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Tracy Christoph Headshot

Resolve to Explore the Golden State in 2014

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As a flight attendant, I've visited dozens upon dozens of places across the country and around the world. I might even be able to fill a map with all places I've been. I don't often count these trips in my official travel roster, however, because the word "travel" means much more to me than simply arriving at a destination. People are often surprised to hear that I love to hit the skies outside of my work as a flight attendant, but it's true: I love jetting to new places and exploring all there is to offer.

It's not too late to make a New Year's resolution, or if you've already given up on yours, start all over with a resolution to travel west in 2014. And having just wrapped up an amazing trip to California, I can guarantee that resolving to travel through the Golden State will be a commitment worth keeping.

In my case, I wanted to leave 2013 far behind and start the New Year in a new place, both mentally and physically, so I took off on Christmas Day and headed for the West Coast for a truly remarkable and memorable experience. I hope that this month's post -- my "California Chronicles" -- will inspire you to see beyond your arrival gate and explore new places in your own upcoming adventures.

Flying into LAX is a piece of cake, but the six-hour transcontinental trip from Virginia can certainly be tiring. So upon my arrival, I set out to get some fresh air and took advantage of my drive down the Pacific Coast highway with open windows so the breeze could flow through my hair. I went right through Ventura and Santa Barbara, but not before stopping at Brophy Brothers for lunch on the balcony. Because I was still in my airplane attire, I was looking for something casual but with a fun and lively atmosphere to get my trip started off on the right foot, and Brophy Brothers delivered!

I checked in at the San Ysidro Ranch in Wine Country for the evening (don't worry, this won't be my only mention of wine in this post!) and couldn't help but wonder what it was like when JFK and Jackie O. honeymooned there. After exploring the grounds the following morning, I ventured into a Danish village called Solvang and took in the sights and sounds -- and the great shopping! Not able to decide on just one restaurant to dine at, I selected Root 246 for dinner, followed by drinks at The Hitching Post, a popular spot you may remember from the movie Sideways. An evening stroll brought the lights of the town, affectionately called "Little Denmark," to life, and I couldn't wait to go back in the morning. At the start of the following day, I headed to Paula's Pancake House for breakfast. There was an hour-long wait, which gave me time to continue exploring the town. Time sure flies in sunny California! By the time I'd finished checking out The Viking Room it was time to return to Paula's, where the breakfast was well worth the wait.

After driving around, I made a pit stop in the Santa Ynez Valley, a beautiful area covered with vineyards and horse ranches where my cowgirl boots fit right in. I made my way through Los Olivos, which, if you've never visited, will blow you away! Grand Avenue, the main road through town, is nothing short of grand, and it's lined with dozens of places for wine tasting. To remember the trip, I grabbed a few souvenirs and gifts at Los Olivos Café.

An impressive tasting room at the Gainey Vineyard, which I visited the following day, showcased an even more impressive view. A landing strip just outside the vineyard made the scenic picnic area the perfect spot to watch small planes on their approach. The rest of the grounds were beautiful as well. My favorite piece of advice when traveling is to not forget to have your picture taken. Don't be afraid to ask a stranger to snap your photo, and then offer to do the same for him. Even though you won't soon forget your trip to the West Coast, your photos will help others experience it with you when you describe your travels. After another winery tour at the Demetria Estate on Foxen Canyon Road, it was time for me to hit the beach and take in some fresh salt water.

A drive along the coast brought me to Jalama Beach, and many locals will say that a trip here isn't complete without having a famous Jalama Burger. Not far from Los Alamos, I visited Union Hotel, another destination with a rich history; in 1880 it was a stage coach stop. And if you're a big history buff, be sure to stop by the Original Ronald Reagan Ranch for even more sights from the nation's past.

While heading back to Los Angeles, I stopped in Glendale for some shopping, a little lunch and a stay at the luxurious Langham Huntington Hotel. Dinner at the modern and intriguing Royce Wood-Fired Steak House rounded out a true Hollywood experience. And if you happen to stop in Malibu, don't leave without visiting the Malibu Wines Tasting Room. You can really lose yourself in the live entertainment, the expansive courtyard, a cozy swing for two atop a hill and, of course, the wine. Catch a movie by moonlight -- the sommelier says Casa Blanca is a favorite among visitors. How fitting!

Seeking out the little-known spots in this rich area is the greatest thing to do. But the best part of my California adventure was the simplest pleasure of waking up to blue and sunny skies day after day. Ditching the cold of the Northeast, I felt the warm West Coast air bring its own wave of energy each and every morning and prepare me to start a new voyage.

I ended my trip with a redeye home, which wasn't all that bad. I find that being forced to sleep means I don't have to face reality too soon or come to grips with what I'm leaving behind. That is, after all, what travel photos are for.

Have you resolved to travel in 2014? Let me know in the comments section or connect with me on Twitter.