The Inside Scoop: California, a Destination for Everybody

Interview with Susan Vandendam, Travel Advisor

An ideal way to visit three interesting and varied destinations in one trip, San Diego is reached by a direct flight from Toronto and offers several areas of interest within a one hour drive radius; beaches, stunning coastal vistas, a range of resort, spa & golf offerings, fine dining, great shopping and interesting urban and active lifestyle options.

Why did you choose the destination?

I was invited by “Visit California” and “Air Canada” to promote Rouge’s new direct service to Palm Springs. My last trip to San Diego was in the 80’s and I have never been to Palm Springs so I took the opportunity to participate in this luxury focused Familiarization Trip to experience some of the areas finest hotels, restaurants and attractions.  I was delighted to be able to provide up to date recommendations to my clients.

What were the highlights?


Our first hotel, The Fairmont Grand Del Mar Golf Resort and Spa. Located in coastal, northern San Diego, it is surrounded by the pristine coastal communities of La Jolla, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. It is also just minutes from San Diego’s renowned beaches, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, numerous restaurants and boutiques, and a short commute to Southern California’s top attractions and the San Diego International Airport.

Dining at the elegant George’s at the Cove in La Jolla. It is one of Southern California’s most iconic restaurants, an unparalleled experience that blends location, hospitality and culinary excellence. Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan Bautista, is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and is trained in Japanese, Asian, American and French cuisines.

Feeding the giraffes at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. San Diego Zoo Global is the largest zoological membership association in the world. The 100-acre Zoo is home to over 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies, and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants. Its Safari Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary that is home to more than 3,000 animals representing more than 300 species. Its renowned botanical collection represents 3,500 species and 1.75 million specimens.

Private Sommelier and wine tasting at Avensole Winery located in the Temecula Valley.  There are over 40 licensed wineries and 70 growers that farm vineyards throughout the Temecula Valley. Temecula Valley is about an hour drive inland towards Palm Desert and is an up and coming wine region boasting 42 wineries in the valley.

If there is heaven on earth, it could be at Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort. In operation since the 1940’s, it is home to the famed mineral springs that descend from Miracle Hill. These artesian waters that have been flowing for 600 years bubble up to the surface and do not see the light of day until they flow into the resort grotto. The unique composition of this mineral water is famous for its therapeutic and mood-enhancing properties, low in sulfur and rich in lithium. An hour or so drive east of Temecula lies the Palm Desert and Greater Palm Springs area and along the way there is a fabulous outlet mall; Desert Hills Premium.

What was your most memorable experience?

The once of a lifetime experience is a Sunrise Hot Air Balloon ride over Temecula Valley. I was able to see everything from the beautiful coastline to the high rises in downtown and 360 degree views of the Del Mar coastline.

What surprised you the most?

That the area is an ideal family holiday destination. We usually think of Southern California as an adult or couples destination, but seeing all of the family friendly resorts and attractions brought it top of mind as a great suggestion for a family or multi-generational family vacation. Bonus: the weather is almost always great and there are no insects.

Photo courtesy of Susan Vandendam