After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it?s no surprise why La Petite Baleen?s four San Francisco?area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising, however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and their logo?Waverly the Whale, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace?earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location?s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
At Maloney's Horses and Ponies, majestic steeds graze and buck in open pastures backed by a landscape of picturesque rolling hills and whispering ocean waves. Standing in the sea breeze is Cheryl Maloney, the proprietor and head riding instructor. Before opening her school, Cheryl taught throughout the United States and England, most recently directing the Stanford Riding School for 12 years. She is joined by fellow instructors Sara Williams, Sarah Platshon, and Jack Gosse-Fuchs; together, the team leads lessons in English-style riding for students of all ages and skill levels.
During lessons, students learn the fundamentals of riding?from sitting in a basic balancing position to standing while singing the horse anthem?along with necessary horsemanship skills such as grooming and tacking. The lessons take place in Maloney's all-weather back sand arena, where picturesque ocean views frame a colorful jumping course, and a front arena dedicated to dressage and flat exercises. The school also has access to more than 7 miles of beach trails that lead riders on explorations of the bluffs or trots down to the surf. The school also boards horses, sells and leases new mounts, and holds summer camps for riders up to 15 years old.
At 2,600 feet up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, one might expect to find sprawling views of the ocean and surrounding forest and not flourishing vineyards. Yet there are more than 70 wineries dappling the hills at various altitudes, privy to the dewy, cooling breezes of the sea and the richness of the rocky soil. The San Francisco Chronicle speaks to their scattered presence, deeming them "less a cohesive wine region than a patchwork of vineyards." Still, this characteristic isolation has resulted in "a perfect laboratory for winemaking not held hostage to fashion"—no one style dominates in this rustic setting.
Pinot noirs and chardonnays populate the western front, and the east yields cabernets, merlots, and zinfandels. The majority of the vineyards are small and family owned—a fact reflected in their meticulously bottled libations and the matching sweaters of their holiday photos—but though they exist in chosen hermitage, many of them welcome visitors to their scenic sites. They host weddings, festivals, and open events such as Pathway to Pinot Paradise, a self-guided tour of the pinot noir hotspots.
At La Costanera, Peruvian-born Chef Carlos Altamirano adds contemporary twists to traditional South American dishes that earned the restaurant a 2012 Michelin Star. A variety of ceviches whet appetites amidst a dining room that the San Francisco Chronicle called "breathtaking by day and almost mystical at night," filled with the soft sound of the surf. Free-range chicken and slow-cooked pork shoulder thrive beneath what a reviewer for the Pacifica Tribune applauds as "dramatic presentation.” Imported Peruvian beers and pisco cocktails clink to toast potatoes reclaiming exoticness by arriving in shades of purple and green, and even simple favorites take on the gleeful elegance of a solid-teak waterslide with the aid of truffle oil or saffron. La Costanera’s 10,000-square-foot space opens onto an open-air patio and glass-enclosed rooms. Windowpanes soaring from floor to ceiling arch high overhead, admitting cascades of sunlight as diners gaze out and give each rolling wave a name and backstory.
The sound of gentle music greets clients as they enter Oceano Coastal Spa, and head to the relaxation lounge to slip into a downy robe. There they may find themselves reclining atop one of the alcove's pillow-lined benches as they start to forget about their everyday stresses. And that's before treatments even begin. That welcoming experience reflects the spa's philosophy that therapeutic bodywork and skincare sessions are more than simple indulgences: they also promote wellbeing and provide a healthy escape from a world filled with constantly buzzing alarm clocks.
At the heart of any visit here is the therapists' work. Personalized facials can address a wide range of concerns by treating blemishes, the signs of aging, and sun damage with organically blended products. Massage appointments may include Swedish strokes, deep-tissue pressure, or reiki techniques, each aiming to treat withheld tension. Treatments can be further enhanced with a luxuriant tub soak that can include sea salt, tropical flower petals, and lavender essential oils.
Once a bootleggers' haven frequented by the sister of Al Capone, today Cameron's Inn & Restaurant celebrates its 100-year history with old-fashioned hospitality and eclectic vintage décor. The restaurant harks back to English pub traditions with Inglenook-style seating crafted from old church pews and a menu that includes bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and burgers flame-grilled over fragments of Big Ben. Near the bar, which touts 18 beers on tap and more than 60 bottled ales, walls are stacked to the ceiling with more than 2,000 beer cans, which owner Cameron Palmer began collecting at age 10. A functioning fireplace and five big-screen TVs cast a warm glow across the dining room, whose stage hosts occasional live music, karaoke contests, and shadow-puppet beauty pageants. Overnight guests snooze soundly within the rustic timber-lined walls of the inn’s three rooms, or at an RV park and campground near scenic ocean cliffs.