WHAT YOU GET FOR…

After soaring to record heights last year — beyond even the Great Recession peak — the metro Los Angeles housing market began cooling off last summer, according
  to the real-estate database website Zillow. But Pasadena buyers shouldn’t get too excited, because the area is quite desirable and prices are still hefty. Zillow reports that the city’s median home price is $879,000, still up 4.7 percent over the same period last year.

But there is good news for prospective homeowners — there’s simply more out there. Around the country, inventory increased 3 percent over last year, the first such rise since 2014. And buyers willing to add some sweat equity to their mortgage package might find some tasty deals to be had.

What you get for…

$500,000

HOW MUCH:  $500,000

WHERE:  80 N. Raymond, #112, Pasadena

WHAT YOU GET:  Studio with one bath

SIZE:  545 square feet

PRICE PER SQUARE FOOT:  $917

This corner studio may be cozy, but it obeys the first law of real estate: Location, location, location. It puts you in busy Old Pasadena, mere steps from the Levitt Pavilion of Performing Arts, the Metro Gold Line, Armory Center for the Arts and a flurry of cool shops, bars and restaurants. Indeed, this 1996 condo complex has been part of the downtown revival bringing buyers back from the suburbs, closer to numerous amenities. Even better, the studio has been completely remodeled, and its modest size is enhanced by huge windows on two sides, which flood the space with light. The one-bath unit has stackable laundry machines, granite counters, central air, a balcony, recessed lighting and one parking space (you’ll need it). The monthly $297 homeowners’ association dues covers earthquake insurance, security, hot water and more. A pied-à-terre, anyone?


CONTACT: Luka Mihovilovic, United Real Estate Los Angeles, (626) 616-0457


Under $1 million

HOW MUCH:  $949,000

WHERE:  4831 Mt. Royal Dr., Eagle Rock

WHAT YOU GET:  Three beds, two baths

SIZE:  1,340 square feet

PRICE PER SQUARE FOOT:  $708

This Spanish Mission-style home may need some help with curb appeal, but it has something else to compensate: spectacular views and light through an entire wall of windows overlooking the Griffith Observatory and city lights from Glendale to Century City. Built in 1974, the home was recently renovated, with new bathrooms, kitchen with quartz countertops, recessed lighting and flooring. There’s also a sunset-friendly balcony that stretches from a bedroom through the living room, central air, a two-car garage off the kitchen and a sizable 16,950-square-foot lot, which includes an adjacent lot, so no one can build on it and block your view.


CONTACT: Suzi Dunkel-Soto, Keller Williams Realty/Arcadia, (626) 386-7888


UNDER $3 MILLION

HOW MUCH:  $2,395,000

WHERE:  5026 Castle Rd., La Cañada Flintridge

WHAT YOU GET:  Three beds, 2.75 baths

SIZE:  3,362 square feet

PRICE PER SQUARE FOOT:  $712

This Country French Revival estate was completed in 1932 for public-school teacher Francis Brown McCollum and his French-born second wife, Yvonne, to make her feel at home. Yvonne was also a public-school teacher, but the $3,000 building cost (under $300,000 in current dollars) was within their means. The first things that strike you are the mature fruit trees and other landscaping on the nearly one-acre plot and the generous use of stone throughout the home. There are several private patios (on the roof, under a trellis), a formal living room with views of the pool, a formal dining room with a fireplace and a family room with a balcony overlooking the front gardens, a stone fireplace and a built-in desk. The lower level has a guest room with a separate entrance. Other perks: a wraparound driveway and an attached two-car garage.


CONTACT: Heather Scherbert, Coldwell Banker/La Cañada Flintridge,
(818) 903-3393


THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

HOW MUCH:  $16.8 million

WHERE:  1161 Virginia Rd., San Marino

WHAT YOU GET:  seven bedrooms, seven baths

SIZE:  9,912 square feet

PRICE PER SQUARE FOOT:  $1,695

This 1913 Italian Palladian Villa has a stellar pedigree, its design by Robert D. Farquhar, whose architectural projects included the Pentagon and The California Club in downtown L.A. The two-acre-plus estate lies behind a security gate and boasts 16-foot ceilings, a marble foyer, hand-carved marble fireplace mantels, an oval, walnut-paneled library, solarium, elevator and stately living and dining rooms. A circular staircase connects to the second-floor children’s playroom and six bedrooms plus the master suite. The spacious grounds include a pool and spa, a fruit orchard, a north-south tennis court,  a reflecting pond and guest apartment


CONTACT: Yennis Wong, Berkshire Hathaway, (626) 440-5100

Mahogany Bay Village is a recent addition to Belize’s blooming tourism industry.

Belize was pretty much just a speck on the tourism radar before the millennium, but its Caribbean charms are finally attracting hospitality development. And now the former British colony may be at the ideal tipping point for luxury tourism — Belize just began offering four-star comfort fairly recently, but, far from being overrun with tourists, it retains its authentic Mayan flavor. indeed, tripadvisor declared San Pedro its No. 1 destination in Central America for 2016. (more on San Pedro later.)
During a recent visit, I was surprised to learn something scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts already know – the Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s second largest after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The 190-mile section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, home to 500 species of fish and 65 of stony corals, was praised by Charles Darwin as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in 1842. It still is, thanks to the government’s dedication to sustainable tourism, requiring divers to swim to the reef from boats anchored a short but protective distance away.
The most popular launching pad to the reef is Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, although at 25 miles long by 1 mile wide, you can still wrap your arms around it. You can reach the island 35 miles off the mainland by puddle jumper in a snappy (but occasionally unnerving) 15 minutes. Madonna literally sang its praises in her 1987 song, “La Isla Bonita” (“The Beautiful Island”), a common nickname. The caye’s largest town is historic San Pedro, still casual enough that most people there travel by golf cart, not car (another ecologically cool plus). And these days, new hotel and condo construction is dotting the area. Not surprisingly, the country’s stayover tourist arrivals in the first six months of 2018 jumped 17.1 percent over the same period the year before, according to the Belize Tourism Board.
Such numbers are music to the ears of savvy American entrepreneur Beth Clifford. A veteran real-estate developer, Clifford saw Belize’s potential around the millennium (before San Pedro’s streets were even paved), when she started working on Mahogany Bay Village (mahoganybayvillage.com) — her first hotel project and Belize’s first global luxury-branded resort, affiliated with Hilton Worldwide’s Curio Collection — by compiling land parcels at the southern tip of San Pedro to form a 60-acre reserve. Despite the Hilton brand, Mahogany Bay, which officially opened in December, doesn’t have the corporate ambience you might expect — it’s really all about the personal touch of the owner/CEO, who frequently logs 12 hours keeping the place up to four-star snuff.
Eco-friendly Mahogany Bay Village is the country’s largest resort with a 207-key hotel featuring cottage- and villa-style accommodations, 150 private residences for investors who can include them in the resort’s rental pool (with more under construction), a marina, a beach club, a wellness center, shops and restaurants. Yet it feels like, well, a small village, with airy cottages from studios to five bedrooms evoking the country’s colonial past, when it was British Honduras. (With English as the official language and more competitive pricing than longer-established tourist destinations, Belize is also attracting retirees.) Gifford clad the property in tasteful rustic chic, with Belizean hardwoods, full-length porches and atmospheric wood ceiling fans (in addition to air-conditioning).
Definitely visit the resort’s fine restaurants, particularly Jyoto Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar and the Verandah, with its haute take on Caribbean cuisine. But no trip abroad would be complete without sampling some authentic local food, yes? No problem in San Pedro. Its 75 restaurants are just a short golf cart ride away. Try Elvi’s Kitchen (elviskitchen.com), where I enjoyed creamy Belizean seré, with shrimp, green plantains, onions and coconut milk.

More and more grandparents are raising grandkids as drug addiction ensnares their own children

When Mike and Amber St. Germain were anticipating retirement, they envisioned traveling a couple times a year to Italy and other dreamy destinations. But in 2012, their daughter, then 18, had a baby. She moved in with her parents — her baby, Addison, and Addison’s father in tow. After stealing from a neighbor, Addison’s father disappeared, and her mother, who had a substance abuse problem, was incapable of taking care of her.
So the St. Germains moved Addison’s crib into their bedroom, and their daughter moved out when she refused to follow “house rules” or take care of her baby; the grandparents established guardianship in 2013. Their daughter consented, said Mike St. Germain, because she knew her “lifestyle” was unhealthy for a baby. Now 5 years old, Addison knows her grandparents as the only parents she’s had. “She is a fantastic child,” said Mike St. Germain, 46, who retired from his job as a UPS regional manager in 2014 and lives outside of Atlanta with wife Amber, 45, two sons in their 20s and Addison.
“Initially, there was a lot of struggle, which is why we started a closed support group on Facebook [Grandparents Raising Grandchildren], so we could all talk to each other,” he said.
The St. Germains have plenty of company. About 2.6 million American children are being raised by their grandparents or other older relatives in what social scientists sometimes describe as “grandfamilies.” Experts say this number is rising sharply as the opioid epidemic and other kinds of substance abuse devastate families and communities across the country. A newly released book — You’ve Always Been There for Me: Understanding the Lives of Grandchildren Raised by Their Grandparents (Rutgers University Press) by Rachel Dunifon — analyzes data gathered from grandfamilies in New York to determine their distinct challenges and strengths.
Dunifon, a professor of policy analysis and management and chair of the human ecology department at Cornell University, notes that grandchildren benefit from the time-accrued maturity, wisdom and patience of grandparents who are raising children for a second time. But she notes there also can be struggles stemming from a sizable generation gap, age-related health problems, increased stress and worries over finite finances. Grandfamilies, a growing variant of the American family, are largely invisible to the public eye and rarely get the assistance they need from social service agencies, policymakers and family researchers.
“I would like to see how best to support this new family system, grandparents, the adult children and grandchildren, so that all are getting the support they need in this new phenomenon,” said Annette Ermshar, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist with practices in Pasadena and San Marino. “The percentage of grandparents who have taken over parenting has doubled. U.S. Census data says that in 2012, 10 percent of grandparents lived with their grandchildren compared to 3 percent in 1970. There is not a lot of research in terms of the mental health of the grandparents and the grandchildren.” In Los Angeles alone, some 300,000 grandparents are raising children, according to the L.A.-based Alliance for Children’s Rights.
With the opioid addiction crisis fueling the rise of grandfamilies, help arrived by legislative action last month. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging and ranking member Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) co-authored the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act. The move followed a May 2017 hearing featuring testimony from grandparents and others about the pressing need for older caretakers to have easy access to resources that would assist them.
The bill, signed into law last month by President Donald Trump, will create a one-stop shop of resources to support grandparents and other relatives (so-called “kinship families”) raising grandchildren. A federal advisory committee, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be established to identify, promote and distribute crucial information about the best ways to help caregiving relatives meet the unusual health, educational, psychological and nutritional needs of children they’ve taken in. A grandparent and another older relative raising a grandchild will be part of the committee. A report will be issued to Congress after six months, and again in two years on best practices and resources, along with noted gaps in services.
Caregivers’ need to maintain their own physical and emotional and mental well-being will also be addressed. Forty advocacy groups for older adults and children supported the bill. “Many of today’s low-income grandparent caregivers — sometimes great-grandparent caregivers — find themselves forced to cut their own retirement finances and defer their dreams” to care for their grandchildren, Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit that promotes policies and programs to assist grandfamilies, wrote in Forbes Magazine after the bill was signed into law.
Caring for grandchildren may come at a high cost to grandparents, but it provides a huge savings for the government. Older relatives providing safe haven to their imperiled grandchildren saves the U.S. government $6 billion a year, according to The Conversation (theconversation.com), an independent nonprofit online source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Custodial grandparents raising grandchildren are overrepresented in racial and ethnic minority groups, and 67 percent are younger than 60, while 25 percent live in poverty even though half of custodial grandparents are still working, according to the website. For grandparents worried about outliving their financial resources, the added expense of raising a grandchild adds layers of stress, worry and anxiety. But out of love, and without regard to the cost, grandparents swoop in because there is no other option.
Indeed, with the rise in heroin addiction and other substance abuse, grandparents taking charge is often precipitated by devastating struggles with their own adult children that leave them emotionally wrung out — whipsawed between anger, sadness and exhaustion. Like the St. Germains’ daughter, Judi LeCompte’s daughter moved in immediately after giving birth to Gianna in 2008. When LeCompte’s daughter, who had an oxycodone addiction, tried to put Gianna, then 18 months old, in a booster seat instead of a car seat for a ride in a Honda Civic with four adults and two other kids in car seats, LeCompte “lost it.”
“I just went insane,” said LeCompte, who is 60. “It was a nightmare. I just said, ‘You no longer live here. She is mine.’ So we had to figure it out. Either Gianna lived with us or she went to foster care.” LeCompte, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb with her husband, Karl, 65, called state Children and Youth Services and the next day, an order was drawn up limiting Gianna’s mother to supervised visits with her daughter twice a month for three hours. The court also gave LeCompte the right to drug test her daughter anytime she wanted.
LeCompte said she has legal guardianship of Gianna, now 9. A federal bankruptcy manager for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia, she said she will not adopt Gianna out of fear it would push her daughter, who suffers from mental health issues as well as addiction, over the edge. LeCompte also has a second daughter who is a heroin addict currently in jail on a felony drug conviction, although she has tested clean for over a year. That daughter’s child, Arianna, lived with LeCompte for nine months along with Gianna. Arianna now lives with her paternal grandparents. “You cannot imagine how tragic this is unless you are in it, every day,” said LeCompte.
When a parent is struggling with addiction and mental illness, it leaves grandparents with a whirl of decisions to make — most often in a moment of crisis. For many, postponing retirement, navigating school systems, securing custody through the court system, finding mental and emotional-health supports and overcoming a generation gap are part of a web of challenges that accompany a second round of parenthood. The grandchildren are often fragile and damaged from what they been through. Grandparents are “replacing traumatic pasts with loving and hopeful futures,” as Sen. Collins told AARP.org.
“These children have emotional baggage,” said Carmen Hoffman, director of the Los Angeles chapter of Grandparents as Parents (GAP), a program of OneGeneration, a Van Nuys–based nonprofit supporting seniors and grandfamilies, which last month added GAP, a 31-year-old nonprofit, to the organization’s offerings of resources. “They don’t know why they feel this way. And these grandparents, it is all new to them, the technology has changed, everything has changed [since they raised their children].”
OneGeneration’s GAP program runs 10 support groups throughout L.A. County (a Pasadena group disbanded due to poor attendance; the closest one is in Pomona). The groups are free and vital to grandparents who often feel isolated in their plight and in great need of peer-to-peer counsel with the guiding hand of a facilitator. The power of shared experience diminishes those feelings of isolation, said Hoffman, who runs a group in Santa Clarita where the majority of grandparents are raising youngsters whose parents have succumbed to opioid addictions. Facebook support groups like St. Germain’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren have provided a powerful place to share and vent, especially for people with no access to in-person grandfamily support groups. Websites and Facebook pages like The Addict’s Mom, The Parents of Drug Addicts and Before The Petals Fall are also helping to fill that void.
After the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes ran a segment in May on grandparents raising grandchildren due to the ravages of the opioid epidemic, St. Germain said his Facebook group almost tripled within a month, increasing to 2,000 from 700. There are now 4,500 members with more joining at a rate of 15 to 20 a day. The group is closed, meaning people have to request permission to join. In a 28-day period last month, St. Germain, the group administrator, said there were 138,000 posts from grandparents raising grandchildren and that 90 percent have adult children in the grip of addiction to opioids, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines or “all of the above.”
“Sometimes they post just to vent, sometimes it is to share information — look what I found on this website, or about a book,” said St. Germain. “Especially with children of addicts, they have all these unique issues. Some are developmental delays, Asperger’s, autism, physical disabilities. Some are as simple as ‘How in the world do I potty train this child?’”
Though grandparents can apply for Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), foster care payments, subsidized guardianship, child support payments, social security benefits or tax credits, navigating a bureaucratic maze is complex and daunting. Each funding source has advantages and disadvantages and should be evaluated for what best fits a grandfamily’s particular needs, according to Generations United. GAP did have a staff member assigned to the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park to assist grandparents establish guardianship, but the post has not been staffed due to lack of funding. In lieu of a personal navigator, Hoffman recommends downloading the Resource Family Approval Toolkit at kids-alliance.org, the website of Alliance for Children’s Rights.
Many of the government-funded assistance programs require grandparents to adopt rather than establish guardianship, which can create an additional hurdle. Judi LeCompte will not adopt her granddaughter Gianna because her daughter refuses to agree to it, and that means that her Social Security benefits cannot go to Gianna. This is a source of deep worry, she says.
For Mike St. Germain, anything that compromises his daughter recovering from her addiction, getting back on her feet and becoming a healthy mother to Addison is not an option. He and wife Amber fear that if they apply for government help, the state or federal government could seek child support payments from their daughter, whose addiction started when she began stealing her father’s pain pills prescribed for his back and graduated to benzodiazepines. She’s currently on probation following incarceration for credit card theft and must test drug-free to stay out of jail. Said Germain: “I tend to not want to step over that line because it will just make her position that much more difficult.”

Grand Velas Los Cabos is a recent entry among the tourist mecca’s booming luxury offerings.

This is a tale of two Cabos — and I don’t mean San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the two cities at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula known collectively as Los Cabos. Instead, let’s count the cities as one, both the colonial-architecture-rich municipality seat and the lively touristy town you’re probably thinking of. The “other” Cabo is the 20-mile-long Tourist Corridor between the two cities. Let’s start there.

Once a remote rural fishing area, Los Cabos, a short plane ride away, has been a tourism hotspot for years, thanks in part to much-publicized visits from celebrities, from Elizabeth Taylor to Jennifer Aniston. And yet, tourism there, particularly along the oceanfront corridor, is booming beyond even its popular reputation. The boom is in luxury — both the quantity and quality of the burgeoning hotel scene. This, despite the U.S. State Department’s August 2017 travel warning of a spike in violence due to turf battles among criminal organizations.

That warning may be less than one year old, but the tourism industry people I met there last month seemed utterly unruffled by it, noting that bad guys don’t target tourists. And they have good reason — Los Cabos recently hired 200 more police officers, and Mexico’s Marines took command of local police in November, with plans to build two military bases in Cabos’ home state of Baja California Sur. And yet, in a visit last month, I didn’t feel a military presence, the way I did in the embattled southern Philippines years ago.

What I did see were several high-end hotels under construction, including one next door to my hotel (although, fortunately, I didn’t hear the work). It was easy to see why. Grand Velas Los Cabos’ curved façade overlooks crashing waves, a soothing soundtrack for dining, sleeping and all-around destressing. Ranked the No. 1 hotel in San José del Cabo by Tripadvisor, Grand Velas has been at the forefront of the luxury boom here since it opened a year and a half ago, thanks to a staff ratio of 3 to 1, personalized service (e.g., your name is on the hotel’s home screen on TV), an open bar with premium-brand liquor, Michelin-worthy cuisine, organized activities for kids and teenagers, three pools including one just for adults, a health club–size fitness center, even a free minibar stocked daily. It’s all part of the AAA Five-Diamond hotel all-inclusive plan.

“Most luxury hotels are on the European plan,” Grand Velas’ Michelle González told me. “We wanted to go beyond that. This is a worry-free location. You can enjoy every restaurant without having to take care of the bill.” And there are five of them. More on that later.

The $150 million beachfront property is the fifth hotel built by Mexico’s Vela brothers, developers who were prodded into the tourism industry by serendipity. When the world economy took a dive in 2008, they switched gears on a new condo building in Puerto Vallarta, finding that hotels were a better bet. That may help explain the ample lodgings — the 304 suites are all built facing the water and the smallest one, the Ambassador Suite, is the size of a modest house, at 1,180 square feet. All have roomy terraces and some even have private plunge pools. You can also opt for a Wellness Suite duplex, with a Lifecycle, rice chips and teas, an aromatherapy kit and space for your private yoga session. Or a Family Suite, which includes adjoining rooms, crib, chef-made baby food and turn-down for kids with cookies and milk. (The Vela brothers are big family men, rotating large holiday celebrations among their various resorts.)

My first impression was the striking, award-winning architecture by architect Ricardo Elias of Guadalajara and Miami, who also designed two other Grand Velas resorts and the Centro Cultural Nuestra América, a library, theater and education complex in Mérida, Mexico. You arrive at a monumental lobby with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean and two huge, sinuous wooden settees that double as sculpture, where a staff member greets you with a cool towel and tropical fruit juice. Other works by Mexican artists appear throughout the hotel (an art gallery is in the planning stage), which is encased in earth and sea tones meant to mesh visually with the beach, boulders and Pacific and soften the dazzle of the strong midday sun. Four additional architects joined Elias in designing the hotel’s interiors and five restaurants.

Okay, let’s stop there. The hotel is justly proud of its cuisine. In fact, if you go, go for the waves and the food. (Also the spa. More on that later.) Do not miss the adults-only Cocina de Autor, named one of the world’s best new restaurants for 2017 by CNN a mere two weeks after it opened. The seasonal menu is designed by Dutch Chef Sidney Schutte, who boasts two Michelin stars. It’s a set tasting menu with eight courses (e.g., tuna and beetroot with chives and horseradish milk), although you can swap out anything you like. Schutte favors fusion cuisine that does new and surprising things with Mexican flavors, something I also found at the Mexican restaurant, Frida.

If the restaurants surprised me, so did the spa, where I had a blue agave facial (it’s in the mask). Before that I experienced the hotel’s hourlong hydrotherapy circuit in what Forbes Travel Guide calls a “35,000-square-foot aquatic paradise,” which comes with all treatments. Staff members gently guide you through a seven-step journey of water stations, where you’re pummeled, caressed and invigorated. Follow that with stops in dry and wet saunas, an ice room (I skipped that) and rain showers with chromatherapy.  I doubt you’ll find anything like it in Southern California; at least you shouldn’t be able to find it in SoCal.

We did leave the property for a sunset sail with Cabo Adventures, which also offers tours involving dolphins, whale sharks, even camels. Ours was a lovely, margarita-fueled excursion to see El Arco (The Arch), an iconic rock formation rising out of the sea at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula. That meant going to that other Cabo, the noisy one crammed with tourists who seemed desperate to have fun. Cabo Adventures’ home base was fairly chaotic, so go expecting the worst and you’ll be fine.


For information and reservations, call (888) 505-8406 or visit https://loscabos.grandvelas.com. For Cabo Adventures, call (888) 526-2238
or visit www.cabo-adventures.com

The acclaimed wine district may be one of Northern California’s best-kept secrets

Lodi, in Northern California’s Central Valley, may be the most acclaimed wine appellation you’ve never heard of. Wine Enthusiast magazine declared it the 2015 Wine Region of the Year. In fact, it’s California’s largest appellation (legally defined wine-grape-growing district) with more than 100,000 acres of vines and 750 growers. This small agricultural city 35 miles south of Sacramento grows more than 100 varieties of wine grapes, including fruit from some of the world’s oldest cinsault and aglianico vines. But it is Lodi’s trove of “old vine” zinfandels, many from plants more than a century old, that has separated Lodi from the pack, drawing plaudits from wine writers and other oenophiles, and earning its nickname “the zinfandel capital of the world.” Indeed, 40 percent of California’s premium zin comes from Lodi.
Even so, your closest association with Lodi could easily be the ancient Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi,” with the immortal lyrics “Oh! Lord, I’m stuck in Lodi again,” penned by John Fogerty — who had never been there. Lodi is the birthplace of wine titan Robert Mondavi, who opened a winery in nearby Woodbridge in 1979. But for much of its history, Lodi had a low wine had profile because it mainly supplied grapes to wineries elsewhere in California. Like many California grape-growing districts outside Napa and Sonoma, Lodi is a late bloomer when it comes to wine production. Thanks in part to the coordinated efforts of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, founded in 1991, the city now has more than 85 boutique wineries specializing in small-lot wines. (Lodi was not impacted by the recent deadly wildfires in Northern California, but the commission joined the state’s other regional wine and grape associations in collecting donations for its beleaguered neighbors.)
Lodi’s boutique wineries should be catnip to true oenophiles who like a taste of adventure with their Rhône varietals. Because Lodi has only recently emerged in force from its fine-wine chrysalis, it isn’t even remotely touristy and tacky. Downtown resembles Main Street, U.S.A., with a bit of an edge but few store chains; most shops are charming local businesses like the quirky Double Dip Gallery at 222 W. Pine St., which doubles as an ice-cream shop.
And while there are a number of hotel/motel chains, there’s still only one high-end property — the lovely Wine & Roses (2505 W. Turner Rd., winerose.com) on the site of the old Burton Towne estate, home to a Southern Pacific Railroad engineer at the turn of the 20th century. The estate changed hands until 1999, when it was acquired by current local owners Russ and Kathryn Munson, who worked with the Lodi Winegrape Commission to envision and create a hotel suitable for a premium wine destination. The rustic luxury hotel has since expanded to encompass seven acres with 66 airy rooms and suites, a fitness center, pool, cooking school, spa and salon, lounge with live music, indoor and outdoor event spaces (yes, this is wedding country) and a fine restaurant named for the original occupants — the Towne House Restaurant. The entire property is designed to induce relaxation, from its earthy color scheme and building materials to its cozy spa, where I had an excellent “signature” facial with organic products, and the delightful parrot aviaries dotting the property.
Of course, whither oenophiles go, foodies will follow (okay, they’re usually the same people). Wine & Roses recently brought in celebrity chef Bradley Ogden who had an eponymous James Beard Foundation Award–winning restaurant in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for a decade. These days, the one-star Michelin chef prefers to forego the glitz in favor of overseeing W&R’s cottage-like restaurant offering seasonal ingredients that are sustainably and regionally sourced, 70 Lodi wines and a mind-melding open-face omelet with chicken sausage, pasilla peppers and feta.
Foodies may want to plan their trip to coincide with cooking classes helmed by the hotel’s executive chef, John Hitchcock, who worked for Ogden earlier in his career. Or jot down Feb. 10 and 11, 2018, on your calendar — that’s the weekend of the 21st annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend (lodiwineandchocolate.com), which offers sweets and wine tastings at 50 wineries for a thrifty $55 ($65 at the door). Whatever you do, don’t miss Pietro’s (317 E. Kettleman Lane, pietroslodi.com) whose young Italy-trained chef makes the best garlicky pizza bianca I’ve ever had in my life.
Wineries are Lodi’s prime attractions, but downtown offers a number of nonalcoholic diversions. There’s a memorabilia-filled A&W Root Beer (216 E. Lodi Ave.), which started in Lodi in 1919 and still serves a mean root-beer float. You’ll also want to check out the nine Walldog murals depicting Lodi history in the style of vintage ads; they were created in 2006 by a group of sign painters who call themselves the Letterheads in a project organized by Lodi sign artist and Letterhead Tony Segale. Segale owns the Double Dip art-and-ice cream gallery and sometimes gives visitors tours of the murals. (Visit Lodi also produced a Walldog walking tour map.) Other attractions include Micke Grove Park’s lovely Japanese Garden, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum and outdoor activities like biking and kayaking.

PLUGGED-IN BEAUTY

Profound RF is one of the latest medical technologies to help you look better longer — without going under the knife.

Beauty aficionados who prefer looking “refreshed” to looking remodeled have been turning to lasers and other noninvasive technologies to up their grooming quotient without resorting to surgery — at least not yet. Most promise gradual (and therefore more believable) improvements, typically triggered by controlled cell damage that makes your skin react by producing its own fresh collagen and elastin. And medical technology companies keep getting better at it.

“Paying attention to your appearance has become more and more important, and more and more accepted,” says Dr. Nima Naghshineh, a Pasadena- and Beverly Hills–based plastic surgeon, who goes by “Dr. Nima.” “And the number of aesthetic procedures has increased every year — the number of surgical procedures has increased, but even more so the number of nonsurgical procedures has increased. It’s become more commonplace and accepted, and because of that, we find that more patients are starting at a younger age. It’s no longer just 60-year-old women coming in for facelifts. Now we’re seeing women and men in their 30s coming in for Botox and other noninvasive procedures to slow the hands of time.”

An impressive newcomer to West Coast medical offices is Profound RF, a minimally invasive, fractional radiofrequency device and descendent of the earlier skin-tightening technology known as Thermage. Laser skin technologies used to be only for intrepid consumers willing to brave plenty of painful downtime from damage to their epidermis — the skin’s top layer. But RF technologies go deeper, rejuvenating the dermis. Profound also incorporates relatively new microneedling therapy, which stimulates collagen and elastin by creating “micropassages” in the skin with slender needles. Profound turbocharges that process by infusing the needles with carefully calibrated RF energy.

The result? A boost in collagen, elastin and hyalauronic acid — manufacturer Syneron Candela says this is the first device to enhance all three “skin fundamentals” — producing a tighter jawline and smoother texture after three months.  Profound gets unusually high marks on realself.com, which runs consumer reviews of medical and dental beauty treatments — 90 percent of Profound reviewers said the procedure was “worth it.” “My results were far more dramatic than I ever anticipated,” reported a 59-year-old St. Louis woman. “It has been almost a year since my Profound treatment, and I still can’t believe how dramatically it improved my skin and jawline.”

If a Profound treatment is “worth it,” what is “it”? Well, prepare for a week of downtime, although you’ll probably look worse than you feel — Profound can cause some temporary bruising, so your doctor may send you home with arnica capsules. The doctor or nurse starts by injecting anesthetic in the treatment area, so the hourlong procedure itself should be comfortable. And of course, there’s the cost: around $6,000 — that’s real money, but it’s still considerably less than surgery.

“Where I’m seeing the most impressive effects is in the 30-to-60-year-old age group, where you’re starting to have a little bit of jowling, a little bit of looseness,” says Dr. Nima, who practices with Dr. Leif Rogers. “Profound is a great place to start because it’s noninvasive, its tightening effects are long-lasting and you don’t need multiple treatments.”

Last November, the FDA also approved Profound for cellulite on the body, making the device even more versatile. It can enhance the results of liposuction, which often does not address dimpled skin. 

But for consumers focused on the man (or woman) in the mirror, Profound should help them put off their surgery date. “It’s hard to say how long this will delay the need for facelifts, but the explosion of the use of fillers in conjunction with older technologies such as lasers, you find people delaying facelifts into their 50s and 60s, and that’s a direct result of the increase of noninvasive therapies,” says Dr. Nima. “Now if someone has not been treating themselves over the years with these modalities and they come in at age 60 or 70 looking for a noninvasive approach to a more youthful appearance, it’s oftentimes you have to look toward the surgical route.”

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Cryolipolysis was approved by the FDA in 2010, but it’s only fairly recent that it has seemed ubiquitous. That’s the fat-freezing technology popularly known as Coolsculpting, which claims to reduce 20 percent of fat in the treated area. Another beauty technology offering gradual improvements, Coolsculpting uses a handheld device made by Zeltiq Aesthetics of California, which freezes and destroys fat cells that are then eliminated in urine. Like liposuction, it isn’t intended for substantial weight loss (although liposuction can still remove more fat); Coolsculpting helps reduce pudge resistant to diet, leaving the Coolsculptee’s shape in better proportion. While love handles are a typical target, Coolsculpting is also used to reduce double chins and meaty thighs. The technology’s handheld devices come in two sizes, which typically cost $750 or $1,200 each (although sales are common), so the total bill depends on the size and number used.

According to realself.com, Coolsculpting is another effective therapy — 82 percent of reviewers deemed it “worth it.” “So glad I did this!” wrote a 24-year-old Canadian woman, who reported losing 4.5 inches from her waist and 2.5 inches from her hips. “Bye, bye, stomach fat!”

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If you aren’t inclined to drop four figures, you might consider a home device that may take longer to produce more modest results, but it won’t break the bank. And like noninvasive technologies available in doctors’ offices, the home beauty appliance market also keeps innovating. Home Skinovations says its Silk’n Face FX device uses “home fractional technology” combining heat and light energy to improve skin texture, treating fine lines, wrinkles, large pores and discoloration. Improvement is visible in eight weeks, according to the company.  Amazon reviewers give the $149 device 3½ stars.