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A final taste of California

- October 2nd, 2010

My final taste of California came courtesy Project Bandaloop, a group of dancers who honour nature through their unusual performances. On Thursday night, the group was dancing vertically on the wall at the Renee and Henry Sergerstrom Concert Hall, located close to South Coast Plaza.

Securely harnessed, lit by colourful spotlights and joined at intervals by musicians and video projections, the performers wowed a large outdoor crowd with their sky high acrobatics and cheeky performance style.

And then, it was time to say good-bye to California. I had an amazing time discovering not only the celebrity culture of Los Angeles, but the outdoor activities of Venice, the art and crafts history in Laguna Beach and unparalleled brand luxury of South Coast Plaza.

Maybe the Beach Boys really were onto something when they sang, “I wish they all could be California girls.”

- Nicole Feenstra

Thanks to the California Tourism & Travel Commission for sponsoring this media trip. For more information on travel to California, visit www.visitcalifornia.com.

All wrapped up in SoCal luxury

- October 2nd, 2010

I spent most of Friday in transit, on my way back from balmy Southern California to chilly Toronto, but not without squeezing in a little more west coast luxury first.

On Thursday afternoon, our press group was given an exclusive tour of the South Coast Plaza, a luxury “shopping destination” in Costa Mesa too swanky to even allow itself to be called a mall.

South Coast Plaza houses more than 250 boutique and department stores, some of which are only located in this part of California. The Plaza receives more than 22 million visitors annually from around the world who spend an average of $1 billion a year.


The storefront of Christian Louboutin.

With 2.8 million acres of retail and dining space, no tacky food courts, four concierges across the property willing to assist with any need and a VIP-only Access Lounge – where, if you’re feeling a little tired, you can stop for a cappuccino or to watch some sports – I found it quite easy to give in to the brand high I felt when poking around stores like Gucci, Prada and Nordstrom.

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The Access Lounge at South Coast Plaza.

Truth be told, a tear of pure adoration almost escaped my eye when browsing the latest collection in Dior. I finally understand why Carrie Bradshaw finds it so easy to binge on designer purchases.

For those on a budget, South Coast Plaza also features an array of affordable options like H&M, Crate & Barrel and Zara.

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J’adore Dior.

Diana Jennings, founder of Brand You Image, a personal shopper and a style consultant at South Coast, navigated our group on the haute couture safari through the Plaza. She has helped a range clients – some famous, others just in need of a wardrobe pick-me-up – with a range of needs, from choosing an entirely new closet of clothes to updating a make-up routine.

“It’s about understanding what each brand communicates,” Jennings says of helping clients. Once a customer completes a personal style assessment, she is able to match the brand personality to that of her clients.


Diana Jennings of Brand You Image.

Choosing the right hues and cut for a customer are also imperative. Jennings used the example of a bride who, once she knows what hue compliments her the most, can then use that colour on her bridesmaids and flowers to keep the focus of the wedding on her.

It was with much regret that I was torn away from South Coast at the end of our visit. I may not have been able to afford much in this destination, but the designer contact high was certainly a good one.

- Nicole Feenstra

Getting active in California

- October 1st, 2010

Californians are an active population. The temperate weather and near lack of rainfall in the state encourage outdoor activities, as does the array of natural features that seem to beg to be explored, from the surf-perfect waves of the Pacific Ocean to the rugged mountains.

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, my home for the final two nights of my SoCal media trip, takes advantage of its pristine oceanfront setting to promote eco and active travel right on the property. 

The Ritz-Carlton has partnered with the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment Program to give guests both an educational and personal experience with SoCal’s ecosystems. All programs are guided by naturalists and cater to different ability levels.

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The view from a patio at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

The Ambassadors in the Kitchen option provides a tour of the resort’s organic garden and compost area, followed by an organic cooking lesson in the kitchen. There are also whale watching, snorkeling, boogie boarding and nocturnal nature tours available for visitors who want to explore outdoor areas near the resort. 

I was fortunate enough to participate in a different kind of active excursion at the Ritz-Carlton this morning: yoga in a gazebo overlooking the ocean. Though I’ve taken yoga classes in the past, the view of the Pacific Ocean while standing in mountain pose heightened my zen feeling. The low-impact, hour-long class is offered every morning at 9 a.m. to all guests of the Ritz.

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The view of the ocean while doing yoga in the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel’s gazebo.

The morning of active and adventure travel continued when a La Vida Laguna van shuttled our press group to Main Beach for an eco-kayak tour of Laguna Beach. 

Never having kayaked before, I was initially terrified of tipping my craft, but found the hour-long paddle along the coast to be exceptionally easy (perhaps because I shared my kayak with a more experienced journalist from Vancouver) and filled with spectacular sights. In addition to the million-dollar hillside properties hovering above us, dolphins playfully surfaced and jumped out of the water as we paddled toward them, while sea lions lazed on large rocks closer to shore. A guide was with our group the entire time and, when lightning started flickering in the distance and the surf started getting rougher, made sure we safely rode a wave back to the sand. 

I had never considered myself an adventure tourist. Walking city tours are often as active as I get on vacation. California’s nature, though, begs to be discovered. From a hike in Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon Park to a journey with the California gray whales as they migrate from Southern California, this Eden for the active traveller has more than its fair share of nature’s beauty. 

- Nicole Feenstra

A work of art

- October 1st, 2010

I was excited to see my finished candle after a surprisingly fun arts and crafts session yesterday at Pure Light in Laguna Beach. Shop owner Judy Kelly kindly dropped the finished product off at my home-away-from-home, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, for our press group today. I have to say, my project turned out pretty well and the fruity fragrance currently filling my hotel room (without even lighting the candle) is equally sweet.

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Welcome to the O.C.

- September 30th, 2010

Orange County is the California I’ve always fantasized about. 

Our press group arrived in the town of Laguna Beach after a 1 1/2 hour drive south from Los Angeles early this morning. Our route briefly took us on the Pacific Coast Highway, undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular drives. The mixture of coastal views, lightly swaying palms and salty air drifting into our van told me I was arriving in one of the most quintessential SoCal areas.

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Laguna Beach’s Main Beach.

Laguna Beach may be best known in popular culture as the home of Kristen Cavalleri, Lauren Conrad and the other ultra rich stars of MTV’s Laguna Beach reality series. While status – think flashy cars, million dollar hillside homes and gorgeous bodies – is certainly the goal of many in this part of California, surf culture and Laguna Beach’s artistic roots define the area just as much.

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Downtown Laguna Beach.

For more than 100 years, Laguna Beach has been a haven for artists inspired by the beauty of the area. In 1918, the Laguna Art Association was established to promote the town’s artists. Laguna’s first gallery opened the same year. Today, many galleries and arts stores – offering such crafts as oil paintings, glass sculptures and jewelry and maps of the U.S. made from old license plates – dot Laguna’s main core, generously scattered among clothing boutiques, candy shops and surf supply outlets.

Main Beach is situated across the street from the shopping core of Laguna Beach. It’s the perfect place to sit and watch waves crash against the sand while enjoying a gourmet frozen yogurt or test out a newly acquired surf board. It’s also soon to be the location of Pure Light, a niche candle making store big on unique wax creations.

Pure Light is currently located in Festival Center on Laguna Canyon Road, but plans to move to the more pedestrian friendly South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach in the coming weeks. Candle making was an activity arranged for our group to demonstrate the rich arts and crafts culture in Laguna. It quickly became one of my favourite activities of the week and tore down any conceptions I had about the traditional art of candle making.

After arriving in the cozy, fragrant candle store, owner Judy Kelly helped us choose wax colours, a candle mold, a scent and shells, stones and other trinkets which would be used to adorn the top of our unique “candle bouquets.”

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Candle before assembly.

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After assembly.

More than 20 fragrances are offered at the store, where prices start at $8 to create a small candle and go up to $38 for the large, triple wick variety. I chose a barrel-shaped mold and shades of green and purple waxes to compliment my vineyard scent choice.

Using a sturdy tool, I broke my chunks of wax into long strips and began placing them inside my mold. After filling my mold with seafoam, deep green and purple waxes, Judy poured translucent wax over my creation to give it its final shape. We then arranged small shells, bits of crystal, stones and a small mermaid statuette on top of the still-hot wax to create my bouquet.

Candles can take two to three hours to cool, so I’ll have to wait until I’m reunited with my creation tomorrow to see the final product.

After our crafts session, more sun and sand was in order. Our group dined on the roof of the Hotel La Casa Del Camino, an unassuming property steps from beach with very affordable room rates, 10 custom rooms designed by surf companies like Quicksilver and a rooftop lounge and indoor restaurant that was still buzzing with locals when we departed around 9 p.m.

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Sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

The sunset over the Pacific Ocean, viewed while dining on a surprisingly cheap – in cost, definitely not taste - filet mignon and sipping a pineapple mojito, was as fiery and pink as I’d ever seen. Boarders tested the waves of the ocean below us well into the evening. Perhaps they were reluctant to let the SoCal heat wave go to waste. Or, perhaps, this is just another typical Wednesday evening in Orange County.

- Nicole Feenstra