California Roundup – January 2014

Our guest post and monthly column comes from Howard Hian who was recently awarded a Gold Medal/First Place Award from the North American Travel Journalists Association’s annual international writing contest.  His prize winning story, Houseboating with My Pirate Pals, was in the Intergenerational Travel category.  In 2010 he also received a second place award in the Cancun International writers competition for his feature, Quintessential Quintana Roo. Hian was recently named as the San Diego Hotel Motel Association’s “Allied Member of the Year” for 2011 for his ongoing contributions to the city’s tourism industry through his travel writing.

Borrego Springs, CA

CDZ-Room-1Where to Stay:

The restored, historic La Casa Del Zorro has reopened under new management. The 42 acre, beautifully landscaped resort has 46 luxurious rooms and 19 private casitas. The deluxe rooms are in clusters, each sharing a pool and Jacuzzi. The spacious, well-appointed accommodations have wood-burning fireplaces, large marble bathrooms and flat screen TVs. Nice touches include evening turndown service, water bottles delivered daily to the room and free Wi-Fi.

There’s lots to do: lap pool, fitness room, tennis courts, outdoor chess board, croquet, shuffleboard, ping-pong and a one-mile jogging track with dramatic mountain views (especially nice at sunrise or sunset).

There are two restaurants; the casual Fox Den Lounge and the classic Butterfield Room. Don’t miss the burger, homemade chips, black bean soup with a shot of sherry, or the guacamole in the Fox Den. The Caesar salad, scallops and filet mignon for dinner in the Butterfield Room were excellent. Desserts are made in-house; try the rich, dense flourless chocolate cake.

One lazy morning, we ordered room service; the Eggs Benedict were exceptional. The staff throughout the resort is friendly and attentive.

photo-73What to Do/See: Anza Borrego State Park, larger than Rhode Island, is ranked by National Geographic as the best state park in California. Drop by the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association for guides, maps, etc.

There are hiking and biking trails, off-roading and camping areas, birding galore and stunning views. For astronomy buffs, Borrego Springs is a “Black-Sky Community,” a perfect setting for star gazing. California Overland features tours ranging from backcountry, wine excursions, desert camping and those that get you to out-of-the-way places.

photo-91Our 2 ½ hour narrated excursion included information relating to the geology, paleontology, flora, fauna, wildlife, tall tales and history of the park. Their tagline is  “Roughing it at its Finest” and they live up to their motto. The highlight of the outing was a stop at Font’s Point overlooking the Borrego Badlands. It is one of the most spectacular sights in Southern California.

San Diego, CA – The 10th. annual San Diego Restaurant Week is January 19 – 24. It showcases over 180 restaurants that are offering three-course dinners for $25, $35 and $45 per person. Lunch menus priced at $10, $15 and $20 will be offered by over 80 restaurants.

SDRW 10th. AnniversaryDuring last September’s feast, I visited Seasons 52 for lunch and dinner at The Shores and The Marine Room. Season’s 52 offers a seasonally-inspired menu in a “casually-sophisticated ambiance.” I’m a big fan of their flatbread and, along with a buffalo burger and one of their mini indulgent desserts, I was a happy diner. Note: there’s free valet parking at UTC. The venerable Shores in La Jolla offers one of the best ocean views in the city.

The excellent dinner began with a perfect albacore carpaccio, followed by seared day boat scallops served with cauliflower couscous. Dessert was caramel apple crisp with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Suggestion: treat yourself to the wine pairings. My last gustatory adventure was at The Marine Room in La Jolla, also featuring a dramatic view of the Pacific. It’s home to fabled Chef Bernard Guillas.

Flying-Pans-with-a-ViewThe appetizer was a superb sweet corn crab bisque and the entrée a perfectly prepared center cut Angus filet mignon in a zinfandel reduction. Dessert featured a “trilogy” composed of pot de crème, Grand Mariner chocolate fondant and roasted banana gelato. It was a memorable meal. The service and presentation at The Shores and Marine Room were outstanding. For a list of the 2014 participants, prices and menus (including restaurants that extend into a second week), go to Note: gratuities, taxes and drinks are not included.
Travel safely and enjoy your journeys in 2014…

Howard Hian