Category Archives: Local Travel

Why winter is a great time to visit Catalina Island

Catalina Harbor view from Banning House
When you visit Catalina Island in winter be sure to tour the Casino Building

When you visit Catalina Island in winter be sure to tour the Casino Building

The seaplane windows sprayed with salt water as the pontoons hit the water. Slowly we slid to the dock and climbed out of the little airplane. This is my oldest memory of the island and my family returned to visit Catalina several times over the decades. Now my loved ones are scattered around the country, so it’s a rare treat to get together and over to the island.

View from the boat when leaving San Pedro Harbor to visit Catalina

Leaving San Pedro harbor

The Starship Express Ferry coming into Avalon Harbor

I’m not one for crowds. So stopping in Avalon briefly then catching a boat to the tiny landing at Two Harbors was the perfect way to begin our quiet vacation. We left from San Pedro by the Catalina Express and dragged our bags up the hill to the Banning House about three hours later.

One trail up to Banning House

One trail up to Banning House

The main sitting room in Banning House

The main sitting room in Banning House

The house was built in 1910 for the Banning family and sits perched on a hill between the two harbors. The craftsman style inn has only 12 rooms that are booked most of the year. We were lucky to score a family-style space facing Catalina Harbor. Each morning there was a modest breakfast, a happy hour in the evening and we walked down to the Harbor Restaurant for dinner. It was a relaxed and simple routine.

There’s not much lodging in Two Harbors. A campground is available and after the summer crowds have left you might book one of the modest staff cabins. I recommend booking well in advance.

Trans Catalina trail marker

Catalina Harbor viewpoint across the isthmus

Catalina Harbor viewpoint

For two full days, we hiked trails and explored. Our millennials took to the hills as they were training for marathons. There was little WiFi but I did my best to stay up with work for a few hours on the village cafe patio. We tried scuba diving but were thwarted by limited boat rentals. Note* Reserve a skiff ahead of time! Still, it was simple to stroll along the beach and snorkel along the point.

I’ve gone diving from the Casino steps in Avalon and from private boats before. It’s the main reason I feel that winter is the best time to visit Catalina – the water is warmest between October and early January! At least warmer compared to the Southern California coast and my base in San Diego. The coast is colder due to upwelling (where cold water rolls up onto the beaches.) It’s great for kelp but not so for warm-blooded creatures!

Beaches on far side of Catalina Island

Bays on far side of Catalina Island

Before long our group split with two needing to get back to the mainland and we said goodbye as they walked onto the ferry. Then it was off to cross the island by bus and stop overnight in Avalon. The island ranches still preserve the wilds of the interior but there are several small campgrounds where reservations are a good idea.

Buffalo sighting Catalina Island

Buffalo sighting Catalina Island

Crossing by car or bus also gives you a chance to see Buffalo and they’re magnificent locals.

Airport in the sky on Catalina Island

Airport in the sky on Catalina Island

Nature Center on Catalina Island

The small “Airport in the Sky” was full of kitsch and housed in a beautiful Spanish Colonial style hacienda. There’s a nature exhibit and alongside the souvenir shop, a large, casual dining room. Made me wish I had friends with an airplane although I understand there’s a bump on the runway!

Art Deco detail inside the Catalina Casino

Art Deco detail inside the Catalina Casino

Catalina Casino band circa 1930

Catalina Casino band circa 1930

We crossed over to the main town and headed uphill to stay at a small hotel. As I love all things retro from the 20’s and 40’s, I was thrilled to finally tour the old Casino building. It was easy to imagine my mother and her sisters taking the ferry over to dance to the big bands. In those days unescorted women were frowned upon, but if you took the ferry to join the ballroom crowds no one minded. It might have had something to do with Mr. Wrigley banning alcohol on the premises. (He couldn’t keep it off the ferry though!)

Segway when you visit Catalina

On the last morning of our trip, we rented Segways for a guided tour up into the hills. I was wary of scooting around those steep grades but soon felt comfortable. The views were wonderful and at one point we even spotted a rare Red Fox.

Fox sightings aren't as common as they once were.

Foxes are coming back thanks to the Island Conservancy.

When you visit Catalina Island there are so many ways to frame your journey. There are popular festivals, dance clubs, restaurants both casual and fine dining, gardens, camps and private beaches.

Bar scene in Catalina Island

Bar scene in Avalon

When you visit Catalina

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Where to find the best places to eat in Oceanside

Best places to eat in oceanside are mostly at the weekly night market

Best places to eat in oceanside are mostly at the weekly night marketMuch more than a surf and beach getaway, Oceanside is a dining destination where parking is abundant and you can always get a seat at the table or bar. That is unless you need to get into the 35 seat speakeasy, 101 Proof, on a busy night. The city ripples with tantalizing eating and drinking options. And not just individual places, the Thursday Night Market overflows with curated vendors offering affordable and unique tastes. Choose from plank fired Salmon, Ghawazee small plates, Japanese cakes, Polish pierogi, gluten free pastries for example. Entertainment fills a plaza with live music, Bungee jumping, henna painting. Strolling, eating and enjoying the crowd makes for a relaxing night. I loved simply watching an expert baker toss pizza crust overhead next to a wood-fired grill at one the best places to eat in Oceanside.

The west entrance to the night market, one of the best places to eat in Oceanside

The sunset market on Thursdays is one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.

With all the culinary excitement across San Diego county, it’s taken awhile for Oceanside to get its due. Once it was a bit shady, downtown was punctuated with tattoo parlors and rowdy military bars. The rowdies have moved onto lower rent burgs. The city center and south along the Pacific Coast Highway are bubbling with new energy. Families enjoy the beach and wander downtown day or night. Couples nuzzle in comfy booths and friends mingle everywhere. Cutting-edge chefs, urban farmers, distilleries and ale-houses – there’s a lot to love. Here are several food spots I look forward to visiting again and again.
Urge gastropub is one of the best places to eat in Oceanside

Urge Gastropub / Mason Aleworks / 101 Proof Speakeasy

Urge Gastropub
Once a boxy bank sat on a corner of Highway 101. Today a consortium of brewers, chefs and mixologists have transformed it into a feast for the senses – the Urge Gastropub. I stepped inside the dining room and central bar to face a wall of fine spirits. Behind the kitchen, the brewing prowess the Mason Aleworks team of beer masters fill kegs and tanks.
The boys in the band from Mason Aleworks and the Urge Gastropub kitchen

The ‘boys in the band’ from Mason Aleworks and the Urge Gastropub kitchen

For a behind-the-scenes look into Mason Aleworks and the exclusive 101 Proof Speakeasy, check out my video:
Outside around the corner, there’s a simple sturdy door. Enter and you’re in a classic speakeasy. The Whisky vault, 101 Proof, is an homage to the luxurious drinking salons of the 1930’s. There’s a refined menu, plush upholstery and the talented ministrations of the bartender. The space is intimate and reservations are suggested. Tell them Bugsy sent you.
Bartender inside the 101 Proof Speakeasy

Bartender inside the 101 Proof Speakeasy

Cyclops Farm

Get a taste of the freshest, organically-certified produce from the weekend stand at Cyclops Farms. Meander up to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the Pacific. Farmer, Luke Girling, spent the last few years filling this huge, residential acreage with unique greens, fruits, and flowers for local chefs. His inspiration has caught on as part of an urban farming movement that’s filling suburban neighborhoods with clean and bountiful harvests. The community loves it too. As I stood there on the morning of a tour, he waved to the street several times as neighbors passed by. Follow his Facebook page to sign up for one of the exclusive ‘Water Bill Dinners’ he hosts monthly at tables on the property.

Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand

Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand

Staci Miller, founder of Miller's Table one of the best places to eat in Oceanside

Staci Miller, founder of Miller’s Table

Millers table sandwich
The Millers Table

Staci Miller has a flair for unique details, creating a restaurant that’s an experience, as well as delicious presentations. The intimate space contains a huge community table decorated with lights and candles. Focusing on artful sandwiches, inspired vegetables, and fresh locally sourced proteins, the culinary team serves their creations without waitstaff. Curious about your hummus, where the delicious rolls come from, what the best wine or beer pairing is? Ask Staci or her team as they stop by the table. Savvy locals know to call ahead for seats or order a picnic basket for a patio or beachside meal.

The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway

The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway

The Charcuterie plate at LTH

The Charcuterie plate at LTH

Local Tap House

Don’t let the casual vibe fool you. LTH takes great food and drink seriously. Yes, the patio is pet-friendly, garage doors open to the sea breezes and bicycle teams may fill tables. It’s all affordable fun based on a menu full of surprises. LTH embodies a laid-back beach style with an eye to delicious quality.

Chef Davin Waite and his creations from Wrench and Rodent
Wrench and Rodent

With a name like that you’d better be good. Chef and founder, Davin Waite, twists his punk rock sensibilities into the freshest seafood presentations imaginable. Each ingredient is ‘chef selected.’ The ‘Sebasstropub’ is irreverently decorated (yes, there be rodent art,) and small, with a large patio in front and back, and an entrance from the parking lot through a taco shop. Sushi lovers wax eloquent. Fish connoisseurs hum with approval. Just go!


608 pork loin from Chef William Eick

Think you know short ribs? The tender meat is served with roasted vegetables on a bed of Thai Coconut curry. Scrumptious.

608 Oceanside's Chef William Eick explains his bold flavor inspirations

608 Oceanside’s Chef William Eick explains his bold flavor inspirations.

608 Oceanside

This new restaurant is making waves in the San Diego culinary scene. While Chef William Eick serves ‘small plates based on a contemporary American cuisine’ don’t assume that you’ve had anything like this. The restaurant is slender, intimate, and set along the main downtown block of Mission Boulevard. 608 is definitely buzzworthy as one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.

Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland at the Sunset Market

Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland

Plank roasting with Michael Bossle in the Flamin' Salmon booth

Plank-roasting with Michael Bossel in the Flamin’ Salmon booth

The Stone Brewery beer garden at the Oceanside sunset market

The Stone Brewery beer garden

Mainstreet Oceanside Sunset Market
Erase any preconceptions of a night market. Every Thursday evening at sundown the event fills several cross streets of downtown Oceanside. The International Food Court is packed with curated stands and inspired vendors. They’re some of the best places to eat in town – all affordable and great fun. I was entranced by the buzz. Live bands play in the square, there’s great people-watching, date-night couples, family diners, and more delicious food in one place than imaginable.  Of course, you’ll also find shopping with crafts and activities like pony rides, henna painting, and bungee jumping. It’s a carnival without the barkers or rides. Also, Stone Brewery has set up an open-air pub in a garden on a side street for those looking for more adult brews. Definitely worth the trip to town.
Getting to the best places to eat in Oceanside
Come down from OC, over from Escondido, pace the traffic and wind up the Interstate 5 from San Diego central. You won’t regret the drive. Better yet take the train. The Amtrak station is steps from town and a few blocks from the beach. On weekends, the Metrolink rolls in from LA and San Bernadino with a discount fair. The Coaster stops in too and one line swings out to East County as well.
sunset over the oceanside pierBest places to eat in Oceanside

I’ve been in and out and past Oceanside so many times while cruising between San Diego and Los Angeles. It was been so much fun discovering more about this coastal gem and I thank the Oceanside Visitors Bureau for arranging a tour for the members of IFWTWA. I’ll be back!

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Visiting Temecula wineries – Old world style and new world tastings

Mount Palomar Winery fountain one of the Temecula wineries worth visiting
Anabel Brut is a sparkling vintage at Europa Village amongst the Temecula wineries

Annabel Brut is named after the Europa Village owner’s effervescent mother, Annabel Stephenson

Those in the know go! It shouldn’t be a secret but in the rolling hills of Southern California, well east of the coast, Temecula wineries are making a scene. Private wine clubs, live music, restaurants, villas, spas and abundant tastings are uncorked throughout the growing region. I’ve visited several times over the past few years and always return home impressed and a bit buzzed by the beauty (and yes, the tippling.)

There are two Temecula wineries that stunned me recently – Mount Palomar and Europa Village. Over one slowly paced day, I joined a small group of foodies to sip and eat, walk and marvel at all that’s been created and is on the drawing boards.

Admiring the view inside the Anata Bistro and Bar

Admiring the view inside the Anata Bistro and Bar

Mount Palomar Winery

Since 1969 the Mount Palomar winery has been garnering awards. The public vineyards are full of trails. We sauntered through the gates, past stone fountains and flower beds to a large building open to views of the countryside. Inside Anata Bistro and Bar, an open and appealing space, the chef offers a rotating, seasonal menu. In late fall, two cocktails with ingredients from the garden as well as the vine made it to our tables. The Pomegranate Martini was slightly sweet above a flourish of the signature red seeds. The Ginger Crush was muddled with a basil garnish and vanilla bean simple syrup.

pomegranate and blood orange cocktails

An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro

An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro

Lunch was inspired by Meditteranean cuisine as we were feted with appetizer plates full of hummus, marinated olives, and crostini. Steak and fries, lamb and beef kebabs, salads and various flatbreads soon covered the table. No one was going hungry and I can’t wait to return with family.

Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room at Mount Palomar one of many award winning Temecula Wineries.

Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room

Prepping our tummies with food was a good strategy as we next stepped into the barrel room to meet the vintner, James Rutherford. He tapped tall, stainless casks with flair and then swept us out to the Solara where Sherry casks were aging in the open sun! The cream sherry process at Mount Palomar is based on Moroccan, then Spanish traditions before it was brought to California in the days of the Conquistadors. Stepped rows of wooden casks cook for five years in the sun before being bottled! It was a surprising set up for this wine fan!

Special Offer: Enjoy a Temecula winetasting at Mount Palomar winery

Download a coupon for 2 for 1 wine tasting coupon!

Europa Village

Inside the gates of the Europa Village Winery is a gracious world. Taking cues from Old World wineries, there are inviting gardens with shaded sitting areas, a comfortable patio, tasting room and gift store adjacent to a long Pergola, sheltering tables reserved for wine club members and events. Beyond all that grapevines flick their broad leaves in the sun.

The planned Europa Village Spainish, Italian and French-inspired wineries

The planned Europa Village Spanish, Italian and French-inspired wineries

Europa Village is becoming even more idyllic as the John Goldsmith, the General Manager, described the vineyard’s future. A grand villa is already open for guests but, over the coming years, a true village has been laid out. Soon luxury accommodations and three wineries featuring grapes and wine-making styles from France, Spain and Italy will be complete. Europa Village is a destination already but the future developments will have wine tasting fans flocking to the Temecula wineries to stay for days.

It takes a community

Over the last century, the region has had its challenges. Wineries have changed hands with the fluxuating economy. They’ve closed and then opened in new configurations. Infestations once decimatdecades-old vines. Today growers work together to alert each other of any signs of blight. Developers have attempted re-zoning the relatively affordable acerage. A passionate association of residents, winery owners, vineyard owners and affiliated businesses has grown to form the Protect Temecula Wine Country Association. They are actively working to preserve the wine making and rural atmosphere of the area for the future.

My day visiting Temecula wineries ended too swiftly but knowing how close to Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego the region is. It won’t be long before I’ll return with friends. How lovely it is to taste and meander amongst the relaxing and beautiful Temecula wineries.

If you go wine tasting at the Temecula wineries:
  • 2 for 1 Wine Tasting Coupon! Mount Palomar winery exclusive.
  • Taste the Palomar Mountain wines, have lunch, enjoy live music or dinner theater in the Mount Palomar, Anata Bistro and Bar.
  • Stroll through the gardens, attend performances, shop, and sip in Europa Village
  • Arrange tours, transportation and explore all there is to do in the Temecula wine country with help from the Visitor’s Center.

My wine tour and lunch were arranged and hosted through my membership the IFWTWA.

Witchy, Parisian fun at a ghostly Halloween party

Attend a Halloween party witches luncheon
four witches who lunch

Girls just want to have fun.

“You’re so dramatic!” my mother would lament. I don’t know why she was surprised. I loved dress up and acting since in kindergarten. Costumes served me well in my career as a young actress, then years later while gluing dinosaur and robot outfits together for my grade school son. My DIY costume instincts have been long dormant until I was invited to a witches luncheon and Halloween party this year. The theme wound around Paris and it’s too long since I’ve visited. Sometimes traveling locally can feed wanderlust!
Elaine's halloween party hat

My halloween party hat

I have a dear friend who loves the challenge of designing a Halloween costume. Teresa’s attended the Witches Luncheon for several years. Her excitement about the event started during the summer. This year I was in town and cobbled a costume together. Without much time to be a crafty girl, my glue gun stayed in storage, but I managed to cull pieces from thrift shops and stitch accessories together. Teresa and I dressed excitedly for an entrance.
Elaine and Teresa at the Halloween Party

Fooling around at the Halloween Party

Arriving at the Halloween Party
We pulled up to the elegant, historic and reputably haunted, Horton Grand Hotel on the morning of the event. The Victorian lobby, full of gilded glass and wooden curlicues, fit the ghostly Parisian theme perfectly. Inside the atrium, a ghostly white, Eiffel Tower replica had a giant black spider descending it’s side. We were invited to imbibe a ‘bloody,’ watermelon cocktail. Tables were set with feathery masks and minitature French poodles. Our hostess, Helen, thoughtfully arranged a long table of loaner hats and wigs for anyone wishing to add to their Halloween party costume.
table setting for a Halloween Party
Helen took her costume cue from Audrey Hepburn’s coming-out dress in the movie, My Fair Lady. Eliza wasn’t exactly a witch, but Henry Higgins might disagree.
Our Witches Luncheon hostess, Helen and friend.

Our Witches Luncheon hostess, Helen, and a ghoulish server.

I knew few of the attendees – most worked in downtown offices and I work from home. Being a bit of an outsider gave me the freedom to engage as the room filled with all manners of witches. In friendly competition most lobbied for costume contest votes. The Sea and Crafty Witches won prizes. My gal-pal, Teresa, won for best makeup. I loved the hat winners – Domino and Ice Cream Sand-witches especially.
Teresa in Halloween party garb with cocktail

Award-winning makeup – Teresa in full witchy, Halloween party regalia

The Domino Witch enters the Halloween Party.

The Domino Witch making an entrance.

Professional photographer, Douglas Gates, corralled everyone together for a Halloween party shot before lunch and invited each of us to pose for portraits in a side room.

Appetizers were just scary enough to still be edible.

Breadstick with almond nail! The appetizers were just scary enough to still be edible.

Moments before salads were served, the opening beat of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ filtered into the space. The willowy Helen emerged in a new costume, dressed as a mummy, and she slithered into the center of the room. Soon a flashmob joined her, kicking and twisting to the beat. How I wish I knew the steps!
Excerpts from the Flash Mob at the Halloween Party:
The party continued, conversations and wine flowed. Garden doors opened and we were invited inside to view several tables overflowing with costumes and decorations. Our votes would determine next year’s Halloween party theme.
Bury the hatchet - Halloween party dessert

Halloween party dessert

Being with all those inspiring women stirred up memories. My mother loved Paris. Side-by-side, we once looked up at the Eiffel Tower replica in front of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. She whispered, “Now, I don’t need to visit France,” and then we giggled at the thought. Before she passed away, we walked the Opera District, visited the Louvre and ate true croissants together in Paris.
Mom loved costumes too. Somewhere there’s a snapshot of her dressed as a gypsy for a cocktail party. I couldn’t have been more than five but remember being impressed with her huge, golden hoop earrings. The apple hasn’t fallen far from that tree. I’m already planning my Fairyland ‘witch’ costume for the Halloween party next fall. Mom would’ve fit right in.
The witches who lunch

The witches who lunch

Happy Halloween!
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Skeleton hat at the Halloween Party
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Sunday brunch, the bay and bubbly with Hornblower San Diego

Hornblower Sunday Brunch cruise ship sails in San Diego
The Coronado Bridge from our Sunday Brunch cruise

The Coronado Bridge from our Sunday Brunch cruise

It doesn’t matter if you’re a local or visiting, getting out on the water in San Diego is always a fresh delight. A Sunday brunch cruise is a luxury that shouldn’t be saved for out of town friends and family. The beautiful, calm bay, the stunning sweep of Coronado Bridge, and great company matched with an overflowing buffet and bottomless mimosas makes for an outing that only a fasting monk would find fault with.

Hornblower cruise hat and champagne on our Sunday brunch

I was lucky to step onto the Hornblower San Diego ship with a group of travel buddies for Sunday Brunch. A light breeze kept us cool as we waited to board and then walked up the ramp to greet our captain.

Captain and Elaine on our Sunday brunch cruise.

The Captain greets us

Stepping in from the sunshine, my eyes adjusted to the light as a tray of champagne or sparkling cider was offered. Large round tables were set with crystal, china and silverware. An ice bucket with Champagne waited for attention. A few steps away, table on table of food presentations; a line of hot entrees, a cutting station, and a dessert nook.

Sunday brunch cruise buddies

San Diego Travel Massive buddies: Katherine, Cintia and Alexa.

Briefly the Captain’s voice echoed through the space with announcements about the ship and our route as we slipped away from the dock. We were off! Food and conversation flowed and it was easy to forget that we were sailing. That would’ve been a mistake as the views just outside our ballroom dining hall rivaled anything else on board.

Buffet details on the Sunday brunch cruise

Carpeted stairs led up and into the daylight. The top deck held small rounds for glassware and more than one guest brought their Champagne bucket upstairs to continue the party. With gentle sun, and smooth breezes, I stood in wonder as the city, the port, and the star of the afternoon, the sweeping grace of the Coronado Bridge slipped by.

Captain working on the Sunday brunch cruise

I’m a big fan of that bridge and the chance to see it from below is always thrilling. Before we knew it, two hours had passed. The ship glided into port and paused as the final ties were made. The captain materialized once again at the top of the gangplank to say goodbyes. I imagine it’s a satisfying part of his job on perfect afternoons like this. Shaking hands with so many satisfied, well-fed, happy guests after their Sunday Brunch wasn’t part of the job description but a perk.

More Sunday Brunch details & other Hornblower cruises:

Hornblower schedules several cruises year round from two docks on the San Diego waterfront.

During Whale Watching season you’re on the water with Naturalists from the San Diego Science Museum and guaranteed sightings or a return trip.

The Sunday brunch cruises are weekly with special dining cruises year round: Mothers’ Day, Pet Day on the Bay, Sunset Dinner, Fireworks and special occasion trips too.

My Sunday Brunch cruise was complementary with Hornblower San Diego. One day I hope to sail with them at their other ports in San Francisco, Niagra and New York.

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A California beach adventure in Oceanside

A California beach adventure begins at the Oceanside Pier

A California beach adventure begins at the Oceanside Pier

It doesn’t get much sweeter than this; sun most days of the year, easy to get to and affordable. Oceanside always surprises me. It’s one California beach city that is too often overlooked, but that’s changing.

Tom Cruise's house featured in the movie, Top Gun.

Tom Cruise’s house featured in the movie, Top Gun.

Perched between the military base, Camp Pendelton, and San Diego proper, it’s often just a blip on the GPS for drivers going north or south, but they’re missing out. I love spending a day or two walking downtown, visiting the beach, the museums and discovering new restaurants and happy hours. The harbor area is worth exploring too.

Oceanside heart balloon at the Farmers Market

The city rolls out its best for events year round. A giant heart balloon is seen around town during Valentine’s week. There are multiple charity runs and organized bike rides. Cultural events abound from the Oceanside museum, the Surf museum, the Starlight theater and galleries. The craft brew and gastropub scenes are percolating. Some great sushi and seafood can be found from white tablecloth establishments to casual pizza, health foods and taco stands.

California beach adventure includes a cup or bottle of Kombucha at Living Tea.

Josh Weigel and his draft Kombucha at Living Tea.

Hello Betty restaurant is a fun stop for a California beach adventure

Hello Betty has seating indoor, rooftop or along the sidewalk.

California beach adventure has to include a walk on the pier.

A view from the pier.


The California Surf Museum, local murals and the Oceanside Art Museum.

My favorite is the beach. The pier is long and worth a stroll whether it’s stormy or the sky is bright. Along the waterfront quaint bungalows line the sea wall. The wide open sand makes dipping into the water a must. If you love surfing or boogie boarding, the waves will make you delirious.

Oceanside Springhill Marriott hotel is poised for a perfect California beach adventure

Views from the Springhill Marriott Hotel in Oceanside

Where to stay for your California beach adventure in Oceanside?

There are several BnB’s in the area and a number of hotels. The fresh, Springhill Suites Marriott, just a block from the water, is one choice. The view from their roof top pool is stunning.

Masters Kitchen and Cocktail reflects the California beach vibe.

Photo courtesy of Masters Kitchen and Cocktail

Where to eat in Oceanside:
  • Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub is a culinary adventure you’ll savor long after the plate’s clean. Award-winning, Chef Davin Waite features local seafood, produce, and chef-picked ingredients.
  • Zig Zag Pizza Pie lets you pick your ingredients, your drinks out of the cooler and chops salads just steps from the Oceanside pier.
  • Hello Betty Fish House has a California beach theme and fresh eats inside or out.
  • Swami’s on Mission Avenue is one of the first healthy eating cafes in San Diego
  • 333 Pacific is a Cohn family restaurant with a bit more polish than most in the pier neighborhood. Stylish cocktails and sumptuous fare.
  • Masters Kitchen and Cocktail is a few blocks from downtown on South Coast Highway. It’s one of many innovative brew pubs / casual dining spots in the area. (Of course I had to include my namesake!)
  • Living Tea Brewing Company serves fresh, organic Kombucha in their storefront at 302 Wisconsin Avenue. It’s also available bottled around San Diego.
The most recent mural outside of Wrench and Rodent on South Pacific Highway near Cassidy.

The most recent mural outside of Wrench and Rodent on South Pacific Highway.

Getting to your California beach adventure in Oceanside:

Drive: The beach is just west of the Interstate 5 freeway and Pacific Coast Highway off Mission Boulevard.

Ride: The Amtrak station is close to downtown and the beach. There’s a great deal for weekend travelers from Metrolink. You buy a pass for Saturday or Sunday for just $10 to travel anywhere Metrolink goes. It makes visiting Oceanside even easier with the terminus there and access to the Coaster and Amtrak lines throughout San Diego County (a separate ticket.)

Here’s some of the views going into Oceanside along the coast.

Whether it’s a short vacation or a swim stop between destinations, there’s lots to do and explore on a California beach adventure in Oceanside.

Extend your California beach adventure and travel anywhere on the Metrolink system for just $10 on Saturday or Sunday with the Weekend Day Pass. More info:…

I hope that you enjoyed this brief California beach adventure and will share these pins.

Oceanside heart balloon is part of a California beach adventure Our lady of the sea chapel in OceansideOceanside murals are part of your California beach adventure

Budget Travelers Sandbox


Secret’s out – Fort Lauderdale restaurant scene is hopping

Blue Moon Oyster Bar, Fort Lauderdale
Blue Moon Oyster Bar, Fort Lauderdale

Blue Moon Oyster Bar, Fort Lauderdale

Banish visions of bikini and beer-boosted bacchanals. The rowdy crowds have moved on and today Fort Lauderdale is a fun, foodie town. I discovered this over three, brief days while being led to a whiskey den, a hidden craft coffee spot, and dining at chic waterfront tables. Meeting a charming sommelier, passionate chocolate vendor, cheese connoisseur and a mom who founded a craft brew cartel were some of the highlights along with bonding with fellow foodies. It was one discovery after another.

Here’s some of the highlights among the Fort Lauderdale restaurant and drink purveyors:

Beauty and the Feast, Fort Lauderdale

Beauty and the Feast, Fort Lauderdale

Beauty and the Feast Bar and Kitchen is tucked inside the Atlantic Hotel with sweeping views of the ocean. The menu is full of innovation, fresh ingredients and local flare. It’s a comfy spot to share small plates or a big one (our full fish platter filled us up.)

O-B Breakfast in Fort Lauderdale historic district

Lump Crab Benedict at O-B House

O-B House sits on a corner in the historic Fort Lauderdale district. Our breakfast overflowed with options – mango mimosas, platters of moist, tasty muffins and even a plate-size, baked pancake.

Chelsea, founder of Marando Farms in Fort Lauderdale.

Chelsea, founder of Marando Farms.

Marando Farms is an urban farmers market and an educational center for hundreds of visiting students each year. The small urban farm on a small plot has grown into overflowing acres. A snack bar serves energizing smoothies and the wine shop is well stocked with curated choices.

Brew Urban Cafe in the Arts District of Fort Lauderdale.

Brew Urban Cafe in the Arts District of Fort Lauderdale.

Brew Urban Cafe hides within the offices of C & I Studios and Lounge. Down the hall and to the left of the office entrance there’s an alternative universe where cold brew and about any other coffee or tea is available. It’s well worth hunting out and testing the overstuffed upholstery.

Blue Moon Fish Company with dining at the dock in Fort Lauderdale.

Blue Moon Fish Company offers award-winning waterfront dining. We enjoyed refreshing breezes from a table just across from the drawbridge entrance to Fort Lauderdale. Arriving by foot and an impressive display of fresh seafood greeted us inside the front door.

Mixology class in the Stache Whiskey Den, Fort Lauderdale

Mixology class in the Stache Whiskey Den, Fort Lauderdale

Whiskey Den is upstairs at Stache, Fort Lauderdale’s premiere cocktail lounge, coffee bar, nightclub and concert hall. We had a blast tasting Rye, Whiskey, Rum and Gin, then creating our own cocktails.

Louie Bossi, Fort Lauderdale

Louie Bossi, Fort Lauderdale

Louie Bossi is a recent addition to the Las Olas Street shopping and dining experience. Chef Bossi may have grown up cooking in NYC but he’s also a Master Pizza maker. The flat breads were inspired, our sommelier very attentive and the courtyard Bocce ball course was tempting.

Even a dedicated foodie enjoys a simple breakfast.

Even a dedicated foodie enjoys a simple breakfast.

Luxury, ocean front steak house, Steak 954, is open morning to late night inside the W Hotel. Inside a giant, mesmerizing aquarium shelters over 200 Moon Jelly fish!

A cheese and wine stop on the Las Olas Street Food Tour, Fort Lauderdale

A cheese and wine stop on the Las Olas Street Food Tour.

After breakfast we headed over to Las Olas Street for a packed historical and culinary advenure with Las Olas Food Tours. Walking and talking our way along the street, in and out of hotels, and along the canal was the perfect way to burn calories (OK, a few.)

Beer ingredients and tasting at the Craft Beer Cartel.

Beer ingredients and tasting at the Craft Beer Cartel.

Set on a suburban neighborhood corner is the surprising mecca of Floridian brews. The Craft Beer Cartel shared how beer is made and we sipped several of the Native Beer labels best brews. When you visit don’t miss checking out the floor. It’s ’tiled’ with bottle caps in elaborate patterns.

Pelican Grand Veranda, Fort Lauderdale

Pelican Grand Veranda, Fort Lauderdale

If you’re lucky enough to visit Fort Lauderdale on a full moon night, find out if the Pelican Grand is hosting one of their veranda dinners. At Ocean 2000 you’ll dine on local seafood specialties while listening to the waves and watching the moon rise over the sea. The plantation style hotel is set as close to the water as possible. The upstairs rooms, spa and wedding/event space feel like they’re floating with views to the horizon.

Pelican Grand Spa, Fort Lauderdale

Inside the couple’s room, Pelican Grand Spa, Fort Lauderdale

I only wish that these delights were spread out over a week or two! The Fort Lauderdale restaurant and bar scenes deserve to be savored.

There's always room for chocolate and ice cream from Kilwins, Fort Lauderdale.

There’s always room for chocolate and ice cream

If you go:

  • Beauty and the Feast Bar and Kitchen inside the Atlantic Hotel
  • O-B Breakfast House in the Fort Lauderdale historic district
  • Maranado Farms features organic and sustainable produce and local artist’s crafts
  • Brew Urban Cafe hides in the FAT Arts District and within the C&I Studio offices.
  • Blue Moon Fish Company is nothing like a processor’s plant. Enjoy white table cloth dining and impressive presentations.
  • Whiskey Den at Stache, lounge and concert hall.
  • Louie Bossi, an Italian eatery with distinctive traditional and newly crafted delicacies.
  • Steak 954, a boutique steakhouse, inside the W Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
  • Las Olas Food Tours introduces visitors (and locals) to the people and places that make the area so delicious.
  • Craft Beer Cartel is packed with Floridian brews and is the home to the Native Beer label.
  • Pelican Grand Hotel, is a luxury, plantation-style oasis on the water with gracious dining options and rocking chairs on the long deck, the better to let the wave song hypnotize you.

The Fort Lauderdale restaurant tour was part of the TBEX FAM trips and arranged by the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. Thanks for including me! #HelloSunny




Apple picking in Julian – A San Diego day trip

Apple picking with Maria Hesse
Maria and Jonah apple picking

Maria and Jonah in the Apple Star orchard.

When an invitation comes to spend a day apple picking in Julian, there can be only one answer – YES!

Julian lies a bit North and East of San Diego proper. Originally a Gold Rush town, today it’s famous for apples in all their incarnations. The hills are covered in orchards. The Cuyamaca mountain slopes are a shuddering cold in the winter and that’s what the trees need to flourish. The town has had its ups and downs with fires, booms and busts, but visit any weekend and you’ll be sharing the board walks with lots of visitors. No worry there’s pie enough for all.

Apple Star Orchard Barn

Apple Star Orchard Barn

My excursion started on Friday morning when I met with Maria Hesse, a sustainable lifestyle designer and personal chef. Her son, Jonah, kept us company with stories and observations from the back seat as we drove the winding back roads up to Julian. Maria’s steady hand let me know she’s done the drive before. Within an hour we passed through town and along unpaved streets into farmland. There were several wineries and other U-Pick places (More than half a dozen are on the Visit Julian site.) Our destination was Apple Star, a certified organic orchard, with acres of apples and pear trees.

Pulling past a century old barn, we were one of the few cars in the parking field. Within minutes we’d signed in, paid for two bags of fruit and the caretaker recounted the available varieties in a cadence more like poetry than a list.

Apple Star Red Flyers waiting

Apple Star Red Flyers ready for action.

We visited just after the season opened. The apple trees have been picked over since. Still there’s other fruit to be had and the website is updated regularly. The notice as of October 1st:



A line of Radio Flyer wagons and picking poles waited next to a tall, gated fence. There’s good reason for its height, being an organic orchard, critters like to visit. I spied a huge deer rushing downhill into a shady grove and hiding place right after we parked. Bird song kept us company. A wild turkey strolled between lanes with one of her brood racing to keep up.

Mama wild turkey in the orchard.

Wild turkeys in the orchard.

We picked carefully. Worm holes and bird bites didn’t deter us. Soon our bags were full of perfect pears and apples. There’s nothing as sweet as pulling a ripe apple off the branch and crunching into its juicy flesh. Encouraged by the caretaker, we had to sample a few. It was due diligence. Right?

Apple tree

Before an hour was up our bags were full to overflowing and we were hungry for lunch. Within minutes we were in town. Main street was fairly quiet and parking was easy (not always so on holidays and weekends.)

Fountain in Miners Diner

Fountain in Miners Diner

Set in a building dating back to 1885, Miners Diner is one of Maria and Jonah’s favorite places. Besides having delicious burgers and soups, floats at an old fashioned fountain, and ice cream sundaes, there’s a Candy Mine in the back. Jonah picked out a favorite and I found a small pack of Clove gum. Haven’t seen that in ages.

Buggy rides in Julian

Buggy ride in Julian.

There was time to walk a bit before hitting the road. Strolling is easy in Julian and comfy benches sit in the shade outside storefronts. There’s a biker paraphernalia shop. They’re big customers as Motorcycle clubs love cruising the mountain roads and stop in town to eat. Old-timey souvenirs fill more than a few shelves but the Gold Rush vibe is true. We were on a mission, searching the best place for pie. I selected a crumble-crust, Apple-Rhubarb and Maria chose a Bumble Berry (mixed berry) to take home from the famous Mom’s Pies bakery.

Mom's pie shop.

Mom’s Pie shop.

It made the ride home fly by knowing we’d soon be digging into lush, fresh slices after our day spent apple picking in Julian.


If you go:

  • If you miss the harvest time in Julian consider U Pick opportunities in other areas of Southern California. The Local Harvest site keeps a current list.
  • Check out road conditions in winter. It can be snowy and icy in the mountains, even while balmy at the beaches in San Diego.
  • Find all the events, restaurants, bed and breakfast lodging and more on the Visit Julian site.
  • Miners Diner is just one of dozens of cute and delicious cafes along the few blocks of Julian.
  • Julian makes a fun day-trip or family outing. It’s also pretty romantic if you’re looking for a special date spot (just saying!)

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apple picking

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A long distance drive – Going solo in the Central Valley

Interstate five from rest stop

Not glamorous but it’s the swiftest way north.

Given a chance to drive or fly, I chose the road. It might be my stubbornly independent spirit or an American upbringing. Cruising down a freeway that is dependable and open, without tariff or detours, is a luxury, the ultimate freedom, and California is full of highways lying in wait. Going solo on a long distance drive up through California’s Central Valley can revive a worn spirit if done well.
A well worn route
Mom and dad met in San Francisco but settled in Southern California. Several times a year they’d stretch sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon, my siblings and I would pile in and we’d drive up over night. My parents took turns napping and driving while we slept – or that was the plan. The car trembled each time trucks rushed past us on the narrow two lane highway. I shuddered as well often too scared to sleep but loved arriving in San Francisco at dawn. Today there’s an asphalt ribbon running up that valley – a multi-lane, state-of-the-art divided highway.
Having fuel that is affordable makes driving a joy as well. Given a choice, the carbon offset between what an airplane burns and a car disgorges makes driving more ecologically effective for medium distance trips.(Public transportation is best for short trips and flying is best for long journeys, such as cross-country.*) I drive a small, compact car which, while nearly ten years old, still gets decent mileage. These factors make driving solo between San Diego and San Francisco an easy decision. I wanted the car’s freedom to pull over on a whim too.
Going solo
I love having company on the road but if that’s not an option I’ll drive by myself. It means being vigilant on several levels. Without someone to spell me, pulling over to stretch and eat, staying alert and doing my Drivetime Yoga stretches helps the ride go smoothly.
As a woman alone on the road there are safety concerns but having driven the Interstate 5 dozens of times over the years gives me confidence. I don’t take chances. It’s like developing street smarts, you learn to be cautious and prepared.
A few safety issues
No one should spend an inordinate amount of time in a dark, deserted rest stop. But given the choice, there’s relative safety in numbers. I pull through, checking out how many cars versus trucks are there, how well lit it is and if I can find a parking space close to the bathrooms. I’ve napped and taken advantage of clean facilities, stretched stiff muscles and admired the scenery while pulled over with a small crowd of travelers.
Getting ready:
  • Fill the tank and keep an eye on the gas gauge. Running out of gas on a pounding, vast freeway far from stations is no fun. Avoid the annoyance, loss of time or danger of getting stuck in a compromising situation.
  • Make sure the tires are adequately inflated and in good condition. Properly inflated tires also improve mileage.
  • Pay attention to the temperature gauge. Regular oil changes and fluid checks are important long road trip or driving at home. If driving up mountain passes, watch that the car doesn’t overheat.
  • Travel with insurance and road service options. I’ve been a Automobile Club member for decades. They’ve helped me change a few flat tires over the years.
  • Let family and/or friends know where you’re headed and your route. Share progress reports online with texts, Skype or Facetime (but never while driving!)

Not the lonely traveler

I’m not alone. For company there’s nothing like an audio book. Long road trips or commutes are the only time I have to really listen. Downloading favorite podcasts is simple with my smartphone. My old buggy has a CD player and I rent books from the library. I love browsing the stacks for interesting titles and favorite authors.

Bugs - An issue on a long drive.

Bugs – An issue on a long drive.

The joy of discovery

I love having the freedom to pull over on a whim. I’ve discovered some cool truck stops, eaten my share of fresh pie and locally roasted coffee. There are interesting, little towns to poke around in when you need a break. On the last trip I ended up staying over in Stockton. With a few hours before meetings in the Bay area, the few hours walking around the downtown core were packed with cool discoveries. Roadside attractions are plentiful on smaller roads like Highway 101 but not as much along the I-5 corridor. A parallel route like the smaller, Highway 99 are more interesting but also packed with narrower and fewer lanes. It’s a toss up.
View from the top of the historic Orestimba viewpoint.

View from the top of the historic Orestimba viewpoint.

Don’t be a road ninja
Not an energy drink fan, I knew that I would be too tired to do the trip by myself in one swoop. Where to spend the night? Apps are a great help for last minute booking but it’s easier to have a destination in mind and know where you’ll be sleeping. On the recent trip I choose a budget hotel, knowing there were less than 12 hours between checking in and out. Hotel rewards program can work in your favor. I’ve booked with Hotel Tonight, used Trip Advisor for referrals and have never had a bad experience with Airbnb. I always call the hotel directly before arriving to make sure they know I’m checking in late and to confirm. Before booking, I like to call and see if there’s a better rate with my AAA membership.
The historic spot, Orestimba marker.

The historic spot, Orestimba marker.

Discovering Orestimba 
On my return trip I needed a rest and pulled over for a brief stretch. The viewpoint road curled up and away from the freeway. A few other cars were parked there, so I felt comfortable getting out to walk around. Once out of my air conditioned capsule, the heat was punishing.
It was an unusual pinnacle, braced between that asphalt ribbon and the aqueduct carrying water to the parched Southern Californian homes. But there was more to discover. Rolling hills swept to the west, dotted with a few cattle. A cluster of green trees stood in contrast to the dry, golden hills. To the East the flatlands was a patchwork of fields, industrial outcroppings and clusters of homes. A rock memorial stood at the top.
Orestimba is a local Indian word meaning “meeting place.” Nearby are famous Indian rocks and a Sycamore grove where mission padres met with Indian leaders. The marker points to “The Old Road,” that traversed the west side of the valley from San Pedro to San Antonio. It was erected on April 20th, 1974 by Estanisla Chaper 58.
See the viewpoint in 360 degrees.
I’d found my meeting place, not with other people but my own spirit. Perhaps it was the ghosts of the padres and native Americans, but I felt strong, connected and happy. It was a good long distance drive. A few more chapters in my audio book remained between me and home.
If you go:
The distance between San Diego and San Francisco is about 460 miles. That means nearly 8 hours of driving. The road going up the San Joaquin, or the Central Valley, is almost a straight shot once you get over the ‘Grapevine’ pass. It’s not the most interesting drive, often hot and the traffic zips through between 65 and 80 miles an hour – most often on the high side. Lots of trucks use this route as well. Amenities and rest stop facilities are about ten to thirty miles apart.
 Have you ever taken a long distance drive? How did it turn out? Found your ‘Orestimba?’
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San Diego Less Traveled – Queen Calafia’s Magical Garden

Queen Calafia's Magical Garden, San Diego Less Traveled, Trip Wellness
Queen Califia, San Diego Less Traveled, Trip WellnessMysterious beauty in San Diego’s North County

Of all the outdoor attractions scattered across San Diego, none is as unusual or colorful than Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in North County. To come across this huge installation in Kit Carson Park without initiation is dumbfounding. What is this gigantic, mosaic artwork doing here in an isolated spot next to ballparks and picnic benches?

That mystery is part of the charm and also its downfall. One of the last sculptures that the artist, Nicki de St. Phalle created, the 12 acre site was donated by the City of Escondido and had been open since 2003 from sunrise to sunset. Over the years, vandalism and weather took its toll, and the Garden was closed. It recently reopened to the public on the first Saturday of the month from 10 am until 2 pm and by appointment for groups. It’s worth the effort to walk into and through the maze, have your kids climb the textured benches and run hands across the embedded stones.

Like many larger-than-life creative artists, the French-American sculptor was considered controversial. Her pieces are completely unique yet universally relatable. They stand somewhere between cartoon and classic, often drawing on legendary or mythological figures. A prolific artist, St. Phalle most often worked in polymer and lived in San Diego from 1994 to 2002. Like so many, she found the climate ideal. Sadly toxic fumes from working with plastics ultimately led to her death in La Jolla. She won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Queen Calafia Magical Garden, San Diego Less Traveled, Trip Wellness

Central figure in Queen Calafia’s Magical Garden. Photo – Dave Rudie

Like many larger-than-life creative artists, the French-American sculptor was considered controversial. Her pieces are completely unique yet universally relatable. They stand somewhere between cartoon and classic, often drawing on legendary or mythological figures. A prolific artist, St. Phalle most often worked in polymer and lived in San Diego from 1994 to 2002. Like so many, she found the climate ideal. Sadly toxic fumes from working with plastics ultimately led to her death in La Jolla. She won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Queen Calafia, San Diego Less Traveled, Trip Wellness

Totems inside Queen Calafia’s Garden – Photo: Dave Rudie

The Garden Revealed

Queen Califia, is a fictional warrior created by the Spanish writer, Garcia Rodriguez de Montalvo, in his popular  novel from the year 1500, Las Sergas de Esplandian (Adventures of Esplandian.) The warrior queen was conquered and is often considered the spirit of California, symbolizing the abundant and wild land before the Europeans forcefully claimed it.

That spirit undulates and sparkles in the Escondido Garden. Totem pole-styled towers are set around an inner, circular courtyard. A giant snake wriggles across the top of the boundary wall. There are eggs, giant birds and other creatures drawn from the natural world climbing, flying and etched into the various surfaces. Above them all stands the Queen. You won’t forget her once you see her.

heart detail, san diego less traveled, trip wellness

Photo – Derek Abbey,

International Connections

Nicki de St. Phalle’s work is unforgettable and in parks and collections across the globe. I’ll always remember the first time I spied one of her pieces.  I was driving from Tokyo into the mountainous Hakone area.  Suddenly, standing in the middle of a large, green lawn was the figure of a gigantic woman, Miss Black Power, colorful and completely out of place.  It was my introduction to St. Phalle’s work and the first hint of the rolling acres of art that lay beyond in the Hakone Open Air Museum.  I can’t recommend enough to add spending a day there to your Tokyo itinerary. But until you can explore Japan, there are many of St. Phalle’s sculptures across San Diego County.

Other Nicki de St. Phalle sculptures in San Diego Less Traveled:

Mingei Museum Angel, San Diego Less Traveled, Trip Wellness

Angel hanging in the San Diego Mingei Museum. Photo: Elaine Masters

UCSD Campus
Sun God

Escondido’s Kit Carson Park
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden – Directions: Take I-15 North: East on Via Rancho Parkway, which turns into Bear Valley Parkway. Turn left at Mary Lane into Kit Carson Park. Right on to Amphitheatre Drive, then follow the signs.

Balboa Park
Mingei Museum – Nikigator, Poet and Muse
Hall of Champions – The Baseball Player (Homage to Tony Gwynn)
The Basketball Player (Homage to Michael Jordan)

UCSD Campus
Sun God

San Diego Convention Center
Coming Together

La Jolla-Museum of Contemporary Art
San Diego – Elephant, Mouse
Big Ganesha (behind museum)

Escondido – California Center for the Arts
One cat, two seals

Carlsbad Poinsettia Park
Two large lions

Looking for hotels in San Diego not far from Queen Calafia’s Magical Garden? There are many hotels throughout San Diego County such as the Ramada San Diego.

Find many other San Diego less traveled places and unique events in San Diego at

This post was sponsored but completely inspired by my experience and perspectives.


Budget Travelers Sandbox

What to see in San Diego – Trails and viewpoints

La Jolla hills trail, trip wellness, what to see in San Diego
Mt. Helix

Photo courtesy of the Mt. Helix foundation

The City of San Diego stretches across a series of canyons and lagoons. While one of the largest counties in the country, the central area holds many discoveries if you like to get outside in nature.

Originally the Missions were positioned to have access to fresh water and, soon after the bays and swamps were dredged bringing commerce and people.

For all the industry, what visitors and locals have historically marveled at most are the natural highs – sunsets and ocean views year round, especially when seen from a lofty vantage.

Here’s a small list of the more popular. You’ll need a car to reach these when you’re looking for what to see in San Diego.


Mt. Soledad, What to see in San Diego, Trip Wellness

Photo credit: “Pacific Coast at La Jolla, CA, from Mount Soledad DSCN0203” by Billy HathornOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Mt. Soledad:

Just north of Mission Bay and immediately west of the I-5 highway is a tall hill with a cross at its pinnacle. The road up curves past multimillion dollar neighborhoods that stop short of the apex. A 360-degree view waits at the top with benches and the Veterans Memorial, with its disputed cross. Easy hike from the top lot. Find out more.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve:

The Reserve with over 2,000 acres of land were set aside over a hundred years ago and walking the trails through chaparral, past elegant Torrey pine trees, its easy to imagine what the early settlers or California’s first native residents, the Kumeyaay people, experienced here. This is one of the most popular hiking areas in the region, so expect some company. You can park along the strand or pay lot then begin the journey up the trail directly. The other option is to start out on the beach, tracing the beach bluffs to a staircase and trail to the top. Watch for hang gliders flitting along the cliffs to the south. Easy to moderate hike depending on how much of the bluff trail you do. More here.

La Jolla Shores trail

This trail is a bit tucked away from park routes and the trailhead is just north and left of the Sunny Jim Cave store. The small parking lot adjacent was once featured in a scene from the John Huston movie, Chinatown. The trail leads you along cliffs and past mansions but you’re here for the stunning views across the bay to the north with the La Jolla Shores beach and the Scripp’s Institute Pier. A short, easy hike unless you trek to the beach. More info here.

La Jolla hills trail, trip wellness, what to see in San Diego

La Jolla hills trail just north of the Sunny Jim Cave Store


Cowles Mountain Trail:

East of town this 3 mile, switchback trail is just east of Mission Valley. It’s rated moderate but be sure to take water and a hat if you tackle it on a sunny day. There’s no shade along the route. Dogs must be kept on a leash. The summit offers 360 degree views and on clear days you can see across the border into Mexico. More here.

Cowles Mountain, trip wellness, what to see in San Diego

Josh Masters at Cowles Peak.

Mt. Helix Park:

Mount Helix rises further east from Cowles Mountain, its flanks ringed by homes. Not many visitors realize there’s a public park, run by a the private Mt. Helix Foundation, at the summit. The 1,370 foot peak hosts an outdoor Amphitheater and a 35 foot cross. There’s limited parking at the top but additional space near Mt. Helix Drive and Vivera. Visitors are welcome from sunrise to sunset. An easy hike from the top. More information.

“To promote knowledge and culture, to relieve the distressed in body, mind and spirit, to cultivate a love for beauty in art and nature, to foster an interest in the love of music and elevate and refine mankind.”


~ Mt. Helix Trust, 1929

Mission Trails  park creek, trip wellness, what to see in san diego

Remains of the original Mission Trails dam.

Mission Trails Regional Park

East of town with over 54 miles of trails, the park hosts a creek and dam that are hedged in by tall hills. The hill trails earn a hardy hiker unique views of the region. The area was originally used by the Kumeyaay, and the Old Mission Dam, was built to store water for the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Moderate to challenging trail. More here.

What to see in San Diego West:

Cabrillo National Monument and lighthouses:

Not far from central San Diego you can skirt the bay and pass the military installations at Liberty Station (now a cultural center that’s worth a half day’s visit on it’s own. Museums, galleries, shops and restaurants.) Head uphill, pass the vast Rosecrans Military Cemetery and you’ll cross a military gate to enter the Cabrillo Park area. The views are stunning across to downtown, over Coronado Island and into Mexico. More here.


Looking towards downtown from the Coronado Landing

Looking towards downtown from the Coronado Landing

Coronado Bridge:

This award-winning bridge quickly became an area landmark after its opening in 1969. The distinctive curving sweep was the first structural conquest of San Diego Bay, joining the Island of Coronado and City of San Diego. Its vertical clearance of over 200 feet allows the tallest ships to pass beneath. Unfortunately you can only enjoy the view momentarily from a car but it’s breathtaking. More here.
When you’re looking for what to see in San Diego, be sure to enjoy the view!




What to see in San Diego – Rooftop Views

Glass Door, Little Italy, Porto Vista Hotel, trip wellness, what to see in San Diego
Mr. A's, Bertrands, what to see in San Diego, trip wellness

Watch the airplanes from Bertrand’s at Mr. A’s in Bankers Hill.

Who doesn’t love to feel like they’re flying?

It’s such an odd sensation to look out across the horizon feeling like you have wings but your feet are still on the ground.

San Diego has lots of opportunities, both natural and man-made, with a new addition that just re-opened in time for the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration. This is the first post featuring urban viewpoints and most serve alcohol. Family option: Visit them during the daylight hours when you’re looking for what to see in San Diego.

What to see in San Diego: Skyscraper, Tower and Rooftop Views

There’s a bit of a rivalry on the downtown waterfront with two hotel rooftop lounges considering themselves tops. Numbers are hard to dispute but for the best view, it’s a matter of what you’re looking for.

Top of the Hyatt, What to see in San Diego, Trip Wellness

The afternoon view from the Top of the Hyatt – 40 Stories up!

1. Altitude Sky Lounge: At the top of the San Diego Marriott in the Gaslamp Quarter, 22 stories above street level, the Altitude Sky Lounge offers full views of downtown, the San Diego Bay and Petco park. It’s been named as one of the “Top 50 Bars” in the world by Conde Nast Magazine and the “#1 Rooftop Bar” in the Western United States by Sunset Magazine.  A swanky environment for the cocktail crowd there are happy hour specials Monday through Friday and all day Sunday.

2. Top of the Hyatt: At 40 stories high there’s little to argue about being the tallest waterfront hotel in the region. The Manchester Grand Hyatt hosts the Top of the Hyatt bar with views that stun you the moment the elevator opens. It’s a quieter atmosphere than the Altitude Sky Lounge and the drinks are pricey. Get a table near the window and marvel that you’re still technically on the ground. I’ve been there for a birthday cocktail and another time with my teenage son for the view and a soda with friendly service and unparalleled vistas.

Mr. A's, Bertrands, what to see in San Diego, trip wellness

Watch the airplanes from Bertrand’s at Mr. A’s in Bankers Hill.

3. Bertrand’s at Mister A’s: When you climb up from downtown to Bankers Hill you’re in a completely different atmosphere. The classic service at Bertand’s at Mister A’s is a treat for lunch or dinner. During the day from this 12th floor you can survey all of the San Diego Harbor but the greatest rush is watching airplanes swooping low as they come in from the East to land at Lindberg Field. It’s not every day you’re eye level with a flying jet. No wonder it was recently featured by for MSN as one of the Top 10 Penthouse Restaurants in the United States and Open Dinners chose it as the 2009 Best Scenic View.

California Tower, Balboa Park, trip wellness, what to see in San Diego

Climb to the view from the newly opened California Tower – Photo courtesy of

4. California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man (Balboa Park): For the first time since 1935 visitors are welcomed to climb 200 feet, 125 steps (8 stories!) to see spectacular views. From the tower you can look across the treetops of Balboa Park in every direction. Tickets are necessary for a scheduled 40 minute tour and climb. There’s also a safety waiver to sign and a safety briefing but its worth the opportunity to spend 10 – 15 minutes at the top. As the Tower has just re-opened in January 2015 be sure to reserve in advance, especially on weekends.

5. Porta Vista Hotel: Head north to Little Italy and up the hill to admire the Marina view from the Glass Door Restaurant. Just off the tourist path, the Porta Vista Hotel is set on the hillside with expansive window views that seem much loftier than their four stories. Parking can be a hard to find in the neighborhood but use the hotel garage for two hours with free validation. Above the restaurant is a large deck for guests and special events, although there’s often a TGIF happy hour weekly. recognizes the Porto Vista Hotel as an Editor’s Choice downtown Little Italy San Diego urban hotel.

Glass Door, Little Italy, Porto Vista Hotel, trip wellness, what to see in San Diego

Admire the sun setting over the San Diego Marina from the Glass Door Restaurant and Terrace.

6.. Hotel La Jolla: Perched on the hill north of the crowds in La Jolla Village is the recently refurbished Kimpton Hotel La Jolla. The mid-century rectangular slab style shouldn’t deter a visit as the interiors are urban fresh and it’s a pet friendly space. The view magic waits on the top floor in the Cusp bar and restaurant. Watch the sunset while sipping or enjoy white table cloth dining. The Ladies room view makes washing your hands an artful experience too!

7. La Valencia Hotel: Set along the Prospect Road line up of art galleries, designer clothing stores and restaurants is the Spanish Colonial La Valencia Hotel. Step into the ‘Pink Lady’ and through the lobby to the La Sala Lounge where small tables and couches wait near a grand piano (it springs to life most weeknights around 6:30 and if you’re lucky a baritone will treat you to arias and show tunes.) Get there well before sunset to settle in and admire the view across the La Jolla Bay.

Perhaps you’ve visited San Diego and found a few other rooftop views to enjoy? Share your list of what to see in San Diego. Comments welcomed.

Next week: What to see in San Diego – Natural highs and hikes.

Relishing the Day of the Dead – San Diego style

day of the dead, trip wellness

day of the dead, trip wellnessOver the years I’ve been touched by different Mexican traditions and especially by the color and spirit of Dias de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Last year I walked in San Diego’s annual procession to the cemetery and marveled at the elaborate masks, costumes and decorations. But where did all this come from?

Day of the Dead procession banner, trip wellness

Procession banner in San Diego’s Day of the Dead procession.

In pre-Columbian times it was believed that once a year the recently departed were allowed to return to spend time with their families and loved ones. It was also a time to honor the life cycle, fertility and the future. Eventually the uplifting celebration became the Day of the Dead.

After decades of violence at the hands of Conquistadors and decimation of indigenous traditions by the Spanish Church, many Mexican people held firmly to the ancient rituals and their respect for departed loved ones.

Day of the Dead sugar skull, trip wellness

Decorate your own Day of the Dead sugar skull!

They also took advantage of the new plant their Spanish invaders imported to Mexico. While they might not have had much money, now Mexicans had lots of sugar and eventually sugar skulls became part of the tradition honoring the dead.

The Church relented their prohibitions and now, each November 1st and 2nd during celebrations of Dias de los Muertos, families

Day of the Dead Altar in the Immaculate Conception Church, San Diego Old Town, tripwellness

Day of the Dead Altar in the Immaculate Conception Church, San Diego Old Town

and friends come together to pay their respects at graveyards, in their homes and workplaces.

In Mexico shop windows are embellished; the cemeteries are tidied and decorated. Fantastical flower wreaths are created along with toys and figurines featuring calveras (skulls and skeletons) for the ofrendas (altars) in homes, markets and businesses. Favorite foods of the departed are prepared and Zenpasuchitls, a type of marigold, the traditional flower for the occasion, are found everywhere.

More recently the American Halloween tradition has pushed back with October 31st, significant to Druids and Celtics originally, that’s become a day filled with death and fear but the Mexican tradition has gained a foothold Stateside.

Day of the Dead altar in a shop courtyard. Trip Wellness

Day of the Dead altar.

Some see it as a reason to indulge in elaborate face painting, to dress up and drink, but at its core Dias de los Muertos considers the sweetness of death, the touching silence of remembrance – and I hope my oversimplification doesn’t offend.

In San Diego the holiday transforms historic Old Town district where the little cemetery is transformed with color and flowers, shops set up elaborate altars and decorations, restaurants and bars entice with specials.

As the sun descends costumes and faces covered in colorful designs fill a growing crowd. On the steps of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a choir in black sings solemnly.

Day of the Dead choir, 2013. Trip Wellness

Day of the Dead choir.

The crowd grows and candles are passed out in anticipation of the procession to the cemetery. Finally, quietly marching forward shoulder to shoulder, the celebrants advance. Anyone may join in and the night I was there the hushed reverence, the anticipating buzz stirred my heart. Many carried small framed pictures of dead loved ones and I wished I had too.

For those of us distanced from our traditions and ritual, perhaps grieving or simply longing to pay homage beyond dropping a few flowers at a grave site, the Day of the Dead might bring a sweet closure or rekindle memory.

In Old Town, I noticed that many found the party at the Coyote Bar celebration enough or perhaps a way to drown memories.

Day of the Dead party at the Coyote Bar and Grill. Trip Wellness

Coyote Bar and the Day of the Dead party.

No Day of the Dead in your town? You can still create a personal celebration:

Perhaps you’ll decorate a small altar with pictures and mementos. You can order small sugar skulls to decorate or make the traditional bread too. Here’s one recipe for traditional Pan de Muertos.

Tracking Ghosts in Old Pasadena – Vintage Signs and Deco Style

Ghost sign, tripwellness

Exchange Alley – Fake Ghost Sign from the movie, The Sting, 1973

Time shifted as I drove the old Highway 110 out of Los Angeles. A road sign warned that no trucks were allowed. It seemed odd but probably was necessary due to the height of the over 80 year old arched overpasses. It was the first clue to leaving the present on my mission tracking ghosts – the vintage signs that proliferate through Old Pasadena.

ghost signs, tripwellness

An illegible Ghost Sign above Colorado Blvd., hiding high in the center.

My mind wandered to my Mother who sought work in Pasadena as a young girl fresh from Minnesota. She found it first roller-skating in a hangar re-fashioned for the WWII war effort to house engineers as part of a fleet of young women who would shuttle plans across the vast space. She loved the job until a tumble left her with a broken tailbone. Her sojourn in Pasadena ended soon after but mine was beginning on a glorious fall afternoon.

The highway spilled onto the Arroyo Parkway which slices the city on a north-south axis between the valley’s mountains, but I hardly looked up, as I was scouring for ghosts, the ancient signs once plastered across brick buildings and facades.

Ghost signs, tripwellness

Another illegible ghost sign in Christensen Alley

Although found across the world, in the United States Ghost Signs were most popular in the years before the Depression. The old ad campaigns were developed in the 1800’s through the 1960’s. Painters, called ‘wall dogs,’ often used lead based paints that soaked into the facades and the ‘brickads’ could be touched up over time. Often one ad would be painted over another. Today conservation efforts are preserving the 50 plus year old ads across the country using new products that structurally stabilize both the components of the paint and the masonry substrate.

Clunes Pasadena Theater, ghost signs, tripwellness

Clune’s Pasadena Theater ghost sign above the One Colorado Courtyard movie screen

I’m sure my young Mom hardly looked up and noticed the signs but I spent hours in Pasadena’s Old Town district combing roof lines and wandering alleys to find the ghosts. The neighborhood begs for attention and is flourishing with many industrial alleys given over to retail interests. Shops and cafes spill onto the sidewalks. Public art proliferates. Above one outdoor seating area a giant film screen hosts outdoor movies poignantly positioned just below the ‘Clune’s Pasadena Theater’ Ghost Sign.

It took all my willpower to stay focused on the task at hand but I can’t wait to return with a girlfriend or two for several days. We probably won’t spend much time tracking ghosts with all the shopping and noshing to tempt us there.

A few other Art Deco architectural treasures in the Old Town Pasadena area.

The original uses long gone but still vibrant:

Mecca Room, Old Pasadena, trip wellness

The Deco Mecca Room now hosts a pizza parlor.


Old Pasadena, ghost signs, trip wellness

Ceiling detail of the old Savings & Trust, now BJ’s Brewery

Pasadena Hotel Landmark ghost sign, tripwellness

Pasadena Hotel Landmark ghost sign


If you go, stop in at the Distant Lands Travel book and gear store on Raymond Avenue just south of Colorado and ask for the free Old Pasadena map. You can preview the calendar of events, over 300 shops, parking information and more at their website,


There are several walking tours offered by the city that include Old Town Public Art Walks and a History Tour. Both are self-guided.




Travel planning & the SD Trav Fest 2014

i want to travel, sd trav fest

i want to travel, sd trav festYou have a dream about traveling and start researching online. Before long you run into social travel sites full of stories, reviews and tips inviting you to join and share. It can be as simple as joining a group on Facebook that is about urban sketching (Moleskin), rating your experiences (Trip Advisor and Trippy), reviews of places you’ve been (Yelp and Gogobot.) For the most part these services trade your time for rewards in status on the sites, bragging rights, even free products. It’s the way of the world, a lot of fun and a way to find more kindred spirits and travel buddies. It’s a digital variation of the SD Trav Fest.

Group talk at the NY Trav Fest 2014

Group talk at the NY Trav Fest 2014

Any armchair traveler knows the pleasure of reading adventures and experiences they may never recreate but there’s nothing like standing next to someone who’s scaled Kilimanjaro, spent months in an Indian Ashram, been to China more than 70 times or live an expat life on the other side of the planet.

I’m such a nomad at heart that if I can’t be traveling, I love hanging out with other travelers.

Spending face time with those who share your love of travel takes a different kind of energy but can be so much more rewarding. I’ve been hosting Meetups in San Diego for more than four years (Travel Well, Travel Massive, Long Term Travel). Loose-knit groups of locals have been gathering at restaurants and libraries, bars and storefronts to exchange stories about travel, to listen to experts and authors, to learn and share. It’s always been interesting and fun. My web of fellow travelers, people I may have never met any other way, has branched out and deepened.

meetup, sd trav festBringing beloved travel buddies together, watching as authors are inspired by the audience, as friendships are born and business alliances forged, makes for a pretty vibrant gathering. That’s why the SD Trav Fest was born.

What began as a simple day of sessions and meetings has blossomed into four. There are two tracks happening simultaneously – Travelers and Travel Industry. Both have multiple panels and discussions to choose from. See the whole schedule here.

Horton Grand Hotel, sd trav fest

Thursday night, Sept. 11th is the VIP Reception for the Travel Industry and Media at the Horton Grand Hotel on the SW edge of the Gaslamp district in downtown San Diego. Inside the historic Palace Bar travel professionals, media and our speakers will have a chance to meet and mingle. The event is being sponsored in part by Gogobot and the boutique communications agency, Delicious Buzz. Members of local chapters of Travel Massive and Millennials in Travel, bloggers, podcasters and more will be there as well. Registration is required and the event is limited to those attending the SDTF Industry Track or by prior arrangement.

San Diego Trav Fest 2014Friday night, Sept. 12th everyone is welcome to the Opening Night Party on the patio at the stellar 57 Degrees Wine Bar on Hancock Street. Less than two blocks from the Washington Trolley stop it’s an easy location to reach. A cash bar and appetizers will be available for purchase. Come meet your fellow travelers, find out what they plan to attend over the next couple of days and where they plan to travel to next.

Saturday, Sept. 13th is the spine of the SDTF with sessions from 9 to 4 at the East Village wing of the New School of Architecture and Design. The entrance to the auditorium and meeting space is mid-block on F Street near Park. The City College and Market Street trolley stops are less than two blocks away on the Green Line. We have four spaces filled all day with interesting and informative panel discussions on everything from Accessible travel issues to Travel Hacking and conclude with a big panel on the phenomenon of Culinary Tourism. Pick and choose, make new friends and taste a few new things.

Saturday night is our Travel Movie night where you can chill and watch several special films. The main show is The Boy Who Flies, about an encounter between a Canadian paraglider and a Malawian office worker that has taken off into a global movement. There’ll be the premier of an underwater short by local legend, Chuck Nicklin about a recent trip he made to Lembeh Straits in Indonesia and a trailer about a new travel series by local film maker, Sharon Lee. We’ll be in the Segway training center of the Another Side of San Diego headquarters just south of Horton Plaza.

Sunday is a day to explore San Diego with a variety of tours you can sign up for independently from a wine tour in Ramona, a walk in Rancho Santa Fe with local historian Diane Welch and even a Baja Wine and Art tour to enjoy. These can be experienced on Sunday or another day depending on the tour vendor. Just ask. Get out of your bubble and never again wait for company to come to town to see more of our fair region.

Sunday night concludes the SD Trav Fest with a Street Party at local fish purveyor, Catalina Offshore Products on Lovelock Street in Linda Vista. It can be accessed by car or with a healthy walk from the Linda Vista trolley station. On street parking is plentiful. The Street Party is a benefit for the San Diego Oceans Foundation which has been supporting education and clean oceans in the region for more than a dozen years.

san diego oceans foundation

There’ll be raffle prizes and food trucks, music and our special guest, Sam the Cooking Guy, will be handing out the prizes. It’s going to be a fun evening and a chance to cement new friendships.

Go green. In an effort to keep the event as green as possible 99% of the events are accessible via SD Metro Trolley.

Whatever you may decide to do over the weekend of Sept. 12th – 14th, if you’re in San Diego, grab your travel buddies and go local, see the world at the SD Trav Fest 2014.

Get tickets here.

Travel buddies ordering two or more can save 15% by entering the code: SDTFPALS when registering.

Have a question about the SD Trav Fest? Contact the team at:


Car free Los Angeles

dog suitcase, suitcase, car free los angeles

los angeles painting, trip wellnessWhat sounds like the most fun to you?

  • Have an apartment downtown, away from home in the burbs, to visit when you can?
  • Taking a day or two staycation, spending a night away from home but not far from it?
  • Work playtime into a business trip with a day or two before or after work?

However you define a staycation, it’s an easy way to take a break. There’s little to pack and far less planning than for a long term trip. Pets can be handed off for the day or left with what they need for 24 hours. You don’t have to face the security squadrons at the airport, make sure liquids are in the proper sizes or pack a passport.

It’s one reason I love stopping over in Los Angeles whenever I can manage it as part of road trips (business or pleasure) between San Diego and north of the City of Angels. While home is not far from downtown San Diego, when work draws me north to Santa Barbara once each year, I make it an excuse for a little urban exploration.  Usually I’ll avoid the long drive and take the train if I can. If I can’t, I pull over to take a break midway in Los Angeles.

Stopping in downtown LA is always an adventure. Experiencing car free Los Angeles is a pleasure. Like most big cities there are unique neighborhoods to explore and lots of cultural events. The hidden gems throughout the urban core are best experienced while walking. So, I jumped at the chance to spend a night in LA’s Westside on a ‘Car free and care-free’ package at the Kimpton, Hotel Wilshire.

hotel wilshire, trip wellnessThe outside is unassuming and sleek; inside the staff seemed determined to ensure that each guest feel welcome and genuinely comfortable. An illuminated goldfish bowl held court over one corner of the entry desk. Its curious inhabitant was a sweet and soothing counterpoint to a stressful drive. The entry area is spacious without being ostentatious. Low, colorful couches and chairs rimmed the small lobby. Just above an open mezzanine and snack area that does double duty serving coffee in the am then a complementary glass of wine in the early evening.

hotel wilshire, rooftop barQuiet as it all was, the best surprise waited on the rooftop. The elevator doors opened to the sky and a long walkway leading to the hostess station. Beyond, a genteel crowd was sipping and noshing, scattered around a glittering pool. It could have been a movie set but wasn’t intimidating like some other rooftop bars I’ve sampled in the area. While the cocktails were certainly $$$, they didn’t disappoint and the appetizer / supper menu was filled with tasty descriptions that I’ll have to investigate on my next visit.

Guests are most welcome to step into the bar and beyond are small tables, a row of high backed booths with curtains and a few steps below the pool a low courtyard with a shiny, glass fireplace was home to a sparkling birthday party on the evening I visited.

car free goodies, hotel wilshire, trip wellnessThe girl in me emerged as I giggled and bounced on the bed when we stepped into our room. Again the space was beautifully laid out in soft tones with designerly and discreet splashes of color. The sheets, thick and soft, and the wall-window offered a full view of the Hollywood hills (our angle just missed including the iconic Hollywood sign.)

All well and good as hotels go but, as they say in the real estate business, what’s most important is: location, location, location. The Hotel Wilshire is situated on a moderately busy street with several fast food places nearby and a casual but quiet pub next door. However, should you want more choices, walking is the perfect way to explore a 2+ mile radius with plenty of diversions for everyone.

The LACMA complex is two blocks away with its half dozen galleries, theater and special exhibition spaces. The La Brea Tar Pits are fascinating; bubbling and dark with a scattering of life sized Mastadon statues on the perimeter.

la brea tar pits, trip wellnessAcross from LACMA, the Peterson Car Museum towers and a row of food trucks claim the street on most afternoons. Another ten minute walk and you’d be deep in the historical Farmers Market with food stands, coffee shops and specialty stalls echoing the last century style. If only prices matched.

the original los angeles farmers market, trip wellnessThe seriously well-heeled stroll a bit further east to the Grove complex of shops, bars and movie theaters. Assigned seating makes the movie experience a date night deal if you’re early enough to purchase tickets. A dancing fountain invites selfie-shooters and the rivulets of walkways are overflowing with small cafes and fine dining establishments, niche stores, European and vintage furniture shops. Window shopping was never so much fun.

None of this can be savored from the windows of a car. You have to walk the Westside to really feel like a local and discover things.

scandinavian sweets, trip wellnessWe also planned on including bicycle rides in our car free/ care free package but the hotel bikes had been checked out by the time our Sunday morning rendezvous with complementary NY Times editions concluded.

hotel wilshire bike, trip wellnessThere were few other ruffles in our idyllic stay. Our welcome snacks were generous – twin bottles of Evian, nuts, chocolate, two sunglasses and two pedometers along with an excellent map of the areas highlights. However the pedometers, while encouraging, didn’t work consistently and deterred our resolve to walk 20,000 steps to win a discount on our next hotel stay. It was a minor wrinkle in a lovely overnight rest stop before tackling tackling the crowded, final freeway miles of our trip home.

Perhaps there’s a hotel in your area that would make a relaxing and fun overnight on your next road or business trip?

If you go:

Address: 6317 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone:(323) 852-6000
Address: 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 857-6000
Address: 6060 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 930-2277
Address: 5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 857-6300
Address: 6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Address: 189 The Grove Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 900-8080

Disclosure: The overnight stay at the Wilshire Hotel was complimentary, but all opinions and descriptions are my own.


Top five American travel stress questions & how to avoid them

LAX lady
airport stress relief, travel stress, trip wellness

Travelers chill at the LAX International Terminal

In a country that defines itself by levels of stress, it seems that taking a vacation would be the antidote. Not so according to a new survey called the ‘American Travel Pulse’. Cheap does explorers a service each year by researching how travelers are doing and their new survey reveals a lot about American travel habits and concerns.

The top five questions that cause kinks in U.S. citizen’s vacation are:

  1. We paid how much?
  2. Did you remember to bring the passports/the tickets?
  3. Did you remember to turn off the water/the gas / the electricity?
  4. How much longer?
  5. Do you have any liquids?

Let’s pause there for a moment, take a collective deep breath. These questions are easy! There can never be a vacation guarantee, as much as cruise lines and tour operators would like us to believe. Travel in itself is stressful and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

We need a little stress to push us out of our comfort zones and grow. Think of a baby taking its first steps – there are going to be bumps and wobbles in the least. Next picture that glowing smile of accomplishment when she’s finally standing up on her own.

Now imagine stepping off an airplane or onto a ship (insert mode of desired transport here) and into a completely new environment (insert dream trip destination here.) You did it! Go ahead and wobble a bit – that’s part of the fun.

Here’s a few suggested ways to defuse the top travel stress questions:

1. We paid how much?

A wise teacher of mine says: “Compare and despair.” Just asking how much a trip, service, dinner cost is setting you up for pain and if the person you’re interrogating is your travel buddy / spouse / significant other, they’re going to feel it too. It’s not the best recipe for a happy trip. Do your best when you make arrangements for the trip. Be transparent about purchases with the involved parties. Let it go. For as thick as my glasses are, my hindsight is crystal clear and I refuse to set myself up for regret.

LAX lady

2. Did you remember to bring the passports / the tickets?

If you’re in charge of the documents for yourself or others traveling with you, set up a dedicated cubby/notebook/folder for tickets, passports, itineraries. Get everyone in your travel party on board to help collect things in one spot.

Post links onto your smartphone calendar and important docs to Dropbox, or another Cloud resource where files can be shared. There are dozens of apps to help too. Tripit is one my family likes. Most of the apps have a free basic level that makes it easy to test how it works for you.

When it’s time to take off, grab the file, double check that everything’s in there and pack it away in your carry on. When the first person asks the question hand them the file to carry.

3. Did you remember to turn off the water / the gas / the electricity?

I’m not going to make light of how important the answers to this question is, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. I get it. When preparing for a long trip where this is going to be necessary, take care of yourself so you won’t be a bucket of stress when you lock the front door behind you.

Find a dedicated friend to call should something slip and make sure they can get into your place. Carry a hard copy of their contact information as well as on your phone/computer, etc. Then go, have a blast and bring them back something nice.

4. How much longer?

If there’s a child, teen or elder traveling with you, make sure you’ve packed distractions, toys, games, favorite snacks and have a few simple word games to play together along the way. If it’s a road trip – schedule stops at least every two hours. Your back will thank you and the kids will get a break before ramping up for the next query.

If you’re traveling with adults – make sure that they know the parameters of the trip and then be patient with each other. Delays happen. They can lead to discoveries you may not have anticipated – new friends, foods, landmarks. There’s a certain time for surrender to the rhythm of the journey. No time like the present and you’re on your way.

5. Do you have any liquids?

Being dehydrated is a very real stressor. By the time you realize that you’re thirsty, your body is already spiraling into a hard zone – you’ll have less energy, your mind muddles – it’s just not fun. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere. Make sure your travel buddies do too. Start the habit at home. Drain it on the way to the airport, save time to visit the bathroom, empty the bottle to get through security and fill it on the other side. Have the flight attendant fill it for you on the plane. Life will flow much more easily if you drink lots of water.My favorite discovery is a refillable water bottle with an insert for a few slices of fruit. I sip on lemon water throughout my days and the bit of flavor makes it easier. No need to buy lots of flavored, sugary drinks. Make your own! It helps to cut down on snacking too.

Just knowing that travel stress will greet you any time you step outside the front door, will help defuse it. You can handle it. Master your expectations, do your best and come home with great stories.

See the rest of the American Travel Pulse findings about travel stress and a cool infographic here.

Constant change – Goodbye Le Travel Store

Bill Keller Train

“Change is the one constant,” a wise teacher once told me. It’s hard to accept but over time, I’ve seen the wisdom in those words and embraced change as much as I can. It’s made me a better mother, co-worker and traveler – opening my heart and spirit to the world and adventure instead of moving through days controlling and closed to change.

So what triggered all this?

I opened an email this morning from Bill and Joan Keller, the founders of Le Travel Store. They’ve been incredibly supportive over the years – hosting several of the San Diego Travel Well meetups in the store, Bill was a guest on my podcast and once, over lunch, he spoke to the group about traveling in China before he’d fully recovered from jet lag.

Bill and Joan ArrowHere’s their video: Au Revoir and Thanks for 37 Years

It’s hard to see a brick and mortar travel store close, especially one that’s independently owned. There are many reasons they’re selling the building. It can’t be an easy decision after running a store for decades, but they’re embracing constant change. It looks like their grandchildren will see more of them. The world will too as Bill and Joan set out to explore together without worrying about employees, clients, products, marketing, accounting and the myriad other parts of running a storefront business.

I wish them well and look forward to missives from the road.

Goodbye, Bill and Joan, and thanks for your years supporting and inspiring travelers. Thanks too for reminding me of that truth about constant change.


Pointed and Pointlessly Large Roadside Attractions

Carlsbad fork
Carlsbad fork

Carlsbad fork

Americans cling firmly to the belief that bigger is better. From super-sized food to amplifying body parts, America is hard at work at creating the most gargantuan version of anything and everything imaginable. Creating large roadside attractions is a national pastime but not only in the U.S.

Southern California has it’s share. There’s a giant doughnut at a 50’s bakery in Long Beach, California and until recently, a towering fork in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego.

The sentinel fork was short-lived. Inspired by a Muppets movie prop, an anonymous, local retiree used his wood working skills to give his visitors a choice to turn at a literal ‘fork in the road.’. Standing tall in a triangular meridian, it soon won fame and fans. However soon humor-less, safety-minded city officials had it removed. Not to be deterred, another anonymous  fork soon appeared, but this time on private land and hanging from a tree. The new gigantic suspended utensil still marks the fork in the road.

stop sign flowerAnother civic rumpus occurred a few months earlier when an artist took his knitting hobby public. He decided to beautify local stop signs with “Yarn Bombing” and the story string has been unraveling ever since. San Diego City official Bill Harris contacted the perpetrator, Bryan, through his website and told him to stop turning signs into trees. Overworked city staff may have removal on their task lists but many remain in a silent protest, delighting dog-walkers and kids on the suburban streets of the Clairemont neighborhood.

Here’s five large roadside attractions that are claiming world records:
World’s Largest Tire: Allen Park, Michigan

Even the largest new BF Goodrich tires for your colossal pickup truck have nothing on this transcendent tire. The 12 ton, 80 foot tire was originally constructed as a Ferris Wheel for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, according to It can now be viewed off of I-94 in Allen Park, Michigan, as a patriotic salute to the American automotive industry or a rolling calamity waiting to happen.

World’s Largest Garden Gnome: Poland

The past decade has seen several places relentlessly out-gnoming each other. These jolly giants are more of a lawn gnome or entire yard gnome than one that would fit in your garden. First, the town of Kerhonkson in New York held the title of World’s Largest Gnome with Gnome on the Range, also known as Gnome Chomsky outside of Kelder Farm. Iowa thought they could one-up the mere 13’6 Chomsky. Once Iowa State University introduced its pointy hatted, white bearded Elwood to its Reiman Gardens, it reigned gnome supreme at 15 feet. Not to be outdone, Poland snatched the much sought after world record from Iowa’s hands with its towering 18 foot gnome. Some still consider the Iowan gnome the largest, as the Polish gnome is constructed of fiberglass rather than the typical concrete.

World’s Largest Light Bulb: Edison, New JerseyLight bulb glow-lamp studio

Someone had the bright idea to turn Edison’s luminary invention into yet another object that America could claim as world’s biggest. Suitably located in the town of Edison, this 13-foot tall light bulb commemorates the famed inventor’s revolutionary idea. The bulb sits atop a 134-foot tower that marks the site of Menlo Park laboratory where Edison brought the first commercial incandescent light bulb to fruition and yes, it does light up. We can only imagine what the electricity bill runs.

World’s Largest Santa: North Pole, Alaska

As you’d expect, Santa Claus makes his home in North Pole only this one isn’t located on top of the world, but in a quaint Alaskan town. We all know Mr. Kringle is a bit rotund around the waistline, but this version of Santa Claus really takes the cake or cookie given his excessive appetite. Weighing in at a morbidly obese 900 pounds and towering 42 feet high, the world’s largest jolly Saint Nick maintains his plump figure and never-ending Christmas spirit year-round.

World’s Largest Baseball Bat: Louisville, Kentucky

The world’s largest baseball bat, a carbon steel replica of Babe Ruth’s homer-hitting bat from the 1920’s, is located in the birthplace of the famed Louisville Slugger. The Great Bambino’s 120 foot tall, 68,000 pound replica bat has rested adjacent to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory since 1995.


The perfect trip – How to have more holiday fun


An afternoon with the locals on the Riviera Maya

More of us are taking off than ever or planning to. While tips on how to have the perfect trip and holiday fun are flooding the media, what’s unique for our country is that we’re venturing forth on road trips more often instead of venturing overseas, according to reports from As they worked with a mathematician, a psychologist and other travel experts on discovering what makes a “perfect” holiday, what emerged is a picture of traveling far, more than six nights and taking longer flights.

Those of us taking shorter trips and vacations are short changing ourselves!

I’m a firm believer in the power of “staycations” or weekends off exploring your home region. It’s relatively easy, cost-effective and recharges your spirit. Just a change in perspective can be so refreshing, but if you and your family choose several weekend trips instead of a longer week or more away each year, studies show you’ll be less satisfied and more stressed once you return.

Finding romance: While a romantic weekend away with your partner can warm up a tepid relationship, vacationing with four to five people has proven to be more fun and fulfilling, according to Expedia. Think about it – hanging out with your family and pals along with the perks of sharing quality, relaxed time with your sweetheart? Win-win.

When you consider what goes into taking a trip over a long weekend compared to a week or more away, the pay-off is exponentially greater. There are hosts of variables and every group has it’s own needs to plan for. It’s all worth it and doesn’t have to be a financial strain.

Here’s a few strategies for getting out of town for a rewarding and satisfyingly long journey:

  • Do your homework well in advance. Read novels and memoirs about places you’d like to visit and take note of the edition date – a guidebook from the last century may be very entertaining but is less likely to help you once you’re on the ground than one published within the last two to three years.
  • Go paperless. The internet is packed with travel advice, stories, blogs and aggregate sites with information, lists, recommendations, pictures and videos. A few I follow when planning a trip include: Expedia, Trip Advisor (but carefully weigh the comments), Kayak and a host of twitter feeds and Facebook pages.
  • Get to know your local travel agent. Knowing someone in the industry who “gets” you and your travel style can save you from disappointment and save money in the long run. Most travel agents are not a one-stop shop, as much as they’d like to be, so search for one experienced in the kind of travel you most enjoy. There are specialists in Cruises, Family and Inter-generational trips, Adventure, Luxury, Extreme Sports, even Independent travel options – the options are endless.
  • Working overseas: If traveling luxuriously isn’t possible at this time, then look into teaching English over seas. Getting a rudimentary certification can take you far. Check out the TEFL Academy and Lillie Marshall’s blog, for more options.
  • Work those frequent flyer miles and point programs. It takes diligence but if the reward is free travel, again a win-win. Keep up on special offers, look into the best credit cards and benefits. Watch out for expiration dates.
  • Volunteerism has many opportunities for the purposeful traveler. Most importantly – do your research and make sure that the group you’re going with is a good match.  Ask questions. Search for testimonials and even contact people you find who’ve traveled with the group. It’s important also to pack well and appropriately for each destination.

So get out and enjoy the world! Not every journey is full of holiday fun, but a long and satisfying adventure just might turn into your perfect trip.






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