Go Away With … Scott Fujita

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
December 14, 2010

Linebacker Scott Fujita is a team captain for the Cleveland Browns and has played football for the New Orleans Saints, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys.  But his home base is in Carmel Valley, Calif. “A few years back, my wife and I chose Carmel Valley as our place to settle down and raise the kids,” says Fujita, 31. “It’s located on California’s central coast, and is pretty equidistant between our hometown and my old college stomping grounds of (the University of California) Berkeley. There are few places with a better combination of outdoor activities, beaches, mountains and sunshine. Basically, we chose a vacation destination as our permanent residence.” Fujita, who cites National Geographic Traveler as one of his favorite magazines, loves exploring and shares some of his favorite spots.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. That’s a tough one. Let me try to hit on a few places that have blown me away over the years. If you really want to go back in time, check out the Cinque Terre. It’s a chain of five timeless villages in Italy sitting on the bluffs of the Mediterranean. No cars, no cheesy tourist gimmicks. Just awesome. You could hop the train between villages, but that would be completely lame. Kick it old school and walk. Trust me, it’s a decision you won’t regret.

Cordes-sur-Ciel, France is another one of these incredible throwback destinations. It’s perched way up on top of a hill and seems impossible to get to, but is definitely worth the trek. And if you’re up for a challenge, take a leisurely stroll one morning from top to bottom, and then sprint back up.

If you’re looking to just veg out at the beach, I have a few favorite spots on the Hawaiian Islands. Polihale Beach in Kauai is incredible and is definitely worth the 4×4 rental vehicle required to get you there. And if you want to sit and watch big-wave surfers appear suicidal, check out Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore in the winter.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. We have a number of weekend sneak-away spots that we’ve frequented over the years. When we lived in So Cal, Santa Barbara, La Jolla and San Diego never disappointed. And when we were in New Orleans, we loved to make the drive to Seaside Beach, just south of Destin, Fla. This is a place more people need to hear about. And from our current residence on the central coast, you can’t go wrong with Big Sur or a trip north to the Napa Valley.

Q. What are your favorite hotels?

A. For total R&R, it’s tough to beat Esperanza Cabo Resort in Mexico. My wife and I went to Esperanza for our first multi-night getaway from the kids and it felt like we were in another galaxy. There were moments when we felt guilty for enjoying ourselves so much, but it was nice! For something a little more low-key, stay at Hotel Baia in Monterosso al Mare when you make the trek to Cinque Terre. There’s nothing pretentious about it. It’s just really cool.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?

A. When I think of my favorite restaurants, I start thinking of New Orleans … Jacques-Imo’s Cafe, Cochon, Emeril’s, Herbsaint, Nola, Clancy’s Restaurant, Pascal’s Manale … and on and on and on. But when I’m away from California for more than a few months, there’s nothing I want more than an In-N-Out Burger. And if you like good ol’ fashioned, home-style Mexican food — and trust me, you can’t find it everywhere — try El Taqueria Tapatio in my hometown of Camarillo, Calif., or El Taco de Mexico in Oxnard, Calif. For something abroad, dinner with Chef Yves Thuries at Hotel Le Grand Ecuyer in Cordes, France, is something I’ll never forget.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. I travel pretty light. I generally pack just enough to fill half my bag. My wife’s spillover generally fills the other half. But my must-haves? Camera, flip-flops, swim shorts, running/hiking shoes, pen and journal. And I always come home with an extra T-shirt or two.

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. My favorite cities, in no particular order, are Rome, New Orleans, San Gimignano (Tuscany), San Francisco, Venice, and Park City, Utah. And if it didn’t rain so much, Seattle. And if wasn’t so dang cold in the winter, Chicago. I know you asked for five, but that’s impossible.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A. I used to be the super-planner. Tons of travel guides, pages of checklists, detailed itinerary for every minute of every day. In short, super dorky. Only thing missing was the fanny pack. I have some pretty strong OCD tendencies and I have to concentrate very, very hard when I’m preparing to travel so these tendencies don’t take hold of me. My biggest problem is that I want to see and do everything and over time I’ve had to learn that that’s just not possible and that, sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with letting things reveal themselves to you.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. I definitely have a travel bucket list. South Africa is at the top and I don’t see that changing until I finally go. I’m actually ashamed I haven’t made that trip yet. I’ve always been interested in visiting Egypt. And for adventure, I’d like to do some kind of Amazon safari, hike the Na Pali cliffs in Kauai and kayak the entire chain of the Samoan islands. I also plan to drive the family motor home — Juanita Fujita — through every state. She’s been through California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana. The Griswold-style journey continues on our way to British Columbia this spring.

Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?

A. Best and worst vacation memory happened on the same day, in the same place. Earlier I mentioned the hike through Cinque Terre. If you’re traveling through the villages from south to north, you’ll start at Riomaggiore, and will pass through Manarola and Corniglia. Heed this advice: When you’re leaving Corniglia for Vernazza, take the stairs, not the tunnel. I’ll spare you all the details, but here’s the short and skinny. We opted for adventure and took the old abandoned train tunnel. When the tunnel gate locked behind us, we were essentially trapped at the other end in a gorge beneath the village of Vernazza. The only way out? Start climbing.

A slight drizzle turned into a downpour, our footing turned into mush, our loose demeanor stiffened and one in our bunch started to panic. I won’t mention names in case she ever reads this! At one point we began looking for a dry place to spend the evening. Miraculously, we stumbled on two Italian men who knew a way out. Kindly, they helped us. But my bro-in-law and I were 99 percent sure they planned to take our women in return.

Looking back it was a pretty awesome experience. We eventually made our way up to the bluff, and when we arrived at the fifth village, Monterosso, we ate at a little seaside cafe called Miky Ristorante. Best meal I ever had.

© 2010 JAE-HA KIM

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