The wonderful thing about living in North County is that you have only to drive an hour or less to find plenty of things to see and do. My husband and I did just that on two occasions last month.
Our first day trip took us to Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla with our 4-year-old grandsons, David and Jordan, who always show us how to view the world with new eyes.
What brought us to the aquarium is “Boundless Energy,” a new interactive exhibit that explores renewable energy sources — wind, waves, sun and people power. It features stationary bicycles, kinetic water and metal sculptures, teeter-totters, “wave stations” and more.
We decided the exhibit was aptly named when it comes to little boys. No shortage of energy there.
David and Jordan darted from station to station on the outdoor court, exploring the gadgets and machines that demonstrate alternative energy sources. Over their objections, we finally dragged them from the wave stations where they were focused intensely on creating channels and waterfalls for toy boats.
“This is an aquarium, so we will see fish,” I declared.
Once in the Hall of Fishes, they were enthralled by the jellyfish and the two-story, 70,000-gallon kelp forest with its sharks, eels and rays. I couldn’t miss the seahorse exhibit with its nursery and mesmerizing, continuously running video of a male seahorse giving birth. (Yes, you heard that right.)
The boys also loved Tide Pool Plaza where, with supervision, they touched starfish, sea cucumbers and other creatures that live in the shallow waters just below the aquarium. Adults can get into the act, too, and don’t miss the million-dollar view from the patio.
Our second trip was an adults-only day. We headed north on Interstate 15 to Temecula Valley Wine Country in Southwest Riverside County. I’ve visited Temecula’s Old Town often enough, but it’s been years since I followed Rancho California Road east, where most of the valley’s 30-some wineries and tasting rooms are located.
We passed some of the 30,000 acres of grapevines that are leafy and full of clusters at this time of year. Our final destination: Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards and the Creekside Grille, reputed to have a fabulous gluten-free menu, thanks to winery owner and chief operations officer, Mick Wilson.
He was diagnosed three years ago at age 45 with celiac disease. Strangely enough, his wife, Deanna, received the same diagnosis a year ago. He quickly learned the challenges of eating out that people with this autoimmune disease face. They must avoid wheat, rye and barley.
“It was hard going gluten free,” Wilson said. “I was a beer, pizza and sandwich guy.”
Striving to “take the fear out of eating out” for celiacs, Wilson worked with executive chef Steve Stawinski who developed the gourmet, gluten-free menu now offered at the Creekside Grille.
“I don‘t want people with celiac disease to feel as if they have to settle,” Wilson said.
Now all gluten-free entrees are served on black plates to distinguish them from the regular menu items, and tasty gluten-free breads replace the more common types “that you could play Frisbee with,” Wilson added.
We began our meal on the patio (kept cool with misters) with artichoke rillettes (a creamy spread of artichoke, onion and garlic on gluten-free bread), and local organic beets and goat cheese. Stawinski uses local produce whenever possible. The entrée was a delectable sea bass with perfectly seasoned fresh vegetables and potatoes. And for dessert, the executive chef presented us with sinfully delicious gluten-free tiramisu, s’mores and chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream.
I confess: I had some of each, as well as samplings of Wilson Creek’s Decadencia Chocolate Port (served in dark chocolate cups), and two new champagnes, Peach Bellini, and my favorite by a hair, Orange Mimosa.
One more note if you visit Wilson Creek: Don’t miss tasting the 2010 White Cabernet Sauvignon, a rare white wine made from a red Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
This salmon colored wine is light and sweet and worth carrying home just for its unique, deep-blue bottle.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.