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Backyard Getaways


In our quest for that perfect vacation, we often forget to look in our own backyard. There are many benefits to travel in your own neighborhood, especially for short weekend getaways. First, very little time is spent getting there. Advantages: a short drive to your destination, versus the same amount of time spent just getting to the airport, not to mention arriving an hour early, crowds, boarding lines and endless waiting. Backyard getaways allow you to spend most of your time at your destination. Since you are traveling by car, you can pack everything you want; just fill your trunk and you are set for anything that comes up. Finally, if your plans need to be changed, the only cancellation necessary is your hotel; no hassling with the airlines to try to get credit for another trip.

Fortunately, my wife and I live in La Jolla, California, surrounded by wonderful nearby travel opportunities. For our first "home town" adventure, we chose the beautiful and historic "island" of Coronado, CA.

Like a lot of travelers, we prefer small hotel "finds." Coronado is most famous for its Hotel Del Coronado (known to locals as "the Del"), but we wanted to stay somewhere less mainstream. Going online is one way to check out lodging options. At once, we were drawn to the Glorietta Bay Inn (www.gloriettabayinn.com) and its Internet specials.

The Glorietta Bay Inn, Coronado. Copyright Howard Hian

We chose a time that offered the best discounts. Planning our weekend activities came next. The Coronado Visitors Bureau (www.coronadovisitors.com) has a number of very informative brochures and helpful flyers, along with a nifty website. Use this resource!

In the past when I traveled, I used a hard sided, carry on suitcase with a standard length handle. It was too short for me and rolling it through large airports was causing elbow strain. So, I was in the market for a new carry on. An airline magazine luggage ad from Andiamo had intrigued me. If you are shopping for new carry on luggage, there are several things to look for. First, check that it can fit through the templates the airlines have attached to the x-ray machines. Second, make certain it has wide set, good quality rollers and is made with durable materials. Third, check the length of the handle for comfort. Finally, really shop!

There are huge price differences for the same type of luggage. Before going online, I took a look at Consumer's Report. Andiamo was the top rated brand. My next step was to head for their website, www.andiamoinc.com. What a great surprise! They feature seconds, returns, and last years' models at discounts, ranging from 20%-50%. My needs were served by their 19-inch Journeyman Suiter.

Within days, my black beauty arrived. I was amazed at the engineering that went into the product. The unique design features a rotating handle that locks into four different angles for wrist comfort. The tubes extending from the body of the luggage can be secured in either of two positions depending on your height. Fully extended it is 48 inches long and perfect for my needs. The inside is cavernous, yet "template safe" and also features a snap off garment bag for added capacity. A perfect choice.

The "practical traveler" strikes again: the best quality at discount prices!

With my new suitcase packed, I was ready to go. Here's one of the best parts of a backyard getaway: you reach your destination quickly!

Courtesy the Glorietta Bay Inn.Coronado is a 13.5-square mile peninsula forming the western boundary of San Diego Bay. It is not an island, despite what many think (if you don't believe me, look at a map). Coronado is also connected to San Diego by a visually stunning 2.3-mile bridge.

There are 18 parks and three state beaches. Tidelands Park, great for hiking and bike riding, is a 23-acre, bayside beauty. There is also a $1 tram that runs from one end of town to the other on a regular basis. The Glorietta Bay Inn is directly across the street from the Del Coronado and the heart of Coronado is a short walk from the hotel.

 

John D. Spreckels was the son of a sugar baron. In 1887, he began investing in Coronado. By 1890 he held controlling interest in the Coronado Beach Company which had developed the Hotel Del Coronado. He built his dream home on five acres of land overlooking Glorietta Bay across from the Del. Yes, the Glorietta Bay Inn, built in 1906 and completed in 1908, was originally the Spreckels' Mansion. The Mansion has eleven rooms and suites. This boutique charmer has been fully restored and features refrigerators and coffee makers in all of the rooms along with HBO, voicemail, and dataports. Over the years, 89 rooms, some with full kitchen and kitchenettes, have been added to the grounds. The rate includes a sumptuous continental breakfast buffet, afternoon lemonade and cookies, and free parking. A fruit bowl filled with apples and oranges is always available at the front desk, along with coffee and tea.

The Music Room at the Glorietta Bay Inn. Copyright Howard Hian

The Music Room is the heart of the Mansion and has a guest library, board games and a baby grand player piano. It is a warm, inviting spot to sit and meet other guests. The Glorietta Bay Inn is an historic landmark and has received many awards. It is, in a word, charming. It is also a non-smoking hotel. Rates begin at $225 in the Mansion and $135 in the inn buildings.

To make reservations go online to www.gloriettabayinn.com or call 1-800-283-9383. They feature Internet specials on a regular basis.

Coronado residents take their food seriously. After a full work week, we were ready for a nice, relaxing dinner. Chez Loma is located in an historic landmark home (circa 1889) just a few blocks easy walk from the hotel. The cuisine is French/Continental and the romantic ambiance is delightful. The chef/owner (always a good combination) is Ken Irvine, a classically trained chef from Montreal. At Chez Loma, three distinctive, intimate dining areas, each holding up to 30 people, include a main dining room, an enclosed patio, and the upstairs wine salon. The walls are adorned by fine original art. Chez Loma has been awarded high ratings from Mobil, AAA and an "excellent" from the Zagat Survey. There is an extensive and reasonably priced wine list. Our attentive and knowledgeable waiter suggested a ''nouveau" wine special that was marvelous and a bargain at $15.

We began by sharing the house salad and an appetizer of mussels steamed with white wine, garlic, shallots and tomatoes. The mussels, usually not a favorite of mine, were wonderful and one could easily have made a full meal of this appetizer along with the bakery quality assorted breads and focaccio that they serve. It was one of the best dishes that I have had in a long time. For dinner we chose two evening specials, a loin of swordfish served with rice and tomato coulis and a charred rib eye with Bordelaise, garlic mashed potatoes and baby vegetables. Both were perfectly prepared, beautifully presented, and delicious. All in all, a wonderful meal. But wait, dessert! Choices include crème caramel, "fallen" chocolate soufflé, Kaluha crème brulée, cheesecake and ginger bread with caramel sauce. We shared the soufflé and ginger bread with caramel sauce and were not disappointed. This moderately priced restaurant is worth a special trip and is also open for lunch as well as Sunday brunch. Dinner entrees range from $17 - $22 and reservations are recommended. You can visit Chez Loma online at www.chezloma.com.

The next day we decided to "take a walk through time" with Coronado Touring. This guided walking tour begins at the Glorietta Bay Inn and features a history lesson of the Inn, the Del Coronado, and the entire "island." While out on this leisurely walkabout, we saw the cottage of the Duchess of Windsor and the home where Frank K. Baum created the Wizard of Oz. Although the tour was advertised as lasting an hour and a half, our interesting, enthusiastic, and funny guide/owner Nancy Cobb kept us entranced for over two hours. At $6 per person, this is an absolute must and a bargain to boot! The tours depart at 11 AM every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Space can be reserved through the Glorietta Bay Inn or by calling 619-435-5993.

We were quite hungry after our walk and had noticed Joey's California Bistro earlier in the day. We stopped in and were, by the end of the meal, very happy with our find. Joey's has been open only four months but is already a big hit with "locals." The restaurant features an eclectic menu including crab cakes, lettuce wraps, wonderful salads and innovative Italian cuisine, as well as wood fired, designer pizzas. The portions are generous and the prices inexpensive. They also serve hand crafted beers made especially for them. Joey's is a "family-friendly place." There is patio seating and the inside is bright and cheery, featuring demonstration cooking.

 

We asked if we could sample a number of items and our request was enthusiastically received. We split a half order of crab cakes with fontina cheese and a lettuce wrap. Both were wonderful. We then ordered a half order of the chicken and portabello mushroom sandwich, a small sausage pizza and side spaghetti with veal sauce. The half sandwich was huge, the pizza was fresh and the sausage spicy and tasty. The spaghetti was outstanding. Rich with a ground veal and mushroom ragu, this pasta dish is one of my all time favorites anywhere (including Italy). We packed up our leftovers and walked back to the Glorietta Bay Inn. We love finding inexpensive, good restaurants; Joey's (619-437-8913) makes the list. What a great day....but there was more to come.

The Lamb's Players Theater is San Diego's third largest theater company. Originally based in Minnesota, Lamb's Players operated for over 15 years as an acclaimed street theater troupe.

A scene from the witty play, Joyful Noise. Photo Courtesy of the Lamb's Players TheatreThe company toured nationwide, performing on college campuses, in prisons and hospitals and at festivals and Renaissance fairs. In 1978 they opened their first resident theater in National City, a suburb of San Diego. In December 1994, the Company moved to Coronado into the historic Spreckels Building. Yep, the same guy who built the Glorietta Bay Inn and the Del. We were fortunate to get tickets to see the U.S. premiere of Joyful Noise. Written by Tim Slover, this high energy, historically correct story, told as a musical comedy, "takes a startling look at the scandal and politics that nearly prevented Handel's Messiah from ever being performed." It was fun, interesting, clever and well acted. All in all, a very nice experience in an audience friendly theater. Go online to www.lambsplayers.org to check their schedule.

The next morning, our last, found the weather clear and crisp with no morning fog. We decided to walk to the Ferry Landing Place and have breakfast. On our way, we passed the Arts & Craft Fair. On scheduled Sundays throughout the year, the Fair features carved wood figurines, garden novelties, collages, original art and wonderful gifts made by local artists.

At the Ferry Landing Place, a collection of restaurants and shops, we were quickly attracted to the Bay Beach Cafe for brunch. Their patio overlooks the harbor and skyline of San Diego. They claim to have the "finest view of the finest city." It would be hard to argue with that. It's a beautiful place to sit and watch the boats go by.

The Practical Traveler and his wife, Susan, at the Coronado Ferry Landing with the San Diego skyline in the background © Howard Hian

We started with a Ramos Fizz. We decided on Eggs Benedict and their signature dish, French toast. The French toast is made with thick cut egg bread, dipped in egg and rolled in Corn Flakes. Yes, you read that right, Corn Flakes. It made for a terrific dish: crunchy and doughy at the same time. The Eggs Benedict were also quite good. The Bay Beach Cafe (619-435-4900) offers soups, salads, sandwiches, fish and beef at lunch and dinner, all at moderate prices.

We had requested a late check out and the staff was gracious about extending it. We packed up and realized there was another plus to backyard getaways. No sorrows about leaving a place; we were, after all, just minutes away. The winter sun was setting as we crossed the Coronado Bridge on our short ride home.

Over the next several e-zine issues I'll be writing about San Diego's only Five Diamond Resort, the Aviara Four Seasons in booming North County; my hometown, the jewel of the Pacific, La Jolla, featuring its new Hotel Parisi, and the latest "in" restaurants; and, finally, exciting downtown San Diego, everyone's favorite city.

Best of the West and Midwest: If you are in Salt Lake City, Denver or Chicago anytime soon, please stay at the Monaco. The Kimpton Group of San Francisco has a winner with this concept. Visit www.monaco.com for further information.

There are 18 parks and three state beaches. Tidelands Park, great for hiking and bike riding, is a 23-acre, bayside beauty. There is also a $1 tram that runs from one end of town to the other on a regular basis. The Glorietta Bay Inn is directly across the street from the Del Coronado and the heart of Coronado is a short walk from the hotel.

John D. Spreckels was the son of a sugar baron. In 1887, he began investing in Coronado. By 1890 he held controlling interest in the Coronado Beach Company which had developed the Hotel Del Coronado. He built his dream home on five acres of land overlooking Glorietta Bay across from the Del. Yes, the Glorietta Bay Inn, built in 1906 and completed in 1908, was originally the Spreckels' Mansion. The Mansion has eleven rooms and suites. This boutique charmer has been fully restored and features refrigerators and coffee makers in all of the rooms along with HBO, voicemail, and dataports. Over the years, 89 rooms, some with full kitchen and kitchenettes, have been added to the grounds. The rate includes a sumptuous continental breakfast buffet, afternoon lemonade and cookies, and free parking. A fruit bowl filled with apples and oranges is always available at the front desk, along with coffee and tea.

The Music Room at the Glorietta Bay Inn. Copyright Howard Hian

The Music Room is the heart of the Mansion and has a guest library, board games and a baby grand player piano. It is a warm, inviting spot to sit and meet other guests. The Glorietta Bay Inn is an historic landmark and has received many awards. It is, in a word, charming. It is also a non-smoking hotel. Rates begin at $225 in the Mansion and $135 in the inn buildings.

To make reservations go online to www.gloriettabayinn.com or call 1-800-283-9383. They feature Internet specials on a regular basis.

Coronado residents take their food seriously. After a full work week, we were ready for a nice, relaxing dinner. Chez Loma is located in an historic landmark home (circa 1889) just a few blocks easy walk from the hotel. The cuisine is French/Continental and the romantic ambiance is delightful. The chef/owner (always a good combination) is Ken Irvine, a classically trained chef from Montreal. At Chez Loma, three distinctive, intimate dining areas, each holding up to 30 people, include a main dining room, an enclosed patio, and the upstairs wine salon. The walls are adorned by fine original art. Chez Loma has been awarded high ratings from Mobil, AAA and an "excellent" from the Zagat Survey. There is an extensive and reasonably priced wine list. Our attentive and knowledgeable waiter suggested a ''nouveau" wine special that was marvelous and a bargain at $15.

We began by sharing the house salad and an appetizer of mussels steamed with white wine, garlic, shallots and tomatoes. The mussels, usually not a favorite of mine, were wonderful and one could easily have made a full meal of this appetizer along with the bakery quality assorted breads and focaccio that they serve. It was one of the best dishes that I have had in a long time. For dinner we chose two evening specials, a loin of swordfish served with rice and tomato coulis and a charred rib eye with Bordelaise, garlic mashed potatoes and baby vegetables. Both were perfectly prepared, beautifully presented, and delicious. All in all, a wonderful meal. But wait, dessert! Choices include crème caramel, "fallen" chocolate soufflé, Kaluha crème brulée, cheesecake and ginger bread with caramel sauce. We shared the soufflé and ginger bread with caramel sauce and were not disappointed. This moderately priced restaurant is worth a special trip and is also open for lunch as well as Sunday brunch. Dinner entrees range from $17 - $22 and reservations are recommended. You can visit Chez Loma online at www.chezloma.com.

The next day we decided to "take a walk through time" with Coronado Touring. This guided walking tour begins at the Glorietta Bay Inn and features a history lesson of the Inn, the Del Coronado, and the entire "island." While out on this leisurely walkabout, we saw the cottage of the Duchess of Windsor and the home where Frank K. Baum created the Wizard of Oz. Although the tour was advertised as lasting an hour and a half, our interesting, enthusiastic, and funny guide/owner Nancy Cobb kept us entranced for over two hours. At $6 per person, this is an absolute must and a bargain to boot! The tours depart at 11 AM every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Space can be reserved through the Glorietta Bay Inn or by calling 619-435-5993.

We were quite hungry after our walk and had noticed Joey's California Bistro earlier in the day. We stopped in and were, by the end of the meal, very happy with our find. Joey's has been open only four months but is already a big hit with "locals." The restaurant features an eclectic menu including crab cakes, lettuce wraps, wonderful salads and innovative Italian cuisine, as well as wood fired, designer pizzas. The portions are generous and the prices inexpensive. They also serve hand crafted beers made especially for them. Joey's is a "family-friendly place." There is patio seating and the inside is bright and cheery, featuring demonstration cooking.

We asked if we could sample a number of items and our request was enthusiastically received. We split a half order of crab cakes with fontina cheese and a lettuce wrap. Both were wonderful. We then ordered a half order of the chicken and portabello mushroom sandwich, a small sausage pizza and side spaghetti with veal sauce. The half sandwich was huge, the pizza was fresh and the sausage spicy and tasty. The spaghetti was outstanding. Rich with a ground veal and mushroom ragu, this pasta dish is one of my all time favorites anywhere (including Italy). We packed up our leftovers and walked back to the Glorietta Bay Inn. We love finding inexpensive, good restaurants; Joey's (619-437-8913) makes the list. What a great day....but there was more to come.

The Lamb's Players Theater is San Diego's third largest theater company. Originally based in Minnesota, Lamb's Players operated for over 15 years as an acclaimed street theater troupe.

A scene from the witty play, Joyful Noise. Photo Courtesy of the Lamb's Players TheatreThe company toured nationwide, performing on college campuses, in prisons and hospitals and at festivals and Renaissance fairs. In 1978 they opened their first resident theater in National City, a suburb of San Diego. In December 1994, the Company moved to Coronado into the historic Spreckels Building. Yep, the same guy who built the Glorietta Bay Inn and the Del. We were fortunate to get tickets to see the U.S. premiere of Joyful Noise. Written by Tim Slover, this high energy, historically correct story, told as a musical comedy, "takes a startling look at the scandal and politics that nearly prevented Handel's Messiah from ever being performed." It was fun, interesting, clever and well acted. All in all, a very nice experience in an audience friendly theater. Go online to www.lambsplayers.org to check their schedule.

The next morning, our last, found the weather clear and crisp with no morning fog. We decided to walk to the Ferry Landing Place and have breakfast. On our way, we passed the Arts & Craft Fair. On scheduled Sundays throughout the year, the Fair features carved wood figurines, garden novelties, collages, original art and wonderful gifts made by local artists.

At the Ferry Landing Place, a collection of restaurants and shops, we were quickly attracted to the Bay Beach Cafe for brunch. Their patio overlooks the harbor and skyline of San Diego. They claim to have the "finest view of the finest city." It would be hard to argue with that. It's a beautiful place to sit and watch the boats go by.

The Practical Traveler and his wife, Susan, at the Coronado Ferry Landing with the San Diego skyline in the background © Howard Hian

We started with a Ramos Fizz. We decided on Eggs Benedict and their signature dish, French toast. The French toast is made with thick cut egg bread, dipped in egg and rolled in Corn Flakes. Yes, you read that right, Corn Flakes. It made for a terrific dish: crunchy and doughy at the same time. The Eggs Benedict were also quite good. The Bay Beach Cafe (619-435-4900) offers soups, salads, sandwiches, fish and beef at lunch and dinner, all at moderate prices.

We had requested a late check out and the staff was gracious about extending it. We packed up and realized there was another plus to backyard getaways. No sorrows about leaving a place; we were, after all, just minutes away. The winter sun was setting as we crossed the Coronado Bridge on our short ride home.

Over the next several e-zine issues I'll be writing about San Diego's only Five Diamond Resort, the Aviara Four Seasons in booming North County; my hometown, the jewel of the Pacific, La Jolla, featuring its new Hotel Parisi, and the latest "in" restaurants; and, finally, exciting downtown San Diego, everyone's favorite city.

Best of the West and Midwest: If you are in Salt Lake City, Denver or Chicago anytime soon, please stay at the Monaco. The Kimpton Group of San Francisco has a winner with this concept. Visit www.monaco.com for further information.