Category Archives: Short Trips

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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Celebrating Baja Wine and Food – A day in the Valle

winemakers and chefs baja wine and food celebration
Baja wine and food makers making merry

Baja wine and food makers making merry

Salud! Glasses and conversation clicked. Three of us were deep into happy hour at Baja Betty’s in San Diego but the talk was all about our travels on the other side of the border. I’m fortunate to live close to Mexico and wander there as often as I can. Not one to skip an opportunity to dine deliciously and commiserate with fellow foodies, the year ended with a spontaneous escape to join a party full of Baja wine and food.

The field behind La Cocina de Dona Esthela

The field behind La Cocina de Dona Esthela

Our van from San Diego rumbled down a dirt road and into the parking lot of Dona Esthela’s Cocina in the midst of the Valle Guadalupe. We tumbled out after the two-hour ride, stretching as we wandered to the backyard, past the small group of men tending to outdoor grills and paused at the field fence where a small cadre of pigs, cows, and geese wandered.

Baja Wine and Food Celebration

Dona Esthela’s is always morphing (Read about her accomplishments in this earlier post.) On this morning several workers were demolishing the old latrines. The new ones, shiny with their fresh tile, were open across the yard just steps from the dining patio. As she has many times over the past decade, it appears that Dona Esthela’s home restaurant is expanding again. It was Monday and the restaurant was closed to the public while a celebration of Baja wine and food was in progress.

Dona Esthela and her Sonoran Chicken

Dona Esthela and her Sonoran Chicken

Beans, Machaca, fresh tortillas, salsa and cheese.

Beans, Machaca, fresh tortillas, salsa and cheese.

Well into the afternoon we were feted with platters of Dona Esthela’s famous machaca, grilled pork, spiced chicken and endless bowls of gravy-like pinto beans to slather over toasty-warm tortillas. Most of us started drinking well before noon. It would’ve been impolite not to! Wine bottles were cradled like favorite sons as vineyard owners appeared in the doorway and were ushered in with hugs and back slaps. Throughout the day they came and departed, their bottles uncorked and prized vintages savored. Soon a chorus line of empties stood near the door.

Pinata fun with Baja wine and food

Largesse brought me there. Fernando Gaxiola, the founder of Baja Wine and Food, is a master at curating experiences. This time he ushered a small group across the border but not before picking up four ‘special guests’ – pinatas – from a house outside of Tijuana’s Zona Rio.

Chef Andrew Spurgin and friends

Chef Andrew Spurgin and ‘friends.’

After our meal, we stepped into the covered patio to swing and cheer as the pinatas were demolished. Surprisingly enough my American compatriots swung hardest. There was no rancor from our hosts about the pinata model. In fact, one of the vintners said,”Kicking Mexicans out of the Napa Valley? Fine, come to the Valle. We have jobs here.”

Spooning on the deck at Cuatro Cuatros.

Spooning on the deck at Cuatro Cuatros.

Sunset at Cuatro Cuatros

The day wore on in sweet companionship then we piled into the van to ride back to San Diego, but not without another treat engineered by Fernando and company. On a hillside above the wide Pacific, through a gated arch we rode into the Cuatro Cuatros property, less than ten miles north of Ensenada. Sunset was racing to its conclusion and soon gilded everyone at the platform bar.

cuatros cuatros sunset

Monte Xanic Especialle

Monte Xanic Gran Ricardo

Cuatro Cuatros tentalows

Cuatro Cuatros tentalows

A few ‘very special bottles’ emerged alongside shots of Mescal. The views from the bar swept south to Ensenada and far north. Not far from where I stood, rows of swanky tents waited for guests to tuck in for the night. I look forward to resting there one day and waking to the sunrise glimmering on the waves below. This time, however, it was reward enough to have my Sentri pass help me cross the border swiftly. I was home in time to share tales of my Baja wine and food adventure with my family before bedtime.

Where to go on a Baja wine and food excursion:
Wineries to visit: (There’s dozens more!)

Thank you to Fernando Gaxiola and his team for making the trip possible. As always all opinions are my own. 

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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.

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 Solo adventure – Fun places to visit in London

London Millennial Bridge
Millennial Bridge from St. Peters

Millennium Bridge from St. Peters

The sky never changed color all day. I woke in London, in a second floor, Airbnb, walk-up facing a busy street where the light hardly shifted between the glow from street lights or sun. The sky stayed that indeterminate gray – it could’ve been dawn or dusk – but I was on a quest to find fun places to visit in London. After mapping out a few ideal scenarios for the day, I needed to figure out how to get around. I had buses, trains and lots of walking ahead of me. Taking careful notes and carrying a phone battery back up so I wouldn’t get stranded, I stepped into the winter chill.
London buses are fun places to visit.

First task – Purchase an Oyster card

The night before I had passed a shop advertising Oyster Cards. The woman behind the counter wore a hijab and in an assured British accent told me the ins and outs of the card. Being there one day only with the Oyster card gave me freedom to take the Underground and buses without digging in my purse for change (not accepted on buses) or tallying up more credit card fees. The card is simple to use – you swipe it when you get on a bus, once you’re at the turnstile into the Underground and then at the end of the journey to get out. It kept me moving in sync with the crowds around me. (*See below for tips about what to do with the card when you’re ready to leave London.)

About using London buses
  • Drivers are helpful.
  • Count stops between you and the destination.
  • Don’t be afraid to explore.
  • Sit upstairs on the double deckers’ to get the best vantage point.
  • If you’re pressed for time, avoid taking buses in the central city during lunchtime on weekdays – the streets are clogged and the Underground works much more efficiently. You miss street views however.
Leadenhall Market is a fun place to visit in London

The entrance to Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market
I would never have visited Leadenhall Market if I’d been on the Underground. After arriving the day before at Gatwick airport, managing my way to Tower Bridge stop and onto the bus to Shoreditch, I spied Leadenhall Market from my seat. Mental note – check that out before leaving and it was a major find of the trip.
In the morning I returned to the same bus line (149 if you’re interested) and waited until we passed the Market. I got off at the next stop and walked back to explore. The building with it’s flourishes, bright golds and reds, was an anachronism in the midst of the modern city. Shops lined the passage way. Turns out quite a few movies have been filmed on the premises, the first Harry Potter included. I slowly strolled through and then was astounded by the uber-steam-punk, industrial design of the Lloyd’s tower building behind it.
Lloyd's of London is next to Leadenhall Market

Two views of Lloyd’s of London

What contrast! It was such a pleasure watching suits and skirts speed up to top floors in glass elevators. Around the corner was my first glimpse of the London Needle too. That again was a study in contrasts – its belly bending into the wind in brash, symmetrical lines. There were construction crews all over the neighborhood. Who knows what other architectural wonders are in the making?
Shoe Shine girls in Leadenhall Market

Frances and friend, Shoe Shine Girls in Leadenhall Market

Back to Leadenhall I went and onto my next stop, I thought. At a corner of the hall, two young women sat astride shoe polishing boxes. Two women! I had to find out more and met Frances with her partner, both actresses with a day gig. Frances took to my boots with gusto. They soon looked better than when I’d purchased them at a consignment shop! Glad to support the arts!
Great Fire of London Monument

Great Fire of London Monument

Great Fire of London Monument
I was looking for the Underground when I spotted the golden topped tower, standing round, slender and solitary in the midst of the area’s chunky, square buildings. The base is a block embellished with sayings in Latin and English, with statuary carved on one face and inside a long, winding staircase to climb to a viewing platform. I waited a few minutes for the privilege and then left, impatient with only so many hours to explore. There was no telling when the crowd upstairs would descend, no matter what the vendor said.
Millennial Bridge is a fun place to visit in London

Millennium Bridge from the river bank

Millennium Bridge

Into the Underground I went with the goal of visiting the Millennium Bridge and St. Peters Cathedral. The bridge was simple enough to find after I exited the station. Go towards the water, I told myself, and sure enough soon signs pointed the way. It is a very popular destination and my first real crowd experience of the day.

Sweeping, metal wings lift it over the Thames in a long gliding line. I would’ve liked to see a curve in the passage to complete the snake like reflection but perhaps the architects rejected that as too expensive.

Millennial Bridge wings in London
The wings are something though – in matte aluminum rods and fittings, they lift and support. I walked out with hundreds of students on holiday and tourists like myself. Selfies were taken, family Christmas card shots made with the Tower Bridge in the background. Only wish I’d walked to the end and into the Tate museum instead of up to St. Peters. But the dome drew me on and I was standing in the official City of London in moments.
St. Paul's Cathedral Garden is a fun place to visit in London

In the St. Paul’s Cathedral Garden

St. Peters Cathedral – Sort of
The Cathedral is imposing. As I ascended the steps I imagined Julie Andrews singing ‘Feed the Birds’ in My Fair Lady but inside the church doors all was not inviting. If you were there to attend a service there was no charge. If you wanted to gawk it was nearly $20 per adult and then no pictures were allowed. I don’t mind making a donation but decided an interior Cathedral shot wasn’t necessary.
Neal's Yard in London is one of the fun places to visit

In Neal’s Yard

Neal’s Yard is one of the fun places to visit in London
Out I went to find the Underground to Neal’s Yard in Coventry Garden. Emerging from the station I found the roads full and sidewalks clogged. This is winter in London- where is everyone going, I thought? Herds of school kids giggled past. I never saw an empty coffee shop. Through a combination of GPS and excellent maps posted at various points, I found the elusive Neal’s Park.
Stepping through a shadowy passage, I entered a brightly painted, tiny square skirted with trendy shops, dotted with benches and flowering pots. A neat network of hanging lights hung over the center. I parked on a bench and watched, listened and then checked my phone. If I were interested in shopping perhaps it would’ve been more compelling but aside from taking a few pictures, having a full tummy already, and not wanting to shop, there wasn’t much to keep me there.
British Museum
Next task was walking to the British Museum. A very cool looking young man with bleached, short cropped hair passed me in Neal’s Yard. I saw him again, standing on the street smoking (a lot of people do that here,) looking every bit the artsy hipster. Still I found myself asking him, ‘ Is it possible that I’m on Monmouth Street and not lost?’ The question amused him and he melted into a kind stranger, offered me assurance that I had found it and pointed me in the right direction. It was a sweet and unexpected exchange – one of those encounters you miss if you’re not traveling alone.
British Museum Gate

The British Museum Gate

 I walked on, twisting through streets and ended up on a small street with a Museum-this and a Museum-that kind of shop or tavern. One sign claimed that Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin had lived nearby and at the end there was an imposing structure – the British Museum. It’s free to the public which meant crowds were pouring in and out. School groups squatted to eat lunch on the stairs outside, others wandered through galleries with forms to fill out, clutches of them filled stairwell steps writing and talking.
The British Museum is one of the fun places to visit

Inside the British Museum

The central courtyard is a beauty to behold. An umbrella like grid opens above you as you enter the naturally lit atrium. The ceiling is an enormous net of glass and metal over a central restaurant that I wish I’d mounted the sweeping staircase to see.
No, I opted for the Egyptian galleries. I marveled at the Assyrian friezes. I studied Greek vases. I even napped briefly on a bench in front of several sculptures looted from Crete. Before a guard could rouse me, I woke thinking it was time for coffee. The Gallery Cafe was close enough to smell the java brewing. An energetic and earnest tall, young blonde with, I believe, an Italian accent, took orders and payments. It was all delicious.
The British Museum cafe is one of the fun places to visit

In the British Museum cafe

I’ve always loved the refuge of museum cafes. There are interesting conversations to overhear, interesting characters and always good food. Alone, but not, in the way cafes can be, I felt comforted and revived for the next part of the journey, returning to Shoreditch. The goal was to get close via the Underground with space to walk for awhile. Thank goodness for GPS. When I emerged into an Indian neighborhood, no one could tell me where Shoreditch was! A taxi driver apologized that he couldn’t help with a slight Indian shake of his head. It was his first day on the job! But figure it out I did and walked on.
One shop in Spitlefield, London

One shop in Spitlefield

The neighborhood shifted and soon I was on Brick Street. Cool shops, international restaurants smaller than my single, hotel room, and a half dozen vintage clothing places filled the streets. Then there were murals. I would see one, cross the street to study it and turn back to find another from that new angle!


Mural in the heart of Shoreditch, a fun place to visit

Mural in the heart of Shoreditch

Shoreditch artists at work

Shoreditch artists at work

Admittedly it was all a bit rough in a non-gentrified way but I never felt at risk even as the light faded. It was a wonderful walk and finding myself thirsty at Happy Hour in a metropolis dotted with bars, I felt it was time to take courage and walk into one.
A miniscule sampling of the Shoreditch murals.

A miniscule sampling of the Shoreditch murals.

One tavern called to me, the Market Garden, surely it would add to my fun places to visit. First there was the name on a span over a street but no doorway. I turned a corner to find the entrance, strolled up to the tiny bar and asked the barmaid what was on tap. As we were talking an older woman shouted from the other side of the bar, in a separate room entirely. She turned out to be the proprietor and motioned for me to step back out on the street then into the other side. All a bit odd, but I was game.
Sonya Esquilant owner of the Tavern

Sonya Esquilant, owner of the Tavern

Inside was a larger space. After helping me, Sonya Esquilant chose a bitters, “A lady’s drink,” the owner said, “Let me show you where to sit.” She dragged a chair noisily to a short bench. It was next to a brick mantle over an anemic electric fire. The chair was for ‘Your drink,’ she said but the seat was tilted. As soon as she turned back to her other clients, I placed the glass on the steadier bench beside me and before long was chatting with a mother and daughter sitting at the next table.
My glass empty, it was time for dinner and that wasn’t an option in the tavern, so out into the cold I returned. Back in the Shoreditch neighborhood there were pop up restaurants and galleries. Before long I was commiserating about the Brazilian economy with a couple running an open restaurant in a street arcade. The meal came back to the apartment with me. Popping open a bottle of Ginger Beer, I settled next to the window to savor my last meal in London. I needed to get some work done before the light shifted to dawn and I made my way to the airport. It was a remarkable day, full of fun places to visit in London.
Shoreditch popup couple

Shoreditch popup couple

If you go:
  • Oyster Card – Pick up at stations and various shops. *Refund on unused portion and deposit in the airport terminals. More here
  • Leadenhall Market – A historic marketplace featured in many movies. More here
  • Monument to the Great Fire of London – The tragedy that ravaged acres of the city is memorialized with a tower offering great views of the city. More here.
  • British Museum – Free entrance and open daily More about the British Museum
  • Millennium Bridge – Spans the Thames, walking bridge More about the bridge
  • Shoreditch – A distinctive neighborhood full of art, trendy and new diversions More here.
  • Neal’s Yard – Close to several Underground stops. More here

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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


Elvis left but the stars remain when you visit Palm Springs

Elvis' left this honeymoon house in Palm Springs.
Elvis left but his honeymoon residence remains in Palm Springs.

Elvis Honeymoon house

In Palm Springs chances are you’ve walked on his star, strolled past the cafes and the Tiki lounge where the King hung out with his entourage. Even though Hollywood’s golden age celebrities and Elvis left long ago their memories live on in the playground oasis of Palm Springs. The city has preserved a walkway of the stars, home and historical tours abound and each year a handful of events commemorate the areas glittery past.

I hooked up with Best of the Best Tours for a leisurely ride around neighborhoods where the elite still meet. No towering, crowded bus, we cruised in a luxury van that was unobtrusive on the private streets. Even after visiting Palm Springs at least a dozen times, there were vast areas I hadn’t seen before. Our guide, Cynthia excitedly shared stories about how the other half lived and a bit about the city’s history.

Elvis left but Cynthia remains with Best of the Best Tours in Palm Springs

Centuries ago, ancestors of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla (pronounced Kaw-we-ah)Indians settled in the Palm Springs area. In 1927 Prescott Thresher Stevens imagined a village playground taking advantage of the hot springs, mountain vistas and proximity to Los Angeles. Today his hotel site, the Mirador, has been rebuilt as a hospital using the original blueprints.

Mirador hotel that Elvis left long ago.

The original Mirador Hotel transformed into a hospital.

Once flash floods swept down the steep mountainsides just west of town. What was tragedy for early Indian families affected new housing developments as well. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created a deep trench and used the terrain’s boulders as a buttress. They’re stacked just a few hundred feet from Elvis Presley’s Graceland West.

Elvis left this home after recording eight songs in Palm Springs.

Elvis lived and recorded here in the 1970’s

A row of rose bushes, a flower that Elvis’ mother loved, still thrive along the gated yard. Sadly other artifacts haven’t fared as well but if you look closely at the illuminated house number you’ll see a profile. A much larger one once hung on the chimney facing the street.

Elvis' left this honeymoon house in Palm Springs.

Earlier Elvis brought his new bride to Palm Springs and moved into a Mid-Century modern home on a Las Palmas’ neighborhood cul de sac. The house is a series of concentric circles and visitors can see more details of the property on tours and at one of many events held there yearly. Look below for more information.

Don’t despair because Elvis left the building* long ago. In Palm Springs you can still walk in his footsteps. I’m glad it was so easy with Best of the Best Tours.

*’Elvis has left the building” was an end-of-concert announcement to discourage audiences pleading for encore after encore.

Elvis left but experience his life here:

Elvis Presley on the Walk of the Stars: 100 South Palm Canyon Drive.

The Honeymoon Hideaway: Interior tours are available several times a day and there are several events held on the grounds each season. Address: 1350 Ladera Circle, Vista Las Palmas neighborhood.

Graceland West: The home where Elvis recorded eight of his hits. Graceland West in the Little Tuscany neighborhood: 845 West Chino Canyon.

Caliente Tropics Lounge: Renovated in 2012, the Tiki lounge was a match for Elvis who had filmed three Hawaiian movies by the time he and Rat Pack celebs made this a favorite stop. Caliente Tropics: 411 E. Palm Canyon Drive.

Elvis memorabilia: The Hard Rock Hotel displays several Elvis items from their vaults at 150 South Indian Canyon Drive, downtown.

Elvis Eats: Two places where the King would settle into a booth and order his favorite meals.

  • The Original Las Casuelas: 368 North Palm Canyon Drive, downtown. Website for hours.
  • Sherman’s Deli and Bakery: 401 Tahquitz Way, downtown. A famous desert deli that serves the King’s favorite sandwich – hot pastrami.

Riviera Palm Springs: Before Elvis purchased a home in the desert he’d often stay at the Riviera Hotel at 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive.

Best of Best Tours: Take a ride on the Hollywood side, a guided hike, or visit the wind farm with Best of Best Tours.

Walk in the Stars Itinerary: Several options for self-guided and hosted walking tours from Visit Palm Springs.

Elvis Events: Visit the Elvis Honeymoon site for tickets

  • January 4th, Elvis’ Birthday Tribute
  • Weekend with the King: First weekend in May
  • Annual tribute to the King: August 22nd
  • Elvis Halloween Contest
  • Rock-a-Holly Christmas: Various dates in December.

Thank you to Visit Palm Springs and Best of Best Tours for enlightening me about the the celebrity past and hosting my tour.

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Elvis left but the honeymoon house remains in Palm Springs

Packing my Suitcase

Holiday lights shows in Southern California – Five worth the drive

Mission Inn Holiday Lights
Riverside's Mission Inn Festival of Lights

Riverside’s Mission Inn Festival of Lights

Mission Inn Holiday Lights

This time of year there can be so much pressure to keep visiting  family and friends entertained. Consider a short road trip, if you find yourself in the Southern California area, and get everyone out of the house for a few hours to enjoy holiday light shows together.

It was a ritual with my family. We’d pile in the car at least once every year to slowly venture through the neighborhoods with the best light displays.

If you plan well and feel intrepid, try out one of the handful of holiday light shows below. They’re an inexpensive way to spend quality time with the family, or a pile of pals, on a cool California night.

***Please note: These are far flung throughout the Southland, so plan wisely – nothing kills a jolly, holiday buzz more than sitting in traffic for hours or getting stuck gridlock.

1. The Original Los Angeles Farmers Market:

One of my favorite places to visit in Los Angeles is the original Farmers Market. From dawn to dusk, this is the place for food, fresh to exotic cooking ingredients or simply to unwind with a cuppa coffee and people watch.

The annual Holiday Celebrations at the Farmer’s Market includes children’s craft workshops, holiday foods, music and Tree Lighting Ceremonies. There’s lots of shopping, music and restaurants at the mall next door as well.
When: Dec 9- 24th
Where: Farmer’s Market Plaza, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Cost: Free
Parking: 2 hours free with validation/purchase

2 Boat Parade Par Excellence on Naples Island, Long Beach:

Serendipity led me to discover one of my favorite holiday traditions. We’d moved into a little bungalow on Naples Island in Long Beach just a couple of months before Christmas. Little did we know that just a few feet from the front door was the perfect bridge to watch the annual boat parade that floated through the canals in this tight and tiny neighborhood. Houses along the waterway blazed in over-the-top light and animated displays. Crowds started arriving soon after lunch but we strolled out of the house after an early dinner. Of all the boat parades I’ve seen since , between viewing larger ships in Belmont Bay and the smaller, ‘rowdies’ in the narrow canals, this is my favorite.

When: The Naples Holiday Boat Parade, December 17st  dusk to about 9pm


Parking: Free Lots are near 2nd Street. Avoid squeezing into parking places along the narrow streets of the island unless you plan to stay late and don’t mind navigating through crowds of clueless revelers.


Other Holiday Lights Boat shows:

There are many boating light shows throughout Southern California. Two other favorites are the San Diego Bay Parade (Dec. 20th) and Newport Island’s Boat Parades (16th – 20th.)

Mission Inn Angel

One of the angels at Riverside’s Mission Inn

3. Lights fantastic at the historic Hotel Del Coronado:

When my parents were still around I’d make it home for Christmas as often as possible. We’d catch up, shop and cook together, but one night each December the gang would drive south to Coronado Island  to see the lights gracing the historic Hotel Del. Since early in the last century the hotel squeezes the tallest Christmas tree possible into the two story lobby and decorates with abandon.  There are special events and award-winning restaurants but just walking around the site is a treat. For the more ambitious you can even go ice skating on the beach!

When: December 1st to New Years Day

Where: Coronado Island – Hotel del Coronado

Cost: Free

Parking: Expect to hunt awhile for street parking or pay the hefty sums for the privilege, and convenience, of using the hotel parking lot and valet.


4. Drive Through Magic (and more than a little kitsch): Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills

It seems most every suburban neighborhood hosts a street notorious for the best holiday decorations. At the Del Mar Racetrack the custom turned a bit more commercial and carloads of gawkers would pay to ride the lane through the displays. Unfortunately, as the racetrack is being widened this year, the holiday lights are on hiatus. Same is true of the huge light displays that the LA Police Force usually erects in Griffith Park. Be not dis-heartened! Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills/Tarzana is gearing up for a spectacular show.

When: Second Saturday of December to New Years Eve dusk to no later than 10pm

Cost: Free

Parking: It’s recommended that you go early in the season to avoid the crowds. Park on the adjacent streets and walk the 8 block neighborhood. Watch out for spots of spontaneous holiday caroling.


5. Electric nights at Riverside’s Mission Inn:

Sitting on a full city block in downtown Riverside, this Spanish Colonial relic of times past goes all out each holiday season. More than 4 million lights illuminate animated angels, santas, elves and more on the balconies, gardens, banisters, and every rooftop cranny and peak.

A few years ago my family spent Christmas Eve there and loved the contrast between the bright displays and lines of tourists at night with the quiet, stateliness of the halls and chapels during the day. The place is worth a visit any time of year, but during the holidays, you won’t find a more varied and lovingly arranged light show in the Inland Empire.

When: Nov. 29th to Jan. 4th

Cost: Free to wander around and through the hotel public areas.

Parking: Usually free on the surrounding streets


Bonus Holiday Lights: Robolights in Palm Springs

And now for something entirely different: Robolights in Palm Springsrobolights giant is part of the holiday lights display in Palm Springs.If you’re in the desert during the holiday season and want an antidote to the commercialization and commodification of Christmas, stop by this very unique display in the Movie Colony neighborhood. Not for the faint of heart, the several acres of sculptures, robots and assemblages are whimsical and macabre. Still it’s a wonderful light show and well worth a visit.

Creator, Kenny Irwin explains it this way: “The general purpose of my art and the annual art and light display is to both counteract the negative energy in the world and gear people into positive mindset when they experience my work. Aspects of my work also are to encourage and inspire others about sustainability, space exploration and tech.” See for yourself!

Where: The display address: 1077 East Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs

When: Open from Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 9:30 pm. From Thanksgiving to Jan. 9th.

Cost: A $15 dollar donation

These holiday light shows are worth the drive for just the cost of your gas. Isn’t it worth enduring a chorus of whiny, ‘are we there yet?” when little ones light up at the spectacles? Your inner child just might give their rapture some competition. Enjoy holiday lights!



Past perfect inside Clifton’s downtown LA

Clifton's Cafeteria facade over Broadway in Los Angeles
Nostalgia at Cliftons Cafeteria Los Angeles

The renewed storefront on the 600 block of Broadway, Los Angeles

A whiff of memory was all that remained – the whoosh of an indoor waterfall, giant trees stretching overhead and lunch with my father in the big city. That toddler’s memory came back into focus as I entered the newly re-opened Clifton’s downtown LA.  It was all there – the waterfall, hand-painted murals and a giant Redwood tree lifting its branches several stories into the atrium.

clifton's cafeteria dining room

The space overflows with odd impressions of nature and that was exactly what Clifford Clinton designed. He opened the doors in 1932 as an oasis for the spirit during the Great Depression. Clifford was born to Salvation Army parents. With philanthropy in his blood, he offered meals on a pay-what-you-can plan at a time when one out of four restaurants were closing. It worked and before he moved on to fighting corruption at City Hall, he opened three cafeterias. Today only the ‘Brookdale’ location remains.

Memorial plate from the original Clifton's Cafeteria

Once you could “Dine free unless delighted.” Memorial plate.

Within these doors a forest calls to you – a

mountain land of forest trees and sky –

offering woodland peace and beauty to the tired heart and city weary eye.


So enter, friend, to walk where brooklets run down rocky crevices, through fern and reed. Dine here and rest; and when your meal is done, may something more than food have met your need.


~ Esther Baldwin York’s quote from the original Clifton downtown LA postcard, and still sold.

The original neon - shining continuously, just, since 1932.

The original neon – shining continuously, just, since 1932.

Truly it’s a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities.’  In the basement near the women’s bathroom sits the “oldest continuously active Neon sign in the world,” (except for a couple of WWII blackouts and a city grid failure.) Hard-wired into the electrical system, the tubes were discovered still shining during the recent renovations. Originally they illuminated a painting of a forest. Clifford was a fan of neon and had it installed after seeing one of the first West Coast neon signs at a Packard showroom a few blocks away.

Downstairs bar at Clifton's Cafeteria

Downstairs bar at Clifton’s downtown LA

wildlife inside Cliftons Cafeteria Los Angeles

A few dining dioramas inside Clifton’s downtown LA

Elsewhere there are tree stump bar stools, tables adjacent to buffalo and bear, hand-painted murals and even a quote from Joseph Conrad painted on the wall. If only the walls could talk and explain why they’re painted at that spot and why that cryptic line!


Bandstand inside Clifton's Cafeteria

Bandstand inside Clifton’s Cafeteria. Note the quote in brown, to the left on the wall.

Quote from Joseph Conrad on the Clifton's downtown LA bandstand wall.

Quote from Joseph Conrad on the Clifton’s downtown LA bandstand wall.

The wise visit the cafeteria food line and eat before exploring. There are four floors of space and three bars. The top floors are open for special events and music on the weekend. The map room oozes lux and a Tiki Bar is in the works on the top floor (hopefully it will resurrect some of the destroyed Pacific Seas’ cafeteria furnishings. For now, study the jukebox by the front door. It houses a miniature of that facade.)

Map room in the upstairs bar at Clifton's downtown LA

Map room in the upstairs bar at Clifton’s downtown LA

Clifton's Cafeteria line

Clifton’s Cafeteria line

Jello at Clifton's Cafeteria

Classic Jello at Clifton’s Cafeteria


Booths and tables, alcoves and more stuffed wildlife fill the upstairs cafeteria mezzanine. I brought ice tea and a slice of apple pie to a table under an arch and studied the street below. The sidewalk is mottled and grimy. Modern storefronts line the street but above them sit the original Art Deco and Art Nouveau, terracotta tiles. Elsewhere in the neighborhood gargoyles and embellishments are shrouded in dust. Filigreed rooftops reach into a smoggy sky.

If ever there was a time that visitors could use a little whimsy and fantasy; a glimmer of ‘woodland peace,’ that’s now. Visit Clifton’s downtown LA and leave warmed in the belly and the spirit.

On the counter at Clifton's Cafeteria.

On the counter at Clifton’s downtown LA.

If you go to Clifton’s downtown LA:

Location: 648 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014

Hours (check website as these are expanding)

  • Weekdays
    11am – 9pm Cafeteria
    11am – 2am Monarch Bar
    6pm – 2am Gothic Bar
  • Saturday and Sunday
    10am – 9pm Cafeteria
    11am – 2am Monarch Bar
    6pm – 2am Gothic Bar

Visit the website for the latest renovation news and event listings.

Step out in style as Dapper Day hosts a NYE 2016 soiree at Cliftons. Tickets here.

Interested in more vintage glamour? Read my post about the Cicada Club in West LA.

The Trip Well Gal would jump for joy if you share this post. Here’s a couple of Pins:


Clifton's Downtown L.A. Pin












Day of the Dead in Tijuana – From graveyard to market

Mercado Hidalgo Altar, Tijuana
Tijuana's largest Dia de Muertos altar in Mercado Hidlago

Tijuana’s largest Day of the Dead altar in Mercado Hidlago

In Mexico remembering loved ones during Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is mixed with reverence and ritual. Sugar skulls, flowers, washing gravestones, and family meals are a few traditional aspects. I witnessed and learned, when the Turiste Libre group walked me into Tijuana, although it felt a bit like going to a party where you don’t know the host.

Derrik Chinn, founder of Turiste Libre, Day of the Dead, Tijuana

Derrik Chinn, founder of Turiste Libre, greeting us at the border.

Crossing the border

The founder of Turiste Libre, American born, Derrik Chinn, made everyone feel welcome from the moment we met in the Otay Mesa border plaza, just south of San Diego. He has been polishing the Tijuana tours for years.

The plaza was a maelstrom of action. People of all ilk bustled in and out of the money exchange kiosks and little stores, carrying bags, suitcases, and boxes. Customs officers and border police strolled into the government buildings and sauntered through the plaza at the end of their shifts.

Even with recent upgrades the walk through the revolving border gate hasn’t changed much over the years. Once on the other side, passports are checked and it’s an easy exit into Mexico. Uniformed taxi drivers waited for business at the first street but Derrik guided our group to a pair of decorated, white buses commandeered for the day.

Turiste Libre bus in Tijuana

Turiste Libre bus in Tijuana

Dia de Muertos face painting inside the Turiste Libre Bus

Dia de Muertos face painting inside the Turiste Libre Bus

Tequila shots offered on the Turiste Libre Bus.

Tequila shots offered on the Turiste Libre Bus.

Our itinerary was announced and we were offered fortifying Tequila shots before rumbling off into the Tijuana neighborhoods, far from the tourist ruckus along Avenue Revolucion.

Family gathers inside the Puerta Blanca Cemetery, Tijuana

Family gathers inside the Puerta Blanca Cemetery.

Puerta Blanca Cemetery

In Tijuana the annual Día de Muertos calls for a visit to Puerta Blanca, the oldest cemetery. It’s also the resting place of the unofficial, folk saint, Juan Soldado. His story is controversial but his memory is revered.

Juan Soldaldo altar, Tijuana

Juan Soldado altar, Tijuana

Puerta Blanca Cemetery, Tijuana

Puerta Blanca Cemetery, Tijuana

Grave washers, Tijuana

Grave washers, Tijuana

Relatives lounged at family grave sites. Teenagers scrambled between stones, earning a few pesos for washing away the dust from the past year. Too soon we headed out to the street and off to an adventure of another sort entirely.

Entrance to Mercado Hidalgo

Entering Mercado Hidalgo

Into the Mercado

Mercado Hidalgo is Tijuana’s oldest, open-air market and home of the largest Dia de Muertos altar in town. The bus slipped into the central parking lot of the dizzying marketplace. We had over an hour to wander, shop, sample and watch the Aztec dancers.

Inside Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana

Crowds inside Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana

Shopping in Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana

Shopping in Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana

Aztec Dancers inside Mercado Hidalgo

Aztec Dancers at the central altar

Ave Maria Chapel, Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana

Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana

Inside the Hidalgo Mercado, Tijuana

Inside the Hidalgo Mercado, Tijuana

Tasting fried crickets in Mercado Hidalgo

I had to do it! Tasty, fried crickets in Mercado Hidalgo.

Lunch at El Taller

Shopping stirs the appetite and our last stop was El Taller, a Baja Med Cocina, for a communal meal of Mole Pizza and ‘mucha cerveza.’ The building was originally a screen-printing bodega but its cavernous space has been transformed into a comfortable, dining mecca. The pies, a far cry from the Italian based Mozzarella cheese and oregano style, were served on stands. The thin crust pizzas were piled with meat and a thick, spicy Mole that can only come from hours of tender cooking.

El Taller meal, Tijuana

El Taller meal, Tijuana

New friends were made during our full day of sight-seeing, story-telling, eating and drinking. If only I could say that crossing back into the U.S. was as quick and easy as entering Mexico, but that’s not the case. Too often it means standing in long lines before clearing customs. Lucky for me, I had applied for a SENTRI pass months earlier and the potential ordeal became a leisurely stroll back into the U.S.

Read more border and safety tips in my post about crossing into Mexico.

I’m so grateful to the Mexican people who let us gringos crash their party and it’s wonderful to see more visitors from around the world participate in Tijuana’s Day of the Dead.

If you go:

  • Find out more about Turiste Libre Tours
  • El Taller Baja Med – Much more on the menu than pizza!
  • Listen to my interview with Derrik Chinn on the Gathering Road Podcast
  • To get to Puerta Blanca, walk west out of downtown on First Street. The cemetery is in front of the Z Gas compound and closes at 4 p.m.

Hope you enjoyed the tour. Share on Pinterest!

Day of the Dead Tijuana Pinterest

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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Train time – The Capitol Corridor to California’s Train Museum

Train inside the California State Train Museum, trip wellness,
Train inside the California State Train Museum, trip wellness,

One of the originals inside the California State Train Museum in Sacramento

Taking the train is a treat. It’s romantic, restful and easily the most comfortable commute I’ve made – at least along the Capitol Corridor in Northern California. I’ve been an Amtrak fan for years but it hasn’t always been easy to match my schedule with the route times. train station, Capitol Corridor, tripwellnessThe Capitol Corridor makes that moot with seventeen stops several times a day, plus bus and Bart connections from the Oakland Airport to San Jose or north to Auburn. Through-way buses will take you from stations to San Francisco and up to Truckee or Reno as well.

I rode from Emeryville  (in between Berkeley and Oakland,) where you can park your car for free with validation from inside the station. As I was traveling just past rush hour there were plenty of seats and I plugged in my computer at a table with a view. It was fun too to connect with other riders and trade stories.
Riding the Capitol Corridor
Capitol Corridor, train times, trip wellness, mom and baby commute.

Mom and baby commute to work (and Grandma) on the Capitol Corridor.

In the 15 years since I first rode the train to Sacramento there’s been lots of upgrades. Today you can bring your bike along for the ride. All trains on the Capitol Corridor have a limited number of bicycle racks, allowing you to bring your bike onboard as unboxed, carry-on baggage. There are also WiFi and outlets to keep electronics charged.

I wished my bike was with me on this trip to Sacramento. The station is just a few hundred feet from the riverfront and the Old Town businesses.

Bicyclist on the Capitol Corridor, trip wellness

Bring your bike on board!

While adjacent to downtown, there are bike trails and the topography is mercifully flat. Biking would be a great way to explore the area before catching the train for the ride home.

The California State Trailroad Museum
This trip was about trains and I was excited to return to Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum. No stuffy train graveyard, the Museum is an immense, state-of-the-art experience. It begins with a short movie about the railroad in California and ends with a surprise that I won’t spoil but I think you’ll be as astonished as I was. During the school year  groups of students move from exhibit to exhibit in the company of actors and volunteers in historical costumes who pose as engineers, servers, cooks and more.
Inside the California State Train Museum, Capitol Corridor, Trip Wellness

Inside the California State Train Museum

The place is stunning and cavernous. The lighting sets up drama from dioramas of Chinese immigrants working along tracks to the many polished engines in all their bold glory.
Pullman Car, California State Train Museum, trip wellness
Don’t miss walking through the train cars!
  • The sleeper car rocks as you walk along a first class passageway.
  • The dining car is a tribute to every train line – each table is set with china stamped with logos and menus.
  • The kitchen mannequins can be spied from different vantage points.

You’ll return to the gallery hall with a sense of what life was like on the railroad. It wasn’t all glory however, there were racial divides, women held few jobs and the hours were often brutally long. That’s all preserved and the perspective can only help to keep those inequities, or worse, from happening again.

During WWII women took on many jobs on the railroad.  Capitol Corridor, trip wellness

During WWII women took on many jobs on the railroad.

I had only a few hours to explore the area and it wasn’t enough time. When you venture to Sacramento along the Capitol Corridor plan to spend a few days in the area. There’s lots see and do year round.
Entrance to Old Town, Sacramento, Capitol Corridor, trip wellness

Close to the train station you’ll find the pedestrian walkway between Old Town and downtown.

This year Amtrak is rolling out Train Days across the country and Sacramento is one of the stops. On June 6th and 7th the State Museum offers FREE admission, special guests, the Reasons to Ride exhibit and the Chuggington Kids Depot.
If you go:
  • The Sacramento Station is being renovated to it’s old glory and earthquake upgrades should be done by 2016. Expect some scaffolding but the station is still open and comfortable.
  • There are many special offers on the Capitol Corridor site each season. Seniors have a mid-week fare. When you have five friends along on weekends with one paid full adult fare, they can ride for only $5.
  • If Sacramento is just one stop on your trip, check your suitcase into the station attendant for $5 and take off to explore the city without the baggage.
  • Don’t miss Old Town and the Riverfront district. It’s virtually across the street from the station and the walk takes you past remnants of the original Chinatown. Don’t miss the underground tunnel with a long historic time-line mural about the growth of the area.
  • Ride in grand old style: Take a 45 minute Excursion ride along the waterfront from April 4 to September 27th. Experience closed coach cars, open-air gondolas and a first-class observation car pulled by vintage diesel locomotives from the Museum’s collection.
Thank you to Capitol Corridor and Amtrak teams, Visit Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum for a great day exploring train travel. Opinions, as always, are my own.


Through John Steinbeck Country – A Central California Road Trip

Oaks, Salinas, John Steinbeck country, trip wellness

Oaks, Salinas, John Steinbeck country, trip wellness

A journey is a person in itself: no two are alike.
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
There’s a pass in California’s Central Valley that hasn’t been overrun by greed or ambition. During college, still heady with independence, I fell in love with that road between the Interstate 5 and Monterrey. Back then I’d drive home along Highway 152, on the way from San Francisco to Southern California several times a year. Today the valley is still mostly clear of development and traffic was light on my way through John Steinbeck country.
San Luis Dam, John Steinbeck, trip wellness

Memorial at San Luis dam.

The Highway 152 turnoff passes by a lake recreation area adjacent to the San Luis dam. I stopped to stretch my legs and found a memorial to two divers, Tim Crawford and Martin Alvarado, who lost their lives performing underwater inspections at the Dos Amigos Pumping Plant. It was the only bitter note all day.
The land lies smoothly in carpets of green during the winter, then golds and browns for the rest of the year. Commanding it all are the Oak Trees spotting the hills, their branches dark and twisting. The trees first seduced me on full moon drives. They stood round and alert, perfectly outlined in the bright, night light. It was unlike any darkness I’d known.
horses, John Steinbeck, tripwellness

This trip wild poppies sparked along the roadside, in bright buttercup yellow. A small clump of horses stood in the shade of one tall Oak. They drew me to a stop. One by one they strolled over to the fence, curious, hungry for attention or a handout. I was sorry to have come empty handed.

Casa de Fruta, trip wellness, John Steinbeck

Casa de Fruta

As a kid, on family road trips my parents would pull over to pick out snacks at roadside fruit stands. Casa de Fruta remains one of the biggest I’ve seen. Who can resist piles of glowing dried apricots, tawny pears and walnut stuffed dates? A busy fountain in the back is a natural Artesian Well used many years ago by the Ausaymus Indians (an Oholone Tribe.)
Old Town Salinas Main Street, John Steinbeck, trip wellness

Old Town Salinas Main Street.

Not everyone has the good fortune to be born in Salinas.
~ John Steinbeck
Once on the 101 Highway going south towards Salinas my intuition took me to turnoff at Main Street. In Old Town, the National Steinbeck Center stands at the north end of several blocks of buildings from the early 1900’s. Trish Sullivan leads Salinas 411, the information center, from their office which also holds an art gallery, vintage shop and book store. She invited me over to see the work being completed on the Salinas Railroad Museum later that evening. (More in posts to come.)
Trish Sullivan, Salinas 411, trip wellness

Trish Sullivan in the Salinas411 information center.

First there was the Steinbeck Center. The museum has a winding gallery that chronicles his life and books, his awards, marriages and even has an old truck, the same model that he cruised around the country in for 19 months with his dog, Charley, for company. There are movies about his life and adventures. A big party is planned commemorating his birthday on Saturday, February 28th.
John Steinbeck Center, trip wellness

What a life John Steinbeck had!

Yes, he’s the quintessential California writer but foolish me, I’d never thought of him as a travel writer. His nonfiction work, Log of the Sea of Cortez, journalistic writing from WW2, and explorations of Russia are a testament to that. The book, Travels With Charley, preceded other great American road trip novels by Kerouac, Studs Terkel and many other writers.
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, trip welless

The route John Steinbeck took with his dog Charley.

In 1962, John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for his body of work. The Nobel Committee wrote: “His sympathies always go out to the oppressed, the misfits, and the distressed; he likes to contrast the simple joy of life with the brutal and cynical craving for money. But in him we find the American temperament also expressed in his great feelings for the tilled soil, the wasteland, the mountains, and the ocean coast…”
I was so happy to be reintroduced to his great work and his hometown. Happy birthday, John Steinbeck. There’s so much to learn from your journeys and hope I cross your paths often.
Feel free to share and pin this picture!
through steinbeck country pin
Shared on the Weekend Wanderlust Linkup:
This post has been included in the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Round Up on The Daily Adventures of Me. Visit to see what other road trips from expert bloggers are included.

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!




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.


Solo in the City – Walking Tours in New York, Part 2

Central Park tulips

springtime tulips new york, trip wellness, walking tours in new yorkAs immense as it is, Manhattan is a city made for walking. Wherever you find yourself there are options to get somewhere else. In midtown near Times Square? Take the subway, a taxi or an executive car to the East side. Compare parks. Walking through Battery Park? Hop on the subway and end the day with a stroll through Central Park  and shopping, galleries, museums or a little culinary exploration. The options are endless.

It’s also a great place to wander solo. People move fast, everyone seems to be headed somewhere else. That gives the solo traveler a bit of cover. I can imagine it might also be part of the reason it’s hard to connect with strangers beyond a short greeting sometimes, but I enjoyed the anonymity while there for a few days on a business trip.

This is part two. Read part one here.

The New York Travel Festival was held in Bohemia Hall on the East side and a healthy walk from my AirBnB room. While one track helped travelers discover new destinations and local travel options, the travel industry track was a whirl of networking, editors, marketers and world travelers. It was exhilarating but I gladly retreated early after the happy hour reception to rest and prepare for the next day.

On Sunday, before heading towards Central Park West /Harlem, and an afternoon of sessions at the Hosteling International location, I stretched my legs over two hours while exploring the architectural wonders of the area with Cindy Ladopoulos, the founder of NY Cindy Tours and a licensed Guides of New York (GANYC) member. Cindy knows and loves her hometown and loves sharing that enthusiasm with visitors.  While still working with several major tour operators, she happily fills her time with small, tailored walking tours.

rooftop mural water tower, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

Rooftop water tower mural above a ‘tar beach.’

Her expertise opened my eyes to things I would never have known otherwise:

  • Look to the rooftops. Water towers are required on most buildings over 5 stories high. The system must be one reason most ‘smaller’ apartments have such great water pressure.
  • Fire escapes are often featured in movies and TV as escape circuits for characters. In reality, fire escapes are often the best maintained parts of many buildings. It could be the rumor that Fire Dept. officials arrive unannounced and test that the jack-knifed systems are accessible, safe and free from rust.
  • Gargoyles still exist but take a craned neck to locate. My guide, Cindy, suggested that I  look beyond the street and front facades. Check out sides and tops of buildings to find the best architectural details.

    New York Guide, Cindy Ladopoulos, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

    New York guide, Cindy Lagdaoulis

  • Many of the parks dotting the lower Harlem area were once filled with drugs and crime. Today they’ve transformed into centers for baseball, picnics and playgrounds. Check out Morningside Park on a ridge named for the light that once filled it throughout the day, before the rise of new buildings dimmed the vision. It’s still a lovely spot and if you walk north you’ll still find great views of the city.
  • Some street signs are green and others are brown. Why? The brown and white signs are clues that there’s a landmark nearby. Look up and across the street to find the source.
  • Landmark Street Sign, New York, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

    Landmark Street Sign

  • The neighborhood has memorialized respect for the poets, artists and politicians that once called it home. Look for the Ellington Café and the statue dedicated to the Duke’s music. Pigeons spare the piano. Unbeknownst to passersby, there’s a threatening, owl sculpture deep inside and other birds stay clear of the perceived danger. Not far from there a statue of Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln’s peer, is next to a low wall dotted with stars that ‘twinkle’ after dark.
  • Central Park has 21 playgrounds near the edges. The locations are easy for families to get to and out of rather than walk further into the park to play.
Frederick Douglas, Harlem, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

Frederick Douglas, Harlem

That’s only a bit of the rich local lore that Cindy shared with me in the scant two hours we walked together. I left her reluctantly to finish my meetings and  hope to return one day and see more of the area with her.

One more trek:

On the final morning of my stay I packed and arranged to leave my luggage for a few hours, then ran down to the subway for a final walking tour before catching my flight home that evening.

Central Park tulips, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

Central Park tulips

The tour began with a rendezvous at the entrance to Central Park. I spotted Madeleine, of On Location Tours, by her blue umbrella just across the street from the historical luxury of the Plaza Hotel. Immediately she had me turn to glance at the large, round fountain in front of the lobby and asked if I was a fan of ‘Friends?’ I was looking at the original fountain from the opening scenes. Turns out it was re-created on a smaller scale in LA for the opening sequence in order to keep the actors from being dwarfed.

That was just one of the many, many hidden facts about New York that the On Location Tour Company shares on their tours. I saw the bridge where Gossip Girl, Blair, goes to recharge after a bad day; where the movies, The Devil Wears Prada, Independence Day, the Fisher King and dozens of other films or television shows have shot pivotal scenes.

I also learned a bit more history. Did you know that the city of Naples, Italy donated the tile work for the Imagine, John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields? That there is only one straight street in the entire Park? In the 1800’s, Landscape Architects, Vaux and Olmstead, created a tree-lined Promenade for the aristocracy to stroll and meet. Today it’s one of the most photographed lanes and horse-drawn carriages still pull up nearby.

Central Park, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

Central Park

As Madeleine pointed out the Dakota Hotel where John Lennon once lived and the corner balcony that his wife, Yoko Ono still owns, she turned and asked if I’d seen the original Ghostbusters? Of course. She motioned to look down the block to a pale, Art Deco hotel where the penthouse became the devil’s lair in the original movie.

That was a thrill but once again, I had to say goodbye to Madeleine and the tour before heading back to the subway and my journey home. With so much history, rich architecture, art and new friends, I hope to return one day soon to do more walking tours in New York.

New York Globe, trip wellness, walking tours in new york

Find out more about these and other tours online at:

On Location Tours

New York Cindy Tours

Urban Oyster Tours

Disclosure:  In order to bring this story to you, I was a guest on the Urban Oyster, NY Cindy Tour and On Location tours. As always, all opinions and rave reviews are entirely my own.


Spring break travel to Mexico – U.S. edition

Tequilla girl, Trip Wellness

Tequilla girl, Trip Wellness, spring break travel

It used to be crazy, easy fun. You’d leave San Diego for some Rn’R with a few friends, your drivers license and some cash. The road to Ensenada was swift and Hussong’s Cantina beckoned. Carousing to mariachi’s and rock n’roll, drinking to all hours, sleeping when needed – spring break travel was easy but that was a simpler time.

Getting away from school, hitting the road, finding some sunshine – all sounds like fun, but doing it with care will get you home with great memories instead of stories of woe. The freedom of spring break travel to Mexico has inspired movies and novels but in real life crossing the border takes a bit of diligence.

The Center for Disease Control recently published safety tips appropriate for anyone going into Mexico, one of the most popular and inexpensive spring break destinations, whether you live on the west or east coast of the U.S. A few of their tips are included below.

In Mexico:

  • You need a valid passport or a copy of your birth certificate to return to the United States. Keep it with you in a safe place.
  • Drink only bottled water, sealed soda, wines or beers and keep clear of ice. Tap water in Mexico and many other countries is not purified in the same way as in the U.S. Don’t risk spending days of gut-wrenching pain or worse.
  • No open containers on the street or you may be subject to trouble with the Federales.
  • Street tacos are a tempting treat but be cautious. Some travelers look for street vendors who have women and children in line. As a rule, fully cooked food that’s served freshly hot is safer than anything that’s been stored at unregulated temperatures.
  • Avoid salads and fruits that aren’t peeled. Again it’s the exposure to tap water that might cause problems.
  • Wear sunscreen. Hours in the hot sun can do more to ruin your vacation than most anything. Who needs the pain?
  • Health insurance with specific coverage outside the U.S. is advised. The further you go and the bigger the investment makes trip insurance a good idea as well.
  • Avoid getting tattoos or piercings. Sanitation and regulations are not the same for needles and accessories.
  • Don’t take the risk of getting STDs or HIV – Bring condoms and practice safe sex.

A savvy traveler uses street smarts and trusts their gut reactions in any new situation whether it’s across town or the planet.  Have fun and watch out for your friends. May your spring break travel to Mexico be the stuff of dreams.

A Skydiving Redemption


Jeffrey Sapinza and fiancee.

It’s a couple of days before Christmas and the sky’s a classic blue, so bright it hurts and cloudless. I’m in Perris, California with a family determined to go sky diving together. Hanging out in the waiting lounge after watching the training videos, the man sitting next to me starts explaining why he’s there.  Both of his feet are wrapped in bandages and thick, blue prosthetic boots reach up from his soles to calves. A pair of crutches are perched on the couch when we start commiserating about how long a wait it’ll be before his skydiving plane takes off. Yes, he’s planning on going skydiving.

Dave Rudie and Coral Rudie

Dave Rudie and Coral Rudie ready to jump.

Last July Jeffrey was in a motorcycle accident. It nearly killed him. He showed me a cell phone picture taken a few minutes before the truck hit him. Taken into the sun, there are glowing rays surround his head and in the ground behind him is a cross. As Jeffrey says, ”You get closer to God” when you have an experience like his.

Jeffrey was riding alone after visiting his mom in Hemet that afternoon. He doesn’t remember the crash. A 911 emergency call brought a Medivac helicopter to him in the ravine. Once on board he says he met Jesus. First he saw his back and hair. A moment later Jesus was pouring water over his mangled legs and the pain disappeared before he blacked out again. When he woke up in the hospital, pins and metal were attached to his legs.

Over 28 days he faced daunting surgeries but refused to accept the prognosis that he’d never walk again. In the Manor House convalescent hospital he worked with physical therapists and started complaining about the food. Soon the nutritionist was at his bedside. “I’m picky about things and was upset. We got talking and laughing. Over the next couple of months we fell in love.” They were engaged just before Christmas.

Today Jeffrey has resumed his position with Mercedes in Beverly Hills. He’s planning Christmas with his mom and new fiancee, but first he’s interested in skydiving. It would too easy to say he’s an adrenalin junkie, but there’s more going on. His Christmas gift has already gone out for the driver who hit him. “It was an accident,” Jeffrey says and he won’t be suing anybody. Today he’s considering one more close encounter with his maker by jumping out of an airplane.

Elaine flying

This was so much fun!

Sky diving’s not for everyone. (I opted for indoor skydiving. )

I’ll be watching my family sky dive from the ground and as it turns out, so will Jeffrey. His physical therapist didn’t sign off on the jump. It’s still a stunning Southern California winter day and we’ll both have to feel close to our maker with feet on the ground.

If you’re interested in diving and in Southern California, check out

Indoor Sky Diving

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