Escape the Winter Blues with a Trip to L.A.
Most of the time, I love living in a part of the country that has four distinct weather seasons. But when winter’s grip is deep and strong, as it is now, I find myself longing for a warm respite. Oh, to be in Los Angeles, where February’s average temperatures range from 49 degrees F to 69 degrees F… where fresh produce still graces farmers markets … where amusement parks still flicker with lights… where you can walk about without the added poundage of winter attire… Let’s go!
Street-walking…the good kind!
Thanks to former (and current) Governor Jerry Brown, who signed a law in 1978 establishing Certified Farmers’ Markets, California’s agricultural bounty is readily available. In Santa Monica, the original downtown market is one of the largest growers-only markets in the country. Additional markets are hosted Saturday (all-organic, and the Pico Farmers Market in Virginia Avenue Park) and Sunday (Main Street). Also on Sundays, kid-friendly markets in Hollywood and Beverly Hills offer balloons and a Kid Zone (complete with pony rides and petting zoo), respectively.
Once you’ve eaten, you can walk off that meal in a variety of distinctive locales. Beverly Hills showcases luxury shopping on world-renowned Rodeo Drive. Start at Santa Monica Boulevard with an imaginary dollar amount of your choosing and work your way toward Wilshire. As you go, you can pick up a beautiful scarf at Hermès, a tailored suit at Giorgio Armani, a luscious leather bag at Prada, stilettos at Chanel, and the perfect bangle at Van Cleef and Arpels. Finish your tour with a refreshing beverage on the outdoor patio at The Blvd restaurant, one of the eateries in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, featured prominently in the 1991 movie “Pretty Woman.”
If you want a guided tour with true insider’s information, head to Venice Beach, where longtime resident Jeffrey Solomon will craft a 2-3 hour tour to suit specific interests at Venice Beach Walking Tours. Famous for its street performers, basketball courts, and Muscle Beach (where the bodybuilding craze took hold), Venice Beach has much history as well, including canals and the famous boardwalk.
For more behind-the-scenes access, Red Line Tours in Hollywood take visitors inside landmarks not generally open to the public, including Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Dolby Theater, where the Academy Awards ceremony is held. You can also see some of the most famous stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame as you traverse two full blocks of Hollywood Boulevard.
Stop and sniff awhile
Perhaps one of the best ways to spend a winter afternoon is to stop and smell the flowers. You can in California, even in midwinter. The Huntington Botanical Gardens spread over 207 acres (84 hectares) and boast 14,000 different plant varieties in specialized gardens, including Rose, Shakespeare, Jungle, Palm and Chinese. Best of all, the gardens are open weekday afternoons in the off-season. The Virginia Robinson Gardens, which surround the first luxury estate built in Beverly Hills by owners of the Robinson department store chain, were bequeathed to Los Angeles County following the death of its namesake. Though advance reservations are required, those who make the effort are rewarded with a walk through the mansion plus an Australian King Palm Forest, the Rose Garden, and Italian Terrace Garden.
Located in Arcadia, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden encompasses a rich variety of plant life as well as outdoor historical landmarks significant to California history. The Queen Anne Cottage is an 1885 Victorian dwelling that invites visitors to peer insider the windows; the Hugo Reid Adobe is a structure built in 1840 and reconstructed using original materials and methods. Visitors also enjoy the soothing sounds of the Meyberg Waterfall and seasonal blooms. For a different experience, the Arboretum offers Yoga in the Garden: an outdoor Hatha yoga class that begins with a brief walk through the gardens.
Even sunny Southern California can have a day without sun. When clouds roll in, locals know to head to the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, voted the “best thing to do on a rainy day” by Los Angeles Magazine. Plants, like the animals, are gathered according to region, so when you’re visiting the Campo Gorilla Reserve, you’ll see plants indigenous to the gorillas’ West Central Africa habitat, including palms, bamboo, pomegranates and ferns. Babies arrive regularly at the zoo; two of the newest are Sumatran tiger cubs, who made their debut in December in Tiger Plaza.
Taking a spin
Even amusement parks stay open year-round in California. Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier has carnival games and a historic carousel. Take a spin on the Pacific Wheel, which towers more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the ground and is the only Ferris wheel in the U.S. that runs on solar power. You can enjoy the view of the ocean without worrying about your carbon footprint! An added bonus is that unlike most other amusement parks, Pacific Park’s rides are á la carte, meaning you can ride just one or two, if that’s all you’re in the mood for.
The Balboa Fun Zone, located on the Balboa Peninsula, has a host of family-friendly rides and the distinction of being one of the oldest amusement parks in southern California. Try your hand at one of the classic arcade games or grab a corndog (or other treat) at a nearby food vendor. If you’d rather be closer to the water, the Balboa Island Ferry whisks passengers back and forth from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula for a mere $1 a ride. Or consider a more personal experience, via Jet Ski rentals or an afternoon of sport fishing.
If you can't make it to sunny California this winter, remember that even on a cold day, if the sun is shining, you'll feel a real boost when you head outdoors, start to move, and feel the rays on your face. Just remember your sunscreen!