Summer Vacations : Diverse California Vacations Just a Drive Away

The Grimms are free-lance writers/photographers living in Laguna Beach.

California's incredible diversity means that you don't have to travel very far for an enjoyable summer vacation.

Here are some of our favorite Golden State getaways, ranging from the seashore to the mountains to the desert.

Some of these destinations are well-known, others a bit offbeat. Included are suggestions for dining and lodging, along with telephone numbers for more information and the one-way mileage from Los Angeles.

Napa Valley. Although sampling the grape is the major pastime of vacationers in America's most renowned wine region, there's much more to enjoy than the 150 wineries in the beautiful Napa Valley.

You can watch California's own Old Faithful Geyser, and have a mud bath at Calistoga, founded in 1859 as a hot springs resort. Visit the Sharpsteen Museum to recall the town's early days, then get an aerial view of the valley during a scenic glider flight, tandem sky dive or hot-air balloon ride.

At St. Helena, literature lovers see the works and mementos of Robert Louis Stevenson in the Silverado Museum, which is devoted to the Scottish-born writer's life.

Near that charming 19th-Century town is a first-class resort, Meadowood, where guests play tennis, golf and croquet. Other top retreats are Auberge du Soleil near Rutherford (with a hillside restaurant that attracts gourmet diners from miles around) and the sprawling Silverado Country Club close to Napa.

Chambers of commerce: Napa, (707) 226-7455; St. Helena, (707) 963-4456; Calistoga, (707) 942-6333, and the Napa Valley Tourist Bureau in Yountville, (707) 944-1557; 505 miles.

Julian. This century-old mining community in the back country of San Diego County dishes up plenty of nostalgia, including hot homemade apple pie in the bakeries and restaurants. (Try Mom's Pie Shop or the Julian Pie Co.)

You can ride down the main street in a horse-drawn carriage or go for a rural tour in a wagon pulled by draft horses. Follow a prospector into the Eagle Mine to hear his tales about Julian's gold-rush days, then wander through the town museum that's crammed with memorabilia.

Spend the night in the Julian Hotel, which opened its doors in 1897 and is now a 16-room bed-and-breakfast inn. Also quaint are four antique-decorated cabins called Julian Farms Lodging.

Campers can bed down in nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park or William Heise County Park. Before you leave town, drop by the Julian Drug Store for a sarsaparilla or a brown cow at its old marble-topped soda fountain.

Julian Chamber of Commerce: (619) 765-1857; 180 miles.

Cambria/Morro Bay. The cool central coast offers relief for families from the San Joaquin Valley, but Southlanders also are discovering its quiet charms. Besides sunbathing, beachcombing, fishing and swimming at the ocean's edge, visitors descend on Hearst Castle for a guided tour of the hilltop estate that is California's most popular historic monument.

Stay at the Inn at Morro Bay in Morro Bay State Park where you can hike along nature trails, golf on an 18-hole course and canoe or kayak around the protected bay within sight of landmark Morro Rock. Dine on seafood at restaurants that overlook fishing vessels in the scenic harbor.

Shop for antiques in Cayucos, an unassuming coastal village just north of Morro Bay, and look for more collectibles in Cambria, an attractive tourist town just off Pacific Coast Highway.

After shopping (don't miss The Seekers' two stores with artistic creations of glass, ceramics, porcelain and wood), enjoy a fine meal at Ian's, Grey Fox Inn, Brambles, Rigdon Hall or The Hamlet at Moonstone Gardens.

Cambria boasts friendly B&Bs;, plus a dozen delightful lodgings within the sound of the ocean surf along Moonstone Beach Drive.

Cambria Chamber of Commerce, (805) 927-3624, and Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, 772-4467; 230 miles.

Sacramento/Gold Country. Follow California 49 to the small towns and mining camps of California's Mother Lode. The winding route takes you 250 miles through the scenic western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

Today the gold rush is to quaint shops, restaurants and inns along the way. Don't miss Columbia and Marshall Gold Discovery at Coloma, both state historic parks.

To the west is Sacramento, our state capital that has brought back its early days with the restoration of Old Sacramento along the river front.

A highlight for train buffs is the California State Railroad Museum. Elsewhere in town you can tour the restored State Capitol, the former governor's mansion and Sutter's Fort State Historic Park.

Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, (916) 442-5542; 386 miles.

Palm Springs/Coachella Valley. The Golden State's premier desert destination in winter is becoming a hot spot for vacationers in summer, too. One reason is that most lodgings are staying open all year, including the historic 1920s La Quinta Hotel, Golf and Tennis Resort that just completed a $45-million expansion.

A major draw is the big off-season reduction in room rates throughout the Coachella Valley. An example: This summer you'll pay a bargain $50 a night midweek at posh La Quinta; in winter the same room costs $185 to $235.

Palm Springs is sprinkled with more than 7,900 swimming pools to help visitors and residents keep cool in the Colorado Desert, and a popular place to get wet is Oasis Water Park.

You also can beat the heat by riding the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from the desert floor to a refreshing forest atop the San Jacinto Mountains. Or cruise around the indoor ice rink at Palm Desert Town Center, an air-conditioned mall with 140 shops and restaurants.

Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, (619) 327-8411; 103 miles.

Long Beach. It's only a short drive to two renowned attractions of the sea and sky, the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose, permanently at Pier J in Long Beach Harbor.

If you spend the night in a first-class cabin, now part of the Queen Mary Hotel, you can tour the grand ocean liner and Howard Hughes flying boat free.

Shops, restaurants and a marina jammed with pleasure craft draw visitors to Shoreline Village on the downtown waterfront. You can go parasailing, kayaking and sailboating in San Pedro Bay.

The handsome Hyatt Regency overlooks the harbor scene and is convenient for strolling around the city's rejuvenated city center.

Along Pine Avenue, restaurants and cafes such as Mum's, Pine Avenue Grill and System M have put life back into old buildings. Go to Maison de France (Cedar at 3rd) to buy antiques or sit down for lunch or dinner; harp music accompanies high tea in the afternoon.

Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Council, (213) 436-3645; 15 miles.

Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. Don't let Yosemite's summer crowds keep you away from an outdoor holiday in the Sierra Nevada. Head to this pair of adjacent national parks at the southern end of the mountain range. Both have magnificent groves of giant sequoias; one towering tree that's named General Sherman is the largest living thing on earth.

Also in the quiet forest are lush mountain meadows, dramatic granite-walled canyons, sparkling waterfalls, beautiful rivers and lakes and caves with fascinating marble formations. The parks have 14 campgrounds (only Lodgepole, with 250 tent and RV sites, can be reserved through Ticketron).

Rustic cabins, cottages and motel rooms are available at Giant Forest and Grant Grove villages; call Guest Services for reservations, (209) 561-3314.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, (209) 565-3341; 240 miles.

Ojai. Inland of Ventura is the Ojai Valley, a peaceful place with artists, orchards and a relaxed life style that's easily adopted by visitors.

Check into historic Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club, a 220-acre resort that was completely renovated last summer. After a game of tennis or round of golf, bicycle to the village center to browse in Ojai's gift shops and art galleries.

Every Sunday, artists also display their work in a bank parking lot along the main street, Ojai Avenue. Some of the painters, ceramists and sculptors have studios in their homes and welcome visitors.

A few roadside stands sell oranges and other fruit; stop at Friend's Ranch on the way to Wheeler Hot Springs, where you'll be soothed by mineral baths and massage.

Fitness fans can sign up for the daily or weekly program at Sheila Cuff's famed health spa, The Oaks at Ojai. If you don't care for her low-calorie meals, dine with delight at Ojai Valley Inn, Ranch House and L'Auberge.

Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, (805) 646-8126; 85 miles.

Temecula. The rolling hills of a former ranch are marked by rows of grapevines instead of grazing cattle. Temecula Valley near the Riverside/San Diego county line has become the state's southernmost wine region and even has been awarded its own appellation. You can tour 11 wineries, including well-known Callaway and the relocated John Culbertson Winery.

Other labels to look for are Mount Palomar, Filsinger, Hart, Cilurizo, John Piconi, Britton Cellars, Maurice Carrie, Baily and French Valley.

Pack a picnic to enjoy on your tasting tour, or dine in the delectable Cafe Champagne at Culbertson Winery. Linger longer to explore the antique shops in the old Western town of Temecula. You'll find lodgings amid the vineyards in the new six-room Loma Vista Bed and Breakfast, and south of town at a popular golf resort, Temecula Creek Inn.

South Coast Vintners Assn., (714) 699-3626, and Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, (714) 676-5090; 95 miles.

Idyllwild. The tranquil town of Idyllwild is a summer hideaway high in San Bernardino National Forest. Vacationers sleep among the trees in state and county campgrounds or in comfortable cottages.

A host of nature trails wind through the woods, including a short self-guiding path at the Idyllwild Park Visitors Center. Inside are Indian relics and exhibits about the lumbermen and miners who settled the area in the 1870s.

A main road in the small community leads to Fern Valley, and is lined with gift shops, restaurants and lodgings.

Families often fill the town when students arrive for summer programs in visual and performing arts at the acclaimed Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA).

Book well in advance for rooms in Idyllwild's two B&Bs--Strawberry; Creek Inn and Wilkum Inn. Among favorite dinner houses are Restaurant Gastrognome and the Chart House, which also are open for Sunday brunch.

Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce, (714) 659-3259; 113 miles.

Channel Islands. Santa Catalina is the best known of Southern California's offshore islands, but you also can visit Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and San Miguel. Those five islands make up Channel Islands National Park, an almost untouched habitat for plant, animal and marine life.

Island Packers, a concessionaire based near park headquarters in Ventura Harbor, offers access by boat and operates most tours. Other outings are organized by The Nature Conservancy (Santa Barbara), Channel Islands Adventures (Camarillo) and Island Adventures (Ojai).

Most are day trips, but you can camp out (with a park permit) on San Miguel, Anacapa and Santa Barbara. Overnight and longer adventures are offered to Santa Cruz, with rustic accommodations at Christy Ranch or Scorpion Ranch.

Naturalists and park rangers guide visitors to sights rarely seen, such as San Miguel's caliche forest, age-old trees encrusted with minerals.

Be sure to take binoculars and a telephoto camera lens on these unusual nature excursions that include 3 to 12 hours at sea.

If you don't like to sail, one tour goes by small plane to Santa Cruz Island, a 20-minute flight from Camarillo.

Channel Islands National Park, (805) 644-8262; Island Packers, (805) 642-1393; Channel Islands Adventures, (805) 987-1678, and Island Adventures (805) 646-2513; 72 miles to Ventura Harbor.

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