Fill up your tank and take a drive. Before you know it, you'll have arrived at your weekend destination.
For the History and Trivia Buff
Miles from Newport Beach: 44 miles
You’ve probably seen its head-turning tile roofs and bell towers as you’ve driven by while you’re on the 91 freeway heading toward or returning from the resort cities of Coachella Valley. And you’ve probably wondered what that stunning set of buildings was all about.
Exit the freeway and find out.
The Mission Inn, smack dab on Main St. in Riverside, is an intriguingly eclectic gem of a destination that’s less than an hour away from coastal OC, but feels like it’s much farther. In the winter, the hotel is popular with families when it gets all-twinkly and magical-looking for its annual Festival of Lights. In the spring, it’s a great spot for a girls’ getaway or a romantic escape with a significant other.
Here’s how to spend a long weekend there:
Begin by arriving either before the freeway afternoon rush hour starts or after it has come to an end and check into your room on one of the top floors – they’re the most coveted for their views. The walls of the Mission Inn change into golden and auburn tones as the sun sets – a spectacular sight not to be missed. Once the night has fallen, wind down with a margarita and dinner in the outer courtyard at Las Campanas, the hotel’s casual Mexican restaurant named for the bells all over the property.
The next morning, have breakfast at the Mission Inn Restaurant in the inner courtyard and burn calories with a guided historical tour. The docents from the Mission Inn Museum who lead the tours are not only encyclopedic in their knowledge but also proud of and passionate about their local gem. They’ll tell you that “mission” refers to the style of architecture that the founder, Frank Miller, favored when he bought what was known as the Glenwood Hotel, which he added on to and expanded for more than three decades in the early 1900s, the result of which was a cornucopia of architectural styles, ranging from Spanish-Gothic to Moorish Revival. If you look closely at the walls and windows you might see where one style ends and another begins. With its maze-like and unconventional layout, the whole place reverberates with stories and trivia. There’s the dome-ceilinged guestroom that author Anne Rice stayed in while she was writing one of her novels; the large chair expressly created for President William Howard Taft that he reportedly refused to sit in initially; and the authentic Tiffany windows and mosaics designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself.
Next, grab pasta, panini or pizza at Bella Trattoria, an Italian café. After all that walking, you’ve earned the right to spend the rest of the afternoon at Kelly’s Spa, named for Kelly Roberts, who co-owns the hotel with her husband Duane Roberts. The Roberts’, who call themselves keepers of the inn, are Laguna Beach residents who bought the property 20 years ago and gave it a new and vibrant life. The spa is decorated with Tuscany-inspired touches, and features a first-rate menu of treatments, including the Rose Petal Luxury Bath, Kelly’s Fountain of Youth Signature Body Treatment and Hollywood Glow Oxygen Treatment. Now, it’s time to pamper the gustatory senses, with dinner at Duane’s Prime Steaks & Seafood. Reservations are highly recommended.
After that full day and night, you’ll want to sleep in, of course. And take your time the next morning. After all, OC is less than an hour away. – Lisa Liddane
951.784.0300 :: missioninn.com
For the Nature Lover
Miles from Newport Beach: 126 miles
The line at the coffeehouse was five people deep in the early afternoon and most of them appeared to be tourists. With my to-go cup in hand, I asked the barista behind the counter what time the java joint closed for the night.
“Six,” he replied.
He shrugged and smiled.
And then it hit me: Of course it closes early.
This is Ojai, one of those rare cities in Southern California that has kept its charming small town vibe, despite having received a lot of national coverage when actress Reese Witherspoon held her wedding at her estate here a year ago.
I can understand why Witherspoon likes Ojai. It has a quaint downtown with an eclectic array of arts and crafts galleries, metaphysical supplies shops, gift stores, restaurants, and bed and breakfast inns owned by locals. There are no big box stores here. So far, it has thankfully kept itself from looking like a trendy or hip weekend destination du jour.
With downtown as the nexus, there are many ways to exhale, from exploring by bike to fishing, kayaking and hiking.
But to be able to truly unplug and connect with Ojai, there’s nothing like immersing oneself in the city’s prettiest attraction – an idyllic landscape that’s rich in flowers, fruits and other produce.
Here’s how to plug into the real Ojai.
Take a Cloud Climbers Jeep Tour. There’s no other way to see the extent of what the valley offers, from a nature perspective. And it’s the only way you’ll get to see a private secret garden that’s closed to the general public.
Visit Citrus Orchards. You can pick Ojai’s famous pixie tangerines from mid-March through June, as well as other tangerine varieties and mandarin oranges at Friends Farm.
Pick Lavender From The Fields. If you go in mid-June or July, don’t miss the city’s annual lavender festival. It’s a multi-sensory experience that involves seeing, touching and smelling fresh lavender, and even tasting jams and oils infused with this timeless flower.
Learn How Olive Oil Is Made. Take a tour of olive groves and go behind the scenes to find out how oil is mechanically extracted and bottled at the Ojai Olive Oil Company at Asquith Farm. – Lisa Liddane
Lavender Inn :: lavenderinn.com
Osteria Monte Grappa :: omgojai.com
Azu :: azuojai.com
Ojai Café Emporium :: ojaicafeemporium.com
For the Golfer
Miles from Newport Beach: 0 miles
It’s a stunning resort with spacious bungalows and two to four bedroom villas, has the world’s largest circular pool lined with 1.1 million mosaic glass tiles, boasts its own temperature controlled pasta room in its sumptuous Italian restaurant, and is designed like an Italian village on the sea. But the most alluring feature of Pelican Hill has always been, for me, the golf. Ranked as the number one golf resort in California and number one resort in the world by Condé Nast Traveler readers, Pelican Hill Resort feels secluded from the rest of the world despite being conveniently located less than a mile from Pacific Coast Highway.
My goal for this weekend getaway was to improve my golf game. I had high hopes knowing I’d be attending a clinic with Glenn Deck, Pelican Hill Golf Club’s Director of Instruction, and one of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Teachers in America.” I have to admit I wondered how much I would learn in a group clinic and if I’d be able to retain what I was taught. As someone who has taken golf lessons before, I have found they tend to be so complicated that my game usually suffers and eventually I forget everything I’ve learned.
Deck’s philosophy was different. The instruction was simple and straightforward. For each part of the game, he shared tips that were easy to remember and also easy to apply. Instead of hitting the delete button on everything I’d learned in the past, the tips enhanced my strengths and enabled me to improve in areas that needed improvement. Deck’s group clinic worked because it’s relaxed and allowed each participant to move at their own pace. After small group sessions, each golfer was able to spend time practicing alone, focusing on the areas where they really needed assistance.
Pelican Hill Golf Club features two championship 18-hole courses set among 400 acres of the most spectacular land in Southern California. Perched cliffside with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the courses meander through ravines and the natural coastal environment of Newport Coast. Having spent time at the resort, it’s not surprising that the quality of instruction and service at the Golf Club is top-notch. I’d expect nothing less than top notch golf from designer Tom Fazio, but resort courses are generally made for the occasional vacation golfer. Not the case here.
After the clinic, I put my new skills to work on the South Course. After driving my cart over the resort’s stunning entrance (a classically designed bridge reminiscent of one I once crossed in Florence, Italy), my game was quickly tested. I was grateful to be taking advantage of the resort’s forecaddie program. In addition to having a great sense of humor (necessary to getting through any round with me), my caddie, Pink, knew the details of every hole, which was particularly helpful and really enhanced the experience. It also allowed me the time to gaze at the breathtaking views from almost every hole while he was reading the lightning fast greens.
Months after leaving Pelican Hill, I’m still using the tips I learned from Deck and my scores have improved round after round. In a location where we can play golf year-round, we’re lucky to have this ace in the hole in our own backyard. – Erin Zilis
877.735.4226 :: pelicanhill.com
For the Griller
Miles from Newport Beach: 174 miles
I love barbecued chicken. I love grilled vegetables. I love almost anything that’s been cooked over a fire – roasted marshmallows, shrimp, pancakes. Throw in some fine wine, horseback riding over rolling green hills and a sweet little Danish town full of aebleskivers and clog shops and I’m packing my trunk.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, located north of Santa Barbara in the town of Solvang, offers a four-day BBQ Boot Camp with special guest Grillmaster and Hitching Post 11 owner Frank Ostini (of Sideways fame) that will thrill any rider, griller or oenophile who really wants to bone up on, well, bones, loins, chops, rounds, and every other cut of meat there is. This ultimate western-style cooking school at a resort that has been specializing in barbecue for over 60 years lets up to 40 guests in on the cooking secrets of their Santa Maria-style barbecue, a California ritual stemming from the culture of the Spanish Rancheros who cooked over the heat of a fragrant red oak wood fire. Led by Alisal Executive Chef Pascal Godé and Chef Ostini, each morning focuses on different grilling aspects – from ancho chiles to tri-tip – while afternoons are spent horseback riding, golfing or sightseeing in the nearby town. Evenings include dinners where local winemakers pour some of the rich varietals for which the Santa Ynez wine region is known.
The weekend includes everything from seminars like Meet your Meat where guests learn everything there is to know about where meat comes from, various cuts and cooking tips, to a spice blending workshop where you make and bring home your own rub, to a private breakfast ride through the ranch’s 50 miles of gorgeous trails, where guests can either ride horses (say you’re a beginner or you will be trotting and galloping for miles!) or take a hayride to the original adobe house on the Alisal ranch, where they’ll serve alfresco breakfast and teach Dutch oven cooking techniques as you’re serenaded by cowboys. Other highlights include golfing on the ranch’s two championship courses, tennis, fly fishing, or canoeing and kayaking. Afternoons can also be spent exploring the nearby town of Solvang, where I wiled away hours admiring images of Thumbelina in the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, operated by the Ugly Duckling Foundation, of course. Located above the Book Loft on Mission Drive in Solvang, the museum features displays of Andersen’s life and work, dolls, models, first editions of Andersen’s fairytales, beautifully bound sets in the original Danish, original letters, photographs, and delicate cutouts.
The exceptionally fine meat grilled and consumed over the weekend comes directly from our own backyard – Newport Meat Company, a leader in sourcing natural and sustainable meats, which includes Diestel Turkey Ranch, Niman Ranch, Shelton Farms, Salmon Creek Pork, and Snake River Farms. Newport Meat Company, based in Irvine, supplies meat to high-end resort and restaurant chefs across the state, including The Hitching Post, Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Javiers, L’Auberge del Mar, and many more.
All inclusive in this package, which starts at $2,600, is a three-night stay in a cozy telephone- and television-free cottage with a wood-burning fireplace, all meals and seminars, a leather bound barbecue instruction booklet, and the Sunday morning breakfast ride. By the end of the weekend, you’ll consider yourself a master at grilling, wine pairing and all things rubbed. – Justine Amodeo
805.688.6411 :: alisal.com