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Remember water? Dive into our writers’ favorite beachy retreats

Living and playing in the desert is great. But there’s nothing like a little contrast to liven things up. And to our left just happens to be hundreds of miles of gorgeous coastline, rich in history, culture and wild beauty. Here are our picks for some West Coast getaways to rinse the dust out.

Mendocino Village

VineyardNatural high: Mendocino

Mendocino is a sleepy town, no surprise given that the largest cash crop in the environs is marijuana. Yet, Mendocino and its denizens belie the stoner stereotype with genuinely friendly people, great food, quaint, non-commoditized art and a paucity of cell phone towers (drive to nearby Ft. Bragg if your smartphone jones cannot be sated). Geographically and philosophically, it’s a far cry from the madding crowd, making it the perfect antidote to the desert. Visitors can hike through 130 miles of verdant coastal trails, go fishing for Dungeness crab or salmon, ride llamas on the beach or through redwood groves, and play Frisbee golf while enjoying an Anderson Valley craft beer. The town plays host to many excellent restaurants, including the sustainably conscious MacCallum House, whose award-winning wine list has been partnered with a piquant collection of local cheeses. In 2011, summer events include the Pinot Noir Festival and art events as well as a county fair and Frontier Days. For a change of pace over the 4th of July, indulge at “The World’s Largest Salmon Barbecue,” which takes place this year on July 2. (www.mendocino.com) — Monera Mason

Point Reyes

Aching beauty: Point Reyes

There are places that are beautiful, and then there are places whose beauty eludes photographic depiction. Point Reyes falls into the latter. I distinctly remember a moment when some friends and I pulled over to the edge of a cliff to photograph a sea of clouds that hovered over the ocean for miles. We all realized around the same time that our pocket-sized digital cameras were sad and ineffectual in light of such a vast diorama. Not a shutter was clicked.
Point Reyes is surprisingly untamed for a location that’s a mere hour north of San Francisco, and if you decide to camp in the park, prepare yourself for a delight of minor hazards: getting confused in the fog, nocturnal encounters with indeterminate flashing eyes (at night, the gaze of wildcat and a bunny look amazingly similar), stampeding herds of elk, picnic-stealing raccoons and wistful-looking seals who like to tag along as you walk down the beach. Also, there are droves of pheasants — these are not hazardous, just given to warbling early in the morning. Consider earplugs.
Campers who want to visit during the summer should make site reservations at least a few months in advance. The Wildcat Campsite is especially recommended. It sits atop a heather-strewn bluff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. You’ll also be grateful for the toilets, potable water and picnic benches after backpacking the seven-mile route from the parking lot. For those who prefer beds, there are sundry charming bed-and-breakfast inns along Highway 1. Folks love The Osprey in Inverness. (www.nps.gov/pore) — Sarah Kokernot

Church at the Mission San Juan

Birds and bells: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Less than an hour south of L.A., past the South Bay cafés, ranches balanced on cliffs and Miss America beaches, huddles a clutch of white Spanish buildings, hushed courtyards and stone ruins — the remains of Mission San Juan Capistrano. People know it because of the legend of the swallows, said to return to the mission in large flocks each March 19. That is a lie told by a Catholic priest, a traffic-generating genius before the time of search engines. March 19 might actually have been his birthday.
But who cares about birds or story-telling Catholic priests? The best thing about San Juan Capistrano is the ghosts in the halls. Mission San Juan Capistrano was dubbed the “jewel” of the 21 missions built in Southern California during Spain’s 18th-century colonial expansion. That’s because of the Great Stone Church, a marvel of design that modern architects called the “American Acropolis.” Its walls were cemented with the sweat of the 1,000 native people kept captive at the mission after converting to Christianity. It took them nine years to complete the structure — and only a few minutes for nature to tear down during the great earthquake of 1812. Forty people were buried inside, and the church-cum-crypt was left untouched until restoration began in the 20th century. The ghosts have other stories too, about bells gone missing and wildfires and friends taken by smallpox. Sit quietly, and they’ll whisper them to you through the leaves of the pepper trees — gone now too. (www.missionsjc.com) — Heidi Kyser

 

SolvangSolvang: My own private Denmark

While Las Vegas is many things to many people, few would characterize its vibe as transcendental. For that, California — in particular, a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway and beyond — beckons as a wending journey that leaves smoggy L.A. for coastal splendors to be found not in well-worn destinations like Santa Barbara and San Francisco, but in a few singular small towns: places where the beauty of the Coast and the mien of the locals become experiences, not just observations.
Consider Solvang, the inspiration for Duloc, the fictional city in “Shrek.” Settled by Danes in the early 20th century, this town in the Santa Ynez Mountains is a living anachronism where you can traipse through medieval parks, sample a smorgasbord of Danish delights, and ride a horse-drawn carriage throughout. You’ll see not just fairytale windmills but, in a bow to modernity and the many local wineries, au courant wine bars. Lead your own children through the forest, past Nojoqui Falls, but do remember to take bread crumbs so you can find your way back. If you want a great reason to plan a fairytale getaway (although you should be warned that the hotel prices are not child’s play), Solvang’s annual Danish Days Festival runs Sept. 16-18. (www.solvangusa.com) — M.M.

 

Hearst CastleCambria: Best of the Hearst

Just 100 miles North of Solvang, our very own Denmark, is Cambria, featuring a spectacular seaside and San Simeon, the Hearst Castle. Not to miss in between is Harmony, literally a one-street town that could be swallowed whole by the Hearst’s Grand Ballroom, but where you can indulge your inner bohemian with glass-blowing, pottery and other classes. Cambria features miles of beachfront and is home to a burgeoning population of elephant seals, as well as to uber-art galleries, farm-fresh dining and myriad B&Bs. These range from Her Castle (with woodland orchards that make you forget about the catcall-inspiring pun), to the Blue Whale Inn, which sits atop a precariously perched bluff, to the romance of Victoria’s Last Resort where, undoubtedly, the Queen would not approve.
The largest Cambrian draw, indubitably, is Hearst Castle, famously known as the inspiration of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, in turn the inspiration behind “Citizen Kane.” The castle’s opulent yet reserved beauty is a reminder of life before The Depression (the one that happened in the 1930s, for the younger readers). The truly lucky and/or the hippotigrine-obsessed may catch a glimpse of the descendants of the zebras that once comprised Hearst’s menagerie. (www.seecambria.com) — M.M.

Middle earth: Olympic Peninsula

In most places, summertime is heralded by typical warm weather preparations, like washing that chlorine smell out of your old swimsuit, or rinsing off the old slip-n-slide. But in Southern Nevada, summer means that we’ll be dreaming for months of a kinder sun — one that does not wish us dead. For those of you who turn into heliophobes during the month of June, consider the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, a place whose stormy gloom welcomes over-baked Nevadans, and also vampires, who chose the area for its fortress of cloud cover. In the last five years, the area has been besieged by adolescent Twihard girls who make pilgrimages to eat at the same diner as Bella and Edward. Despite this setback (or asset), the place brims with haunted charm.
Hike the moss-covered trails of the Hoh Rainforest, a place so verdant and lush that you’ll want to pour all that green into a glass and drink it. Nearby Lake Ozette is also a great spot for encountering the forest primeval. An elevated wooden walkway will take you across the marshy rainforest floor and onto a beach adorned with tide pools and littered with fascinating detritus — flame-colored starfish, ocean-made walls of timber, and the occasional Japanese aluminum can that drifted its way across the Pacific. Strangely, the Olympic Peninsula reminds me a little of the Nevada desert. There is something very post-apocalyptic about both places that’s conducive to imagining what the world would look like without people (if you ignore the Japanese aluminum can). After a day of imagining an unpeopled world, you’ll probably want to be someplace warm and snug. Stay at the Sequim Lodge and enjoy the finer things humanity has to offer: kitchenettes, Jacuzzis and ocean views. (www.nps.gov/olym) — S.K.


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