What's New in California
Great dining is a staple of the California lifestyle, and a new young generation of chefs is challenging old ideas about preparing and presenting great food. Food-truck frenzy has created a movable feast up and down the state. Esteemed chefs and urban foodies follow the trucks on Twitter as they move around cities 24/7 purveying delicious, cheap, fresh meals. In L.A., chef Roy Choi started the movement when he began serving up his Korean/Mexican Pacman burgers from his Kogi BBQ truck. The Spencer on the Go truck hangs out in SoMa in San Francisco, dishing such delicacies as escargot puff lollipops. In SoCal, you can find food-laden trucks at sports and entertainment venues, near parks and attractions, and on busy roads and boulevards—and the ensuing lines of hungry patrons.
California chefs continue to shop locally for produce and farmer-sourced meat. Tender Greens (with locations in Hollywood, Pasadena, and Walnut Creek) sets the bar high by serving hand-raised produce from an Oxnard farm; grain-fed, hormone-free beef; hand-raised chickens; and line-caught tuna.
California's theme parks work overtime to keep current and attract patrons of all ages. LEGOLAND California Resort keeps expanding with new attractions such as Pirate Reef and LEGOLAND Water Park. And LEGOLAND is opening its 250-room LEGO-theme hotel in 2013.
Captain EO, a 3-D film starring Michael Jackson, is back at Disneyland. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, also 3-D, has a new look, and World of Color in Disney California Adventure Park, presents an outdoor light and water show.
With trees as tall as they come, the Children's Redwood Forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is open after a major fire in 2003.
Evidence that California wine culture is alive and well comes from Temecula, which is emerging as an exciting wine destination in the Inland Empire. The number and quality of the wineries continue to grow: Thornton, Ponte, and Mount Palomar wineries offer fine dining to pair with their delicious Rhône-style wines. Hotels are springing up among the vineyards, and events such as the Balloon and Wine Festival draw thousands of visitors to the region. Winemaking is also expanding in the Central Valley and Shasta Cascade areas. In SoCal, vineyards are going up in unlikely places, such as in the hillsides of San Diego County, where Escondido-based Orfila keeps snagging awards, and on Catalina Island, where the Rusack family planted the first wine grapes ever on the historic Escondido Ranch. The Turkovich Family Winery opened in the Central Valley town of Winters just west of Sacramento. The Truckee River Winery, near Lake Tahoe, claims to be the highest and coldest winery in the nation.
Hotels are coming back to life in a big way. The luxurious new JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton stand side by side in the burgeoning L.A. LIVE sports and entertainment complex. The W Hollywood now occupies the famed corner of Hollywood and Vine, another hot spot just steps from the Pantages Theatre. Visitors to Yountville in the Napa Valley have another lodging choice, the Bardessono, a LEED-certified hotel that sports an eco spa and an underground geothermal system. Park Hyatt Aviara has taken over and renovated the former Four Seasons in Carlsbad.
Riding the rails can be a satisfying experience, particularly in California where the distances between destinations sometimes run into the hundreds of miles. You can save money on gas and parking, avoid freeway traffic, and see some of the best the state has to offer.
The best trip is on the luxuriously appointed Coast Starlight, a long-distance train with sleeping cars that runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, passing some of California's most beautiful coastline as it hugs the beach. For the best surfside viewing, get a seat or a room on the left side of the train and ride south to north from San Diego to Oakland.
Amtrak has frequent Pacific Surfliner service between San Diego and Los Angeles, and San Diego and Santa Barbara. These are coach cars, but many of the trains have been upgraded and are comfortable and convenient, especially if you want to get off and on the train at several destinations—Anaheim near Disneyland, downtown Los Angeles, coastal Ventura and Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Oakland (just a BART ride to San Francisco).
Head for the Hills
Things are looking up for visitors to California's alpine recreation areas, thanks to a host of enhancements. Yosemite National Park observed its 120th birthday in late 2011 with some new ways to see the park. Yosemite Guide Service offers guided day hikes, customized driving tours, and backpacking trips. You can also take Yosemite Audio Adventures CD tours with you as you explore the park.
It's Easy Being Green
The Golden State is glowing green all over. It's the only state in the nation to mandate green building codes for all new construction to reduce greenhouse emissions. Santa Barbara's car-free program can save you up to 50% on lodging, meals, and, of course, transportation. Palm Desert is also pushing green, not only in sustainable construction but also in encouraging use of golf carts for local transportation.
Agritourism in California isn't new (remember, Knott's Berry Farm once was a berry farm), but it is on the rise, with farm tours and agricultural festivals sprouting up everywhere.
Wine country is a particularly fertile area—spurred by the success of vineyards, the area's lavender growers and olive-oil producers have started welcoming visitors. Sonoma Farm Trail Tours include walking the land and a farm-driven dinner with paired wines.
In the Central Valley, America's number-one producer of stone fruit, you can travel themed tourist routes (like Fresno County's Blossom Trail) and tour herb gardens, fruit orchards, organic dairies, and pumpkin patches.
In Southern California, public gardens bloom abundantly year-round.
State of the Arts
California's beauty-obsessed citizens aren't the only ones opting for a fresh look these days: its esteemed art museums are also having a bit of work done.
Following a trend set by the de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Getty Villa in L.A., Long Beach's Museum of Latin American Art doubled its exhibition space. Meanwhile, San Jose's Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (MCASD Downtown) have both expanded into new digs. And the Palm Springs Museum of Art has morphed into a world-class showcase for contemporary work. The L.A. County Museum of Art keeps expanding its Wilshire Boulevard campus; the latest addition is the Renzo Piano-designed Resnick Pavilion, which will hold special exhibits.
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