California Cruizin'

Discovering the Hidden Jewels Throughout America's Golden State

Fashion Island

Shop. Dine. Enjoy. These three words sum up the feeling of Fashion Island, a luxurious, one-of-a-kind, outdoor shopping mall right off the Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. IMG_6806
The first time I heard about Southern California’s most ritzy and glamorous mall, I imagined a shopping complex surrounded by water. But when the signs took me off the Pacific Coast Highway and up the hill toward a sprawling Mediterranean style development encircled by fancy office towers, IMG_6814 IMG_6796I was disappointed at first.  And as I cruised around the huge mall complex, I began to notice that the entire mall was within the wide avenue I was on. Chuckling, I realized that I had driven around an island, just not one that is surrounded by waterways but by a smooth boulevard.

One of my favorite Southland destinations, (not necessarily for shopping but meeting friends over coffee), I have been there many times. Alone, with family and visiting friends, I always find a reason to visit Fashion Island.  And like today, I met up with one of my fiends at the hip Pain Du Monde Café right across from Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales, enjoying a little bit of French flair and a fine café au lait.
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So, whether you’re a lucky Southern Californian or a sun seeking tourist, Fashion Island is the place to splurge. IMG_6797
From specialty shops and fancy department stores IMG_6804 to fine restaurants and cafes, you will find your own little treasures;  IMG_6819even if it’s just relaxing in one of those cushioned armchairs beckoning around gushing fountains and blooming sidewalks. IMG_6788 IMG_6785

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Coasting in Carlsbad

If you want a quick get-away that eases your mind and refreshes your body, Carlsbad is the place for you. IMG_6769

A sprawling beach community 30 miles north of San Diego, and gateway to the famous Legoland, this “Touch of Paradise,” as it is advertised in local brochures, offers everything you’re looking for in a laid back beach vacation. IMG_6766

And that’s what my Hubby and I did last weekend relaxing under a blue banner of sky, the sweeping views of crystal beaches and the Pacific Ocean breathtaking. Going Slow…like the many locals and vacationers splashing in the surf, jogging on the beach, and gazing at the sun.  IMG_6775

This visit wasn’t our first to Carlsbad. A spa weekend at the La Costa Resort and a stroll through the brimming Carlsbad Flower Fields were our introduction to this quaint IMG_6748   seaside town. We decided to check out the Hilton Oceanfront Resort and Spa, http://www.hiltoncarlsbadoceanfront.com, not knowing that it was quite a ways from the Village where all the action was happening. Scouting out the area by foot, we found some nice place to stay for our next visit. The Tamarack Beach Resort, tamarackresort.com, the Ocean Palms Beach Resort, http://www.opbr.com, and the Beach Terrace Inn, http://www.beachterraceinn.com, are centrally located in or near the village and right by the beach.    IMG_6693IMG_6750IMG_6753  

Anxious to discover more, we ventured down the stairway to the beach, IMG_6672IMG_6665

browsed antique shops and boutiques in the village, and savored the most delicious hummus at the Armenian Café while a hip swinging Belly Dancer showcased her power of seduction. The next day, The Daily News Cafe right on the main drag was our choice for breakfast while for dinner  a burrito called to us at the popular Mexican Restaurant, Norte.

Although Solana Beach, Del Mar, and San Diego were calling to us, we weren’t that keen on doing the drive. We have done the touristy stuff; having dinner at San Diego’s vibrant Gas Lamp District, watching a show at Sea World and wild animals at the San Diego Zoo. We considered riding the COASTER, www.gonctd.com, a commuter train that runs north-south through San Diego County between Oceanside and downtown San Diego, but instead opted out for relaxing by the hotel pool in the late afternoon looking up into this beautiful view.  IMG_6712

And as the sun dove into a glittering sheet of sea, IMG_6692     the dramatic sight and rainbow hued sky left me breathless for a moment. IMG_6739  I remembered the lovely Hawaiian sunsets and said to myself that from now on I don’t have to go over to Maui for I’ve found my little Hawai’i right here in Carlsbad, just 80 miles down the coast from Long Beach. IMG_6728

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Dance of God

Cruizin’ down Long Beach’s Second Street during lunch hour today, I stopped at the Natraj Indian Restaurant. IMG_6651  http://www.freewebs.com/lbnatraj

My husband and I have been savoring their scrumptious menu many times, so I know the owner Mr. Singh and his bubbly wife, Babbljit, Bubbly, as she likes to be called, I’m not kidding you. And bubbly she is this sweet faced woman from the Northern Indian State of Punjab.
Having lived in Punjab at one point in my life, I feel an affinity with this fascinating land and her people. So, greeting Mr. Singh in his native Punjabi when we first met, naturally we become friends ever since we dined at the Natraj a few years ago. IMG_6648
Mr. Singh, who proudly wears a beautiful turban, today it was sapphire blue, is proud about his Sikh heritage, hence the picture of Guru Nanak, the father of his Sikh faith, I noticed on the wall behind the buffet. He insisted to have his picture taken with me and we did. Copy of IMG_6647  Hailing from Jalandhar, a bustling metropolis in the heart of Punjab, this Indian son arrived in the US in 1992 to work in the restaurant. Since 2004 he is a proud partner and runs the family owned business, making sure that guests get the ultimate Indian dining experience indulging in the many dishes his Northern Indian cuisine menu offers. IMG_6645 From Tandoori specialties and Biryani dishes to lamb, poultry, seafood and vegetable curries, the choice is overwhelming. IMG_6644 And not to forget the scrumptious rice dishes, naans, rotis, parathas, and kulchas, specialty breads arriving at your table fresh from the oven even before you’ve had a chance to finish the last one in your basket.
So, I encourage you to start cruizin’ and explore India’s cuisine right here at your fingertips. Natraj, Mr. Singh tells me means Dance of God, and is open for lunch from 11:00am–2:30 pm and for dinner from 5:00-10:00 pm, 7 days a week. Dishes can be ordered mild, medium, or hot, and the all inclusive buffet during lunch hours is the best way to savor some of the best Indian specialties for a bargain prize. Get in the groove and enjoy the Dance of God.

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Faces of Cruizin’

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