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Seaside villages

These coast burgs aren't typical beach towns

By CARY ORDWAY

The California Coast is one of the crown jewels of our great state and it's easy to find beach towns all the way from the Oregon border to Mexico. But there are a few placesthat transcend the beach town description to become "seaside villages."

A seaside village is a bit more spectacular than the typical beach town that is normally comprised of a beach, a pier, maybe an arcade or two, tourist shops, some taverns and pizza houses ad infinitum. The seaside village takes that a step further by adding fancy restaurants, trendy shopping and elegant accommodations.

There are several seaside villages in California, but here are a few of our favorites:

La Jolla

This ritzy piece of San Diego real estate is known as the "Village" to locals. It's a gourmet blend of those spices that make life so enjoyable - fine dining, world-class shopping, countless outdoor activities, surf, sand, incredible views and, of course, almost-constant sunshine.

Nowadays, the home values in La Jolla have priced out the average mortal and, if you're living in La Jolla, you've either done very well for yourself or had the good fortune to grow up in a family that bought La Jolla real estate back when local land prices were reasonable - probably sometime just after statehood. With a choice of several tasteful hotels - and, yes, some are quite reasonably priced - visitors can pretend they're living the La Jolla lifestyle for a few days and still go home with money in their pockets.

It all begins with watching the people parade down on Gerard Avenue. Plan to have a gourmet sandwich down at one of several cafes and then plop yourself at an outside table. Leading the parade is a 20-something bombshell dressed in a spaghetti-strapped halter and capris, dragging along a five-inch poodle that is decidedly disinterested in being part of this parade. Next up: a 30-something clean-cut guy wearing lumberjack boots up to his ankles, his pants squished into the boot tops, and his long-sleeve shirt well down over his belt buckle. It must be new La Jolla fashion because his stylish 20-something model-like girlfriend doesn't seem the least bit embarrassed to walk beside him. Then along comes two 30-something men, dressed almost identically in turtlenecks, expensive sports jackets and shades, surely sweltering in the mid-day sun but cool in their own minds. And on it goes all during lunch, making it almost worth the nine bucks it cost for the sandwich.

You might even see celebrities in this neck of the woods. We came upon Geena Davis and her kids one time, while beautiful people such as Cindy Crawford have actually bought houses in the Village. Barbra Streisand is said to have bought her wedding ring down at Bowers Jewelers. Movie and TV filming are common and the longtime series Silk Stalkings used La Jolla quite often to depict the glitzy glamour of Southern California.

Walk down Gerard just a little ways and there seems to be plenty of temptation to bring out your credit card. There are specialty stores like Rangoni Shoes, art galleries like Cosmopolitan Fine Art and Images of Nature, and then more typical "mall" stores like Banana Republic and the Gap. Side streets have their own offerings, many of them related to health, fitness and well-being - even if you need a little plastic surgery to be well.

For more information on La Jolla, contact the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau at (619) 236-1212 or visit www.sandiego.org.

Carmel

Tucked neatly along the southern shore of the Monterey Peninsula is the one-square-mile village called Carmel-by-the-sea, a name that seems fitting for a place known for its fairy-tale architecture and its popularity with artists. Just 4,500 people live in Carmel, but travelers from all over the world find the town an irresistible tourist attraction.

Maybe it's all the press Carmel used to get when its most famous resident - actor Clint Eastwood - was the hands-on local mayor. Or maybe it's the gorgeous white sand beach that's said to be the best on the Monterey Peninsula. Then again, it could just be all of those storybook cottages - the ones with names instead of street addresses - that make Carmel seem like a storybook village just beckoning travelers to visit.

Judging from our recent visit, the appeal of Carmel is all of the above plus a good dose of California history and an excellent selection of top-notch resorts, hotels and tourist attractions either in Carmel or within a few miles.

The village itself is located on a gradual slope down to the beach, the trees in this area thick and hearty and adding just a little of that Hansel-and-Gretel forest feel to go with the storybook cottages. This is no ordinary downtown, mind you - there are subtle differences. For example, there are no street addresses or neon signs. A local realtor points out it requires a permit to wear high heels. And it was once illegal to eat ice cream on the street, although Clint Eastwood's administration made our kid's day by repealing that ordinance.

Somewhere around 50 inns and 60 restaurants are located in a downtown area that is a trove of quaint shops, boutiques, jewelry stores and more than 90 galleries. It's all easily accessible on foot although climbing back up the gradual grade from the beach will make you feel like you've had your exercise for the day.

For more information on Carmel, contact the Carmel Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-550-4333 for a free visitor's guide, or visit www.carmelcalifornia.org.

Sausalito

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco is a place dripping with charm but lacking the Bay area traffic that is so much a part of any visit to that fascinating city - a place where you can gaze at the San Francisco skyline, but not fret about the hassles of navigating through the "Big City."

Look up the term "bedroom community" in the dictionary and it must have a picture of Sausalito, the tiny bayside berg that basically is a narrow slice of waterfront hugging lush hillsides covered with spectacular view homes. Way back before the turn of the century, San Franciscans figured out that Sausalito -- with its postcard views of the city and nearby Tiburon -- was the perfect place to get away from the city, yet still never lose sight of the city.

This town of just 7,500 residents will swell with tourists on any day there is decent weather - which is most of the time - and visitors also arrive by regular ferry service from San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. Conversely, Bay area visitors will use the ample parking in Sausalito and take the ferry to visit tourist attractions in San Francisco.

Like other California luxury seaside towns, the gallery is King in Sausalito - there are 13 of them by our count - and trendy clothing stores are not far behind. Some of the shops offer expensive jewelry, while others offer specialty items such as the unusual papers at Pinestreet Papery or the nautical gifts at the Harbor Shop.

Many of the shops are located in historic buildings on the west side of Bridgeway while, on the east, shoppers enjoy an ever-changing slide show of waterfront views. The Sausalito Yacht Harbor and other docking areas stretch along as much as two-thirds of the length of the waterfront. Some shops and restaurants are built on pilings out in the bay, reminding us of many Puget Sound towns we visited while residents of the Pacific Northwest.

For more information on Sausalito, please go to www.sausalito.org or phone 415-331-7262.

(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)


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