make sure to bring a good hat and plenty of water or go early in the morning when the weather is a bit cooler. Otherwise, be prepared for the heat beating down on you.

Celebrating My Birthday.

Cake

Thus far, June had its ups and downs. With the re-opening of the economy I’m in no hurry to get back to the “new normal” life. California supposedly had an increase in COVID19 cases due to more tests being done but, I don’t know what’s true these days. I’ve continued to stay home, keep my distance and limit the amount of people I socialize with (if, at all). In addition, my work has allowed me to continue working remotely from home and that’s been working out pretty well for all of us.

Besides the on-going Corona crisis, I turned a year older a few days ago. It was a sad moment waking up in the morning and being reminded of how I am older and in no way close to where I want to be at the age I am now. Honestly, if I had a forward button I’d probably would’ve done it. Anyway, I turned my sorrow instead to focusing on work followed by challenging myself to bake a vegan cake. My bf and I took turns figuring out the ingredients of the cake and even though baking this cake took forever it definitely lifted my mood. The cake was a success and given the situation of celebrating my birthday during COVID19 era, not being able to travel and turning older, I’d say it was a productive day.

Vegan Cake

Five Things To Do in Orange County, CA

Castaway Park

Did you know the largest city in Orange County is Anaheim? Did you know it was founded by the Germans? At one point the Germans lived near the Santa Ana River and combined the name Ana with heim (it means home). The Germans got it right because Orange County is home to me. With so many things to see and do, it’s no wonder I keep coming back.

Here are the Top 5 Things To Do in Orange County in no particular order.

1. Hit the Beach
Without a doubt, going to the beach is one of the most popular things to do in Orange County. We have more than 100+ beaches to choose from on a 40 miles coastline. Just take a look while you drive down highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll see through this highway the different cities how each one has its own character and as you go through, start counting the amount of beaches you see along the way. It’s almost impossible to count them all.
 
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2. Amusement & Water Parks
Besides the beaches, Orange County is home to the biggest attraction in the world and draws about 18.6 million visits (in 2018) known as Disneyland. It is a staple of Orange County that is a must-see. Another theme park worth noting, although not widely known in compare to Disneyland is Knott’s Berry Farm. Besides the price difference, read here to assess which option suits best for you or here. See other lists of theme parks here.

3. Shopping
For the amount of public beaches we have in Orange County, we also have a comparable amount of shopping centers around. One notable mall that you should know is South Coast Plaza. It is the largest shopping center on the West Coast of United States and is conveniently located near John Wayne airport. For those with long layovers or general shopaholics (like me), you can access this mall via 405 fwy in a mere of 8-10 minutes depending on traffic.

Other Malls:

4. Hiking/Cycling
Hiking and cycling is one of the most popular things to do here in O.C. We have numerous parks with trails around to choose from. The City of Irvine alone is nationally known for its “well-planned parks, greenbelts, open space and interconnected bike network.” Here are a few of my go to places to hike.

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5. Spas and Wellness
In O.C., we are health conscious mentally and physically. It’s quite common to see locals in their gym clothes while running errands which, brings me to Spas and Wellness Centers as one of the Top 5 Popular Things to do in O.C. When it comes to Spas and Wellness centers, you can find various options from moderate to luxurious places. There’s no right or wrong way to go on this one.

Links:
Spa Finder
Spas and Wellness in O.C.
Wellness Experiences

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Visiting Carmel By The Sea.

Driving up north to Carmel from Orange County took about 5 hours. If you’ve never driven from Southern California to Northern California, well, you’re in for a ride through mostly seeing the valley, mountains in the background or occasionally seeing cows roaming in a wide open space. In short, make sure you have a good music and a great company to keep you entertained.

After several sips of coffees, eating munches and switching through music, my bf and I eventually arrived in Carmel late in the afternoon. Not wanting to waste any time, we checked in to our hotel room, changed and headed right back out the door.

Between sitting in the car far too long and being excited we couldn’t wait to hit the beach. Having our hotel room located in downtown was a very good idea as everything we needed was literally within walking distance. At last, we arrived and the salty beach smell welcomed us with open arms as we stood at the entrance taking in the beautiful scenery right in front of us.


Carmel beach was definitely my favorite part about our trip because it is one of the most picturesque beach I’ve seen in California with white sands and plenty of space to move around. There’s something about it that is quite alluring.

In one of our walks, we accidentally found a scenic path along the coast with a view of the ocean and the other side from us were beautiful homes. My mind wondered what it would be like waking up with oceanfront views. The life! Anyhew, the only thing to really keep in mind at the beach is the fact that there are no lifeguards on duty and the waves seemed to drop right at the shoreline making it difficult to enjoy swimming. Nonetheless, people did not mind at all as they sprawled out tanning on the beach, surfing in the water or playing on the sand all day.

After we had enough of the beach, we realized we were hungry. Come to think of it, we haven’t had a meal since breakfast that day and since California was still in between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of re-opening businesses, we had to double check online to see which restaurants were open and made a few calls. It was difficult to get through any phone lines, therefore, we decided to wing it and walked to town.

Downtown Carmel is very charming with cottages and villages that made me feel like I was part of a movie set on Hansel and Gretel. There were streets with alleyways that hid restaurants or shops you would never have known unless you walked through it. The town doesn’t even have regular street signs which truly makes it more unique.

During our search for dinner we found a few restaurants open for dining outdoors but, most of them were way too busy and had line out the door. Also, we weren’t ready to dine in restaurants anyway so, we kept searching. Eventually, we found a cheap Chinese restaurant to order for take out that didn’t have a long line. We ordered our foot, ate our dinner in our hotel then, called it a night.

On Saturday morning we spent a few hours on a short hike at the Mission Trail Nature Preserve. The preserve is quite a nice place to be in complete seclusion away from the city with not much noise except birds chirping and walk in serenity between lush trees. We took 2 routes out of the 5 main pathways that you can take. At some point, we arrived at The Flanders Mansion that was built in the 1920s which, later became part of the Mission Trail Preserve. At first, I thought we accidentally entered into someone’s property but, it turned out that we were in one of the main entrance to get in to the preserve. We found no one around so, we took a couple of photos in front of the building before we headed back to our route.

The rest of our day we decided to drive to San Francisco for a few hours. My bf had never been there and all he wanted was to drive through the Golden Gate Bridge and come back. We did exactly that except we ended up re-routing to stop by Pier 39 to walk around and get lunch. Then, we also passed by the famous Lombardy Street reminding me a little bit of the time when I used to live here. That time in my life seemed so long ago yet, it felt like I was seeing this city for the very first time. Visiting Pier 39 again felt weird without a lot of people around granted that stores are still closed and we are still in the COVID19 situation. However, in light of post semi-lockdown, San Francisco never looked so beautiful with the sun beaming upon us. People walked around with shorts on and it felt like summer was truly here.

With a blink of an eye our 3-Day weekend had come to an end.