Tag - california

Salton Sea – A Mirage in the Desert?

The idea of taking a day-trip to Salton Sea didn’t appeal to me at first, but my wife always insists on exploring anything and everything, because we might be pleasantly surprised by what we’ll discover.

Salton Sea from the campground

Salton Sea seen from the campground

Before arriving at the visitors’ center of Salton Sea, we stopped at a desolate campground along the shores of this vast body of water. The wind was blowing hard, as if an entity was pushing us to leave, and the foul odor of floating, dead fish emanated from the murky, green water. The shoreline was strewn with small shells and fish skeletons, which crunched under foot. Such a macabre atmosphere led us to wonder if we had accidentally arrived in a parallel universe.

Shoreline filled with fishbones

Shoreline filled with fish bones

Obviously, we didn’t stay long at the campsite and drove to the main entrance to pay the $5 fee to enter the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. The air remained heavy with the smell of fish, and the breeze off the water coated our tongues and skin with a veil of salt. Some visitors looked confused while wandering the parking lot amid a scattering of RVs, and it simply didn’t feel like a very happy place to be.

When we entered the visitor’ center, our two toddlers broke the silence with their animated voices upon seeing the small gift shop’s collection of stuffed animals, which they enthusiastically took one by one and handed them to the few tourists who were milling around. As I stood there, I wondered how it was possible for this Southern California lake to receive 150,000 visitors each year. Was it slowly being abandoned to the whims of the unforgiving desert?

Creation of the Salton Sea

Millions of years ago, the Gulf of California had extended to the current location of the Salton Sea, depositing silt and ultimately creating an inland body of water. The Sea also has mud volcanoes, which are a result of the very part of the earth that created the lake, and it’s possible to get up close and dirty in the healing, hot mud. Over the centuries, the fresh water from the Colorado River replaced the salt water and turned this area into Lake Cahuilla. Its fertile banks provided a place for the Cahuilla Native Americans to settle and flourish for generations.

About 500 years ago, the Colorado River shifted south and the water started to recede over time, exposing 15-foot thick salt deposits over 1,000 square acres. The attraction of such a landscape inspired farmers to put down roots in the area, construct salt mines and further create irrigation canals from the Colorado River to sustain the productive lands.

In 1905 and 1907, the Colorado River broke through diversion canals and flooded the nearly empty lake, thereby creating a 35-mile long and 15-mile wide body of water. To this day, irrigation from the river transports up to 600 tons of salt deposits each year.

Salton Sea Recreation

By the late 1950s, the Salton Sea State Recreational Area was quite popular among Southern Californians. Thousands of residents hooked up their boats to trailers and headed to the 360-square-mile lake for fun-filled weekends. It was so popular that it was necessary to create 15 ramps to load the boats in and out the lake. Although, all that remains of the The Desert Beach Club’s “Sunken City Yacht Club” are the ruins of its foundation at the water’s edge.

Today, however, it seems that this paradise for water enthusiasts has lost its appeal, with many parts of the Recreation Area closed to the public. Some reviews say that if you can get past the murky waters and the fishy smell, you’ll have Salton Sea all to yourself. There are several campgrounds, totaling 14,000 camp sites, but to our surprise most were lifeless and sad looking.

Salton see with the murky water

Salton sea with the murky water

They do say, however, that Salton Sea is the perfect location for stargazing due to the absence of light pollution in the area.

Salton Sea today

Dead fish along the shore line

Dead fish along the shore line

The Salton Sea is touted as a great spot for bird-watchers, as it’s a breading ground and migratory stop for many birds. It hosts one of the largest variety in North America, with 400 species and sub-species, such as brown pelicans, egrets and cormorants, which depend on the health of the water and a constant population of fish. In 1996 thousands of birds mysteriously began to die off, and it was later determined that the Avian Botulism was responsible for the fatal decline. Although scientists were confused by how the pelican population had contracted the botulism, they discovered that the tilapia fish, which was on the pelicans’ menu, had also been affected. Avian Botulism is common to saline environments, but it isn’t considered to be a huge threat. It’s extremely rare to contract the bacteria while swimming in the sea or from touching the fish.

Abandoned, salt-encrusted structures on the Salton Sea shore at Bombay Beach

Abandoned structures on the Salton Sea at Bombay Beach

The tilapia, which thrives in these waters, numbers up to 300,000, but it remains a mystery as to why thousands of them go to shore to die each year. However, it is important to the ecology of the area and offers a feast for the birds.

The evaporation of the water is also a critical issue in the desert, and maintaining a consistent level of it here is key to wild life survival. If the lake were to die, it would mean their extinction.

fish skeletons are everywhere

fish skeletons are everywhere

On a personal note: Albeit creepy, it is beautiful. The water is still and dreamy, with the perfect backdrop of mountains rising behind it. So little is known about this body of water in the middle of nowhere, but it is worth a visit: to understand the task it has in our fragile environment, and learn why many are fighting so hard to save this “engineering mistake.”

If you’re into adventure and exploring weird places, then go and check it out. Bear in mind that the smell of fish is overwhelming, and the beach strewn with fish bones doesn’t make for a pleasant stroll (it’s a must to keep your shoes on). If you do happen to go, please tell us about your experience.

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Folk art of the desert- Salvation Mountain
Folk art of the desert- East Jesus

Balboa Island – Great Things Come in Small Packages

As the locals say: “Welcome to Balboa Island, where cats are fat and lazy, dogs are spoiled and the locals live a creative and carefree lifestyle.” Stroll down the main street of Marine Avenue to check out the cute boutique shops and have a frozen banana—the island’s signature treat—and go for a walk around the island to see beautiful, bay-front homes.

Island-sized History

Balboa Island's boardwalk

Balboa Island’s boardwalk

The island is a mere 0.2 square miles and was literally erected from the sea. In 1906 a developer named William Steppe Collins, who made his fortune from oil, real estate and oranges, began dredging around a two-acre mud flat in Newport Bay. In 1913, he had another island created and pictured it to become a gambling resort complete with canals and gondoliers. Yet, the idea was scratched with only one canal today.

It didn’t take long for the L.A.’s elite to catch wind of Collins’ new island, and many arrived to buy up the small plots, seeing it as a retreat while others eventually settled down with their children. Today’s population numbers around 3000 residents, including an original few who grew up here as kids.

The Easy Life

St John Church, Marina Ave

St John Church, Marine Ave

This man-made island has become one of the most touted and expensive property markets in the nation. It’s also clear that homeowners take pride in their manicured gardens behind white-picket fences along tidy streets. Each home is unique, small in size and quite close to one another. Residents compromise to become friends with theirs neighbors, and the locals we met said that ”your neighbor knows all your whereabouts.” It goes to show that keeping a secret here would be difficult.

Marina Ave shops

Marine Ave. shops

Most residents also have a dock instead of a driveway, and it comes as no surprise that it’s the most boat-occupied island in the United States. The waters are always busy, with people using pedal boats, kayaks, boats, yachts and ferry traffic to the mainland. It’s a wonder that with all this activity, the water and beaches are pristine. Many residents have a small, private beach in front of their homes, making it ideal for sunbathing and swimming on beautiful, sunny days.

Obviously, it’s a great lifestyle for the select few who can afford it. Eating out is expensive but not all shocking. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and coffee shops on Marine Avenue and a small deli to buy some essentials, as there aren’t any grocery stores on the island. However, if you can’t resist a week of rest and relaxation on this quaint island, vacation rentals run less than $2000 a week.

It’s very easy to visit the entire island. The boardwalk, which is always busy with residents and visitors alike, wraps around the outer edge of Balboa Island, providing great views of the water, beaches, homes and the mainland just beyond the picturesque harbor.

Enjoying the day

Enjoying the day at the beach

The island simply exudes a festive atmosphere with people strolling down Marine Avenue having a great time talking, smiling, laughing and simply happy to be there—I’ll go back in a heartbeat.

Getting There

There is a small bridge and a ferry service connecting Balboa Island to the mainland. The ferry, which is privately owned and operated, takes 3 cars at a time, and the price is relatively reasonable: At $1 per person and $2 per car, it’s a quick five-minute trip.

Though this charming, carefree town offers a delightful atmosphere, the only few stressful things on the island are the narrow streets and crowded intersections and bad traffic. Visitors need to be patient and aware of how the simply island works.

For more information, visit the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society: www.balboaislandmuseum.org

Here is a small video captured during the visit 🙂

California’s Most Unique Beaches

Do you think the vast majority of California beaches are simply tourist destinations with nothing extraordinary or interesting to offer? Many of them seem overrated, overcrowded and boring, but the state’s beaches are simply one of a kind and some are overlooked. Let’s see what you know about the most unique beaches in the Golden State. We have selected 10, and you are more than welcome to add your favorite California beach to the list.

1.Venice Beach, Venice

Venice beach, Credit-discoverlosangeles.com

Venice beach, Credit-discoverlosangeles.com

It’s a must-see when visiting Los Angeles. Noted for its soft sand and soaring palm trees, this sweeping beach stretches for over 3 miles—ideal for the essential three S’s: swimming, surfing and sunbathing. However, what makes Venice Beach unique is not just the beach itself but the activities around the Ocean Front Boardwalk—people come to walk and shop, see and be seen.

Venice Beach is famous for its open-air gym, where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained as a body builder for the competitions he later won as Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia. A stroll along the popular Boardwalk is one of L.A.’s most entertaining locations—grab a bag of popcorn, take a seat and watch the show go by. You’ll come across people from every walk of life, including singers, artists, contortionists, musicians, weirdos, jugglers, acrobats, fortune tellers, story tellers, CD vendors, sculptors, beautiful people and the beautifully challenged. To enjoy a day of sports activities, the beach is dotted with tennis and basketball courts, along with areas set up for beach volleyball. There are also bike paths and a skateboard park. Summers are festive and packed, and there are shows of every kind at each street intersection.

Tip: Beware of pickpockets and persistent CD vendors.

2. Bowling Ball Beach, Pacific Coast Hwy 1

Bowling ball beach, credit-reddit.com

Bowling ball beach, credit-reddit.com

You’ll discover a stretch of unusual beach just south of Point Arena in Northern California. What makes this location so unique is the series of giant “bowling balls” that the receding tide reveals at certain points along the beach. Hundreds of them have the same density, size and the volume, and geologists have named them “concretions:” rounded masses of mineral matter occurring in sandstone, clay, etc., that form in sediment before solidifying in concentric layers.

Animal life is also abundant, if you know where to look. From hermit crabs and snails, lurking in between the rocks, to the colorful red and green sea anemones and small rockfish in the tidal pools at low tide, children and parents alike will enjoy entertaining hours of discovery.

Tip: Don’t stray too close to the cliffs; the area is prone to landslides and rocks may tumble down without any warnings.

3. Glass Beach, Ft Bragg

Sea-glass-beach, Credit-onia.com

Sea-glass-beach, Credit-onia.com

The famous Glass Beach in Northern California was actually formed by the locals, who used to dump rubbish on the beach from the 1940s to as late as the 1960s. Over the decades, the pounding of the waves has transformed the glass remnants into something beautiful and unusual: perfectly smooth, pebble-sized pieces that reflect shades of white, red, brown, green, blue and amber.

Its uniqueness, however, is also becoming its undoing. Despite being a state park to ensure that Glass Beach remains for others to enjoy in the future, many visitors ignore the signs that prohibit the collecting of the glass and selfishly remove it by the bag-full.

Tip: Please be considerate and respect the beauty of the beach, otherwise there will no longer be Glass Beach.

4. Rockaway Beach, Pacifica

Rockaway beach, Credit-10formation.com

Rockaway beach, Credit-10formation.com

It’s the quintessential, sleepy hideaway on the gorgeous Northern California coast, and some say it’s the best-kept secret. Located in the town of Pacifica, Roackaway Beach exhibits an unusual yet beautiful, dark brown color. This natural occurrence is due to the erosion of the bluish-grey limestone that mixes with the volcanic greenstone around the beach. The views of the ocean are also breathtaking, and visitors can enjoy their beloved beach activities amid a serene atmosphere.

Tip: The rough waters off Pacifica also make it a surfer’s paradise.

5. Luffenholtz Beach, Trinidad

Luffenholtz beach, Credit-panoramio

Luffenholtz beach, Credit-panoramio

Luffenholtz Beach is a spectacular, rocky cove with numerous tidal pools and reefs to explore and discover the sea creatures within them. This living science museum will keep kids occupied for hours, along with Luffenholtz Creek, which flows into Trinidad Bay. The park also offers a sweeping panorama of the vast Pacific Ocean, with a look-out point at Houda Point for watching the sun set over Camel Rock offshore.

Tip: Trinidad’s Moonstone Beach is a favorite surfing spot among the locals.

6. Black Sand Beach, Golden Gate Recreation Area

Blacks and beach, Credit-pinterest

Blacks and beach, Credit-pinterest

If you don’t have a chance to make it to Hawaii, this is the closest you can get to a black sand beach. The reason for its charcoal color is due to the blending of a magnetite and a dark amphibole mineral known as “hornblende.” There are two other known black sand beaches in California; one is in San Diego and the other is two hours north of Glass Beach in Shelter Cove.

Tip: Keep in mind that it’s a steep hike up and down to the beach. Moreover, it’s not only a natural wonder, but it’s also a nudist beach. Don’t forget to bring sunblock if you feel the need to bear your skin to the wind.

7. Oceano Dunes Beach, Oceano

Oceano beach, Credit- atv1ryono.net

Oceano beach, Credit- atv1ryono.net

This beach is a one-of-a-kind because it’s the only California beach where you can drive onto it and actually park. There are plenty of sand dunes that make it easy and popular for off-riders to maneuver. There is also an array of activities to do, such as surfing, swimming, horseback riding and bird watching. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to drive on the beach, then this is the place to visit.

Tip: Passenger cars should stay at the northern end of the beach, and be careful of the ocean’s strong rip currents.

8. Piedras Blancas Beach, San Simeon

Piedras Blancas beach, credit edeltrips.com

Piedras Blancas beach, credit edeltrips.com

Piedras Blancas” is the most accessible beach for elephant seal watching. Mother Nature has provided these robust marine mammals with protection from storms, high water and sea predators. It’s really an experience to spend hours observing them swimming, doing flips in the waves, snuggling up against each other, chortling and rolling around on the sand. Males assert their pecking order with macho, chest-bumping zest, and you’ll quickly figure out who’s really boss when these big mounds of blubbery bodies quickly make room for Big Daddy to pick his spot.

Tip: Visit all year long except in August and September when there are hardly any seals.

9. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Pfeiffer beach, Credit-tripcentral.ca

Pfeiffer beach, Credit-tripcentral.ca

The color of the sand is unique in that it reflects the watercolor hues of purple, pink and lavender. This unspoiled beach gets its particular shade from the abundance of manganese garnet particles washing down from the rocky hills. The rugged and dramatic offshore rock formations enhance the contrasts to this already unbelievably beautiful landscape. The further you walk down the beach, the denser the colors become. Virtually unknown to seasoned tourists, it’s very well worth the visit if you are in the area.

Tip: It’s a bit tricky to find. Look for the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road. It’s the only paved, non-gated road that’s west of Highway One (between the Big Sur post office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park). Once spotting the turnout, make a very sharp turn and then follow the road for about two miles until it ends.

10. Silver Strand Beach, San Diego

Coronado Silver Strand-Beach, Credit sandiego.org

Coronado Silver Strand-Beach, Credit sandiego.org

Have you ever seen silver sand? This 2.5 mile beach gets its name from the silvery oyster shells that cover the beach and dunes. You’ll also discover many clams buried in the sand. The beach also offers overnight RV camping, picnic areas, bathroom and shower facilities plus fantastic shell collecting. Beach activities include surfing, swimming, body boarding, jet skiing, sailing and water skiing, as well as fishing and beach volleyball.

Tip: There are about 130 first-come, first-serve campsites.

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Content: Introduction to the art of living through Releasing

Vacation in Palm Springs? Absolutely!

Surrounded by the San Jacinto mountain range in the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs comprises around 60,000 permanent residents, of which 60% is gay. When winter is in full swing, the population grows to nearly 150,000.

Beautiful Palm Springs

Beautiful Palm Springs

Is Palm Springs the ideal getaway for anyone seeking calmness from the fast pace of everyday life? Let’s explore the city and highlight its great points of interest.

A Winter Wonderland

The locals will tell you that only a brave few come to vacation in the summer, when swimming pools feel more like hot tubs than a place to cool off. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a dream holiday, it is, however, one of the best winter destinations in the United States. Snowbirds come from all over to escape from the frigid temperatures of the snow-covered north.

Livable and comfortable, winter is very pleasant with ideal temperatures that range from the mid-70s to mid-80s. At the same time, winter in deserts tend to be chilly at night—even Jack Frost will be nipping at your nose. Of course, there is the occasional rain shower to give the gift of life even to the harshest of places.

Take a Hike

Spectacular views of the Valley below from Mt St Jacinto

Spectacular views of the Valley below from Mt St Jacinto

Palm Springs isn’t ideal for outdoor activities in summer, but winter is the best time if you’re an outdoorsy kind of person. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with a hike through Taquitz Canyon. Admission is $12, which may sound like a lot for a one-mile hike, but there are fantastic points, such as Native American pictographs, hikers would never discover without the knowledge of an accompanying guide. There’s even a path that leads to a waterfall. Other great hikes include Indian Canyons — comprising Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon and Murray Canyon. Be on the lookout for resident bighorn sheep, mule deer and plenty of darting lizards. Bird-watchers will also enjoy getting a glimpse of the various species that live here. For spectacular views of the valley, take a hike on the San Jacinto Trail.

Regardless if it’s a blazing summer or a delightful winter, hikers need to keep the the following in mind:

    • Check the weather before heading out.
    • Most trails don’t have any shady areas or restroom facilities.
    • Dress appropriately and, most of all, wear a hat.
    • Bring plenty of water and some food. If you run out of water, turn around and go back.
    • Be careful where you step and beware of rattlesnakes. The landscape is remote and challenging, so it’s best to stay on the trails.

Some hikes are easier than others, but it’s still good to go with a friend.

Palm Springs Attractions

Palm Springs Air Museum

Palm Springs Air Museum

The Air Museum of Palm Springs: Listed as one of the best aviation museums to visit in the USA by CNN, the museum aims to educate the public about the role American air power played during conflicts of war. The cost is $10, which includes visits to three hangars and other outdoor expositions.

The Aerial Tram: This is one of the main attractions in the city. To escape the heat in summer, locals and visitors alike head to Mt. Jacinto, where the temperature is 25 degrees cooler.

Summer months are less crowded, but expect to wait in a long line during the popular winter months. During peak season, the tram runs every 15 minutes and transports up to 10,000 people per day for the 10-minute ride. Tickets cost $25 per person, depending on when you’re heading, and $60 for a season pass.

Rotting Aerial tram

Rotating Aerial tram

Once reaching the top, there are some easy hikes to do, places to rest for a picnic and enjoy the breathtaking view of the valley below. There is a restaurant from this lofty perch, but the wait time can   be long and the food isn’t worth it in the end.

Star-studded Streets: At one point, there were almost as many celebrities living in Palm Springs as in Tinsel Town. Fans of Hollywood can stroll down the Palm Springs Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon drive.

door6896Visitors can also go on tours through the “Old Movie Colony”, Las Palmas neighborhood and Racquet Club Estates, as well as other secret locations with some 50-60 beautiful homes to see along the way.

Entrance signThe list of famous residents reads like a who’s who from the Silver Screen. Legendary celebrities who had their hideaways in Palm Springs include Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the Reagans and even Elvis and Priscilla Presley. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Dinah Shore were also frequent visitors to this desert oasis.

Wind farms of Palm Spgs, Credit-daryo.uz

Wind farms of Palm Spgs, Credit-daryo.uz

The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium: This one-acre, family-owned botanical garden boasts 3,000 examples of cacti and other desert succulents that are grouped by geographic regions. The entrance fee is $4 for adults and $2 for children.

Visit the Wind Turbines: These sleek and towering beacons stretch along I-10 and rotate at a rapid speed, helping to generate one and a half percent of California’s electricity. There are 3,500-plus wind turbines in place and create enough energy to power nearly 200,000 homes. Some refer to the area as being the second windiest place on earth.

 Enjoy the Laid-back Desert Lifestyle

View from Ruth Hardy Park

View from Ruth Hardy Park

Relax at a city park: If you visit with kids, there are some nice parks for them to run around and have some fun. Located near Mt. Jacinto, the Ruth Hardy Park is one of the best in Palm Springs, with tennis courts, volleyball courts and a basketball court. Dimuth Park is also another option, but Sunrise Park isn’t recommendable.

Ride a bike: There are plenty of bike trails and rentals are affordable. Most bike paths are shared with pedestrian sidewalks, which may annoy some. Click on the following links for more details.

Let the festivities begin! Winter is also a time when endless festivals fill the city. The Palm Springs VillageFest runs all year in downtown on Thursday evenings; the Palm Springs Film Festival, founded by former mayor Sonny Bono, takes place in January, and the hot air balloon festival on 14 and 15 February. Along with art festivals on weekends, there’s the Tour de Palm Springs Bike Event in February, Gay pride in November and the Palm Springs Light Festival in December—just to name a few.

Village fest


Other attraction to visit may include Irwin Junior’s Robo-lights, which display the largest single-family home light display in California from November to the end of December.

A Night on the Town: There are plenty of bars and night clubs open until late, and there’s something for everyone. Why take a chance with Lady Luck at the the Spa Resort Casino? It also has one of the best spas in town.

Meet the Locals!

Palm Springs Charm

Palm Springs Charm

Palm Spring is diverse and exciting, with a population from all over the world. Don’t be afraid to chat with the locals—they won’t bite. Everywhere you go, people are simply friendly, helpful, fun and engaging. It feels good to meet people who love others and love to live peacefully.

Heterosexuals may feel uncomfortable to see gay couples holding hands and showing affection for each other on the streets just as anyone else would towards their significant other. However, don’t stare or say something inappropriate. Accept the indifference, be a tolerant and decent human being.

Eat and Be Merry

People love to shop at the local and farmers’ markets. Every Saturday, the organic farmers’ market (7 am – 12:30 pm) is fantastic for buying certified, organic food for reasonable prices.

There are also plenty of Palm Springs restaurants that serve up international dishes. For a taste of the Med, have a seat in the “Greek Island Restaurant;” Asian food-lovers will leave happy after dining at “Thai Smile,” and for authentic French cuisine treat your taste buds at “Atelier.” If you want to have your cake and eat it, too, you’ll find the best cakes in the Coachella Valley at Sherman’s.

Cimarran Golf resort Palm SpringsPalm Springs may not immediately cross one’s mind for a vacation, but it seems that’s the case for at least the one million who do visit each year. If you’re looking for adventure, recreation and relaxation, you can’t beat Palm Springs.

Read more:

101 Things to do in Palm Springs

How Green Are These Valleys- The Wine Country’s twin valleys – Napa and Sonoma

Getting Out Among The Vines

Napa Valley vineyards

Napa Valley vineyards

Just an hour’s drive northeast of San Francisco is one of California’s most visited attractions – the world-famous, vine-covered hillsides of Napa and Sonoma Counties. A recent visit took me to a region reminiscent of Tuscany with undulating, lush green hillsides crisscrossed with vines and awash in wildflowers – a dramatic landscape sprinkled with appealing small towns, world-class restaurants and 600 wineries and tasting rooms. Wine, wine everywhere and drops and drops to drink!

Glen Ellen, in the heart of Sonoma Valley, is a sweet little hamlet of less than 1,000 people. It is steeped in a blend of inspiring libations, local dining delights, and the region’s noble, natural beauty. Here the Benziger Family Winery is an 85-acre estate that has become a research and teaching center for the cultivation of grapes with more flavor and aroma. For more than thirty years the family has been singularly dedicated to three things: family, great wine and healthy vineyards. I hopped aboard a tram which took me through the farm’s vineyards, caves, and factories. The guide explained that Benziger wines are certified, sustainable and organic – not because they want to be known as “the green winery,” but because their experience has shown that great wine has green values. My tour ended in the Benziger tasting room. Did the wines I taste have more flavor, more aroma? I can only tell you that I left the winery a very happy camper.

Veni, Vidi, Vino!

Sonoma Valley vineyards

Sonoma Valley vineyards

While wine may be the main attraction, this region’s supporting cast—land imbued with dazzling beauty, a line-up of acclaimed restaurants, and a multitude of recreational and cultural activities—make nearby Napa Valley in the North Bay portion of the San Francisco Bay area a most desirable destination. In Yountville, I checked into my hotel and then quickly set out to discover this town that’s saddled with a rather unfortunate name. Actually, to give credit where credit is due, when one George Calvert Yount first saw the Napa Valley, he said, “In such a place I should love to live and die.” How’s that for a glowing stamp-of-approval? Mr. Yount settled here in 1836 and planted the very first vineyard in the valley. Today, wineries in Yountville include such well-known producers as Domaine Chandon and Robert Mondavi. And only in Napa Valley could a tiny rural village boast more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other place in North America. Yountville. The name sounds better already!

The town’s compact layout makes it great for wandering on foot or bike. To quote Michael Chiarello, chef at Bottega, “For those of us that have to commute or run to the airport and back, it’s nice to come home to a community that has almost everything you need within 300 yards.” I explored upscale, deluxe boutiques and checked out the Napa Valley Museum with its Warhols, Manets and the lively, off-beat diRosa collection. Before returning to the hotel, I just had to see the holy grail of gourmet dining – Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. It’s situated down a side street – a lane, really – and sited on what looks like an abandoned lot. I made my way to the front door ( fyi: painted navy-blue) flanked with pretty topiaries. Expecting grandeur, this citadel of haut cuisine appeared somewhat ordinary and unprepossessing; perhaps the magic lies within.

Wined and Dined-Out

Houseboats in Sausalito

Houseboats in Sausalito

My wine country experience, albeit heady and delicious, left me needing a break. I needed to clear my head and instead feed the mind and soul. I needed to be sittin’ on the dock of the bay – and there’s no better place to do it than in Sausalito, where Otis Redding penned his famed song of the same name. Listening to the lyrics, his song is kind of sad. Redding sings that he’s traveled 2,000 miles from home just to sit on the dock of the bay wastin’ time. Sorry, I can’t relate to that. The town offers many delightful diversions, not the least of which is a tour of its iconic house boat scene. Victoria Colella was my guide for her ‘Docks of the Bay” historic houseboat tour. This vibrant community of floating homes recently turned 65, but it remains as rebellious and funky as ever. I saw original houseboats, art studios, wooden boat building shops and working boat yards. Victoria told tales of the Beat Era, the houseboat wars, and showed us the boat where Sterling Hayden lived in his heyday.

Sausalito is a mere hour’s drive from Napa and is ranked as one of the top 20 destinations in the country, with its small town charm, Mediterranean character and awe-inspiring views of San Francisco, its sister city across the bay. One of the very best views to be had – anywhere – is from a small, chic and understated hotel with just 31 rooms: The Inn Above Tide. Each room comes with its own private deck and though it was chilly out there – and cozy inside – the view won me over. I realized that from my vantage point, I was seeing San Francisco in an utterly unique way. Darkness fell softly over the bay as the lights of the city came alive before a backdrop of flaming orange. Granted, there are hundreds of hotels around San Francisco Bay- but there’s only one hotel on it – and that made all the difference. California is a beautiful place, and the Bay Area is one of its shining gems.

If You Go:

Visit Sonoma Wine Country          Napa County                                  Sausalito

www.sonomacounty.com             www.napavalley.org                              sausalito.org

Olea Hotel                                    Hotel Yountville                                 Inn Above Tide

www.oleahotel.com                     hotelyountville.com                            innabovetide.com

Benziger Winery                  Pacific Blues Café                 Sausalito Wooden Boat Tour

 benziger.com                          pacificbluescafe.com                     sausalitowoodenboattour.com

The Fig Cafe                            Fish Restaurant

www.figcafe.com                              331fish.com

Catalina Excursion

Catherine Hotel, Credit-thelog.com

Catherine Hotel, Credit-thelog.com

It’s no secret, I live to travel. To experience new surroundings and cultures, food, wine, and everything in between, there’s nothing quite like it. When I’m prodded to go on a trip, I rarely turn down such an opportunity. And when that someone is my lovely friend Ms. Anthropy, an avid traveler herself, it’s a guarantee that I’m going to pack my bags come along.

It was on a Thursday morning when she picked me up, and we headed to Dana Point for the hour-and-a-half boat ride to Santa Catalina Island. Purchased in 1919 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr, the island was so named by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in honor of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

Catalina’s population is quite small, and the island remains virtually untouched. The main strip, Crescent Street, in the island’s town of Avalon contains shops and restaurants a few feet from the beach front, with the Catalina Casino as the prominent feature. This great building in Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival styles boasts a movie theater, the world’s largest circular ballroom and a historical museum.

After we checked into our hotel room, we had a quick glass of wine, since Ms. Anthropy was anxious to see the island, and then headed to the large rock dubbed ‘Lover’s Cove’, located south of Avalon Bay. We paused a moment and watched several seals frolicking in the water before continuing on to a trail called ‘Wrigley Road,’ which leads to the highest peak of the island: Ada Mountain Peak. The upside of the hike was the stunning visuals once we reached the top. However, the trail was over nine miles long and most of it was uphill. Therefore, it came as no surprise to me to see most people passing us by on golf carts—it’s the preferred method of transportation there.

On our way down Ada Mountain Peak, we came across a small graveyard, which was actually a pet cemetery. I  wanted to to go in, but Ms. Anthropy stopped me and said that she had something else planned for the evening. I complied, albeit a bit let down, because I was essentially along for the ride. In the end, we went on on a glass-bottom-boat tour for 45 minutes, traveling up and down the island’s coast with a first-hand look at various species of fish. Though I was disappointed not to see any seals or sharks, it was enjoyable nonetheless.

When we returned to the center of Avalon, it was time for dinner. We made our way to a local steakhouse and indulged in some of the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life. Once we paid the check, I proposed calling it a day, but Ms. Anthropy, once again, told me that the night wasn’t quite over. She took me by the hand and led me to the Catalina Casino. Within moments of our arrival, we were met by someone who turned out to be a tour guide. It seemed that Ms. Anthropy, knowing my penchant for the macabre, booked us on a ghost tour. I was pleasantly surprised, because I had no idea the island was haunted!

For a little over an hour, a small group of us walked to and fro on the backstreets of Avalon. While there were many strange tales, my favorites revolved around a grizzly murder of a young woman, Eva Weinfurter, by her boyfriend at the Casa Mariquita Hotel and a tragic scandal at the Catherine Hotel. It’s been reported that the ghost of a man by the name of Zane Gray has been sighted smoking a cigarette while haunting the corridors of the latter hotel.

The following day, we had 40 minutes before taking the boat back to the mainland and decided to return to the Casino again. During the ghost tour, the guide told us that a man plunged to his death during the Casino’s construction, and that a gambler, named W. A. Yeager, was supposedly shot during a heated card game. Some have even noted hearing phantom gunshots there from time to time. I didn’t feel any ghostly presence when we returned to the Casino’s museum, but I didn’t mind because the museum itself was very informative and interesting.

The boat ride back was pleasant, as was the whole trip. Hopefully, when Ms. Anthropy gets the urge to spontaneously travel again, she’ll know who to call.

Hearst Castle

I’ve been to Europe three times and have seen castles in Prague, Edinburgh and London, but a castle  in California? I would have never imagined it; so, of course, I had to see it.

I took a trip from San Diego to San Simeon, and I was more than excited when I finally came to what founder William Randolph Hearst referred to as ‘The Enchanted Hill’. After I purchased my admission ticket at the visitor’s center, I then enjoyed a scenic bus ride to the ‘Castle.’ During the drive, I was surprised to hear the recording by ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek explaining several facts related to the castle and its founder.


Hearst Castle

Born April 29th, 1863, to a silver baron father and a school teacher mother, Hearst spent the majority of his youth traveling the world with his mother. While doing so, he learned to appreciate the art and architecture that he saw there, especially in Europe. In his late 50s, Hearst, already a successful newspaper publisher, hired Julia Morgan, a renowned architect, to help him complete his dream of bringing the magic he encountered in far away places to his family estate. Construction began in 1919 and finished in 1947 at an estimated of 10 million dollars, which at that time was a fortune!

When I reached the Castle, I was taken a back by the similarities to those I had seen in Europe. The entrance to La Casa Grande, the name of the main building, had doors that looked as if they were originally intended for a cathedral. The fountains in front were also very impressive. Once meeting the tour guide, I eagerly entered La Casa Grande. Surrounded by eloquent art from places and time periods as diverse as ancient Greece and Rome to medieval Spain, France, and Italy, I listened as the tour guide told several stories and anecdotes and also named a who’s who of visitors to the castle. Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, The Marx Brothers, several presidents and foreign dignitaries were only but a few who visited regularly.

From the pool-hall lounge to the enormous dining room to every bedroom, which was the size of a small house (yes, all 56 of them), to say that Mr. Hearst had exquisite taste was a definite understatement. The ceilings of every room were custom made and some had to be flown in all the way from Europe—wow!

When the tour ended, I was free to explore the Castle’s gardens, tennis courts, and both of its swimming pools. The gardens were lovely, with several exotic plants from all over the world. The first pool I saw was the ‘Neptune Pool’. Complete with statues of the Roman god of the seas, several nymphs and swans—the view of the rest of San Simeon below was serene. I then followed my feet to the rightfully named ‘Roman Pool’. With the appearance of an indoor Roman bathhouse, it was the only portion of the gymnasium completed but was rarely used.

On the bus trip back to the visitor’s center, I wasn’t disappointed at all, nor do I believe anyone would be on a visit to ‘The Enchanted Hill’. One could experience the opulence of castles from overseas without the plane trip usually required to do so.

Solvang: The Danish Town in Santa Barbara County

Despite the premise of it being a Danish town in Santa Barbara County, the main reason people visit Solvang is secondary to its history and architecture. Truth is, most people come because of the food and the wine. I, myself, can also be included in this group.

Solvang, California

Solvang, California

Most famous for its appearance in the film Sideways, Solvang has a variety of tasting rooms that range from the casual to the refined and offer the best selections Santa Barbara County’s finest. If your preference is red, or white, there is something for everyone, with over fifteen rooms located throughout the town. I prefer the Syrah Rose from the Presidio Winery.

With regard to dining, there are as many different varieties as there are wineries. Many restaurants serve traditional Danish favorites, such as Danish sausage, red cabbage and potatoes, and, of course, the famous Danish dessert: Abelskivers. There are also Middle Eastern, Japanese and Italian eateries, but if your tastes are less sophisticated there’s always Dominoes!

Solvang also has its own piece of history: the Mission Santa Inés. Established on September 17, 1804, the Mission, which was the last to be founded in Southern California, now stands as a museum. Priest vestments, original bells and other artifacts are on display. The 18th-century Madonna Chapel, with its wood carving of the Mother of Sorrows, is a remarkable highlight. For the lovers of theater, the Solvang Theater hosts several plays each year, ranging from the comedic to the dramatic.

The Elverhoj museum showcases the history of Solvang as well as exhibits from modern artists. However, a trip here wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Hans Christian Anderson Museum. It’s a great place to learn about the life and literary works of this famous Danish author.

For a European flare during the holiday season, Solvang certainly decks the halls by hosting an assortment of parades and pageants.

If you decide to stay a night or two in Solvang, hotels vary from the reasonable to the lavish. Some accommodations even offer hot-tubs, which can definitely come in handy on rather chilly winter nights.

It is interesting to note that the majority of businesses, including many eateries, close shop at around 5 o’clock. Fortunately for me, my favorite restaurant, The Hitching Post, in nearby Buellton, doesn’t close until 9:00 pm. Also filmed in Sideways, it’s a popular steakhouse, and you can even watch them grill your order on an open wood fire. To compliment your meal, have a glass of their own house wine.

Aside from the obvious attractions of Solvang, there are also plenty of other things to do. Just outside of the town, there’s the Quicksilver Ranch, which is famous for breeding miniature ponies—a perfect place for  kids! The Alisol golf course is very popular with tourists and players alike. About 5 miles from Solvang, you’ll find the Nojoqui Falls. It’s necessary to hike over a mile to reach it, but it’s well worth it and the beautiful forest  is ideal for a picnic.

For those looking to experience Europe’s old-world feel and aren’t interested in a 17-hour plane trip from the West Coast, Solvang might be worth looking into. As an avid traveler, I’m usually attracted to a place that has a dark and twisted history. If a location is void of these two features, it’s pretty rare that I’ll visit, much less make it a regular stomping ground. Though Solvang doesn’t have a grim past, it does, however, have a surreal atmosphere that holds my attention and I love visiting there.

Cambria, California

Unexpected. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about my recent trip to Cambria, California. I admit that I enjoy spontaneous trips to various parts of the world. Cambria, located roughly a half hour north of San Louis Obispo, is a place that resembles Midwest America. The kind of place you’d expect to see if you were reading King’s ‘The Children of the Corn’ or Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’.

Cambria cemetery

Cambria Cemetery

With antique shops and local eateries scattered throughout town, there is plenty to see and do despite the town being smaller than I expected. Located in the heart of the town is the Cambria historical museum, restored from the Guthrie-Brancini house. I enjoy going to all museums and this one was no different as it gives some insight into how settlers lived in the town long ago.

Across the street from the museum, up a very steep hill, is the Old Santa Rosa Chapel. Call me morbid if you will, but the most notable thing for me about the chapel was not the chapel itself, but the cemetery directly behind it. It was very picturesque and serene and I have to admit that I enjoyed walking through it.

On the corner of Main Street was something I was surprised to see. Something we don’t have enough of in South Bay San Diego. It was a French pastry dessert café. I must say that the apple almond tarts served there were simply divine.

If you’re in the mood to walk, slightly outside the town is a beachfront known as ‘Otter’s Cove’. When I went there I didn’t see any Otters frolicking about, but the beach is a nice view nonetheless.

On the other side of town is an oddity called the Nit Witt Ridge. Considered a historical landmark, Nit Witt Ridge is a house on a steep hill which was essentially created by hand from trash collector/ recluse Arthur Harold Beal, otherwise known as Capt. Nit Witt. For 50 years Beal created his ‘Castle on the Hill’ as he called it, using materials such as beer cans, abalone shells and concrete and the use of  simple tools.

A few miles away from the town, in the city of San Simeon, is a beachfront called Elephant Seal Vista. There, you can observe from a perch literally hundreds of seals, sea lions, and elephant seals they play, cover themselves with dirt, spar, and sing. There were so many of them when I went that I didn’t know where the sand started and the seals stopped.

Its actually troubling to know that, as a result of the volatile economy, places like Cambria are in jeopardy of disappearing. While it’s of little importance to some, I feel a visit to history rich locations like this are well worth a try. Take my advice and see them while you can.

Deep in the Redwoods: Jedediah Smith State Park, California

Traveling along the Oregon Coast and magnificent interior Douglas fir-Sitka spruce forests, we turned southward toward Crescent City, California on Route 199 in search of Jedediah Smith State Park not far from the Oregon border. At last we arrived at a park service headquarters ten miles north of Crescent City to discover that all the coastal redwood groves are protected by a series of state parks and national parks and are being coordinated as one entity by the federal government. Though these parks are almost surrounded by current lumbering operations.

dead redwood vulnerable to fire

Dead redwood vulnerable to fire

We asked a park ranger where we could find Jedediah Smith State Park, and he directed us eastward on route 199 by just two miles to the Howland Ridge Drive and then to a dirt road turnoff into the Stout Grove of Jedediah Smith State Park. Soon we drove passed occasional giant trees rising skyward well over 150 feet. Then one or two even higher giants rose twice as high! To think that these redwoods once covered almost the entire North American Continent over 20 million years ago is mind-blowing.

fallen giant redwood tree anno

fallen giant redwood tree anno

Anxiously, we drove into a parking space within the Stout Grove. The strong scent of a thickly vegetated undergrowth of sward and bracken ferns, mosses and many blossoms of wood rose and thimble-berries permeated the air as we walked along the loop trail into Stout Grove. Thanks to the tireless efforts of forest conservationists, this California state park was established in 1929 to protect these giant trees from the lumber industry forever.

These groves were named after the hunter, trapper and woodsman who was the first white man to explore interior northern California where he trapped such fur-bearing animals as black bears, mountain lions, beaver and river otters. Thankfully today this park and numerous others not only preserves the redwoods but all of its animals including a rich variety of birds.

laced with ferns

laced with ferns

We rapidly approached the giant trees interspersed with Sitaka spruce, red cedars and Douglas firs. My wife Maura stopped to stare in wonder ever skyward where the tallest of trees rose well over 300 feet (the height of a thirty-story office building). She remarked that both here and in the John Muir Woods just north of San Francisco, these trees seemed to be a family, a great extended family. She couldn’t help but feel the kinship. The Yurok Indians of northern California, who have lived here for over 4,000 years, believe the same thing—that the redwoods and the Yurok people together along with all of the birds, mammals, plants and other trees are part of a village, a grand village that is connected together spiritually as well as physically. Yurok people advice non-Indian visitors to sit down at the base of a giant redwood and think good thoughts!

Giant redwood tree with 60 ft. circumference

Giant redwood tree with 60 ft. circumference

While Stellar’s jays squawked and chestnut-backed chickadees chirped in the deep forest, we approached a grandfather giant (perhaps 2,000 years old going back to the time of Christ). I decided to measure the tree by the number of paces it took to go around the tree. Want to guess? Sixty feet is the answer! We kept on necks craned skyward, but surely our hearts went upward as well (sursum corda). We came up to a fallen tree whose thickly-barked, fire resistant trunk stretched out half the length of a football field. Its roots had been upended by flooding run-off waters of an earlier storm coming down-slope from clear-cut ridge tops outside the park. The size of this thing made us feel like Alice in wonderland, mere midgets in an amazingly huge forest.

John Muir once remarked, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,–only Uncle Sam can do that.”

And thanks to his efforts and many other conservationists of over a hundred years ago, we can enjoy them today and perhaps sing Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land is Your Land, this land is my land, from the Redwood Forests….

Map, source-REDWOOD Wahington, D.C

Map, source-REDWOOD Wahington, D.C

The reader might want to lend a helping hand by joining Save-the-Redwoods League.

Hidden Gems of Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California has been a top tourist destination for years now.Nestled in a cozy oasis in the desert of California, Palm Springs has a unique cosmopolitan sensibility combined with an adventurous spirit. There’s are tons of things to do when it comes Palm Springs attractions and sightseeing – read on for just a few of the hidden gems of this California paradise.

Beautiful Palm Springs

Beautiful Palm Springs

San Andreas Fault Tour

Taking a trip across the rocky trails around the San Andreas Fault in a comfortable hummer on Elite Land Tour’s San Andreas Fault Tour. You’ll get to see the fully glory and fury of nature on this tour that shows of California’s San Andreas Fault. For people enjoy seeing the outdoors and nature, this is one of the top Palm Springs attractions and sightseeing destinations.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway


Aerial Tramway

For a truly breath-taking view of the desert, you must pay a visit to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, another great site on the list of Palm Springs attractions and sightseeing locations. Starting with an eight and a half minute ride up, you’ll eventually find yourself over two miles above the desert floor. You’ll get a truly breath-taking view of the various wildlife on your way to the top – the trip travels through a number of different environments. It’s said that the journey covers climates that comparable to arid Sonoma, Mexico ranging all the way to areas that aren’t like Canadian tundra.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs' art museum

Palm Springs’ art museum

For a more educational entry in the Palm Springs attractions and sightseeing list, try the Palm Springs Art Museum. This mid-sized art museum takes pride in its status as one of the best in the country for promoting visual and performing arts. With a very diverse collection of exhibits, both in terms of culture and chronology, there’s something for everybody – regardless of nationality and generation. Take part in a guided tour of the museum and get a wonderful taste of culture.

Agua Caliente Canyons

Hiking in the canyons

Hiking in the canyons

Located on the tribal lands of the Cahuilla Indians, these canyons are a beautiful location for a day’s hike. Featuring rocky canyon walls, flowing streams and lush palm trees, you can get a taste of nature on these fun but easy hiking trails. For people really seeking an outdoor adventure on their vacation, these canyons are highly recommended as some of the most beautiful Palm Springs attractions and sightseeing destinations.

The Climate

Enjoying life in Palm Springs

Enjoying life in Palm Springs

California is famous for its climate and Palm Springs offers the best of it. With mild winters and over 350 days of sunshine every year on the average, Palm Springs is a great place to live.


Village fest


For people who enjoy spending their days wandering the streets and shopping in an open air market, try Villagefest. Every Thursday, in the center of Palm Springs, you can take part in this great event. With handmade crafts, live music, and delicious edible treats, Villagefest is a lot of fun. This is a great place to pick up a souvenir of your time in Palm Springs. It’s also a great place to meet new friends or just people watch. It’s no surprise it’s counted among the best Palm Springs attractions and sightseeing locales.

Golf and Tennis

Cimarron Golf Course

Cimarron Golf Course

Play golf where the pros play. The Palm Springs area has over 120 beautiful, exquisitely maintained golf courses, some of which are famous throughout the world. The area is known as the golf capital of the western United States and has a fine selection of world-class links to choose from. You can also play tennis at some of the best tennis courts and clubs around.

Palm Springs beautiful mountains

Palm Springs beautiful mountains

This article has barely started to cover the things you can experience in the Palm Springs area. To cover everything would take several books instead of an article. Whether you stay a night, a weekend, a week or a month you will never run out of things to do and experience.

Read More:

Images of The Beautiful Gates and Doors of Palm Springs

Part two – Vacation in Palm Springs? Absolutely!

Marvelous Mission Murals-Street Art in San Francisco’s Mission District

This eclectic neighborhood in San Francisco is one of our favorite areas for street murals anywhere we’ve been so far. To get here, catch a bus #49 from the city, which conveniently goes along Mission Street.



It’s a very interesting area with a different atmosphere to most other US city streets—in some parts you could imagine that you were in a Mexican city, with narrow leafy streets, small crowded shops opening right onto the sidewalk; lots of music, people and noise; ads in Spanish splashed over buildings and an explosion of bright color. Besides the delis and small shops, the main draw is the colorful murals, the chief source of the bright local color, along with blooming bougainvilleas and flowering trees. Another draw is the Mission Dolores.



San Francisco has more than 500 murals and a large proportion of them are here in this area. Almost all streets have at least one mural, while many streets have huge concentrations, such as the area around Balmy Alley off 24th Street. Some murals are small, some enormous, all fascinating. Many tell a story or have a message—-social, political, historical— and some serve as an ad, such as the one for a lavandaria (laundry), or a Nursery School. Some of the murals are religious, and many have an old Aztec/Mayan theme, which we recognized from our trips to Mexico.

Most of them are signed and dated, so we can tell who painted them. Some artists are famous (Diego Rivera), most not, but they are all talented and many are locals.



We were fascinated and loved wandering the streets and turning a corner, wondering what we’d find next. Some of the murals are pretty graphic—a woman giving birth, or a bloody battle—but others are softer and very pretty with flowers and birds or butterflies. It’s very exciting, as they are all so vividly colored and grab one’s attention.

A whole building (Women’s Building) is covered with themes related to women, some poignant, one a very graphic depiction of a pregnant belly; another wall is covered with numerous political activists, many names unknown to us, but we did recognize Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X. Amazing that Mandela made it onto a wall here! There are also schools with murals done by the pupils, and other walls painted by children.

It’s easy enough to wander around on your own, perhaps following a guidebook such as Frommers (we did), but there are also organized tours.

You can get more information on all the murals and find out about tours of the murals at Precita Eyes Mural Art Center, 2981 24th Street (near Harrison). Their web site is excellent—- www.precitaeyes.org . Here you can also find out about exciting new mural arts projects.

On the edge of the mural district, at 3321 Sixteenth Street, is the Dolores Mission, built in a very distinctive style (colonial, white-washed, tall towers, very ornate doorways). The local high school, 2 blocks away on 18th/Dolores, is done in the same style and it would be easy to think at first that you’d found the Mission Church!

Juniper Window

Juniper Window

The actual name is Mision San Francisco de Asis (after St Francis of Assisi) and was founded in June 1776 under the direction of Father Junipero Serra. It soon became known as Mission Dolores because of a nearby creek called Arroyo do los Dolores, or Creek of Sorrows. It is the oldest original intact Mission in California (of the chain of 21 established by Father Serra) and the oldest building in San Francisco. These Missions are an important part of Californian history and show the strong link to Mexico at that time.

Visiting the Mission is a good way to spend a couple of hours and find out about some of the local history. Entrance is $5 per adult, $3 for seniors and kids. Open daily, 9-4, except Thanksgiving, Christmas New Year’s Day, Easter, and closes early on Good Friday.

You go first into the chapel of the Old Mission, which survived many earthquakes, including that in 1906. It’s lovely, in a way that’s so different to the cathedrals in Europe. Note the painted wooden ceiling, gravestones set in the floor, and side altars that seem to have marble columns that are actually painted wood, as is the gorgeous front altar.



The Basilica next door was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and has pretty stained-glass windows of the saints associated with the various Missions in California and a wood carving of Mater Dolorosa. This is an important basilica because Pope John Paul 11 visited (see papal signs on sides of front altar), a fact of which they are very proud, as the walkway outside has many photos from his visit. One small room off the walkway has a tiny museum, telling the history of this Mission, including the story of Father Junipero Serra, the local Indians and their way of life then, and a section of the original adobe wall.

Just outside the museum note the statue of Junipero Serra, plus one in the cemetery, which is a peaceful place, pretty with flowers and blooming bushes, replanted with traditional plants from the 1790s. It has the burial places of many notable early/first San Franciscans.

A great place nearby for lunch is Dolores Park Café (corner 18th/Dolores, opposite the high school). You can sit outside if it’s sunny, and the food is great. The soup of the day may be chicken tortilla and they offer very nice salads.

Useful links


Santa Barbara Secrets, California

Santa Barbara is known for its red tile roofs, relaxing beaches, fine dining, and a burgeoning wine industry. It’s the laid-back vibe and natural beauty that brings many visitors to our American Riviera.

State Street is our downtown hub in Santa Barbara that houses a lot of cool shops and quality restaurants. However, if you walk a few blocks off State Street, you’ll find some hidden gems that only the locals know about. We tend to stay away from the touristy spots that are inundated with cruise ship visitors; instead we’ve created our own little hideaways. I may be breaking the local’s unspoken code of silence, but here are my 6 Secrets to Santa Barbara.

El Presidio (123 E. Canon Perdido)

El Presidio de Santa Barbara, credit- legendsofamerica.com

El Presidio de Santa Barbara, credit- legendsofamerica.com

Most visitors can be found coming off of tour buses at Mission Santa Barbara. Granted it’s a popular place to see, but El Presidio de Santa Barbara is just as exciting, rarely crowded, within walking distance, and free.

The Presidio is a former military installation built by the Spanish in 1782. Located between Anacapa and Santa Barbara Streets, just one block east of State Street, it’s a burst of local history in the downtown hub.

BONUS: There’s a great deli and lounge directly across the street from the Presidio called 3 Pickles and the Pickle Room (126 E. Canon Perdido). That building has its own history originally housing Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, a 60-year business that is dear to locals’ hearts. The new owners kept the original exterior of the building and incorporated the past into their modern updates. They serve delicious sandwiches and unique cocktails, but try an order of their unique fried rice!

The Mesa, La Mesa, or plainly Mesa

The Mesa, Cr-homesandlandsantabarbara

The Mesa, Cr-homesandlandsantabarbara

Depending on who you’re talking to and what part of town they are from, the “correct name” of the area will be heavily debated. Mesa is a section of town filtering down from Carrillo Hill right to the ocean with fantastic views of the water and Channel Islands. Mesa is a true local spot and residents can be somewhat territorial, so when you’re passing through, give a head nod and say, “hey brah” with your best surfer accent in order to blend in.

The Douglas Preserve, also called the Wilcox Property (located at the dead end of Linda Drive), is a stretch of land that sits on the cliffs overlooking Hendry’s Beach, also called Arroyo Burro Beach. Have you noticed a name thing going here? The Preserve is a rare piece of undeveloped land that locals fought feverishly to protect and keep as an open park. Enjoy a stroll through the trails with residents and their four-legged friends. Bring a picnic and sit close to the cliff while watching the sunset over the ocean for a dose of romance. Before leaving, travel down Cliff Drive and check out the Boathouse (2981 Cliff Drive) for a meal or just to breathe in the sea air. The restaurant is tucked away on the sand of Hendry’s Beach, the only official dog beach in Santa Barbara.

Funk Zone (Yanonali at Anacapa Street area)

SBsecrets_muniwine-edited-for-ALTThis area of Santa Barbara has certainly boomed in the last few years. Originally it was an industrial section of town filled with artist studios and sparse wine-tasting rooms. The area still has a lot of the artistic flavor and you’ll notice most of the buildings covered with murals and graphics from local artists, especially on Mason Street. Now, after the recent building development, the area is mostly filled with tasting rooms. But we can’t complain, the wine is delicious! For a good glass of locally made vino, I recommend Municipal Winemakers (22 Anacapa Street).

Muni Wine is a small local winery that produces top-notch flavors most notably known for their Australian style blends. For a snack, head over to Seven Bar and Kitchen (224 Helena Avenue) for “seven deadly sin” themed options of sandwiches. Or, if you’re lucky enough to spot the Burger Bus food truck, usually parked in the Funk Zone, try a burger or falafel sandwich. Other notable places within blocks of one another are: Figueroa Mountain Brewery, The Arts Fund, Lucky Penny, and the Art Foundry.

Santa Barbara Hotels

hotels in santa barbara, cr-budgethotels.com

Hotels in Santa Barbara, credit -budgethotels.com

The low-key bed and breakfasts and hidden historic hotels provide an authentic Santa Barbara experience. The Upham Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California. Built in 1871, this historic Victorian is located at 1404 De La Vina Street, one block from State Street and the famous Arlington Theater.

Located inside the Upham Hotel is Louie’s California Bistro, a fine dining restaurant that’s also dog friendly. The Simpson House Inn is another hidden historic gem in the downtown area of Santa Barbara.  Nestled in an acre of English gardens, this Victorian estate was built in 1874 and boasts luxury and beauty within prime walking distance.

Secret Garden (Micheltorena & Garden Streets)

Gardens in Santa Barbara

Gardens in Santa Barbara

Across from the Simpson House Inn is a lovely garden spread across an entire city block. A variety of plants and a pond filled with ducks and turtles are housed here. The Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, or Alice Keck Park-Park as locals like to joke, is another hero story. The space was slated to become a large apartment complex, but an anonymous donor purchased the property and donated it to the city with the condition of being turned into a garden. It was later revealed that Alice Keck Park was the donor and wished to remain anonymous until after her death – when the garden was subsequently named in her honor. Many people visit the Park-Park to relax, eat lunch, and feed the ducks. Visit during the spring to see adorable ducklings swimming around the pond.

Local Santa Barbara Hangouts

The Brewhouse, Santa Barbara, California.

The Brewhouse, Santa Barbara, California.

I’ve mentioned several places to stop for a bite to eat, but perhaps the most local of them all is The Brewhouse (229 W. Montecito Street). It’s a very casual restaurant where you’ll often find friendly patrons in shorts and flip-flops enjoying outstanding food. This is where locals go for food, beer, music, and to watch sporting events. If you go, try a taster of the jalapeno beer brewed on location; it will definitely clear your sinuses.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention a fantastic Mexican restaurant. There is a whole section of town on Milpas Street filled with great taquerias, but my favorite is Lito’s Mexican Restaurant (514 E. Haley). It’s a family owned “hole in the wall” that serves the most amazing pozole every day – the only restaurant in Santa Barbara that does.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful small historic town chock full of interesting nooks and crannies. Take a stroll off the main streets and you’ll find many local treasures to provide an authentic and fulfilling experience. Happy exploring!

contributed by Lauren Bray, Managing Editor of edhat.com, Santa Barbara’s #1 website for all things local. for more great information and articles, please visit Authentic Luxury Travel

My Trip to Muir Woods California

By Phyllis Elswick,

If you have never visited Muir Woods, near San Francisco, California I highly recommend it. It is absolutely beautiful. When my daughter and her family moved to California in 2005 it gave me the excuse for traveling there. They moved to San Carlos for a few years where my two beautiful granddaughters were born. Last year they decided to move to the city, San Francisco, California. There is so much to see here with one of my favorite places to visit being Muir Woods. I grew up in the Appalachians Mountains in Eastern, Kentucky, so, I suppose that is why I love the mountain areas. I was able to purchase a seniors pass for any United States National Park. My son-in-law paid $10.00 for my pass which let us all enter the park at no extra cost. Wow, I was amazed, I can visit any National Park and take all my party at no cost. I love it.

phpHUUxtLAMAs we began our hike through the woods we saw a mother and two baby deer standing by the creek. Isabel and Indigo loved it. Indigo, who is two years old, got excited and wanted to watch the reindeer. As we walked she kept looking for reindeer. Don’t you just love the enthusiasm of little children? Walking along the path and seeing the huge redwood trees is amazing. I keep thinking how awesome God is in His creation of the world and all the beautiful things he created for our enjoyment.

Throughout the forest there are plaques that tells the history of certain areas. Here is the history I read on one of those plaques in the middle of the forest, – In 1945 delegates from all over the world met in San Francisco to establish the United Nations. On May 19, they traveled to Muir Woods to honor the memory of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose death one month earlier had thrown the world into mourning. President Roosevelt believed in the value of National Parks as sources of inspiration and human renewal. He also believed that good forestry practices and sustainable development of natural resources were keystones to lasting peace around the world. Organizers of the event hoped that the profound beauty and serenity of Muir Woods would inspire the delegates to pursue the president’s program for world peace as they met to establish the United Nations. – I cherish these bits of information. As I am hiking through the forest it brings the history alive.

Harold Ickes, US Secretary of the Interior, 1945, said, “…here in such a ‘temple of peace’ the delegates would gain a perspective and sense of time that could be obtained nowhere in America better than such a forest. Muir Woods is a cathedral, the pillars of which have stood through much of recorded human history….”

Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General of the United States Visiting Muir Woods in 1955 said, “Persons who love nature find a common basis for understanding people of other countries, since the love of nature is universal among men of all nations.”

There is a section of Muir Woods called Cathedral Grove, which has a plaque that says “Cathedral Grove was set aside as a quiet refuge to protect its natural soundscape in an increasingly noisy world. The soundscape is vital to animals for hunting and foraging, courtship and mating, nurturing young and avoiding predators. By walking quietly, we experience the natural sounds of a living ancient forest. We hope you enjoy the beauty of Muir Woods through both sight and sound.”

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.” – John Muir.

In Muir Woods there are several paths you can take. There are high paths and long paths for those avid hikers. There are low paths and short paths for those with little children or those who are limited. Going on a hike in the forest with a two year old and five year old we chose the low shorter path. The girls loved it, they walked and ran, stopped and stared. It was wonderful seeing the amazed looks in their little eyes when they saw something that fascinated them. They especially loved the huge trees with the opening in the middle. Indigo wanted to play in the playhouse, as she saw it. Of course we had to go in the gift shop where they each chose a wolf stuffed animal.

As we hiked along the path their wolf had to ride along the top rail. Although with little children you don’t get the full experience of a hike through the forest, you get the full benefit of seeing the forest through a little child’s eyes. Just seeing them enjoy their walk in nature is worth everything. They make it all worth while.

Santa Barbara: From the Mission to the Funk Zone

Visit Santa Barbara on this Travel Brigade podcast episode to enjoy beaches, boats and bikes in a town full of great dining and fun hotel options near the ocean. Click on the button below to go from the historic Mission overlooking the ocean to the Urban Wine Trail in the “Funk Zone,” to glamping in the beautiful hills of El Capitan Canyon to shopping on State Street, Santa Barbara is the perfect town to hang out and soak up the beautiful sunny weather. We’ll also tell you how you can enjoy all sorts of discounts on hotels, dining and activities by pledging to go “Car Free” in a town that’s easy to get around. Enjoy the trip! Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.



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Solvang: California’s Little Denmark

Join Travel Brigade for out radio podcast episode in Solvang, a California town that feels like it’s in the middle of Europe’s Denmark. Click on the button below and we’ll go in search of the famous Danish pastries at the several authentic bakeries in town, and make time to tour the wine tasting rooms in town representing nearby Santa Ynez Valley wineries – the area featured in the movie Sideways. Solvang keeps things local and has banned national chains, so we explore the unique dining and accommodations to be found. Enjoy the trip! Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.

Solvang HomeConnection

Solvang HomeConnection

Solvang Aebleskiver

Solvang Aebleskiver

Solvang, California

Solvang, California

Solvang Grape Cluster

Solvang Grape Cluster

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