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Greetings from California! Last week we left off in Laguna Beach. This week we have some fun in the sun in L.A. and San Diego.

Before we get started I want to alert everyone that we made a Hurricane Katrina webpage. It's for everyone affected by the hurricane - which is all of us. On that page -- besides travel news -- is information on where to donate money, miles and points. Please do what you can, and keep everyone in your prayers.

AVP
After rejuvenating in Laguna Beach I went back home to L.A. to catch up on my work. Over the weekend I went to the Manhattan Beach Open . This event is considered the Wimbledon of beach volleyball, and the finals were televised nationally on NBC. I went to both the menís and womenís finals, and for the first time I enjoyed the womenís more. Not because they are nicer to look at, but because their games were more exciting (even despite better seats for the menís).

The best part of the AVP is the atmosphere. To kick it off, some hot actress/singer in a bikini stands on top of a Baywatch-esque lifeguard truck and belts out the national anthem. Then the MC gets everyone in the whole stadium riled up about being on national TV, and gets everyone to do the wave. But itís not your ordinary stadium wave; here they do in all different speeds, including slow motion. Thatís really freaky. Iím sure there were passersby thinking they drank too much the night before -- I sure did, and I donít even drink. If you go on Friday or early Saturday you can catch some of the best players, like Karch Kiraly, up close on the smaller side courts. To see if the AVP is coming to a beach near you, click here. If youíre interested in beach volleyball history, click here.

DODGERS
In L.A. I also took in a couple of Dodger games with friends. Tickets arenít that expensive (they range from $5-$75), but they get you once youíre there. Parking costs more than some tickets ($10). And if youíre hungry or thirsty, you better have lots of cash: $5 for bottled water, $5 for peanuts, $4.75 for an all-beef Dodger dog. When I asked what was in the inexpensive dog, the guy said, "Bits and pieces of toes, fingernails, and stuff you donít want to eat." I made a few nasty expressions, then said, "You sold me. Iíll take the all-beef please."

No matter how much it cost, Dodger stadium is still worth it -- Itís one of my favorite ballparks. I love the atmosphere, the location with 3,400 trees covering 300 acres, and the incredible views of downtown L.A. As an added bonus, Vin Scully broadcasts Dodger games. If you canít make it to the stadium, lie down with your eyes closed and turn on the radio or TV, and let him bring you virtually to the ball park. Dodger Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA.

TO SAN DIEGO
While I was at a Dodger game my cousin A.J. called and invited me to see the Padres play in San Diego. Of course I said I was in, because ever since they got a new stadium last year I wanted to check it out. (One of my life goals is to go to all 30 major league ballparks. Iíve been to 14, but teams keep building new ones which messes me up). When I asked him "when?" I wasnít expecting "tonight." However, just being at one ball game already wouldnít prevent me from going to another. I told him Iíd meet him there. If I had known earlier I could have jumped on the 2 hour, 40-minute Amtrak train (called the Surfline Coaster) from nearby Union Station for $26 each way. I hear the train is real easy, scenic, and takes you right to downtown. But because I needed to go home to change clothes and grab my overnight bag, I drove the 120 miles. As usual I hit some traffic along the way, so it took me two and a half hours.

PETCO PARK
The Padres stadium is called PETCO Park (Iím not a fan of the name either). The stadium is in the heart of downtown, with easy access by car, trolley, the Surfline Coaster, bus and (in the future) water taxis. Architecturally, the stadium is magnificent. The exterior features natural stone and stucco, with lovely landscaping and waterfalls. Inside the concourses are spacious, open and airy. The 42,445 seats are comfortable, with cup holders and extra leg room -- and thereís not a bad seat in the house. For my first visit I got styled in a BIG way! While I was still on the freeway A.J. had a cool guy named Darin, who works for the Padres, call me and give me directions to a special parking lot. When I pulled in Darin was there waiting with a golf cart and a security guard (like I needed security). As they shuttled me into the stadium the back way I was thinking "are you kidding me?" Ė but it was only the beginning. Our seats gave us access to fine dining in a posh restaurant and lounge, a private bar, and in-seat service. And get this: It was all included in the price of the ticket. I have no idea how much these tickets cost (only 200 people have them), but regular tickets run from $5 to $55.

PADRES VS THE REDS
AJ and his good friend Nick were already in these amazing seats, right behind home plate. We were so close that I could not only see but FEEL the game (I wonít bad mouth the Yankees when they strike out any moreóbecause those pitches were coming in at lightening speed). The Padres were playing the Cincinnati Reds, and Nick and AJ have mutual friends on the team. As a Yankee fan I didnít care who won, but because of their friends I was rooted for the Reds like they were the Yanks. Fortunately, San Diego is not like other cities where if you cheer for the visiting team you better prepare to rumble (though we were heckled a bit).

The park is really awesome, and I had so much fun I went back two weeks later. This time I sat way out in right field, and it was still great. The food options are way better than any other stadium I have been to, and the prices were cheaper than Dodger Stadium. My favorite part of the park is that itís built around the 95-year-old Western Metal Supply Company Building, to which the left-field foul pole is attached. I didnít go inside, but it looks neat. PETCO PARK tours are available until October 1, 2005; Tuesday-Sunday, 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.; $9 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children under 12. Call 619-795-5011, or email tours@padres.com. The most convenient hotel is the Omni, which is attached to the ballpark by a skybridge.

REDS
As you can tell Iím a huge baseball fan, so I was blown away when some of the players chatted with AJ and Nick while they in the on-deck circle. After the game we waited for some of the players in a tunnel near the locker rooms. Two of their friends, Adam Dunn and Ryan Freel, came out and invited us to the locker room. Iíve never been in a major league locker room before, so it was a huge treat. It was especially fun to see guys like Ken Griffey Jr., who I watch on TV, just hang out. I didnít want to look like a fool so I didnít take many pictures, but the locker room was plush and all the players were really friendly. Ryan gave me one of his bats Ė how cool is he?

SIDE BAR
After a while everyone agreed it was time to go out. Nick threw me the keys because he knew I wanted to drive his brand new SUV (though he warned me the car was his wifeís "baby"). I drove with Adam Dunn in shotgun (the dude is 6-5), AJ, Nick and Felipe Lopez (shortstop) in the back seat, and Ryan in the way back with the glass hatch open. (The dude is hilarious -- he insisted on sitting back there because he was the smallest). Since the stadium is downtown we should have walked the few blocks to the to the Gas Lamp district, where all the happening bars and restaurants are. We didnít realize traffic was so insane on weekends until after we pulled out of the exit. It took 20 minutes to go a few blocks. Parking is not cheap in this area (most charged $13, and valet was $20). We went to a popular place called SideBar (itís so hip they donít even have a sign). The line wrapped around the place, but when youíre rolling with baseball players and Nick Lachey lines arenít a problem. We got the VIP treatment in a big way. We were escorted right in, and brought to a private section. The girls were going so nuts, they had to put four security guards into a human wall. I was thinking, "Why you blocking them?!" When Nick, Felipe and I had to go to the bathroom, I asked a guard where the loo was. He said, "In the back -- wait one minute." He grabbed another guard and put us in the middle, while they parted the crowd with their flashlights. Then they prevented anyone else from going in to the bathroom until we were done. I was like, "Damn! This is crazy!" Sidebar, 536 Market St, San Diego; tel.: 619- 696-0946.

THE NEXT DAY
We all went to bed early. We slept at the monster house of a friend of AJís (who wasnít even there) in La Jolla. The place was so nice that it was used it in the movie "Traffic." It was pretty cool the next day when I turned on the tube and saw Ryan, Felipe and Adam. They all played really well, and Dunn hit a grand slam to help the Reds win. The Reds players were so cool that Cincinnati is my new second favorite baseball team.

NBTA
The second time I went to San Diego was for the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) conference. Every year itís held in a different city (next year is Chicago). I like going to this conference because not only do I hang out with my travel writing friends, but I get to hear and check out major business travel industry news before anyone else. This year more than 5,200 corporate travel professionals attended the four-day conference. My favorite part is walking the trade show floor. Over 400 companies showcased their products and services, using 102,100 square feet of exhibition space Ė thatís huge. Among the highlights were sitting in some of the airlinesí new premium seats, and learning about new services like a start-up business class-only airline called EOS. EOS will begin flying 757ís from New York to London this month with only 48 plush seats (instead of the usual 200). All of the booths are very creative, and companies try to outdo each other by giving away free drinks, food, goodies and gifts.

Every day during the two-hour lunch, top keynoters spoke. The first was Tom Ridge. The former Secretary of Homeland Security discussed the current state of security, and its impact on travel. On the second day Deborah Norville (host of "Inside Edition") talked about finding a balance between professional and personal responsibilities. Finally, John Major -- former prime minister of the United Kingdom Ė spoke about the global economy.

ESTANCIA
During the conference I stayed 15 miles away at a new boutique hotel called Estancia. Itís located in La Jolla (near the beaches, close to San Diego's finest golf courses, and not far from major San Diego attractions) on 10 acres of property that were once owned by the Scripps Family, the noted philanthropists. In 1948 it was turned into an equestrian ranch, to train young thoroughbreds. Pulling into the gravel driveway (self park $15, valet $17) I felt as if I had traveled to the Old West. The setting was simple: California rancho-style architecture with several low rise buildings featuring red-tile roofs and faux-adobe walls, built around beautifully landscaped courtyards and patios.

The staff were all friendly, and dressed in chic tweed vests, white shirts and khaki pants. The bellmen wore matching tams. This hotel and spa attracts both business (free wireless internet) and leisure travelers, who come to relax and enjoy the beautiful, serene setting. There are 210 well decorated rooms and suites (the different colors work well: my room had a pumpkin color chair, green armoire and red door). The beds are comfortable, and the bathroom is immaculate. Many rooms have balcony/patios, which make for relaxing places to chill. I was busy mingling at NBTA so I did not have time to eat in one of the three hotel restaurants, but they looked very cozy and tasty. I wasnít able to try out the spa, either. It offers citrus body scrubs and outdoor massages. Thatís part of the reason this place was nominated as one of Conde Nast Travelerís 2005 "Hottest New Hotels in the World." I did find time to relax in one of the hammocks by the pool and Jacuzzi. An outdoor fireplace is nearby -- a perfect place to warm up on chilly Southern California evenings. Rates start at $169. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, 9700 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla; tel.: 858-550-1000.



Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!


L.A. & SAN DIEGO WEB RESOURCES

  • Manhattan Beach Open
  • Dodger Stadium
  • Amtrak Surfline Coaster
  • Padres
  • Reds
  • PETCO PARK tours
  • Sidebar
  • National Business Travel Association (NBTA)
  • Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa


  • RECOMMENDED SAN DIEGO BOOKS & MOVIES

  • Frommer's San Diego 2006
  • Fodor's San Diego 2006
  • San Diego 2006 Calendar
  • Hidden San Diego : Including La Jolla, the Zoo, San Diego County Beaches, and Tijuana



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