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Holiday Road Trip (December 2013)

January 6, 2014

Because things tend to slow down in the business world around Christmas, my company likes employees to use vacation time instead of sitting idle in the office.  While any time off from work is exciting, it’s always been hard to use the vacation time for travel at this time of year because of the holiday travel crowds.  There’s also not a compelling reason to leave Scottsdale in the winter because it’s sunny and 70 degrees every day.  On the other hand, I hate to give up an opportunity to travel, so a road trip that keeps me away from airport hassles seemed like a great solution.  Pam and I came up with a general plan, packed up the Prius, and headed West.

The initial drive brought us to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.  It’s always a bit shocking to experience the traffic and crowds of LA, but once I acclimate, I always seem to enjoy certain elements of the area.  Yes, I understand the irony of wanting to avoid crowds on this trip and making LA my first stop, but somehow LA crowds are still better than airport crowds.  Being such a diverse city, there’s also quite a few choices for good food.  Real Food Daily is one of those good choices, and has always been one of my favorite vegan restaurants.  That was the first food stop of the trip and it didn’t disappoint.

There are a lot of neighborhoods to explore in LA, and since I’ve been doing a lot of swimming lately, I was interested in finding a good masters swimming workout.  Showing up to swim with a bunch of strangers can be a bit weird, sort of like going to a new school, but I was pleasantly surprised at the friendly atmosphere of the Culver City swim program, not something I’d expect in a big city.  The workout was solid, coached by a silver medalist in the Montreal Olympics.  I thanked him after the workout to which he jokingly replied, “If you’re thanking me, then I didn’t make the workout hard enough.”  I think the best thing about the workout was the pool, an outdoor 50 meter pool with wide lanes.  “Long course” pools like this one mean more swimming and less flip-turning, a delight for a pool swim.

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Our next stop was just north of LA, Agoura Hills, where we met some friends for dinner at Hugo’s.   The next day, after a decaf latte and a vegan muffin at 10 Speed Coffee, I enjoyed time in the Santa Monica mountains on some unique mountain bikes.  One bike had a titanium frame and the other had a bamboo/carbon frame.  Each bike had its own personality, so it was fun to be able to experience both of them, as well as try some new trails.

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Having heard good things about Ojai, that was the next stop on the trip.  Although it is a quaint little town, my experience didn’t quite live up to the reviews I had read.  The highlight of the visit was lunch at Hip Vegan.  There were some nice hillside views in the town as well, but my expectations of a spectacular sunset were not fulfilled, so it was back to Oxnard for the evening.  Most of the Hampton Inns that I stay at for work are fairly basic, so it was a nice surprise to have this view from our Hampton in Oxnard.

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There is a really nice bike path from Ventura to Ojai, so the next day we had lunch at Nature’s Grill and rented a tandem to try out the path.  Tandem bikes make for great rentals because Pam basically gets a free ride and I get a good workout.  We both think we’re getting the best part of the deal.  After a slightly uphill 11 miles to Full of Beans Coffee, we headed back to Ventura and enjoyed the extra speed of the downhill.

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Being the day before Christmas, it was very timely that our next stop in Santa Barbara took us right by … Santa Claus Lane.  Sadly, when we took the exit and checked things out, there was no sign of Santa himself.

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After a tasty Christmas Eve dinner at Olio Pizzeria, we spent a fairly mellow Christmas Day in Santa Barbara.  The following morning, I found another long course pool to enjoy, and joined the Santa Barbara Swim Club for an early morning workout.  Next on the agenda was a day of wine tasting, which was an effortless task thanks to Sustainable Wine Tours.  I’m still partial to Napa/Sonoma wines, but a day in the Santa Ynez Valley still makes for a great day.

Wanting to make the most of our beachside location, I enjoyed a run in the deep sand on the morning of our departure.  Deep sand running is a great workout, and since a Las Vegas stay was coming up, I figured I had to get another good workout in before we headed to the decadent city.

After a quick stop in Joshua Tree National Park, we arrived at our fancy hotel in Vegas.  The Cosmopolitan is one of the newest hotels on the strip, and thanks to Pam’s gambling style, the hotel was nice enough to give us the room for free (Pam kindly donated back in gambling losses).  With sweeping urban views from the 34th floor, it had a great city feel.  There were even good views from the shower, which of course meant that if you didn’t angle the shade properly, people could see in as well if they had a good pair of binoculars.

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Having read Miki Agrawal’s book “Do Cool Sh*t” I wanted to try her new restaurant in Vegas.  Well-hidden in an office building in downtown Las Vegas, Wild was a pleasant departure from traditional downtown Vegas fare, and worth the drive downtown.

Despite all the energy in the air as Vegas prepared for New Years Eve celebrations, Pam and I ended up having a fairly mellow visit.  She never fully recovered from the day of wine tasting earlier in the week, so we didn’t spend much time at the tables.  On our second night in town, we saw a second tier show, Recycled Percussion, which was entertaining enough, especially given the bargain ticket price.

So, after a successful 11-day road trip, we headed home.  Back home in time for New Years Eve, I celebrated by going to bed a 9 pm.

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