Sensei Porcupine Creek: A Real Life Mirage in Rancho Mirage
By Leslie Westbrook   |   April 16, 2024

After a three-day wellness program visit to Sensei Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage, California, I can honestly say that the bar for health retreats was set incredibly high. I’ve visited many stellar “health retreats/spas” over the years (Rancho La Puerta is a favorite that comes to mind), and this one is right up there in […]

Nuthatch Nirvana
By Chuck Graham   |   January 9, 2024

During the fall, when it’s hot and dry on the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island, cold, crisp, purple grapes are a must-have fruit on the largest isle off the California coast. It’s also a time for annoying, seemingly perpetual deer flies that seek moisture out of the ears, nose, and eyes. To momentarily escape […]


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More from Montecito

The Burly Shorebird of Distant Shores
By Chuck Graham   |   December 19, 2023

It was getting dark, and I was tired and hungry. It had been a long, great day, but I needed to land my kayak for the night. The day had begun at Yellowbanks on the southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island. From there, I paddled the entire south side of the largest, most diversified isle […]

Hugging the Island
By Chuck Graham   |   December 5, 2023

It was a microcosm of the island biome, where multiple species benefited from the hard work of one marine mammal species and the help of a narrow, craggy sea cave battered by a surging, Southern Hemisphere swell. I was kayaking back from an early evening surf session, and as I hugged the sheer cliffs of […]

A Grand Weekend at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point
By Leslie Westbrook   |   November 14, 2023

Why travel? To celebrate a special occasion? Birthday, anniversary, retirement, new job, you name it.For a change of scenery? To alleviate boredom? To explore new regions, to be pampered or just sneak off and indulge? Whatever your reason, I love flopping onto a freshly made bed in a hotel room – preferably with a view […]

Rafting Up
By Chuck Graham   |   October 31, 2023

It was a rare summer day along the Southern California coast, as the fringe of Hurricane Eugene crept northward from Baja, California, into the sleepy coastal town of Carpinteria. It was early August. Since pre-dawn dark clouds had delivered steady rain, as water droplets trickled down the tinted glass of my beach lifeguard tower. The […]

Grassland Solitude
By Chuck Graham   |   October 3, 2023

From afar, the Temblor Range in the Carrizo Plain National Monument was swept in different shades of yellow. Rancher’s fireweed, goldfields, and hillside daisies brightened the arid mountain biome. From where I stood at the base of the Caliente Mountains looking east, it was the only color on what are typically barren hillsides.  Another super […]

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  • Ritz-Carlton Bacara: Out-of-this-World Experience in Our Own Backyard
    By Leslie Westbrook   |   August 29, 2023

    Why would anyone want to spend $55 million for a three-day trip to the moon on SpaceX (estimated cost in the future) when they could merely drive 15 minutes from Montecito to The Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort and book an “out of this world” spa experience? I indulged in “Body Melt,” an 80-minute treatment that has […]

    Patience is Required
    By Chuck Graham   |   May 16, 2023

    Not too much of it though, myself and the western gulls were growing anxious. However, all I had to do was observe and study the throngs of those hungry seabirds, and then eventually the drama unfolded. The northern elephant seal colony above San Simeon and surrounding the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse on the Central California Coast, […]


    By Chuck Graham   |   April 4, 2023

    As I do most days after leading a kayak tour at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, I took a stroll with my camera after everyone had left the island and returned to the harbor in Ventura. As small waves crashed on the deserted, cobbled shoreline, I noticed something odd approaching the beach just before […]

    By Chuck Graham   |   March 21, 2023

    As I walked across an icy Pixley National Wildlife Refuge (NWF), five miles west of Highway 99, it sounded as if I was inside a packed house of a football stadium. It was an hour before sunset, and it sounded as if it was that loud. Just past sunset, squadrons of migratory sandhill cranes were […]

    Pismo, Paso, and Pooches!
    By Leslie Westbrook   |   March 7, 2023

    After the deluge, I took a quick, much-needed weekend jaunt up the coast. Our Central Coast hills, highways, and byways were verdant after the rains, making it hard to believe it’s still winter. Well, California winter. Tourism was evident (but not too crazy) and staffing issues are still difficult in the hospitality trade. Los Alamos […]

    Down for the Count
    By Chuck Graham   |   February 21, 2023

    I was on an early morning beach run in Carpinteria, pink and orange hues melding across the eastern horizon. While weaving my way in soft sand past wintering killdeer and western snowy plovers, those hardy shorebirds thoroughly enjoyed the wrack lines of tattered giant bladder kelp left behind by the previous high tide. Later that […]

    Lots of Hugging
    By Chuck Graham   |   January 17, 2023

    We hugged the crumbly west cliff face of Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel Island with no expectations from the seat of our kayaks. From afar, we couldn’t see any wildlife, but we could clearly hear first-year northern elephant seals snorting and bellowing on distant pocket beaches concealed along the rocky shoreline. I was paddling with […]