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California beach vacations

Three unique choices for Golden State beach vacations

By CARY ORDWAY

Summer is almost upon us and there is still time to plot your course to an unforgettable California beach vacation. But with hundreds of miles of coastline and a wide choice of beachfront resorts, how do you decide which one?

Included here are three examples of prime spots for a California beach vacation. Each has its particular advantages, and they're spread out geographically. So get out the sand toys, pack up the surfboards and let's take a look at some of the best that California has to offer.

Seascape Resort

The northern coastline of spectacular Monterey Bay hasexpensive homes built on the high bluffs to take advantage of one of California's most scenic ocean vistas. About 10 miles south of Santa Cruz, one of the most commanding viewpoints is the property occupied by Seascape Resort, an upscale complex with hundreds of condo-style units that are used both as vacation homes and beach rentals. This is one of the most popular places for California beach vacations.

The beach here is down a short walking path from the resort. The trail takes you on a nature-walk through a canyon of windswept pine trees, shrubs and rocks and then, in just a few short minutes, the trail opens onto a beach so wide and long it could accommodate hundreds of beach-goers and still feel somewhat private. The visitors to Seascape Resort spend considerable time down here, walking the many miles of the seemingly endless beach — a packed beach with just a thin layer of sand making it easy on the feet and perfect for all types of play. The surf pounds hard at times although, during our visit, dozens of visitors were spending time in the water.

Back at the resort, families enjoy spending time in the gigantic swimming pool, or walking the well-manicured grounds. The lodging at Seascape offers all the comforts of home — and then some. The resort offers four-diamond amenities such as a spa and room service. The units are spacious and well-equipped; in fact, our suite included a fireplace, a wall-mounted flat screen TV, a stereo CD and radio, fully equipped kitchen, dining area and table, living room with a couch and easy chair, and a couple of well-furnished upstairs bedrooms. The outdoor patio was especially enjoyable and offered a partial view of the beach.

And there is a lot to see nearby. Near the resort is Seacliff State Beach, known for its fishing pier and a concrete freighter, the Palo Alto, beached just offshore. The ship was towed to the beach in 1930 and spruced up so that visitors could walk the pier to the 430-foot-long vessel and climb on board. But the company offering the tours went broke, the ship was stripped, and today it is simply a unique addition to the Seacliff Beach landscape.

We enjoyed a short trip for dinner to nearby Capitola. Look up California Beach Community in the dictionary and Capitola has to be Exhibit A. The drive into town drops down in elevation as you wind your way through charming small-town streets just wide enough for one lane in each direction. This is an artsy, scenic town located where the Soquel River meets a wide beach that is popular with local surfers. Boutiques, eateries and vacation rentals keep the town abuzz with visitors who may drive down from San Jose or even San Francisco for a day of people-watching from one of the restaurants that overlook the river and the beach. People of all ages frolic here on what is considered one of the Central Coast's most colorful beaches.

For more information about California beach vacations at Seascape Resort, phone 1-800-929-7727, or visit www.seascaperesort.com.

Dolphin Bay Hotel

One of the newest hotels along California's Central Coast is the Dolphin Bay Hotel and Residences in Pismo Beach. The hotel adds an exclamation mark to an area already known for some of the most appealing condos and hotels in California. Pismo Beach is so long and wide that it's hard not to have a gorgeous ocean view when you stay anywhere along the coastline here. The natural scenery as well as a long list of recreational activities make this one of the most popular spots for California beach vacations.

We were told before arrival to be prepared for our ocean-front unit to be unusually well-equipped and not a typical resort condo. True to the advance billing, this hotel unit — a condo-style home, really — was like stepping into a model home you might find at an upscale housing development. The difference here, of course, was that this was perched on a cliff overlooking Shell Beach, an extension of the much broader Pismo Beach.

The gourmet kitchen was striking — Wolf and Sub-zero appliances, custom cabinetry, all color coordinated and looking like a picture out of Better Homes and Gardens. Cuisinart table-top appliances helped create the impression that someone had thought of everything. If you can't afford this kind of stuff in your own home, here is the chance to see how the other half lives -- if only for a few days at a time.

The home theater is sure to be a favorite with families — surround sound and a large rectangular flat panel TV made the living room seem like theaters you only find in the most expensive residences. Top-grade hardwoods, travertine flooring, solid-core doors and tightly woven carpet all add to the sense that you're getting an up-close look at the good life.

The accommodations at Dolphin Bay are so unique visitors will be tempted to spend entirely too much time at the resort. A getaway on this part of the Central California Coast can keep you hopping and, unless you're a card-carrying couch potato, you'll want to get out and explore.

The ocean, of course, is at the top of the list and we enjoyed some great family time exploring Pismo Beach, checking out the waterfront caves and walking the endless beaches. The funky pier area is loaded with kids' attractions which made our 5-year-old quite happy.

For more information on California beach vacations at  Dolphin Bay Hotel and Residences, phone 800-516-0112 or visit www.dolphinbayhotelandresidences.com.

Mandalay Bay

If you know nothing about Oxnard, it may not be at the top of your vacation list. But while its tourism infrastructure is not quite complete, the area is fast becoming a popular destination for people who enjoy the beaches of Southern California. About an hour's drive northwest of Los Angeles, the area is close enough to major population areas to be accessible, yet undeveloped enough to feel like you're really getting away from the rat race.

Positioned on some of the best real estate in the Oxnard area, the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort is everything that the Oxnard visitor industry wants to be — it's a waterfront playground that has style, lots of amenities, plenty of wide-open spaces and a wide beach that stretches for miles. With its attractive early California Spanish design, the resort includes 248 suites in all. Tropical plants, giant palm trees of every variety and a series of waterfalls give the resort a feeling similar to many beachside resorts we have visited in places like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Cozumel. An inviting pool is the centerpiece for the courtyard while the resort's restaurant and bar areas are nearby.

The beach itself was one of the most inviting we've seen for a Southern California beach vacation. The resort looks out onto an area of sand dunes and, beyond that, the broad beach. Off in the distance we saw the Channel Islands, an easy boat trip from nearby Channel Islands Harbor. Once out to the beach, we noticed that there was plenty of walking -- both north and south -- and, even though this was a warm summer Sunday, not a lot of people compared with other SoCal beaches.

Back at the resort, we settled in for some serious poolside sun tanning and could see that the guests were a mixture of couples and families who seemed typical of the crowd you would find at any Mexican beach resort.

The suites at the Mandalay are spacious and comfortable. Our "king suite" had a king bed in one room and sofa-bed in the other room. The unit was apartment-like with a refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave and wet bar — although you won't need a kitchen for breakfast because a big one is offered free for all guests.

For more information on California beach vacations at Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort, phone 1-805-984-2500 or 1-800-EMBASSY, or go to www.mandalaybeach.embsuites.com.

Photos. from top: Seascape Resort lives up to its name high above the Pacific; Dolphin Bay is a new Pismo Beach resort; Mandalay Bay is located almost by itself in sand dunes near Oxnard and ideal for a California beach vacation

Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other California vacation ideas, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Yosemite National Park, Paso Robles wineries, Balboa Bay Club and California Coast.

Getaway Media Corp publishes websites focused on getaway travel, including www.californiaweekend.com and www.northwesttraveladvisor.com. If you enjoyed reading about California beach vacations, be sure to visit our sites and read the hundreds of feature articles on the many getaway travel destinations in our coverage areas. Like California beach vacations, these other attractions are worth including in a your upcoming vacation or getaway. If you think about it, we're fortunate to live in a place where we can enjoy activities such as California beach vacations without traveling thousands of miles. This is why Getaway Media Corp sites are so popular with the traveling public -- they showcase attractions that are close by and easy to visit on your next vacation or getaway.



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