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What you do not want to miss at 5 California destinations

Going to California? Lucky you, because the golden state is over-the-top with contrasting scenery and every kind of attraction. It can be difficult to plan a route in an area where there is so much to experience. If you like to stay away from large cities but enjoy adventures that include a little bit of history, the outdoors, lots of local food, and sometimes wine, we can help you. These five destinations are in the southern portion of the state.

1. San Benito County

Located south and slightly inland from San Francisco, San Benito County has two towns – Hollister and San Juan Bautista. Hollister has all the amenities of a modern city. San Juan Bautista is historic. The Mission San Juan Bautista is the largest church on the California Mission Trail. Both towns are surrounded by country roads and rolling hills. Vineyards and row crops share space with cattle ranches.

Things you do not want to miss:

  • The 1938 brick oven lit each day with a blow torch to produce handcrafted pastries and bread at The San Juan Bakery
  • Mansmith’s open grill and food truck that arrives every Friday at lunchtime in Hollister and sets up giant grates loaded with not only beef, ribs, and chicken but mouth-watering butter-dripping garlic bread
  • Casa de Fruta, the place to go for every imaginable fruit and vegetable, fruit wine, and candy, or a meal, all within a family-oriented Disney-type environment
  • The Inn Tres Pinos that serves continental cuisine in a rustic building that was once a stagecoach stop and brothel
  • DeRose Vineyards to sip an award-winning zinfandel while standing on a major earthquake fault line
  • The California condors that fly wild and free over the unique ancient-volcano-formed landscape of Pinnacles National Park

2. Solvang

Located north and west of Santa Barbara, Solvang, California, is more Danish than Denmark. The architecture is strikingly European with cross-beamed timbers and thatched roofing, hanging flowers, courtyards, windmills, and lots of bakeries. The Little Mermaid, a copy of the statue in Copenhagen, greets you on the main street.

Things you do not want to miss:

  • Strolling early in the morning with the warm, sweet scent of fresh baking drifting from five long-established Danish bakeries that prepare butter cookies, éclairs, strudels, macaroons, almond butter rings, and danishes
  • Sampling Aaebleskiver, a pancake batter griddled into golden balls served smothered with raspberry jam at the Solvang Restaurant
  • Ingeborg’s chocolate factory, candy store, and ice cream parlor where the 1960s conveyer belt in the back room conjures up visions of Lucille Ball’s comedic stint in a chocolate factory
  • The Greenhouse Café, a Nordic bistro, for Danish open-faced sandwiches with all the trimmings: potato salad, pickled cucumber, red cabbage, delicately deep fried onions, sweet seedy Danish mustard, and horseradish
  • Chomp restaurant, a 50s-style diner with rock and roll music, thick milkshakes, burgers, and fries. A burger at Chomp was the inspiration for the Basil Balsamic Bagel Burger in our new cookbook. We have shared the recipe at the end of this article.

3. Oxnard

Along Highway 101 on the Pacific Ocean, north of Los Angeles, Oxnard, California, is the place to appreciate nature in close proximity to city living. Pristine white sandy beaches run for miles alongside gentle desert-type sand dunes.

Things you do not want to miss:

  • Climbing beyond a sand dune to an undercrowded beach and discovering a food truck serving fresh oysters
  • Taking a boat trip, with Island Packers, 20 miles across the Pacific Ocean to Santa Cruz, one of the Channel Islands, to experience clever ravens, cat-size foxes, hiking trails and ocean vistas
  • Platillos on the menu at Tierra Sur Restaurant located at Herzog Wine Cellars. Mix and match these “little plates” that are loaded with flavour

4. Temecula

Set inland, in the Temecula Valley, north of San Diego and south of Long Beach, Temecula offers a Mediterranean climate that is perfect for growing grapes. The many vineyards are small and predominantly family-owned. For that reason, the wine experience is personal, for everyone from winemaker to wine appreciator.

Things you do not want to miss:

  • Wine tasting rooms scattered among hillsides, spectacular flowers and tall stately Italian Cypress trees, ideal settings for sipping a glass of wine and catching the sunset
  • Old Town Temecula, a vibrant frontier town where you can stroll the boardwalk from spice store to olive oil shop, from theatre and art to restaurants
  • Pechanga Casino, the largest resort-casino combination in the state with unique restaurants, spa, gym, comedy club, convention center and golf course
  • Pechanga RV Park, where it is just a free golf cart ride from your RV site to the casino facilities

5. Julian

Away from the coast, high in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego and just off the Great Southern Overland Stage Route, Julian is an old gold mining town known for its apple orchards.

Things you do not want to miss:

  • Jeremy’s on the Hill, owned and operated by Jeremy Manley, a young Cordon Bleu chef who has been cooking since he was 10. His smokey Brussels sprouts are vegetable candy and his fresh Garlic Herb Fries with Chipotle Aioli are worth the drive up the mountain
  • Shops housed in historic buildings that date back to the 1870s
  • Finding your favourite version of Julian’s famous apple pie

Basil Balsamic Bagel Burger

(Makes 4 servings)

  • 10 sundried tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 (4 oz/125 g) ground beef patties
  • 4 plain or multi-grain bagels
  • 12 fresh, large basil leaves
  • 4 thick slices fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tomato slices

Place the sundried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside. After 5 minutes, drain the tomatoes and discard the water.
Place the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic in a food processor. Process until almost smooth.
Add the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.
Preheat the grill to high (550-600°F/290-315°C) for 10 minutes with the lid closed. Using a pair of long-handled tongs, oil the grate by wiping it with a piece of folded paper towel dipped lightly in canola oil.
Grill the beef patties about 5 minutes on each side or until the internal temperature registers 160° F (71°C) on an instant-read thermometer.

While the patties are cooking, cut the bagels in half and brush each cut side with olive oil.
Toast the bagel halves cut side down on the grate until golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Place the toasted bagel halves open-faced on serving plates. Spread all 8 bagel halves generously with the sun-dried tomato mixture.

Place 3 basil leaves on the bottom half of each bagel. Place the cooked beef patty on top of the basil. Follow with the tomato and mozzarella.
Leftover sun-dried tomato mixture can be kept in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to 1 week.

Other grilling and smoking recipes can be found in our latest cookbook, On The Road With The Cooking Ladies, Let’s Get Grilling, available on Amazon.com or bookstores everywhere!

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