In the mode of “grass is always greener,” vacation locales often appear most attractive when they offer something different from the place you reside in. Living two blocks from the beach, I long for cool blue lakes, pine forests and meandering streams.

Luckily, only a five-hour drive from Angeleno sprawl lie Mammoth Lakes. Bursting with clean airs, incredible scenery and endless outdoor activities, Mammoth provides a welcome respite from city life, perfect for a weekend getaway.

One terrific place to stay, the Village at Mammoth near downtown (, boasts fully loaded condominium-like accommodations equipped with fireplaces, kitchens, DVD players and balconies. The rooms sit atop a courtyard where live music wafts upward, and shops, cafes and a general store await patronage – not to mention a pool, Jacuzzi and fitness center.

However, when in Mammoth, the best fitness can be found outdoors. Why sweat it inside when the Great Outdoors beckons?

On the first day my boyfriend and I went horseback riding with Reds Meadow Pack Station ( It was a short shuttle ride away through stunning forest that used to be part of Yosemite, close to the equally astonishing Devils Postpile National Monument. The park brims with sublime views, majestic waterfalls and remarkable natural sights.

Our ride, on sweet and gentle horses, took us to the thundering Rainbow Falls by way of the Pacific Crest trail, a gorgeous sight that brave hikers swam right into and under. Our guide, Lisa, a lawyer on sabbatical, provided interesting remarks about the landscape and the history of the area as we rode along.

Another great place for horseback riding is Mammoth Pack Outfit ( in the Inyo National Forest – part of the John Muir Wilderness. Both Red Meadow and Mammoth will also take the more adventurous on overnight trips. After our arduous day of sunshine and fresh air, we lounged around by the pool in our cozy robes provided by the Village and listened to the live music coming from the courtyard.

The next day, seeking peace and tranquility, we found ourselves at the quaint and old-fashioned Tamarack Lodge and Resort on Twin Lakes ( Borrowing a canoe, we paddled across the lake, under small bridges and right up to another waterfall.

Later, we took a gondola trip from the Main Lodge. Reminiscent of Disneyland’s now extinct bucket ride, the cars take you up a steep incline to the top the mountain – needless to say the views are breathtaking. Loads of people rode the gondola with their mountain bikes and proceeded to fly back down over numerous trails with varying degrees of difficulty.

A nice day trip from Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, made up of saltwater, is worth the time and must include a stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli, probably the best restaurant ever in a gas station with fabulous offerings like lobster taquitos and homemade cheesecake with mango sauce.

Near our condo, we also ate good and inexpensive meals at the Old New York Deli and Bakery and Perry’s Italian Café. The town itself is filled with various eateries from sushi to steakhouses at a range of prices. Not to mention a cute movie theater playing crowd favorites.

While also a fabulous place to visit in the winter with the best skiing and snowboarding in California, Mammoth Lakes proves just as swell in the off season with fewer crowds, glorious weather and just enough scenery to get you off your lounge chair by the pool and out into the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness.

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