Lucky me, I was given the writing assignment to “go west” right before an east coast winter snowstorm. “Which California town will you cover for the pet travel issue?” my editor queried. I immediately replied, “Take me home!”
It’s okay to return to this “corral of western regalia”. It’s darn nice to visit the National Treasure, a mission that is the oldest in California, and it would be so much fun to travel around in a convertible with a dog by my side, along the Pacific Coast Highway. The first thing everyone asked was, “Where is this paradise found exactly?”
San Juan Capistrano, California! It’s an hour and fifteen minute drive south from Los Angeles or half-an-hour between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s a five-hour flight from New York City by American Airlines to Los Angeles, while Continental Airlines flies you closer from Newark to John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach.
The big joy when I hit California soil was not only the eighty-degree winter weather, but the addition to my sister Jane’s family, a new canine member named Buddy. This precious pup was a furry little Shnoodle, half Schnauzer – half Poodle. He was a Christmas gift for my nephews Taylor and Tommy. I immediately fell in love with Buddy, and I wanted my own!
We decided the way to pick the perfect dog for me was to spend time with different dogs, taking sightseeing tours around San Juan Capistrano and bordering beach communities, Dana Point and Laguna Beach.
San Juan Capistrano has successfully maintained a sense of being the oldest city in Orange County. It embodies a significant period of time in the history of North America when California wasn’t yet part of the United States. The Spanish explorers serving the monarchy, made expeditions by land and sea along the Pacific, and thought they had truly found paradise when arriving in San Juan Capistrano.
The first pup I auditioned on a spin in my red mustang convertible was Eugenia, a West Highland Terrier. An important point to remember when driving in California on holiday with your pet, is to secure your pup in a safety harness if you drive a convertible or an open truck.
Now, with Eugenia by my side, I was feeling like a cowgirl cruising the open road. I was fearless, singing Beach Boys songs and country tunes. We seemed to attract lots of honks, jeers and “right-ons” from strangers. “Hmm,” I thought, “this Eugenia is quite the guy magnet.”
Later, I went back into San Juan Capistrano’s center of town, shopping in charming stores with another canine friend, a German Shepherd, named Greta. In this quaint square there is also a wonderful restaurant called German Restaurant Café Mozart. Greta sat on the large patio watching the water fountain trickle in the midday sun, nodding approvingly of my tasty spaetzle and red cabbage lunch.
31952 Camino Capistrano
Make sure to drop by other historical spots in the center of town such as the El Adobe restaurant where Clarence Brown purchased the original 1841 adobes and turned them into today’s El Adobe de Capistrano Restaurant. The restaurant opened for business on July 8, 1948, with the wedding reception for the first Commanding General of Camp Pendleton, General Fegan.
31891 Camino Capistrano
I discovered an umbrella-covered patio just up the way from El Adobe called L’Hirondelle Restaurant (which means Swallow in French). My nephew told me the terrace was one of the family’s favorites, because they can bring their dog Buddy for Sunday outdoor brunch.
31631 Camino Capistrano
My favorite outdoor spot for breakfast, in the same area, is called the Ramos House Café, established in 1881. Several pets were dining al fresco, as there isn’t an indoor dining area, just an outdoor terrace overlooking the Mission Church duomo. Every kind of flower imaginable grows here, and my mother who joined me at one of her favorite locales, reminded me that roses bloom here all year-round!
31752 Los Rios Street
My Mom and Dad took me on a picnic to the Dana Point harbor where the grass knolls are a central casting spot for dog parades. I met an over- zealous Cockersnitz named Katie, a shy Dalmatian named Gaylord, and a very feisty Cockapoo named Lady Bug. A Sheltie named Max became my newest canine friend and acted as my protector while watching the birds swoop down to devour our lunch.
Next, I headed up the coast five miles to Laguna Beach to pick up my friend Steve’s dog, an English Setter named Katie. I wanted to find out if I’m an English Setter kind of gal. Upon my drive north, I found one of the best-stocked pet stores in Southern California called Wilds Animal Supplies. Laguna Beach is an artist colony, surf haven, and one of the last California bastions where walking is more popular than driving.
27932 South La Paz Rd.
South Laguna is headquarters for the glorious hotel, The Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel. Situated on its own prominent California cliffs, a group of us took our dogs for a yummy teatime. The hotel even facilitated pet babysitters for us. For a very exclusive stay at the Ritz Carlton, try their Mediterranean property that offers pet packages.
Try Montage Resort and Spa located on the Laguna Beach Coast, if it’s a luxury beauty getaway that you’re looking for. This serene setting will calm even the most incorrigible road rage. Montage’s Surrender program was named “Top U.S. Resort Spa” by Celebrated Living. A customized personal spa menu can be tailored to service your every whim.
The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort in Dana Point is a great stay at a great price, with hillside ocean view rooms overlooking Dana Point harbor.
A newly remodeled bed and breakfast, Mission Inn is located in the heart of San Juan Capistrano next to the Mission. This B&B offers reasonable prices at a convenient location.
I still haven’t decided which breed or mutt is right for me – but maybe I’ll figure it out on my next Animal Fair adventure! Stay tuned!