Thursday August 16th.
A good friend’s mother passed away recently, and I attended the celebration of her life in Mission Hills, CA this past weekend. Some other friends of mine were attending as well, going over on Friday to stay in a home owned by their parents in Dana Point. It was agreed that since I was driving over I would take some items my friend Jerry needed at the house.
So, after running around on Thursday afternoon, completing work-related issues, I stopped off at the Black Bear Diner
in north Phoenix for a burger before my trip. Pastrami Burger with fries
A freshly Grilled Patty with grilled Pastrami, grilled onions, and swiss cheese. http://www.blackbeardiner.com/menu.html
I had never tried this version before, but it was lip-smacking good! I didn’t have any problem finishing every last bite, including the fries, which were cooked to perfection. The only gripe I had was my waiter, he spent more time talking to other tables than ensuring that everyone else was happy…I waited on a refill of my drink and ended up having to retrieve a second bottle of ketchup because the one on my table was nearly empty. His tip suffered because of this.
Around 5:00 PM I picked up the things from Jerry’s place. Since he lives in Awatukee (Southern Part of Phoenix) I decided to take a scenic route over to California by way of Maricopa and Gila Bend. For you map freaks (of which I am one) I headed south on I-10 to HWY 347 to Maricopa, then West on 238 to Gila Bend where I caught up with the I-8 to Yuma.
Since I was leaving the Phoenix area at rush hour, the trip down to Maricopa took a lot longer than it normally would, especially since there was a pretty strong monsoon storm blowing in from the East.
By the time I turned on to 238, blowing dust filled the air making visibility, at times practically zero. As I headed down the highway, I noticed that this stretch of highway can be pretty lonely. There wasn’t much traffic at all; in fact, I saw more trains along this route than cars!
Since the sun was setting and the dust and storm clouds were swirling around, the trip from Maricopa to Gila Bend was quite eerie. A dull, yellow glow hung in the air, occasionally being brightened by the head lights of an oncoming train. This line of tracks is used by both Union Pacific and Amtrak, Thursday evening at & PM obviously being a peak time.
At one point it started to rain heavily, flooding the road with standing water in the dips of the road. Hydroplaning became an issue, so I slowed to a manageable speed and plunged headlong into the atmospherical concoction. After what seemed like hours, I finally recognized the pulsating light of the Gila Bend Municipal Airport in the distance, and before I knew it, the Space Age Hotel and Restaurant was emerging (as if on cue, like an old science fiction movie) from the din.
The weather got better on the run from Gila Bend to Yuma, although a strong cross-wind made the drive a little tense at times. Pulling into Yuma, I ignored the obvious exit to the chain hotels and slipped on in to Old Town Yuma
. After a bit of driving around I spotted a hotel I’ve stayed at before, about 7 years ago. The Coronado Hotel
has a long history, dating back to the early 1930’s.
Right across the street is the Yuma Landing Restaurant
, sitting on the grounds where the first airplane landed on Arizona soil. The plane was actually a Wright model B biplane, and flew from Santa Monica, CA, ending up in Miami, Florida back in 1917. Friday, August 17th
I had breakfast there the next morning, enjoying a look around the restaurant, itself nearly a museum with dozens of historical photos from the turn of the century. The food was average, nothing to “Wright” home about!
After breakfast, I had a look around town, rolling up on the Territorial Prison Museum
. Unfortunately it did not open till 8 AM, but a quick look around the exterior was a rewarding effort. I can’t imagine being cooped up in that place back in the 1800’s, esp. during the blazing hot summers…must have been brutal.
The Colorado makes its final appearance here before playing out downstream in Old Mexico. Due to the various entities sucking the water from the river (Imperial Valley
, which I’ll be driving through shortly, being one of them), it rarely, if ever makes it to the delta and into the Sea of Cortez
The Old Town looks picturesque, and looks like Yuma is making progress in its total restoration.
For employment, the town relies heavily on the Marine Corps Air Station
, located in the Southeastern part of town.
I headed out of town, but not before noting that there were two places that looked like great places for breakfast…both located on 4th Avenue. Brownies Restaurant
and, surprisingly, Bubbas Southern BBQ
. They advertised breakfast on the sign out front, and there were plenty of pickup trucks parked out front, always a good omen.
Just outside of Yuma, after entering into California lie the Imperial Sand Dunes
. These dunes are extremely popular for Dune Buggies/Sand rails/ATV’s. I drove through them early enough to catch them without the scars of tire treads that will inevitably emerge as the day progresses.
As I arrived in El Centro
, I decide to once again deviate from the freeway and head up HWY 111 towards the Salton Sea
, cutting through the heart of Imperial Valley. Hay was obviously the crop of the season, with hundreds of massive hay stacks littering the side roads and fields along the way.
I ran across an odd thing shortly after turning north, the Pioneers Park Museum
. Sitting next to an old, early 1900’s tractor was an F-14 Tomcat. http://www.imperial.edu/Pioneers/
At the junction of HWY 78, I turned west and entered the town of Brawley
, where I saw another Brownie’s Restaurant
. Looks like the beginnings of another chain restaurant! I followed the 78 on up through the Vallecito and Cuyamaca Mountains
, topping out at over 4000 feet (from the Salton Sea which is 235 feet BELOW sea level) at the neat little town of Julian
The presence of apple orchards prompted me to seek out an Apple Pie, stopping at the Julian Pie Company
to grab a Dutch Apple Pie with crumbles to go. http://www.julianpie.com/index.html
Picture of the pie comes later….
The drive along the 78 highway is beautiful, and takes you right into Escondido
(home of the Wild Animal Park
was there with my daughter once, definitely worth the visit) and on to Oceanside
on the coast.
I headed north, setting my sights on San Juan Capistrano
. Traffic was, as always on the freeways in California, heavy. After a quick meeting in Rancho Santa Margarita, I dropped into Cap and feeling a bit hungry, so I started looking for something local. I found Pedro’s Taco Shop
, conveniently located right across the street from the famous Mission San Juan Capistrano
Pedro’s was exactly what I was looking for. This place had obviously been there for a while, and had that dignified look of a place that has been doing what it does the right way for a long time. I ordered a fish taco and two Al pastor tacos
, along with a soda pop.
They came out hot, fresh and delicious. I couldn’t decide what to eat first, the fish or the pork. I ended up alternating, enjoying the different flavors as I ate.
Afterwards, I wandered over to the mission, spending a good hour looking around and taking pictures. The grounds are beautifully landscaped with plenty of Butterfly and Hummingbird attracting flowers, along with two large fountains stocked with huge koi fish and beautiful lilipads.
Leaving Capistrano, I went over to Dana Point
, stopping at the Farm to Market
store for some locally made Amber Beer from the Capistrano Brewing Company
http://www.capistranobrewingco.com/PremiumBeers.aspx , tortilla chips, fresh salsa and guacamole…oh yeah, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream!
Jerry and his wife Mary had arrived a couple hours earlier, flying into John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I met up with them at the house, and we decided to give the pie a try.
MMMMMMM, perfectly delicious! Lightly heated in the microwave, with a scoop of Ice cream, it made the perfect afternoon treat.
That evening we went to a local chain Mexican restaurant called Fred’s Mexican Cafe
The atmosphere was lively and fun, our waiter was fantastic. He had an excellent dry humor, and was there when we needed him.
We had chips and salsa with guacamole as an appetizer, along with margaritas. The chips were nice and warm, the salsa fresh (I requested the spicy, also good ) and the Guac had an excellent blend of flavors..it also had a bit of a kick to it.
I ordered the CABO CARNITAS
, which was large chunks of spicy marinated pork with sauteed veggies and cheese..served with flour tortillas
The meat was tender, juicy and full of spicy flavor. I enjoyed stuffing the carnitas into the hot tortillas, ate a little of the side items, but was really happy just eating the meat.
Jerry and Mary also said their choices were good, Jerry had the Fajitas and Mary the Chicken Monterey.
Feeling very satisfied, we headed out and on over to a place called Hennessey’s Tavern
. There are several located throughout Southern California. The one in Dana Point
is actually two buildings, joined in the middle by an open air bar where they have live music. I’ve never eaten there, but have heard that it is above average as far as British pub food goes. http://www.hennesseystavern.com/home.html
Jerry and I each got a beer, while Mary ordered an Irish Coffee. If you are into Irish Coffee
, this is the place to get it. Mary said it is the best Irish Coffee she has EVER had….better than in Ireland! Hmmm. I’m not much of an Irish Coffee fan, but Jerry tasted it and said it was exceptional, so there you have it.
We spent the rest of the night there, then hit the pillows sometime after 12AM that night, Jerry playing Taps on his trumpet before retiring. Part 2
Saturday, August 18th
I awoke Saturday morning at exactly 6:55 AM by the sound of Revelry, apparently Jerry felt obligated to play that since he had played Taps the night before. You have to understand, he went to ASU on a music scolorship, and in fact, met Mary while they were both participating in the ASU marching Band.
Jerry now plays once or twice a week with a Jazz band at various clubs in Phoenix. The trumpet is a part of who he is, although that morning it just about became part of his anatomy.
Anyway, after coffee from Starbucks and a look through the newspaper (the home sales section is always good for a laugh in Dana Point) we spent the morning washing cars.
The weather was certainly a big change from Arizona. The mornings were cool and damp, the afternoons getting up to no higher than the low 80’s.
We finished up the 3 automobiles, Jerry did some weed killing, then we headed off to grab some lunch at A’s Burgers
in Dana Point. This place was a classic California coast burger joint, with a varied menu that also included breakfast and some Mexican items. Today’s focus was on their popular burgers.
I ordered a Double Cheeesburger and fries
, nothing fancy…but man was it good! After getting back form CA I did some checking online. Couldn’t find a website, but I found plenty of reviews that came to the same conclusion I did…this place is worth a stop on anyone’s travels through Dana Point.
The rest of the afternoon was used up chasing down some satellite equipment for the house and meeting up with another friend from AZ, Chris, who was in the area for 2 weeks on business. His Brother in Law Tom had just flown in from Chicago and we all decided to get together and hit the beach in the late afternoon for a little boogie boarding and scenery watching…..
After enjoying a beautiful sunset, we headed back to the house and got cleaned up. The 5 of us decided to hit a restaurant called the Salt Creek Grill http://www.saltcreekgrille.com/
just up the road towards Laguna Beach.
The restaurant itself is beautiful, with outdoor seating and a nice conversation/sitting area, as well as a niced sized bar with live music just off the main dining room. We were seated after a 15 minute wait or so.
The specialty of the house was the Bone-in Pork Chop
, and for Chris and I, that was good enough for us. Tom ordered Mahi-Mahi, I think Mary had some sort of Chicken-Penne dish and Jerry had the Chilean Seabass.
Well, when they set this beauty down in front of me, I was in heaven! The cured center cut chop with apple cider brine was perfectly cooked and moist and was served with horseradish mashed potatoes, fresh asparagus, baked apple and topped with hot apple chutney.
We spent the balance of the evening there, getting back to the house sometime after 12:30. Sunday, August 19th
I got up just before 6 AM and took a walk down around the Dana Point Marina
. I enjoy being up before the hustle and bustle of the day kicks in, and being down on the ocean at that time is especially nice.
Dana Point is in the process of approving the expansion of this already large marina. Even with all of the slips currently in use, there is a 5 year waiting list to get in. Expanding will alleviate that list somewhat and increase the revenues immensely.
I came around to the north side of the marina to discover a clipper ship called the Pilgrim
. A little research on the ship shows that it is a replica of the ship that Richard Dana
sailed on when he arrived in this area back in 1834.
There were people milling about on the ship this early morning, and I wondered what they were up to. As it turns out: Aside from acting as a living classroom for students and a theater for the public, the Pilgrim actually sets sail annually with her volunteer crew. The skills of sailing and maintaining a historic vessel are kept alive by a volunteer crew, which musters every spring to learn traditional seafaring skills. Late summer, the Pilgrim sets sail on her sail-training voyage up the coast and around the southern and northern Channel Islands. The brig visits ports along the way as an ambassador of good will for the city of Dana Point. Her return in early September is celebrated with the annual Toshiba Tallships Festival.
Interesting stuff. Out on the west side of the marina in from the break wall is a statue of Richard Dana and information about his time here, along with a brief description of a classic novel he authored called “ Two Years Before the Mast
I went up to the top of the cliffs overlooking the marina, standing next to the Cannons Restaurant
This location affords a beautiful view south over the marina and the Pacific Ocean. I can imagine it is an ideal setting around sunset. Would be interested to see how the food is. Maybe next time.
After stopping off at the Starbucks again (adjacent to the Ritz Carlton) I headed back to the house and started the cleanup process, as we got ready to leave and head up to Mission Hills for the memorial service.
I had planned on meeting up with Ed Sails
along the way, and called him to confirm our rendevous point. Now, I am usually very good at finding my way around, but today was just one of those days. I headed up to Long Beach
, but took the wrong exit. Calling Ed again to steer me in, and once again as I got within a few hundred yards of him.
We decided to meet at his fiancés delightful Vintage Tea Leaf
Ed held a parking spot for me and after negotiating a nearly impossible parallel parking feat we were inside the cozy Tea Room. It was, at this time, I believe my camera came to an unwelcome end. From this point on, although I thought I was taking pictures, my camera was not operating as it had. As I told Ed, I had accidentally sat on it the day before, diabaling the viewing screen, so I was essentially taking pictures “blind” as it seemed to be functioning that morning even without the viewscreen. I apologize to Ed, as I had taken what I was sure were great pictures of the Tea Room and others, only to find that they were non-existent.
I was introduced to Beverly, the owner and “Tea Mistress” of the establishment. All I can say is that Ed is one lucky man. Beverly is a charming and well versed woman who knows her chosen profession inside and out. She schooled me on aspects of the tea world I could only attempt to appreciate, since I have virtually no previous insight into this historically influential trade.
The tea room was beautifully decorated with an old English feel. Paintings with intricate picture frames hung on the walls, the tables and chairs richly covered in various patterns and fabrics. An adjacent room has all sorts of neat little knik-knaks and curios for purchase, and it also is where you go to choose your tea cup for the day.
Beverly suggested several teas and had the kitchen prepare several dishes for us, including wonderful Blueberry Scones with Lemon Curd and Devon Cream
, two soups, one a beautiful Creamy Mushroom
(I love mushrooms) and the other was, I believe, a Strawberry Pomegranate Yogurt Merlot
served chilled, perfect for a hot summer’s day.
As we worked our way through that, we also sipped some excellent teas (Ed correct me if I am wrong), Royal English Breakfast tea, the Casablanca (Moroccan Mint Green Tea), the Five Star Darjeeling
. Of special interest was a “Blossoming Tea
,” that is served in a tall, clear glass. The Tea leaves are bound together, dropped into the hot water, and in a few minutes, magic occurs.
All of the teas were spectacular, I noticed the nuances in flavors and the blatant differences between Beverly’s teas and what one would buy off the shelf. I must admit, I am more of a coffee drinker than tea drinker, but I think it is because I just have never had good, quality tea. She may have converted me…..
As if that wasn’t enough, we were also served a stacked tray of tea sandwiches of various types, all cool, fresh and delicious. Here is the list from the website, most of which we sampled:
• Cucumber & herbed cream cheese on white
• Tomato, basil & cream cheese on white
• California avocado & black bean on wheat
• Artichoke, chive & cream cheese on croissant
• French bleu cheese, cream cheese & apple on white
• Orange, mango chutney & parsley cream cheese on white
• Egg salad & mild leek on wheat
• Smoked salmon mousse & watercress on rye
• Shrimp & crab salad on white
• Chicken salad with tarragon & raisins on wheat
• Roast beef, greens, tomato, mustard & mayonnaise on rye
What a great experience this was, a very unexpected and welcome treat. Beverly was an excellent host, and I reommend that anyone coming into the Long Beach area stop by for a little tea and good conversation.
Ed suggested we try one more restaurant before I headed off to Mission Hills, so we walked a short distance over to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles
Unfortunately the wait was 20 minutes, and I was fast running out of time.
Ed and Beverly were talking positively about a place not too far away and close to the freeway I needed to get up north. Cisco’s Burgers http://www.ciscoburger.com/
is located next door to West Coast Choppers, and offered a 180 degree experience from the Vintage Tea Leaf. http://www.westcoastchoppers.com/
I ordered the signature Kobe Cheeseburger
and an order of Onion Rings
, Ed, just went for the O-rings. The burger was quite good, as were the rings.
Again, my eternal “beef” with burger joints is when the bun is bigger than the patty. For some reason most places must match up the size of the bun with the uncooked burger, not the finished product. Anyway, that is just me....Cisco’s has a neat, edgy atmosphere and can crank out some darn good grub.
After a peek into WCC next door, Ed pointed me in the right direction of the freeway, and after missing the on-ramp and having to double-back (like I said, it was just one of those days) I hightailed it up north, hooking up with the I-5 freeway till I made my exit in Mission Hills, arriving with just enough time to change into some suitable clothing for the ceremony. Pat Johnson
touched many people’s lives, in ways most do not recognize. She grew up learning to play the violin from her aunt who lived down the road from her, eventually becoming a virtuoso.
She married Tommy Johnson
, probably one of the most famous musicians everyone has heard, but most have never heard of.
He was the menacing sound when Jaws appeared on screen, he was the space ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and played in literally thousands of other films and TV shows.
In fact, both of them spent their entire adult lives producing music in the LA area, whether it was for films, TV, Orchestras, or teaching eager music students at USC and UCLA. Tommy passed away just a short 8 months earlier. http://www.tubanews.com/articles/contentid-296.html
The ceremony itself was a wonderful musical tribute to Pat. Many renound L.A. musicians from her life showed up to perform, in what turned out to be an absolute inspiration for those in attendance and an uplifting send off to a woman who meant a lot to a lot of people. R.I.P. Pat Johnson.
I decided to head back to Phoenix after the ceremony, covering the distance in a little under 6 hours, putting me back home about 11:45 PM Sunday Night. All in all, a very nice trip for what some would consider a solemn occasion. Although, according to those who knew Pat best, life was to be celebrated and enjoyed, and I certainly couldn't imagine living it any other way.
That concludes my California trip, and sets me up for 3 more days in Tucson. Look for that trip report coming soon.