Just west of Westlake Village is Thousand Oaks and one of the things not to miss is the Hogan Family Foundation "Gardens of the World" beautiful grounds. The gardens are made up of six main areas. I have travelogues of the Gardens with HIGHLIGHTS and the beautiful ROSE GARDEN. Also a glimpse of other AREAS of the 4.5 acre grounds.
The French Garden has an eye popping fountain as you enter through the main gates. You will notice the box hedge art at the foot of the fountain representing a butterfly with colorful flowers in the interior of the outline. French style lamp posts give the flavor of France.
The Japanese Garden shows the balance and harmony of Asian culture in the tranquil setting of an authentic Japanese Pagoda with a Koi fish pond. Of course, bamboo and delicate trees and Bonzai trees add to the beauty. Once a year the Conejo Valley Bonsai Society hold their Annual Bonsai Exhibition in the Gardens of the World Research Center. So loved is the Japanese Garden for meditation that one visitor, Lance Bolton brought his flute and discretely played his flute melodies while sitting inside the Pagoda.
The American Bandstand is an authentic replica of the bandstands that were found in the towns of America in the mid 1800's. Concerts on the stage are enjoyed at certain times of the year and you can bring a blanket to sit on the grassy area that faces the bandstand. Strike up the band.
The English Garden has not only a variety of flowers but a fantastic rose garden with many shapes, colors and variety of roses from the bush rose, rose tree, tea rose to the climber all giving one the perfumed heaven when in bloom. The highlight of the gardens for me.
The Italian Garden brings to mind the many fountains of Italy with the chain fountain and the grape arbor as well as the ever popular tall Italian cypress trees line the garden. Fig trees and lavender plants add to the beauty of the area, as well as a copy of the statue of Venus de Milo, the Italian goddess of love and beauty and the same goddess of ancient Greece, Aphrodite.
The Mission Courtyard is patterned after the California Missions courtyards with a fountain in the center and the interior walls having hand painted murals of the California Missions. Olive trees line the path to the Courtyard and citrus fruit trees are inside the courtyard. Get the feel of early California as you pass by the Mission Fig trees and under the Spanish arch to the cool, refreshing shade of the courtyard with benches to sit back and dream of yesteryear in Alta California.
Entertainment can occur at the Gardens of the World during most months, but August is Big Band Sundays. This year, 2012, they had four great bands perform in the 10th Annual Summer Jazz Concert Series.
Aug 5th was The Boyd Cannon Big Band Explosion with Special Guest Vocalist Bonnie Bowden who was a featured vocalist with Sergio Mendes and Brazil 77.
Aug 12th was the Pat Longo Orchestra Featuring Vocalist Nancy Osborne. Pat was a key member of the Harry James Orchestra and has had his band for over 35 years.
Aug 19th was The Late Nite Big Band led by Joe Gray. Great swinging Jazz tunes.
Aug 26th was the Bruce Lofgren Jazz Orchestra, a full 17 piece orchestra playing many of Bruce Lofgren's own compositions of Latin, New Age, Jazz, Blues, Classical and Pop.
Not only were the Big Bands fantastic to listen to as I saw all four Sundays, but the public is invited at no charge and everyone brought chairs or blankets and enjoyed their picnic baskets and soft drinks while listening to great smooth jazz.
The research center has limited parking up the entrance driveway or parking can be found on the street or at the Civic Arts Plaza Parking Structure. Inside the research center is the information area as well as restrooms. The interior walls are covered with art forms and changed every month to show the works of local artists. Outside on the patio is a large ground chess set to enjoy a game.
Being a private garden, certain rules must be followed and the main one being no eating or drinking on the grounds except in the designated area of the bandstand grass or the lunch table area in the gardens. No alcohol or smoking allowed inside the grounds. Bring a lunch and stay a while. Water drinking fountains are found at the lunch table area or the Mission Courtyard area. Oh, some days I am there to guide tours of the gardens or just to greet you to the gardens. I am one of many docents at the "Gardens of the World." Come visit.
Entrance is free and the gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am till 5 pm, except for major holidays or rainy days and Mondays. The Hogan Family Foundation "Gardens of the World" is located at 2001 Thousand Oaks Boulevard Thousand Oaks, CA 91362, across the street from the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
OPENING NIGHT!. Light the lights! Things look grand. Look out, here comes the "Peanuts" gang in the Broadway Musical "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" presented by the Cabrillo Music Theatre of Thousand Oaks.
Westlake Village is just a stones throw to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and the Fred Kavli Theatre. I was looking forward to this production as the Comic Strip created by Charles M. Schutz, "Peanuts", was and is one of my all time favorite comic strips and to see the characters such as Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and not to forget Snoopy, come to life on stage was not only entertaining but well done. The cast of Dane Biren (Charlie Brown), Reba Buhr (Sally Brown), Zachary Ford (Snoopy), Todrick Hall (Schroeder), Jeffrey Scott Parsons (Linus), Natalie Storrs (Lucy) along with the understudies Tessa Grady and Bear Manescalchi were ready to do "Peanuts" proud.
I was fortunate enough to get to meet and chat with some of the cast along with Lewis Wilkenfeld, Artistic Director and Cindy Murray, Director of Internal Operations, before the curtains parted on stage. Everyone was up and excited. Why not? It was Opening Night. I was even excited. Artistic Director Lewis Wilkenfeld has a full plate. The Cabrillo Music Theatre presents many wonderful Musical Theatre productions throughout the year and Mr. Wilkenfeld tells it like it is. "Come on out for a night to remember." He was a joy to talk with and devoted to the theatre and feels and acts like a proud father. Rightly so. Top notch staff, top notch cast, top notch venue. Proven on this Opening Night of the Cabrillo Music Theatre's "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown." I have to give a standing ovation to Zachary Ford (Snoopy) for his delivery of the show stopper song, in my opinion, "Supper Time." Fantastic vocals. Bravo!
If you are near Thousand Oaks, living or visiting in the Greater Los Angeles or Santa Barbara areas or even in my home town of Westlake Village in the Conejo Valley,a wonderful evening can be spent at the Fred Kavli Theatre watching a Cabrillo Music Theatre ensemble present a Broadway Musical. I can hardly wait for the next production, Grease, opening on April 12 and running through April 21, 2013. Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes. Contact the Box Office and join the crowd to say the word, "Grease." The remainder of the season looks like a lot of fun with "Grease", and Legally Blonde, the Musical, coming in July 19-28, 2913. If you are traveling through the area on the Freeway, US 101, between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, why not stop by for an evening of entertainment. It is Broadway in my own backyard. Many excellent restaurants and hotels nearby. Maybe I'll see you around my neck of the woods.
Hidden by the hills to the west of Westlake Village sits Lake Sherwood, a beautiful lake where once upon a time Robin Hood and his merry men pranced around for the movies. Aha, now we know how the area got it's name. Sherwood Forest was recreated here for the movie, "Robin Hood" starring Douglas Fairbanks, in 1922.
This setting inspired David Murdock, the developer of Lake Sherwood and the location of the Jack Nicklaus designed Sherwood Country Club golf course. Tiger Woods, yes, the world famous golfer, has his name on the Tiger Woods Foundation World Challenge Golf Tournament that takes place in December and is going to be sponsered by Chevron as of 2008. Sherwood Country Club is a private club and the surrounding homes are part of the gated community.
There are many homes that surround the lake that do not belong to the gated community and a drive through the hilly streets offers views of the lake and the homes of Lake Sherwood. A large turnout for the golf tournament drives throught Westlake Village to get to the parking area of Sherwood Country Club. Many of the top names in golf are at this event.
Nearby to Westlake Village via the 23 Freeway is the town of Moorpark, only about a 15 minute drive to arrive at the Cafe Firenze. When you talk of the Los Angeles area, the mileage disappears and the driving time is what's important. I put this Restaurant tip here in Westlake Village because I enjoy the ambiance and the gourmet dishes of the Tuscany region of Italy.
Cafe Firenze started out with Fabio Viviani as Executive Chef/Owner, who has exploded on the local restaurant scene within the last year due to his mastery of the kitchen and his exposure on national television, "Top Chef 5: New York" included. Fabio born in Florence, Italy, incorporates Italian, French and Spanish influences in his dishes and believes that cooking is a craft. After being an owner/chef in Florence, Fabio moved to the United States and settled in Moorpark to start his dream, Cafe Firenze. Working the crowd is one of Fabio's delights and he spent about 20 minutes with my wife, Sue, and me chatting about the dishes we ordered. No wonder he was voted "Fan Favorite" on Top Chef 5: New York. Look out Chefdom, you have a rising star within your midst with the "Italian Stallion", Fabio Viviani. So much so that Fabio has left the building to build yet another restaurant, Firenze Osteria in Toluca Lake, the east side of the San Fernando Valley, part of Los Angeles. After a few months, Fabio has returned to Cafe Firenze with one of his business partners, Jocopo Falleni, master mixologist, who will be in control of the bar operations. One of the best in the kitchen with food and one of the best in the bar with drinks. Looks like the pack is back. Viva Italia!
Cafe Firenze has a massive wood bar, specializing in martinis, standing right in front of you as you enter. The look is Tuscan in design and the restaurant has three separate dining areas. The kitchen room, where we dined, allows you to watch the comings and goings of the chefs and the waitstaff. Beautifully decorated booths with designer throw pillows surround the room and the kitchen plating counter has seating as well. The menu is a Tuscany delight and the dishes were excellent. No complaints from me. We were amazed at the different tastes of flavors that each gourmet dish offered, making for a delicious, well rounded meal.
We started with Burrata e Zucchine (Burrata and roasted Zucchini with Balsamic Reduction), went on to Risotto alla Salsiccia e Fungi (Risotto, roasted Sausage and Wild Mushrooms in a creamy sauce, as well as Gnocchi Cinque Terre (Potato dumplings, Basil Pesto sauce, pine nuts and 24 month aged Parmigianino Cheese). Yes, I was beginning to feel full. That's why you take your time and converse with your dining partner or with the Chef. Now you are ready for the main courses. Mama Mia, so many to choose but the one favorite wins out. I decided on the Ossobuco (Veal Ossobuco Milanese with a Chianti and Vegetable sauce, served over Saffron and Pancetta risotto). Molto buono. My wife had the Stinco d'Agnello (Lamb shank, Barbaresco Wine and Vegetable sauce, Potato Gnocchi in Gorgonzola and roasted Mushroom sauce) that was falling off the bone tender with the Gnocchi as light as feather pillows. We finished off the two hour experience with a "melt-in-your-mouth Flourless Chocolate Cake with a homemade Tiramisu Ice Cream as well as a Strawberry Shortcake filled with Strawberries and Ricotta. What a way to end the meal.
Cafe Firenze is located in the Mission Bell Plaza at 563 W Los Angeles Ave Moorpark, CA 93021. Open Tues, Wed, Sunday 11am - 10pm and Thurs - Sat 11am - 2am. Monday: Closed.