California Adventures

California Adventures anaheimer Mon, 01/20/2020 - 16:24

Wherever I go, I am always on the lookout for new adventures. From the tame to the wild: skiing; 4wheeling (Off-road/ATV); surfing; Air Combat; Glider Rides; Canyoneering; just to name a few. This section will provide information about all of those activities and more.

Here is a list of my favorite adventure activities and places in California. You may have to drive an hour or more to get to some of those locations, but they are worth the time and effort. See the specific pages for more details about those places.

null4wheeling (Off-road/ATV)

Books about adventures in California

Wild Adventures

Scenic Zeppelin Flight in Monterey

nullIf you've ever sat on a bench by the ocean, enjoying the salty air, watching the birds wheeling above and wishing you could join them, then our Monterey Bay coastal Zeppelin flight is the experience for you! Fly high above Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach, Carmel by the Sea and more on this scenic zeppelin ride in Northern CA! 

Zipline Catalina

A short boat ride away you can visit Avalon in Catalina and try the Eco Zipline Tour. It is a thrilling experience with breathtaking views. Read about it here.

Air Combat

Experience what it's like to be engaged in real aerial combat. What a fun thing to do, flying over sunny California in a retro fighter aircraft - or over the Nevada desert. Three locations: Fullerton, San Diego and Las Vegas. 

ATV and Dirt Bikes

Be a daredevil for a day and experience the California desert like never before. Choose from a variety of ATVs or Dirt Bikes. You can also find ATVs for the young ones. See the detailed article about My favorite places for ATV fun:

Airplane Tours

nullRelax in your seat and enjoy an aerial view of the most famous landmarks, cities and beaches. Your expert tour guide will tell you everything you want to know about the views. 

Balloon Rides

This is a must in my opinion. Nothing beats the feeling of floating up slowly and watching the land recede under you. The excitement grows as you gain altitude and your horizon expands. 

Bike Tours

nullIf you are willing to drive a little away from Anaheim, you get to choose from several guided tours in the San Diego area. Some tours are geared towards families with young children and others are more adventurous. My favorite is the La Jolla Plunge Bike Tour (mostly downhill).

Bungee Jumping Off Bridge To Nowhere

Imagine standing on the edge of a bridge with steep canyon walls rising above you. Looking down at the raging water ten stories below, you hear the encouragement of your friends standing next to you as the countdown begins. This is the ultimate thrill of bungee jumping in Southern California.


Imagine hiking up a mountain trail that parallels a deep canyon, where down below you hear water flowing over the rocky canyon bottom. You reach a point where the trail crosses the stream. After donning your repelling gear, you begin descent alongside the waterfall and down to the canyon. You may have to swim or wade through streams.  

Glider Flights

After you go soarin' over California at California Adventure, you may want to experience the real thing. Here is your chance to soar over San Diego County. Set, relax and enjoy your quiet  

Helicopter Tours

nullHere is another way to experience Southern California from the air. Take off from downtown LA and head towards Hollywood or enjoy a bird's eye view of the coast. If you are really adventurous, ask for your turn to fly the bird.  

Indoor Skydiving

Ever wanted to jump out of a high flying airplane and experience the sensation of falling? Well, now you can experience most of the thrill of skydiving without the risks. You first take a quick skydiving lesson, then you get outfitted with your gear, then you jump into the vertical wind tunnel. The wind pushes upwards giving you the feeling of flying. Instructors are on hand to help achieve your flight. This is a family-friendly adventure. Bring the kids to enjoy their first flight. Read more here.

Jet Skis

It is like riding a motorcycle or an ATV but on water. On hot summer days, being on the water might much more attractive than the desert. 


nullThis is the ultimate in human flight. You get to wear your wings, give yourself a running start, then jump and soar using the wind as your only motor. This adventure is dependent on weather conditions, so call ahead to confirm that your flight is on. 


Step into an alien world and get close and personal with the creatures that live under the sea. Seaworld in San Diego is a great way to get introduced to sea life, but if you want real interaction take a snorkeling guided tour. One of the best places for Snorkelling is Catalina Island.


Learn surfing from the pros. Take a private class, group class or join a surf camp. Many locations to pick from including the world famous Huntington Beach. For beginner waves, head to Dana Point or San Clemente.

Rock Climbing

Another adventure that can be enjoyed by the whole family. You can start by taking a class at an indoor climbing facility. Then head to one of the most popular rock climbing spots in the world: Joshua Tree National Park

Ocean Fishing

Going ocean fishing is not easy when you don't have the right equipment. So leave to the pros to set you up with your gear and find the right location for you. Some of the best fishing can be had around Catalina Island, Newport Beach and Dana Point.

Canyoneering San Antonio Falls

Canyoneering San Antonio Falls anaheimer Fri, 07/29/2016 - 15:42

nullCan you imagine yourself hiking up a steep hill, reaching the top of a waterfall, then repelling down the face of a cliff and through the waterfall? Then you should go on a canyoneering trip.

Canyoneering (Canyoning) is a sport in which you explore canyons by hiking, scrambling, repelling, rafting, swimming, and waterfall jumping. See Wikipedia for more.

To accomplish the repelling part, you need to know about ropes, carabiners and ASAPs. But if you are not a rock climber, you can still enjoy a canyoneering adventure by going with an experienced outfitter and letting them do the technical parts.

nullI recently went with SoCal Adventure Company to San Antonio Falls for an amazing Canyoneering trip. 

The San Antonio Falls are a good destination by themselves. There is running water year-round cascading down a 400 ft cliff, but most people only see the lower part of this waterfall. We were planning on exploring all 4 sections of the falls.

Our guides Ian and Kyle started the trip by giving us detailed safety instructions and explained the equipment we will be using. Most notable safety tips: Bring lots of water, wear sunscreen, pay attention to guide instructions, watch out for rattlesnakes, wear clothes and shoes that can get wet. 

nullWe then started hiking up a paved road to a popular overlook where most people stop to admire the waterfall. From this spot, they can only see the lower section on this fall.

After admiring the fall and taking some pictures, our group started on the more difficult portion of this hike. We had to climb up a steep dirt path and scramble over rocks to get to the top of the waterfalls – while carrying our backpacks and climbing equipment. 

This part was exhausting, but we found a shaded area with lots of trees for a will-needed rest. 

nullThe view from the top is breathtaking. You can watch the water flowing over the cliff and cascading down to the canyon floor. In the distance,you can see Los Angeles and Orange counties and on a clear day all the way to Catalina Island. 

While we were taking in the view, our guides started setting up the ropes for the climb down. They gave us detailed instructions on how to wear the harness, attach the hardware, and how to repel down. 

They also explained how the ropes, hooks, ASAPs can hold thousands of pounds of weight. The ASAP is a second line of defense. If you lose control of your rope, it is an automatic brake that will stop you from falling. 

I was the first down the cliff because I did not want to lose my nerves while watching others descend. 

nullOh wow, what a thrill! Hanging from the rope, holding myself slanted on my feet and with my right hand letting a few inches of rope at a time – then jumping down to the next step. 

The best part is passing through the waterfall and getting wet. The weather was very warm on that day, so getting wet was refreshing.

During the first repel I just got a little wet, but on the second leg of this fall, I had to stay in the waterfall for a long time while repelling. It was very cold and I got drenched – and I loved it.

After every repel we had time to rest and eat snacks or lunch while the guides set up the next repel. We repeated this process 4 times until we made it to the canyon floor. 

I really enjoyed my canyoneering experience with the SoCal Adventure company. The guides Ian and Kyle were experienced and they really enjoy what they do. They made canyoneering look easy. I definitely want to go with them on another adventure.

This trip was for beginners, but they also have trips for intermediate and advanced climbers. Check out their website for more details.

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park anaheimer Thu, 09/14/2017 - 16:48

nullIt is hard to find a secluded area in Southern California to step away from civilization and commune with nature. But luckily for us, the Channel Islands are a short boat ride away with beautiful nature and great adventures.

The 8 islands making up the Channel Islands are only a few miles away from the coast of Southern California but they might as well worlds away. Those islands have never been connected to the mainland, so they have their own species of animals and plants. 

During the ice ages, the sea level was much lower, so the channel between the islands and the mainland was much shallower. The Chumash natives used canoes to travel the short distance and live off the land and the sea.

Now, the islands are mostly uninhabited, except for Santa Catalina Island. (Read more here). 

Interesting facts: The Channel Islands are often called the North America’s Galapagos for its unique wild life that can only be found on the island.

nullFive of those islands are now protected as part of the National Park. No private ownership is allowed and no development of any kind. Visitation to this national park is very low, so if go, you will definitely find the solitude you are looking for.

This archipelago offers many opportunities for nature lovers to hike, snorkel or canoe through some interesting caves. 

Interesting facts: About 10% of the global blue whale population passes through the Channel Islands National Park each summer, making it home to the largest aggregation of blue whales in the world.

If you don’t own your own boat, then there are only two ways to get to this national park. The most common way is to hitch a boat ride with the “Island Packers” concessionaire from Ventura Harbor. The boats ride is between 1.5 to 2 hours – sometimes more. The Island Packers captains like to stop for wildlife along the way. 

If you are so inclined, you can fly to the islands. “Channel Islands Aviation” will take on ½ day, full day, or overnight trips to Santa Rosa Island. This flight will cost you a minimum of $1200.

If you have your own boat, you can go exploring on your own. The national park site has special instructions for boaters. Read carefully before you go.

Santa Cruz Island

nullSanta Cruz is the largest island in the archipelago off the coast of California. It is about 22 miles long with a coastline that has steep cliffs, gigantic sea caves, coves, and sandy beaches. It is a haven for nature lovers with a lot of hiking trails, camping, kayaking, and snorkeling. 

This island is home to animal species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world like Santa Cruz Island Horse, the Island Scrub-Jay, and the Santa Cruz Island Fox. The fox is very cute and prevalent everywhere you go on the island.  

Interesting Facts: The weather at the islands is usually very mild with temperatures hovering in the 60 and 70, but they do get cold and hot spills, so check the weather ahead of your visit

There are 2 ways to get to the island by sea. Island Packers boats can moor at Scorpion Anchorage or at Prisoners Harbor. Each has a different character and chances for adventure.

Tip: After you disembark from the boat and after a short walk look for large metal lockers. It is important to leave any food and drinks in those lockers to prevent tampering by wildlife. Also it is convenient to keep your heavy stuff so won’t have to lug it around during your activities. 

nullAt Scorpion Anchorage, you can see the remnants of the ranching era, stay at Scorpion Ranch Campground, check out the exhibits at the visitors center or go on hikes to Potato Harbor or Cavern Point Loop or just relax at the beach.

Interesting Facts: Santa Cruz Island has one of the largest known sea caves in the world: Painted Cave.

At Prisoners Harbor, you can stay at Del Norte Camp – after a grueling 7-mile hike, or hike to Pelican Bay.

At each point, you can go on a ranger-guided hike for an introduction to the island and its flora and fauna. 

During our visit in September, we disembarked at Scorpion Anchorage and went on the guided hike with a volunteer ranger. 

Before the hike, we had to listen to some instructions about the island. We were reminded that it is a conservation effort so we are not allowed to take anything out. It is also important to remember to take our trash out with us.

Tip: There are no concessionaires on the island. Don’t expect to buy food or water. Make sure to bring enough for your stay. The one source of water at Scorpion campground is not reliable. It is often infested with Yellow Jackets.

nullAfter the mandatory lecture, we took off on the Cavern Point Loop hiking trail. The trail goes through the visitors center, campground, and up a steep incline to reach the cliffs overlooking some spectacular views. 

This is considered a short hike – around 2 miles – but at times it gets very difficult. On the day of our hike, the weather was too hot. We needed lots of water a few stops before we reached the top. In the end, it was worth the effort. 

From the top, you can see Ventura and Santa Barbara in the distance. Looking down you can see some sea caves and kelp forests. 

Interesting Facts: Although the island is closest to the city of Ventura (20 miles), it is actually part of Santa Barbara County.

nullHeading back, we decided to continue the loop on our own. Most people in the group doubled back for an easier exit. The trail we took hugged the cliffs affording us much better views. The drawback was the steep steps we had to take down back to the visitors center.

Since we were heading back the same day, we didn’t have time to do another hike. We just spent some time eating lunch at a picnic table in the shade and lazing around on the beach until departure time.

Tip: The beach next to Scorpion Anchorage is very rocky. If you plan to wade into the surf you should wear water shoes or sandals. 

During our next trip, we will probably camp out and venture deeper into the island. We will probably also join a kayaking guided tour through the caves.

nullThe concessioner, Island Packers, has a booth close to the campground at which you can rent snorkels or kayaks or arrange a tour – but if you didn’t book in advance you might be out of luck. For information and reservations, you can go to Island Packers.  

Other Islands in the National Park

There are 4 more islands to explore in this Galapagos of the North. Each has its own distinct character and opportunity for adventure. In the near future, I will be visiting Santa Barbara, Anacapa, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa island and writing about them. If you have been to those places, please send me your experiences and photos.

Kayaking the Channel Islands

Kayaking the Channel Islands anaheimer Sun, 07/29/2018 - 17:16

nullThe Channel Islands are only a 1-hour boat ride from the coast of Southern California but might as well be a world away. 

Once you cross the channel separating the archipelago from the mainland, you are already in a unique environment with steep cliffs, verdant valleys, and indigenous flora and fauna. The climate is also much cooler than the mainland.

The waters around the 5 protected islands are teaming with marine sea life and kelp forests with lots of caves carved into the cliff walls by the relentless ocean surf. 

Read more about the Channel Island National Park here.

nullThe pristine nature, clear waters, cliffs, and caves make this park ideal for an adventure in Kayaking and Snorkeling.

To go Kayaking in the national park you can either bring your own equipment or you can go with the only outfitter on the Island: Channel Islands Adventure Company.  

Tip: If you are bringing your own Kayaks, make sure to reserve space for your equipment with Island Packers.

Channel Islands Adventure Company offers several Kayaking adventures and Snorkel rentals. We recently went on their “Discovery Sea Cave Kayak” tour and we had a blast. This tour takes place around Santa Cruz Island and starts at Scorpion Anchorage.

Tip: Before you go on any of the Kayaking tours, carefully read the instruction on the website and on your reservation confirmation. 

This was our first time Kayaking and I was very apprehensive about venturing into the Santa Cruz Island - Kayakingocean and fighting the waves, but I am glad we did.

The guides were very professional and friendly. After getting outfitted with floatation jackets, helmets, and water shoes we hiked to the launch location at the beach. The water wasn’t cold so we did not need wetsuits. They are available if you need them. 

Tip: Make sure to leave enough time between your island arrival time and your tour start time to change into your swim attire and get outfitted with your gear.    

The guides gave us detailed instructions on Kayaking, but being a newbie, I had a lot of questions. We practiced on dry land using the paddle, responding to hand signals, and jumping back on the kayak in case we flipped over. In retrospect, I think we needed more hands-on practice in the water. 

Tip: The beach is very rocky so make sure to wear water shoes. If you didn’t bring any, you can borrow some from the outfitter, but there is no guarantee you will find your size. 

We started paddling away from the beach towards our first cave. As soon as we left the protection of the harbor we started fighting the waves and the wind. The sea on that day was a little rough. 

Santa Cruz Island - KayakingAs we skimmed the surface we could see all kinds of fish swimming around the kelp. The kelp got very thick in some areas and hindered our paddles, but we managed to get to our first cave.

This cave is actually more like a tunnel. It cuts through the cliffs and opens up on the other end of the Island. This acted like a wind tunnel making entering the cave mouth more difficult - but we pushed through and made it to the other mouth. What a great feeling of accomplishment. 

Tip: If you never kayaked before then remember: 1. Sit up straight – make sure you have good back support. 2. To get the best out of your paddles, the strength of your pull is not everything. The length of time you pull the paddle through the water is key. 3. When you paddle, make sure the concave side is sweeping through the water. Get some more tips at REI.

A few kayaks in our group were trailing way behind so the guides took turns towing them closer to the group.

Once everyone made it through the first cave, it was decision time. The winds kicked up and the seas became rougher, so the guides gave the group a choice: Head back or continue to the next cave. We all choose to continue.

Tip: There are no services on the island, so you have to bring your own water and food and take your trash out with you. The outfitter station provides some water so you can refill your canteens or water bottles. 

The second cave wasn’t as dramatic. It was larger with a closed-end. We had fun paddling intonull it and admiring the view from inside. Afterward, we turned around and headed back to our launch point. Paddling back, the wind was on our backs speeding up our return to the shore. 

Kayaking to and through the caves is great fun, but just being on the water paddling close to the cliffs and battling the waves is a wonderful experience. 

Tip: you have to walk for some distance from the beach the outfitter station where you will hand the gear and change clothes. So make sure you have enough time to make it back to the boat. After our tour, we barely made it in time to board.  

The tour took around 2 hours. By the time we got back to the beach, I was exhausted and every muscle was hurting, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. As a matter of fact, I am planning to go with the Adventure Company on their full day “Painted Cave Kayak Tour” – which includes breakfast, lunch, and Snorkeling. 

Dana Point Dolphin Safari

Dana Point Dolphin Safari anaheimer Sun, 04/28/2019 - 15:38

Captain Dave's Dolphin Safari - CatamaranThe waters of Southern California are full of Dolphins and Whales year-round, but the best time to pay them a visit is in springtime. The weather is beautiful and you have the added bonus of spotting a few whales during their migration north to Alaska.

For our latest sea adventure, we went to Captain Dave’s Dolphin Safari off Dana Point. Captain Dave operates a smaller catamaran from Dana Point Harbor with a net bottom up front and two glass underwater observation pods.

Tip: The weather is much cooler in deep waters, so make sure to wear layers and bring a jacket or windbreaker.

After some safety instructions, we headed into the ocean looking for Whales and Dolphins. Captain Dave's Dolphin Safari - DolphinsThe crew knows where they usually hang out, so it was relatively easy to spot the first whale. We got a glimpse before it decided to dive away hunting for its favorite food at the bottom of the ocean. Most whales are just shy and won’t hang out around boats.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, were the exact opposite.  Once we spotted the first pod (or maybe they spotted us), we were surrounded from all directions with the playful mammals. They would swim next to the boat, dive under then jump in front of us. We also spotted a lot of baby dolphins with this pod.

Tip: No food or beverages are sold on the boat. This is due to its small size. But the check in shack has plenty of snacks you can buy and bring on the boat. You are also allowed to bring your own food and drink.

While we were enjoying the views and the marine life, our captain Marie was busy explaining Captain Dave's Dolphin Safari - Dolphins and Catamaranabout the different species we encountered, their feeding habits and the whale’s annual migration. Her narration was both educational and entertaining.

We learned that the waters of California are host to Fin Whales and Common Dolphins year-round. Blue Whales are only seen in the Fall and Spring due to their migration habits.  

Other members of the crew were busy taking pictures and filming with a drone.

When the dolphins were swimming around the boat, I went down to the glass observation pod to watch them up close underwater. The pod is narrow and holds one person at a time. You have to lay face down to enjoy the best view. It is the closest to being in a submarine without actually diving under.

The trip took a little longer than 2 and a half hours and was filled with fun and learning. I Dana Point Harborreally liked the small size of the boat. It felt more like a personal safari than a commercial endeavor.

On the way back to port, we encountered another Fin Whale who stayed above water long enough for us to watch and marvel at its size and grace. This was a good finale to our adventure.

Tip: Repeat sailings on Dave’s boat are 20% off for life. So, if you enjoyed it as much as we did, come back again during a different season for a different experience.

At the end of the tour, the drone operator showed us the footage he took. One of the clips had us on deck gawking at the dolphins. We were very impressed and bought a copy. 

24440 Dana Point Harbor Dr
Dana Point, CA 92629 

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park anaheimer Sat, 01/23/2010 - 15:32

The first time I saw Joshua Tree NP I thought I just crossed through the twilight zone and into another planet. The eerie landscape, rock formations, and the uncanny Joshua trees combine to transport me to a different state of mind.

This 800,000 acres park straddles the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in California. It is home to the most stunning rock piles, mountain ranges, desert views, and an unexpected oasis here and there. 

The park was named after the most prevalent tree in the area. Mormons passing through the area called it Joshua Tree because it resembled their prophet, Joshua, praying to God.

nullWithin the NP boundaries, you can enjoy an abundance of hiking and biking trails, bouldering, and camping. The park is also a world-famous destination for rock climbers.

Tip: You don’t have to be a professional rock climber to enjoy the rocks at Joshua Tree NP. A lot of formations are easy to climb. My family and I often scramble up the rock formation, find the path of least resistance and end up at the top with stunning views of desert and trees.

It took Mother Nature millions of years and many cataclysmic events to finally present us with this natural wonder. It all started with cooling lava flows. Then underground streams started the long process of sculpting the rocks. Mix in several tectonic shifts and several millions of years of wind and rain erosion. The result is unique formations like the Wonderland of Rocks, Arch Rock, and Skull Rock.

For more details about the natural history of Joshua Tree NP, visit the official website here or at Wikipedia.

nullThere are many ways to enjoy this colossal park. It all depends on your interests and how much time you have. The best way to enjoy it is to camp for a few nights at one of the campgrounds. The advantage of camping overnight is that you can explore the park at your own pace.

Tip: Temperatures in this high-desert can soar to 100's during the summer month. If you visit during the hot months, make sure you have plenty of water.

During the day, explore the campground area or take trips to various hiking trails and rock formations. During the night enjoy an unobstructed view of the stars – no city lights to spoil the view.

If roughing it under the stars is not your thing, some camps offer RV sites. There is a total of 9 campgrounds to choose from - only 2 have water and toilets (Black Rock Canyon and Cottonwood).

nullNot planning to camp out? You can take a day trip and explore a few sites. Finally, you can always stay in a motel in one of the nearby towns like Twenty Nine Palms. Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley - or drive from Palm Springs.

Whether you are camping or day-tripping, make sure you explore some of the following:

Start at the North Entrance (29 Palms)

From highway 62, take the Utah trail into the park. Stop at Oasis visitor center for passes, maps, guided tours, and souvenirs. Keep going on the Utah trail and show your passes or pay at the gate.

Tip: If you arrive after hours, the attendants may be already gone. If that happens, be ready to pay on your way out. 

Take Park Boulevard through the park. This main road passes several important stops and campgrounds like Live Oak; Skull Rock trail; Jumbo Rock campground; Geology Tour Road; Ryan Campground; Cap Rock trail and Hidden Valley trail.

Live Oak Picnic Area

null"Live Oak" is a dramatic rock formation with a few oak trees at the base. It was named after an old Oak tree that still thrives between the rocks. Most Oaks in the park are too small to be called trees, but this one stands tall and healthy. 

This is a day-use area, so no camping is allowed. But you can still enjoy a quick hike or climb the rocks for a better view of the surrounding area. You can also enjoy lunch or a snack at the few picnic tables or on top of a rock. 

Jumbo Rock Campground – Skull Rock

nullA campground nestled around jumbo boulders. You don’t have to camp here to enjoy the views. Just before you reach this campground you will say a sign on the road for "Skull Rock". Park close to the camp entrance or across the street then take the 1.7 miles hike around the area. Look for a rock that looks like a face or skull.

You can park on the street next to the sign or you can go a little further and park at the camp - close to the entrance.  Look for a rock that looks like a face or skull.

nullThe best way to see Skull Rock is to hike a few feet on the right side of the road (away from Skull Rock) and climb on top of the boulders. You can snap the best photos from this vantage point. 

After you enjoy the view from across the street, head toward Skull Rock and scramble to the top of the boulders next to it. If you arrive at the right time you can enjoy a dramatic view of the sun setting behind the rocks. 

Tip: If you are planning to camp here, you must plan ahead. It is very popular and always crowded.

Related Books

Geology Motor Tour

nullAn 18-mile motor tour leads through one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most fascinating landscapes.

Tip: The road is very rough on this tour, so 4-wheel drive vehicles are strongly recommended.

There are 16 stops along a dirt road and it takes approximately two hours to make the round-trip. Get a self-guided tour brochure from the visitor center or at the start of the road.

Some of the highlights of the tour are Boulder Outcrops; Malapi Hill; Pleasant Valley and Gold Coin Camp.

If you are feeling adventurous, instead of turning back at the end of the Geology tour road, continue on to Berdoo Canyon drive. This is a more rugged road that takes you through a camp that was used by the California Aqueduct builders. This is a moderate to difficult drive for 4WD.

Hidden Valley Trail

nullFurther along Park Boulevard (heading northwest) you will find this hidden nature trail. It is easy and family-friendly. The trail winds between multi-colored rocks. Watch out for a rock that looks like a Trojan’s head. Picnic tables are available.

Arch Rock Nature Trail

This trail is on Pinto Basin Road, which connects to Park Boulevard. After you go through the north entrance turn left instead of right and stop at the White Tank campground.

The trail starts from the campground at site # 9. It winds through several rock formations, the most dramatic is a 25-foot rock that looks like an Arch. You can climb around and through the arch.

Nearby, you can visit White Tank. A tank is a reservoir built by early settlers to collect rainwater and runoff.

Cottonwood Springs 

nullIf you keep going south on Pinto Basin Road you will reach the Cottonwood visitor center.

From there you can easily get to a nature trail and a small oasis with California fan Palm trees. Another more difficult trail takes you to Lost Palms Oasis. This hike will take from 4 to 6 hours. The last part of the trail will climb to an overlook above the oasis.

After enjoying the view from the top, climb down a steep descent to take refuge under the palm trees. Also, from Cottonwood Springs, you can visit Mastodon Peak with sweeping views of the San Jacinto Mountains, Salton Sea, and the Sonoran desert.

Joshua Tree 49 Palms

Fortynine Palms Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park - by CrishazzardThis secluded oasis is hard to get to but worth the effort. After hiking through rugged terrain with an elevation gain of 350 feet, we were rewarded with palm trees and a spring.  

Along the way, we encountered weird rock formations, hardy desert plants, and panoramic desert views. Many of the slopes were dotted with Red Barrel cacti which add some color to this stark landscape.

Fortynine Palms Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park - Red Barrel CactusThe trail is well maintained with many steps in places to ease the climb – a little. After climbing steadily for about 45 minutes, we reached the summit then started climbing down. It was easy going from there, but we kept reminding ourselves that we have to climb another 350 feet on the way back.

On the way down we started to see the tops of palm trees peeking through the hills. That gave us hope that the journey is almost over.

Warning: This hike is considered moderately-strenuous. If you have a heart condition or uncontrolled diabetes, you should avoid this hike.

It is both refreshing and surreal to find this green valley in the middle of this desolate desert. Joshua Tree National ParkThe palms are nestled around a spring with huge boulders all around. To get down to the spring level, we had to scramble down those boulders.

Our reward at the end of this grueling hike was a picnic lunch. We sat on the rocks and enjoyed our sandwiches and drinks. The place was crowded with hikers, but we managed to find a somewhat secluded spot for our lunch.

Note: This trail is only for hiking. The terrain is too rugged for biking.

The hike took us around 3 hours in total - One hour and change each way and a long rest at the oasis.

This oasis is located at the north end of the Joshua Tree National Park – on the outskirts of Twentynine Palms city. Although it is officially inside the boundaries of the park, there is no entrance fee.

Plenty of parking is available at the trailhead and primitive restrooms. No facilities on the trail or at the oasis.


nullLiving in cities, it is almost impossible to have a good view of the stars. You would have to go to a place like Joshua Tree NP for an amazing view of the heavens. 

In this high desert, it is very easy to avoid the glare of human civilization. Just walk a few feet away from any road or camp and you are in total darkness. Also, the skies are clear most nights of the year due to the low rainfall. 

Read the full review stargazing article here.

Joshua Tree North Entrance

74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
(760) 367-5500

Cottonwood Visitor Center

Pinto Basin Rd.,
Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park

Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park anaheimer Sun, 02/07/2021 - 08:16

Joshua Tree National Park - Night Sky - by Lian LawLiving in cities, it is almost impossible to have a good view of the stars. You would have to go to a place like Joshua Tree NP for a fantastic view of the heavens. 

In this high desert, it is very easy to avoid the glare of human civilization. Just walk a few feet away from any road or camp, and you are in total darkness. Also, the skies are clear most nights of the year due to the low rainfall. 

Tip: To get the best view of the heavens, try to avoid the bright moon spoiling your view. Check the moon phase calendar here

Sky is the Limit ObservatoryMoon Phases

For first time stargazers, I recommend visiting the "Sky is the Limit Observatory," located just before the north park entrance and Twentynine Palms.

Every Saturday, a large group of like-minded people gathers to enjoy the heavenly displays.

Many volunteers bring their large telescopes and allow people to view the Planets and Star Clusters. 

Tip: When walking in the dark, use flashlights with red filters. Regular flashlights create a lot of light pollution and spoil the view for everyone.

You don't need a telescope to enjoy the show. Use your naked eye or binoculars to see many stars, constellations, the Milky Way, and a few shooting stars. 

Best spots for stargazingJoshua Tree National Park - Sunset and Stars


If you happen to be camping at Joshua Tree, then all you have to do is walk a few steps away from camper lights, where you will be plunged into total darkness.

Tip: It can get really cold at night in the high desert. Dress in layers and bring extra blankets.  

Road pullouts

As you drive around the park, you will notice those pullouts or small parking spots. Many of them are next to popular points of interest like Cap Rock, Jumbo Rocks, and Skull Rock. Wherever you park, walk a few feet away from the vehicles to enjoy a great sky view.

How to watch the stars

Joshua Tree NP - Stars - from Wikimedia - by Christopher MichaelDuring my first stargazing visit, I wasn't fully prepared. I was trying to view the sky while standing up. I did enjoy some of the views, but before long, my neck started to hurt from trying to lookup. I also got very cold, even while wearing a jacket.

My advice is to bring a sleeping bag or thick blankest to lay on the ground. Lay down and cover up to enjoy an amazing view above.

Marine life cruise by Ocean Institute

Marine life cruise by Ocean Institute anaheimer Mon, 05/13/2019 - 16:12

Ocean Institute - Dana Point - from Wikipedia by Jim Graves Ocean InstituteI really love dolphins and am always looking for a way to get close to them. I went on several dolphin and whale watching cruises in California, but I especially enjoyed my latest trip with the Ocean Institute of Dana Point.

The Ocean Institute is a non-profit organization specializing in marine science education programs for school kids and teachers – with outreach programs for the general public.

Interesting Fact: The top-rated cartoon show SpongeBob SquarePants was conceived by biologist Stephen Hillenburg while teaching at the institute.

Ocean Institute - Dana Point - view from the channelThe Institute hosts several exhibits and hands-on exploration areas for kids of all ages to learn about marine life and the environment.

For me, the highlight was a trip on the R/V Sea Explorer, a 70-foot marine science research vessel, to visit the dolphins and whales in their natural habitat. 

The exploration cruise was planned for 10 am, but early arrivals got to attend an educational talk about the trip by the captain Mike. Mike is also a biologist who studied Gray whales in Baja California and spent most of his life on the water. He really knows his stuff and is happy to share it.   

Interesting Fact: Did you know that dolphins and Whales are off the same family? The biggest dolphin is actually the Orca (killer) whale.

As we started our cruise, we noticed a large colony of birds occupying the harbor seawall. Dana Point Harbor - Birds on the seawallThe crew handed out picture cards showing the local birds to help us identify them – and pointed out the different species and their feeding habits.

One of the unique birds we encountered was the Black Oyster Catcher who looks for its favorite food in between the rocks. Along the length of the seawall, flocks of Great Blue Heron were flying majestically heading towards the cliffs nearby.  

Tip: With the temperature dropping as the boat gets into deeper waters and with the wind blowing, you may get cold. Make sure to wear layers and bring a jacket or windbreaker.

Ocean Institute - Marine Life Cruise - SealionsJust outside the harbor, we came across a family of Sealions sunning on a buoy. They seemed like a lazy bunch – just sitting there with no care or worries. I am sure they will jump in the water eventually to catch some fish.

Some of them had tags because they have been rescued in the past. The tags help the biologists keep a tap on their health.

Interesting Fact: If you see a tag on the right side of the tail, then you are looking at a female. A left side tag indicates a male Sealion.

After this short stop, we headed into deep sea to find whales and dolphins. Before we Ocean Institute - Marine Life Cruise - Dolphinsencountered any, we came across a rare find. The boat slowed down to a stop to allow us to gaze at a huge Swordfish.

This swordfish spent a lot of time floating on the surface with the fin and the tail showing about the water. The crew was as surprised as we were. This is a very rare event in Southern California.

Not long after, we encountered our first pod of playful dolphins. Those were from the Common Dolphin family – which are the most prevalent in California. Those dolphins really like to race the boat and jump around for an appreciative audience.

Interesting Fact: The common dolphin we see in California (and in most oceans) is not the popularized dolphin in movies, TV shows, and theme parks. Those famous ones are the bottlenose dolphin.

Marine Life Cruise - Dolphin in waterThe Sea Explorer has a bowsprit above the water with a mesh bottom that enabled us to watch the dolphins as they dipped under the boat.

Unfortunately, we did not encounter and whales during this trip. We did see a spout and waited for the whale to surface, but it decided to move along.

During this trip, we encountered an example of human's impact on the environment. A mylar balloon was floating close to where dolphins were playing and feeding. The boat changed direction and slowed down to allow the crew to fish the offending object out of the water. 

On the way back we encountered more dolphins and enjoyed some complimentary hot drinks. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available throughout the cruise on the lower deck.

We really enjoyed this cruise with the Ocean Institute. It was educational and fun at the same time. We look forward to visiting again to learn more.  

Ocean Institute

24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr
Dana Point, CA 92629


Oceano Dunes SVRA

Oceano Dunes SVRA anaheimer Thu, 04/02/2009 - 21:02

nullSVRA stands for State Vehicular Recreation Area, which really means lots of fun and adventure for you and I.

Oceano Dunes is around 3 hours drive north of Los Angeles CA - right next to Pismo Beach. The beautiful scenery along the way will make those 3 hours pass quickly.

Oceano Dunes is my favorite off-road adventure place. It has everything going for it. The weather is always perfect (or at least acceptable), it has lots of sand dunes, it is right on the beach and it is right next to a very beautiful beach city: Pismo Beach – with restaurants, shops, beaches and hotels.

nullYou can use any 4-wheel-drive vehicle on the dunes, but you will have much more fun with an ATV or a Dirt Bike. You can rent your equipment at one of the rental shops right outside the park. See the list of shops below. They will bring it to you inside the SVRA area.

You can camp right in the park, but for people who would like to avoid roughing it, you can rent a motel or hotel room for the night in the city of Pismo Beach.

You can also make it a day trip from Anaheim. Because the highway to Oceano Dunes passes through major population areas, you are never far away from a restaurant, rest stop or lodging.

nullIf you plan to camp then make reservations ahead of time. The available spots disappear quickly. Call 1-800-444-7275 or visit the California parks reservations website

Tip: Although weather is almost always great for off-road fun, you still need to plan ahead. Under some rain and wind conditions, crossing the Arroyo Grande Creek into the SVRA might become treacherous, especially for RVs.

The dunes area available for off-road activity is around 1,500 acres. It used to be 3,500 but 2000 acres were set aside for preservation and restoration. The park is threatened with closure due to pressure from environmentalists. So please tread carefully around protected areas, read and follow the parks rules.

Tip: The dunes are always changing. When you first take your ATV on the sand, go slow and get familiar with the crests, dips and doughnuts. 

The best way to enjoy the dunes is to start at the beginning of the sand highway between markers 4 and 5. The first time through, take the highway all the way to the border of the SVRA. This will give you an idea about the expanse of this park. On the way back you can start making excursions into other dunes and valleys.

nullThe park has lots of diverse formations. You can find an immense dune with a pointy ridge – jumping the ridge is somewhat dangerous, but trying to balance along the rim is thrilling enough for me. You can find little dunes – with little jumps. You can find a very large depression shaped like a bowl in which you can ride your ATV around the rim. If you lose speed while you are trying to run the rim of this bowl, you will tumble all the way down – and laugh about it.

Tip: There is a reason for every safety rule at the park. Please follow the rules. Most importantly, make sure that your flag pole is standing straight and high enough to be noticed by other vehicles coming from behind a dune. And please wear a helmet!

A great interactive map of the park is available at - with photos at each landmark.

North Park Entrance
End of Grand Avenue
Grover Beach CA
South Park Entrance
End of Pier Avenue
Oceano CA

Ranger Station:
(805) 473-7220

ATV Rentals at Oceano Dunes

BJ's ATV Rentals
197 Grand Avenue
Grover Beach, CA 93433
Tel: 805-481-5411

332 Pier Ave.
Oceano, CA 93445  
Tel: 805-481-2597

Books about adventures in California:

Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Ocotillo Wells SVRA anaheimer Wed, 04/01/2009 - 17:51

nullSVRA stands for State Vehicular Recreation Area, which really means lots of fun and adventure for you and I.

Ocotillo Wells is part of the much larger “Anza-Borrego Desert State Park”. It was set aside for off-road vehicle recreation. It is a great place to experience the solitude of the beautiful desert, gaze at the stars or go wild with your 4-wheel drive SUV, ATV or dirt bike.

The park is a long drive from LA and Orange Counties, but closer to San Diego and Palm Springs.

You probably want to camp for the night. Depending on the weather, you can make it as casual or as professional as you like. My son and I used to sleep in the back of my SUV – with the seats pulled down. It does get cold at night, so make sure you have good sleeping bags or thick blankets.

Three camping areas are available with shades, toilets and fire rings. But you are not limited to the camping areas. You can camp anywhere you like – just be weary of possible riders around you. There are no fees for camping or using the SVRA. Most campgrounds are accessible by RVs.

Tip: Before you enter the SVRA (from Highway 78), keep going until you find the ranger station in the town of Ocotillo Wells. You can pick maps, self-guided tour information and tips from the rangers and you can pick up some supplies from town.

nullOnce you get your maps and stake out a camping place, now you are ready for the fun. Explore the many rock formations and sand dunes. Stay away from protected areas. Some areas are protected to allow the various native plants and animals to recover and thrive. While other areas are protected because of archeological finds.

ATV Rentals

Most people don't own their own equipment. There are many ATV rental shops close to the park.

You can try the highly rated San Diego Motor Sport Rentals - 5965 US Hwy. 78 - Ocotillo Wells, Borrego 92004 - (760) 767-4020.

Also nearby Quad Shop - 6001 CA-78, Borrego Springs, CA 92004 - (760) 238-3839

It is highly recommended that you call ahead and reserve your ATVs.

Some of the most popular trails and formations:


This is probably the biggest sand dune in the area. It is very popular with all kinds of vehicles. I was able to drive my Isuzu Rodeo SUV up and down the hill and I have seen a lot of dirt bikes and ATVs.


Experience the thrill of sliding down a 200 foot-high hill or try to climb the 200’ using your dirt bike or ATV. Many try, but few succeed.

Tip: Because of the sand dunes and valleys, your vehicle might become invisible to other riders around you. You must mount a flag or a whip to make sure you will remain visible from a long distance.


Looking at it now, it is hard to believe that this area used to be under sea level about 40 million years ago. Park under the reef and go exploring. You will find shells and pieces of the reef.

The rangers ask that you do not ride your vehicles on and around this formation.

San Felipe Wash (and others):

You can also have the time of your life riding along the main washes. San Felipe Wash runs all the way from the west end of the park back to highway 78. You can go under the highway and up to a store and restaurant. You can speed up a little bit along the wash because it is mainly open and flat, but watch out for the rocks and driftwood. Stay away from the wash on rainy days.

Tip: There is no water available in the area. Bring plenty with you, especially on warm days.


5172 Highway 78
Borrego Springs CA

Ranger Station:

(760) 767-5391 (Don't hesitate to call for help)

More information at:

Even more at:

Books about adventures in California: