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GIFTS THAT GO PLACES : Weekends : Truly original short trips: Wrap one up for a friend who needs to get away from it all


Here it is again: holiday shopping time. But this year, instead of the same old thing, consider giving your friend or loved one the gift of travel. Granted it doesn't last, but then bathrobes fall apart, ties go out of style and most art ends up in the garage.

And with the dollar so testy these days, 1990 may be the perfect year to give someone what hordes of tourists from around the world pay dearly for: a long weekend in California.

No need to fuss over wrapping. Simply make the basic travel arrangements, write out the itinerary in clever script and let the presentation echo the trip's theme.

For the New York City (but warmer) weekend, wrap up a few checkers along with tickets to the theater. For the ski weekend, write the details on a map of California with Frazier Park circled in red and green. For an eating binge in San Francisco, pack a pair of train tickets in a lunch bag with a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and two paper cups. For the wildly expensive sleeping weekend, wrap up a pair of eye shades with a gift certificate from the hotel of choice.

If you're lucky, maybe you'll be invited along.


When the eyes start to wander upward in search of tall buildings and a sudden longing for a fight with a taxi driver strikes, it's time for a weekend in New York.

If it's winter, the prudent traveler overcomes this urge and heads instead for the sparkling skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles. There one can cruise the art museums, strike a sophisticated pose at the theater, stay up past midnight listening to blues. And stroll the streets wearing Mefisto walking shoes with city clothes, just like New Yorkers do.

Begin Friday night by checking in at Checkers Hotel, a downtown gem that's attracting world travelers. Dine on fried noodles at Suehiro in Little Tokyo, where the food is fast, moderately priced and excellent, then to the oh-so-chic Rex Il Ristorante balcony bar for a Cognac and dancing.

After morning muffins in your room, catch a two-hour Conservancy walking tour of downtown Los Angeles' exemplary Art Deco buildings, making note of Checkers' lovely beaux-arts exterior from across the street. Dish dim sum at ABC Seafood in Chinatown. If you can still stand, head over to the Jewelry Mart or Seventh St. Market Place to work off some of those dumplings. Sip late afternoon cappuccino in the hotel's first floor lounge and get ready for the theater.

After dining at the elegant and perennially popular 7th St. Bistro, taxi to the Music Center for theater or music or to the Los Angeles Theatre Center nearby on Spring Street. Cap off the evening with a Jacuzzi on Checkers roof, a sybaritic spot most people don't know exists and from whose steamy depths one can sip champagne and gaze at the lights of surrounding skyscrapers.

Optional: Real New Yorkers will now head out for coffee and blues. Gorky's Cafe is open all night and the music continues until about 1:30 a.m.

Sunday, sleep away the morning but skip the complementary continental snack in favor of an excellent breakfast in the hotel dining room (duck hash and/or apple walnut pancakes with homemade preserves on the side).

Spend an artful afternoon hopping from the Museum of Contemporary Art to the Temporary Contemporary. If you have any energy left, take in a movie at the Laemmle Theater on Figueroa before making the journey home. On Monday, rise refreshed and stimulated, without ever having left the city.

Total cost: about $500 to $600 for two, for two days, two nights, Jewelry Mart not included ($299 hotel, $200 to $300 food and entertainment).

Checkers Hotel, 535 S. Grand Ave., telephone (213) 624-0000; Suehiro, 337 East 1st St., (213) 626-9132; Gorky's, 536 East 8th St., (213) 627-4060; Music Center program information and tickets, (213) 972-7211; Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., (213) 627-6500; Los Angeles Conservancy, (213) 623-TOUR (walking tour reservations necessary); 7th St. Bistro, 814 West 7th St., (213) 627-1242.


It's the best wildlife watching experience in California--the largest accessible mainland rookery for northern elephant seals in the world, and the seals had the grace to locate it within driving distance of Los Angeles.

From mid-December through April, the elephant seals come ashore at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, about 22 miles north of Santa Cruz, to breed and bear their young. Lucky for the seals, the state regulates the number of people who have access to this glimpse of life in the wild. Lucky for us, the only way to see them is on a beautiful 3 1/2-mile guided walk led by a trained naturalist from the state park system.

The three-ton males land on the beach in mid December, followed in a few weeks by the females. The pups are born about a week later--the result of previous year's efforts--and nurse for about 28 days. The seals then mate again and depart until their next romantic rendezvous one year later.

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