California

California anaheimer Wed, 11/21/2018 - 14:53

Yosemite National Park - The Mist Trail - Vernal FallsCalifornia is the most populous state in the USA with close to 40 million residents, but outside of major urban areas, you can find large areas of pristine nature and lots of adventure to be had.

My home state is also a magnet attracting new residents and millions of visitors every year. The mild climate year-round, long sandy beaches, and snow-covered mountains make it an ideal place to live and work (mostly).

The one thing that repels some people away from California is the traffic. It is unbearable in the major metropolitan areas. So, if you plan to live here, stay away from city centers and work close to home.

Along with wonderful nature, California has an abundance of major attractions like thenull Disney Resort, SeaWorld San Diego, Universal Studios, Lego Land, water parks, and National Parks.

In the nature department, California was blessed with a great variety of environments like the Coastal Redwoods (Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Northern California), Giant Sequoia (Sequoia National Park and Yosemite), Lakes (Tahoe, Mammoth, Big Bear), and Rivers (Merced, Smith, Klamath) and amazing rock formations and mountains (Yosemite, Kings Canyon).

I like to brag about my home state, so the following is a recap of all the great destinations and adventures in California and links to more detailed articles about each. I hope you enjoy it.

Please feel free to add your own experiences and favorite places.

Los Angeles (City and County)

nullThis sprawling metropolitan area offers an amazing array of attractions and activities like amusement parks, museums, shopping malls, sports complexes, and beaches.

You can spend some time in Downtown LA and visit iconic places like City Hall, The Last Bookstore, Pershing Square, Grand Park, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Museum of Contemporary Art – to name a few.

While in downtown, don’t forget to visit the Oue Skyspace observation tower. From the top,null you can enjoy a 360-degree view of LA extending to the mountains and the ocean.

Note: The observation tower closed down. In its place you will find the new restaurant Vista Patio.

LA county encompasses many interconnected and diverse cities with unique attractions. Going towards the beach, you can visit Santa Monica, Venice, or Malibu – each with its unique character.

At Santa Monica, you can enjoy the long beaches and the Santa Monica pier with carnival rides. For more fun, you can spend some time at the Third Street Promenade, which is a short walk from the pier.

Venice Beach, CAFurther to the south, take a stroll through Venice Beach with its quirky street performers and food and trinket vendors. A few blocks inland you will be transferred into our own version of the Venice Canals with beautiful villas and gardens along the banks of the canals.

For museum lovers, a visit to The Getty Center or the Getty Villa is a must. At the Getty, you can enjoy modern architecture, art collections, and beautiful landscaping with gardens and fountains.

Right in downtown, take a look at the Museum of Contemporary Art with its unique collection of modern sculptures, photography, and paintings.

Further away from downtown, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and La nullBrea Tar Pits are worth a visit. At LACMA, you can spend days browsing the art exhibits in several buildings. At the Tar Pits, take a peek at ancient fossils preserved in Tar.

And don’t forget the California Science Center where you can learn how things work, watch an Imax movie or visit the Space Shuttle – all next to the University of Southern California’s (USC) beautiful campus and Exposition Park.

nullAnd of course, a visit to LA is not complete until you venture into Hollywood and Universal Studios. In Hollywood, walk on the main boulevard and step over the Stars of the famous and infamous. At Universal, witness how movies are made, take a few thrill rides, and go through Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Right outside Universal Studios, you can enjoy a stroll along City Walk with lots of shops and dining experiences. At the City Walk, you can also go skydiving (the indoor variety).

Further to the north, you can explore the Angles National Forest in the Gabriel mountainsnull with many hiking trails and waterfalls.

Go to Sturtevant Falls, Monrovia Falls at Canyon Park, or Eaton Canyon Waterfall for a nice hike and rewarding waterfall at the end – or go to San Antonio Falls for a thrilling adventure repelling through the waterfall.  

Further above San Antonio Falls, take the ski-lifts to Mount Blandy winter sports center for some fun in the snow during winter or hiking and dining during the warmer months.

Orange County

nullOC is home to the Disney Resort with 2 parks, an entertainment district, and several hotels. You can spend days hopping between Disneyland and California Adventure or you can just spend an evening at Downtown Disney with many shops, restaurants, and an AMC movie theater.

Many visitors come to OC for Disneyland, but the area has much more to offer like beaches, art colonies, surfing tournaments, great parks, and many entertainment venues.

If Disney parks are not enough thrills for you, go to Knott’s Berry Farm close by with manynull rollercoasters and a Wild West theme. Knott’s also hosts the very popular Halloween Scary Farm.

Right next to Disneyland, you can enjoy some great food at the Garden Walk – with popular eateries like Cheesecake Factory, PG Chang, and Buba Gump. Then enjoy a stroll through the shopping center or attend a concert at the House of Blues.

For a more relaxing time go to Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point or San Clemente. All are beach towns but each with a distinctive character.

Laguna Beach - Heisler ParkLaguna Beach is known as an artist colony with many galleries and 2 different Arts festivals. As you walk in between the galleries, shops, and restaurants downtown make sure to stop at the hidden Sculpture Garden adjacent to Dawson Cole Fine Arts gallery.

Once you had your fill of art and food, head to the beach for some fun in the sand or on the surf – or take a stroll along Heisler Park on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. All along the bluffs, you can take ramps or stairs down to some secluded coves and beaches.

Huntington Beach, to the north, is known as Surf City USA with many surfing competitions nullheld on its beaches. Along with the long stretches of beach in HB, you can find a lot of dining experiences on Main Street, the Pier and the new Pacific City Mall.

Newport Beach has a long Bay with many Islands where the rich and famous live. Take a bay cruise and learn about the great mansions dotting the islands – or get more adventurous and go on a Dolphin and Whale watching tour.Whale and Dolphin Watching - Beaches

If you prefer, you can just spend some time at the Fun Zone with many rides for the kids and good seafood restaurants.

Another great beach town is on the southernmost border of Orange County. San Clemente feels like a Mediterranean coastal town with its white homes nestled on many hills. San Clemente State Beach is the main attraction for nature lovers with RV and tent sites overlooking the ocean.

While in San Clemente, try the Coastal Trail for a 2.3-mile hike or bike. Start from the northSan Clemente coastal trail end, at North Beach, and continue on the dirt road passing through several beaches. Around mid-point, stop at the Pier for a well-deserved rest and tasty lunch or dinner at the Fishermen’s Restaurant. The restaurant sits on the pier with great views all around.

Although OC is mainly urban sprawl, you can still find very good hiking places. My favorite hikes are at Crystal Cove State Park. The park is huge with a nice campground, a long stretch of beach right on PCH and a long network of trails going inland.

Other great hikes are at Buck Gully in Newport Beach and Top of the World at Laguna Beach.

Catalina Island

nullNewport is also a launching pad for trips to Catalina Island. The island is only a short boat ride away from Newport Beach, but it feels like a different country.

A large portion of the island is set aside as a conservancy to protect the plants and wildlife, at the main city, Avalon, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll along pedestrian roads, swim at the beach, go snorkeling in the clear waters, go ziplining or spend hours hiking the protected trails.

San Diego County

SeaWorld San Diego - Dolphin DaysSD is the southernmost coastal county in California, with very popular attractions like SeaWorld, Legoland, a world-famous Zoo and the Wild Animal Safari Park.

If you are not in the mood for theme parks and zoos, spend some time at Balboa Park with many museums, gardens and sports complexes. Some of my favorites are The Fleet Science Center, Air and Space and the Museum of Arts. Also at the park, every Sunday you can attend a free organ concert in an open theater.

For some great dining and shopping, don’t forget to visit the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown.San Diego Maritime Museum - Star of India The gas lamps are especially beautiful at night when the streets are busy with revelers enjoying the great weather and the many nightclubs in the neighborhood.

A few blocks away, you can reach the waterfront with many attractions like the Convention Center, Harbor Cruises, the USS Midway carrier, the Maritime Museum and Seaport Village.

Torrey Pines State Reserve - Razor Point Trail Outside the San Diego city limits, you must visit La Jolla Village for spectacular ocean views and nature hikes. At La Jolla Cove you can have a nice hike overlooking some interesting rock formations, get close to the seals or go down into a sea cave. At Black’s Beach, you can enjoy the beautiful sands or become a naturist and bare it all.

A visit to La Jolla is not complete without a hike through Torrey Pines State Reserve. This park and beach have many trails with stunning views of the ocean.

The town of Carlsbad in SD county is home to Legoland and the famous Flower Fields. TheCarlsbad Flower Fields Flower Fields are seasonal but definitely worth a visit when the flowers are in bloom. You get to walk among rows upon rows of multi-colored flowers or take a ride on the Tractor Wagon through the fields.

The waterfront offers a long hiking trail with many dining places right on the beach. For more nature walks, visit one of the Lagoon conservation areas or go deeper inland to Hosp Grove to hike around an extinct Volcano.

Big Bear and Arrowhead

nullSouthern California is known for its mild weather year-round, but if you love winter sports you don’t have to go far. The San Bernardino mountains are high enough to have snow-covered mountains during the colder months.

When ski resorts are open, you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding or sledding through the snow. During the off-season, you can still have fun hiking through the many trails or just enjoy a picnic on the lake shores.

Big Bear Discovery Center is a good place to start your visit to learn about the area, hike the trails around it and maybe stop for a snack or lunch.

Palm Springs

This oasis in the middle of the Sonoran Desert grew very rapidly to become a major tourist nullattraction in spite of the harsh conditions. With temperatures soaring to the 110s most summer days and freezing in winter, it is a wonder anyone wants to live or visit here.

But they do to spend some time at the major resorts partying around pools, play golf or do some shopping and dining on the main drag Palm Canyon.

Nearby, you can take the Aerial Tramway to a Height of 8500 ft to the top of the San Jacinto State Park for some hiking or winter fun. Also, close by you can have a wild ride on ATVs through the sand dunes.

Joshua Tree National Park

nullThe 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 combined to transport me to a different state of mind.

Within the NP boundaries, you can enjoy an abundance of hiking and biking trails, camping, bouldering and rock climbing.

At night, enjoy a stunning view of the heavens. Due to low light pollution and clear skies, the stars shine bright, providing a rare view for visitor escaping the city.

Imperial County and the Badlands

Imperial County is the most desolate land in Southern California. Expect to see longnull stretches of desert and very little vegetation and people. But you can still have some unexpected fun here.

At Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) and the nearby Badlands, you can take your favorite 4-wheel toy and have an adventure of a lifetime. The campgrounds at the SVRA are primitive, so don’t expect showers or hookups. But the reward a stunning night sky full of stars – after all the rowdy riders go to sleep.

Go to the Badlands at your own risk. It is very rough terrain with huge boulders everywhere, but it is fun to try to navigate through this challenging landscape.

Another great spot for primitive camping and fun on the sand dunes is Glamis close to the Arizona border. This stretch of dunes is about 45 miles long with many dry washes running through it – ideal for more 4-wheeling fun.

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)

California - PCH - Bixby Creek Bridge - Wikipedia By DiliffOne of the most amazing destinations in California is actually a Road Trip along the famous Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH). This highway goes all the way from San Diego to the Northern tip of California, passing through beautiful ocean views, historic bridges, coastal forests and great beaches.

The southern part of PCH goes through densely populated areas like San Diego, Orange California - PCH - Big Sur Wikipedia by DiliffCounty, LA and Ventura. After you pass Ventura, you will come across more laid-back towns like Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Monterey and Santa Cruz.

Along the way don’t forget to visit Hearst Castle and Big Sur. At Hearst Castle enjoy some guided tours to learn about the history of this huge estate on the hills.

At Big Sur, have fun swimming or tubing on the river, camp along its banks and visit the many National Parks in the area.

Channel Islands

nullThis archipelago of islands sits off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura and is a protected nature area – it is part of the National Parks system. A boat ride away and you will be transferred into a pristine world of wildlife, steep cliffs and beaches – away from civilization.

At this National Park, you can enjoy the long hiking trails on several islands or you can go Kayaking through coastal caves. Overnight camping is also allowed, but you have to bring everything you need with you.

Pismo Beach and Oceano Dunes

Another beach town along Highway-1 (PCH) with lots of sand and surf, a pier and winenull vineyards. During the cooler months, Pismo Beach becomes a sanctuary for Monarch Butterflies. 

As an extension to the beaches in Pismo, a large area was set aside for 4-wheel fun on the sand dunes. The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) is 5.5-miles of beach dunes open to the public to enjoy with their favorite 4wheel toys. You can rent ATVs right at the park entrance and get them delivered where the action is.

Monterey

California - PCH - Monterey Wharf - Wikipedia by SmatprtYou can’t pass by Monterey without a visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and Fishermen’s Wharf.

The aquarium offers a large collection of sea life exhibits and some hands-on experiences for the kids. The aquarium is also in the middle of Cannery Row with many shops, restaurants and bars.

At the Wharf, enjoy great seafood while observing the sea lions and otters from the windows. For the kids, go to the Dennis The Menace Playground right next to the Wharf. This playground has many fun rides for the kids and paddle boats on the large pond.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is known for its natural beauty, pristine coastline, redwood forests, null lifestyles, and socially liberal leanings. It is also home to the University of California, Santa Cruz with a large student population and beautiful camps with great views of the ocean.

You can’t visit Santa Cruz without walking or biking on West Cliff Drive. This scenic drive takes you from the Municipal Wharf to Natural Bridges State Park.

Tnullhe drive (or walk or bike) itself is amazing, with a great view of the bay, coves and surfers below the cliffs. Towards the end of the drive, you are rewarded with rocks forming natural bridges along the shore. Inland from the rock formation, you will find a nicely shaded campground and a sandy beach.

At the wharf, you can enjoy tasty clam chowder and other seafood at the many restaurants with a commanding view of the bay around you.

From the pier, you can see the famous Beach Boardwalk with many carnival rides. The viewnull is especially dazzling at night with all the rides lit up. After gazing at it from afar, you can just walk a few steps to enjoy the rides.

Close to Santa Cruz you can spend some time in the Redwood Forest hiking or having a picnic. There are 2 main attractions in the forest. You can go on a train ride through the woods and up the mountains at Roaring Camp Railroad or you can go Ziplining at Mount Hermon for a great adventure.

PCH Again

nullYou can drive on Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Cruz to San Francisco instead of taking the freeways. The drive is long but very rewarding.

If you choose to take this road trip, you will come across some sleepy beach towns like Davenport, Half Moon Bay and Pacifica. You will also pass some beautiful State Parks and Beaches like Año Nuevo and Bean Hollow.

At Año Nuevo, go for a long hike over the sand dunes to see the Elephant Seals sunbathing and playing in the sand.

At Bean Hollow Beach, enjoy the view of huge waves breaking at rugged formations of black volcanic rocks. And on the beach, gaze at the wild vegetation with vibrant colors.

San Francisco

nullSan Francisco is a huge urban area with many destinations and attractions. Most visitors flock to Pier-39 and Fisherman’s Wharf when they first get to SF. You can find the best Clam Chowder at the Wharf and you can go on a cruise or rent a bike right next to Pier-39. The pier and the wharf are great destinations, but usually very crowded.

nullAlso iconic in SF is Cable Cars, the crooked Lombard Street and China Town. Try to catch one of those cable cars and ride around SF streets.

Once you visit those places and enjoy the aquarium, shops and seafood restaurants, head to lesser know places like Coit Tower with a 360-degree view of SF; Angel Island for some great hiking; and the Marin Headlands with a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge from above. During foggy mornings, you can be higher than the cloud bank and feel like you are walking on the clouds. 

San Francisco - Bike Angle IslandFor a relaxing time with nature, go to the Golden Gate Park or head further out to the Muir Woods.

The Golden Gate Park offers more than a thousand Acers of parks, ponds, flowers and venues. The Conservancy of Flowers and The Academy of Science are my favorites.

Muir Woods is a National Monument on the outskirts of SF with majestic Redwood trees, a creek with wood bridges crisscrossing it.

Finally, a visit to San Francisco is not complete without taking the ferry across the Bay to neighboring towns or going on a cruise between the 2 bridges.

Yosemite National Park

Up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can find America’s first national park with sheernull cliffs, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and forests.

At his stunning place, you can spend your time hiking in the valley floor or through the expanse of meadows, mountains and woods.

From the valley floor, you can climb through steep trails to several iconic waterfalls or take a longer journey through John Muir trail.

nullThe Mist Trail takes very close to the roaring Nevada Fall and connects to the higher Vernal Fall. In between, you can relax at Emerald Lake.

If you don’t feel like hiking, just take the Grand Bus Tour through popular points of interest like the Giant Sequoia and Glacier Point.

Another great way to experience the Yosemite Valley is by riding a bike along the many trails and connecting to Mirror Lake.

For an extreme adventure go on a whitewater rafting trip. The Tuolumne River will challenge you with level 4 and 5 rapids so be an expert or go with a tour operator.

And finally, you can spend some time volunteering to help restore habitats and get close to nature.

Further North

California doesn’t end at San Francisco, but my journey ends here. Northern California is waiting for me to discover it, but I am looking forward to visiting the great National Forests covering a large swath of the land and the many rivers that run through it.

If you know a favorite town, national park or adventure in Northern California please post an article or send me an email through the contact form.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake anaheimer Sun, 09/20/2009 - 11:59

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Big Bear Valley is well known for its winter sports fun. But after the snow melts and the skiers flee the area, a whole new adventure awaits you.

During the summer months, the ski resorts offer more adventures like scenic chairlift rides, slides, and hiking trails.

The valley and mountains around it are full of hiking and biking trails waiting to be explored. Many trails start near the “Big Bear Discovery Center”. 

nullBig Bear Discovery Center

Located adjacent to Big Bear Lake on highway 38, the center offers maps, passes, café, a souvenir shop (Adventure Outpost) and expert advice from the on-duty rangers. You can also join educational Naturalist-led interpretive programs and events.

​From the balcony of the discovery center, you can enjoy a great view of the Lake nestled in the middle of the San Bernardino Forest - a perfect photo opportunity.

Trail to the Lake

Big Bear Lake - Alpine pedal path trailWe decided we want to enjoy a hike close to the lake, so we started by talking to the rangers. They were very friendly and helpful. They gave us a map of the area showing all the trails. They showed us how to walk from the Discovery Center to the Alpine Pedal Path - which runs adjacent to the lake.

The best way to find this trail from the Discovery Center is to look for signs to the “Cougar Crest Trail” then turn left towards the lake. 

The trail is paved asphalt, which makes it popular with bikers too. It meanders through forest and meadows with many views of the lake. Along the trail, you can find many shady benches to catch your breath and admire nature. Close to the shoreline you can find picnic tables and barbeques (closed during fire season).

Big Bear Lake - Discovery Center - hikesThe trail is about 3.5 miles long and considered very easy. It is easily accessible for hikers, skaters, joggers, and even strollers and wheelchairs.

Nature Trail Loop

This short - .5-mile loop is great for families with kids. It is a very easy hike in the middle of the forest.

You can do this hike on your own or you can go with a volunteer naturist on a guided tour. As you walk, learn about the local plant life, wildlife, and some interesting historical facts.

Cougar Crest Trail (Bertha Peak Trail)

Big Bear Lake - Cougar Crest TrailFor a more strenuous hike, take this trail to the Bertha Peak for a commanding view if Big Bear Lake. The hike is about 7 miles round trip and may take up to 4 hours to finish. It is considered moderate difficulty.

It starts from Cougar Crest trailhead neat the Discovery Center. If you park at the trailhead, you will need an adventure pass. Alternately, you can take advantage of the free parking at the center and walk to the trailhead. This will add 1-mile to your hike.

Big Bear Lake - Cougar Crest TrailThe hike is a steady climb while you gain about 1400-feet of elevation. It gets harder towards the top due to rough-rocky terrain. But you can start enjoying great views of the lake and the snow-covered mountains around the 2-mile marker.

The Cougar Crest trail joins the Pacific Crest Trail at the 2.5-mile point and takes you the rest of the way to Bertha Peak.

At the Peak, you have an unobstructed view of the mountains, valley, and lake below. Take a picnic, relax and enjoy the view.

Pine Knot Trail

Big Bear Lake - Stargazing on the trail - by Corey ThompsonFor another great view of Big Bear Lake, take this 7.5-mile trail to Grand View Point. With an elevation gain of over 1000 feet, it is not an easy hike – but very rewarding.

Along the way, enjoy the wildflowers, oaks, and pines and an occasional view of the lake. At the top, you can see the San Gorgonio wilderness and Catalina Island.

For quick gratification, you can skip most of the hike and find directions to Grand View Point via Skyline Drive.

Other summer activities

If you are not into hiking, you can still Big Bear Lake - Alpine Slide - by Miss Sharihave fun in the summer with activities like ziplining, bobsledding or just taking a scenic chairlift ride.

Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

During the summer months take a ride on the chairlift to the top then come down on the bobsleds or a water-slide. If you prefer you can try the go-karts and the miniature golf.

In the winter months slide down the snow-covered slopes on an innertube.  

Snow Play

Winter is here and the kids are screaming for you to take them to the snow. Where would you take them?

nullYou have several options:

You can stop along the way to Big Bear and find a good spot for sliding. But be warned, those spots are rare and parking places are almost impossible to find. Many popular spots are actually off-limits – but people use them anyway. Bring your own inner tube or slid.

You can try one of the official snow play areas. In my opinion, they are the safest places to have fun in the snow, but they are usually expensive.

nullExpect to pay around $35 per person. Everyone in the party has to pay – whether you are sliding or not.

Alpine Slide snow play has the advantage of offering an escalator to the top – so you can avoid the long an exhausting climb. Inner tubes are provided.

Alternatively, you can go to Big Bear Lake and find a more peaceful and safe area – for free. Try any picnic area or campground. My favorite is next to Serrano Campground (this is also close to the Discovery Center). This place doesn’t have steep hills, but it has lots of snow. It also overlooks the frozen lake - offering great views of the lake and the mountains.

Dining

Although Big Bear is a mountain resort city, it is big enough to have many dining options from Fast Food chains to fancy restaurants. Over the years we tried many of those establishments. Here are my favorites:

The Pines Lakefront

The Pines Lakefront - from websiteThis restaurant made it my list primarily for the view overlooking the lake. The food is ok, and the service is excellent.

On the last visit, we started with Tempora fantail shrimp and Jalapeno Poppers. For the main course, we tried the Tilapia dinner on mashed potatoes and the St. Louis Ribs. The fish was excellent, but the ribs were just OK.

The wine list is extensive with great selections. The open bar can make any drink you desire.
All in all, it was a very pleasant experience.

Teddy Bear Restaurant

An excellent place for breakfast. The portions are large and tasty. We ordered the Veggie and Cheddar omelet and the Teddy Bear Benedict. Both were extra delicious and satisfying. We had leftovers for the next day.

The place gets very crowded in the morning so expect to wait for your table. They also only accept cash.

Himalayan Restaurant

Big Bear Himalayan Restaurant by Colleen GreeneFor classic Indian cuisine, go the Himalayan. You can’t go wrong with traditional dished like Curry, Tandoori or Masala. For something unique, try their butter chicken and the mellow momo appetizers (dumplings). Vegetarians will be pleased with the large selection of veggie only dishes.

Laguna Grill Restaurant

To satisfy your Mexican food cravings, visit this restaurant on the lake. They offer to traditional Mexcian dishes plus a daily happy hour and $1 Taco Tuesdays. If you have someone in your group that does not like Mexican food, they can find a few items like club sandwich and French dip sandwich.

Oakside

Oakside Restaurant Outdoors - by Levon SaryanOakside restaurant serves American dishes with beers and cocktails – with nice outdoor seating. Some outdoor tables have a fire pit. The menu has items to satisfy any taste. From appetizers to share to sandwiches to full entrée items.

While visiting for lunch, we tried the fish and chips with roasted Brussel sprouts and the Lobster pizza. There basil and berry cocktail is a must.

Fast food and chains

If you are in a hurry or want to visit something familiar, you can find places like Burger King, Taco Bell, and McDonald's or casual dining places like Sizzler.


Big Bear Discovery Center

40971 North Shore Drive (Highway 38)
Fawnskin, CA 92333
(909) 382-2843

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Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

Snow play, Alpine Slide, Go-carts, Waterslide

800 Wildrose Lane
Big Bear Lake, Ca 92315

Pine Knot Marina

Boat rentals, boat tours, Jet Skiis, Parasailing

439 Pine Knot Blvd
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
(909) 866-7766

Scenic Sky Chair Rides – at snow summit

Take the sky chair to the top of the mountain. Enjoy the views, hike or bike down to the base. Enjoy a BBQ at the top. This is not available during Ski season.

880 Summit Blvd
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
909-866-5766

Cougar Crest Trail, Big Bear Lake

Cougar Crest Trail, Big Bear Lake anaheimer Sat, 09/21/2019 - 09:18

Also known as Bertha Peak Trail, this is a challenging trail in the Big Bear Lake area with commanding views of the lake.

To learn more about Big Bear and the trails around it go here.

The hike is about 7 miles round trip and may take up to 4 hours to finish. It is considered moderate difficulty.

Big Bear Lake - Cougar Crest TrailIt starts from Cougar Crest trailhead neat the Discovery Center. If you park at the trailhead, you will need an adventure pass. Alternately, you can take advantage of the free parking at the center and walk to the trailhead. This will add 1-mile to your hike.

Tip: It is a rocky trail with some steep inclines. Make sure to wear hiking shoes, and bring your hiking poles.

The hike is a steady climb while you gain about 1400-feet of elevation. It gets harder towards the top due to rough-rocky terrain. But you can start Big Bear Lake - Cougar Crest Trailenjoying gorgeous views of the lake and the snow-covered mountains around the 2-mile marker.

The Cougar Crest trail joins the Pacific Crest Trail at the 2.5-mile point and takes you the rest of the way to Bertha Peak.

Tip: In the summer it can get hot up in the mountains. Bring lots of water with you.

The trail is mostly shady at the beginning with good tree cover, but the trees thin out towards the top. About halfway up, there is a conveniently located bench with a great view - a great place to rest and enjoy the sights.Big Bear Lake - Valley - Wikimedia by jcookfisher

Tip: In colder months, even without snow, the peak can get very cold blustery. You will need a jacket.

At the Peak, you have an unobstructed view of the mountains, valley, and lake below. Take a picnic, relax and enjoy the view.

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.

Canyoneering

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. 

Paragliding:

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. 

Snorkeling

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.

Surfing

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
https://www.dolphinsafari.com 

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.

Stargazing

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 https://www.timeanddate.com/moon/usa/los-angeles

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

Campgrounds

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 www.reserveamerica.com.

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 http://www.ccwheelers.com/intermap.html - 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
http://www.bjsatvrentals.com
197 Grand Avenue
Grover Beach, CA 93433
Tel: 805-481-5411

Steve's ATV - OCEANO DUNES
http://www.stevesatv.com
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:

nullBLOW SAND HILL:

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.

DEVIL’S SLIDE:

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.

SHELL REEF:

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.

Location:

5172 Highway 78
Borrego Springs CA

Ranger Station:

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

More information at: http://ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1217

Even more at: http://www.dirtopia.com/wiki/Ocotillo_Wells_OHV_Area.

Books about adventures in California:

Catalina Island

Catalina Island anaheimer Sun, 06/14/2015 - 14:55

nullCatalina Island is a short boat ride from Los Angeles or Orange counties, but very far off in ambiance and charm. You can very easily forget you are in California and let your imagination take you to a Mediterranean Island. 

Visiting the island today, it is hard to believe that it was established as a home for Native American tribes and later as a beef ranch. The development of Catalina into its current status as a tourist destination happened in waves. The person with the biggest influence on the island’s development was the chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. He purchased the majority of the island around 1919 and got to work improving it. 

nullIn 1975 Wrigley’s son Phillip handed his shares of the island to the Catalina Island Conservancy, which now owns 88% of the island and is in charge of Catalina’s conservation, education and recreation.
For a more detailed history of the islands go to Wikipedia.

Catalina’s climate is considered very mild. The temperatures vary between 64 and 75 Fahrenheit throughout the year – with some cold spells in winter and warmer highs in the summer.

Catalina Lore: The last time it snowed in Catalina was in 1949. 

Getting There

Most affordable way to get to the Island is by boat service from several ports. You can take the Catalina Express or Catalina Flyer for about $75 round trip.

nullA more expensive way is to hire a Helicopter for around $250 round trip. The rich and famous can fly into the Airport in the Sky or use their own boats and yachts.  

On my most recent trip, I went with Catalina Express from Long Beach. They also have service from San Pedro and Dana Point. The long beach terminal is very nice with convenient multilevel parking. The trip on their boats takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes. See more here.

The boat ride itself is part of the fun. The boat departs slowly from the Long Beach Landing with great views of the Long Beach skyline, Shoreline Aquatic Park and Shoreline Village. Then you will pass by the Queen Mary and might catch a glimpse of a cruise ship preparing for departure.

nullThe boat then heads to Catalina at full speed. During the trip, you can get some refreshments and snacks from the fully stocked bar.
For an additional $15, one way, you can enjoy priority boarding and the Commodore lounge with complimentary drinks and leather-trimmed seating.

As you approach Catalina you will first notice the cloud covered mountains – and as you get closer you will see the city of Avalon with its famous landmarks. The most iconic is the round Casino building that never had any gambling.

To the left side of Avalon, you can spot the Wrigley mansion where William lived with wife Ada in the early 1930’s. Straight ahead you can see the beaches and the Green Pleasure Pier.

Cabrillo Mole pier is usually your starting point for your visit. When you first disembark from your ferry, the first thing you will see is a lot of fishermen.

You should also notice the Catalina Adventure Tours sign on your way out. If you haven’t already planned your stay at the island, you can stop at this tour operator and book a Glass Bottom Boat tour, a Submarine tour or an inland adventure.
null Another major outfitter on the Island is the Santa Catalina Island Company. They have many ticket booths throughout the town and offer great adventures. More about the adventures and attractions later.

Where to stay

nullAlthough you can visit Catalina just for a day, to really explore the island you will need to spend several days.

Many lodging options are available. You can stay at one of the hotels right on the main street on the beach front. This main thoroughfare is called Crescent Street and is mainly a pedestrian walkway. The hotels there are very convenient for beach goers and families with kids. If your goal is to relax and enjoy the town and the beach, then those hotels are for you. 

Another option is to stay at one of the Bed and Breakfast Inns sprinkled around town.
For the adventurers who are planning to get close and personal with nature, several campgrounds are available throughout the island.

My favorite way to relax and enjoy the island is to stay at a vacation rental away from the busy downtown.

Hamilton Cove Villas

nullWe recently stayed at Hamilton Cove Villas and loved every minute of our stay. The villas are a luxury gated community that is located about 1.5 miles from the heart of Avalon. Each villa comes with a complimentary golf cart to help you get around during your stay.

Our villa had 2 bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms, living room and kitchen. 

The master bedroom was very large with an attached office/lounge area and a master bathroom with a luxurious bathtub. The villas also had a washer and dryer, BBQs and flat-screen TVs.
The kitchen had a large refrigerator, stove, oven, microwave oven, coffee maker and a dishwasher. It was well stocked with utensils, pots, pans and dishes.

The best part for me was the stunning ocean views from every window and from the large balcony surrounding the property. The balcony had a table and chairs which we used to enjoy breakfast while admiring the scenery around us.

The property also offers a shared spa, pool and tennis courts.

Unlike hotels, maid service is not included automatically in your reservations. This is not an issue for short stays, but be prepared to do your own laundry and clean up after yourself for longer stays. If you can't live without maid service, you can request it for an additional fee.

Although you can walk down to the center of town, it is not recommended. The villas are situated on the slopes around Hamilton Cove, so climbing back up would be very strenuous and time-consuming.
Hamilton Cove is managed by Catalina Island Vacation Rentals (CIVR). You can view available properties and book your villa here.

Things to do in Catalina

Take a walk through Avalon

nullAvalon’s waterfront is full of shops and restaurants. Depending on your preference, you can spend hours enjoying the views, browsing through the shops or dining on the beach.

This walk starts from Cabrillo Mole pier and follows the curve of Avalon Bay all the way to Descanso Beach. The seawall along the beach (aka Serpent Wall) shows beautiful murals depicting life in Catalina and telling tall tales about the sea. 

The main track is called Crescent Street. Along the way, you will pass by activity outfitters like bike rentals and parasailing. Then you will see families enjoying a day at the beach. The first beach has a pontoon that kids can swim to and jump off.

Next on your walk is the Green Pleasure Pier. The pier is your launch point for many water activities like paddle boats, kayaking and glass bottom boats. It is also home to several casual restaurants.

nullOn the left side, you can browse through the many boutique shops offering resort fashion, artwork and souvenirs. You also pass by Island Spa where you can get a massage, soak in a pool or get a hot sand therapy. null

Crescent connects to Casino way through the famous “Via Casino Arch“. Continue your walk along Casino way enjoying the commanding view of the round building. The casino was just a gathering place and was never used for gambling. It has a large ballroom on the second floor and a movie theater. It is also home to the Catalina Museum.

null The casino facade showcases 3 large murals and the interior walls have the original Art Deco murals by John Gabriel Beckman. A guided tour is available for a fee and runs 3 times startingatm 11:45 am. The 40-minute tour costs $12. 

After your visit to the Casino, continue on to Descanso beach club. The club is a private business that offers water activities, cabanas, bars and restaurants. But the beach itself is open to the public. If you rent one of their cabanas or beach chairs you can also enjoy drinks and food delivered to the sand. Because it is a private facility, alcoholic beverages are permitted on the beach. 

Descanso beach is also the starting point of one of Catalina’s most exciting adventures: Zip-lines. More about the Zip-Line adventure later.

Taste of Catalina Food Tour

Another great way to explore Avalon is to take this 3-hour foodie tour. You get to try good food and drinks and learn about Catalina history and culture.

nullWe met our guide Lili at the waterfront in front of Steve’s Steakhouse. Lili gave us a quick introduction about the various people who called the island home and the founding of Avalon. 

We started our culinary experience at Steve’s Steakhouse where we enjoyed a savory tomato soup, coconut shrimp and a tender marinated steak.

During the tour, we enjoyed 5 more tastes and a ton of information. Lili was very informative and entertaining. 

My favorites were: The coconut shrimp at Steve’s; The orange chicken at Ning’s Chinese Garden; The Dark Chocolate/Pistachios bars; Clam Chowder and exclusive beer at Bluewater Avalon; and the Salted Carmel Ice Cream float at C.C. Gallagher.

Towards the end of the tour we were so full, we had to ration our tasting. We just couldn’t eat everything that was offered.

At Ning’s Chinese Garden, we played the Fortune Cookie game with Lili. Each person had to say their fortune while adding “ … in bed” at the end. Needless to say, there were a lot of comical situations.

nullWe were so impressed with Bluewater’s food and location we went back the following day for lunch. 

In future visits, we are planning to go back to CC Gallagher to enjoy their Sushi and Artwork. We will also have a full meal at Ning’s Chinese Garden.

The tour costs $89 for adults and worth every penny. They also offer a happy hour tour for $69. Get more info here.

Rent a bike

Another way to enjoy Catalina is by bike. You can rent a bike from several shops in Avalon and ride your bike around town. The town is mostly on level ground until you get to the surrounding hills. If you want to explore up those hills, consider getting an eclectic bike or a Golf Cart.

If you are planning to do some biking through the wild lands you can contact Bike Catalina and get a shuttle ride to the airport. Then you can bike back to Avalon. The trails are mostly downhill with several steep inclines – especially towards the beginning of the trip. Go here for details.

Water activities

nullIf you are looking for something more adventurous than a day on the beach, then try parasailing, kayaking, paddle boats, scuba and snuba diving.

A lot of those activities can be booked and started from the green pleasure pier. You can just rent the equipment and have fun on your own, or you can join a guided tour for Kayaking or scuba diving. Kayak tours can last several hours and lets you explore hard to reach beaches and coves. 

If you want to scuba dive on your own, Avalon city set aside an area next to the Casino for this purpose – called the Underwater Park. Concrete steps take you down all the way into the water for a convenient start.

Snorkeling is very popular in Catalina due to the calm clear waters around the Island. You can rent snorkeling equipment and go exploring on your own or you can join a guided snorkel tour and get some useful information and instructions from the experts.
One of the highly rated outfitters is Catalina Snorkel & Scuba. Check out their info, ratings and review at Trip Advisor.

Zipline adventure

null A great way to get your adrenaline going without venturing too far into Catalina wild lands.
The adventure is run by the Santa Catalina Island Company and starts behind Descanso Beach.

After checking in, you get outfitted with your equipment and you get a quick lesson on zip-lining. If you need to store belongings before the tour, plenty of free lockers are available. A shuttle then takes you up a winding road through the hills to the highest platform of the ride.

There are 5 Zip-lines between 6 wooden platforms going all the way from the top hill down to the beach. Each Zipline has a different personality. Some are short and fast and other are long with great views. One of the runs took us close to 40 miles per hour – what a rush!

nullThe guides were excellent. Mike and Deny were very friendly and informative. They filled our experience with jokes and tidbits about the area. The tour is billed as an Eco tour, which means you are supposed to get a lot of information about the environment, animals and plant. Thankfully, the guides asked us how much “Eco” we wanted during the tour and tailored the tour according to our wishes.

If you are not the adventurous type, stay away from this ride. You will basically be suspended from a steel wire and propelled from one platform to the next by the force of gravity. If on the other hand, you decided to take the plunge then you need to trust the equipment and the guides.

The harness and Carabiner used are in excellent shape and can hold a lot of weight. The guides kept double checking and tightening the harness before every run.

Once you overcome your fears and take the first leap you will relax and enjoy the views. From the platform or while sliding down the line you can see the beach far below and the Casino building in the distance. You will probably also spot some kayaks, speed boats and parasails.

The Zip-line tour takes around 2 hours and costs around $109. Look for discounts at their website here.

East End adventure

nullThis is a great way to get introduced to Catalina Island. It is a tour on dirt roads through the hills surrounding Avalon - riding an open Hummers. The tour is operated by Santa Catalina Island Company and starts from Tour Plaza - a few blocks from the beaches.

I arrived early and waited in the covered seats while enjoying the most delicious ice-cream from Lloyd's of Avalon Confectionery. Several tours and activities start from this tour plaza.  

A few minutes before the tour we climbed on the huge hummer and were handed cold water bottles and blankets. The blankets may be needed at the higher elevations due to wind and colder weather.

Our adventure started by driving through narrow Avalon streets and with a continuous stream of information about Catalina. Our guide was really knowledgeable about the history and the environment. He pointed out some important landmarks like: The Wrigley Mansion; which is now called the Inn on Mt. Ada; Green Pleasure Pier; The Tuna Club – a fishing club; Cabrillo Pier – were the ferry’s land; The main port where Catalina gets most of its supplies.

Along the way, we saw the only gas station in Catalina with shocking gas prices approaching $8 a gallon.
nullHeading up higher we left the main road and started on the dirt road through the wilderness. Most of Catalina Island is considered wild lands and it is protected by the Catalina Conservancy. The Conservancy owns close to 88% of the land and is responsible for keeping it pristine and protecting the flora and fauna.  

As we climbed higher we started to notice the breathtaking views of the ocean from almost every direction. At one of the stops, we were able to see Avalon from a high vantage point. It was a great place to pose for photos.
It is a good thing we were in a hummer. The road is very steep and bumpy at times, but it is worth every minute.

nullAlong the way, we caught glimpses of red-tailed hawks, Catalina (midget) foxes, a lot of squirrels and bald eagles. The foxes are especially cute. They looked like a cross between cats and dogs.

Catalina Lore: Catalina is famous for its Bison (aka Buffalo). The North American Bison was brought to the island in 1920 as a prop for a Hollywood movie. When filming was done, it was cheaper to leave the Bison roaming the island.

On the way back we passed by some of the popular hiking trails like Hermit Gulch and Garden to Sky Hike. Those hikes start from Avalon and cross the dirt roads at the top. More about hiking later.
We also passed by several campgrounds, the Conservancy’s headquarters, the water reservoir which is protected with the largest pool cover I ever saw.

After 2 hours full of excitement and adventure we returned to the Tour Plaza and thanked our guide for a great trip. I will definitely be returning to try more adventures with the Santa Catalina Island Company. See tour details here http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/land/east-end-adventure.

Hiking Catalina

nullI love hiking and Catalina is a haven for hikers from every level. You can find easy hikes from less than a mile long to very strenuous hikes that are 37 miles long.

Some of the hikes start from Avalon but the majority require some kind of transportation inland or to the other side of the Island. 

One way to get to the hikes on the windward (west) side of the island is to take the Catalina Express ferry from San Pedro directly to Two Harbors.

Here is a list of the most popular hikes.

Hermit Gulch

nullThis hike starts from the Hermit Gulch campground in Avalon. You can walk up Avalon Canyon Road to get to the trailhead at the campground.

The trail is around 1.7 miles but it is a steep climb up 1200 feet high. Your effort is rewarded with amazing views of Avalon and the ocean. Once you reach the top - at East Road - turn left and continue for a little while on East Road. Look to the right. You will be rewarded with a great view of the west end (windward).

This part of the trail climbs gradually up to 1600 feet with commanding views of the ocean from both sides. At this point you can turn back to retrace your steps or turn left to start climbing down back to Avalon. The turn left will take by the Inn at Mt. Ada (the old Wrigley Mansion). The full loop is close to 12 miles long.

Garden to Sky Hike

nullThis is an easy hike and it starts from the Wrigley botanical gardens. You can start by hiking to the gardens – a 20 to 40-minute hike from Avalon depending on your pace – and spend some time at the botanical gardens.

You will need to buy a ticket for around $7 general admission.
While there you can also walk up a flight of stairs to visit the Wrigley Memorial.

The trailhead to the hike starts from the gardens – but if you prefer to avoid paying for the entrance fee, you can take the Hermit Gulch trail around it. The sky trailhead is hidden behind the stairs to the memorial.

Tips: You will need to obtain a free hiking permit from the Catalina Conservancy. Permits are available online, at the gardens ticket booth and at many locations throughout Avalon.

The hike to the top is 1.2 miles and takes you to a viewpoint from which you can see the ocean from both sides of the island. At this point you can backtrack through the garden and to Avalon or you can continue on a 4-mile loop with more breathtaking views.

Trans-Catalina Trail

nullThis hike is not for the casual hiker. It will take several days to complete and will take you through 37 miles of rough terrain. The East End is also accessible to bikers.

You can start your trek from Hermit Gulch trail or from Renton Mine Road. The trail has 5 main nodes:

  • Node 1: Avalon to Black Jack 
  • Node 2: Black Jack to Little Harbor 
  • Node 3: Little Harbors to Two Harbors 
  • Node 4: Two Harbors to Parsons Landing 
  • Node 5: Parsons Landing to Starlight Beach.

Read full details at the conservancy’s website here.

Guided Hikes

A great way to explore Catalina hiking trails is with an expert. Those hikes are offered during the summer by the Catalina Conservancy. Check schedules here.


Some images were contributed by the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce.

Some images were contributed by the Santa Catalina Company.

Some images were contributed by Catalina Food Tours.

Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park anaheimer Sat, 11/28/2020 - 16:16

nullOne of the newest additions to the State Parks system, Crystal cove, spans 3900 acres of hills, canyons, trails, and beaches.

The park is a haven for people wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of civilization in Orange County, California.

Visitors can spend a day at the beach, go for day hikes, ride their mountain bikes, enjoy backpacking, primitive wilderness camping, and Tent and RV camping.

At the newest addition to the park, the Moro campground, nature lovers can enjoy the restroom and shower facilities for a more relaxed camping experience.

Crystal Cove State Park TrailsThe campground has tent and RV sites, connects to the beach via a tunnel, and offers direct access to the hiking trails.

Whether you are camping or just here for a day visit, you can try one of the 18-mile hiking trails through the canyons and Shaparal hills.

Start by getting a (map) of the park online or at the ranger station. There are too many trails to pick from and lots of chances to get lost.

Read more about the trails here

nullThe beaches can be accessed via several parking lots along Pacific Coast Highway.

Tip: Once you get a parking ticket, it is good for any State Park parking lot for the whole day.

​The beaches here are great for surfing, body surfing, rock climbing, and sea life exploration at the tide pools.

Read more about the beaches here

Crystal Cove Boardwalk above the beachIf you prefer a more active day at the beach but you don’t feel like going on a strenuous hike, you can take the pedestrian and bike trail overlooking the ocean. The trail has excellent views of the ocean and the beach below the bluffs.

As if the beaches and wilderness areas are not enough, the state park extends into the ocean with the Underwater Forest. A 1000-acre kelp forest offering divers amazing views of sea life.

Read more about the Underwater Forest here.

PCH Entrance

8471 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 494-3539

Coastal Peak Park Entrance

20403 E Coastal Peak
Newport Coast, CA 92657

Crystal Cove Beaches

Crystal Cove Beaches anaheimer Sun, 11/29/2020 - 07:33

nullCrystal Cove state park is both a beach and a wilderness area with many hiking trails, beaches, and historic beach cottages.

This 3-mile stretch of beach along the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the state park system's newest additions.

Heading inland, the park covers 3000 acres of hills, canyons, and trails. It also includes primitive campgrounds that only backpackers can reach. 

To read about Crystal Cove trails, click on this link

nullThe beach system includes seven distinct areas. Each has its own character. The beaches connect during low tide – forming one long stretch of beach. But during high tide, the water blocks the way along the rocks.

Most beaches at the state park require a steep climb down the stairs or ramps towards the beach, so be prepared. You can avoid those steep inclines if you are at the Moro Campground.

Tip: Try to pack light for this beach trip. Just remember that you have to climb the same steep stairs or ramp on the way back up.

nullThe beaches here are great for surfing, body surfing, rock climbing, and sea life exploration at the tide pools

Along the 3 mile stretch of beaches, there is an excellent pedestrian and bike trail. You can take this very easy hike instead of the El-Moro Canyon trail. The advantage: great views of the cliffs and the ocean. The disadvantage: You can hear the cars along PCH.

For additional exploration, try the other beaches at this state park, each with a distinct personality:

Moro Beach

Moro is the southernmost beach, located closer to Laguna Beach and across from the new Moro Campground. Park in the day-use lot and walk through a short tunnel to this easily Crystal Cove Boardwalk above the beachaccessible.

Moro beach is popular with bodyboarders, stand-up paddleboarders, surf fishermen, and kayakers.

Reef Point

Reff point is popular for swimming, surfing, and scuba diving, and tidepools. It also has Little Treasure Cove and Muddy Creek, emptying out onto the beach from Muddy Canyon.

Historic District at Los Trancos Beach

This beach is home to the historic district with vintage cottages. If you are lucky and Crystal Cove historic district cottagespersistent, you might be able to snag a reservation at www.reservecalifornia.com.

The parking lot is across Pacific Coast Highway with a tunnel under the road. Walking through the tunnel to get to the cottages is a lovely experience – with green vegetation and running water.

At the cottages and right on the sand, you can enjoy a meal at The Beachcomber Café.

Pelican Point

The beach slopes gradually, so it’s a narrow beach at high tide and a wide beach with rocks in the surf at low tide. There are tide pools at the north end near Pelican Point where scuba divers enter searching for even more marine life.

Treasure Cove Beach

nullTreasure Cove Beach is popular with surfers and scuba divers exploring the reefs in Crystal Cove Underwater Park.

In the wall facing Treasure Cove is a cave that is accessible at lower tides. There are also many tide pools in this area to enjoy at low tide.

Little Treasure Cove

This beach is the northernmost boundary of Crystal Cove State Park. Little Treasure Cove is best at low tide when the rocks and tide pools are exposed.

On the bluffs above, there is an observation tower marking the best spot for whale watching.

Crystal Cove Hiking

Crystal Cove Hiking anaheimer Sun, 11/29/2020 - 07:45

Crystal Cove hiking trails

Crystal Cove state park is both a beach and a wilderness area with many hiking trails.

This 3-mile stretch of beach along the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the state park system's newest additions. Along with its pristine beaches, it covers 3000 acres of hills, canyons, and trails.

Crystal Cove hiking trailsTo read about Crystal Cove Beaches, click on this link

It also includes primitive campgrounds that only backpackers can reach.

The newest addition is the Moro campground, which has some facilities. It sits in between the beach and the hiking trails.

​Take a break from Orange County's main attractions' excitement to commune with nature and forget the hustle and bustle of civilization.

Some of the trails are easily handled by young children 6 and up. Younger children may need help.  If the kids complain too much about the hike, remind them about visiting the beach after the hike. 

You can start exploring the state park with a hike in the wilderness area.

Crystal Cove hiking trails mapThe park has about 17 miles of trails to pick from. Get a map online (map) or from the ranger stations. The map shows color-coded trails with a difficulty level guide.

There are now 2 parking areas available for hikers. One of them is at the Moro campground day-use area. The other is outside the campground next to the main ranger station/visitors center. I usually park at the campground because it also provides easy access to the beach and the trails.

Tip: The entrance to the wilderness part of the park may be a little confusing. Just remember that it is behind the El-Moro Elementary School.

The park is huge, with too many trails to pick from - it is possible to get lost, so plan ahead. Don't forget the map.

If you are looking for an easy hike, start from the trailhead at the top of the day-use area (away from the beach) and go over the wood bridge then turn left. Follow the trail through Moro Canyon.

Tip: Another entrance to the park is located at Coastal Peak Park on the North end of the park. You can start your hikes at the top, but remember that you have to climb back up.

nullMoro Canyon is mostly level with a lot of shade. But get ready to exercise a little when you turn left at the first fork (called Poles trail). There is a steep incline at this portion of the trail.

Once you reach the top, turn left again onto "No Dogs" trail. This will take you down to the ranger station and the main parking lot. As you descent, you can enjoy lovely views of the ocean.

Keep going past the ranger station and turn left into "Moro Canyon" trail which will take you back to the wood bridge and the campground. This loop hike is about 2.5 miles.

If you prefer a bigger challenge, study the trail map and plan a longer loop.

For example, you can take the Moro ridge to Moro canyon loop for a 5-mile hike. Many of the trails have a great view of the Pacific Ocean, but Moro ridge has the best continuous view.

Some people call this the Red Loop. The reverse route (Moro Canyon to Moro Ridge) provides more spectacular views because you are facing the ocean while descending back to the Canyon. 

Tip: Most of the trails are out in the open with no shade, so avoid going during hot weather and take lots of water with you. Moro canyon has some shade and follows a seasonal creek. 

Crystal Cove Boardwalk above the beachExpect to find sage, prickly pear cactus, monkey flowers, goldenbush, lemonade berry, deer weed, and oak. You can also find lots of birds, some rabbits, and some eagles. 

Tip: Those trails are also popular for mountain biking, so watch out for speedy bikes going downhill.

​Once you are done with the hike, keep your parking ticket and head out to the beach xxxxxxxx link to beaches xxxxxxxx. Your ticket is good at all the crystal cove parking lots. If you are already at the campground, just use the underpass to the beach.

PCH Entrance

8471 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 494-3539

Coastal Peak Park Entrance

20403 E Coastal Peak
Newport Coast, CA 92657

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach anaheimer Sun, 06/07/2009 - 10:13

nullBetter known as Surf City, it boasts the longest uninterrupted stretch of beach on the West Coast. The city has a lot of attractions, parks, theaters, malls, and restaurants – but let’s faces it: the main attraction will always be the beach.

There are several beaches to choose from, each one with its own personality. Some of them are managed by the city and others are part of the State Park system.

Beaches

Huntington City Beach (and Pier)

nullThe Pier @ Main Street is the most popular beach in HB. It is usually very busy – and for a good reason. A wide sandy beach, very clean with fire pits and barbeques. Nice surf most days of the year and plenty of surfers making the best of it. 

If you love beach volleyball, you can either jump in and play a few games – or just watch various teams beating the ball around the net. 

On some days it gets too crowded on this stretch of beach because of surfing or volleyball competitions. Checkout out the calendar before you make your way here

nullAnother reason why this area is so popular is 2 concision stands on both sides of the pier. You can rent your beach equipment or find a tasty snack at Dwight's or Zack's. 

My favorite place is Zack’s because they have a large selection of bikes, surfboards and bodyboards. They also have a good selection of snacks and sandwiches for the hungry. 

If you don’t feel like fast food, you can walk a few steps to several good restaurants. Two of them are right on the beach. Others are on Main Street.

Parking can be a challenge. Especially on the weekend. If you get here early enough, you might be lucky to find a parking spot right on the beach. Otherwise, just head to one of the parking structures around Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway - or part at Pacific City Mall.

Huntington Dog Beach

A paradise for dogs and dog lovers. It is located along Pacific Coast Highway between Seapoint Ave and 21st Street, right under a cliff. 

Even if you don’t own a dog you can come here to watches dogs training their owners how to catch a Frisbee or a ball.

Bolsa Chica State Beach

One of the best beaches for swimmers and beginner surfers. The shallow waters prevent the waves from getting too high, which also makes it ideal for families with smaller children. 

This beach is located along Pacific Coast Highway between Warner Avenue and Seapoint Street – to the north of the pier. 

Across the street, you can find Bolca Chica Wildlife Preserve. A protected wetlands area with a large variety of birds, small animals, and plants. Read more here

Huntington State Beach

Huntington Beach - State Beach - WikimediaThis is another great beach for swimming and bodyboarding. Surfing is limited to designated areas, giving swimmers more room to have fun.

At this beach, you will find a lot of fire rings, Barbeques, restrooms and showers. It is also wheelchair accessible – with ramps and designated disabled parking areas. 

This is located along Pacific Coast Highway, between Beach Boulevard and Brookhurst Street – to the south of the Pier.

Biking

Huntington Beach - Biking - By Ken Lund - FlickrHuntington Beach has one of the best beach bike trails in Orange County. It is paved, safe and very long. The trail starts from the Santa Ana River at the south end of the state beach and runs through the city of HB, then continues north through Bolsa Chica state beach. It runs for 8 miles of mostly level and paved ground. 

You can extend your ride by continuing through Sunset Beach to the north or Newport Beach to the south. 

You don't have to bring your own bike. You can rent one at Zack's. 

Los Angeles All-Inclusive Pass

The Pier

nullThe pier stretches for 1850 feet into the Pacific Ocean and is considered one of the longest on the west coast. It sits high above the surf with commanding views of the beach and the town. 

Cars and bikes are not allowed on the pier, so you can enjoy a peaceful stroll on the pier. Along the way, you will find a few shops offering souvenirs and kites. 

A new shop opened close to the tip of the pier that offers fishing supplies and rentals. You can grab everything you need to start fishing.

Towards the end of the pier, you will find Ruby’s restaurant. The food is acceptable, but the views are amazing. 

When you reach Ruby’s, this is not the end of the Pier. Keep going around it to get to the very tip of the pier and enjoy an unobstructed view of the ocean. 

Pacific City Mall

nullThis is the latest addition to the busy downtown Huntington Beach area. An open plan mall with many shops and restaurants overlooking the beach. 

The mall has some anchor stores like H&M and Tommy Bahama as well as unique boutiques like Chico Hats and Molly Brown's Swimwear.

You can also find some great restaurants like Ola Mexican Kitchen which serves tasty Mexican fare with amazing views of the ocean. 

Another good choice for dinner is the Old Crow Smokehouse which serves a variety of barbequed meats and fish. 

Related Books:

Dining

Ola Mexican Kitchen

OC Dining - Ola Mexican Kitchen - viewOla is on the second floor of Pacific City Mall in Huntington Beach with a commanding view overlooking Pacific Coast Highway, HB Pier, and the Ocean.

The food and service are excellent. We especially like their Lobster and Shrimp Enchiladas, Fish Tacos, and Ribeye Fajitas.

The complimentary chips and salsa are more than enough for starters, but you can choose a more filling appetizer from the extensive menu.

The complete this delicious meal, we always order the Tres Leches, a traditional Mexican buttercake made with three kinds of milk.

21040 Pacific Coast Hwy F200, Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Bluegold

OC Dining - Bluegold - Huntington BeachBluegold is another restaurant with a great view at the Pacific City Mall in Huntington Beach. This one offers new American Cusine with seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Menu items vary depending on availability. 

We recently tried their breakfast while admiring views of the beach and the pier from the floor to ceiling windows.

We ordered scrambled eggs and an omelet. They were both fluffy and tasty. The dishes come with salad, but if you prefer you can order your favorite style of potatoes. 

If you are an early riser though, then this place is not for you. They open for breakfast at 9 am.

21016 Pacific Coast Hwy d200, Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Pacific Hideaway

Tucked inside the Kimpton Shorebreak resort, this restaurant offers delicious California Pacific Hideaway - Huntington Beach - SoCal Breakfast BurritoFaire with a great view from the balcony.

On a recent visit, we sat at the balcony and enjoyed our brunch while gazing at the pier and the surf. 

We tried the Socal Breakfast Burrito and the Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos. Both were very tasty and filling. I especially liked the burrito wich was stuffed with Eggs, Onion, Bacon, Red Pepper, Cheese, Fries and Avocado.

The finalie was a baked cockie with bread puding and vanilla ice cream. 

500 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 

Pete's Sunset Grille

Pete's Sunset Grille - Huntington BeachWe found this place inside the Hayatt Resort. Although it does not have a great view of the ocean, it is a few step a way from the bridge connecting the hotel to the beach. 

It is a good place to grab a bite before walking to the beach. We enjoyed our luch while enhoying the beautiful California weather our on the patio.

We tried the Cali Rueben and the Fish Tacos. They were both good but not exceptional. The service, drinks and dessert were worth the visit. We loved their Mallory's Triple Layer Torte.

21500 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA

Events

Huntington Beach hosts many popular events throughout the year. Check their calendar here to up-to-date info.

Here are some of the events worth mentioning:

The Great Pacific Air Show

Huntington Beach - Great Pacific Air ShowThe air show is a big event with three jet teams from three countries and more than two million people attending the three-day event. Every year a different group of flyer teams is assembled to provide an amazing spectacle for the millions of viewers. 

The event can last up to 4 hours on each day and is mostly free to attend. You can claim a spot on the beach to enjoy the show. But if you prefer you can pay from $30 to $1600 for a reserved viewing area. Get more details here. https://pacificairshow.com/

Art-A-Faire: 

Every Friday 10 am to 7 pm. Arts, crafts, and handmade gifts. Sometimes extended into the weekend.

Surf City Nights: 

Every week on Tuesday 5 pm to 9 pm. Farmer's market, bounce house, street performers (musical and non-musical acts), restaurant samplings, sidewalk sales and specials from local restaurants

Surf City Blues, Brews & BBQ: 

At the microbrewery "Brew Bakers". Every 3rd Saturday.

Bolsa Chica Wetlands and Mesa Tour: 

Every third Sunday of every month (10 a.m.)

4th of July Parade

A 2-hour parade that starts from PCH and Main and a fireworks show at 9 PM.

Huntington Beach, CA
300 Pacific Coast Hwy
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
714-536-5281

Surf city website www.surfcityusa.com

Official city website: www.huntingtonbeachca.gov

Attributions:

Some photos are from Wikipedia

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach anaheimer Tue, 04/13/2010 - 17:23

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Laguna Beach is a seaside resort city that is much more than a beach town. The city is nestled amongst rolling hills and valleys overlooking the shoreline with great beaches, shops, restaurants, and art galleries - giving it a distinct French Riviera allure.

Laguna Beach is a great destination for a family looking to escape the heat of the inland cities or for couples looking for a romantic stroll on the beach.

Along with great beaches, hiking trails, and tide pool explorations, the city is famous for its artist community with plenty of art galleries and festivals.

During the summer months, make sure to visit the “Laguna Beach - Pageant of the Masters - From WikipediaPageant of the Masters and Festival of the Arts” or the “Sawdust Art Festival” – or both.  

The “Festival of the Arts” is an art show that gathers over 150 artists from Orange County to show off their handiwork. At night you can enjoy a concert while having a picnic.

At the same location, the Pageant of the Masters starts around 8:30 with local models bringing famous works of art to life.

The “Sawdust Art Festival” is an artist village that gets rebuilt every year from the ground up and features art exhibits, family entertainment, workshops, and food.

When you are not visiting the festivals and art galleries try walking along Cliff Drive, visiting Sunset Beach or going to the Top of the World.  See more details below.

Things to do

Walk around town

Just park your car and stroll around downtown and enjoy the many shops, restaurants, and Laguna Beach - Dawson Cole Sculpture Gardenlandmarks. 

Laguna Beach has a lot of hidden gems, you just have to know where to look. You can stop at the visitor center on Forest street to get some maps and info.

Another way to discover those gems and learn about Laguna's history is to join the Free Walking Tour. Recently we went with David on this 2-hour tour and learned a lot of interesting facts while enjoying the scenery. Go here to book this free tour (and pay as you wish).

One of the amazing discoveries that David pointed out is the "Dawson Cole Sculpture Garden". A serene place with fountains and beautiful sculptures of dancers. This is a great place for a break from your walk around town.  

Heisler Park, Main Beach to Arch Cove

375 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

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One of the best ways to enjoy Laguna Beach is to walk through Heisler Park, down to Main Beach, and on to Arch Cove. This is a long walk but you can always relax on the beach and enjoy the views.

This walk starts from the south end of “Heisler Park” on Cliff Dr. around High dr. or Maple St. Once you park, make your way to the footpath along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Tip: Parking is very hard to find around this park. Try parking on one of the side streets leading to Cliff dr. You might need to go further away from the park. Another alternative is to park in one of the city parking areas around Broadway st (HWY 133) or Ocean then walk back to Cliff drive.

The Park itself is wonderful and worth a visit. It is clean and well maintained with good restrooms, picnic tables, and Barbeques. The park is also home to a large variety of shade trees, cactus, sagebrush, palms, and flowers.

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After enjoying the park, continue your stroll along the path that commands the best views of the ocean from any Southern California beach town.  It is perched high up the bluffs, with several pathways leading to small secluded coves and beaches. 

Towards the south end of Heisler Park, Cliff drive veers left into shops and residences and crosses PCH. You want to stay to the right where you can find a gazebo overlooking the ocean with a spectacular 360-degree view.

Laguna Beach - Heisler ParkRight on that corner, you will also find one of my favorite restaurants, Las Brisas, where you can enjoy Mexican cuisine with a great view. They also offer a great Sunday brunch. The patio, with a full bar, is first come first serve.  

Between the Gazebo and the restaurant, there is a footpath going down to “Main Beach”. Once you reach the bottom of the path, you are at one of the most popular and busiest beaches in SoCal. 

Continue your walk along the boardwalk and then take your shoes off and stroll on the sand as far as your feet can take you. I personally love to walk through the surf and get my feet wet. 

Tip: If you decide to visit Main Beach, keep in mind that it is one of the busiest beaches in OC. No parking at the beach, but you can park in town across Pacific Coast Highway.

On your right, you can watch the waves and the surfers. On the left, you will see lots of hotels and restaurants. 

One of my favorites is the “Ocean View Bar & Grill”. The balcony is right on the sand with great views in every direction. The best time to visit is during breakfast hours when it is less crowded. If you visit at lunch or dinner reservations are recommended. 

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If you continue your walk south on the sand, you may come across some rocky formations. During high tides, your path might be totally blocked.

You can try to scale those obstacles, but be careful. They could be slippery and rough on your feet.

If you prefer to play it safe, climb one of the stairways back to the street level and go down the next stairs. 

Toward the end of this walk, you come to Arch Cove at Pearl Street beach. The beach is famous for its Arch, which you can walk through at low tide. If you prefer not to walk all the way to this point, you can get to it from street level at 1791 Ocean Way. See Thousand Steps beach below.

Tip: At any point during this fun walk, if you get tired, just go to PCH and hop on the free shuttle.

On the way back you can retrace your steps or you can hike back on PCH to enjoy the shops. 

Thousand Steps Beach

Pearl Street, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

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Another secluded beach in Laguna, Thousand Steps Beach, is named for the length of the beach. The beach is at the bottom of a long stairway with around 250 steps. Going back up the steps probably feels like 1000 steps too. The official name is Pearl Beach because it is located on Pearl Street. 

At the south end of this beach, there is a natural formation Arch called Keyhole. You can actually walk through the arch during low tides which leads you to another nice beach called Woods Cove beach. At high tides, you will have to wade or swim through it. 

The beach is also famous for its blowhole. Water rushes through the blowhole with every wave, then recedes. Adventurous swimmers dive into it and swim under the rocks through a little underwater cave. Watch these videos to get an idea: https://youtu.be/GmgVl31gRvk. or https://youtu.be/g0q5OHQEc9s. 

Sunset Beach at Montage Resort

Wesley Dr. at PCH, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

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This beautiful and leisurely walk is located at the south end of Laguna Beach. It is famous for the tastefully landscaped walkways and great views of the sunset. 

This walk starts at the intersection of Wesley dr. and PCH. You can park at the free underground parking or at the Montage resort.  

Heading north along the path you will find beautiful flower gardens, palm trees and the occasional bench overlooking the beach below. On the right, you will come across a great blue mural and some nicely maintained restrooms.

Towards the end of the concrete path, you will reach a dirt path with several benches – a nice place to rest before you turn back. It is also the prime spot to relax and enjoy the sunset. 

Several paths along the way will lead you down to the beach where you can enjoy the sand and surf.   

Top of the World

W Ridge, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

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At the highest point in the Laguna Beach hills, you will find this nicely appointed park with an amazing view. The park itself is a nice place to have a picnic or play tennis, but most people come for the views and the extensive hiking trails. 

Park your car in the free parking lot or on Alta Laguna road, then walk through a small wooden bridge and up a short trail to get to the beginning of the viewing area. From that vantage point, you can feast your eyes on a panoramic view of the ocean. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island and the Channel null Islands in the distance. Closer by you can gaze at the multi-million dollar homes of Laguna Beach.

If your goal is to hike, there are a lot of hiking trails starting at this point. A sign at the entrance shows a map of Aliso and Woods Canyon Wilderness trails. You can spend a couple of hours or a full day hiking in this area.

Laguna Beach - Car Wreck Hiking TrailOne of my favorite hikes is called the Car Wreck trail. It is so-called because there is a wrecked car at the bottom of the ravine. No one knows how the car ended so far down - away from any road.

The hike is strenuous due to the steep trail, rocky path, and deep grooves from flash floods. You can make it a little easier by going down to the car wreck and looping around another trail for the climb back up. 

Tip: Please remember to take lots of water with you, especially on warm days.  

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Start at West Ridge trail (off the viewing area). Turn right onto Mathis trail. Turn right again into the Car Wreck trail. This is where it gets very difficult. Towards the bottom of that trail, you will see the wrecked car nestled in the trees. 

As you descend beyond the car wreck the landscape changes around you into a wooded area with nice shade trees, a stream, and some benches to rest your feet. 

You will be starting your return trip on the “Oak Grove” trail. After a nice stroll, you will turn left and start climbing back on Mathis trail. This climb is more gradual but it is long. Keep going until you hit the West Ridge trail again, then turn left to the main viewing area. You just completed a 7-mile hike. 

Dining in Laguna Beach

Sapphire - Laguna Beach

Sapphire - Laguna BeachAlthough this restaurant is not right on the sand, it has a great view of the ocean from across the Pacific Coast Highway. The large porch seating area has plenty of tables with amazing views.

Sit back and enjoy a delicious meal for lunch or dinner. On weekends, you can also enjoy their brunch menu. 

We happened to visit in-between lunch and dinner on a Friday. They have a Sapphire - Laguna Beachreduced menu for that period. Although the items on the menu were few, they were all good choices. We tried to Mama's Fish Tacos and the Kobe Beef Havarti Cheeseburger - both were tasty and filling.

The drinks were excellent too. We tried the Sapphire Squeeze, Lychee Mojito, and The Perfect Storm. 

This place is also a good spot to study or work while enjoying the view. They offer good free WiFi. 

Parking is behind the restaurant in underground-covered parking. Remember to take a token from the restaurant reception before you leave. 

1200 S Coast Hwy #105B, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Las BrisasOC Dining - Las Brisas View

From the top of a cliff overlooking the beaches of Laguna, this Mexican/American restaurant offers Mexican Fusion dishes, an ocean breeze, and a grand view. The prices are on the high end, and the place can get overcrowded, but you are here for the view.

One way to enjoy this restaurant is to get the weekend brunch. It is not a Laguna Beach - Las Brisas outdoor seatingbuffet, but a 4-course Prix Fixe menu for $45. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with their tacos, prime rib, and lamb chops.

During our last visit, we ordered the Oysters and Salamon Tostadas for starters. The main courses were Asparagus Omelet and Baked Eggs. We ended our meal with Sorbet and Flan. All the dishes were delicious, and the meal pace was excellent.  

After a leisurely meal, you can walk along the cliff in Heisler Park or down to Main Beach. Heisler Park extends for several blocks with commanding views of the ocean and beaches below. Read more here.

361 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Splashes  

OC Dining - Splashes - viewThis hidden gem is inside the Sand and Surf Resort in Laguna Beach. The restaurant is right on the sand with seating indoor and on the patio. Both options afford great views of the ocean and the sounds of surf breaking on the beach.

The food is delightful too. We like to go for breakfast before a brisk walk on the beach. During our last visit, we had Strawberry & Cream Pancakes and the Wild Mushroom Benedicts.

If you don’t prefer those items, they have a large selection of pastries, omelets, bagels with salmon, fruits, and even steak and eggs.

The resort itself is a great place to spend a few days, especially during the warm months, to explore Laguna Beach and Orange County.

1555 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Beachcomber CafeOC Dining - Beach Comber - Crystal Cove - View

Enjoy delicious creations right on the sand at Crystal Cove state beach. The location, inside the historic district and in between cottages that were built in the 1920s adds to the ambiance.

As you sit and enjoy your drinks and meal, you will love the view, with lots of beachgoers, the ocean breeze, and the surf in the distance.

OC Dining - Beach Comber - Crystal Cove - Lobster ClubDuring our last visit, we shared a “Tonga lei for 2”, a huge glass of rum cocktail for sharing. For starters, we ordered Tiny Ahi Tacos and Artichoke dip.

Our main course was Maine Lobster Club, Ahi Ahi Tacos, and a Tuna melt. I especially enjoyed my Lobster Club. For dessert, we shared Beignets and a Bread pudding.

It is important to note that there is no parking next to the café. You have to park at the State Park parking lot ( Los Trancos Parking lot) across the street. You can take a beautiful hike down to the beach or ride the shuttle for $1.50 per person.

15 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, CA 92657

C'est La Vie

C'est La Vie Laguna Beach - view from PorchA french restaurant right at Main Beach in Laguna. Sitting on the porch and listening to the surf while sipping our coffee and enjoying some French pastries is a nice start to our morning. The restaurant also serves full breakfast and brunch. They have a selection of Crepes and Omelets. 

This place is a bakery and a full-service restaurant. Passers-by on Pacific Coast Highway stop to order croissants, macaroons, or french doughnuts filled with custard. But if you stop for dinner, you can order specialties like  Grilled Riviera Octopus, Ahi Tartare Napoleon, or Cotes D' agneau (Lamb) - or enjoy a dinner Crepe. 

373 S Coast Hwy #2111, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

South of Nick's

South of Nick's - Laguna BeachThe restaurant is part of the hotel Compass with indoor and outdoor dining. The balcony seating has the best view of the ocean.

They serve traditional Mexican dishes along with seafood specials. 

During our visit, we tried the Lobster Enchiladas and the Filet Mingon Fajita. Both were very tasty and filling. 

For dessert, we tried their Helado Con Churros. Don't let the name "Churros" deceive you. This is a unique moist and flavorful concoction topped with ice cream.

540 S Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA

Harvest at the Ranch

Harvest Laguna BeachThe Ranch Resort is a hotel and golf court hidden in a quiet valley in South Laguna Beach. The Harvest restaurant overlooks the golf course with great views of the hills. 

Sitting outdoors on a summer weekend is a great way to relax and enjoy a delicious meal. 

The menu is seasonal and always made with fresh organic ingredients. During our last visit, we enjoyed a Harvest Dry Aged Burger, Black Bean and Mushroom Burger, and a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad. 

For dessert, we shared a slice of Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream. 

We loved the food, the view, and the service. We will be going back to try their breakfast menu.

The Ranch at 31106, S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA

The Promenade on Forest

This pedestrian-only section of Forest deserves its own mention. On each side of this street, you can find great eateries - most with outdoor patio seating. Some of my favorites are Brussels Bistro, Alessa, MOULIN, and 230 Forest Avenue.

Brussels Bistro

Laguna Beach - Brussels BistroForest Street is now closed for cars allowing restaurants to offer outdoor seating. We decided to try Brussels Bistro, located at the corner of Forest and PCH - and we were pleasantly surprised. 

The food and drinks were excellent. We tried their Trout Almondine and the Beet Salad. Both were delicious. The trout was cooked just right and the mashed potatoes were perfect.

My wife and I had the Zombie in the Park and we both loved it. We had seconds. 

For dessert, we order the Crepes Flambee. It wasn't the best dessert we had. The crepes were ok, but they were smothered with the sauce. 

I would still recommend this restaurant for their great-tasting dishes.

222 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA

AlessaAlessa on Forest at Laguna Beach CA

Alessa is an upscale Italian restaurant with tasty creations that please the pallet and the eye - and the service is excellent.

On our last visit, we tried two ravioli dishes. We started with Zucca, a butternut squash ravioli with ricotta cheese. We then tried the Nonna Titina ravioli with cheese and spinach. 

We enjoyed our meal with delicious drinks. I had the house Merlot which had a hint of plum and cherry flavors. My wife enjoyed a strawberry and basil mojito. 

234 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA

Long Beach, California

Long Beach, California anaheimer Sun, 04/25/2021 - 14:55

Long Beach (LB) is one of the larger cities in California with its own ports, shopping centers, and beaches.

It is located at the southern end of Los Angeles county – bordering Orange county.

The city is known for its waterfront attractions, including the Queen Mary, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Cruise Terminal, and the Catalina Boat Terminal.

Long Beach also hosts the Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Long Beach Pride Festival and Parade, and

California State University, Long Beach. Read more at Wikipedia.

The city also has its own Airport, convenient for domestic flights, and less crowded than the nearby LAX.

Over the years, I enjoyed many of those places and attractions, including visits the Aquarium, going on a cruise to Mexico, boarding a boat to Catalina Island, a harbor cruise from Rainbow Harbor, dining at Shoreline Village, attending New Year's party at the Queen Mary – and much more.

Here is a recap of my favorite places in Long Beach:

Rainbow Harbor and Shoreline Village

This hub of activity is a walking distance from Downtown LB and connects several main attractions. You can visit the Aquarium, the Pike Outlets, the convention center, harbor cruises, and many restaurants with great views in the area.

You can find several parking structures in the vicinity or park at the large parking building at the Pike.

Head to the Marina and the boardwalk connecting Shoreline Village to Shoreline Park. Along the way, enjoy great views of the harbor, sample the snacks or souvenirs offered by the street vendors, or dine at one of the marina front restaurants.

You can extend your walk by visiting the Shoreline Aquatic Park with a grassy hill and a lighthouse. From the hill, you will have a commanding view of the harbor and the Queen Mary.

Make it an even longer stroll by following the pedestrian walkway to the Catalina Express Terminal.

Connecting Rainbow Harbor and the Shoreline Village side, there is an observation tower overlooking the harbor. If you go up the stairs, you will find a walkway connecting to the Convention Center. Even if you are not visiting the convention center, take the walkway for great views of the area.

Looking down from the convention center walkway, you will see the lake at the Rainbow Lagoon Park – with swan boats floating around. The kids love to paddle those swans around the lake.

What else can you do here? Rent bikes, go on a whale watching tour, visit the Aquarium, rent a boat, ride on the Ferris Wheel nearby.

If you feel up to a longer walk or bike ride, keep going past Shoreline Village towards the Yacht Club marina and Alamitos Beach. This trail extends for 5-miles from the Shoreline Aquatic Park to the edge of Belmont Shore.

301 E. Ocean Blvd, Suite 1900
Long Beach, CA 90802

Aquarium of the Pacific

When my kids were young, we visited a lot of zoos and aquariums. The Long Beach aquarium was one of our favorites. It was a short drive from our home, and although not the biggest, it was surprisingly entertaining and educational.

The Aquarium had many indoor exhibits and a lovely outdoor area.

Indoor at the Southern California & Baja Gallery, you can find the large 3-story Blue Cavern Tank, which houses sea creatures that live in the waters surrounding nearby Catalina Island. Next door, you will find an exhibit featuring the giant kelp forests and all the species that like to live around it.

At the Northern Pacific Gallery, you can find exhibits for the Sea Otter, the giant Pacific octopus, Japanese spider crabs, jellyfish, and sea anemones.

Before you head outdoor for more exhibits, visit the 4D theater with a huge 180-degree screen for an educational nature film.

Outdoor, you can visit the Sharks and Manta Rays and the penguin habitats.

One of my favorite outdoor activities is to walk through the Lorkit Forest – an aviary that houses five subspecies of rainbow lorikeet as well as the violet-necked lory.

Don't forget to get some free nectar to feed the birds.

100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802

The Pike

The Pike is a sprawling factory outlet mall - with breathtaking harbor views and more than 30 retailers.

The mall is also home to many restaurants, cinema, comedy club, hotel, plus an iconic carousel & Ferris wheel.

Before it became a mall, the Pike was well-known as an amusement park and pier. For some history, go to Wikipedia.

Some of the anchor stores are Converse, Forever 21, Gap, Levi's, Nike, and H & M.

The mall has many restaurants and snack shops like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., California Pizza Kitchen, Gladstone's, P.F. Chang's, Waba Grill, and Cold Stone Creamery.

For fun and entertainment, you can go on the Ferris Wheel, the carousel, catch a movie at Cinemark, or watch a comedy show at the laugh factory.

Mother's Beach

Long Beach has many beaches for aquatic fun, but mother's beach (Marine Park) has the distinction of being inland, away from the big ocean surf. This makes it ideal for families with small children.

The beach is a small strip on Alamitos Bay on Naples Island. Kids love to splash around in the shallow water or play in the sand. Parents can relax and let their children have fun.

A section of this beach is a launching pad for kayakers. The calm waters make it easier to get on the kayak.

The beach has a lot of shade trees so that you can find a spot on the grass under the trees.

Dining

Whether you are walking along Rainbow Harbor, Shoreline Village, or shopping at the Pike, you can always find a good restaurant. Here are some of my favorites:

Gladstone's

I always have a great time at Gladstone's. The view from the patio is great, and the food and service are excellent.

One of my favorite dishes at Gladstone's is the Seafood Linguini with crab. Other plates we tried and loved: Hawaiian Mahi Mahi, Swordfish, Baby Back Ribs, and fish and chips.

Parker's Lighthouse

Parker's lighthouse is also a great seafood restaurant. It sits at the tip of shoreline village with three stories of seating and a beautiful outdoor patio. Sitting on the patio, you can see the lighthouse at Shoreline Aquatic Park, Queen Mary, cruise ships, and all kinds of boats cruising in and out of the Marina.

The food and service are exemplary. During our last visit, we tried their Fish and Chips and the Arugula & Strawberry Fields Salad.

With the meal, we enjoyed the Mango Mojito and Beachwood Foam Top Blonde craft beer – made locally in Long Beach.

For a tasty end to this lunch, we had the Butter Cake with Vanella Ice Cream.

PF Chang

My list of favorite dining places usually avoids chain restaurants, but I can't skip this fusion Asian restaurant with inventive dishes and extended happy hour.

Other Restaurants

We also tried Tequila Jack's Restaurant and Cantina and Islands Restaurant. Tequila Jack's offers great margaritas and above-average Mexican dishes. Island is a gourmet burger place.

If you don’t feel like a big meal or a fancy restaurant, you can grab a snack from places like WaBa Grill, California Pizza Kitchen, Bamboo Bistro, Starbucks, or Cold Stone Creamery.  

Los Angeles by Metro Rail

Los Angeles by Metro Rail anaheimer Sun, 01/08/2017 - 16:51

nullLos Angeles is a sprawling metropolitan area with an amazing array of attractions and activities. The area is infamous for its long grids of streets and freeways and until recently it wasn’t very friendly to public transit.

But things are changing for the better. It is now possible to visit many of the iconic places in LA by rail or by express bus. So, get your backpack, phone and camera ready and follow me on this exploration tour.

But be warned: There is so much to see and do, you will probably need several days to complete this itinerary.

Union Station

nullIf you are coming to LA by train, then most probably you will have to stop at Union Station. This is the central hub of all trains, metro light rail and busses – even bikes.

The station was built in 1939 as a consolation of several terminals and is considered the largest station in the West. Its main building is registered as National Historic Place.

As you arrive at Union Station, you will disembark from your trail and end up at a long hallway connecting the West and East portals. Follow the signs to your next ride. The metro rail lines are underground. The connecting trains are on the upper level.

But before you jump on the next tram, you may want to take a break and have a meal at one of the restaurants or snack shops – located at either East or West portal.

You can also grab a bike from the “Bike Share” program and explore the city at your leisure. Pricing for bike rentals is $3.50/30 minutes but you can get a discount if you buy a monthly or annual pass.

Tip: If you are planning on several trips on the metro system, buy a 1-day or 7-day pass that works for all rail lines and buses.

See a useful station map here.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

nullBefore you start your adventure on LA’s subway, you should consider a visit to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. It is a short walk away from Union Station.

Tip: Make sure to exit from the Alameda street exit. The monument and adjacent Olvera street are right across the street from Alameda.

This historic district was first established in 1781 and used to be the center of Los Angeles during the Spanish and Mexican rule. It is home to many historic buildings and statues and home to the famous Olvera Street (Calle Olvera).

nullAt Olvera Street, you can stroll along a narrow street and enjoy shopping at the colorful street vendors or grab a bite of authentic Mexican food. During my visit, I had lunch at El Paseo Inn. I enjoyed some very tasty enchiladas while watching people from their patio overlooking Olvera street. The service was excellent and friendly.

There is a Plaza at the center of this district and hosts many events throughout the year. For a listing of events go here.

On a side alley from Olvera street, you will see a sign for Avila Adobe – the longest-standing structure in LA. The Adobe was built in 1818 and is open to the public. The tour is free of charge and takes you through the various rooms in the house and has a well-kept cactus garden in the courtyard.

Tip: Olvera street open at 10 am, so if you arrive early at Union Station, come back to this lively place for lunch or dinner.

Little Tokyo

nullLille Tokyo is another historic district in downtown LA with a large population of Japanese Americans. It is only a 14-minute walk or 7-minute ride on the Gold Metro line from Union Station.

While here, you can just stroll around and enjoy the architecture and statues or you can visit the Japanese American National Museum, James Irvine Japanese Garden, two Buddhist Temples or the Japanese Village Plaza.

The area is also full of Japanese restaurants and shops. The all-you-can-eat buffet at Oiwake Restaurant offers a large variety of Japanese cuisine or you can sample great Sushi and Saki at Tenno Sushi.

You can find some useful information and a directory of businesses at the Little Tokyo Community Council site.

Civic Center / Grand Park

nullThe LA Civic Center / Grand Park is your first stop on the Red and Purple lines from Union Station.

Tip: Red and Purple lines take the same route from Union Station to Wilshire/Vermont station.

 From this station, you can walk to places like Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles City Hall, or just spend some time at Grand Park.

nullThe park is an oasis in the center of the city with beautiful fountains, pink-colored benches, and snack shops. During the summer months, free music and events are held here. Kids especially love the interactive splash pads and the new play area. The park welcomes visitors with a sign in almost every world language.

Tip: If you bring your kids to play here, make sure they have a change of clothes. They will definitely get wet.

The park is basically a long promenade that connects The Music Center on one end and the historic LA City Hall building on the other end.

LA city hall was built in 1928 as is still in use by the city government to this day. It was featured in many TV shows and movies like Superman, Dragnet and V (the series).

Pershing Square

nullYou can keep walking from Civic Center station to reach your next destination, but if you prefer to save your energy, just hop back on the Red/Purple Line and go to Pershing Square Station.

As you exit the station, stay on 5th ave and walk to Oue Skyspace observation tower. It is located at the top of the tallest building in LA and offers a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding area.

From this vantage point, you can see the Hollywood sign and the snow-capped mountains behind it. In the opposite direction, you can see all the way to the ocean. And in between, you can gaze down at the other tall buildings and Pershing Square.

The observation tower also has a glass slide that could be thrilling to try, but it is very short. I don’t think it is worth the extra ticket.

Note: The observation deck is permenantly closed as of October 26, 2020. It is now home to Vista Patio restaurant.

There is no time limit to your visit. You can zip through the 360-degree view or you can relax on the lounge chairs strategically located on both levels.

nullPershing Square Park itself is worth visiting. It was renovated recently with modern art and fountains. There is always something happening here. In the winter months, an Ice Rink is set up for some winter skating.

A few steps away from the park you will find a very interesting place called “The Last Bookstore”. Even if you are not a book lover, this place is worth a visit. The store has a huge collection of books in every category. The second floor has more books and some art and craft shops. Sofas and benches are available everywhere so can visit with an interesting book.

nullThe Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is located in the middle between Civic Center and Pershing Square stations, so you can get to it by walking from either station. It is the only museum dedicated to modern art from 1940 and later. Right outside the museum, you can find a big metal sculpture made our of old airplanes.

If you are hungry for breakfast, there is a very nice restaurant right next to MOCA. The Grand Café at the Omni hotel serves a delicious breakfast buffet with a made-to-order omelet station. It is a little pricey, but worth every bite.

FigAt7th, LA Live and Staples Center

nullYou can take the Red Line to 7th street station, or you can just walk to this next destination.

The FigAt7th mall is one of the newest shopping centers in downtown. You can find stores like H&M, Victoria's Secret or Target. You can also find a food court with dining places like California Pizza Kitchen, George's Greek Grill and Starbucks.

nullA few blocks from the station you can find LA Live and the Grammy Museum.

LA Live is an entertainment complex with several live music venues, movie theaters and restaurants. It is also home to the Grammy Museum. If you like watching the music awards, then you must visit this place to learn about the history and winners of the Grammy’s.

And while you are here, you can’t miss the Staples Center - home of the Lakers and Clippers – and many touring concerts and events.

7th Street Metro Hub

null7th street metro station is also a hub for several rail lines branching in different directions. From here, you can take the Purple like to go to Wilshire Center and Korea Town.

Or you can take the Expo like to connect to USC, The Science Center and other museums, Culver city, and Santa Monica.

The red line continues on to Wet and North Hollywood and Universal Studios.

The blue line heads south towards downtown Long Beach. This line also connects to the green line to take you into Los Angeles Airport.

You can find a very informative map here.

Koreatown

nullThe purple line stops at 3 stations in this business and residential district: Wilshire/Vermont, Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Western. Shops and restaurants extend through several city blocks, but the center is around 8th and Western. Venture into side streets to discover some interesting gyms.

Koreatown can surprise with it specialty shops and entertainment venues. You can find unique toy shops or restaurant supplies, Karaoke bars and places of worship.

Some of the must-visit places are:

Sing your heart out at The Shrine Karaoke bar with its Egyptian-themed interior and great tasting Korean dishes.

Sample L.A.'s best biryani at Bangla Bazar & Restaurant – an out-of-place Little Bangladesh strip mall.

In the market for stationary? Go to Daiso – a Japanese chain store.

Stock up for your projects at Top’s Art Supplies – a family-owned business with interesting displays.

To get your fill of Korean BBQ, try Sun Ha Jang – famous for their BBA duck.

If you love K-pop music and culture, you can find the latest music and trends at the Music Plaza in Koreatown. Lots of CDs, accessories and posters to choose from.

On the edge of Koreatown (on S. Western Ave), you can catch the latest Hollywood movies or a Korean flick at the CGV Cinemas Theaters. Right next to the theater you enjoy a Japanese meal at the Curry House.

LA Convention Center

nullFrom 7th street station, take the Expo Line and disembark at the Pico station. A short walk takes you to the Convention Center where big shows and conferences are held.

The LA Auto Show is held here every year with a huge display of the latest models from all manufacturers. At this show, many carmakers unveil their concept futuristic cars.

Other shows and conferences include LA Fitness, Classic Auto Show, America's Got Talent Auditions and US Naturalization Ceremonies.

Exposition Park and Science Center

nullThe next stop on the Expo Line is the Expo/USC station. As you leave the station, you can cross the street to the north to visit the University of Southern California (USC) or go to the south to visit several museums, including the Science Center.

USC is a private research university that was established in 1880. Walking through the mostly pedestrian campus, you can enjoy the largest collection of Romanesque Revival buildings and beautiful gardens and fountains.

To learn more about the campus and various buildings you can take a self-guided tour. See details here.

The California Science Center is a premier science museum with several permanent exhibits and a few touring exhibits.

nullIt is the final resting place for the Shuttle Endeavour. After making several trips to space and then traveling through the streets of LA, the shuttle is on display for all curious minds to gawk at. You can read a full article about the Science Center here.

Tip: if you are entering the Science Center from the Expo/USC station, then you are not going through the main entrance. You should go through Exposition Park, through the gates, through the ground floor and out the other gate to get to the main entrance plaza and the box office.

nullAt the center, you can catch an IMAX film with a scientific twist. Some of the recent IMAX films playing here are Journey to Space 3D, A Beautiful Planet 3D and Secret Ocean 3D.

Also in Exposition Park, you can find the Museum of Natural History. You can take a trip through 4.5 million years of history told by specimens, fossils and dioramas. An abundance of interactive exhibits makes this museum fun for kids and adults alike. Read more about it here.

Finally, the park itself is famous for its rose gardens. As you pass through, enjoy the sights and smells of the multicolored roses.

Hollywood

nullBack at the 7th street hub (or starting from Union Station), take the red line to Hollywood. Existing at Hollywood and Highland station, you will find yourself right in the middle of the action.

The metro station is located right under the shopping center with the same name. The center is also home to the iconic Dolby Theatre and Chinese Theatre. The Oscars are handed out to best films every year at the Dolby theater.

Also at this center, you can find department stores like Forever 21, Guess, Gap, Hot Topic and fun centers like Dave & Busters and Lucky Strike Live. For lunch or dinner, visit places like Cabo Wabo Cantina, Cho Oishi, Hard Rock Cafe or Trastevere Ristorante.

Tip: The famous Hollywood sign is very prominent from several locations in this mall. It is a golden opportunity for some amazing photos.

Existing Hollywood and Highland center, you will be on one of the busiest streets in the US. People from across the globe come here to stroll along Hollywood Blvd. to look for their favorite celebrities on the Walk of Fame.

Tip: as you walk around on Hollywood Blvd., you will notice a lot of movie characters walking around or acting up – like Spiderman, Batman, etc.. Be aware that if you ask to pose with them for a photo, you are expected to pay a tip.

A few blocks away you can find entertainment places like Madame Tussauds, Wax Museum and Guinness World Records Museum.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and La Brea Tar Pits

nullIt is not on any rail line rout, but you can’t miss this attraction during your visit to LA.

From the Hollywood and Highland area (or most of Hollywood Blvd.) you can take the 217 bus all the way to the museum at Fairfax / 6th street intersection.

LACMA is the largest art museum in the western USA. It holds more than 150,000 pieces of art filling 9 buildings in the sprawling campus. Go here for a map.

The museum’s collections cover periods from ancient to modern and cultures like, South East Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Ancient Egypt.

Next to this museum, you will find the La Brea Tar Pits. Bubbling asphalt has been seeping from the ground for tens of thousands of years. Many unlucky animals got trapped in those tar pits and left their bones for future scientists to study.

To learn more about the Tar Pits, you can visit the museum that was built around them.

The Grove and Farmers Market

nullBus route 217 will also take you to this high-end shopping center with stores like Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama, Apple and Nike.

While visiting, you can catch a movie at Pacific Theaters or dine at one of the fine dining restaurants. Some of the distinguished eateries here are Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, Maggiano´s Little Italy or Morels French Steakhouse.

But for a real treat, go the LA Farmers Market adjacent to the Grove. The market is famous for fresh produce and lots of food vendors. At the food court. You can find all kinds of cuisines like Chinese, Japanese, American Grill, Greek, and Middle Eastern. See all the vendors here.

Tip: It is hard to find an empty table during busy lunch or dinner times - but there is an upper-level seating area that many people miss.

Heading back

After a day of fun, take the 217 bus back to Hollywood, hop on the Red Line and head back to Union Station. Make sure to get on the one going to Union Station and not to North Hollywood – unless you are planning to venture to Universal Studios.

Tip: From any of the destination mentioned in this article you can get back to Union Station by taking a combination of buses and rail lines. Use Google Maps and select the public transit option to find the fastest route.

Universal Studios

nullYou will need at least a full day to explore Universal Studios and the adjacent City Walk. You can get to the studios by riding the Red Line from Union Station or from Downtown LA.

Universal Studios Hollywood is the longest-running still active movie studio in the world. It has many shows and rides based on popular movies. The newest addition to the studios “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” opened recently and provides Harry Potter fans with lots of new attractions.

For a full article about Universal Studios, go here.

The City Walk is right outside the park gates with a 3-block of shopping, dining, and entertainment venues.

Some of the venues here are Wolfgang Puck Bistro, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, Hot Topic, Fossil, Sketchers and IFLY indoor Skydiving.

Further Away

If you have time, you can explore other great destinations in Southern California by rail.

Take the Metrolink Orange County line to Anaheim to visit the Disney Resort with 2 parks, Downtown Disney district and several hotels. Read more about Disneyland and California Adventure.

You can take the Pacific Surfliner from Union Station to San Diego and visit Seaworld and many other attractions in this beautiful city.

Or you can use the Pacific Surfliner going north to Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. At Pismo Beach, you can enjoy some 4-wheeling adventures at Oceano Dunes.

California Science Center

California Science Center anaheimer Mon, 02/22/2016 - 16:45

nullThe science museum is a great place to spend the day learning and having fun with the whole family. 

The museum has great fixed exhibits like Creative World and Ecosystems and special temporary exhibits like Journey to Space. Special exhibits usually require a ticket you can purchase at the ticket booth.

Along with the exhibits, the museum has a large format Imax theater that showcases films with scientific themes. Some are shown in amazing vivid 3D.

nullThe best attraction at the museum nowadays is the Endeavour final resting place. You have to go through Ecosystems to get the Endeavour display. The first time I entered this hall I was surprised at the spaceship’s huge size. It dwarfs the throngs of people gazing up at it. 

On the walls surrounding Endeavour, you can experience a space station module, a space shuttle engine and many photos and videos of the shuttle missions. 

nullBefore you get to Endeavour you have to pass through Ecosystems. It is worth lingering here for a while so you can experience Earth’s Forest, River, Island and Extreme zones.  You can also zoom in onto the L.A. zone for more intimate details about our own environment. 

null And don’t forget to visit Creative World. This is a place for the whole family to interact and create. You build structure and see the effect of earthquakes on your creation. Or you can see how the wind lifts the wings on an airplane in wind tunnel. How about making some model car move with the power of solar energy or finding the perfect angle for a sailboat in the wind?

nullA great area for younger kids is the Discovery Room where they can play with hands-on toys and experiments or use preloaded iPads with educational games. They can also visit the Air and Space area and pretend to be astronauts piloting the Endeavour. 

During my visit I watched the Journey to Space Imax 3D movie. It felt to me like I was in the space shuttle and then visiting the space station. The view of our Earth from above is breathtaking. 

nullOn your way out visit the ExploraStore where you can find the perfect souvenir for inquiring minds. You can find kits, model spaceships, rock collections and much more.

Plan your visit and learn more about the center at the official website here: www.californiasciencecenter.org.

The Science Center is located next to the University of Southern California (USC) at Exposition Park. Admission is free unless you want to watch an Imax movie or visit one of the special Exhibits. 

Imax movies tickets are $8.50 and the Journey to Space exhibit is $6.50.

You can avoid traffic and parking fees by riding the metrolink expo line which takes you directly to exposition park – a few step away from the museum.

California Science Center

700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037

www.californiasciencecenter.org 

Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens anaheimer Sat, 11/21/2020 - 08:52

Descanso Gardens walkway - from WikipediaTucked against the San Gabrial Mountains in Los Angeles County, this arboreal retreat from civilization is a treat for soar eyes.

The Gardens are spread out over 150 acres of hills, meadows, lakes, and streams.

The botanic collections are divided into distinct areas; some, like the Oak Forest, look like pristine woodland, while others like the Camellia Collection and Rose Garden are more landscaped.

The admission fee is about $15 for a single visit and around $80 for an annual membership. Descanso Gardens fountainIf you buy the single visit ticket and change your mind, you can apply the purchase fees toward a membership.

And there is a good chance you will change your mind. The collections are so vast and appealing that you will need multiple visits to see everything.

So what can you see and do at the gardens? Get a full list of gardens.

You can stroll through the rose garden, which boasts of a collection of 1600 roses from around the world.

Descanso Gardens You can hike through the Oak woodlands and forest, and you can admire the Camellia Collection.

When things go back to normal after Covid-19, you can ride the Enchanted Railroad through the park and visit the Boddy House.

You can also relax on benches throughout the park with great views of streams, waterfalls, and ponds with ducks.

Descanso Gardens also hosts several fun events for the whole family. One of the most anticipated events is the Enchanted Forest of Lights – which will return in 2021.

For tickets and membership, go here.

1418 Descanso Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Ph. (818) 949-4200    

Inn of the Seventh Ray

Inn of the Seventh Ray anaheimer Sun, 04/14/2019 - 08:54

Inn of the Seventh Ray - TopangaIn between Santa Monica and Malibu, this unique restaurant sits in the woods next to a creek with beautiful views and delicious food creations.  

After taking winding highway 27 to the Topanga State Park we veered left onto Old Topanga road to reach this well-hidden gem. 

After checking in, we were guided to our table at the Creekside with plenty of shade from the towering old sycamores. The sound of running water down below added to the ambiance to make this spot perfect for a late afternoon meal.

Inn of the Seventh Ray - Topanga - Shrimp and Papaya WrapThe service was top notch, but the food was something else. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing most ingredients from local organic farms and it is really very inventive. 

Our party enjoyed Shrimp and Papaya Wraps and Turkey ArtichokePanini sandwiches with sweet potato fries. 

On the weekend, the Inn serves a buffet-style brunch with many breakfast, lunch and dessert choices. 

While waiting for your meal, you can descend down a short flight of stairs to the creek level to enjoy the scenery and take some photos.

This place has been called the most romantic dining in LA. Many a couple met her or had their wedding or anniversary. 

Inn of the Seventh Ray - TopangaNo one knows for sure the full history of this spot, but it rumored that Chumash Indians used the intersection of 2 creeks as a meeting place. Later it was used as a private retreat for Aimee McPherson founder of the  Foursquare Church. In 1973 the property was restored by the current owners and transformed into this wonderful dining destination.

Topanga State Park is right next door, so you can stop by after lunch for some stunning views and great hikes.

For a more rewarding hike with amazing ocean view go to Tuna Canyon Park. Read about it here.

The Getty Center

The Getty Center anaheimer Sun, 03/21/2010 - 12:57

Getty at dusk

The Getty Center is located in Los Angeles and houses the main Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, and the administrative offices.

The Museum has 5 Pavilions. The Exhibition Pavilion houses traveling collections of art while the other 4 Pavilions house the permanent collections. You can find the oldest art collections at the North Pavilion while the newest collections are located at the West Pavilion.

The art collections are extensive and diverse.  It includes paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, decorative arts and photographs. Some of the artists represented are Monet, van Gogh, Renoir and Munch.

Tip: before your start your exploration of the center, watch the video tour. You can also watch the same video at: http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/videoDetails?cat=4&segid=10.

Getty fountainsThe center’s architecture itself is a piece of art nestled on top of a hill with great vistas. The courtyards between the buildings are filled with ponds and fountains. The Pavilions are connected by glass-enclosed bridges and open terraces.

Tip: Grab an audio tour device at the reception desk. They have audio tracks in several languages. Most pieces of art have a number next to them. When you punch the number on the device you will be rewarded with a brief description and highlights about the object.

From the main plaza you can walk down a tree-lined walkway to the central garden. A stream crisscrosses the walkway and goes over a waterfall into the center pond.
For families with kids, don’t forget to visit the activity center where you can create art with your children. All materials are provided free of charge for your enjoyment.

Getty central garden Dining choice at the center:

You can try the Café style dining with a menu that includes sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas and pasta, tacos and burritos, and grilled items. Wine and beer are also available.

For a full-service dining experience, with a view of the Santa Monica Mountains, go to the restaurant. The menu is a fusion of Mediterranean and California cuisine.

If you prefer, you can have a picnic on the lawn adjacent to the Central Garden or at any of the Getty Center's public seating areas.  You can also pre-order a picnic lunch from the Café at the Getty’s website.

Getty Center Museum Courtyard - from WikipediOther dining options include a Café on a terrace overlooking the gardens and a coffee cart on the main plaza.

Admission and Parking:

A large parking structure is located at the bottom of the hill and costs $15. Entry to the center is free. No reservations are needed.

Once you park, you will ride a tram to the top of the hill where all the center buildings are. The tram ride itself is part of the fun for families with children.

Books:

The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

The Getty Villa

The Getty Villa anaheimer Sun, 03/21/2010 - 17:24

Getty Villa main courtyardThe Getty Villa is located in Pacific Palisades near Malibu. The building is a replica of the Villa Dei Papiri which is a Roman country house that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The buildings and surrounding Roman-style gardens transports you through time and lets you experience life as a rich merchant in ancient Rome. The architecture of the Villa was designed to resemble an archeological dig.

Tip: before you start your tour through the Villa, catch a 12 minutes video about the history of the museum and its collections. You can also catch it at www.getty.edu before your visit.

Getty Villa inner courtyardThe Villa houses a great collection of sculptures, pottery and jewelry from antiquities. The main cultures represented are Etruscan, Greek and Roman – with artifacts arranged by themes. For example, you will see Gods and Goddesses in one room and the Trojan War in another.

The family activity center is a must for visitors with kids. It offers quick art projects and a chance to decorate a Vase from the Greek or Roman times with your own decorations. The vases are replicas and the markers are erasable – so don’t worry about spoiling an expensive piece of art.

Getty Villa GalleryOutside the Villa exhibits, you can enjoy a small Greek theater, courtyards, ponds and fountains.

Tip: After parking in the parking structure, many visitors make the mistake of climbing the stairs all the way to the top, missing the gardens and the main courtyard. After the first flight of stairs turn right into a balcony with a clear view of the ocean then climb the small ramp to the main garden with a very long pond and fountains surrounded by statues. If you miss that entrance to the Villa, make sure to exit into that direction to enjoy the views.

Dining choice at the Villa:

You can dine at the Café which serves casual Mediterranean cuisine with comfortable seating indoors or outdoors.  We decided to eat on the outdoor patio to enjoy great food and take in the views and architecture. Umbrellas provided protection from the sun for those who need it.

You can also grab a coffee and a snack from the coffee shop next doors.
If you prefer to be closer to nature, you can bring your own food or pre-order a picnic lunch at the Getty website and enjoy at one of the picnic areas.

Getty Villa Admission and Parking:

Although entrance to the Villa is free, your still have to pay $15 for parking. You will also need to make reservations online at www.mtn.museumtix.com. The booking process may look like you are buying tickets for a show, but don’t worry, the tickets are free and you will not be asked for a credit card. You have to have the tickets to enter the Villa - one for each member of your group.

Entering the Villa grounds might be a little tricky. The only way to enter is to go north on PCH, watch out for the tiny gate right of off PCH. If you miss it, you have to go further down PCH and find a safe way to double-back to before the gate. The best bet is to reprogram your GPS navigation and find the best way back.

Books:

The Getty Villa
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, California 90272

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach anaheimer Wed, 03/31/2021 - 12:36

Manhattan Beach - The Strand

Are you looking for a gorgeous little downtown to spend the evening, with stunning sunsets on a clean beach, great restaurants, safe and happy vibe?

Manhattan Beach is the place! This coastal town sits between Hermosa Beach to the south and Los Angles to the north, with a busy downtown district and great beach activities.  

My favorite thing to do when visiting is to walk along the Strand – a long walkway connecting Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach.

Pedestrians and cyclists use this path, but in Manhattan Beach, the bike trail splits away from the main trail making for a more pleasant and safe walk. As walk the Strand, you can admire the multi-million dollar homes terraced on a gentle slope.

The separate bike trail is actually part of the longer Marvin Braude Bike Trail, which runs along the Santa Monica Bay.

For a different view, walk on the pier and watch families playing on the sand, surfers waiting for the right wave, and fishermen.

Manhattan Beach - The StrandAfter a long walk or bike ride, we head to the restaurants in downtown. Some of the restaurants have great views of the beach – some from rooftops.

 My favorites are Simmzy’s, Petros, Nick’s, and Magiamo.

We had dinner at Magiamo Ristorante during a recent visit – an Italian restaurant with a patio overlooking the ocean. The food, drinks, and dessert were excellent.

For starters, we had the Ahi Tuna Tartar Stack – an artful creation of Poke. Our main meals were the Potato crusted Halibut and the Skillet Braised Oxtail. Both were delicious and filling. For dessert, we tried the Butter cake and the Tiramisu. They were so tasty we wanted seconds.

This restaurant is on the pricy side, but it is worth it for the food and the view.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach anaheimer Fri, 10/09/2020 - 15:50

Newport Pier at SunsetNewport Beach is a bustling coastal town in Orange County, California – full of sandy beaches, piers, bike paths, malls, and restaurants.

The beaches in Newport are known for surfing, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, swimming, and fishing.

So if you are not at the beach engaging in those fun activities, what else can you do in Newport?

You can go walking on the beach, bike riding, visiting the shops and restaurants at the pier, spend time with the kids at the fun zone, or go on a Dolphin and Whale watching tour.

You can also rent boats or jet skis and ride leisurely in the bay or venture out to the ocean.

And if you love shopping, you can spend a great deal of money at the Fashion Island mall. Fashion Island also has two food courts and many high-end restaurants.

Balboa Peninsula

Newport Beach - Balboa - by D Ramey Logan - WikipediaBalboa is a long stretch of land that juts into the ocean and protects the harbor from the surf. It is mostly a quiet residential area with a few hotspots of activity.

The beaches on both sides are open to the public, but the trick is to find a parking spot and get to the beach.

The main attraction for beachgoers is at Newport Pier – where you can find some parking and lots of shops and restaurants. Here you can also find bike rentals and surf shops.

For a more subdued experience, head to the second pier -Balboa Pier – for more parking spaces and fewer crowds. Across the street from this large parking lot, you can have some fun with the family at the Fun Zone.

Fun Zone

Newport Beach - Fun Zone - Wikipedia - by D Ramey LoganIf you are looking for some fun activities in and out of the water, you can find it here. Kids of all ages can enjoy rides on the Ferris Wheel, play arcade games, Bungee jump, slide inside a giant transparent plastic sphere, or enjoy snacks at the food court.

The fun zone is also home to several casual dining restaurants with great views of the bay.

Newport Landing

This port serves as a gateway for water activities. You can go on a bay cruise, whale and dolphin watching, or board the Catalina Flyer to Catalina Island. You can also rent boats and jet skis here.

Dolphin and Whale watching

Whale and Dolphin Watching - Blue WhaleDavey's Locker runs several Whale and Dolphin watching tours. The boats will take you through the bay waterway and into the ocean.

The captain tries his best to find dolphins or whales, but if you happen to be on one of the rare trips with no sightings, they will give you a deeply discounted voucher for a return trip.

Read about my trip with Davey's Locker here.

Balboa Island and Ferry

The ferry takes pedestrians, bikes and cars from the peninsula to Balboa Island and back.

Balboa Peninsula Ferry Terminal - Wikipedia - by Asfandyar-2You can also get to the island through a bridge over the South Bay, but parking on the island is almost impossible. 

The island is a quiet neighborhood with multi-million houses. You can walk through many narrow alleys and discover some hidden gems - but the main walking path is a pedestrian-only boardwalk that surrounds the island. 

Most businesses and restaurants are located along Marine ave, but you can find a few right at the ferry terminal.   

If you are biking through Newport Beach, you can take your bike on the ferry but the main walking path around the island is closed to bikes. 

Biking

Newport Beach Bike rail - Flickr - By Ken undI love riding my bike through Newport Beach, especially along the Balboa Peninsula. My favorite route starts from the edge of Newport on Seashore dr. You can park along this street or inside the residential park and head into the peninsula.

The trail first continues on Seashore dr, but when you reach 36th street intersection, veer right into Ocean Front Way –a paved bike and pedestrian trail. This trail will take you into Newport Pier and the busy shopping and dining area.

After you cross this bustling area, you can continue biking on Ocean Front until you reach Balboa Pier. But just before the pier, ocean Front will turn into Newport Balboa Bike Trail.

Newport Beach Biking - Newport PierRight after Balboa Pier, you are at the thinnest part of the peninsula. You can cross Balboa Blvd to peek at the bayside of this peninsula. You will have to switch to Balboa Blvd anyway to continue your trek because the bike trail ends around E Street.

Your bike trip is not over yet. You can continue on Balboa blvd until you dead-end into West Jetty View Park and a popular beach with the locals.

This bike ride is about 5 miles, but it can be extended in several directions for a longer or a more challenging ride.     

You can start from Huntington Beach for a 10-mile ride or from Seal Beach for a 17-mile ride. Alternatively, you can reverse direction, start from West Jetty View Park, head to the Santa Ana River Trail for a much longer ride.

Hiking

Yes, you can still hike in Newport Beach. A few pristine wilderness areas were preserved for nature lovers. Most notable are the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Buck Gulley.

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve

Newport Beach - Upper Bay Trail - Flickr - By Ken LundNewport Bay extends inland to form the back bay and the upper bay - a 1000-acre area of bluffs and waterways.

The surrounding bluffs were set aside to preserve animal, bird, and plant species. Biking and hiking trails crisscross the preserve providing vantage points to admire nature and observer wildlife.

Close by, Newport Dunes resort provide a great place to camp and a launching pad for upper bay adventures.

Buck Gully

nullIf you feel like a nice easy hike close by, Buck Gully in Newport Beach is an excellent choice. Just a few steps away from the beach, and in the middle of million-dollar homes, you can find this hidden oasis of lush wilderness and running water. 

Read more about this hike here

Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove State Park TrailsThis State Park sits between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. The park has about 17 miles of trails to pick from – some with stunning ocean views. Read more here.

Dining

Newport Beach is a big city with a lot of dining options. Around Newport Pier, you can find several upscale restaurants like 21 Oceanfront, Rocken Baja Lobster, and Urban Corner - and plenty of Pizza, snacks, and dessert shops.

If you are at Balboa Pier or the Fun Zone, you can also find two restaurants with excellent views, Harborside and Newport Landing restaurants -  and lots of smaller food vendors.  

On the other side of the bay – close to Pacific Coast Highway – you will find high-end restaurants like Rusty Pelican or Billy's at the Beach. You can also grab a delicious meal at restaurants inside beach resorts like A&O Kitchen + Bar at Balboa Bay Resort.

After a refreshing hike at Buck Gulley, you can grab a meal at SideDoor.

21 Oceanfront

One of my favorite restaurants in Newport Beach, this place offers Prime Steak and Seafood Newport Pier - 21 Oceanfront - from restaurant websitewith an international flair.

The dining hall is grand with great views of the beach and strict attire requirements: Business Casual, No Beach Attire, No Baseball Caps, No Beanies. The outdoor patio seating is more relaxed.

During our last visit, we tried the Wedge Burger and the Prawn Linguini. Both were excellent with large portions. But before our main course, we enjoyed a Lobster Bisque and a Clam Chowder.  

To finish this delicious lunch, we shared a Banana Bread Pudding, with extra Vanilla Ice Cream, and a Blueberry Lemon Drop.

After our meal, we walked on the pier for a little exercise and to enjoy the views.

Newport Landing

Newport Beach - view from Newport Landing RestaurantNewport Landing is an upscale but casual restaurant next to the Fun Zone. Balcony seats are especially scenic with a panoramic view of Newport Harbor, Balboa Island, Newport Center, and Saddleback's distant peaks.

As you enjoy your meal, you can watch the ferry going back and forth and the many water fun activities.

The restaurant offers an eclectic menu of seafood and Italian dishes. Some of my favorites are the Half and Half – basically, fish and chips with coconut shrimp; Shrimp Linguini; or the catch of the day.

For dessert, you can't go wrong with the Mud Pie or the Crème Brulee.  

Orange County Dining

Orange County Dining anaheimer Mon, 09/02/2019 - 14:48

Orange County - Huntington BeachOrange County is a sprawling metropolitan area and part of the much larger Southen California urban jungle.

This expanse of 50 cities and unincorporated communities is full of Attractions, Theme Parks, restaurants, and unique dining experiences. This article explores the unique dining experiences and exceptional finds in the OC.

The views

Orange Hill Restaurant

OC Dining - Orange HillNothing out of the ordinary about the food served on the hill, but the view is to die for. After driving up a steep hill and handing your car to the valet, you will be amazed at the view overlooking Orange County.

The view is especially beautiful at night with the city lights twinkling while you are enjoying drinks and dinner. If you time your dinner right, you will also be treated to the Disneyland fireworks show.

You will need to make a reservation ahead of time and make sure to request indoor or outdoor seating. The outdoor balcony with fire pits has the best views.

The menu offers modern American fare with a long list of appetizers, steak, and seafood choices. Prices are high – you are paying for the view. The best deal is their 3-Course Prix Fixe Menu. You will get a starter, a dessert, and a choice from three main entries.

On our last visit, we tried the Lamb Chops, Filet Mingon, and the New Your Steak. All were cooked perfectly. The toffee pudding dessert was to die for.

My only complaint is about the service. It was slow at times, and they kept bringing items at the wrong times.

6410 E Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92869

Las Brisas

From the top of a cliff overlooking the beaches of Laguna, this Mexican/American restaurant OC Dining - Las Brisas Viewoffers Mexican Fusion dishes, an ocean breeze, and a grand view. The prices are on the high end, and the place can get overcrowded, but you are here for the view.

One way to enjoy this restaurant is to get the weekend brunch. It is not a buffet, but a 4-course Prix Fixe menu for $45. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with their tacos, prime rib, and lamb chops.

During our last visit, we ordered the Oysters and Salamon Tostadas for starters. The main courses were Asparagus Omelet and Baked Eggs. We ended our meal with Sorbet and Flan. All the dishes were delicious, and the meal pace was excellent.  

After a leisurely meal, you can walk along the cliff in Heisler Park or down to Main Beach. Heisler Park extends for several blocks with commanding views of the ocean and beaches below. Read more here.

361 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Splashes  

OC Dining - Splashes - viewThis hidden gem is inside the Sand and Surf Resort in Laguna Beach. The restaurant is right on the sand with seating indoor and on the patio. Both options afford great views of the ocean and the sounds of surf breaking on the beach.

The food is delightful too. We like to go for breakfast before a brisk walk on the beach. During our last visit, we had Strawberry & Cream Pancakes and the Wild Mushroom Benedicts.

If you don’t prefer those items, they have a large selection of pastries, omelets, bagels with salmon, fruits, and even steak and eggs.

The resort itself is a great place to spend a few days, especially during the warm months, to explore Laguna Beach and Orange County.

1555 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Raya at The Ritz-Carlton  

Another restaurant with a great view, but this one also offers inventive and delicious dishes OC Dining - Raya at Ritz Carltonto go with the view. Each dish is a unique creation of flavor and artistic presentation.

We came here after an educational Dolphin Watch cruise from Dana Harbor, ordered some drinks, and shared two excellent dishes. Both the Thai Curry Buddha Bowl and the Achiote Salmon were excellent. The Bowl was a new experience for us, with quinoa, black bean, broccolini, avocado, corn, sweet potato, and a soft egg – with curry. What an interesting mix.

After our lunch, we climbed down for a nice walk on the beach. The Ritz is located at the edge of Salt Creek Beach, so we enjoyed a long stroll before returning to our car.

1 Ritz Carlton Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629

Ola Mexican Kitchen

OC Dining - Ola Mexican Kitchen - viewOla is on the second floor of Pacific City Mall in Huntington Beach with a commanding view overlooking Pacific Coast Highway, HB Pier, and the Ocean.

The food and service are excellent. We especially like their Lobster and Shrimp Enchiladas, Fish Tacos, and Ribeye Fajitas.

The complimentary chips and salsa are more than enough for starters, but you can choose a more filling appetizer from the extensive menu.

The complete this delicious meal, we always order the Tres Leches, a traditional Mexican butter cake made with three kinds of milk.

21040 Pacific Coast Hwy F200, Huntington Beach, CA 92648

The Beachcomber CafeOC Dining - Beach Comber - Crystal Cove - View

Enjoy delicious creations right on the sand at Crystal Cove state beach. The location, inside the historic district and in between cottages that were built in the 1920s adds to the ambiance.

As you sit and enjoy your drinks and meal, you will love the view, with lots of beachgoers, the ocean breeze, and the surf in the distance.

OC Dining - Beach Comber - Crystal Cove - Lobster ClubDuring our last visit, we shared a “Tonga lei for 2”, a huge glass of rum cocktail for sharing. For starters, we ordered Tiny Ahi Tacos and Artichoke dip.

Our main course was Maine Lobster Club, Ahi Ahi Tacos, and a Tuna melt. I especially enjoyed my Lobster Club. For dessert, we shared Beignets and a Bread pudding.

It is important to note that there is no parking next to the café. You have to park at the State Park parking lot ( Los Trancos Parking lot) across the street. You can take a beautiful hike down to the beach or ride the shuttle for $1.50 per person.

15 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, CA 92657

C'est La Vie

C'est La Vie Laguna Beach - view from PorchA french restaurant right at Main Beach in Laguna. Sitting at the porch and listening to the surf while sipping our coffee and enjoying some French pastries is a nice start to our morning. The restaurant also serves full breakfast and brunch. They have a selection of Crepes and Omelets. 

This place is a bakery and a full-service restaurant. Passers-by on Pacific Coast Highway stop to order croissants, macaroons, or french doughnuts filled with custard. But if you stop for dinner, you can order specialties like  Grilled Riviera Octopus, Ahi Tartare Napoleon, or Cotes D' Agneau (Lamb) - or enjoy a dinner Crepe. 

373 S Coast Hwy #2111, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Bluegold

OC Dining - Bluegold - Huntington BeachBluegold is another restaurant with a great view of the Pacific City Mall in Huntington Beach. This one offers new American cuisine with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Menu items vary depending on availability. 

We recently tried their breakfast while admiring views of the beach and the pier from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

We ordered scrambled eggs and an omelet. They were both fluffy and tasty. The dishes come with salad, but if you prefer you can order your favorite style of potatoes. 

If you are an early riser though, then this place is not for you. They open for breakfast at 9 am.

21016 Pacific Coast Hwy d200, Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Sapphire - Laguna Beach

Sapphire - Laguna BeachAlthough this restaurant is not right on the sand, it has a great view of the ocean from across the Pacific Coast Highway. The large porch seating area has plenty of tables with amazing views.

Sit back and enjoy a delicious meal for lunch or dinner. On weekends, you can also enjoy their brunch menu. 

We happened to visit in-between lunch and dinner on a Friday. They have a Sapphire - Laguna Beachreduced menu for that period. Although the items on the menu were few, they were all good choices. We tried to Mama's Fish Tacos and the Kobe Beef Havarti Cheeseburger - both were tasty and filling.

The drinks were excellent too. We tried the Sapphire Squeeze, Lychee Mojito, and The Perfect Storm. 

This place is also a good spot to study or work while enjoying the view. They offer good free WiFi. 

Parking is behind the restaurant in underground-covered parking. Remember to take a token from the restaurant reception before you leave. 

1200 S Coast Hwy #105B, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Experience

Fire+Ice – Gardenwalk  

This Mongolian fusion style all-you-can-eat buffet lets you fill a bowl with your favorite OC Dining - Fire+Iceingredients then cocks the mix on a huge grill right in front of you. You pick the sauce and the spices to make it your own creation.  

Even though it is a Mongolian grill, you can still design dishes with a Mexican or Italian flare.

They also offer a well-stocked salad bar, but my advice is to minimize your salad and go back for more grilled creations.

Some of the ingredients available are beef, shrimp, scallops, fish, cauliflower, and broccoli.

The drinks were excellent too. We tried the Pinicolada and the Mai-Tei.

After your meal and drinks, you can spend time exploring the shops at the Gardenwalk.

400 Disney Way, Anaheim, CA 92802

School Food

Usually whenever I hear “School Food” I cringe. It mostly brings back bad memories. But this Korean restaurant changed my mind. I wonder if Korean kids actually eat this food at school.

The place offers tasty dishes like Spicy Ramen, Soup Topokki, Spam Rolls, Kimchi Fried Rice, and Mari Special Roll. If you are very hungry or ordering for a group, try the Combo Roll.

This restaurant is located on the 3rd floor of the newest mall in OC – The Source.

6940 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90621

Pirates Dinner Adventure

nullIt is always fun to watch a show while enjoying a good dinner. The show full of pirates and gunfights was very entertaining and the food was not bad at all.

We enjoyed a three-course meal starting with soup or salad, a choice of roasted half chicken or ham and ended it with Apple Cobbler ala mode.

You can read the full review here.

Medieval Times

Step back in time to witness a tournament and enjoy a feast. The competition is full of sword nullfights, jousting, and horsemanship.

The food is about average. You get soup, rotisserie chicken, potato, corn, bread, and a pound cake for dessert.

With general admission, you may end up at the higher rows, but you can upgrade and get a guaranteed seat on the first 2 rows.

Read more about Medieval Times here.

The Food

PF Chang’s

OC Dining - PF ChangMy list of special dining places usually avoids chain restaurants, but I can’t skip this fusion Asian with inventive dishes and extended happy hour.

If you like Asian food, you love the variety and quality of selection. During our last visit, we started with the Letus Wraps, Shrimp Dumplings, and the Kung Pao Dragon Roll.

For the main course, we picked Mongolian Beef, Crispy Honey Shrimp, and Stir-Fried Eggplant. Everything was delicious, and the portions were just right.

For dessert, we had two helpings of the Banana Spring Rolls – because one is never enough.

The drinks are also exceptional. Every cocktail on the menu tastes just right; we especially like the Coconut Mohito and the Mei Tei.

My favorite location is at the Garden Walk in Anaheim. After our meals, we can browse through the stores or walk to Down Town Disney for more fun.

321 W Katella Ave Suite 120, Anaheim, CA 92802

AlessaAlessa on Forest at Laguna Beach CA

Alessa is an upscale Italian restaurant with tasty creations that please the pallet and the eye - and the service is excellent.

On our last visit, we tried two ravioli dishes. We started with Zucca, a butternut squash ravioli with ricotta cheese. We then tried the Nonna Titina ravioli with cheese and spinach. 

We enjoyed our meal with delicious drinks. I had the house Merlot which had a hint of plum and cherry flavors. My wife enjoyed a strawberry and basil mojito. 

234 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA

Ozen Sushi

A little shack in a residential area, it is hard to miss, but if you love Sushi, you must stop here.

Ozen offers a large selection of rolls, Sushi, Sashimi, and hand-rolls – ala-cart and all-you-can-eat. Everything is fresh and tasty.

We usually get the all-you-can-eat option and try new things along with our favorites. During our last visit, we tried the Ozen roll, Crunch roll, rainbow roll, and salOC Dining - Ozen Sushimon and tuna sushi. We also had crunch and spicy tuna hand-rolls. All came out as expected and mouth-watering.

For dessert, we enjoyed several flavors of their ice cream macarons. Our favorites were green tea and mango.

While visiting, you can also try their selection of Japanese beers and Saki.

If you prefer you can order from the extensive menu with Bento boxes and non-sushi items. All bento boxes come with rolls, tempura, and miso soup.

7185 Lincoln Ave, Buena Park, CA 90620

Roy's @ Garden Walk

Dining at Roy's is like taking a cRoy's Garden Walkulinary safari across the Pacific Rim. This fusion cuisine restaurant offers seafood dishes like Hibachi Grilled Atlantic Salmon, Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi, or my favorite the Shellfish Sampler.

If you prefer items from the land, try their Braised Short Ribs of Beef, or Katsu Chicken.

For starters, you can try their selection of Sushi rolls, Poke, or Shrimp Tempura. 

The wine list and the mixed drinks are just right. On a recent visit, we tried their Mango Mojito and the 1988 Martini. Both were excellent.

Leaving the best for last, for dessert, we tried both of their creations. The Pineapple Upside Cake and the Chocolate Suflet were a good end to our meal. 

The only drawback is the prices. On the plus side, the Garden Walk Roy's has a very nice patio seating with Hawaiian-style torches. 

Outback Steakhouse

Steak lovers can’t miss this American Cuisine restaurant. The steaks are cooked just right and the service is excellent.

For starters, we ordered their famous bloomin’ onion and coconut shrimp.OC Dining - Outback Steakhouse Both were very tasty.

For our main courses, we tried steak with unlimited shrimp, baby-back ribs, halibut, and the Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

We completed our meal with the “Chocolate Thunder from Down Under” – a delight of pecan brownie topped, vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.

7575 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620

Tamba 30 (Indian)

This Indian cuisine gen is hidden in a small strip mall in downtown Anaheim. This restaurant OC Dinning - Tamba30 Anaheim - Indian Cuisineoffers delicious authentic Indian dishes and lunch Buffett. 

During our last visit, we started with an assortment of appetizers. Our favorites were the Veggie Samosa and the Paneer Pakora.

For our main dishes, we shared the chicken Teka Masala and the Lamb Curry. Both were very tasty and the portions were large. We had lots of leftovers.

We ended our meal with "Gulab Jamun" - a very sweet milk-solid-based balls of joy. 

30 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805

Brussels Bistro

Laguna Beach - Brussels BistroForest Street is now closed for cars allowing restaurants to offer outdoor seating. We decided to try Brussels Bistro, located at the corner of Forest and PCH - and we were pleasantly surprised. 

The food and drinks were excellent. We tried their Trout Almondine and the Beet Salad. Both were delicious. The trout was cooked just right and the mashed potatoes were perfect.

My wife and I had the Zombie in the Park and we both loved it. We had seconds. 

For dessert, we order the Crepes Flambee. It wasn't the best dessert we had. The crepes were ok, but they were smothered with the sauce. 

I would still recommend this restaurant for their great-tasting dishes.

222 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA

Latte Ristorante

Latte Ristorante - Anaheim HillsA delightful Italian restaurant in a strip mall located in Anaheim Hills. There is nothing special about the location, but the food was perfect. We enjoyed every bite and we ended up with a lot of leftovers.

For starters, we tried the Mozzarella Capres and the Garlic Bread. For our main meal we ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana, Pollo Parmigiana, and Capellini Gamberi (shrimp). Everything came out just right and was very tasty.

My wife tried their Riesling wine. She liked it so much, we ordered a bottle to go. They offer a $10 discount on the bottle with a meal.

We finish our diner with the dessert of the day and a tiramisu. The dessert of the day was an orange stuffed with delicious orange sorbet. 

The service was also exemplary. Our main waiter and others were always around in case we needed something. 

Advice: if you have a choice, don't dine in their outdoor tent. There is too much noise from the parking lot and neighboring establishments. 

751 S Weir Canyon Rd # 151, Anaheim, CA 

Palm Springs

Palm Springs anaheimer Thu, 06/09/2016 - 17:24

nullWith extreme weather that can reach 110 F in the summer and freezing temperatures in winter, why would anyone want to spend any time in this desolate desert town?

In spite of the desert conditions, Palm Springs attracted many people throughout its history for various reasons. 

First, the Cahuilla Indian tribes made this area home and called it Se-Khi, which means boiling water, for the hot springs bubbling from the sand. 

Then people with some medical conditions started flocking to the area to take advantage of the dry and hot weather.

In the early 1900s, several hotels and resorts were built to attract the rich and famous. 

Read more about Palm Spring’s history at Wikipedia.

Now the area has many permanent residents along visitors enjoying all kinds of events and activities. 

nullAs a visitor, you can just chill at one of the resorts and enjoy dining, water activities, golf, tennis, nightclubs or just along the main drag “Palm Canyon”. 

The more adventurous can take the Aerial Tramway to a height of 8500 ft, enjoy the cooler weather and hike through the San Jacinto State Park. 

Or you can rent an ATV (quad) and speed through the sand dunes.

If you are a party animal, try to catch one of the festivals like Festival of Lights Parade, Splash House Pool Party, Village Fest, Spring Break or, Gay Pride.

Read About it:

Fun around town

Walk around

nullMost major hotels and resorts are within walking distance from the main street “Palm Canyon”. So leave your car behind and take a walk along this busy street. You will find lots of unique shops and restaurants. Statues and monuments celebrating famous people and native American culture are almost on every corner. A few of those statues are for people like Sonny Bono, Lucille Ball and Gene Autry. Towards the west, you enjoy the views of the stark mountains that cast a long shadow on Palm Springs. 

Palm Canyon at night has a festive personality with brilliant lights and loud music blaring from restaurants and bars. 

Also within walking distance are Regal Cinemas. If you have some time to kill during the heat of the afternoon it is a good place to catch a movie.

Fun Nearby

Aerial Tramway

nullPalm Springs right below the San Jacinto mountains. So to escape the desert heat, take the Aerial Tramway to a height of 8500 ft and enjoy a much cooler climate and some stunning views.

Before you start on your trip, explore around desert station. There is a nice waterfall outside with a nice view of ascending cars.

The tram ride is part of the fun. The cars rotated 360 degrees giving every passenger the chance to see in all directions. As you climb to your destination you can see the desert below and the mountain up ahead.

Tip: Try to travel light. The car will be cramped. One backpack should be enough for your trip.

The cars are standing room only and they really packed with people. The car holds up to 80 passengers with their gear. 

Tip: If you are afraid of heights, you can get a place away from the windows and avoid looking down. 

nullOnce you make it to the mountain station, you can start exploring. 

At the station, you can look to the east side for amazing desert views and the tiny city of Palm Springs down below. On the west side, you can enjoy the forest of San Jacinto State Park. 

Once you are done exploring the mountain station, you can descend down a winding path to the State Park and take a short hike. 

The nature trail around the station is easy with designated viewing points called “Notches” – numbered from 1 to 5. From those vantage points, you can admire various desert views. 

nullFor the more adventures, there are plenty of wilderness trails, but you need a special permit to go on one of those.

Tip: Remember that winding path going down? Now you have to take it back up to the station. That is the most difficult part of this hike.

Once you make it back to the top, it is time for lunch. There are 2 dining choices at the mountain station. You can get a snack from the Cafeteria style restaurant or you can dine in style at Peaks Restaurant.

We recently tried the Peaks and really enjoying our lunch. The food was pretty good but expensive. What really enjoyed is the panoramic view of the desert below. When eating at The Peaks you're mostly paying for the view, nullnot the food.

All-in-all, our trip on the Aerial Tramway was exciting and worth the money. We enjoyed breathtaking views, had some workout on our hike and enjoyed a good meal. I highly recommend this adventure to everyone.

Tickets are $24 for adults. If you are planning to come often for hiking or skiing, then an annual pass for $160 makes sense. They also have a summer pass for $75.

Read another Aerial Tramway review here.

Off Road Rentals

nullIt is always fun to ride on a 4-wheel ATV and speed around on the sand dunes. Usually, you would need to specially designated vehicular activity areas to enjoy the dunes. Off-road rentals on the outskirts of Palm Springs offer you a convenient alternative. 

This is a privately owned area with plenty of sand dunes to fulfill your need for thrills. You can rent an ATV for $40 for about 40 minutes of fun. 

Tip: Make sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses. 

You start by entering a cave-like building to view a safety and instructions video. You really need to pay attention to the instructions, especially if it was your first time. 

nullThen you go to a friendly attendant who collects your payment and directs you to where you get your helmet and goggles. Goggles are required for kids under 18. Adults can wear their own glasses. This is to protect you from sand during your ride.

At the starting line, the attendants will match you with the right ATV for your size and weight and provide you with your final instructions. 

Tip: You can pay by credit card, but be prepared to leave the card with the staff while you ride. They run it through while you are having fun.

The tracks start on level ground to help you get used to your ATV. Once you feel confident, you can start climbing some dunes at varying heights. If you stay at the bottom, you can still have lots of fun going fast, doing doughnuts or spinning down sinkholes. 

If you go up the hill be prepared to stall or get stuck. But don’t worry, if you do get stuck and attend will help you get unstuck. You will also learn the trick very quickly. 

The ride was exhilarating and felt very long, even though it was only 45 minutes. The staff were very friendly and helpful. 

At the end of your ride, you are offered some cold drinks while you drop off the equipment. 

Where to eat 

Lulu California Bistro

nullOn our last day at Palm Springs, we went to Lulu’s Cafe for breakfast.  They had a variety of choices from southwestern to crepes to make your own omelets to a traditional breakfast. For those that don't really enjoy breakfast Chicken quesadillas presented themselves on the menu and saved the day. The coffee was excellent and the view of the mountains was wonderful and relaxing.  

Maracas Cantina 

nullThe restaurant stays open quite late as we sat down at 9:00 PM. The majority of restaurants had already closed by that time so we were happy to have located it.  As a family that frequently dines at El Torito Grill, we were extremely pleased by the authenticity of Maracas. El Torito does not compare. The Chili Relleno was doused with a creamy heartwarming cheese and a breading that tickled your tongue. The chili did not take much effort to cut and made eating it so much more enjoyable. 

Where to stay

The city has many hotels, motels and resorts to satisfy every taste and budget. You can get very good deals at motel chains like Extended Stay America, Renaissance Palm Springs, Best Western Inn and Comfort Inn.

If you prefer to live in luxury, try one of the high-end hotels like The Westin, L’Horizon, Hard Rock or La Quinta. 

Tip: Choose your hotel wisely. Some hotels are party hotels and others are geared toward families. If you are looking for the party atmosphere, look for places like Hard Rock hotel, Palm Springs Rendezvous or Avanti Hotel. But if you have kids then try places like Marriott's Desert Springs, Omni Rancho Las Palmas or Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa.

Were recently stayed at the Hard Rock hotel and our experience was mixed. We enjoyed the comfort, service and Rock music theme, but we did not enjoy the noise level. Read the full review below.

Hard Rock Hotel

nullIf you love Rock n’ Roll, then this is the hotel for you. The rooms are elegantly designed with photos of Rock and Roll legends. 

The beds were firm but comfortable with soft or hard pillows, your choice. The room comes with a coffee maker and a mini fridge packed up with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. You also get a shelve with a choice of snacks. 

Tip: Be warned! The snack shelve and the fridge are weight sensitive. If you remove any of the items, you will get charged for it automatically. The prices are very high. You will end up paying $4 for a can of soda and up to $95 for a bottle of Champaign. 

The best feature of the hotel is the location. It is one block off Palm Canyon Road with all the shops and restaurants. You are also within walking distance to other venues like movie theaters.

nullThe staff are very friendly and helpful. They answer calls right away and provide directions when asked.

The pools area is large with cabanas, a Jacuzzi and a full bar. Towels and lounge chairs are provided. The only problem is that it is overcrowded with standing room only. There is no room for real swimming or playing in the water. 

The rooms at night were very noisy with drunk people running around and screaming. The staff responded to our complaints after midnight and talked to the offenders, but our night was already ruined.  

I recommend this hotel for Hard Rock lovers and party animals, but not for families with kids or for relaxation.

 

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway anaheimer Sun, 11/08/2009 - 13:45

nullPalm Springs and the surrounding area offer a lot of leisure and adventure opportunities and require many articles to cover the whole spectrum of activities.

This article is dedicated to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and the adventures that await you at the top of the San Jacinto mountains. 

For more info about Palm Springs, read the full article here

After enjoying expansive desert views on the valley floor, get ready to be transported to a totally different world at the San Jacinto alpine forest. The state-of-the-art rotating tram cars pick you up from the Valley Station - suspended from a 2 mile stretch of steel cables - and deposit you at the Mountain Station. The trip will take you from an elevation of about 2,600 feet (806 m) to about 8,500 feet (2,596 m. You will experience a temperature drop of about 40 degrees. This is similar to traveling from the Sonora desert to the Canadian tundra in 11 minutes.

Tip: Try to be one of the first people on the tram car. This way you can get a window view.

nullOn your way up you will experience stunning views of the desert, the granite rock pillars that form the base of the mountains, lush vegetation nestled among the rocks and a bird’s eye view of Palm Springs.

The Mountain Station is nestled on the edge between two worlds. On one side it overlooks the Coachella Valley – which is part of the Sonora Desert. On the other side, it overlooks the Alpine forest of the San Jacinto Mountains. Outside the Mountain Station, the land is part of the Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Important Note: During peak hours there usually a long wait to get on the tram. It could be as long as 2 hours. The lines might be shorter if you arrive at opening time or late in the day. 

nullThere is a lot to discover inside the station, but the adventure starts at the end of the ramp that leads you down into the forest. But before you descend down the ramp, stop at the ranger station store and talk to the rangers. Get a map of the area and sign your kids up for the junior ranger program.

Things to do in the Forest

Hiking

The State Park and Wilderness area offer 54 miles of hiking trails. Trails range from the easy nature walk to the strenuous trek to the peak of San Jacinto.

We took the nature walk which took us in a loop close to the mountain station. Along the way, we enjoyed the shade of the forest trees, crossed several bridges over streams (dry during summer) and climbed some interesting rock formations.

San Jacinto State Park - snowThe kids watched out for information posts and clues along the way so they can answer the questions for the junior ranger program.

If you want to do a more strenuous hike, you will need to obtain a wilderness permit from the ranger station.

During the cold months, and especially after a snowstorm, the area become a winter wonderland. Hiking through the snow is a challenging but very rewarding experience. Make sure you wear the right shows for the snow/ice or rent a snowshoe. 

Family Snow Fun

Take the whole family to enjoy some fun with the snow. Build a snowman or have a snowball fight. Ride a sled down the gentle slopes. You can bring your own, or buy one at the adventure store.

Camping

Primitive campsites are located in four designated campgrounds throughout the Wilderness area. Wilderness permits are required for any hiking or backpacking. For the more adventurous and well-experienced, snow camping offers a special way to spend a winter weekend.

Guided Nature Walks

nullThis is a very valuable program in which a volunteer takes you on a nature walk to learn about the natural environment in the forest. Those walks are free of charge. They are only available memorial day through labor day. Go here to check times.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country ski enthusiasts have found the State Park to be unsurpassed in its challenging terrain. You can bring your own equipment or you can rent skis, boots, and poles at the Adventure Center.

Snow Shoeing

For those wanting to take a walk during the winter into the backcountry, snowshoe rentals are available. Wilderness permits are required for anyone venturing outside of Long Valley.

Tip: The Tramway’s Annual Maintenance is scheduled for September 13 through October 1, 2010. Reopening Saturday, October 2, 2010. Check their website before you go.

Read About it:

 

Back at the Mountain Station

nullOnce you are done with your adventures in the forest, come back to the mountain station for additional fun and relaxation.

You can watch a movie about the history and construction of the tramway. You can browse the gift and souvenir shop. You can stroll along the balconies overlooking the desert. And the best part, you can climb to the top viewing platform that offers a 360-degree view of the whole area. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Salton Sea to the south and to Mount Charleston north of Las Vegas.

Where to eat

Picnic

Bring your own snacks or picnic and enjoy your meal at provided picnic tables. Just make sure all the food and drinks are packed away in your backpacks before boarding the tram. Food and drinks are not allowed on the tram.

Pines Café’

You can get sandwiched, Pizza or Salads at the cafeteria-style restaurant on the second floor. Food is what you expect from this kind of restaurant. If you buy the combo ride-and-dine ticket, expect to eat at this place.

Peaks Restaurant

nullWe decided to have our lunch at the Peaks Restaurants because we liked the menu items and the stunning view from every table in the restaurant. The tables were arranged in 3 terraces so each one would have a view of the desert floor – way below.

It took a while to get a seat, but it was worth the wait.

We ordered the Avocado Bruschetta for appetizers. The appetizers were delicious, but the portion was small. It would be nice if the waiter warned us about the portions so we would order more dishes.

For the main meal, we ordered the Fish and Chips and Cup of Tortilla Soup & Turkey Pomodoro.

The fish was crispy and tasty. The chips were spiced just right. The Tortilla Soup was very spicy and mouthwatering. Turkey sandwich was excellent.

nullThe service, on the other hand, was slow. The waiter seemed tired and bored even at 1 o’clock.

The prices were a little above average, which is expected for this kind of resort. 

My rating for this restaurant: 4 stars for food; 3 stars for service and 5 stars for the view.

Note: During construction on the 3rd level, the Peaks moved to be at the same location as Forest View.

Forest View Restaurant

nullWe came to this restaurant for the amazing forest view from the floor to ceiling windows but we were pleasantly surprised with the food quality and service.

To avoid the wait, we made reservations through OpenTable and were seated right away. 

We ordered the Flat Iron Steak and the Spinach Salad. Both were delicious and the steak was cooked to order.

We also enjoyed beer and cocktails. The restaurant has a nice selection of tab and bottled beers. The bar can make any mixed drink you like.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - Forest view - SteakWe ended our meal with a very tasty Bread Pudding. 

Snack bar

The snack bar at the Valley Station offers a small selection of sandwiches, salads, and drinks. The outdoor seating area offers a great view of the mountain and the tram cars. You can also enjoy a nice waterfall.

Observation Deck

Also at the Valley Station, you can take a short flight of stairs to a balcony overlooking the tram station. You can watch the tram cars docking and departing.

Back at Palm Springs

Palm Springs Downtown - from WikipediaEnjoy a stroll along Palm Canyon Drive – the main artery and commercial and cultural center of Palm Springs. Shop for gifts, have dinner at one of the fine restaurants or pay a visit to one of the museums like Palm Springs Air Museum; Palm Springs Art Museum; or Children's Discovery Museum.

For more info about Palm Springs, read the full article here

Do you have more time on your hand? Consider visiting the Joshua Tree National Park close by. Read about Joshua Tree NP here

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

http://www.pstramway.com/

One Tramway Road
Palm Springs, CA. 92262
1.888.515.8726

San Diego

San Diego anaheimer Thu, 07/07/2016 - 17:21

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego County are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

nullOr if you prefer, you can visit the Cabrillo National Monument, hike through Torrey Pines State Park or go on the Sunset Cliffs trail for stunning views of the ocean.

And if you have more time you can drive away from the city to enjoy San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido or Lego Land in Carlsbad.

Plan your visit to San Diego at the official website here.  

A brief history

nullEven though some native American tribes lived in the area for thousands of years, San Diego has the distinction of being the first area of California to be discovered by Europeans. 

Since first discovery by Juan Cabrillo in 1542, the area changed hands several times. First, it was a Spanish territory. Then it was claimed by Mexico after Mexican independence from Spain. Finally, it became a US territory in 1848 after the American Victory in the Mexican–American War. 

The city started to flourish when the US Navy became interested in its great natural harbor and its location.

Interesting Facts: The top employer in the city is the United States Navy.

Read more about San Diego’s history at Wikipedia.  

Where to stay

nullYour decision on where to stay depends on many factors like what are you planning to do, your budget and your arrival time. 

If you are planning to mainly explore downtown, then you should consider one of the hotels right in the Gaslamp Quarter or downtown waterfront. Some of the best choices are the Marriott at Gaslamp, Hilton Bayfront and Grand Hyatt. For a budget hotel in or close to downtown, you can try Porto Vista, Wyndham Bayside, or Westin. 

If your main goal is to visit SeaWorld, then try the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Masson Bay or the Bahia Resort. For budget choices, try places like Holiday Inn Express, Wyndham Garden or Travel Lodge SeaWorld.

nullI recently stayed at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa for two nights and loved every minute of my stay. The resort is right on the bay and has everything you need for fun and relaxation. The 2-queen-beds room was very comfortable with a great view overlooking a garden and the beach. Right on premises, you will find a nice heated pool, several Jacuzzis and watersports activities. At night you can enjoy SeaWorld’s fireworks show from your balcony or from the waterfront. See the full review here.  

Interesting Facts: The City of San Diego was rated the fifth-best place to live in the United States in by MONEY Magazine in 2006.

Another great choice is the Grand Hyatt at San Diego Bay. It is very conveniently located next to Seaport Village, the Headquarters, USS Midway and the Gaslamp Quarter. You can just walk to those popular destinations. The rooms have comfortable beds with great views of the harbor and downtown. See the full review here.  

nullDuring on my last visit, I stayed at Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn. The location is a little isolated from main attractions, but it a beautiful place for a staycation. If you stay here, you should plan on spending most of your time at the hotel and surrounding area. It is very easy to do so because the hotel offers many entertainment choices and amenities. A large swimming pool, highly rated restaurants, an outdoor theater and free bike rentals to name a few. See the full review here (coming soon).

And of course, you can camp while in San Diego. The Koa campground is very nice with tent and RV sites along with 1 and 2 bedroom cabins. The campground has clean bathrooms, hot showers and a lot of activities. Read more about KOA campground here.  

Things to do in San Diego

There is plenty to explore without leaving town. You can take a stroll in the Gaslamp Quarter with plenty of shops and restaurants, rent a bike and ride along the bayfront, visit SeaWorld, go on a cruise or spend a day at Balboa Park.  

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Gaslamp Quarter

nullOne of the best ways to get to know a city is just to get out and walk around. And one of the best walks in San Diego is in the Gaslamp Quarter.

This is an area of about 16 city blocks with a major shopping mall anchoring one corner. 

You can start your walk at the Westfield Horton Plaza mall. The mall itself is a destination for shoppers and gawkers alike due to its unique architecture. 

Right outside the mall, there is a small park with a nice fountain and statues for the San Diego founding fathers.

The quarter streets are named by letters and numbers. You can explore any of the streets, but the main thoroughfare is 5th avenue. This street is the longest stretch and has the most shops, restaurants and nightclubs. 

Interesting Facts: Did you know that San Diego was home to everyone’s favorite wacky children’s author, Ted Geisel – more frequently referred to as Dr. Seuss?

The quarter is especially beautiful at night when all the Gaslamps are let and the streets are bustling with people and the music is blaring from the nightclubs.

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a go-city card. Build your own here.

If you plan to dine at the quarter, try La Puerta Mexican restaurant, Greystone the Steak House or Meze Greek Fusion. 

La Puerta is famous for their street tacos. They also have a great surf & tur burrito. Happy hour is very busy and loud but you can expect good prices. 

At Greystone, you can’t go wrong with any of the meats. Try the New York Steak or Filet Mignon. If you are hungry, try the short ribs tacos for starters. The place is a little pricey, but if you go during happy hour, you will get to try different cuts at reduced prices.

nullMy favorite is Meze Greek Fusion on sixth street. This restaurant offers authentic Greek cuisine with a California flair. Meze means small plates, but the menu offers full meals for every appetite. For starters, you must try the Lentil Soup, Baba Ghanosh, Dolma or Fiery Fetta Dip. For the main meal try the Lamb Chops or traditional Greek favorites like Falafel or Gyro plates. And finally, don’t skip the Baklava for dessert.

For Japanese cuisine lovers, stop at Ramaki on the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter where you can get some great Raman, Poke and Sushi. 

For a dessert or a snack, you must try Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Their ice-cream flavors on waffle cones are to die for. Once you are done with your dessert, you can go shopping for a collection of chocolates for your family and friends – or indulge yourself. 

If you keep walking down 5th avenue you will reach the waterfront where you will find the Convention Center, some of San Diego’s iconic hotels, Seaport Village and USS Midway Aircraft Carrier. 

Seaport Village

nullSeaport village is about a 20-minute walk from the Gaslamp Quarter. Close enough to include it the same walk. 

The village resembles an old harbor side town with its unique shops and casual dining places. You can also enjoy fine dining at 4 waterfront restaurants. 

Seaport also hosts some unique events like Surfin Santa Arrival and Busker Festival. Many restaurants book live music events. My favorite is the Bit of Greece at the Greek Islands Café.

One caution! The village is a tourist trap. Shop at your own risk. 

Interesting Facts: San Diego has the most ideal climate with temperatures averaging 70 all year long

In spite of that warning, you can still have lots of fun. Browse through the shops. Try a few things like flying a kite or face painting. Enjoy the street performers.

The Headquarters are right across the street from Seaport Village. It is a new plaza with more boutique shops and dining options. You can find known places like the Cheese Cake Factory, Starbucks or Sunglass Hut. Or discover new places like Gelato Paradiso, Geppetto’s Toys, Lori L. Fine Art Gallery. 

USS Midway Aircraft Carrier

nullA few steps away from the Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village or the Cruise terminal, you will find this must-see attraction – a real Aircraft carrier!

The USS Midway was the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier – active from 1945 to 1992. After its long military service, it is now berthed in San Diego harbor and open to the public since 2004.  

Before you even get on this magnificent ship, you will be amazed by its size and design. As you approach its berth, you will be wondering how this behemoth could float – let alone carry crew and airplanes. 

nullAfter you get your tickets ($20 adult), you will climb some steep stairs to reach the hanger deck. This is where the aircraft were stored and maintained before launching. The deck was huge with many types of fighters on display. 

The hanger deck also has a row of flight simulators. There are 2 types to choose from Air Combat and Flight avionics. It is a neat way to pretend you are on a mission launched from the carrier.

The admission price includes a free audio tour. If you decide to use it, you will get 2-minute audio clips about various marked locations throughout the ship. You don’t really need the audio. There are a lot of volunteers at the important spots with a lot of valuable information. Many of the volunteers are retired navy sailors. 

From the hanger deck, you can go up to the flight deck where the planes launch or land. More planes and helicopters were on display. You can inside some of them and explore. 

nullFrom the flight deck, you also have a great view of San Diego and the Bay. On the port (left) side, you can see a nice statue of the famous sailor kissing a nurse at the end of WWII. 

If you go down from hanger deck you will come across the galley where food is prepared, the mess deck – where the enlisted eat, the laundry, sickbay, the brig and a fire station. 

Tip: If you are claustrophobic you may want to avoid the lower decks. It is very cramped and stuffy in places. 

If you have more time, you can watch videos about the carrier, try your hand with knot-tying, climb on some bunks, get inside cockpits, go to jail or take one of the guided tours. See more adventures here.

Balboa Park

nullThis is a sprawling 1200-acre park full of open spaces, gardens, hiking trails and lots of museums. The park is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

In 1915, the parklands were used to host the San Diego Panama-Pacific International Exposition which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and lasted for 2 years. Later many of the park's buildings were recommissioned as museums.  

You can spend a day just walking around and exploring the history and architecture, picnicking in the green zones, riding a mini train, going on a carousel or visiting the International Village. 

But you will need several days to experience the variety of museums. The park has an amazing collection of museums like "Air and Space", "Science Center", "Natural History" and "Museum of Art".

Read the full review here.

Downtown Historic Trolley Tour

nullOne of the best ways to explore the city of San Diego is by taking the historic old town trolley. You can jump on and off the trolley at any of the 10 stops throughout the day.

Interesting Facts: The first drive-in restaurant in the United States was opened in San Diego by the man who later founded Jack in the Box in 1951.

Along the way, the driver will share with you interesting San Diego history and tips about places to see and things to do.

You can start your tour at any of the 10 stops along the route, but Tthe main starting point is at Old Town San Diego. 

Some of the other important stops are the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado Island and Balboa Park. 

Read the full review here.

Waterfront Park

nullTwelve acres of land were set aside for this beautiful waterfront park. The park offers picnic areas, clean bathrooms and a small water park where kids can get wet and have a blast. 

When the kids get tired of water play they can have more fun the modern playground.

If you did not bring your own picnic, they have a small cafe where you can get some snacks and drinks. 

The park is right across from the Embarcadero and behind the County Center building in Little Italy.

The water park opens from 11 am to 7 pm while the main park has longer hours.

After the park, the whole family can walk to Little Italy at India street, do some shopping or dine at one of the restaurants.

Cabrillo National Monument

nullAt the tip of Point Loma Peninsula, the monument commemorates the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who was the first to set foot on the west coast of North America. 

This park has a museum, movie theater, tide-pool exploration and a stunning view of San Diego harbor and downtown skyline from a high vantage point. 

If you are interested in the tide-pools, make sure to check the low tide schedule. See official website for more details

Also at the highest point of the park, you will find the Point Loma Lighthouse. It was closed down in 1891 because it was always shrouded in fog due to its height. A newer one was built at a lower elevation.

The park is also close to the "Maritime Museum of San Diego", so you can make a side trip to visit the museum.

SeaWorld 

nullSea World is the only park in which you can get up close and personal with sea creatures and get an education while having fun. You can meet Shamu the killer whale, watch the Dolphins play their tricks, visit the sharks in their natural habitat, go to the North Pole on an icy safari and peek at the Penguins – and you get all that fun for a bargain.

San Diego Go Card

Shows that you shouldn’t miss are Orca Encounter; Sea Lions Live; Dolphin Days; A trip to Wild Arctic; Shark encounter. For thrill seekers, try one of the rides: Journey To Atlantis; Manta; Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic (the ride).

Read the full SeaWorld review here.

Outside of Town

nullOn the outskirts of the city of San Diego or further inland, you can find many more attractions and adventures. Visit the beaches at La Jolla, go to Lego Land and the flower fields in Carlsbad or go on a Safari in Escondido. 

For even more activities, go mine for gold, hike, camp or picnic in the mountains at Julian.

Interesting Facts: San Diego County is home to the most missions in the country. Take the mission trail to visit Mission San Diego de Alcala, Mission San Luis Rey, Mission San Antonio de Pala and Mission Santa Ysabel. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in San Diego County close to the city of Escondido. It spans 1800 acres of land and is stocked with 2600 animals from 300 species. It is also home to thousands of plant species – some of it in a protected preserve. 

The main attraction is a vast open area with free-ranging animals that vary from the fierce lions to the tame Giraffes. The only way to enjoy this vast flora and fauna is to join a Safari. More the on Safari options later.

Read the full SD Zoo Safari Park article here

La Jolla – Beaches and Hiking

nullLa Jolla is a little town on the outskirts of San Diego with nice beaches, hotels, golf courses, a state park and the famous University of California, San Diego. 

No one knows for sure where the name originated, but some say it means the place with holes – referring to the many caves and coves on the shoreline. Others say it means the Jewel. In either case is a jewel on the beach and it is full of caves and coves – making it a very interesting place to visit and explore.

Tip: Alcohol is not permitted on any of San Diego beaches. So leave your beer behined.

So spend some time at La Jolla Shores beach or go snorkeling at La Jolla Cove. If you prefer you can go hiking at Torrey Pines State Preserve or even learn how to Glide at the Glider Port.

Read the full review here.

A bike ride through San Diego

A bike ride through San Diego anaheimer Thu, 10/22/2020 - 16:04

Old Town San Diego - Flickr - by JasperdoAfter enjoying a great e-bike ride through Santa Barbara, we decided to do the same in San Diego. We booked a tour with “Another Side Of San Diego”.  This tour operator offers many private and group tours. See their offerings here.

We selected the “Old Town & Balboa Park eBike Tour”. We have visited both places in the past but thought it would be fun to go at a more leisurely pace.

This tour starts from their location near Old Town. Jeff, our tour guide, began by explaining how to use the e-bike and gave us some time to practice. This is important because e-bikes can differ in handling and operation.

After we mastered our bikes, we passed by Old Town and learned about the historic buildings. Unfortunately, we could enter due to park regulations.  

Tip: the bikes do not have a basket for belongings or water. Jeff was willing to carry our stuff, but I would have preferred to hold my own water, camera, and phone. So bring a backpack or a waist bag.

Jeff regaled us with the town’s history and important buildings. We quickly learned that Old San Diego - Balboa ParkTown is not the real birthplace of San Diego. It actually started as a settlement on the hill with the Presidio Fort. Later a mission was established close to the fort. This location was chosen due to the commanding view over the San Digo harbor.

Even though it is not the real first settlement, the Old Town Historic Park is still worth visiting. It is a good representation of early period San Diego with its adobe buildings, museums, and shops.

To get to Presidio hill, we had to peddle up a steep incline. Thankfully, the e-bikes peddle-assist came in handly. We still had a workout, but it was more manageable.

San Diego - Balboa ParkOn our way to Balboa Park, we had to pass through some busy city streets. This part of the tour was not very enjoyable, but there is no avoiding it. It is a major city, after all. Next time I am going to try The La Jolla Coastal Bike Tour. We will probably encounter less traffic and enjoy the ocean views.

The best part of this tour is entering Balboa Park and enjoying the long stretch of trails with no cars. The parks 1200 acres are full of open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, walking trails, museums, theaters, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

You can learn more about Balboa Park and the Zoo by following the links.

Heading back, the ride was mostly straight or downhill. We still had to pass through some busy streets, but it was more relaxed and a good ending to our tour.  

More about San Diego here.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park anaheimer Fri, 07/08/2016 - 16:34

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego county are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails, and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor, or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

Read the full San Diego review here.

nullBalboa Park is a sprawling 1200-acre park full of open spaces, gardens, hiking trails, and lots of museums. The park is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

In 1915, the parklands were used to host the San Diego Panama-Pacific International Exposition which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and lasted for 2 years. Later many of the park's buildings were recommissioned as museums.  

Interesting Facts: Kate Sessions is known locally as “the mother of Balboa Park”. She designed a lot of the park's landscaping and spent years planting trees.

You can spend a day just walking around and exploring the history and architecture, picnicking in the green zones, riding a mini train, going on a carousel, or visiting the International Village. The park is home to so many Museums, you will need days to explore them all. Some of my favorites are "Air and Space", "Science Center", "Natural History" and "Museum of Art".

nullTo see the full list, go to the official website here.

Each museum requires a full review by itself to describe all its wonders, but I will be covering a few of them in this review.

For young children, several play areas are placed throughout the park. Some are near the museums. The best one is “Pepper Grove Playground” which is a large play area with picnic tables – right next to the Science Center.

Tip: Tuesdays are free admission days to all museums at the park, but only for San Diego residents.

The park is also home to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. This unique organ contains 4,725 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet.

Tip: A free organ concert is performed every Sunday at 2 PM. The plaza is also host to special summer events. You can find an event calendar here.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

nullAs you approach this museum, you are greeted by the sight of 2 stealth bombers – a good sign of things to come. If you love planes, helicopters, and spaceships, then you must see this place. The curators managed to put together a large collection of aerospace memorabilia and lots of aviation history in one place.

You can start your journey through the history of aviation by viewing the Wright Brothers replicas of the Wright brother's 1901 and 1902 gliders and learning about their wind tunnel experiments. 

Interesting Facts: Charles Lindbergh made history when he flew from San Diego to New York and then non-stop to Paris on the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

Then you can witness the advancement of both military and commercial aviation through the decades. Some planes on exhibits are the Memphis Bell, Stealth fighters, the Predator drone, the Spirit of St Luis, the Blue Angels.

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

For a little interactive fun, you can get into the cockpit of a helicopter and try the weird Cyclic Stick control. The cyclic control changes the pitch of the rotors. 

For space buffs, the museum shows replicas of Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo along with space suits and photo collections.

Tip: as you walk through the exhibits, look up! A lot of aviation’s history is floating above your head. 

nullWhen you have your fill of gawking at planes and spacecraft, you can try to fly one for yourself. Flight simulators rides are available for an additional fee. You can choose between single and multi-rider sims with various mission types. 

During my visit, the Da Vinci exhibit was on display. You have to pay a little extra to get into this area, but it is worth every penny. 

Da Vinci was the ultimate innovator. He explored and worked on so many concepts decades ahead of his time. Many of his inventions were so revolutionary, it was not possible to bring them to fruition during his lifetime.

Browse around to view Da Vinci’s gliders, tanks, robots, helicopters, design drawings, and of course his famous paintings like the Mona Lisa. 

My only regret about this place is that it 95% air and 5% space. It would have been much more engaging if it covered more of the Space Age.

On the way out don’t forget to visit the fountain area at the center of the museum. While relaxing and enjoying the water fountains, you can gaze up at the hanging military planes. 

Reuben H Fleet Science Center

nullI was always fascinated by science and technology. So it was only natural for me to visit this science museum. 

The center has around 12 permanent exhibits and rotating visiting exhibits.  Some of the permanent ones are “So Watt!”, “Look! Touch! Listen!”, "Origins in Space", "San Diego's Water" and “Tinkering Studio”.

Lots to see, so go to the center’s website here and plan your visit.

At the “So Watt!” energy exhibit, you get to investigate where our power comes from. A nice interactive solar power display shows how light is converted into electricity which then drives a floating ping pong ball.

Did you want to know where your water in San Diego comes from? The “San Diego's Water” display shows water sources and how it is delivered to your tap. 

nullYong minds can explore their senses through the “Look! Touch! Listen!” experiments dotting the whole museum floors. In one experiment, one person whispers into a hyperbolic saucer while another listens to the amplified sound reaching across the room to the other end. 

On the other side of the museum, inquisitive minds can try to generate electricity with Jacob’s Ladder or make a ball levitate. 

The “Origins of Space” exhibit currently shows the latest NASA images of deep space. 

At the “Tinkering Studio”, ignite your inner Da Vinci and work with others on projects covering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics).

During my latest visit, the guest exhibit was “Science Fiction, Science Future” – a great way to connect my childhood fantasies with current and future advances. 

I truly believe that if you can dream it, you can make it happen. Many of the fantasies spawned by science fiction writers became realities - airplanes, space flights to the moon, and solar energy to name a few.

nullIn this exhibit, you can try to move an object with your mind, read your DNA, interact with a robot or play a holographic game. You can also explore the ideas of Teleportation, Wormholes, and Cyborgs.

Finally, a science museum is not complete without an IMAX theater or a planetarium. This one has both. 

The center’s Heikoff Giant Dome Theater is an ideal venue to project the latest IMAX films and digital celestial shows. Some of the amazing shows projected on this dome: Under the Sea, Island of Lemurs, and Aircraft Carrier. For the latest show schedule go here

Tip: Both the Science center and the Natural History museums are on the main pedestrian promenade (El Prado street). In between the two popular museums, there is a nice water fountain – a good place for pictures. If you take a pedestrian bridge in front of the Natural History museum you will end up at a beautiful cactus and rose garden with many photo opportunities.

San Diego Natural History Museum

nullNatural history is the history of our planet and its inhabitants. It is always interesting and informative to learn how the earth formed and how the various plant and animal species evolved.

This museum has 5 floors of permanent and visiting exhibits with 8.2 million artifacts – a lot to see and experience. 

My favorite exhibits are:

Whales - Giants of the Deep: this is a visiting exhibit from New Zealand that lets you get close to the giant whales and learn about their biology. You can also examine fossils of whale ancestors or listen to whale songs. If you dare you can crawl through a giant replica of a whale’s heart. 

nullFossil Mysteries: This is a permanent exhibit that showcases 75 million years of Dinosaurs and Mastodons that used to live in the area. As you enter from the first floor, you will come face to face with a giant T-Rex and a flying Pterodactyl. 

In one area of the exhibit, a photographic and fossil evidence exhibit tells the story of the dinosaur extinction.   

Did you know that San Diego is one of the 35 most biodiverse regions in the world? I didn’t know that. I learned it at the Coast to Cactus exhibit in this museum. Using multimedia exhibits, hands-on experiments, and live animals you get to experience the richness of life in the area.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The fourth level has a photographic gallery with award-winning photos of nature and animals. It is also home to a future library.

Tip: When you take the stair to the upper levels, notice the panoramic view from the stairwell. Looking down, you will see a giant fig tree. This tree was planted 100 years ago (1915) but likes like it is much older.

Finally, don’t miss the giant movie screen at the museum. Admission is included in the ticket and it shows 2D and 3D nature features. You can catch a 3D movie about whales or about the coral reefs. Get the latest showtimes at the museum’s website here.

San Diego Museum of Man

nullThe museum’s building itself is a magnificent piece of architecture. It shows a lot of detail on the façade and an intriguing mix of styles joining Baroque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo to present a unique Spanish colonial style. 

Once you are done admiring the architecture, step inside and admire the collection of artifacts representing early native American cultures. 

The museum showcases ancient American civilizations such as Maya, Hopi, and Kumeyaay with a special exhibit about Ancient Egypt.

nullThe “Footsteps Through Time” exhibit takes the visitor through millions of years of human evolution. Go through the Time Tunnel to experience the 200 most significant human inventions. 

At the “Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth” exhibit, experience the ancient Mayan civilization through its large monuments and archaeological discoveries.

Interesting Facts: Contrary to common belief, the Mayans are not extinct. Their descendants still live in central and Latin America. Learn about some of the ancient traditions that may have survived today at this museum. 

nullThe Pharos and ancient Egyptian civilization fascinated generations of people across the world. The wealth of monuments and artifacts they left behind is a treasure for archeologists and students who are still trying to understand this culture.

To become an archaeologist for an hour and go through the hieroglyphs, tablets, and mummies and learn about the history. The museum has a large collection of original mummies and artifacts. 

For the kids, there is an area set aside for Egypt-themed kid-friendly activities. 

The San Diego Museum of Art

nullArt lovers must spend some time here. The museum has a large collection of artworks spanning millennia. Some sculptures date back to 5000 BC all the way up to the contemporary period. 

You can experience this collection by geographic location. 

Start with the Asian collection of paintings, ceramics, and metalwork. Learn about the beliefs and traditions of each culture through their art. Most fascinating are the Indian statues and the Persian Islamic calligraphy. 

nullMoving into Europe you will come across masterpieces by Carlo Crivelli, Giorgione, Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Van Gogh – to name a few.

At the Arts of Africa, The Pacific, and the Native Americas, you will experience Hawaiian pendants, native American woven baskets, and a diverse collection of African art.

One of my favorite collections is the Quilts and Colors exhibit. This is a touring exhibit from the Boston Fine Arts Museum that shows the brilliant and vibrant designs that go into each hand-crafted quilts.

To see a full list of collections and to plan your visit, go to the museum’s website here.

The Prado Restaurant

nullThis award-winning restaurant sits close to the Art Museum and the visitor center at Balboa Park. It offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but you should really try the patio. It is in a garden setting with water fountains and overlooking Japanese Friendship Gardens.

The food is expensive but very high quality. You really can’t go wrong with their large selection of salads, sandwiches, and burgers. I really enjoyed my Grilled 8oz Kobe Cheeseburger which came with seasoned fries.  

Japanese Friendship Gardens

You can find gardens and trails all over Balboa Park, but you can only enjoy the immaculateSan Diego - Japanese Friendship Gardens attention to detail in gardening at the Japanese Friendship Gardens.

Pay the small entrance fee and step into the calm of streams, waterfalls, and exotic plants from Japan. 

The main trail starts from the top viewing area with a commanding view of the whole garden. Pass through a Koi pond and a Bonzi exhibit then start descending to the valley below. 

The trail gently slopes down with plenty of benches to relax on a admire the scenery. 

Depending on the season you will see blooms of Cherry blossoms, Camelia, Iris, 
Dwarf Pomegranate, or Crape Myrtle. See more here

Important Information

Park Map

You can find a useful color map of the park here. The map shows the museums, carousel, zoo, iconic buildings, and restaurants. It does not show the hiking trails.

Parking

Parking can be very difficult, especially on weekends and holidays. You will probably end up parking at Inspiration Point parking lot (on the east side of Park Blvd., between Presidents Way and the Balboa Park Activity Center).

Parking is always free and you can ride a free tram from the lots to any of the main destinations. 

Tours

Many tours start from the visitor center which is located at the Hospitality Building on El Prado street (Close to the Museum of Art). 

Some tours are free and offered by various organizations at the park. You can also purchase a one-hour audio tour from the visitor center.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Biking through Coastal San Diego

Biking through Coastal San Diego anaheimer Sun, 02/21/2021 - 16:20

San Diego Coastal Bike Ride - Bird RockSan Diego County's coastline extends from the Mexican border through several beach towns and up to the Orange County border.

It alternates between long stretches of sandy beaches and cliffs with stunning views of the ocean.

Throughout the years, we explored many of the beaches by car. This time we decided to go on a 4-hour bike ride along this beautiful coastline.

My wife and I were very ambitious! We wanted to start from the city of San Diego and pedalSan Diego Coastal Bike Ride - Bird Rock all the way to Carlsbad. It was a great plan, but it hit the rocky road real quick.

We started our trek from the Point Loma Heights neighborhood, where we rented our electric bikes from Top Jolt Bicycle shop. This place came highly recommended with a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.

The first part of this adventure took us through local streets where we had to compete with cars on the road. The drivers mostly respected our right of way. Our struggle on those side streets didn't last for long. We soon reached clearly marked bike lanes which made the ride much more enjoyable.  

San Diego Coastal Bike Ride - Crystal PierWe soon left the streets altogether and entered the Ocean Beach Athletic Area, which led us to the San Diego River Bikeway.

The bike trail followed Mission Bay Drive close to Sea World, circled around Mission Bay and Sail Bay, entered a residential area for a short distance then entered another bike trail at Pacific Beach.

Just before we circled the bay, we hit a major snag in our plans. One of our bikes had a loose seat that made it impossible to ride. We contact Top Jolt for help, and the owner was ready to jump into the van and rush to our aid. But luckily, we didn't have to wait. We found a guy with tools who helped us tighten the seat.

We continued our ride through Pacific Beach, La Jolla Hermosa, and finally made it to La Jolla Cove.  All along the way, we enjoyed great views of beaches and coves – and plenty of people enjoying the beautiful weather.

nullOn some stretches of the beach, the trail got so crowded we could hardly bike through. But we made it half-way to our planned destination, had a picnic lunch at a lovely park overlooking the ocean.

After some much-needed rest, we started our trek back. Even though we hit almost the same trails and streets, we got to enjoy different views.

The electric bikes help us overcome some of the steep climbs along the way, but at the same time, they were somewhat limiting. Towards the end, the battery charge indicator was all the way down to 1 bar.

I couldn't help wondering how we will make it all the way to Carlsbad or Oceanside for our next trip.  

If you like to follow our trail, go to this Google Earth Map.

Carlsbad and the Flower Fields

Carlsbad and the Flower Fields anaheimer Sat, 05/19/2018 - 16:21

Carlsbad Flower FieldsHome to Legoland, the flower fields, a waterpark, an Aquarium and beautiful beaches, this sleepy little beach town is becoming a major tourist attraction in Southern California.

Carlsbad sits between Oceanside and San Diego with a long stretch of beaches, several creeks and lagoons, making it a perfect spot for a weekend getaway or a rest stop on a long journey.  

Most families with children flock to Carlsbad to spend a day or two at Legoland. The theme park is filled with rides and experiences based on the popular Lego toy brand. And if a park full of thrills is not enough, you can go next door to the new Water Park and Sealife Aquarium.  

When you have your fill of theme parks, head to the flower field for an amazing walk among the colorful flowers or head to the beach for a nice stroll along Pacific Coast Highway or a dip in the ocean.

Legoland Theme Parks

The original Legoland park is geared towards younger children, but there are several Legoland California - Carlsbadattractions with the whole family in mind. 

One of the must-see attractions is a replica of “Washington DC” with a presidential motorcade. The theme changes depending on the sitting president and current events.

For kids of all ages, head to the LEGO LIFE ZONE to build and share your Lego creations. Parents can cool off in the air-conditioned rooms and charge their devices while watching their kids. 

Legoland water park has many innovative rides like “Build a Raft River” - where you first design and build your raft and then float down the river – as well as the traditional wet fun for all ages.

The Flower Fields

Carlsbad Flower FieldsThe “Carlsbad Flower Fields” is a seasonal attraction, but a must-see for everyone. About 50 acres are set aside to grow a variety of colors of the “Tecolote Giant Ranunculus” (also known as the Persian Buttercup). 

The flowers usually bloom from mid-March to mid-April. Call ahead to check if the flowers are in bloom because it varies depending on weather conditions every year. In 2018, the bloom continued until early May.

Tip: If you just want to admire the flower fields without paying the entrance fee, go to Armada drive which runs along the top of the fields. This is only good for a high-level view, but a good intro to the fields. 

During the peak bloom, you can enjoy rows upon rows of flowers on a sloping hill. You can Carlsbad Flower Fieldswalk around among the flowers and take pictures or you can ride the tractor-pulled wagons that takes you around the fields. The wagon goes around the fields and makes frequent stops to enjoy the view and take photos.

Close to the main entrance you can stroll through an Artist Garden, go through a maze, relax and watch the kids frolic in Santa’s Playground or go panning for gold. Several concession stands serve coffee, snacks, kettle corn and frozen lemonade. 

On the way out, you can stop at an Armstrong shop to pick up some potted plants or cut flowers – or anything else you need for your garden.

The Waterfront

Carlsbad is a beach town, after all, so you have to spend some time at the beaches. You can stroll along the Seawall Trail, visit one of the State Beaches or hike along the wetlands of a lagoon. 

Seawall Trail

Carlsbad Seawall - view from Dini'sThe seawall trail starts at the intersection of Carlsbad Village Dr and Carlsbad Boulevard (which is an extension of Pacific Coast Highway). This also happens to be one corner of

Carlsbad Village, with many shops and restaurants. 

The trail is paved with upper and lower sections and great views of the beach and the ocean. The upper trail is always busy with hikers, bikers and skaters. It is hard to navigate during peak hours – like weekends and holidays. On the lower side, only pedestrians are allowed, so it is a much better walk. 

The seawall trail is about 1-mile long and ends at Tamarack Beach, which has a lifeguard station and restrooms. You can extend your hike beyond this beach, but the trail meanders between side streets and homes before it reconnects with the beach.

Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad State BeachThis long stretch of sandy beach is divided into 2 main sections. The main beach for day use, and the South Beach for camping. 

The main beach is open to all and is popular for swimming, surfing, scuba diving, fishing, and beachcombing. It has showers and restrooms.

The campground sits atop the cliffs with stairs and ramps down to the sand. It is very popular during the summer months and you will need reservations many months in advance. Spaces are available for RVs with hookups, electricity and WiFi.

South Ponto Beach

This beach is very popular with surfers and gets very crowded in summer. The beach is Carlsbad State Beach - Campgroundlocated on a sandbar protecting the Batiquitos lagoon from the ocean. There is also a surf school at the southern end of the beach. 

Hiking

Batiquitos Lagoon

Batiquitos is a tidal lagoon at the southern end of Carlsbad with wetlands and a nicely maintained trail. The coastal wetlands are managed by the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation and the volunteers operate a nature center with exhibits of the wildlife in the area. 

From the nature center, the trail follows the shoreline of the lagoon with stunning views of the marshes and avian residents of the wetlands. Along the way, many trees and covered benches offer protection from the sun. 

The trail is about 3-miles long with one gentle hill and considered very easy. It runs along the north side of the lagoon. 

Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Agua Hedionda LagoonAgua Hedionda is another protected preserve run by a volunteer foundation. Before you go on this easy 2.5-mile hike, spend some time at the discovery center. 

This center has exhibits of the region’s birds and wildlife and a history hall showing the geological eons that formed the lagoon.

The center also has a small aquarium and a touch pool where kids can pet some sea creatures. Right outside the center, you find a native plant garden and a short trail that winds in a loop through the lagoon. Along this short trail, you can take side trips to some shaded and secluded areas.

For more adventure and workouts, find the longest trail at the foot of Kelly Drive. 

Hosp Grove Trails

Several trails wind through this eucalyptus tree grove, with great views of the city and the ocean. The trail climbs for about 100 feet for a commanding view of the Buena Vista Lagoon and the ocean behind it.  

Calavera Nature Preserve

An extinct volcano in Carlsbad with lush vegetation, a lake and a well-maintained hiking trail. The trail is about 3 miles long with a 400 feet elevation. 

You don’t have to make this climb to the top of Mt. Calavera (Skull Mountain), but if you do, you will be rewarded with expansive views in all directions – all the way to the ocean.
The trail can be confusing at times, so watch out for the signs along the way. 

Food Safari in San Diego

Food Safari in San Diego anaheimer Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:40

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - entrance from the waterfront - WikipediaMy wife and I recently ventured through the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego to sample the local delicacies and learn a few things about its history.

We did discover a few great places, but we learned that the downtown area used to be a haven for drunken sailors and houses of ill repute. Thankfully, it is now a place for the whole family to stroll around, shop, and enjoy world cuisines and delicious treats.  

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Royal IndiaWe started our journey at the Royal India restaurant around lunchtime. The first thing that grabbed my attention were the fanciful decorations and authentic statues and pottery. But I soon forgot about the ambiance as I browsed through the mouth-watering buffet choices. 

I usually avoid buffets, but in this case, it was a nice way to sample different dishes. Everything I tried was very flavorful and fresh, but my favorite was the Chicken Tikka Masala and Samosa. The kheer (rice pudding) was a great way to end the meal.

We knew we still had a lot of places to visit on this tour so we tried hard not to stuff ourselves, but it was a losing battle.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

After this great beginning, we started walking towards our next stop, Berkeley Pizza. Along San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Berkeley Pizzathe way, we learned some interesting facts about the area. It all started when in 1867 Alonzo Horton, known as the father of downtown, purchased some land and developed “New Town” to the south of the established Old Town. The city later added 50 gas lamps to light up the streets - which gave the area its current name. 

Very quickly New Town filled up with gambling halls, saloons, and brothels and became a thriving red-light district. But in 1912 the city cleared up the area in preparation for the Panama-California Exposition. 

After this quick history lesson, we entered Berkeley Pizza to try their deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. The place is very small and always crowded. I thought this is a good sign, the pizza must be phenomenal. But I was disappointed. The slices had way too much tomato sauce and the pepperoni was too greasy. The crust and cheese were very good, so maybe I was just unlucky with my choice. 

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Le Parfait ParisOur next stop made up for the disappointment. We headed towards Le Parfait Paris, a French bakery. 

Along the way, we stopped at the Gaslamp Museum. This small museum is a nice way to learn about San Diego and its main founder Horton. The garden outside the museum overlooks several historic buildings and has a statue of Bum the dog who led many parades and ran with the fire brigade.

At Le Parfait Paris, we delighted our eyes and our palettes with the large selection of pastries and desserts. It was hard to choose our treat, but we ended up with 2 flavors of macaroons - the best macaroons ever. We liked this place so much, we went back the next day for breakfast. They actually offer much more than dessert. You can order Crepes, Quiche and Panini. 

After that delectable interlude, we started walking towards El Chingon. This San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - El Chingonrestaurant has multiple personalities. You can sit outside and enjoy your meal while gawking at people walking by or you can sit inside with the noisy sports bar as your background music. We went for the third option, a quiet second floor that overlooks the bar below.
While sitting on our secluded balcony, we were served homemade chips and salsa. They bring a tray with several flavors of house salsa in bottles. 

Along with the chips and salsa, we tried their “Al Pastor”, the slow-cooked pork taco. It was very rich and tasty and full of meat. Our only disappointment was when we ordered the house margaritas. We had to wait a very long time for our orders and they weren't anything special. 

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Horton Plaza - WikipediaAfter this pork and margaritas stop, I was glad we had a long walk ahead of us. We needed to digest all this food. 

Our destination was the Little Italy neighborhood, but along the way we got to visit Horton Plaza Mall, US Grant Hotel, and Spreckels Theater.  

Horton Plaza is an outdoor 5-level shopping and dining mall right in downtown San Diego. Its bright colors and tricky architecture make it a unique place to visit. Stairways and pathways between the various sections and floors don't connect. So you have to browse around to find the next section.

The Plaza has some of the large anchor stores likeSan Diego Gaslamp Quarter - US Grant Hotel Macy’s and Forever 21 and plenty of small stores. It is not considered a major mall, but it's within walking distance from downtown hotels and the waterfront. 

The US Grant Hotel is a historic place with 11 stories and 270 guest rooms. The hotel was built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., son of President Ulysses S. Grant, who named the hotel after his father. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The hotel is infamous for its restaurant the “Grant Grill”. Women were not permitted at this place before 3 pm until a group of women in 1969 staged a sit-in. After the bad publicity, the restaurant was forced to abandon its men-only policy.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Little ItalyThe Spreckels Theater is another historic place in downtown San Diego. It started life as a live performance theater but now can show movies. Spreckels is a well-known name in town. John Spreckels was responsible for building the Hotel Coronado and financing the San Diego-Arizona railway. 

After this long detour, we arrived at Little Italy with its busy streets and festive shops and restaurants. This little neighborhood started as a fishing town with immigrants from Italy founding Tuna fishing fleets and a large canary. All canneries closed by the 1980s, but the neighborhood transformed itself into a shopping and dining destination.  

We ended our food safari at Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. This restaurant serves traditional Italian dishes with a few American standards. By the time we arrived here, we were already stuffed, so we only had a dessert. We tried their tasty focaccia with cow cheese and topped with honey – a sweet and sour delight. 

We were guided through this food tour by Eric from “Bite San Diego” who was very knowledgeable and friendly. If you are interested in taking a similar food tour, ask them for their Downtown Walking Tour. 

Other great dining experiences in San Diego:

Over the years I enjoyed a great variety of cuisine in San Diego. Some of my favorites are listed below:

Full Moon Sushi

Embargo Grill, San DiegoA great place for Sushi lovers with unique Rolls, Sushi, and Sashimi along with a full hot-dish menu and bar. 

Embargo Grill

A small place in a strip mall next to SeaWorld that offers great Caribean dishes. Try the "Key West" - a grilled marinated chicken with curry and Rum Cranberries. You can also build your own dish by picking your meat, sides, and sauces. 

The Donut Bar

Yes, it is a donut place, but their creations and huge and delicious. The menu changes daily depending on available fresh ingredients. 

Ramaki Japanese Restaurant

A small hole-in-the-wall restaurant offering fresh Poke and traditional Japanese dishes. You can build your Poke bowl yourself from the Poke Bar.

Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa

Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa anaheimer Sun, 07/10/2016 - 15:31

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego County are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

Read the full San Diego review here.

On a recent visit to San Diego, we stayed at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa for two nights and loved every minute of our stay. 

The resort is right on the bay and has everything you need for fun and relaxation. 

The room

nullThe 2-queen-beds room was very comfortable with a great view overlooking a garden and the beach. 

The beds were the right firmness for my wife and me, with plush comforters and many fluffy pillows to choose from. The large quilted headboards made sitting in bed very comforting. 

Our room had a breakfast nook which contained the fridge, microwave and coffeemaker. Straw furniture overlooking the patio, garden and beach provided a nice relaxing place to sip our morning coffee.

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

The room has adequate lighting, plenty of outlets for our electronics, a small desk, chairs, a closet and clean and well-stocked bathroom. My wife especially liked the selection of shampoo and body wash and the fluffy towels. We also enjoyed the large flat screen TV with plenty of digital channels. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Our building has a courtyard with pools and waterfalls and a family of ducks running around or swimming. In one corner of the courtyard, we enjoyed a secluded Jacuzzi with towel service. It was always a nice ending to our day – to just soak in the hot water and relax. 

Right outside the patio, there is a very well maintained garden and a beautiful gazebo. The gazebo was decorated with vibrant flowers with the bay view in the background. An amazing spot for some romantic pictures. 

The Resort

nullRight on premises, you will find a nice heated pool, several Jacuzzis and watersports activities. At night you can enjoy SeaWorld’s fireworks show from your patio or from the waterfront. 

The main pool area is spacious with a heated pool, lounge chairs, cabanas, a fire pit and a Jacuzzi. Right at poolside, you can enjoy snacks and drinks at “Fresco's Bar & Grill”. Also during summer nights, the whole family can enjoy a poolside movie. 

The resort sits right on the Bay. You can stroll along the boardwalk or you can rent a bike from the “Sand Box” rental shop. The rental shack has surreys, beach cruisers, kids bikes and trailers and beach toys.

For those who love watersports, you can rent power boats, paddle boards, aqua bikes, sailboat or Jet Skis. 

If you want to stay in shape, the resort has a fully equipped fitness center with lockers and showers. The workout machines are state of the art with screens to monitor your progress or to watch a movie or TV show. 

There is also a store next to the lobby with many essentials and souvenirs. If you need a quick snack, water or beer you can find it here. Or if you forgot to bring a swimsuit, hairbrush or toothbrush, they have it all and their prices are reasonable. 

Dining

nullSeveral dining options are available right inside the resort. You can enjoy sandwiches and drinks poolside at Fresco's Bar & Grill or you can have a nice sit-down dinner at Acqua California Bistro.

We tried Acqua for breakfast and for dinner. On both occasions, we opted for patio seating with a great view of the bay. 

For breakfast, we chose the all you can eat buffet. I usually try to avoid buffets, but we looked the food over before we ordered and we like what we saw. The buffet was stocked with all our favorites like scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, French toast and pancakes. We also had a large choice of pastries and fruit.  

The dinner was also delicious and done right. I wasn’t very hungry so I ordered the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Mixed Green Salad. The soup was creamy and tasty. My wife ordered the Mushroom Crusted Filet of Salmon. She said it was cooked just right. 

On the first night, we didn’t have time to stop for dinner so we ordered room service. We ordered BLT sandwiches. They were very tasty and filling. We actually couldn’t finish them and we had enough for snacks the following day.

Location, Location, Location

nullI think the Hilton resort San Diego be a destination by itself. You have everything you need for a relaxing or active vacation right around you.

But obviousl,y you didn’t come here to stay in your hotel room. 

From your room, you probably can see SeaWorld in the distance. At night you can actually enjoy their spectacular fireworks show from the bay shore. Some rooms have a direct view to Seaworld from their windows. The resort offers a free shuttle to SeaWorld. Check with the front desk for information. 

A short drive away you can enjoy Coronado Island, USS Midway, Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village and Balboa Park – to name a few.

You can take a trolley to all of those destinations and leave your car behind. Read about the historic Trolley Tours here.  Ask the front desk about a shuttle that will take you to the first stop on this trolley tour of San Diego.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Historic Trolley Tour

Historic Trolley Tour anaheimer Wed, 07/13/2016 - 16:59

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego county are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

Read the full San Diego review here.

One of the best ways to explore the city of San Diego is by taking the historic old town trolley. You can jump on and off the trolley at any of the 10 stops throughout the day.

nullAlong the way, the driver will share with you interesting San Diego history and tips about places to see and things to do.

You can start your tour at any of the 10 stops along the route, but Tthe main starting point is at Old Town San Diego. 

This State Park is a collection of protected historic buildings that were turned into a living museum of San Diego life in 1800’s. 

While in old town you can enjoy visits to Spanish Adobe style homes, buy souvenirs from stores or dine at one of the unique restaurants. Casa de Estudillo is especially interesting with its unique style and interior courtyard.

Tip: Many hotels have shuttles to Old Town. Ask your concierge for schedules and make sure you can get back to old town before the last one. You can also find a list here.

nullThe second stop is at the Embarcadero where you can find attractions like the USS Midway, Harbor Cruises and Whale watching excursions. From here you can walk to the next stop or you can hop back on the trolley.

Interesting Facts: In San Diego, it’s illegal to shoot jackrabbits from the back of a streetcar. I wonder why they had to make this law.

Stop number three is at Seaport Village where you can spend time shopping, dining or enjoying the street artists. Seaport Village is also home to some interesting art galleries and a candle shop.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The fourth stop is at the Marriott – close to the convention center. The marina right at the Marriott is an interesting destination by itself. But from there you can take the little ones to the Children’s Museum for some hands-on fun.

nullThe next stop is at the Horton Plaza and Gaslamp Quarter. Spend some time at the mall or walk around the quarter for some unique shops and dining experiences. Also in the area, you can find a movie theater, House of Blues and Michael J. Wolf Fine Arts.

Tip: When you board the trolley for the first time, you will get a sticker to place on your clothes. This is your ticket to hop on and off the trolley. The stickers do not stick to some material. You can place the sticker on any piece of paper or on a credit card to avoid losing it. 

nullStop six is also at the Gaslamp Quarter closer to the waterfront. This side has destinations like the historic district, Chinese historic district and Altitude Sky Lounge at the Marriott. The lounge is a good place to dine, dance and enjoy the views.

Stop seven gets you to the Hilton Bayfront which is at the south end of the convention center. From this stop, you can walk to Petco Park baseball stadium and the Ferry to Coronado Island.

Interesting Facts: The first driver across the Coronado Bridge when it first opened was Ronald Reagan in 1969.

nullThe eighth stop takes you into Coronado Island close to the beach and the famous Hotel Del Coronado. 

The ride from stop 7 to stop 8 takes you over the Coronado bridge with amazing views of the bay, downtown San Diego and the island. The bridge connects San Diego downtown to Coronado island and crosses over the SD bay.

Interesting Facts: The Hotel Del Coronado is the country’s largest wooden structure.

nullStop nine takes you to the heart of Balboa Park where you can find a lot of nature walks, museums, gardens, restaurants and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

The last stop is at the Little Italy neighborhood. This area has a lot of history and full of boutique shops and Italian restaurant. 

Interesting Facts: From the early 1930s to the late 1970s, San Diego was the tuna capital of the world.

While here you can visit the Piazza Basilone Memorial – a tribute to the neighborhood’s soldiers who died during the Korean War. The Piazza has tables, benches and water fountains. You can relax and have a picnic. 

If you happen to be here on Saturdays, you can enjoy the farmers market. 

At the end of your epic tour of San Diego, jump back on the trolley and head back to old town to complete the circle. 

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

I loved this tour and would recommend it to everyone exploring San Diego. Just leave your car behind and enjoy the sights. Most major hotels offer shuttle service to Old Town or are a few steps away from a trolley stop.

Historic Trolley Tours offer another tour to the beaches and La Jolla. I did not try it, but planning on it during my next trip to San Diego.

You can find an interactive route map here.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

La Jolla

La Jolla anaheimer Wed, 07/13/2016 - 18:02

null

La Jolla is a little town on the outskirts of San Diego with nice sandy beaches, coastal cliffs, hotels, golf courses, a state park and the famous University of California, San Diego. It is also famous for the La Jolla Cove and Caverns. 

The nearby city of San Diego and the greater San Diego County are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.  Read the full San Diego review here.

No one knows for sure where the name originated, but some say it means the place with holes – referring to the many caves and coves on the shoreline. Others say it means the Jewel. In either case is a jewel on the beach and it is full of caves and coves – making it a very interesting place to visit and explore.

Interesting Facts: The Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla is the largest oceanographic museum in the country.

La Jolla Cove

nullA beautiful cove and beach with a nice path for walking and viewpoints to gaze at the waves and the sea lions. 

The cove is also right next to the underwater park with clean water and plenty of sea-life for snorkelers and divers.

The scenery around the cove spectacular. From the moment you park your car and start walking you will come across breathtaking views.La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA

Tip: There are a few available parking spots at street level and next to the Cave Store, but they run out fast. Also next to the Cave Store you kind find a parking structure. 

From the cliffs, you can see a large arch with waves breaking against it. Big trees hang from the edge of the cliff and lots of wildflowers decorate the slopes. 

As you walk down the slope, you come upon a park and stairs going down to a very small La Jolla Cove, Coastal Trailbeach. At high tide, this beach stip all but disappears. It is mainly used as a launching pad by snorkelers and divers.

Along this park, there are cliffs occupied by seals and seagulls. You can climb down and get very close to the lazy seals. 

The Cave Store is also the only entrance to the La Jolla Cave. Pay $5 to descend into a steep stairway down to the water level. As you approach you will hear the surf breaking against the rocks and the cave walls. The cave opens onto the Ocean with a nice view of the cliffs in the distance. 

Tip: Another great way to enjoy La Jolla Cove it to rent a bike and take a ride along this paved trail. 

La Jolla Cove, Coastal TrailOnce you are done exploring the cave, you can extend your adventure by catching a trail that starts behind the store and goes further up the cliffs. This easy dirt trail offers amazing views of the ocean and has a variety of colorful vegetation.  

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

Across the street from the beach area, you can find many hotels, stores and restaurants. George's Ocean Terrace offers a high-end dining experience with great ocean views. 

Closer to the cove you can dine at Brockton Villa Restaurant. This place is famous for their brunch, especially the French toast. The view from the patio is breathtaking.  

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

La Holla Shores

nullOne of the most popular destinations in La Jolla is La Holla Shores beach. It is a one-mile stretch of sandy beach that is always crowded with sun worshippers, swimmers and kayakers. 

While at the beach you can rent bikes

Tip: Alcohol is not permitted on any of San Diego beaches. So leave your beer behind.

At the south end, you can find the La Jolla Underwater Park – a popular place for divers and snorkelers. 

To the north, you will find the Scripps institute Birch Aquarium, Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve and Black’s beach.

Torrey Pines State Natural Preserver

nullA 2000-acre stretch of coastal cliffs and a lagoon protected by the State with stunning views of the ocean and challenging hiking trails.

It is also home to the Gilder Port from which you can watch gliders launch above the cliffs and the waves. If you dare you can join a class and learn how to fly.

Right next to the glider port and slightly to the north you will find a very steep trail with hundreds of steps down to the beach. The hike very invigorating, but remember that you have to climb back up those steep steps. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Another difficult but short hike is the “High Point” trail. But the view from the top is amazing. You can a panoramic view of the preserve and the lagoon. 

For an easy hike, try “Guy Fleming Trail”. It is less than a mile with mostly level ground and 2 overlooks with great views.

Black’s Beach

nullThis is a secluded stretch of beach under the Torrey Pines cliffs. The northern end of the beach is run by the State and nudity is tolerated in that area. While the southern end is run by the city of San Diego which enforces a strict no-nudity law. 

The beach itself if very beautiful and uncrowded, but getting down from the parking lot is a chore. You would have to climb down steep ramps or steps.

In spite of the difficulty, it is popular with surfers and naturalists.

Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum anaheimer Sun, 11/04/2018 - 15:43

San Diego Maritime Museum - Star of IndiaI passed by this place many times without giving it a second glance. It is in Downtown San Diego’s Embarcadero and right in front of the waterfront park.

During this last visit I decided to venture inside and I was pleasantly surprised. At first glance, it looks to be very small with few exhibits indoors, but the real value is outside with several ships and submarines on display.

The museum hosts a collection of 11 vessels with the main building being a converted ferryboat. Some of those ships are active and provide short cruises for visitors.

San Salvador

San Diego Maritime Museum The newest addition to this collection is a replica of the San Salvador. The ship was built in full public view (2011 to 2015) at the Spanish Landing Park in San Diego. It was a great opportunity for everyone to witness how a tall ship is constructed.

Star of India

This majestic ship rests at the harbor with all of its sails proudly unfurled and melding with the San Diego skyline. Before this resting place, it suffered a tumulus history.

San Diego Maritime Museum This fully-rigged iron windjammer started its life as the Euterpe with a collision and a mutiny. A year later it was caught in a gale and lost its mast.

After this rough start, the ship spent many years ferrying immigrants to New Zealand. Before settling in San Diego as a museum piece, the ship spent time carrying fishermen to Alaska as the Star of India.

The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

USS Dolphin Sub

Descending into this submarine and walking through the very narrow hatches and hallways, I was wondering how can a group of sailors live for extended periods under the sea in those cramped conditions.

This class of subs is known for their extreme-deep diving capability. This particular one set a depth record of 3000 feet in 1968 and launched the first torpedo at that depth.  

B-39 Sub

This submarine has a more intriguing and colorful history. It was a Soviet-era sub that stalkedSan Diego Maritime Museum - B-39 US ships and subs during the cold war and was involved in the historical events at the Bay of Pigs near Cuba.

As traverse this huge sub you will relive events that shaped the world history during the Cuban Crisis. One Russian navy officer, Vasili Arkhipov, is credited with saving the world from the brink of nuclear war.

Although the crew of this sub is considered heroes to history, there were faced with inquiries and humiliation upon their return to port.

More Info

The museum’s website is full of information about exhibits, hours and admission prices

You can also find important information at Wikipedia.  

San Diego Botanic Gardens

San Diego Botanic Gardens anaheimer Sat, 07/11/2020 - 16:39

San Diego Botanic GardensThe Botanic Gardens north of the city of San Diego is a great place for the whole family to spend a few hours walking among plants from around the world – and learning about the different environments and the species that inhabit them.

On a recent Saturday, I took the family to explore the gardens for the first time. Our trip was right after the reopening during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, not all the exhibits were open – but on the plus side, the place was less crowded.

The gardens cover 37-acres and have more than 5000 species of plants in 31 distinct areas. There is so much to see; you probably won't be able to cover it all in one day. So it might be a good idea to plan ahead and target the areas that most interest you.

San Diego Botanic Gardens - PondFor example, if you have young children, you may want to visit one of two children's gardens (or both).

At Hamilton Children's Garden, the kids can climb a treehouse, play in a stream, or chase quail around.

At the Seeds of Wonder Children's Garden, families can connect with nature while playing in a dinosaur garden, playhouse, topiary, and a miniature garden railroad.

The whole family can spend time in intriguing places like the Bamboo Forest, Subtropical Fruit Garden, or the Mediterranean Garden.  

San Diego Botanic Gardens - Bamboo GardenOne of my favorite places to sit and enjoy nature is the pond with floating lilies at the Bamboo forest. You can find other tranquil ponds at the Native Plants Garden and at the Rain Forest.

Another great place to visit is the waterfall on the way to the overlook. The overlook is a great place to get a birds-eye view of the whole area - and to get a glimpse of the ocean in the distance.

The botanical gardens have a shop where you can buy souvenirs and plants for your garden.

300 Quail Gardens Dr

Encinitas, CA 92024

https://www.sdbgarden.org/

San Diego Dining

San Diego Dining anaheimer Sat, 11/10/2018 - 12:10

San Diego - Full Moon SushiOver the years I frequented many restaurants around the city of San Diego and SD county in general. Here is a compilation of my favorite eateries:

Downtown

Full Moon

A great place for Sushi lovers with unique Rolls, Sushi and Sashimi along with a full hot-dish menu and bar.

I tried the Full Moon and New Moon rolls. Both were very tasty and filling. I also enjoyed a flight of Sake with a good variety of flavor and texture.

Full Moon is on 5th street in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Royal India

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Royal IndiaThe first thing that grabbed my attention was the fanciful decorations and authentic statues and pottery. But I soon forgot about the ambiance as I browsed through the mouth-watering buffet choices.

I usually avoid buffets, but in this case, it was a nice way to sample different dishes. Everything I tried was very flavorful and fresh, but my favorite was the Chicken Tikka Masala and Samosa. The kheer (rice pudding) was a great way to end the meal.

Royal India is on Market Street in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Meze Greek Fusion

San Diego - Full Moon Sushi on sixth street. This restaurant offers authentic Greek cuisine with a California flair. Meze means small plates, but the menu offers full meals for every appetite. For starters, you must try the Lentil Soup, Baba Ghanosh, Dolma or Fiery Fetta Dip. For the main meal try the Lamb Chops or traditional Greek favorites like Falafel or Gyro plates. And finally, don’t skip the Baklava for dessert.

Meze is on 6th street in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Tapas and Beer

San Diego - Tapas and Beer - by Ryan M.This little place specializes in small plates - Spanish style and a large selection of beers. The menu also includes full-sized dishes.

During our visit, we tried the Buffalo Chicken Wings, Tacos (Shrimp and Chicken), Garlic Shrimp, and Crostinis. 

For drinks, we tried several IPAs and an Apple Cider. Food, drinks, and service were excellent. 

Taka Suhsi

Taka 555 Sushi - Flickr - by Kimberly VardemanTaka is more than a Sush restaurant. They have a full menu of authentic Japanse cousine. Although other items on the menu were very tempting, we went for the Sushi. We ordered Salamon Sashimi, Shrimp Tempora handrolls, Rainbow roll, and Spicy Tuna roll.

We loved all the rolls, but we were pleasently surprised with the 2 desserts we ordered. Green Tee Creme Brule and Black Seasame Creme Brule.

Ramaki

This little hole in the wall restaurant is understated, but a great place for Japanese cuisine lovers. Stop at here to get some great Raman, Poke, and Sushi.

Located on the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter on 6th street.  

Breakfast at the HyattSan Diego - Seaview restaurant - Buffett breakfast

I love breakfast, so I am always on the lookout for great breakfast restaurants. I found this gem inside the Grand Hyatt downtown San Diego. The Hyatt is right on the edge of Seaport Village.

The Seaview restaurant offers a daily breakfast Buffett with a large selection of favorite dishes and an omelet station. The omelets are cooked to order with a wide selection of fillings. 

The Buffett tables are full of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, and fruits. To end the meal you can enjoy fluffy pancakes. 

The price is a little on the high side, but it is expected at a place like this. 

Le Parfait Paris

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Le Parfait ParisThis French bakery offers a large selection of pastries and desserts. It was hard to choose our treat, but we ended up with 2 flavors of macaroons - best macaroons ever.

We liked this place so much, we went back the next day for breakfast. They actually offer much more than dessert. You can order Crepes, Quiche and Panini.

You can find this Gem on G street in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Ghirardelli

For a dessert or a snack, you must try Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Their ice-cream flavors on waffle cones are to die for.

Once you are done with your dessert, you can go shopping for a collection of chocolates for your family and friends – or indulge yourself.

Ghirardelli is on 5th street in the Gaslamp Quarter

El Chingon

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - El ChingonThis San Diego Gaslamp Quarter multiple personalities. You can sit outside and enjoy your meal while gawking at people walking by or you can sit inside with the noisy sports bar as your background music. We went for the third option, a quiet second floor that overlooks the bar below.

While sitting in our secluded balcony, we were served home-made chips and salsa. They bring a tray with several flavors of house salsa in bottles.

Along with the chips and salsa, we tried their “Al Pastor”, the slow-cooked pork taco. It was very rich and tasty and full of meat. Our only disappointment was when we ordered the house margaritas. We had to wait a very long time for our orders and they weren't anything special.

You can visit El Chingon on 5th street in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Davanti Enoteca

This restaurant serves traditional Italian dishes with a few American standards. I especially like their tasty focaccia with cow cheese and topped with honey – a sweet and sour delight.

Greystone

You can’t go wrong with any of the meats. Try the New York Steak or Filet Mignon. If you are hungry, try the short ribs tacos for starters. The place is a little pricey, but if you go during happy hour, you will get to try different cuts at reduced prices.

You can find this place on 5th street in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Outside of Downtown

Embargo Grill

Embargo Grill, San Diego A small place in a strip mall next to SeaWorld that offers great Caribbean dishes. Try the "Key West" - a grilled marinated chicken with curry and Rum Cranberries. You can also build your own dish by picking your meat, sides and sauces.

On West Point Loma Blvd in Diego.

The Donut Bar

Yes, it is a donut place, but their creations and huge and delicious. The menu changes daily depending on available fresh ingredients.

On “B” street in Diego

Mendocino Farm

A unique place for gourmet sandwiches. All ingredients are sourced from local farms. I had their farm club sandwich. It was filled with layers of turkey, bacon and veggies. Other choices are tuna melt, the hot Italian and Enlightened Falafel Wrap.

Two Locations in La Jolla Village and Del Mar.

Sea Salt Bistro

This restaurant has a large patio overlooks the Peñasquitos Marsh next to Torrey Pines State Reserve. It is a nice stop after a day of hiking.

During my last visit, I enjoyed their Salmon Burger with fries. It was delicious and filling. You can also order Crab Cakes, Coconut Shrimp, Fish Tacos or Pasta.

The view from the patio makes the meal feel like a campout.

Located on Carmel Valley Rd in the city of Del Mar.

Dini’s Bistro

Carlsbad Seawall - view from Dini'sThis oceanfront restaurant is a perfect place to watch the sunset while sipping drinks and enjoying dinner.

Its location on Carlsbad’s busy waterfront makes a great place to start or end the day while visiting the Flower Fields or Lego Land.

During a recent visit, we tried the Reuben Sandwich, Salmon Sandwich, and Avocado Toast. All 3 selections were very tasty and filling.

Located on Carlsbad Blvd in the City of Carlsbad.

Chart Hour at Cardiff by the Sea

Chart House Cardiff by the Sea - San DiegoEnjoy a great meal right at the beach - the only thing separating you from the sand and surf is a thin screen window. Feel the breeze as you sip your drinks or partake in the unique menu items. 

Along with the delicious taste, feast your eyes on the presentation too. 

During our last visit, we tried the Coconut Crunch Shrimp, French Dip, Fish Tacos, and the Fish and Chips - and we completed our lunch with the Key Lime Pie. 

Chart House is part of the Landry's Select group. Make sure to get a Landry's membership before you go for good dining rewards. 

2588 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff, CA 92007

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo anaheimer Sun, 08/23/2020 - 11:56

San Diego Zoo - Rex's Roar - Wikipedia - by Jim1138It is always a fun adventure for the whole family when we visit the Zoo. But San Diego Zoo provides the ultimate experience in open-air animal exhibits and interactions.

The world-famous Zoo takes up around 100 acres of land at Balboa Park with 18 distinct areas an extensive collection of habitats. You will need to come back often to experience it all.

The park is spread out over several hills and valleys, so expect to walk a lot and climb steep hills.

Balboa Park is a sprawling complex of parks, museums, and sports venues. Read about Balboa Park here.

Covid-19: During the pandemic, the Zoo is implementing additional health screenings at the entrance. Expect some delays.

With so many areas and exhibits, how do you plan your visit? My recommendation, use the park website and decide ahead of time which areas are important to you – and straight to it.

I am sure you will have a lot of fun distractions along the way, but as long as you have a goal in mind, you will do fine.

Here are some of my favorite places to visit and things to do at the Zoo.

Guided Bus Tour

Guided Bus Tour - Wikipedia - by ray_exploresThe guided bus tour takes you through 75% of the park, with informative narration from the tour guide. It is usually included with the admission ticket.

So if you are a first-timer, ride the bus, get to know the various sections, then walk back to explore your favorites in more detail.

If you are looking for a more personalized guided tour, try the Discovery Cart Tour. You get the whole cart for your group of up to 6 family members and enjoy an hour with an expert.

Skyfari Aerial Tram

San Diego Zoo Skyfari Gondolas - Wikipedia - by CburnettAnother way to avoid long walks is to take this cable car from one end of the park to the other.

The tram starts from Oasis Outpost near the entrance and ends at the Polar Bear exhibit.

Discovery Outpost

If you start your walk through the park on the left of the entrance – going clockwise – you will first encounter the Discovery Outpost showcasing several species of reptiles.

In reptile land you will see small creatures like the green iguana, and large reptiles like Chinese Alligators and Galápagos tortoises.

Lost Forest

Okapi - Flickr - by - Don DeBoldThe Lost Forest is my favorite part of the park – where you can find Tigers, Monkeys, and pygmy hippos.

Follow the Tiger Trail to explore the tigers, tapirs, fishing cats, and milky storks.

On the Hippo Trail, you will encounter the Hippos and their cousins, the pygmy hippos. You will also see a weird animal that looks like a cross between a Zebra and a Giraffe – it is called the Okapi.

Between the Hippo Trail and the Monkey Trail, you can pass through the Cripss Aviary. Walk San Diego Zoo - Pygmy Hipposthrough a lush rain forest with a brook, ponds and a waterfall and look around to spot the African Birds.

The Monkey Trail starts at ground level where you can watch Gorillas and Bonobs in their rocky habitats. You can then observe several species of monkeys at ground level or follow the trail to the canopy level to see them climbing and jumping between trees.

Kangaroo Bus

The bus is a convenient way to skip long walks and reach your destination quickly. It has four stops throughout the park and you can hop on and off at any stop.

The bus does not go through Discovery Outpost or the Lost Forest.

Red Panda - Flickr - by ray_exploresPanda Trek

You can’t find the Giant Pandas at the San Diego Zoo anymore - they were repatriated to China a few years ago. In their place, you can find the Red Panda, who also like to eat Bamboo and have cute faces like the Giant Pandas, but they are from a different species.  

Northern Frontier

San Diego Zoo - Polar BearThe Northern Frontier is home to the Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Mountain Lion, Reindeer, and Zebra.

The polar bear habitat simulates the Arctic in summer. The bears are happiest when they are playing and fishing the large pool. You can view their aquatic activities from the underwater observation deck. You can then go above water to see them sunbathing.  

Dining

Albert's Cafe from Skyfari - Flickr - by Tim EvansonThere are a lot of snack and quick bite options throughout the park, but for best experience head to Albert’s in the Lost Forest.

Albert’s offers full-service dining where you can enjoy open-air deck seating overlooking a private waterfall, or inside seating overlooking the Treehouse gardens.

The food and prices are what you expect at an amusement park. There were some great dishes like Tandoori Grilled Chicken,  Seared Ahi, and the – and so-so dishes like the Fish Tacos.

If you prefer to eat outside the park, you can take an 8-minute walk to Balboa Park with several options.

We especially like Prado – next to the Railroad Museum – with a beautiful garden terrace and great views. Read more here.

Membership

If you live close by and plan to visit the zoo often, or of you just like to help, you can become a member.

There are several membership options ranging from $100+ for annual passes to Thousands of Dollars for donner club memberships.

See all the options here.

Sea World San Diego

Sea World San Diego anaheimer Thu, 01/28/2010 - 20:06

SeaWorld San Diego - Dolphin DaysSea World is the only park in which you can get up close and personal with sea creatures and get an education while having fun. You can meet the Orcas (killer whales), watch the Dolphins play their tricks, visit the sharks in their natural habitat, go to the North Pole on an icy safari and peek at the Penguins – and you get all that fun for a bargain.

You can add “experiences” to your visit, like Dolphin Interaction Program or Beluga Interaction Program.

The park also offers a large variety of dining options and the prices are much more reasonable than other Theme parks.

Tip: As usual, it pays to plan ahead. Go to SeaWorlds website and browse the various activities and show times.

Shows that you shouldn’t miss are Orca Encounter; Sea Lions Live; Dolphin Days; A trip to SeaWorld SD - Dolphin DaysWild Arctic; Shark encounter and Sea Lion Rescue.

For thrill-seekers, try one of the rides: Journey To Atlantis; Manta; Electric Eel; Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic (the ride).

All those shows, exhibits, and rides will be described below in more detail. Also, see special Christmas and Lunar Year celebration details at the end of this article.

Watch the video at the bottom of this article for an overview of the park.

Explorer's Reef 

nullAs you enter the park you will immediately be greeted by an into the world of sea creatures. 

Explorer’s Reef is a covered but open exhibit that allows visitors to interact with a variety of fish, mantas and sharks. Young children especially enjoy petting Mantas, Cleaner fish and Bamboo Sharks.

Right next to the reef you can explore the newest souvenir store, The SeaWorld store. You probably should refrain from taking the kids there as you enter the park. Otherwise, you will be carrying their souvenirs all day long.  

Orca Encounter 

nullin this revamp show, the killer whales (Orcas) show off their natural behavior as they interact with their trainers.  The show used to be called One Ocean but was upgraded to the current show recently.

Tip: The old One Ocean shows was replaced recently with this new toned down encounter with Orca whales. The trainers try to show the Orcas natural behavior instead of forcing them into unnatural tricks. To many, this made the show slow and boring, but the reasons for the change are commendable. It is safer for the whales and the trainers. 

Expect to be dazzled by high-flying tricks, the music, the multimedia presentations, the new fountains and the playfulness of the whales.

The show is about 25 minutes, but the pre-show is part of the experience. During your wait, you will be presented with video clips about our planet and oceans. The clips will educate you and inspire you to take better care of our environment. Also, while waiting, you and your kids can use the SeaWorld App to interact with the sea creatures.

Tip: You will get enough warnings about this one, but here is my warning too: If you sit in the first 8 to 12 rows you are guaranteed to get wet. The Orcas really enjoy drenching the audience. You can always buy a plastic poncho and brave the tidal waves.

At the back of the Orca stadium, you can get even closer to the whales. The glass window viewing area provides an amazing look at the whales playing or feeding.

You can also dine with the killer whales. This restaurant is right at the huge whale habitat. You grab your food from the buffet-style counters and take it to the outdoor tables.

Dolphin Days

nullThis shows used to be called "Blue Horizons" and some time ago, "Dolphin Discovery".

The Dolphins are always the main actors and they still like to show off their flying tricks and enjoy splashing the audience. 

Along with dolphins, you will see appearances by pilot whales who like to play with the Dolphins.

The show is about 23 minutes. As usual, get there early to get good seats. 

Tip: You can buy the Quick Queue with reserved seating. Then you can arrive a few minutes before the show and get one of the best seats in the stadium. 

Dolphin Point

Used to be called Rocky Point Preserve. This is where you get to meet the Bottlenose SeaWorld San Diego - Dolphin PointDolphins up close and personal. You can actually touch the dolphins and feed them (only fish purchased at the nearby stand). You can also peek at the dolphins through the underwater viewing glass while listening to educational information.

Due to the popularity of this encounter and dolphin diet requirements, SeaWorld set specific times for feeding them. Check the times on the map/schedule and get there early. You may have to wait in line for a while to get to feed the dolphins.

Tip: Watch out for seagulls trying to steal the feed fish from your hands.

You can also watch Otters play or feed nearby.

Sea Lions Live

nullWatch the sea lions spoof some of the most popular TV shows and movies like CSI; Idol; Dancing with the stars. And don’t miss the pre-show. Show duration is about 20 minutes.

Penguin Encounter

Take a peek at the lives and times of 300 cold weather Penguins in their natural habitat. You will encounter many species of penguins nulllike Emperor; King; Adelie; Gento; and Macaroni. Watch them above water, on the snow and then watch them as they dive into their underwater habitat.

Tip: The temperature is very cold inside this exhibit, so make sure you are prepared. Also, the exhibit tries to mimic the natural Antarctic environment so except the exhibit to be very dark during summer (Antarctic winter).

You can enjoy this exhibit in 2 ways: Go on the conveyor belt and be guided through the habitat, or go up the stairs and stroll at your own pace. The upstairs viewing deck has benches and TV screens for some educational programs about the Penguins.

Tip: As you step out of the exhibit, make a sharp left and enjoy the warm weather Penguins playing in their small garden and pond.

Shark Encounter

nullCome face to face with sharks of all shapes and sizes as you walk through their habitat.

Tip: Sharks loose their teeth all the time. If you look closely along the edges of the tunnel you will find some shark teeth.

The highlight of the exhibit is a 57 ft. acrylic underwater walkway.

You will see sharks swimming all around you. Some of the species you will encounter are Sand Tiger; Bonnet Head; Black Tip and White

Sesame Street Bay of Play

SeaWorld San Diego - Sesame Street Bay of Play - by Jeremy Thompson - FlickrIf you have kids make sure to schedule a stop at this play area for kids of all ages. This gives the adults a chance to relax and the kids a chance to let loose.

This Sesame street-inspired area is full of rides, games, and interaction with characters. It replaced the long-running Shamu's Happy Harbor and I think it is a big improvement. New rides are Abby's Sea Star Spin; Elmo's Flying Fish; and Oscar's Rockin' Fish.

Activities left over from the old play area are The cargo nets, slides, bouncer and water play area. For a little workout, you can join the kids climbing the nets and going down the slides.

Wild Arctic

nullWild Arctic is a way to explore the North Pole without venturing into the cold weather. You start your arctic exploration by riding on a jet helicopter – which is a motion simulator.

The chopper takes you on a wild ride to a remote research station. Along the way, you will see the breathtaking icy wilderness and you will encounter a few mishaps.

Tip: Riders who prefer a smoother ride, select the middle seats of the helicopter.

If you don’t like simulator rides, there is an alternate route that takes you directly to the observation area. You can watch the same scenery – from the helicopter point of view – on a giant screen and then head to the research station on foot.

nullOnce you land at the research station you can observe polar bears, white beluga whales, walruses, and seals. your observation starts from above the ice and water – then gradually takes underwater. Along the way, you will pass through an ice tunnel with a 25-foot long ice wall.

Tip: put your hand on the ice, see your hand sinking in the ice and making a print, and find out how long you can last.

The gift shop at the end of the exhibit is full of cute stuffed polar bears and beluga whales.

Tip: the weather in Arctic is freezing cold. so make sure you have a jacket or sweater.

Shipwreck Rapids

nullGet ready to be very wet. This is your typical water ride that twists and turns between shipwrecks, live turtle habitats, and waterfalls.

Tip: For people who don’t like to stay wet, SeaWorld provides drying booths near the exit of the ride.

Ride the tube rafts and start your whitewater rafting adventure. You will get splashed a little along the way, but you are guaranteed to be drenched by the end of your ride.

Tip: If you skip the ride because the line is too long, you can take your revenge and have some fun. Use one of the water cannons along the path from Shipwreck rapids to Cirque del la mar to drench the raft riders.

Manta

nullThis is one of the newest attractions at SeaWorld. It is a high-speed rollercoaster ride. It has a lot of twists and turns but never goes up-side-down.

The ride starts deceptively slow and relaxed. You will first go through an underwater tunnel. Using giant HD screens, sound effects and slow rocking motion, you will feel like you are really underwater – with great views of Mantas and sea creatures. Then all of a sudden a door opens and you are launched onto the high-flying adventure. This rollercoaster has a lot of twists and turns but no 360 loops. The ride lasts close to 2 minutes.

Once you are done with the ride, head over to the new Manta aquarium where you can pet the mantas or see them in action through large acrylic windows.

Journey to Atlantis

nullAtlantis is a water ride and rollercoaster for thrill-seekers. You start your ride with a 60-foot plunge into water then you go through a calm period with your boat floating through a river.

Along the way, you will encounter evidence of the lost civilization of Atlantis and you will come face to face with sea creatures.

At the end of the calm boat ride, you are lifted up and then dropped onto a winding rollercoaster.

Tip: This is a busy ride. Expect long waits. Best time to visit is when the park opens or when the big shows are in session (Whales and Dolphins).

Electric Eel

SeaWorld San Diego - Electric EelThis the one of the newest thrill rides at SeaWorld with multiple launches, upside-down spins, steep drops, and backward acceleration.

It is not for the faint of hurt. With speeds of up to 60-miles an hour and climbs up to 150 feet, prepare for a lot of screams. 

The Electric Eel is part of a new area of the park called "Ocean Explorer". At the entrance of this area, you can explore Eels, Mantas and Octopi in their natural habitat. 

Sea world Sky Towernull

A 320-foot tower with a climbing, rotating cabin. While spinning around at a very leisurely speed you can enjoy commanding views of San Diego and the bay. you get a totally different flavor of the ride depending on the time of day. try a ride around sunset and a nighttime ride. Only one regret about this ride: I wish the viewing windows are kept spotless so I can take better pictures.

Where to Eat

Seaworld is still lacking high-end dining, but there are a few good options for snacks and main meals. 

Tip: The park offers an all-day dining package. Unless you are planning to stay the whole day and take advantage of several meals, it is not worth the money.

Mama Stella's Pizza Kitchen

If you love Italian food, this place is for you. You can find all the favorites pizza and pasta or get sandwiches and salads. 

The restaurant has several seating areas. While sitting in the covered outdoor areas, watch out for hungry seagulls.  

Explorer's Cafe

This cafe is close to the main entrance and offers American favorites like Cheese Burgers, Chicken sandwiches and salads. It also has a beer station with many draft beers. 

This restaurant has plenty of tables indoor and outdoor. 

SeaWorld San Diego - Shipwreck Cafe - by lori05871 - FlickrThe food was above average. We enjoyed our Cheeseburger and Chicken combos - with fries and a Cesar salad. 

Shipwreck Reef Cafe

Shipwreck Reff cafe is my favorite dining experience at SeaWorld. The place offers fruit, salads, chicken strips, quarter leg chicken, and beef ribs.

For sides, make sure to order the waffle fries. For dessert, you must try the carrot cake, cheesecake, or chocolate cake.

With popularity comes the crowds. Expect to wait in log lines before you can order.

Chinese Lunar New Year

During the Lunar new year celebrations, SeaWorld adds a few far east touches with shows and demonstrations. 

Close to the main entrance, a group shows off their skills with Japanse Drums. But the real treat is the SeaWorld San Diego - Chinese AcrobatsChinese Acrobats show at the Mission Bay Theater. 

The 25-minute show dazzles with amazing feats of contortion, acrobatics, plate spinning, and hoop diving. 

The show was well choreographed and performed with high energy. 

SeaWorld Christmas celebration  

SeaWorld turns into a winter wonderland during the holidays. Christmas decorations adorn every corner and some of the sea creatures are celebrating too.  Just walking around between attractions will put in a festive mood and fill you with the holiday spirit. 

As you enter the park you will be greeted with an amazing tall Christmas tree festooned with beautiful ornaments and lights. Your favorite characters, like Shamu, will be on hand to take pictures with your family. 

Some of the must-see holiday nullattractions are Polar express 4d; Snow World; Shamu Christmas show; Clyde and Seamore Christmas show and Christmas Tails (Pets).

Polar Express 4D is a special version of the popular movie of the same name. The 3D effects will put you inside the action, but the added dimension of special effects tricks your senses into believing. There are a few surprises that I don’t want to spoil for you, but a warning too: 

Tip: Do not set in the front seats. Try to find a place in the middle rows and right in the middle of the row you select. Obviously, you have to get in early to be choosy. We were late getting in and had to settle for the 2nd row. We still enjoyed the show, but we had to strain our eyes and nicks to see everything. We also missed an amazing special effect that did not reach the front rows.

nullSnow World is an area set aside for snow play – with real snow and a sledding area. Kids of all ages can play with the snow and have snowball fights, but the sledding area is reserved for kids 12 and under.  Also, expect to see falling snow along the path to Snow World.

The Otter Show: Santa gets held up and can’t deliver the Christmas gifts. “Biff” fills in for him and finds out that OP makes the naughty list again. OP and his accomplices “borrow” the list to make changes. The whole team goes looking for the list, but OP sneaks it back to its place – just in time for the gifts deliveries.

Clyde, Seamore and OP otter have a new story to tell at the Sea Lion and

We missed the last Christmas Tails show (at 3:15), but I heard from a lot of people – especially with young children – that they loved it. The basic storyline is that the dogs, cats, and birds threw a big holiday party.

All in all, it was a very great way to celebrate the holiday for the whole family.

Halloween Spooktacular

A nice and safe way to celebrate Halloween with the kids. The kids can dress up in their favorite costumes and lineup from some treats around the park.

Some rides and shows were also dressed up for the event. At night you can enjoy the Sesame Street Parade. 

Unlike the huge scary event at Knott's Berry Farm, this one is low key and targeted to the young crowd.  

Sea World San Diego
500 Sea World Drive
San Diego, CA 92109
(800) 257-4268

Get a Go-City Card with passes to Seaworld and many more attractions here

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines State Reserve anaheimer Sat, 11/03/2018 - 14:07

Torrey Pines State Reserve - Guy Fleming Trail Just before you reach the city of San Diego, there is a large area set aside to preserve the natural beauty of coastal pines and sheer cliffs. It is a 2000-acre State Park in La Jolla Village – but close the city of Del Mar.

The park is home to a large variety of animal and plant species like bobcats, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, cacti, coastal chaparral - but most prominent inhabitant is the rare Torrey pine.

With 8-miles of trails running through this park, it is a major attraction to hikers. Both casual and serious hikers come to enjoy the challenges of the hike and the stunning views overlooking the ocean.

The beach far below is also very popular with swimmers and surfers.

Tip: Entrance fee for cars is $20. After you enter, note that there are 2 main parking lots. One is at the bottom, close to the beach and another at the top next to the Visitors Center. If you can, park at the top which is closer to the trails.

If you do park at the lower lot, then expect a long and steep hike just to get to the first trail.

Trails 

The park offers 8 trails of varying difficulty and scenery.

Guy Fleming Trail

Also known as the north grove, it is the easiest hike with ¾ a mile loop. As you start through Torrey Pines State Reserve - Guy Fleming Trail this diverse trail you will see the pine trees handing of off cliffs, the Peñasquitos Marsh down below and some strange rock formations.

Further down this trail and as you make a left turn into the loop, you will start enjoying views of the beach way below.

Along the trail, there are a few strategic overlooks where you can take a rest and pose for photos. And up in the distance to the south, you can see La Jolla Village.

During my last visit, the trees on the highest hill were shrouded in fog giving the hike an eerie feeling.

Razor Point Trail

Torrey Pines State Reserve - Razor Point Trail This is a slightly longer trail, about 1 and ½ miles long, with views of ravines and badlands. It starts from the upper lot next to the visitor’s center – with restrooms right at the trailhead.

This trail does not have a lot of Torrey Pines, so it is not well shaded. So, bring lots of water and make sure you are protected from the sun.

Tip: This is a natural reserve, so the main goal is protection and restoration. To help with that goal, there is a strict rule about No dogs, no food or drink above the beach area – except for water.

Along the way enjoy wildflowers, deep ravines and lots of shrubs with the occasional wild animal if you are lucky. There are plenty of benches for resting and admiring the views.

Towards the end of the trail, you can view the ocean from well-placed overlooks.

Beach Trail

Torrey Pines State Reserve - Beach TrailThis trail is very popular because it takes people to a beautiful beach. It is about ¾ mile long and considered easy. 

Along the way you will come across a variety of brush, trees and cacti - some are perched on rocky hills.

Once you are down at the beach level you can just walk on the sand to the lower parking lot. But be aware that during high tide, this route is not passable unless you are swimming or wading.

This trail also has almost no shade, so be prepared for the sun and bring lots of water.

You can also start your hike from the lower parking lot, down the beach and then climb up the Beach Trail to the visitor center.

The Visitor Center

Torrey Pines State Reserve - Visitor CenterThis museum and ranger station started life as a restaurant. Now it showcases the flora and fauna of the area.

The best feature is the outside balcony that overlooks nice views of the trees and the wetlands. There is also a theater showing a film about the park.

To get more information about this magnificent park, go the official website or Wikipedia.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park anaheimer Sun, 03/31/2013 - 14:08

nullSomeday I would love to go on a real African Safari and come face to face with a Lion or a Tiger – but until that day comes, I can go to the next best place right here in California. 

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in San Diego County close to the city of Escondido. It spans 1800 acres of land and is stocked with 2600 animals from 300 species. It is also home to thousands of plant species – some of them in a protected preserve. The main attraction is a vast open area with free-ranging animals that vary from fierce lions to tame Giraffes. The only way to enjoy this vast flora and fauna is to join a Safari. More on Safari options later.

nullThe Safari park and the Zoo in the city of San Diego are run by the non-profit organization “San Diego Zoo Global”, which also runs a research institute. The organization dedicated to the reproduction, protection, and exhibition of animals, plants, and their habitats. 

So the big question is: what is the best way to enjoy the Safari park? It all depends on how much you are willing to spend on your experience. You can spend $50 per person for entrance and the Africa Tram Safari or you can go for the Caravan Safari for $139. If you are really into the wild, you can build a custom Safari experience, but be ready to pay $600 or more. 

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

If this is your first visit and you are not sure what to do, I suggest just going on the included African Tram Safari tour. Once you are inside you can decide whether you want to pay extra for additional Safaris.

Before or After the Safari

nullAs you are walking from and to your Safari experience you can enjoy several shows and exhibits along the way. 

Near the park entrance, stop at “WINGS OF THE WORLD” to view some varieties of wild and rare birds. In this exhibit, you actually enter the enclosure with the birds and can view them in their “simulated” natural habitat.

As you exit “wings of the world” you will pass “NAIROBI VILLAGE” – a large lagoon with a Congo River fishing village. In and around the lagoon you will find a large variety of bird species like pelicans, storks, shoebills, and ducks, herons, and egrets. The most impressive were the pelicans with graceful one-footed stand and the huge storks. One way to really enjoy this area is to climb to the top of the wooden structure (tower) for a bird’s eye view. 

nullAs you are walking to your Safari station you will pass a large glass viewing area overlooking the Lions habitat (Lions Camp). The area looks like a battered Safari camp overrun by lions. There are always a few milling about or napping. While we were visiting one of the lions got up and walked right up to the glass window, as if he was visiting the zoo of humans and viewing the various species. A great photo opportunity.

Also on your way, don’t forget to visit the Lorikeet feeding area. Those tiny colorful birds are very friendly. As you are holding a cup of nectar they will land on you and start drinking right off the palm of your hand. It is an amazing experience – not to be missed.

nullIf you are lucky and arrive during the seasonal Butterfly Jungle exhibit, then you must see it. When you are buying your tickets you will an allotted time for your visit. Make sure you make it around that time. Once you are in your will be face to face with thousands of butterflies from various species. Some of them will land on your clothes or hats. One of them landed on my cheek and tickled me to death by fluttering her wings and antennae – a unique experience caught on camera.  

Safari options

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The park offers many ways to interact with the animals. Some of them more up close and personal than others. The only drawback I can see for this abundance is that you have to pay a lot of money for every additional Safari. 

Also, some Safari’s get sold out early, so it is advisable to make a reservation. For example, if you really want to be on the Caravan Safari, you have to book it ahead of time.

Here are the available Safaris …

Africa Tram Safari

nullThis is the Safari that is included in most admission passes. It is a guided tram ride through the African Plains.

When you first get into the tram, try to find a seat on your left side (or the side facing the Animal habitats). This is the side with the majority of views and provides for the best pictures. If you end up on the right side of the middle you will still enjoy the Safari but your pictures may have other people or tram poles in them.

The guides/drivers are very knowledgeable and seem to really love the wildlife and believe in the mission of the conservancy. You will get a steady stream of information about the various animals and habitats. If you heard it all before, bring your electronic device with you. 

Some of the most famous inhabitants of this area are herds of curious giraffes, massive rhinos, graceful gazelles, and impressively horned antelope, ostriches, African crowned cranes. We especially enjoyed watching a herd of Giraffes feeding from the trees.

Tip: You can go on the tram tour as many times as you desire.

Fodor's Southern California 2013: with Central Coast, Yosemite, Los Angeles, and San Diego (Full-color Travel Guide)

Caravan Safari

nullThis is probably the best safari experience at the park. You get to ride in the back of a truck and get into areas that are usually only accessible by staff. The tour is about 2 hours long, much longer than the tram tour.

Some of the highlights are feeding the Giraffes and the Rhinos.  The Giraffes grab the leaves right out of your hands. 

Try to get on the first tour of the day. The animals are more likely to approach at this time – maybe they are still hungry in the morning. 

This Safari costs around $95 (or $139 with entrance).

Balloon Safari

nullHave you seen pictures of hot air balloons floating over the African plains chasing the herds of animals in their feeding grounds? The Balloon safari tries to simulate the experience by taking you up in a single large hot-air balloon. The balloon is tethered to the ground but goes up high enough to allow a great view of the whole area. Bring a pair of binoculars to enhance your experience. 

Flight-line Safari (Zipline)

This is a great experience for adventure seekers. You will first get some lessons and gear, and before you go on your zipline adventure you get to practice on a scaled-down run. 

Once you are ready, you ride a truck to the upper launch area.  Your harness is hooked to the line, you are comfortably seated then you start your long slide above the rhinos, deer, and other animals. 

This Safari costs around $70 (or $114 with entrance).

Cart Safari

nullRiding a small cart with an experienced guide through the park gives you a more personalized tour of the African or Asian animals. The guides provide a lot of information about the animal’s characteristics, feeding habits, and habitat. You will also get to watch while the guide offers some treats to the animals. 

The cart Safari costs around $40 (or $84 with entrance).

Behind the Scenes Safari

Are you curious about what it takes to run such a huge wild animal park? How do they care for and train the animals? If so, then the behind-the-scene safari is for you. 

Go to places that are off-limits to the general public: Visit a lion or tiger bedroom; feed some rare animals; visit the veterinary hospital or the research labs. 

This Safari costs around $70 (or $114 with entrance).

Roar and Snore Safari

When you are on an African Safari you will probably spend several nights in a campground between expeditions. If you love camping close to the animals you can enjoy this experience at the Safari park. Several options are available for your accommodations and activities. Some programs are for adults only (over 21) and others for families with kids 6 and over. The campground overlooks the African Plains and offers great views of the animals in their natural habitat. 

Depending on which option you pick, expect to pay from $184 to $264.

The Ultimate Safari

nullThis Safari option allows you to custom design the Safari of your dreams. The professionals at the park will guide you through the various options that meet your needs and interests. Do you want to spend more time interacting with the wild animals or visiting exhibits? Do you prefer your visit to be on the adventurous side or on the mild and relaxed side? 

You have to plan for this experience ahead of time. Once you arrive for your experience, a private tour guide is assigned to you and spends 5 or 8 hours with you – depending on which option you picked. The tour includes one meal.

Expect to pay $599 for 5 hours and $950 for an 8-hour experience – per person. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Other places to try: Thorntree Terrace for sandwiches, paninis, salads, and burgers; Mombasa Island Cooker for BBQ favorites, burgers, vegetable skewers, entree salads.

If you prefer you can bring your own food and eat at the shaded picnic area.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

15500 San Pasqual Valley Road

Escondido, CA 92027-7017   

San Francisco

San Francisco anaheimer Tue, 01/07/2014 - 17:56

nullI love San Francisco! Nature and human ingenuity came together to make this a wonderful place for visitors and residents alike. 

San Francisco sits on a beautiful bay, surrounded by water almost in every direction. Tall modern buildings fill the skyline at the center while Victorian buildings of every size and shape adorn the surrounding neighborhoods. 

To connect everything and keep the city moving, San Francisco has one of the best transportation systems in the US. You can take an electric bus to your destination, ride one of the famous Cable Cars, take a taxi, ride a ferry boat or if you insist you can drive. Whenever I visit San Francisco I ditch the car. Parking is difficult to find and expensive.  Also, if you are not used to it, driving up and down the hills could be challenging. If your destination is a neighboring city or the airport, you can take the BART train. 

nullConnecting San Francisco to Marin County is the most famous bridge in the world: The Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side, if you are going to Oakland you will cross over another beautiful bridge: The Bay Bridge.

San Francisco is also a haven for active people. You can walk to many destinations or ride the bike. Walking and biking are the best ways to explore the city when you are not in a hurry. Obviously, you have to avoid the big hills - unless you are a professional cyclist. You can always rent an electric bike to help with those hills. 

There is so much to see and do in San Francisco and surrounding areas. It is just not possible to do it all in one visit. 

One of the best ways to experience San Franciso is by getting a CityPASS that includes many SF attractions.

You can start by doing the touristy thing: Go the Fisherman’s Warf and have a bowl of clam chowder; Visit Pier-39 with all the shops and restaurants;  Walk and shop through Chinatown; Take a bus tour; Go to the Golden Gate Bridge; or take a cruise to Alcatraz.

nullThen you can really start exploring the area: Go to Golden Gate Park; Hike through the Muir Woods; Go on a wine tasting tour of Napa Valley; Take the ferry to a neighboring city; Join a guided bike ride over the Golden bridge and into Sausalito; Hike through Angel Island; Visit the Museum of Modern Art; or take the kids to The Exploratorium. 

Getting there and around

I highly recommend flying into San Francisco then taking a shuttle or the BART train to your hotel. If you fly in you will not have to worry about parking or driving the crazy hills. BART is cheaper, but you will have to disembark at a station close to your hotel then take a bus or taxi. Go here for details.

If you drive, try to find a hotel that offers parking, or find one close to large parking structures. Ask the hotel for parking information. Here are some tips on driving in S.F.

Finally, if you are going to drive from LA to S.F. then consider taking the Pacific Coast Highway for a most amazing road trip. More details in another article, but watch this video for a taste of this amazing trip.

Must see and do

Here is a list of main attractions that most tourists will visit when they come to San Francisco. Although those places are very touristy and commercialized, you will still enjoy your visit. The only drawback is the large crowds. You can avoid most of the crowds by going during the weekdays. 

Pier 39

nullStart by exploring the shops at Pier 39 where you can find souvenirs, gadgets, snacks and games. The pier is also home to the Aquarium of the Bay where you can get acquainted with SF Bay sea life.

Deeper into the pier, you can get the “7D Experience”. A roller-coaster, 3D movie and laser tag experience.

While at the pier, don’t forget to try the Musical Stairs where you can make music by going up and down the stairs.

For the young and young at heart try the Carousel or catch a puppet show. 

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One of the biggest attractions at the pier is the large population of Sea Lions that made the docks their home. Just walk to the edge or sides of the pier and enjoy the boisterous Pinnipeds and their antics. 

nullRight next Pier-39 you can book an adventure on land or sea. You can go on a sailing boat cruise or you can jump on a fast boat to Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge.

Also close to the pier you can rent a bike for a whole day or go on a guided bike tour. I suggest doing both a cruise and bike tour to see the Golden Gate Bridge from all angles. More details later about both tours. 

Pier-39 has a lot of dining options including restaurants with amazing views of the bay. My favorite at the pier is Neptune’s Waterfront Grill & Bar. It has good food and the best view.

But for a more authentic San Francisco experience start walking towards Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Fisherman's Wharf 

nullAs you walk west from Pier-39 you will start seeing bike rental shops, gift shops and several fleets of cruise ships. Keep going until you see the famous seafood street vendors where you can get your fill of fresh crab sandwiches or clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. If you like your dining a little fancier, check out the restaurants right on the docks. 

At the wharf, you can also visit the SS. Jeremiah O'Brien – a fully functional Liberty class warship. Also near the wharf, you can experience the strange and unusual at the “Ripley's Believe It or Not!” museum.

After your lunch or dinner, continue to head west on Beach or Jefferson. Along the way, you will encounter a lot of street performers and arts and crafts vendors. Some of them will show off their steel drum rhythms, others will play the guitar and sing. 

At Beach and Hyde you will come across Aquatic Park and one of the main Cable Car stations. You can end your walk here and take the Cable Car to another destination, or you can continue on to Ghirardelli Square home of the famous chocolates.  Ghirardelli Square is also home to “Kara's Cupcakes” with a large variety of the scrumptious little treats. 

Cable Cars

nullThe cable cars in San Francisco are the most recognizable icon of the city. They were started by a new arrival from England who witnessed a bad accident with a horse pulling a carriage uphill (see more about the history here).  In 1873 the first cable car line started public service on Clay street.

The cable cars are a functional mode of transportation and a tourist attraction at the same time. Locals use them to get from place to place and tourists jump on them just for the thrilling experience. 

Tip: Be warned that during peak times many cable cars will pass you by before you can find an empty spot.  Your best bet is to start at one of the stations. See rider’s guide here. 

You can hop off at any stop along the way, but don’t expect a guaranteed spot if you decide to continue the route later.

The Hide & Beach station is right at Aquatic Park which is a nice walking distance from Fisherman’s Warf and Pier 39.

While waiting for your turn to ride the cable car you are usually entertained by street performers – some are very good and others are plain annoying.  

The ride from this station will take you all the way to Powel and Market station passing by Lombard Street, Cable Car Museum, Nob Hill, Chinatown and Union Square. Along the way, you will also enjoy great views of both bridges.

Lombard Street

nullA short walk from Pier-39 or Embarcadero is a street you must see to believe. After walking for a few blocks on a normal looking residential street you will start noticing the twists and turns going up the hill.

The climb up the last few blocks of the street is very steep with hairpin turns. Those sharp turns earn it the title of the “crookest street in the world”. 

If you don’t want to walk up Lombard Street, you can still enjoy this unique sight from the Powell-Hyde Cable Car Line.

Chinatown

nullThis is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and spans several city blocks. It is only a half hour walk from Fisherman’s Warf or Pier-39.

Chinatown is a delight for shoppers and Asian food connoisseurs. You will find everything Chinese you can imagine. Gift shops, Jewelry, Dim Sum restaurants, Vegetable markets, Tea Rooms and a fortune cookie factory. 

The best way to enter Chinatown is at the intersection of Grant Ave. and Bush St. This is where the famous dragon gate is located. 

Tip: Unlike most stores in America, haggling about the price is acceptable – especially in gift and souvenir shops. If you find an item you like don’t be afraid to ask for a discount.

Golden Gate Bridge

nullThe Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable and visited San Francisco landmarks. It is also considered the most photographed bridge in the world. You really have to visit this engineering marvel at least once in your life. 

The bridge officially opened in 1937 and connected San Francisco and Marin County for the first time. The Golden Gate Bridge held the record for the longest span - 4200 feet - for a long time. 

There are two visitor centers - one on each end of the bridge. Both have amazing views of the bay and the city and the long span of the bridge itself, but the south Plaza was recently renovated. 

Tip: Parking is very limited at the plazas. It is highly recommended to use public transportation or biking.

If you are up to it, you can walk the length of the bridge to the other end – stopping frequently at the vista points. The hike along the bridge is about 1.7 miles long. If you don’t feel like hiking the whole distance, go up to the middle for a great view. 

While you are looking down and across the bay, you will see a lot of cruise ships passing under the bridge. You will also have a good view of Alcatraz Island. 

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Bay Cruises 

nullAnother way to explore San Francisco area and view the two bridges is to take a cruise in the bay. Several cruise fleets operate between Fisherman’s Warf and Pier-39.

You can go with your typical cruise ship, a sailboat or a rocket boat depending on the pace you want to set.

A typical bay and bridge cruise takes from 1 to 2 hours. Some cruises include a visit to Alcatraz and may take half a day.

If you want a thrill ride, try the Rocket Boat operated by the Blue and Gold fleet. This speed boat can get up to 50 miles per hour and will take around 30 minutes to complete the cruise. Be ready to get drenched – especially if you are sitting in the back seats. 

For a more relaxed and leisurely pace take a Catamaran Sail Ship around the bay. 

San Francisco - Bay CruisesDuring my last visit, I went on a Golden Gate Bay cruise with the Red and White Fleet. The boat was large with seats and tables on the lower deck and benches on the open upper deck. They also had a bar and snacks. 

The tour itself was excellent. We got to see the Golden Gate Bridge and go under it, we got very close to Alcatraz and we always had great views of the San Francisco skyline. All throughout the cruise, we had headsets to listen to some useful information. The only drawback is that the headsets sometimes stopped working and gave out an annoying noise. 

Tip: No matter how nice the weather is in San Francisco, you will probably need a sweater or jacket during the cruise. The strong wind and sea water make the temperatures feel much cooler than they really were. 

Ferry Building and Bay BridgeSan Francisco - Bay Bridge at night

You can use a ferry to get to many cities around the bay like Tuberon, Sausalito or Vallejo. The ferry building is the main port for all ferries and it is also a marketplace with many shops and restaurants. 

From this area, you also have a great view of the Bay Bridge. The bridge lights up at night with 25,000 individually programmed lights for a dazzling show. 

Out of the Ordinary

Bike Tours

nullOne of the most enjoyable ways to experience parts of San Francisco is biking. There are a lot of bike rental and tour operators in S.F. You can rent a bike for the whole day or you can join a guided tour. 

I booked my tour with Blazing Saddles. They have several locations throughout the city, but I started my trip at the Hyde street location.  This tour passes through many S.F. points of interest like Fort Mason; Palace of Fine Arts; Presidio National Park.

The highlight of the tour is biking from the Fort Point to the Golden Gate Bridge and continuing over the bridge for 1.7 miles. 

Tip: The climb from the bottom of the bridge (at Bay level) to the top is very steep. If you don’t think you can make it, you can rent one of the electric bikes. They have a small motor that will assist you on the difficult climbs.

San Francisco - Bike tourOn the other end, you will be biking downhill to the beautiful city of Sausalito with its houseboat communities, shops and restaurants. 

Once you arrive at Sausalito you can ride the ferry back to San Francisco or you can go exploring the great bike trails in Marin County.  The ferry ticket is included in your tour price. 

A short bike ride takes you to the neighboring town of Tiburon. You can take the Tiburon ferry back to San Francisco.

Tip: During peak season and weekends the places set aside for bikes on a ferry get filled up quickly. You may have to get in line and wait for the next ferry.

Ferry Rides

nullUsing the ferry is a great way to explore neighboring towns and attractions. Locals use them for commuting but that doesn’t stop tourists from jumping on for a ride. 

You can get to places like Sausalito, Angel Island, AT&T Park, Oakland and Vallejo. 

At Sausalito downtown, you can enjoy the shops and restaurants close to the ferry terminal or you can take a bike ride to the Redwoods, Mill Valley or Tiburon.  

On Angel Island you can go hiking, biking or just enjoy a picnic on the beach. The island also has a cafe offering unique sandwiches and wraps. 

AT&T Park is home to the SF Giants Baseball major league team but it also hosts other major events like Cirque Du Soleil. 

The city of Vallejo is a ferry ride away and is host to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – an amusement and water park. 

Angel Island State Park

San Francisco - Bike Angle IslandThis state park is located on the biggest island on the bay. The whole island is set aside for recreational activities. 

To get to the island you will need to take a ferry or use a private boat. Ferries run multiple times a day but are limited during winter months.

You can start your visit by taking a tram tour of the island to familiarize yourself with the park. You can also take Segway or Diggler (a kind of scooter) tour. 

Tip: The last tram tour is at 2 PM. so make sure to get there early enough to catch the tram.

The island has several sandy beaches which are protected from the normal breeze hittingSan Francisco - Angel Island - from Wikipedia San Francisco beaches. 

You can also enjoy the long and winding hiking trails which take you from the sea level to an elevation of 788 ft. Those trails provide an amazing view of San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge. 

Finally, you can bike on the main roads which circle the island. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the park.

You are welcome to bring your own snacks or picnic, but you can also dine at the Cafe, which offers unique sandwiches and wraps. 

Coit Tower

San Francisco - Coit Tower MuralsMost tourists miss this white cylinder jotting from the top of Telegraph Hill even though it is very prominent from most places in the city. After all, it is only a column of white concrete.

But is really worth a visit or two. At the lower level, you can enjoy huge murals covering all walls. After a short elevator ride, you will reach the observation deck with a great 360-degree view of the city and the bay. 

You can reach the tower by car, but for best experience try to hike to the top from Embarcadero.

Start near Lombard street and find the Greenwich steps. Going up the steps might be intimidating but you will find a lot of places along the way to rest and take some photos of the gardens and the bay.  

The Marin Headlands

I always pass under the headlands when going over the Golden Gate Bridge. It never occurredSan Francisco - Marin Headlands to me go up there. Going to the top of the headland opened my eye to a whole new experience in SF. 

The winding road from the bridge level to the top commands amazing views of the bridge below and the city skyline across the bay. Many vista points are available along the way where you can park and get out to enjoy the view and take pictures. 

At the highest point, there is a large parking lot and hiking trails that take you to the top of the hill. 

During our last visit, this hilltop was in the middle of the clouds. Where we stood, we could see clouds passing above us and clouds passing below. It was an awe-inspiring feeling. 

Muir Woods and Wine TastingSan Francisco - Muir Woods

Muir Woods is the last remaining grove of Giant Red Wood trees in the bay area and it is located right outside of the city of San Francisco. In 1908 it was declared a national monument and named after the naturist John Muir in recognition of his conservation efforts. It is a must-see spot for nature lovers and hikers. This also was the filming location for the 2011 movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)”.  See the full article here

Golden Gate Park

nullIt is one of the largest urban parks in the US. It rivals New York’s central park in size – around 1,017 acres of multi-use lush land. The park is full of fun and activities for residents and visitors. 

The park is home to the famous Conservatory of Flowers and Japanese Tea Garden, lots of playgrounds, lakes, picnic areas and sports venues.

At the west end of the park you can find an authentic windmill that was actually used to irrigate the parklands. Next to the windmill, you will find Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden – a perfect match to the windmill.

Park visitors can enjoy music events at the Music Concourse or visit the Academy of Sciences museum. The Academy of Sciences offers a lot of fixed and visiting exhibits. Some of the most interesting exhibits are Planetarium; Aquarium; Rain Forests of the World. The building itself is an exhibit on how to build green and sustainable habitats. 

null55 acres of the park are dedicated to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a vast collection of plant species. The collection includes Magnolia species, high elevation palms, and cloud forest species.

A great way to experience this vast park is to bike through the long walkways and trails. You can actually bike from Fisherman’s Warf to the middle of the park in about 50 minutes (6 miles).

The lakes (or ponds) are stocked with fish so you can go fishing – or you can have a leisurely ride on the paddle boats. 

More information go to the official website.

Attributions:

Some of the photos in this article were downloaded from Wikipedia under the Wikimedia Commons license.

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Angel Island State Park

Angel Island State Park anaheimer Mon, 06/18/2018 - 17:09

San Francisco - Bike Angle IslandThis state park is located on the biggest island on the bay - a short boat ride away from San Francisco. The whole island is set aside for recreational activities. 

San Francisco is a vibrant city with many iconic places to visit. ​Read the main San Francisco article here.

To get to the island you will need to take a ferry or use a private boat. Ferries run multiple times a day but are limited during winter months. Check the schedules to make sure you don't miss the last boat.

You can start your visit by taking a tram tour of the island to familiarize yourself with the San Francisco - Angel Island - from Wikipediapark. You can also take a Segway or a Diggler (a kind of scooter) tour. 

Tip: The last tram tour is at 2 PM. so make sure to get there early enough to catch the tram.

The island has several sandy beaches which are protected from the strong breeze hitting San Francisco shores. 

San Francisco - Angel Island - from WikipediaYou can also enjoy the long and winding hiking trails which take you from the sea level to an elevation of 788 ft. Those trails provide an amazing view of San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge. 

Finally, you can bike on the main roads which circle the island. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the park.

You are welcome to bring your own snacks or picnic, but you can also dine at the Cafe, which offers unique sandwiches and wraps. 

Fisherman's Wharf 

Fisherman's Wharf  anaheimer Mon, 06/18/2018 - 17:21

nullAs you walk west from Pier-39 you will start seeing bike rental shops, gift shops and several fleets of cruise ships. Keep going until you see the famous seafood street vendors where you can get your fill of fresh crab sandwiches or clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. If you like your dining a little fancier, check out the restaurants right on the docks. 

San Francisco is a vibrant city with many iconic places to visit. ​Read the main San Francisco article here.

At the wharf, you can also visit the SS. Jeremiah O'Brien – a fully functional Liberty class warship. Also near the wharf, you can experience the strange and unusual at the “Ripley's Believe It or Not!” museum.

Fisherman's Wharf, San FranciscoAfter your lunch or dinner, continue to head west on Beach or Jefferson. Along the way, you will encounter a lot of street performers and arts and crafts vendors. Some of them will show off their steel drum rhythms, others will play the guitar and sing. 

At Beach and Hyde you will come across Aquatic Park and one of the main Cable Car stations. You can end your walk here and take the Cable Car to another destination, or you can continue on to Ghirardelli Square home of the famous chocolates.  Ghirardelli Square is also home to “Kara's Cupcakes” with a large variety of the scrumptious little treats. 

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park anaheimer Mon, 06/18/2018 - 17:40

nullIt is one of the largest urban parks in the US. It rivals New York’s central park in size – around 1,017 acres of multi-use lush land. The park is full of fun and activities for residents and visitors. 

It sits on the western end of San Francisco and provides a lot of attractions and activities for locals and visitors.

San Francisco is a vibrant city with many iconic places to visit. ​Read the main San Francisco article here.

The park is home to the famous Conservatory of Flowers and Japanese Tea Garden, lots of playgrounds, lakes, picnic areas and sports venues.

At the west end of the park you can find an authentic windmill that was actually used to irrigate the parklands. Next to the windmill, you will find Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden – a perfect match to the windmill.

Park visitors can enjoy music events at the Music Concourse or visit the Academy of Sciences museum. The Academy of Sciences offers a lot of fixed and visiting exhibits. Some of the most interesting exhibits are Planetarium; Aquarium; Rain Forests of the World. The building itself is an exhibit on how to build green and sustainable habitats. 

null55 acres of the park are dedicated to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a vast collection of plant species. The collection includes Magnolia species, high elevation palms, and cloud forest species.

A great way to experience this vast park is to bike through the long walkways and trails. You can actually bike from Fisherman’s Warf to the middle of the park in about 50 minutes (6 miles).

The lakes (or ponds) are stocked with fish so you can go fishing – or you can have a leisurely ride on the paddle boats. 

More information go to the official website.

Attributions:

Some of the photos in this article were downloaded from Wikipedia under the Wikimedia Commons license.

Save 45% on San Francisco's Muni and 4 other attractions with CityPASS. Shop Now!

Muir Woods and Wine Tasting

Muir Woods and Wine Tasting anaheimer Sat, 01/10/2015 - 16:09

nullMuir Woods is the last remaining grove of Giant Red Wood trees in the bay area and it is located right outside of the city of San Francisco. In 1908 it was declared a national monument and named after the naturist John Muir in recognition of his conservation efforts. 

It is a must-see spot for nature lovers and hikers. This also was the filming location for the 2011 movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)”. 

You can take a shuttle from the ferry terminal in Sausalito to Muir Woods and stay car-free. Or you can drive up to the woods. For shuttle service information go here.

Tip: On busy days you may not find a parking spot at the monument. It is strongly suggested to use public transit. 

Once you get there you have a choice of several easy trails or longer trails into the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park. 

nullThe monument trails are boardwalk loops of various lengths (from .5 to 2 miles) and very easy with no elevation gain. The main trail, which is about 2 miles long, runs along a stream with mid-sized redwoods on either side. Three bridges cross the stream. You can loop back at any of those bridges or just cross over for better views. 

For a more challenging hike, head to the upper trails in the state park. You can take the “Tourist Club Loop” which is about 4.5 miles long and offers views that most visitors will miss.

The park has a good snack and gift shop closer to the entrance. The snack shop offers deli-style sandwiches. Clean restrooms next door. 

Another way to experience this natural wonder is with a bus tour. I recently went with “Best Bay Area Tours” on their Muir Woods and Wine Tasting Tour. 

nullWe rode in a luxurious Mercedes van with our driver and tour guide Mike. Mike was pleasant and knowledgeable about Muir Woods and Sonoma wine country. 

During the first part of the trip, we went up the hills on Pacific Coast Highway to the monument. Along the way, we learned about the history of the park and various plants and trees. We spent about 2 hours hiking the trails and stopping for amazing photo opportunities. 

After a stop at the snack bar for coffee and a restroom break, we headed out to Sonoma. Mike continued to educate us about the different types of wine and the 2 Sonoma valleys. 

nullOur first wine stop was at the “Cline Cellars”. The building looked like an old plantation house surrounded by vineyards. A big fish pond on the side offers entertainment to non-wine drinkers. There is also a museum on the premises. You get to sample 5 non-preserve wines for free.  You can get a flight of preserve wine for $5. The wines offered were not especially good - just average. 

The next stop was at the “Larson Family Winery”. This winery looks like an old converted barn, with 2 friendly Lab dogs greeting visitors. The dogs are a hit with the kids. Kids also can play some games in the backyard while adults are sampling the wines.  The wines were above average with a few that were very good. I especially liked the Merlot offering.

nullFor lunch, we stopped in the city of Sonoma. Sonoma is a nice quiet old town with a historic downtown plaza. AT the center of the plaza you will find the beautiful colonial city hall building. On three sides of the plaza, you will find a large selection of shops and restaurants. I enjoyed a declivous salad at the “The Girl & The Fig”. 

After lunch, we met Mike at the cheese factory where you can taste their cheese and fudge selection. I also enjoyed a tasty dessert of Gelato ice cream. 

nullOur last stop was at the “Jacuzzi Family Vineyards”, which is right across the street from the first stop “Cline Cellars”. We also learned that both wineries are owned by the same parent company - but a difference between the two. 

The jacuzzi is more upscale and situated in a very nice building. They offer free wine tasting and free olive oil tasting. The tasting host is very knowledgeable about the wines and about the Jacuzzi family history. Did you know that the Roy Jacuzzi invented the water pump and designed a very light propeller? The history lessons were a great bonus, but the wines were a hit. I liked several of their offerings and the prices were reasonable. Don’t forget to visit the tour with commanding views of the valley and the hills.

nullOn the way back we drove through the beautiful town of Sausalito and up to the Marin Headlands. I always pass under the headlands when going over the Golden Gate Bridge. It never occurred to me to go up there. Now I know what I was missing. The view of the bridge and the city from above is breathtaking. 

As a whole, I really enjoyed my trip with Best Bay Area Tours. I only have one small critique: The time allotted for each stop is too long. We get done quickly with wine tasting and exploring then we have to wait for the Van to pick us up. 

Best Bay Area Tours offers other wine tasting tours as well as city tours and Yosemite day tours.

Pier 39 - San Francisco

Pier 39 - San Francisco anaheimer Sat, 06/16/2018 - 17:01

nullPier-39 is a must-see attraction in the city of San Francisco. The pier is a nice walk on the waterfront with many shops, restaurants, and attractions.  

San Francisco is a vibrant city with many iconic places to visit. ​Read the main San Francisco article here.

You can just walk around through the main walkway and enjoy the bustling activity or you can stroll along the outside pathways with a great view of the bay, Alcatraz, and passing cruise ships. 

San Francisco - Pier 39 - From WikipediaAt the tip of the pier, you can visit the Aquarium of the Bay where you can get acquainted with SF Bay sea life.

Deeper into the pier, you can get the “7D Experience" - a roller-coaster, 3D movie, laser tag experience all-in-one.

While at the pier, don’t forget to try the Musical Stairs where you can make music by going up and down the stairs.

For the young and young at heart try the Carousel or catch a puppet show. 

Save 45% on San Francisco's Muni and 4 other attractions with CityPASS. Shop Now!

One of the biggest attractions at the pier is the large population of Sea Lions that made the docks their home. Just walk to the edge or sides of the pier and enjoy the boisterous Pinnipeds and their antics. 

nullRight next to Pier-39 you can book an adventure on land or sea. You can go on a sailing boat cruise or you can jump on a fast boat to Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge.

Also close to the pier you can rent a bike for a whole day or go on a guided bike tour. I suggest doing both a cruise and bike tour to see the Golden Gate Bridge from all angles.  

Pier-39 has a lot of dining options including restaurants with amazing views of the bay. My favorite at the pier is Neptune’s Waterfront Grill & Bar. It has good food and the best view.

San Pedro and USS Iowa Museum

San Pedro and USS Iowa Museum anaheimer Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:25

Port-O-Call Village - San PedroPortions of San Pedro are also known as “Los Angeles Waterfront” and “Port-o-call Village”. The town is part of the greater Los Angeles city and home to the Port of Los Angeles. 
This doesn’t make it sound like a major tourist destination, but it is a nice fun outlet for locals and visitors.

The Port-o-Call Village Plaza offers several Seafood restaurants, gift shops, a cruise ship terminal and the Battleship Iowa Museum. A cobblestone walkway connects the shops with nice views of the harbor and the Vincent Thomas Bridge connecting San Pedro to Terminal Island.

Metro Bike Share has a station next to the USS Iowa. You can pay and rent a bike for $3.5 per half hour or get a discounted rate if you buy a pass.

Dining

There are a lot of dining choices in the village. You can have a nice sit-down meal at a highly rated restaurant or you can grab a sweet snack from the vendor. Some restaurants offer weekend and holiday brunches.  

Ports O' Call Waterfront Dining

This is a highly rated surf and turf restaurant with a wide selection of Steak and Fish dishes. They also offer daily happy hour from 3 to 7 and a Sunday Brunch.

If you like to sample a collection of their best appetizers, try the Chilled Seafood tower. 

If you are really hungry, try the Deep-Fried Whole Bass or share it with someone.

The balcony seating overlooks the Chanel with the best views of passing ships.

San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant

At this place, you can order Seafood from the menu or you can buy your own Seafood and Acapulco at Port-O-Call Villagehave them cook it to order. 

If you are in a hurry, order fish-and-chips, clam chowder, or calamari from the fast-food counter and take to the huge outdoor patio.

The menu has a large variety of dishes to satisfy any appetite. To try a sampler of food, choose their fried fish plates or fish kabob skewers. 

Acapulco

If you love Mexican food, then stop by Acapulco restaurant where you can find all the traditional Mexican cuisine in a family dining experience.

On Sundays, they offer an all-you-can brunch buffet. Fill up on breakfast and lunch favorites with made-to-order Omelets or Tacos. 

Battleship Iowa Museum

USS IowaThe USS Iowa was commissioned in 1943 and served through WWII and the Korean War. It was also used during the cold war. This battleship also hosted 3 presidents and earned the nickname Battleship of Presidents.

Since 2011, the battleship has been on display at Port of Los Angeles with daily self-guided tours.  This is a fitting final resting home for this warship since San Pedro was the home of the US Battle Fleet from 1919 to 1940.

The ship is very impressive the moment you lay eyes on it as you approach it from the parking lot. It is, even more, owe inspiring as walk-on decks and under the largest guns (16"/50 caliber) on a U.S. Navy ship. 

As you traverse the halls of this ship you get a glimpse into the lives of sailors on board and you get to learn about the history of this war machine. 

Did you know that President Roosevelt planned the invasion of Normandy from aboard this ship?

The museum is operated by the non-profit Pacific Battleship Center (PBC) and with the help of many volunteers who are always happy to explain the various exhibits.

I especially enjoyed going through the sailor living quarters, mess hall, and the meeting room from which the D-day invasion was planned. 

At the end of the tour, you can browse through the gift shop and enjoy a flight simulator ride.

Beaches

San Pedro has several nice beaches, some of them are within walking distance from Port-O-Call village. 

Cabrillo Beach

This popular beach area in San Pedro offers several activity options and only about a 45-Cabrillo Beachminute walk from Port-O-Call (LA waterfront). 

This is a historic beach and is named after Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer who was the first to sail up the California coast. 

The beach includes an Aquarium, Pier, Watersports youth center, and walking trails. It also has the historic Bath House building which was the last bathhouse built in California in 1932. It is now used for restrooms, showers, a snack bar, and community meeting rooms. 

Adjacent to this beach you can find Point Fermin Park with hiking trails, a playground, an amphitheater, and a picnic area. The park is located on bluffs overlooking the ocean. 

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara anaheimer Wed, 09/16/2020 - 15:29

Santa Barbara - beach walkSanta Barbara is a coastal town sandwiched between the steep hills of Santa Ynez mountains and the pacific ocean.

The Spanish Colonial architecture, white buildings with courtyards, homes terraced on the hills overlooking the ocean, and the inviting sandy beaches – all gave Santa Barbara its nickname "The American Riviera".

There is plenty to do at the American Riviera. During my visits to Santa Barbara, I went on walks on the beach, hikes in the mountains, Biking,  Whale Watching, kayaking.

I also visited the Botanic Garden, the Zoo, a historic building, and dined at State Street. Here are my favorite places to see and things to do.

A walk on the beach

Santa Barabra has a long shoreline with many beaches, a harbor and a Wharf. You can walk through most of it with an easy walk starting from Shoreline Park on the West end, through SB Harbor, passing through East Beach, and ending at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

Along the way, you can stop for a snack at the Harbor, Sterns Wharf, or the restaurants dotting Cabrillo street.

Right after the Wharf, as you go east, you will find another unofficial bird sanctuary. It is fun to watch all birds gathering at Mission Creek – right at the beach.

Sterns Wharf

Santa Barbara - Sterns WharfThe Wharf is an excellent place to catch some good view and enjoy a meal. There are several restaurants to choose from, a wine tasting bar, and several snacks and treats shops.

Both Harbor and Moby Dick restaurants offer good seafood and excellent views. The food is just average, but you are paying for the views. 

The Deep Sea Tasting Room is an excellent choice for wine lovers. They offer great food and drinks with second-floor balcony seats.

The Wharf allows cars in, which makes a bustling and noisy place, but once you pass the main road, you can escape the noise by going behind the restaurants and shops on the sides overlooking the water.

State Street

Santa Barbara - State StreetState Street is probably the most popular destination for visitors and residents alike. It cuts through downtown Santa Barbara and extends to Sterns Wharf.

It is a very lively place with lots of restaurants, bars, and shops. It is also historic. The old Stagecoach route ran through this street.

Santa Barbara Downtown - by Pierre André - WikipediaDue to the Covid pandemic in 2020, long sections of this street were converted to pedestrians only. Most of the restaurants added an outdoors seating area extending into the street. This gives it a more European vibe.

State street is long, so expect to walk a lot. While walking, you can admire the Spanish colonial buildings, theaters and museums, and hidden courtyards.

Santa Barbara Car-Free offers good self-guided walking tours. Try the Red Tile Walking Tour that includes stops at historic landmarks. 

This walk starts and ends at the Courthouse – another beautiful historic site. This is a functioning courthouse with a large courtyard, a clock tower, and a statue fountain.

Santa Barbara Harbor

Santa_Barbara - The Harbor Restaurant - by Alex Proimos - WikimediaRenting a berth at the harbor will cost you an arm and a leg, but you don't have to be rich to enjoy some water adventure.

You can rent a boat, jet skis, kayaks, or take surfing lessons. You can also enjoy a nice meal with a view at one of the restaurants.  

From the harbor, you can also go on a whale and dolphin watching trip. You can also visit the Maritime Museum.

Do you feel like splurging a little? You can hire a yacht with a full crew and a live bad.

Santa Barbara is also a springboard to the Channel Islands National Park where you can hike and explore the pristine wilderness. Read about Channel Islands National Park here. /content/channel-islands-national-park

Botanic Garden

Santa Barbara - Botanic GardenThe botanic garden is an excellent way to get introduced to California's diverse habitats - from the redwood forest to desert sands.

The garden is divided into several sections based on environment. You can visit the Arroyo section with plants that thrive around creeks, or the Canyon section, which takes you through a lush shaded wood on the banks of Mission Creek. In the desert section, explore the hearty plants that survive with minimal water. See more garden sections here.

The garden is currently leading an effort by citizen scientists to reclaim and restore local trails after the recent wildfires.

Get more info about garden sections, guided tours and events here

Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History - Chumash LifeThis museum is tucked away in the hills above Santa Barbara and provides a great way to learn about the history of the region. 

Indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase the plants and animals who make this area home - and native American tribes that thrived here.

I especially enjoyed the Chumash life exhibit. It is full of artifacts and dioramas showing the daily lives of the tribe. 

Another exhibit worth mentioning is the Mammal Hall with large dioramas depicting mammal in their natural habitats. 

It is not the largest or the best museum in the country, but it is worth a visit if you have a few hours to kill. It is also a big hit with the kids.

Hiking

The Santa Barbara area, with its long coast and surrounding mountains, offers a lot of hikes for every level. You can take a leisurely stroll on the waterfront, or you can follow one of the trails through the canyons. You can also head to the Santa Ynez mountains for a more strenuous hike with amazing views.

Some of my favorite hikes:

Lizard's Mouth 

For an easy hike with a picnic area, head to Lizard's Mouth. From West Camino Cielo Road, you can take a half-mile roundtrip hike to a rock formation that resembles a Lizard's mouth. At the top, you can set up for a picnic and enjoy the ocean views.

Seven Falls

Santa Barbara -  Seven Falls - by Scott Mattoon - FlickrThis is a moderate hike to a seasonal waterfall and three pools. Don't expect to see running water during the summer months.

The round trip is only about 2.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 800 ft.

The hike is not easy. Make sure to wear hiking boots and be ready to do some rock hopping. But your reward at the end is nice cool pools to splash in.

Parking is limited and strictly enforced. Get there very early to guarantee a spot or take a Lyft or Uber.

Trailhead: End of Tunnel Road

La Cumbre Peak and Inspiration Point Loop

This hike is longer and more strenuous, but it is worth the effort. The 10-mile hike takes up 1000 ft with stunning views Santa Barbara, Channel Islands.

This is not an easy hike. Be prepared with hiking boots and gloves. You will be doing a lot of rock scrambling.

Trailhead: End of Tunnel Road

You can also get to the summit via E Camino Cielo. 

For more hikes go here.

Channel Islands

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 Santa Barbara but they might as well be worlds away. So you can make Santa Barbara your basecamp for your adventure.

Those islands have never been connected to the mainland, so they have their own species of animals and plants. 

The island are full of hiking trails, campgrounds, and adventures. You can spend a day hiking, kayaking, or snorkeling. Read the full Channel Islands Guide here

Electric Bike Tour

We recently went on a private electric bike tour with the Cal Coast Adventures and loved every minute of it. The e-bikes were very steady and comfortable, and the electric assist helped us climb some steep hills. Read the full article about this tour here

Dining

Santa Barbara adapted quickly to the pandemic and converted long sections of State Street to pedestrians only use.

Most of the restaurants added an outdoors seating area extending into the street. This gives State Street a more European vibe.

But also, due to the pandemic, you can't just walk in and expect to find a table. Plan ahead and make reservations days in advance. A Few restaurants don't offer reservations, but you can check in ahead of time via Yelp or by calling the restaurant.

State Street does not have a monopoly on good restaurants. You can find great places close to State or even further away. 

Read the dining guide here.

Santa Ynez Wine Tours

Grassini Family Vineyards During a recent visit to Santa Barbara, we decide to check out wine country in the Santa Ynez valley. We booked a full-day tour with Sustainable Wine Tours.

During this tour, we visited 3 wineries that only cater to private tours and wine club members. All three were very gracious and generous with their samples.

Read the full review here.

Electric Bike Tour of Santa Barbara

Electric Bike Tour of Santa Barbara anaheimer Wed, 09/16/2020 - 15:41

Santa Barbara - e-bike tour - Butterfly BeachWhat a great way to explore Santa Barbara! We recently went on a private electric bike tour with the Cal Coast Adventures and loved every minute of it.

Brody was our guide on this tour, and he quickly exhibited his love and knowledge of the area. He took us on a long but leisurely ride on beautiful bike trails, beaches, and city streets.

The bikes were very steady and comfortable, and the electric assist helped us climb some steep hills.

The tour started from Cal Coast Adventures office in an industrial area, but soon we were on the beach path and headed to a well-appointed bike trail.

Andree Clark Bird Refuge - by - Antranias - PixabayOur first destination was the city of Montecito, but before we got there, we came across the Andree Clark Bird Refuge – a serene marsh with thousands of birds swimming and flying around.

Right above the sanctuary, you can spot some animals from the Santa Barbara Zoo. The most prominent are the Giraffes trying to eat from the tree branches.

We kept going through winding paths and some hills until we reached the homes of the rich and famous in Montecito. Brody pointed out the majestic mansion of Ty Warner, the maker of the famous “Beanie Babies”.

As we progressed on our tour, we came across a lot of expensive estates and resorts, but what grabbed our attention the most is the beautiful Butterfly Beach. The beach got its name from the migrating Monarchs who rest in the area along their journey.

After enjoying the views at the beach, we headed back to Santa Barbara, passed by Sterns Wharf, and climbed up a steep hill to SB College. The college is surprisingly large, with commanding views of the ocean. We relaxed at “” with a great view of the harbor and the hills.

The final leg of our tour took us through the famous State Street with lots of shops and restaurants. Did you know that State street used to be the old Stagecoach route?

Talking about history, close to state street, we visited the Courthouse – considered the most beautiful public building in the United States. This is a functioning courthouse with a large courtyard, a clock tower, and a statue fountain.

We really enjoyed our tour and will definitely come back for more tours and adventures. While at Cal Coast Adventures office, we noticed that they offer other adventures like Surf Lessons, Kayak Tours, and Mountain Bike Tours. You can also rent bikes, kayaks, and surfboards. Check out their services here.  

Santa Barbara Dining

Santa Barbara Dining anaheimer Mon, 11/16/2020 - 16:18

Santa Barbara - State Street at nightSanta Barbara adapted quickly to the pandemic and converted long sections of State Street to pedestrians only use.

Most of the restaurants added an outdoors seating area extending into the street. This gives State Street a more European vibe.

But also, due to the pandemic, you can't just walk in and expect to find a table. Plan ahead and make reservations days in advance. A Few restaurants don't offer reservations, but you can check in ahead of time via Yelp or by calling the restaurant.

State Street does not have a monopoly on good restaurants. You can find great places close to State or even further away.

Here are some of my favorite restaurants:

On State Street

Jane

Jane is billed as an American, international, Vegetarian-Friendly restaurant – and it does offer an exciting fusion of cuisines.

It is a place where you can order a Duck Breast, Curry Chicken, Veal Marsala, or a Cheeseburger.

During our recent visit, we enjoyed the patio seats as tried the Lamb Chops and the Chicken Curry. Both were perfectly cooked and very tasty.

We ended the meal with Toffee Sundae and Pecan Tart, for an excellent finish.

1311 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 

Opal

Santa Barbara Dining - OpalOpal offers Italian American dishes with international influence. You can find many pasta dishes on the menu, but if you prefer to skip the carbs, you can enjoy duck, chicken, and steak dishes too.

For our last visit, we tried the  Fettuccine With Tiger Shrimp and the Chicken Chipotle. The food was delicious, and the portions were huge.

We also enjoyed their wine list. I had a Merlot, and my wife enjoyed a Riesling. For dessert, we tried their Gelato and Crème Brulee.

1325 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 

Santo Mezcal

Santa Barbara Dining - Santo MezcalWe went to Mezcal for convenience. It was right next to our hotel. But we ended up enjoying an excellent Mexican meal with lots of drinks.

This place is bustling and does not take reservations, but you can get on the waitlist at yelp.com.

The ambiance was a little loud for us, but it would be heaven for sports fans. Lots of screens all around to catch the latest game.

During our visit, my wife ordered: “Tlacoyo De Huitlacoche Y Hongos“  - a very long name that really means corn tortilla and huitlacoche mushroom.

My meal was more traditional Mexican cuisine – the Enchiladas Verde.

We finish our meal with Pan De Elote – a Toffee Caramel with vanilla ice cream.

119 State St, Santa Barbara, CA

Close to State

Helena Ave Bakery

For a culinary adventure, head to Helena Ave Bakery. This café and bakery offer the best bread, scones, and biscuits. They also make unique and delicious sandwiches.

Your breakfast can be as simple as French bread with butter and jam or as elaborate as Breakfast Sandwich on Brioche or Green Eggs & Ham on a Biscuit.

Lunch choices include Turkey Sandwich, Cous Cous Salad, or a BLT.

131 Anacapa St c, Santa Barbara, CA

Black Sheep

Santa Barbara Dining - Black SheepBlack Sheep chefs like to source their ingredients locally, keep it organic, and experiment with their creations.

Although it is not on State street, it is only a few blocks away. They have several patios to choose from and some indoor seating.

On our visit, we ordered the catch of the day – which happened to be scallops and the Duck Leg Confit. They were both cooked right and delicious.

If you feel adventurous, try the Menu Gastronomique, a 4-course meal selected by the chef.

We tried their Lemon Drop Martini and the Manhattan. The drinks were a little above average, and the selection was short. If you prefer wine with your mean, they do offer a good selection of wines.

We finished our meal with the Almon Finacler and the Chocolate Tort. Both were excellent.

26 E Ortega St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

OKU

OKU is right at the corner of State and Cabrillo streets – facing the beach - and serves Santa Barbara Dining - Okucreative Asian-inspired dishes.

The covered patios are a great place to relax, enjoy the views and the delicious food.

The menu includes a delightful selection of Sushi, Sashimi, freshly caught seafood dishes to share. You can also order steak, vegetarian, and gluten-free meals.

Our meal consisted of Miso Soup, Spicy Yellowtail Roll, Shinpbi Roll, and Rainbow Roll on our recent visit. The rolls were fresh and tasty and the service was excellent.

For a great finish to a great meal, I recommend the Meyer Lemon Tartlette.

29 E Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA

The Roundhouse

Santa Barbara Dining - The Roadhouse - HiltonThis restaurant is inside the Hilton Beachfront – right on the beach. We were staying at the Hilton so it was convenient to have breakfast at this place.

We were not expecting a lot but were pleasantly surprised by the food and the service.

You can have the traditional American breakfast, build your Omelet, French Toast, or a Mexican style Chilaquiles. You can also go light and have a Granola & Yogurt or mixed fruit.

633 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara, CA

Further away

Boat House

Santa Barbara Dining - Boat House at Hendry's Beach - from https://boathousesb.com/This hidden gem is located right on the sand in Hendry's Beach. The beach itself is gorgeous and very popular, so you may not find a parking spot.

We went for breakfast and ordered the Breakfast Burrito and Pancakes. The burrito was exceptional, and the pancakes were fluffy and tasty. Other good breakfast choices are the Signature Breakfast, a delicious creation of snow & rock crab cakes under poached eggs – or the Quinoa Breakfast Bowl.

2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 

Santa Ynez Wine Tour

Santa Ynez Wine Tour anaheimer Wed, 11/11/2020 - 15:53

Santa Ynez Wine tour - photo from Sustainable Tours websiteDuring a recent visit to Santa Barbara, we decide to check out wine country in the Santa Ynez valley. We booked a full-day tour with Sustainable Wine Tours.

Karina, our tour guide, picked us up from our hotel in Santa Barbara at 10 am. Our ride was a luxurious Mercedes van.

Interesting Facts: The Santa Ynez valley is sideways. This means it runs East to West instead of the usual North to South. That creates unique growing conditions and allows for a large variety of grapes.  

McKenney Winery  - photo from Sustainable Tours websiteKarina was a wealth of information about Snat Ynez, the wineries, and wine tasting. We found out that she started tasting wine at the age of 8 – but at that young age, she had to spit it out after tasting.

During this tour, we visited 3 wineries that only cater to private tours and wine club members. All three were very gracious and generous with their samples.

Interesting Facts: Other than wineries, the valley is home to Solvang, a unique Danish town with many restaurants and bakeries.

Along with tasting great wines, we enjoyed the scenery throughout the valley. The vineyards were spread out over hills and valleys, and the weather was California perfect.

Mckinney Family Vineyards

McKenney Winery  - lunch picnic with wineOur first stop was at the McKinney Family Vineyards. We were greeted by Jared who took us on a tour of the vineyards while enjoying the first two wine tastes.

We learned about the different types of grapes and how they are processed and aged. Jared reminded us that they don’t sell their wines at stores or restaurants. They are only available through direct purchase and to wine club members.

Interesting Facts: Matt Mckinney, the owner, used to run wine tasting tours before starting his own winery.

We tasted six wines during our visit – all were very good, but my favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir.

McKenney Winery  - goats help with cleanupInteresting Facts: Santa Ynez is also home to the Chumash tribe reservation. When you had enough wine tasting head to the Casino for some slot machine fun.

At lunchtime, Karina, our guide, brought in sandwiches and chips. The turkey sandwiches were especially good with sips of wine. We enjoyed this relaxing lunch out on the porch with comfortable chairs and great views.

Note: The wines we tasted were the most expensive we had on this tour, but the quality was also the best.

You don’t have to be on a guided tour to do some wine tasting. You can arrange for a private 2-hour tour and wine tasting for $50. The fee is waived if you buy three or more wines per person.

Grassini Family Vineyards 

Grassini Family Vineyards - main house with tasting roomsI loved this place as soon as we passed the gates. Immaculate vineyards, a private lake, and lots of trees. All this before reaching a rustic-looking building and gardens.

Our host here was Dean. He greeted us outside the beautiful building in a covered patio with an elegant dining table and chairs. They have tasting rooms inside the house, but the outdoor seating is appropriate for California weather and Covid-19.

Interesting Facts: In 2019, the vineyards received the “Best Santa Barbara Winery” award from the Independent magazine.

Grassini Family Vineyards Dean was a wealth of knowledge about winemaking in the Santa Ynez valley. He introduced us to five of their estate wines. They were all delicious, but I especially enjoyed the Afiora Rose.

You also enjoy their wines in the tasting room in Santa Barbara. Both the tasting room and the vineyards receive multiple awards.

Note: Wine prices here are more reasonable. Their wine clubs are a good bargain.

Happy Canyon Vineyards (Piocho Ranch)

Happy Canyon Vineyards at Pinocho RanchPiocho Ranch is one of the biggest vineyards in Santa Ynez. They grow many varieties of grapes using a variety of techniques. They pride themselves on using manual sustainable growing and harvesting methods.

Interesting Facts: The ranch name “Piocho” is a native American name that means Where the two rivers meet and go to heaven."

Happy Canyon Vineyards at Pinocho RanchThe owner, Sean, greeted us at the main tasting room and explained his passion for winemaking. He had the wine flights ready for our taste buds. He also prepared a plate of crackers, cheese, and chocolate to pair with the wines.

Interesting Facts: Heading back to Santa Barbara, try to take the 154 highway – AKA Chumas Highway. This scenic highway crosses over the Santa Ynez mountains while passing through a lake. As you descend into Santa Barabara, you will have a commanding view of the city and the ocean beyond.

We enjoyed all of the wines, but my favorite was the Piocho Red Blend.

Piocho Ranch is also home to a popular Polo field and tournaments.

Note: The Piocho wine prices are very reasonable. This also makes their wine clubs affordable.

Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz, CA anaheimer Mon, 04/18/2016 - 17:35

nullThe city of Santa Cruz, California is known for its moderate climate, natural beauty, amazing coastline, and redwood forest.

This sleepy beach town is within a one-hour driving distance from San Francisco or San Jose. 

You can certainly make Santa Cruz a stop on your Bay area itinerary, but I think it deserves to be its own destination. There is so much to do and see – you can easily spend a week without getting bored. 

During one of my visits, I made Santa Cruz my base camp and made side trips to San Francisco. I got to enjoy the slow-paced life of a resort town while satisfying my craving for a bustling city every-once-in-a-while. 

nullSanta Cruz can also be a stop on the epic California Highway 1 road trip.  During that trip, you can experience Ventura, Santa Barbara, Pismo beach with its adjoining 4wheeling state park at Oceano, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey and Santa Cruz.

Fun facts: Santa Cruz is known as the real surf city, even though Huntington Beach tried to patent the name. Many songs mention Santa Cruz like the Beach Boys’ "Surfin' U.S.A”. The first surfers ever recorded in the USA were three Hawaiian princes exhibiting their skills in July of 1885 to a crowd of swimmers and onlookers – at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River.

Getting there and getting around

If you are driving, then highway 1 or highway 17 are your only connections to Santa Cruz. Both highways are scenic and entertaining. 

nullIf you prefer, you can fly to San Jose and take public transportation or a rented car. Bus service is frequent and affordable between San Jose and Santa Cruz. You just pay around $9 for a round trip.

Once in SC, you can walk to many destinations. Pick lodging close to the beach and/or downtown. 

Fun facts: The inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” happened right here in Santa Cruz. Hitchcock was living in the town when it was attacked by hordes of birds smashing into windows and biting residents. 

The beach trolley runs frequently from memorial day to labor day and shuttles you between downtown and the Wharf. 

You can also take other buses to further destinations like UCSC, Capitola Mall, even San Francisco. So leave the car behind and enjoy a car-free vacation.

Where to stay

Being a resort town, lodging in Santa Cruz is on the expensive side – especially if you want to stay close to the beach. You can find some bargains if you go further inland or stay in surrounding towns.

Dream Inn

During one of my visits, I stayed at Dream Inn right above Cowells Beach - north of the Wharf – a very convenient location. 

nullThe hotel itself was great with each room overlooking the ocean, heated pool and Jacuzzi and a very good restaurant called Aquarius. The room was very comfortable with TV, Cable, Wi-Fi, Coffee maker and bathrobes.

Fun facts: Another Hitchcock movie inspiration also happened in Santa Cruz. “Psycho” was inspired by the McCray Hotel which many residents thought was haunted. 

But for amenities and the location, we paid a hefty price. The minimum price is around $450 a night (during high season).

Best Western 

During another visit, I decided to try a Best Western motel property close to the Boardwalk. Paid $200 a night for an average room. 

If you plan ahead and go during the off-season, you might be able to find great deals. For example, the same motel next to the Boardwalk is $129 in May. 

The Darling House

For a change, I decided to try a Bed and Breakfast for one of my visits. The Darling House was right on West Cliff drive overlooking the ocean. My room had a great view of the Wharf and the Boardwalk. 

The room was spacious with a walk-in closet and a sink - but no private bathroom. I had to share the common bathroom on the second floor. 

The breakfast was excellent with many homemade items. I enjoyed my stay at the Darling House, but next time I will ask for a room with a private bath.

Holiday Inn Express

Located within walking distance from downtown and the Boardwalk is an average hotel with comfortable beds, free breakfast, and WiFi. The WiFi connection was very spotty and cell service was almost non-existent. Breakfast was very good and served from 7 to 10 am.

nullIf you have a car and willing to stay outside of town, there are many choices in neighboring cities. My favorite is the Hilton at Scotts Valley. You can also find inexpensive options at Felton and Capitola. 

Finally, check out Airbnb for great deals on full homes in neighboring towns. This very convenient for a family or a large group. We recently stayed at a very nice and quiet home in Davenport, north of Santa Cruz. The home was a few feet away from the beach with amazing views. 

What to do

Walk Around

The best way to experience the charm of this town is to take a walk. 

Start at the Municipal Wharf. Go into the wharf and enjoy the scenery, shops, and restaurants. You can get a very good view of the Sea Lions down a stairwell across the pier from Stagnaro's restaurant. From the wharf, you will have an amazing view of the Boardwalk.

From the Wharf walk to West Cliff drive for most amazing views of the Pacific. This 3-mile (one-way) walk takes you through important points of interest like the world-famous surfing area “Steamer Lane”; Santa Cruz Surfing Museum; Lighthouse Point; and Natural Bridges State Beach. At the state beach, enjoy the beautiful rock formations and bird and sea lion populations. 

Fun facts: Much of the movie "The Lost Boys" was filmed on location in Santa Cruz. Many scenes were shot at the Boardwalk and the Wharf.

nullNatural Bridges State Beach is the winter home of the Monarch butterfly. From October to February, the Monarchs flock to this park to rest for the winter. 

Tip: Make sure to wear layers and bring a jacket or sweater when you visit Natural Bridget State Beach. It gets very windy and chilly in the afternoon.

Another nice walk is along the San Lorenzo River. This is a well-maintained path on both sides of the river with pedestrian bridges connecting the two banks. The trail goes all the way from the beach (close to the Boardwalk) to highway 1. 

Fun facts: Many local residents claim to see a Lady in White dress floating around Ocean Street Extension and the nearby cemetery.

You can stop at Lorenzo Park for a relaxing picnic or you can take a side trip to downtown shopping on Pacific Ave. 

Also within walking distance, the Town Clock, Del Mar Theatre and Mission State Historic Park.

Biking

Santa Cruz is a bike-friendly city. Many streets have bike lanes and walking trails usually allow bikers. The only problem is the hilly nature of the town. 

Tip: If you didn’t bring your bike with you, you can rent one from many rental shops. “Pacific Ave Cycles” is the closest to the beach. You can also try “Epicenter Cycling” closer to downtown. 

Some must-do bike rides: 

  • The 3-mile West Cliff Drive with breathtaking views as described above
  • Wilder Ranch State Park offers 34 miles of trails – some very easy and some strenuous. The trails go from sea cliffs to the inland forest. This is a great place for mountain bikes
  • University of California Santa Cruz offers unpaved rugged trails in the upper campus and winding paved trails through the main campus.

East Cliff drive goes through the best of Santa Cruz’s beaches and communities and connects to the city of Capitola.

Twin Lakes State Beach 

Most people spend their time in the western side of the town with major attractions like the Santa Cruz - Twin Lakes State BeachBoardwalk, West Cliff Drive and Downtown. But the eastern side has its surprises. 

If you follow Cliff drive to the east of the Lorenzo River you will find this mile-long beach with a harbor, Yacht Club and a nice lake full of birds. 

Schwan Lake used to be a lagoon connected to the ocean. Now it is a separate lake with a hiking trail and great views. 

Segway Tours

nullNot feeling like walking or biking? You can take the luxurious way and Segway through Santa Cruz. Segway Santa Cruz (website) Tours offer several tours through town that are highly recommended. 

Your tour always starts with instructions on how to use the Segway. Those machines are very sensitive and respond to your slightest impulse, so you need to learn and practice a lot before you head off. There is a fenced-in track for practice at the office.

You have to wear a helmet, so bring your own or rent one from an outfitter. They have every size available, including for the young ones. Segway SC is one of the few tour operators that allow children 10 and up to ride. They have smaller Segways for the smaller sizes.

Fun facts: University of California Santa Cruz official mascot is the Banana Slug. The slugs are found everywhere around SC, especially in the Redwood Forest. 

nullSegway Santa Cruz offers several tours from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours. The short tour strolls through West Cliff Drive to the lighthouse while the longer one goes through West Cliff Drive first then continues to the Wharf. 

On cliff drive or on the wharf you will enjoy several stops to admire the scenery and take pictures. 

Segway Santa Cruz is also very active in the community. They created a fundraising organization Mobile4Kidz.org gifting children with their own mini Segway.

Segway Santa Cruz Tours
302 Pacific Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Dining in Santa Cruz

You can find great dining experiences in downtown, at the Wharf and on the Boardwalk. Read the full dining guide here.

The Beach Boardwalk

nullThe boardwalk is a long stretch of beach in Santa Cruz – connecting the Wharf to the Lorenzo River. Right at the beach, you can find an open amusement park that you can enter without purchasing a ticket. You will need individual tickets or all-day passes if you plan on enjoying the rides. Otherwise, you can just stroll through and watch the hordes of revelers. 

Fun facts: The Boardwalk is the oldest amusement park in California and the only one still standing on a beach today on the West Coast.

nullAt the west end you can find two separate game areas: At Neptune’s Kingdom you can play miniature golf, or Pinballs; Further west you can find more thrilling video games, ski ball, shooting games and laser tag at the Casino.

Tip: You can buy individual tickets for rides. If you just want to try a few rides, that is the way to go. But if you and your kids are going to try everything, then buy wristbands and forget about counting tickets. 

On the east end, you can get a thrill on the Giant Dipper roller coaster – which is a well-known wooden roller coaster.

nullIn between, you can find 34 rides and attractions. Some of the most popular ones are Undertow; Double Shot; Fireball and Cliff Hanger. 

Tip: Dogs, bikes, skateboards and roller skates are not allowed on the Boardwalk. 

Many restaurants and snack shops are spread throughout the boardwalk. You can also find independent restaurants across the street from the Boardwalk. 

For great views of Santa Cruz, the Boardwalk, and the Pier try riding Sky Glider or the Ferris Wheel. 

Tip: Try to visit the park at night. The lights are sounds are much more exciting in the dark. 

For a most amazing view of the boardwalk, go to the Wharf (Pier) at night and look back to the boardwalk. 

400 Beach Street 
Santa Cruz, CA

Natural Bridges State Beach

nullThis beautiful beach sits at the end of West Clif drive and spans 65 acres of beach and woods. From Cliff drive, you can enjoy a great view of the rock formations and the birds that nest on them. But to really enjoy this park, venture down onto the sand or climb the rocks at the other end. 

From the sand, you have a better view of the arch rock and you can swim to and through the arch. If you go further north-west and climb the rocks you will be rewarded with splashing waves and tide pools.  

Further inland you will be in the camping area within the woods. A guided tour will take you to the Monarch Butterflies habitat. Read more here.

2531 West Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Outside of town

Santa Cruz is the hub of activity in the County, but nearby cities have a lot to offer. You can go shopping at Capitola Mall, hiking in Felton, watch the Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park or zip-lining at Mount Hermon.

Roaring Camp Railroad

nullDuring your visit to Santa Cruz, you must go into the Redwood Forest. You should try hiking or biking through one of the State Parks if you can, but another way to experience it is via the Roaring Camp Railroad (Website). 

This train ride takes you from a nice park-like station into the woods – climbing through narrow winding tracks over trestle bridges all the way to the summit of Bear Mountain. 

Tip: the train depot has a wheelchair ramp if needed.

The climb is very steep at times. The train has to switch back between tracks because one of the bridges was destroyed in a fire.

Tip: You can bring your dog with you on the train ride, but he must be on a leash. If space is limited the conductor might not allow the dog on board.

nullWhile the train the chugging along you can admire the giant redwood trees and take lots of pictures. 

When you reach the summit you can take a stroll through the forest for 10 minutes. There is a trail that goes from camp to the summit (and back). If you choose to you can hike back down the trail. 

Fun facts: Roaring Camp Railroad is also home to another of Santa Cruz’s mysteries. Hikers found human remains and then, trains on night excursions keep stalling at the location of the find. Conductors reported seeing a woman crossing the tracks and bringing the train to a stop. No one was ever found.

Back at the station (camp) there is a lot to do:

  • You can bring a picnic and enjoy the park or eat in the woods. 
  • Buy food at the store or from Georgie's Cook House if you didn’t bring anything.
  • Buy souvenirs at the general store.
  • You can watch the blacksmith making horseshoes and tools.
  • You can have an easy hike through the woods – or take Bear Mountain trail to the top. Another hiking trail called Mount Hermon is close by.
  • At the “Antique Photo Shop”, you can don old-fashioned clothes and take your pictures (open weekends during high season). 
The Redwoods Forest Train rides cost $27 for adults and $20 for children. 

Fun facts: The trains on the Redwoods track use Narrow-Gauge steam engines. Those types of engines were used in the 1880’s to haul redwood logs out of the forest. They are strong enough to climb high-grade slopes. 

nullAnother train route takes you from the Beach Boardwalk to the Roaring Railroad Camp passing by the San Lorenzo River and going through the Henry Cowell Redwoods state park. You can start your trip from the beach or from the camp. 

The Beach Train rides cost $29 for adults and $23 for children. 

5401 Graham Hill Road
Felton, California 95018

Zipline in the Redwood Forest

nullA short ride away from Santa Cruz you explore the Redwood forest and join a thrilling adventure. 

"Mount Hermon Adventures" created a place for thrillseekers of all ages to enjoy the forest while zipping above the trees or walking between the redwoods on suspended bridges. 

I recently went on the Redwood Canopy Tour which is basically a 2-hour zip-line tour with some suspended bridge crossings. 

The guides were great. They explained the equipment and some safety rules and then we took off on a short hike to the first zip line. This is just a short training line where we received more instructions and tried it for the first time.

When we finally arrived at the real zip lines we were ready. The guides inspected our equipment and made sure it is tight and secure. 

nullZipping through the redwoods canopy was great fun. We enjoyed some short and fast lines and some long and slow ones. At times we were as high as 100-feet above the valley floor while hanging from a string. What a rush. 

Mount Hermon Adventures also offer other experiences in the redwoods. You can go on a Sequoia Aerial Adventure in which you can select your level of challenge on three aerial trails and over 30 elements, including swinging logs, cargo nets, and cables set 30 to 80 feet in the air.

There is also Discovery Cove for younger children. This is an easier challenge lower to the ground where parents can feel safe while their kids get a workout. 

Ano Nuevo State Park

nullAno Nuevo (New Year) State Park is a large preserve with very unique features. The terrain changes from dunes to wetlands to coastal scrub. The best attraction is the gathering of the Elephant Seals at a secluded beach. 

Tip: You have to get a permit to visit the Elephant Seals. Permits are available at the entrance 8:30 to 3:30 only.

The best attraction is the gathering of the Elephant Seals at a secluded beach. Every year, up to 10,000 elephant seals make this area their home. They spend their time sunbathing - and occasionally hunt for food. 

To get to the seal habitat you have to take a long hike. Some of it is on packed dirt, other parts are difficult to traverse sand dunes. It takes about one hour to reach your destination and it is worth the effort. 

Tip: It is a one-hour hike, but plan on 3-hour round trip. You will have a lot of stops along the way and you diffinetly spend time observing the seal antics. 

Along the way, you can enjoy expansive views of the ocean and the coastal scrub. Of in the distance, you can see Ano Nuevo island which is a haven for birds. 

Hiking

For avid hikers, Santa Cruz and the surrounding area is a haven full of all kinds of trails. You can take an easy stroll along Cliff drive or along the San Lorenzo River or you can venture into one of the many Redwood parks further inland.

Here are some of the best hikes in the area:

West Cliff Drive

nullWell, it is more like a stroll than a hike, but worth every minute. Start from the Wharf or the Boardwalk and head west. Start enjoying the seascape to the left and the rustic homes to the right.

Pass by the Surfer memorial – with a nice flower garden. At several points along the path, you can take the steep stairs down to the beach – or with high tide, down to the waves.

Fun facts: On February 15, 2007, the Associated Press ran a story about a missing yellow submarine in Santa Cruz County. Many people made a joke of the story and tied to the famous line from the Beatles song, but it turned out to be a real submarine. It was found later and the incident was declared as a misunderstanding. 

Continue until you reach the lighthouse, then keep going until you reach Natural Bridges State Beach. 

The state beach viewing area is a good vantage point to gaze at the rock bridges, Sea Lions, and Otters or glimpse the migrating whales in the distance. 

Down at the beach level, you can enjoy the sea life in the tide pools. You can find Crabs, Sea Anemones and Starfish.

Length: Total round trip about 6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time: It depends on how much exploring or gazing you want to do.

Fun facts: The Santa Cruz Trash Orchestra is a local band that uses recycled cans, hubcaps, pans to make music – or some call it noise. 

Berry Creek Falls Loop

nullThis hike is located in the Big Basin Redwood State Park, which is an hour’s drive from Santa Cruz. The hike takes you through Redwood forest to a nice waterfall. This hike is not for the faint of heart. It may take a full day to complete due to the difficulty and elevation gain. 

Tip: It is easy to get lost in this huge park. Get a map from the park HQ and plan ahead. 

There are several waterfalls along the way: Golden Cascade, Silver Falls, and Berry Creek Falls. 

Length: Total round trip about 6 miles

Difficulty: Difficult

Time: Full day.

Fun facts: On October 8, 1991, the City of Santa Cruz declared itself a Nuclear Free Zone. The city installed signs at intersections leading into town, but most of them were stolen and never replaced. People just liked the signs too much.

Old Cove Landing Trail

nullCloser to Santa Cruz, you can take this easy hike at Wilder Ranch State Park. This more like a walk along the coastal cliffs. 

Along this trail, you can find Sea Gulls, Geese, Pelicans, and Sea Lions. 

This used to be an old functioning farm, so you will find some remnants of the farming life along the trail, like tractors and antique cars.

Length: Total round trip about 2.6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 1 to 3 hours.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

nullThis redwood forest park covers about 4000 acres in total and has many hiking trails for every difficulty level.

You can find several easy hikes from the main entrance with stunning views of Redwood trees. The main trail is a paved road with signs pointing the way. It is around 5 miles for a round trip. 

Next door you can experience the Redwoods on the Roaring Camp Railroad. 

Nearby trips

Bean Hollow BeachYou can make Santa Cruz your base camp and go on same-day excursions. 

You can drive north for about 1.5 hours to get to San Francisco with its famous attractions like Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, China Town, Pier 39, Cable Cars and Coit Tower. Read more about San Francisco here

You can also get to San Francisco from Santa Cruz on Highway 1 passing by some very interesting towns and state beaches and parks. 

One such beach is called Bean Hollow Beach and towards the north end of this beach, you will find some strange rocks and colorful vegetation.

Or you can head south for about 1 hour to spend some time in the city of Monterey home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row and another great Fisherman’s Wharf.     

Santa Cruz Dining

Santa Cruz Dining anaheimer Sun, 11/03/2019 - 07:44

At the Pier

Santa Cruz - Dolphin RestaurantOfficially known as the Municipal Wharf, the huge pier is the perfect spot to enjoy views of West Cliff drive and the Boardwalk – or to grab a meal with awesome views.

Dolphin

Dolphin restaurant is our favorite place for breakfast on the pier. It sits at the end of the long pier with indoor and outdoor seating and great views all around.

The food and service are always exceptional. Some of our favorites are Eggs Benedict, Biscuits and Gravy, and the Denver Omelet.

Santa Cruz - Stangniro Bros. by gérard - FlickrFor lunch or dinner, you can order one of their gourmet seafood sandwiches, Hamburgers, or Pasta dishes.

Stagnaro Bros.

Stagnaro’s is another good place to enjoy a meal on the Wharf with great views of the bay. The food is above average, but not exceptional. Service can be spotty, depending on the crowds.

The best choices here are the Clam Chowder, Fish Tacos, and the Seafood Tortellini. You can also get Cracked Crab or Lobster Tail.

Downtown

Downtown Santa Cruz is comprised of a few blocks of stores, restaurants, and entertainment. It is easily walkable and close to many hotels and attractions.

Laili

Santa Cruz - Laili Restaurant - by Dean C.A unique mix of Mediterranean cuisine with an Afghani twist. The place is large with an outdoor garden area.

The food is always delicious. For starters try the Mediterranean Plate with a variety of popular dishes like hummus, tabbouleh, and babaghanoush.

For the main course, we like Eggplant parmesan flatbread, Lamb shank, Filet mignon kabob, Roasted Cauliflower.

For a great finish to this meal, you must try Pistachio Cardamom Ice Creamor or Baklava - or both.

I love Sushi

Santa Cruz -  I Love Sushi - by Gwen C.Do you love Sushi? We do and it is a tradition for our family to eat here whenever we visit Santa Cruz. The menu is extensive and includes delicious rolls, Sashimi, hand-rolls and combo plates.

The restaurant is famous for serving free samples before your order. It could appetizers or a new roll to try. It is always a nice surprise when it shows up.

Too many favorite rolls to mention here. Be adventurous and try them all. For people who hate Sushi, they offer a selection of cooked dishes like Beef Teriyaki and Chicken Teriyaki.

Everywhere Else

Akira

In a small strip mall away from downtown, you will find this hidden gem. Akira offers Sushi, Santa Cruz - Akira SushiSashimi and creative rolls. They also have a large selection of vegetarian rolls and dishes.

Some of my favorite specialty rolls are White Dragon, Natural Bridges, and Akira Rainbow. If you are looking for a cooked meal, try the Sesame Chicken Donduri or Salmon Teriyaki. They also have a Bento Box with 1, 2, or 3 items.

For a drink, try their hot Sake. They also have cold Sake and a variety of beers. For dessert, you must try the Green Tea Mochi.

Seal Beach

Seal Beach anaheimer Mon, 01/18/2021 - 16:08

Seal Beach - PierSeal Beach is the last coastal town you will encounter in Orange County before crossing into Los Angles County and the city of Long Beach.

This little beach town has its own unique charm – with tall palm trees lining the beach, immaculate homes, and one of California's longest piers.

When visiting, you will probably head straight to the beach or the Pier, but Seal Beach has a lot more to offer.

Consider visiting the  965-acres National Wildlife Refuge and spend some time walking Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge - from Wikimediathrough the marshlands and admiring the bird population.

Of course, the main attraction that lures visitors to this quaint seaside town is the beach with its soft sand, sunshine, and temperate waters.  Visitors here enjoy swimming, surfing, body surfing, and kite surfing.

The main stretch of beach is along Ocean Avenue and Seal Way. Parking is difficult on busy days – but if you are lucky, you can find a spot at the pier lots. If not, you will have to park at the Jetty and walk.

Hennessey's Grill, Seal BeachThe Pier is fun to walk because it extends for some distance into the ocean. At the end of the Pier, you will have a commanding view of the coastline in both directions. Looking straight into the sea, you will have a great view of the Channel Islands.

The Pier connects to Main street where you will find most restaurants and shops. My favorite place for lunch or dinner is Hennessey's Grill, an Irish pub with delicious hamburgers and thirst-quenching beers.

If you are here for breakfast, try Bogart's Coffee House or Old Town Café.

Fancy, a stroll around town? The whole area below the pacific coast highway (toward the beach) is walkable. Just pick a few streets to visit and go around in a loop.

My favorite route takes you through the beach, a river, and an extended park.Seal Beach - Red Car Museum - courtesy of Chamber of Commerce

Start from the Pier and head north on Ocean ave. Turn left into the parking lot at the Jetty. Turn right into the San Gabrial River Trail, then right into Marina Drive.

Take a right into Electric Ave, which turns into a long park that ends into Anaheim Bay and the Anaheim Landing Historic Landmark.

After you cross Seal Beach Blvd, you will find a pedestrians only path that takes you back to the beach and the Pier.  

To get a glimpse into the transit system that used to serve the area, a trip to the Red Car Museum is a must.

At the corner of Main and Electric ave in Downtown, you will find this Red Rail Car - a restored Pacific Electric Railway car. This car's interior houses historical artifacts and is open to the public, and admission is free.

Venice Beach, California

Venice Beach, California anaheimer Sun, 01/21/2018 - 15:14

During my teen years I visited Venice, Italy and loved the canals and narrow alleyways between majestic historic buildings. 

Venice, CA - CanalsI was surprised to find out that California had its own Venice with canals and alleyways, but with a totally different vibe. 

Venice was established as a resort town in 1905 by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney, but it was annexed by the city of Los Angeles in 1925.

This town has a split personality. When you start walking the long stretch of the boardwalk on the beach, you are transformed into a festive, almost circus-like, atmosphere. 

Street performers are everywhere trying to attract the attention of the troves of people walking by. On the weekend and holidays, you can barely squeeze in between the masses. 

Venice Beach, CAAll along the promenade, you will find shops, snack bars, and restaurants. There are also dedicated areas for skaters, a bike lane and an outdoor gym. 

If you go inland a few blocks you are transferred into a serene atmosphere with canals, bridges, boats and ducks. This block of homes and canals is why the city is called Venice. 

Walking along the canals is a feast for the eyes with expensive homes kept up in mint condition and beautiful gardens and fountains. 

It is an eerie transformation between the hustle and bustle of the waterfront and the tranquility of the canals. 

Venice Beach, CA - street performerBack on the beach and looking north, you can see the Santa Monica Pier with its popular carnival rides. You can actually walk or bike from Venice Beach to Santa Monica and enjoy the rides or go shopping.

The south end connects to Marina Del Rey, another popular beach area in Los Angeles. In Marina Del Rey you can find Mothers Beach, a secluded inland beach away from the high surf. A favorite destination for families with small children.

When you get hungry, you have a large selection of restaurants and snack shacks. My favorite for a sit-down meal is “The Sidewalk Café” – an open-air café with views of the sidewalk and beach. The food is very good and reasonably priced. 

For light meals or snacks, you can try “Funnel Cakes”, “Cold Stone Creamery” or “Rey’s Pizza”.