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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: PCH south

A Day in the Channel Islands of California

Paula Gaston

Our Spring break trip continued from Rancho Cucamonga to the Santa Monica Mountains and from there to Ventura on the coast. We'd made reservations to a hotel right by the beach since we'd planned a boat trip to the Channel Islands for the next day. We were so tired that evening, that I waited with the kids at the hotel while the hubby went to get us some tacos for dinner. And we didn't have to count sheep that night, we all fell a sleep faster than ever. 

The next day after breakfast, we headed to Ventura Harbor. We booked a boat trip from Island Packers, and we were supposed to check in at least 45 minutes early. For some reason, I was thinking that these trips wouldn't be so popular, but when we got to the office there was quite a long line. There was also another boat leaving before us to another island, and they also do whale watching cruises. Luckily the line went fast and we got our boarding passes. And off we went with our boat. 



The Channel Islands are an island group of 8 islands off the California coast, right by Santa Barbara. 5 of these islands belong to the Channel Islands National Park. These islands are part of one of the richest marine ecosystems of the world, and many endemic species live both in the water and on land. In the past, the Chumash and Tongva Indians lived on the islands, and later they were used mostly for fishing. Some are in military use today. The islands belonging to the national park are inhabited, but all of them can be visited by an organised boat trip. Two of them can also be reached by plane.

The main visitor center for the Channel Islands National Park is in Ventura, and you can board a boat going to the islands either in Ventura or in Oxnard. About 70 000 people visit them every year. You can see the islands from the mainland for example in Ventura or in Santa Barbara, and we have also seen them from up in the air on our way to Hawaii. You should make a boat reservation if you want to visit the Channel Islands, rather than just show up. 


We visited Anacapa Island. The most visited island is the biggest island, Santa Cruz, but at this time they were experiencing a wild fire there. In many ways Anacapa Island sounded more suitable for us, since it was easy to access even while carrying a baby. The brochures warned us about the ladder that we would have to climb to get out of the boat, and about the 157 steps that would take us up to the island. But in reality, the ladder was only one or two steps and the crew was there to help people. And the steps were not that bad when the baby was in the carrier backpack. 

It usually takes about an hour to get to Anacapa Island, but we stopped a couple of times to watch the dolphins swimming behind our boat and to spot some whales. Also, both when arriving and leaving, the boat went slowly around the island to show us what it looks like from the water. In that sense I can only say that we really loved the Island Packers for giving us what we payed for. They didn't seem to be in a rush and they really took their time trying to make sure everyone saw the whales. And note that this was not a whale watching trip. We were lucky to see some grey whales in both directions.  


Anacapa Island was beautiful and somehow I was surprised how much I enjoyed visiting there. For some reason I hadn't thought it was going to be such an awesome trip. The spring flowers had just started to bloom and the seagulls were nesting. And there were so many of them. The seagulls were everywhere! Their nests were right by the trails and sometimes they would start squawking at us if we were too close. From further away, it looked like the whole island was covered by white golf balls. We also saw some California Brown Pelicans which basically were saved by the preservation of the islands. Also the Brandt's cormorant nests here, and we saw some of them from the boat. I think the native birds were hiding from us but we did spot a few endemic flowers which I later recognised from our photos. 

Inspiration point

Inspiration point

The Brandt's cormorant

The Brandt's cormorant

We were on shore about four hours which gave us time to walk around the island, enjoy the sun, have a picknic and feed the baby. There are no services on Anacapa Island, but they do have a small visitor center opened by the ranger who travelled with us, and some restrooms. There is also couple old coast guard buildings and a lighthouse. The lighthouse is still in use, and you have to stay a certain distance from it, since the fog horn can damage your hearing. When travelling to Anacapa, you should bring enough snacks and water with you, and be prepared to take all the trash back to the mainland yourself. And don't forget the sunscreen! You can also camp and stay the night at Anacapa and just book your return for the next day. That actually sounds like so much fun! And if you are wondering wether you can travel there with a baby; yes you can! Everything went well and our baby took her naps in the rocking boat and in the backpack. Our 5 year old was excited to fill her Junior Ranger activity book on the way back from the island. 

In every possible way we had a great day!

The boat trip to Anacapa costs $59 per adult, $41 per child and the baby was free of charge. 

If you want to see more of what the Channel Islands look like, check out my Instagram profile   @paulagaston.  You can find some videos under the Highlights on the front page.

Paramount Ranch in Santa Monica Mountains, California

Paula Gaston

On our Spring Break we drove down to Southern California, and last time I told you about how our travel plans changed. On our way we stayed in Pismo Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway, and after that we spent Easter at Rancho Cucamonga. From there we headed down to the Santa Monica Mountains where we planned to do some hiking and check out a few places. On our way there we stopped to buy some snacks and some coffee. 


The Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area is a huge area on the coast of California which belongs to the National Parks. I wrote about visiting the national parks last week. You can only see a small part of it in one day, and like many others, we too visited the most popular part of it: The Paramount Ranch. The recreational area consists of many different parks and protected areas with some beautiful nature. But I have wanted to visit the Paramount Ranch for a long time. 

We started our visit from the visitor center which is located in Calabasas. Calabasas might be familiar to you from television and its famous residents. The Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center was built on King C. Gillette Ranch, and the building is actually an old barn. The barn was built in 1928. And yes, it really is THE Gillette whose razors we still use all over the world. From this ranch you can go hiking, enjoy the sun, or just spot different kinds of animals. We stayed at the visitor center for a while to see their exhibits, walked around outside and then headed to the Paramount Ranch. We got some brochures, maps and a stamp for my national park stamp book and a Junior Ranger activity book for our daughter. 


From the Visitor Center, we drove over to the Paramount Ranch which unfortunately was the only place in the Santa Monica Mountains that we had time to see. In 1927 Paramount Pictures bought the farm for filming their movies. They built different kinds of movie sets depending on what they where filming, and usually, it was a Western. People like Cary Grant, John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich have worked there. The ranch was later sold, but they started filming movies there again after William Hertz acquired the property. 


The Paramount Ranch changed it's owners multiple times before it was added to the recreational area. Even today you might run into a filming crew there. Next time you visit, everything might look different since they might be filming something totally different. So many movies have been filmed there, for example Sandra Bullock's The Lake House, Paleface, Wells Fargo, The Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas, The Girl Next Door, American Sniper and Scream. Also episodes for some television shows like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, MacGyver, Charlie’s Angels and The X-Files. One of the last notable television series filmed at the Paramount Ranch was Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.


It is quite a fun place to visit and walk around. We also wandered off from the actual filming area and there seemed to be many nice looking trails around the ranch. We even saw multiple horse back riding groups. Even though the actual Visitor Center is at King C. Gillette Ranch, there is a small ranger station at the Paramount Ranch where you can get some maps or use the restrooms. And the best part is, everything is free of charge!

Hofsas House Hotel - A True Gem of Carmel-by-the-Sea

Paula Gaston

*Our trip was made possible by Hofsas House Hotel,
but as always, all opinions are my own.

Earlier this week I wrote about our trip down the California coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea. I told you about its famous residents and bizarre laws, like that it is prohibited to walk in high heels in Carmel. We spent a nice weekend in Carmel, even though it was raining a little bit. We stayed in a European style boutique hotel called Hofsas House which was right by downtown, and it was easy to go everywhere from there by foot. The people in Hofsas House Hotel took really good care of us, and we could feel the warm and caring atmosphere that they have in this family owned place.


Donna Hofsas and her husband Fred moved to Carmel from Los Angeles in the 1940s. They bought four cottages, moved into one of them and started renting the three others. This was the beginning of the Hofsas house, which in 1957 expanded into a hotel. When Donna died in 1981 she left the hotel to her son, and ever since the business has been run by the family. The owner and general manager of Hofsas House, Carrie Theis talks about her grand mother with warmth, and told me how she used help at the hotel when she was a girl. It was nice to meet a person who truly has this much love for her job.

Hofsas House went through another expansion later and today it has 38 unique rooms. They also have a year round heated pool which is not very common in Carmel, since the hotels are typically in very small lots. The pool area has two dry saunas. Also the original cottages are still there and being used. For groups Hofsas House offers a meeting room with a full kitchen and a fire place.

The hotel is furnished following a European style. There is a big bavarian themed mural outside the hotel and other art work from Donna Hofsas' friend, an artist Maxine Albro. Most doors are built in the Dutch style, so you can just open the top part and look outside. Even the building itself reminds me of Europe. 



Each room in Hofsas House is different which makes staying there more exciting. Many of the rooms have an ocean view and Dutch doors that let you enjoy some fresh air. Some rooms also have a balcony, fire place, wet bars or kitchens. Wi-fi works throughout the hotel. We stayed in a King Suite which had a nice view of the ocean. When we arrived, there was a bottle of wine and cheese in our room, as well as a frisbee for our daughter. The room had a romantic flowery wallpaper which was kind of cute, even though I normally wouldn't go with that pattern. It was clean, and we had a fire place in our room. Especially when travelling with kids, it is good to have some kitchen supplies so that you can keep their food cold or warm it up if needed. And of course, pets are welcome in some of the rooms, like almost everywhere in Carmel. 


A continental breakfast is included in the room price. One thing that I really liked, was that the breakfast was set up at the lobby, but it was easy to take it with you to your room. There were little baskets for the bakery things, and the staff offered us a carafe of coffee and gave us a tray. They had both sweet and savory baked goods, yogurts, fruits and juice. I liked that it was a little different from most hotels in the U.S., and that we were able to eat in our room while watching the sunrise. Many times at a hotel breakfast, you have to fight to get a table for your party. This way we got to fully enjoy our morning. 



We also enjoyed a dinner in the neighbouring town of Pacific Grove. The Beach House restaurant was an amazing spot by the ocean at Lovers Point. The name says it all! I almost wish we could have driven back there during the daylight just to see the view. 17-Mile Drive, which is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world, goes through Pacific Grove. So if you are driving either 17-Mile Drive or are on Highway 1, this is a great place to stop for a break! I recommend making a reservation to the Beach House since at least on that Saturday night, it was full. The food was great, and I have to say that their Beef Stroganoff was to die for!

Like in so many other areas of California, Monterey has some wine growing areas. It mostly produces Pinot Noir grapes. Carrie, the owner and manager of Hofsas House, told me that there has been a growing number of tasting rooms in Carmel which have opened, and people come there a lot to taste wine.


Hofsas House Hotel made our weekend very cozy. I really like places that have some personality and dare to be different. Even though it was raining on Saturday, it didn't ruin our vacation when we were in a beautiful room eating our snacks from 5th Avenue Deli. They were actually for our next day's beach trip, but we got a head start on all the treats. Well, at least we saved some carrot cake for the next day. If you are doing a road trip in California or driving on Highway 1, and looking for a place to stay, this is your spot! 

Carmel - A Dog Friendly Town where Walking with High Heels is Illegal

Paula Gaston

Carmel-by-the-Sea, or often just called Carmel, is known especially for Clint Eastwood and dogs. It is located on the coast of California on the Monterey Peninsula, about 2 hour drive from San Francisco. We spent a lovely weekend in Carmel last week by just relaxing and spending family time, and I would definitely go again!


You can't visit Carmel without seeing plenty of dogs around. In Carmel they are warmly welcomed almost everywhere. You can see them on the streets of downtown, in shops, hotels, restaurants and especially at Carmel City Beach. It is one of those rare beaches that allow dogs to go free from a leash as long as they listen to the owners commands. And there they were, running around with families, joggers, surfers and kids. The city beach is right by downtown, at the end of the main road. 

Many hotels and restaurant proudly welcome dogs in them, and you could see water bowls for doggies almost everywhere. If a restaurant has a patio, you can be sure that you are allowed to bring your dog with you. We also saw quite a few dog boutiques. Many shops also offer dog treats to their customers' pets. The rumour is, that this dog friendly atmosphere started when singer and actress Doris Day decided to make the Cypress Inn Hotel a pet friendly place to stay. She still owns part of the hotel, and lives in Carmel. 



On my previous quick visits to Carmel, I always got the impression that Carmel, with its restaurants and high end boutiques, is mostly for wealthy couples. You can find stores like Tiffany Co and Coach, but if you want to pay a little less, just wander off from the main road. Carmel is really not a party town, but I learned that it works nicely for families. We visited for example the Dr. Seuss gallery and Thinker Toy store. Carmel also has a park with a playground but this time we decided to spend time at the beach. And you can't forget the most adorable candy store in town. The Cottage of Sweets is right on the main street.  

Cottage of Sweets

Cottage of Sweets


You should not go wandering around downtown in high heels. The roads are uneven and full of cracks from the tree roots that grow under the pavement. Even with a stroller I had to really look where I was going with it. I just happened to see a lady trying to walk on the sidewalks with heels, and I remember thinking: "That doesn't look easy." It wasn't long after that, when I found out that it is actually illegal to use high heels in Carmel without a special permit. Yes, you got that right!

This law was written in the 1920's so that no one could sue the town if they fell on the street. The heel is not suppose to be taller than 2 inches, or with a base more than 1 inch square. Special permits can be obtained from the City Hall. 



When people talk about Carmel, they often bring up its most famous resident, Clint Eastwood. He was also the mayor of Carmel for one term starting from 1986. At that time, there was a law that prohibited people from selling and eating ice cream on the street. Eastwood and the council elected to overturn this bizarre ordinance. So today the people of Carmel and the visitors get their ice cream, but they still don't want any chain restaurants or fast food places in the town.

Eastwood bought Mission Ranch Inn in 1986 and invested some money into saving it from getting demolished. The place was completely renovated and is now known especially for its restaurant. People say that Clint Eastwood visits there sometimes and plays the piano, so if you are a big fan, you should pay a visit to this place. We were planning to go for the Sunday brunch to the Mission Ranch Inn, but this time we couldn't make it. Next time that I am in Carmel, I will definitely want to visit there. 


Carmel Mission, or actually Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo was established in 1770. California missions were communities and churches which were started by Spanish missionaries. Most of them serve today as a Catholic churches. Carmel Mission was the second mission founded, and it was lead by Junípero Serra, the father of the California missions. He is buried under the chapel of Carmel Mission. Besides the church, the mission today operates as a catholic school and museum.

We have visited many missions before, and I have written about them. They are not only interesting places to visit, but also an important piece of California's history.  



On our way home from Carmel, we had planned to visit Point Lobos State Park. But it turned out, that we were not the only ones with that plan. When we got there, we noticed that not only the parking lot was full, but there were also lots of cars parked on Highway 1. We were there so late in the day, and we still had to drive home, that we decided to just go to a nearby beach. There were two beaches right next to each other, but we chose to go to the beautiful Carmel River State Beach. It was such a beautiful beach, but you can not swim there. It is actually one of the most dangerous ones in California. Even though the ocean looks calm, the strong currents will easily suck the swimmer out to sea. If you like to be on the beach, it is still worth a visit. 


An Echo of Denmark in California - We Fell in Love with Solvang

Paula Gaston

You might have read about our travel plans for the holidays that didn't quite work out. Since my husband had some time off from work, we really wanted to do something after Christmas before heading back home from his family's place. We had all kinds of alternatives, but they all fell apart for one reason or another.

Our drive to Southern California before Christmas was long and slow. I can't remember the last time there was so much traffic on that route as this trip. And since we were driving with a little baby, we had to do some extra stops to feed her. I was completely tired of the drive when we got to our destination, and I started looking for a place to stop on our way home, so we wouldn't have to do the whole drive at once. I remembered that there is a little town called Solvang about half way home if we would take a different route back. After my friend confirmed that the smoke from the wild fire in Santa Barbara had blown away to the ocean and the air was clear, I made a reservation with a hotel in Solvang. Yay, I was starting to get excited about this trip again! 


Solvang was established by a group of Danish immigrants in 1911, and it is located about 230 kilometres from Los Angeles in the Santa Barbara Mountains. Until then, the area was inhabited by American Indians and Spanish missionaries and the mission remains close to downtown. While getting to Solvang, we drove through the Chumash Indian reservation which has about 250 residents. They also run one of the most popular casinos in the United States. 

Solvang itself is lovely with it's Scandinavian style houses and windmills. The downtown is full of hotels, restaurants and bakeries, and they all are in the cutest little buildings. Many businesses and streets have Danish names, and there are even replicas of famous Danish landmarks like the Little Mermeid statue and Rundetaarn (round tower). One of the must do things in Solvang is of course to stop in a bakery to get some fresh Danishes. Even though Solvang feels almost unreal to be an actual city, there are about 6000 inhabitants. Around town we saw many horse ranches, and for those who are interested, I should say that I have visited the horse whisperer Monty Roberts' Flag is Up Farm in Solvang some years ago.


Our hotel, Hotel Copenhagen Inn was also quite lovely. The rooms were almost like small townhouses. It was located right by the main road, so it was easy to go out for dinner or just a little stroll. Every room had a door that was a different color, and the office reminded me of a church. We really liked this hotel. Our room had two beds, one downstairs and the other in a loft. Also the breakfast was great. They had a nice variety of goods, and of course, plenty of fresh danishes.  


The weather in Solvang is warm, but not too hot all year round, which also brings a lot of people over there. It must have been all the wild fires close by that scared the tourists, since we felt like it wasn't crowded at all. Even the locals told us that it typically is full of visitors at this time of year. Well, we got to enjoy our stay in Solvang with no crowds. We plan to return to Solvang someday again!