21 MAY 2013: Things I can’t live without – Hollywood movies, sun, sand and more Hollywood movies. California’s proven itself in the past on all three but can it pass the smell test these days? Is it still all that dreamy?

Recently the folks from Visit California, the state’s tourism board along with 20 other state reps hit Toronto’s own cinema gathering place: the TIFF Bell Lightbox at the tony moderne Malaparte to wine and entice local media-types on what makes their state, well so darn dreamy.

Jennifer Sweeney from Visit California says we should expect plenty of family-type adventure this summer like Seaworld’s two new attractions: the Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation opening in June and Aquatica, a new waterpark.

Now for the dream list:

Los Angeles

This dream-come-true starts with the LAX arrival experience. New this summer is the state-of-the-art Tom Bradley International Terminal. “We want visitors to really get a sense of L.A. when they arrive to experience the shops, amenities and restaurants,” explains Kimberli Samuel from the L.A. Tourism and Convention Bureau on how to snag your client’s attention.

Even this car crazy city is trying to go green in an ultra forward campaign called “CarFree LA.” (www.discoverlosangeles.com/CarFreeLA ) “Basically we want you to enjoy the city without having to use your car,” she says on the available itineraries from cycling, walking to public transit.

Santa Monica
Venice Beach’s next door neighbour embodies hip, edgy, with the doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously vibe and knows quality and the arts. Enter the Twilight Concert Series. “We’re using the Santa Monica Pier and beach for this,” begins Kelly Nagle with the Santa Monica CVB. Expect free concerts on Thursday nights at this legendary landmark and enjoy live music to a stunning sunset. Another fun note: the concert series is partnering with N.Y.’s Central Park so expect an impressive lineup of musicians.

Beverly Hills

Definitely tops as a place where dreams have come true. Over by the Grand Dame, the Beverly Hills Hotel, this wondrous structure is having a few nips and tucks as it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2014 so expect glitz and glam next year. Plus in the meanwhile there are plenty of other milestones and facelifts (and not of the celeb kind) occurring there. For starters, the Hollywood sign is 90 and the swanky pool at the iconic Beverly Hilton Hotel is undergoing a reno.

Universal Studios

Always wanted that Hollywood VIP treatment? Well Trana Pittam from Universal Studios Hollywood wants you to know the exclusive behind-the-scenes tour once offered to celebs and dignitaries is now available through their VIP Experience. “Go behind the scenes, and get in front of the line to all the attractions in a limited time,” she notes plus there’s a gourmet lunch and a visit to the Edith Head building to see costumiers in action on current works.


Try foodie central. This Bay area community an easy ferry or train ride from San Francisco has been attracting big name SF chefs who are busy putting down their stakes at what Kim Bardakian from Visit Oakland describes as a place with an edgier, hipper vibe. “We probably have a new restaurant opening every week.” Hmmm, sounds like a plan.


This iconic sixties Flower Power capital and all the hippy references you can find still retains that edgy, bold spirit as Dan Marengo, communications manager with Visit Berkeley, tells me. Standing in front of a Ziggy Stardust framed pic you can’t help but smile when Dan discovers he’s standing by one of his idols. “I was that guy,” he laughs as he shares more Berkeley notes with me.

Downtown Berkeley has a new boutique hotel, the Hotel Shattuck Plaza with its familiar Berkeley stamp of course. “When you walk inside this 100 year old structure, in all its art deco glory, head to the lobby and look at the floor,” he says. “You’ll see a peace sign there.”

Meanwhile the local arts museum big on Asian and California pieces is getting a new home. The site of the new space-agey looking structure which incorporates University of California Berkeley’s old printing factory is being built at the downtown university campus. (I love this old-new idea plus images of printing presses churning out petitions and protest signs). Expected completion date: late 2015-early 2016.

San Francisco’s Pier 39

Have a client who can’t find the impossibly unbeatable city view? Send them to Pier 39 for the ultimate city money shot. Other highlights: book a ferry ride or better yet speed boat cruising to Rock’n’Roll music as you twist and turn by the historic and trendy waterfront. Besides the best views of the city by the pier, the boat sails under the two bridges (Golden Gate and the Bay) and cruises the bay.

Another fun fact: sea otters. These cute mascots have become a symbol to the pier and are very popular welcome wagons. Sightings are excellent. Get here via the San Francisco trolley.

Costa Mesa is 92626

Only a mile from the coastline in the heart of Orange County is this enclave that got its start as lima bean central. “We were the largest lima bean producer in the country,” starts Kim Glen from Costa Mesa ready to dish the secrets on what makes her spot so enchanting. Fast forward the farm country a few decades and the land’s sprouted California’s largest shopping plaza, South Coast Plaza. TV shows like OC, 90210 and Clueless referred to the pop retail hangout. Why else should you go? Try Segerstrom Center for the Arts located across the street from the illustrious retail plaza.

Now if star spotting is your dream grab your camera because the story goes actress Gwyneth Paltrow and others are known to drop by for some heavy duty retail therapy. Who wouldn’t? Kim says many times garments only used on the runway in NYC make their way to these shops.

Ritz Carlton Laguna

When they built this stunner of a property back in the shoulder pad 80s (try 1984), it was the height of TV blockbusters Dallas and Dynasty. So imagine what this luxe property overlooking the ocean offers.

A recent soft renovation has interior updates but the other cool summer thing-to-do is to experience a live art show called the Pageant of the Masters at an open air amphitheatre. A scintillating 90-minute performance art show portrays great works of art with this summer’s theme: The Big Picture.

It’s all about people dressing up re-enacting scenes from old movie classics plus in previous years the show has re-enacted Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned painting, “The Last Supper” with a costumed person made up as Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

Inquire about the Ritz Carlton’s special “Behind the Velvet Rope Experience” allowing exclusive behind the stage opportunities to rub shoulders with these artists.

Santa Rosa
In the heart of the Sonoma Valley comes this town harbouring some cool trends. Right now: urban wineries. Walk inside a stationary shop in downtown and saddle up to a couple of planks hovering over a barrel and be prepared to sample various wine flights from the local wineries.

Another big favourite Brad Calkins from the Santa Rosa CVB tells me is taking a biodynamic trolley at the Benziger Family Winery and heading to their wine cave for private dining. It’s great for groups.

And of course Charles Schulz fans will not be disappointed. Always wanted to know where he crafted his memorable cartoons and what an original Snoopy house looks like? Head to the Charles M. Schulz Museum there to see his original studio recreated plus see the masterful artist Christo’s work in which the French renowned artist has added a special touch to a Schulz classic. He’s wrapped Snoopy’s House. Why did Christo do it? “Who’s not a fan of Snoopy?” asks Brad. I agree.

So it looks like California dreams are still being made. Bravo! I say.

For more info see http://www.visitcalifornia.com/

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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