Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gluten-Free Road Trip: California Dreamin'

I'd only been to California once. It was more than 10 years ago on a short business trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco. I promised myself that I would go back and check out what I missed the first time - and I missed a lot. My wife spent a summer in Los Angeles in between college semesters, and longed to return. So it didn't take much for the four of us to agree on a West Coast summer vacation.

We chose to hit southern California on this trip, figuring that there was more to do with the kids. Despite our penchant for long-distance driving, we opted to fly via Virgin America, a West Coast-based airline that recently began flights to Los Angeles (and San Francisco) from Philadelphia. We packed some snacks for the plane both ways, but also ordered some through the interactive screens in front of our seats. The gluten-free choices included a Waldorf salad, popcorn, mixed nuts, Popchips and a cheese & fruit platter.

After picking up a rental car at LAX, we headed south to La Jolla. Along the way - the only time we hit the feared southern California traffic - we stopped for lunch at Yard House [GF menu] at the Irvine Spectrum Center, where our older son ordered a jasmine rice bowl with shrimp and vegetables. The kitchen substituted gluten-free sweet chili sauce for the standard rice bowl sauce. (Yard House, known for its extensive beer list, has Redbridge and Brunehaut Bio Ambrée, a deglutenized Belgian ale.)

See's Candies, a West Coast-centric candy shop, had an outpost at the Spectrum Center, where every item was gluten free. Free samples, too! The California BrittleMilk Butterchews and the coconut-topped Kona Mocha candies were our favorites.

Hours later, we checked into the Sheraton La Jolla, about 20 minutes outside of San Diego. While not a beachfront property, the hotel neighbors the famed Torrey Pines golf course and is a short drive from the stunning La Jolla Cove. Exhausted from a long travel day, we went into town and had what was our best meal of the trip. Similar to our own Pure Tacos, Puesto is an all-gluten-free Mexican street food restaurant. The made-to-order meals are cooked on a plancha grill just behind the counter. The four of us shared a bunch of steak, chicken and salmon tacos topped with crispy melted cheese. Simple, inexpensive and tasty. (Incidentally, a great resource for all things gluten free in the San Diego area is the Gluten Free in SD blog.)

The beach town was filled with cute boutiques and shops. Among them was Cups, an organic bakery that has at least three gluten-free cupcakes on hand daily. The first night, we sampled PB Cup and Raspberry Cheesecake and returned the next evening to try Old School Vanilla, PB&J and Bunny Love.

After dinner, we walked over to the Cove and marveled as the sun set beyond the Pacific Ocean.

After eating breakfast at the hotel, we began our only full day in La Jolla by returning to the beach, planting our gear in front of a lifeguard station. This proved fortuitous, since my wife was soon stung on her left foot by a stingray while wading in the ocean. Neutralizing the venom required her to soak her foot in scalding hot water for an hour. That and an antihistamine pretty much wiped her out for the morning.

The kids spent the afternoon at the hotel pool while my wife recuperated. She was game enough to venture out for dinner at Roppongi [GF menu], an Asian tapas-style restaurant in La Jolla. (Roppongi has the same owners at Sammy's Woodfired Grill, where we shared gluten-free thin-crust barbeque and margherita pizzas for lunch.) The food at Roppongi was excellent, although the service was decidedly less so. Our older one began his meal with a California roll (and gluten-free soy sauce) and sweet corn soup with lobster, but watched us eat the rest of our meals while he waited for the Indonesian chicken satays.

After I posted a picture of said sunset on Facebook, an elementary-school friend of mine who now lives in Laguna Beach messaged me to see if we would be anywhere near her town. Actually, I wrote back, we did plan to stop there on the way to Anaheim, our next destination. It seemed that we would not be getting together since she had to work. She did, however, recommend that we visit the public Table Rock Beach. We parked along the Pacific Coast Highway and as we descended a flight of steps on the way to the beach, I heard someone calling my name. My friend spotted us as she was pulling out of her condo parking lot. (Fate? I'm always amazed when that happens. Had we hit one more light or left 30 seconds earlier from the hotel . . . .) I introduced her to my family as we tried to catch up ever so quickly before she left for work. We soaked in the rest of the afternoon on a pristine stretch of the Pacific Ocean.

Next: A Whole New World: Disneyland and Anaheim
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