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What's new to do near you

Not planning to take any big trips in 2003 due to the economy, lack of time, terrorism fears, a looming war? A wealth of amusements awaits in our own backyard.

January 05, 2003|By TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Farewell, Bali. Hello, Laguna.

That's the new year's travel buzz. Luckily for Southern Californians, there are plenty of nearby options to entice. Within easy reach, from San Diego to Mammoth to Las Vegas, new faces in familiar places await.

Given the sputtering economy, lingering security concerns and a prospect of war in Iraq, many of us are sticking closer to home, frequently spending less money but occasionally splurging (and not feeling guilty, since a self-indulgent weekend still costs less than some vacations abroad).

Even though the '90s boom has passed, its echo is alive in the form of romantic new hotels, revived cultural landmarks and expanded family attractions. From the sunbaked desert of Phoenix to Orange County's golden coast and its crop of new luxury hotels, projects started years ago are finally ready to open.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 107 words Type of Material: Correction
Downtown L.A. -- In today's Travel section cover story ("What's new to do near you"), the name of the artist featured in an upcoming Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition was misspelled. The British painter is Lucian Freud, not Lucien Freud.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 12, 2003 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Downtown L.A. -- In a Jan. 5 Travel section story ("What's New to Do Near You"), the name of the artist featured in an upcoming Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit was misspelled. The British painter is Lucian Freud, not Lucien Freud.

Some world travelers will jump at the chance to take advantage of bargains and smaller crowds abroad this year. But for those who don't, 2003 is a good time to discover all over again the possibilities in our own backyard.

Mammoth changes

It takes a village to grow a ski resort -- and about a billion dollars. At least, that's the tab at Mammoth Mountain in California's Eastern Sierra.

For eons the resort's apres-ski scene lent new meaning to the word "lackluster." But now Mammoth is being transformed into a flashy village with upscale lodging and shopping. The grand opening is set for Memorial Day, although the 77-unit Lincoln House and the 89-unit White Mountain condos are slated to open in February or March. (Most units are sold, but many are available as rentals.) They'll be joined by nearly three dozen stores, galleries and restaurants.

Most everything is within walking distance, including the 15-passenger gondola that can move 3,600 people an hour.

The 11,053-foot Mammoth Mountain had found itself on a downhill course in the last decade. Skier visits were off, partly because of the glam factor -- or lack thereof. Enter giant Intrawest, developer and operator of Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia and Copper in Colorado.

The company's new village also will contain Grand Sierra Lodge, a 67-unit building where one-bedroom condos will begin at about $350,000 but also will be available for rent. This last piece of the core village is expected to be completed in 14 to 18 months.

Sorry to see Mammoth go the way of Aspen? Take heart. There's one thing money can't buy: fresh, deep, natural snow. The resort has had nearly 8 feet so far this season.

Mammoth Mountain, (800) MAMMOTH (626-6684), www.mammothmountain.com.

Tahoe revamped

Not to be outdone, the city of South Lake Tahoe, on the lake's California side, has a billion-dollar make-over of its own.

Unlike Mammoth, the problem here hasn't been the absence of a bustling shoppers' village. It has been the presence of one: an ugly asphalt maze of traffic-clogged streets, weary motels and tacky trinket shops cluttering town.

This year, though, a face-lift of Joan Rivers-size proportions continues. Old commercial areas such as a bedraggled Raley's supermarket center are being injected with new retail stores. Landscaping is being tucked and lifted. And in a bit of odd timing, an outdoor skating rink is set to open in April.

Some low-end accommodations have been excised. In their place are Marriott's 261-room Timber Lodge and 199-room Grand Residence Club, open only a couple of months. Both are time-share-style properties but can be reserved on a nightly basis. Recently quoted winter rates started at $160.

To prevent the kind of sprawl that marred South Lake Tahoe in the first place, the city's redevelopment calls for 131 units of old lodging to be retired for every 100 new units. The goal is fewer but nicer accommodations, better shopping and more green space to complete the make-over.

Gold in Orange County

Is a warm beach more your speed? Look no farther this year than Orange County, where three new resorts will make the most of their settings along Pacific Coast Highway.

A onetime trailer park is scheduled to open Feb. 21 as a 262-room high-end hotel. Montage Resort & Spa, on 30 prime acres, is done in "California bungalow" style -- a touch of Craftsman with a splash of surf and sand.

Chances are surfer dudes won't be hanging out here, where room rates will begin at $450.

Who will? We're guessing anyone prosperous and curious enough to see what money can buy at Laguna Beach's first new luxury hotel in decades. (A partial answer: an ocean view from every room, marble baths, three pools, beach access and some name dropping. James Boyce, lured away from Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., is executive chef at Studio, one of the three restaurants.)

It wouldn't be a resort without the spa, here a 20,000-square-foot affair with 21 treatment rooms. Some are indoor/outdoor, so you can hear the ocean in case you forgot it's close by.

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