Patriotic getaways

We're coming up on the most patriotic day of the year, and it's not too late to make plans for a very special Fourth of July. Certain towns and places in California have better patriotic vibes than others and, if you're interested in a Mayberry USA Fourth of July — or some time paying homage to one of our nation's great military generals — we have some suggestions for you. First a couple of patriotic towns:


A trip to the small town of Julian will transport you back through time and offer a glimpse of post-Civil War life in San Diego County. The journey will also take you through terrain that, at times, seems more like the Sierra Nevada range than the foothills east of California's southernmost major city.

Whether you come from the L.A. area through Warner Springs, or from the San Diego area through Ramona, the drive to Julian takes you through mountains, valleys and meadows, and then along forested hillsides as the two-lane road snakes its way up to Julian's 4,000-foot elevation. The views change from minute to minute as you pass farmhouses, horse ranches, cabins and the occasional outpost diner.

Then, suddenly, you're in Julian. No build-up with houses and civilization becoming more and more dense as you near town — you are one minute in the forest, the next minute on Julian's tiny Main Street. The business district, in fact, is only about three blocks long and four blocks wide, although you'll find sporadic businesses outside of the downtown area. On a weekend, about the only place to park will be a tourist parking lot on the southwest edge of the downtown area.

Julian is known for its apples, and a tourist ritual is to enjoy a fresh-baked apple pie and ice cream at one of several local eateries. For a town with just a few hundred souls, Julian has an unusual number of bakeries and pie shops, such as Mom's Pie House, where visitors stop for their obligatory treat.

The town definitely feels bigger on the Fourth of July. This place has become known as the go-to destination for some of that aforementioned apple pie and a very large dose of patriotic fervor in the form of flags that are sometimes carried, sometimes posted or displayed and sometimes worn. Motorcycle groups and just everyday people put on quite a spectacle, and you'll be constantly reminded of that Fourth of July patriotism.

For more information on Julian, contact the Julian Chamber of Commerce at or (760) 765-1857.

Balboa Island

Another place where the American flags are flown high is Balboa Island, in the Newport Beach area.

The island has a tiny but busy Marine Avenue, which is just a few short blocks with about 70 shops and restaurants to explore. This little example of Small Town Americana offers a wide selection of shops in all price ranges as well as several boutiques and galleries.

The downtown shopping area is just part of the attraction on Balboa Island, an island small enough that you can walk entirely around its perimeter in less than two miles. It's fun to observe life on an island that remains exclusive because it is so expensive.

And, most important for the Fourth of July, it's a patriotic little place, too — American flags are posted on most of the homes and along Marine Avenue.

The island is a great escape for a morning or afternoon, and will flood the senses with spectacular harbor views, incredible sunsets and a feeling like you're visiting the California version of Martha's Vineyard. Adding to the flavor is the little ferry that hauls just a few cars at a time from the island over to the Balboa Fun Zone area of the Balboa peninsula. Balboa is connected to the mainland by bridge on the west, but the tiny ferry gets you out on the water for just pocket change.

For more information on Balboa Island, visit

Patton Museum

If your idea of patriotism is luxuriating in some Palm Springs-area resort for the weekend, then you're in luck — just down the road is the General George S. Patton Museum, a treasure trove of military memorabilia that will add a touch of patriotic flavor to your relaxing desert weekend.

Located just off Interstate 10 about 30 miles east of Indio, the museum is a testament to the man and also to his specific involvement with creating the Desert Training Center, a vast desert landscape set aside for tank training when U.S. troops needed to prepare for warfare in north Africa. While Patton ran the center for only four months when it opened in 1942, he was instrumental in choosing where it was located.

The museum tells the story of the training center, but it also is a collection of artifacts from several wars including World War II. It's not in a fancy building and doesn't compare, for example, with the World War II Museum in New Orleans, but it is a fascinating group of exhibits that brings visitors closer to the realities of war. Through its collection of photos and documents, the museum offers a historical account of Patton and his contributions to the U.S. military. There is a large assortment of items actually used in war, from German Lugar pistols to machine guns to gas masks to uniforms and gear worn by our troops in several past wars.

It's as if someone put up a sign that said, "Bring us all of your war memorabilia and leave it here."

Outside the museum are several tanks and other Army vehicles that help visitors envision what tank warfare must have been like in World War II. And it was easy to imagine hundreds of these tanks doing mock battle in these miles and miles of open desert a little more than a half-hour away from today's glitzy Palm Springs.

When you visit the Patton Museum, be sure to stop for a meal at the nearby cafe. The first Patton memorial at Chiriaco Summit was established in 1945 by Joe and Ruth Chiriaco, who operated this cafe. Today it is operated by their daughter, Margit Chiriaco Rusche, who also played a key role in creating the present museum. We highly recommend the homemade hamburgers.

For more information on the Patton Museum, phone (760) 227-3483 or go to

For more information on travel in California, visit

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