Wanderlust: Orange County getaway

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After ‘can I carry your bags?’, the question I am most often asked about my job as a travel writer is, ‘where do you go on vacation?’ I can almost see the questioner’s imagination running wild with visions of ultra deluxe yachts, the kind I associate with Russian oligarchs and their pin thin girlfriends, month-long spa stays, hot air balloon rides over the Loire Valley eating foie gras and quaffing Champagne, and African safaris by pimped-up chopper. It’s a question I often think about as the holidays approach. And truth be told, invariably, my mind goes to my ideal getaway – heading home to Southern California.

I pick up my mutt, a poodle-maltese named Poptart, we hire an SUV (because Poppy likes the view from above, but not hot air balloon high) and hit the road heading south, to Orange County. Television shows like The OC, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and, of course, The Real Housewives of Orange County spin a single, Botox-infused impression of the beach towns between Los Angeles and San Diego that feature some of America’s priciest real estate. However, beyond the clichés of pinch-nosed, bleach blondes sporting Juicy Couture terry mini-shorts and Ugg boots, lies a world of unfussy luxury – the very authenticity I miss while reporting on Maldivian underwater spas and the like.

Around 70km south of LAX is Newport Harbor, one of the largest recreational boat harbours in the United States and home to around 10,000 boats, many of them super yachts. But instead of boarding one of these mega vessels, like many people expect that I do, I drive onto the Balboa Island Ferry, a quaint three-car craft that’s been sailing the 800ft between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula since 1919. Sea lions bark, stand up paddlers row their single oar – and there isn’t a single oligarch or safari animal in sight.

Though I cover many of the world’s finest restaurants, I have a special place in my heart for homey comfort food. And when I’m in the So Cal locale, I always head down the Pacific Coast Highway to La Fogata (3025 East Pacific Coast Hwy, Corona del Mar, +1 949 673 2211) for Mexican quesadillas and fish tacos at prices almost south of the border. Other days, I drive further for the avocado sandwich on gluten free bread from The Stand in Laguna Beach (238 Thalia St; +1 949 494 8101). Though I always try in vain to stifle my craving, I usually end up self-serving a few ounces of my all-time favourite dessert, the fat free yoghurt at CDM Yogurt (cdmfrozenyogurt.com) with its rotating selection among 150 homemade flavours including cake batter, mint chip and oatmeal cookie.

Down time for me does not involve a single spa treatment. Even my workouts on holiday are low maintenance. Either I power walk in the sand to the Wedge, a notorious body surfing spot, or I unfurl my Manduka mat for some solo yoga. At 4kg, my favourite mat is just too heavy to pack in my already overweight luggage, so at over US$100 for a piece of polyester and vinyl, it is my single homecoming indulgence. It really sums up my ideal getaway: comforting, indulgent and exactly what I need.

Follow Cynthia on Twitter: @CynthiaRoams 

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