If you love movies and dream of attending Academy Awards events, there’s hope. While you might not make it to the red carpet, you can still brush shoulders with the industry’s elite.
I attended two of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science events through the San Diego Cinema Society. There are several ways to toss your hat into the ring to watch the stars as they enter the Awards. Also, it’s not too late to plan a trip for the 90th anniversary of the Oscars in 2018! It’s bound to be one of the biggest galas ever. (See links below.)
My brush with cinematic greatness began modestly early the Saturday before the Academy Awards. Our bus left at 7 am. By 10 my Cinema Society pals and I stepped into the Academy Headquarters, tickets in hand for the Foreign Language Symposium. We had a block of seats reserved in the spacious, plushly red Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Over the next few hours, we were introduced to the directors and their co-directors of the five nominated best Foreign Language Films. It was a tickle to hear about their processes and challenges. I’d only seen one, Tanna, a long-shot for the Oscar, but an unparalleled film. It was shot using solar batteries over the 7 months the director/camera man, his sound editor, and producer-wife lived in a remote village amongst the Tanna Island people. TANNA is available on Netflix.
Tanna Tribe by Charles E. Gordon Frazer (1863-1899) – Bonhams, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17330887
Over the months of filming over 100 hours of footage and endless discussions with the tribe, a story emerged based on an actual event. The Romeo and Juliet tale incorporates an active volcano and no CGI effects. It’s a remarkable film that I’d love to see win the statue. Several of the Tanna villagers attended the Symposium. Seeing them was an experience none of us will forget.
The original Farmers Market in full Mardi Gras mode on a Saturday afternoon
Between the two Symposiums, we rode up to the Central Farmers Market for lunch. Love that place! The historic, open market was percolating with a Mardi Gras vibe. Several bands, cafes, and restaurants competed for our attention.
Hair and Makeup artifacts from Suicide Squad
The Hair and Makeup Symposium opened my eyes to the vast art and hard work it takes to create the creatures as well as age actors for the big screen. Three films were nominated this year: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond, and Suicide Squad. The first ever Oscar winner in this category is Rick Baker who won for his 1982 film, An American Werewolf in London. He stood to wave to the adoring crowd.
The teams behind the nominated films took the stage. Ten-minute clips of each film that the Academy members voted on in the ‘Bake Off’ reels were shown and the session ended with a Q&A from the audience. It was fascinating to hear about the 56 alien creatures designed for Star Trek, the wig-making and prosthetics created for Ove, and the creative inspirations behind the comic book, wild ride film, Suicide Squad.
A few of the prosthetics created for Star Trek Beyond.
I’m already planning on a return trip to soak up more of the grit behind the glitterati that the Academy Awards provide. Maybe I’ll be cheeky enough to take my pictures with the big gold guy.
Want to go to the Academy Awards (and other Academy events)?
Join the lottery for bleacher seats along the red carpet route. The website, The Gold Knight, covers the specifics and offers tips on how to win.
Join the Cinema Society and attend Academy Oscar Week events on a day trip to Hollywood. Join as a member (San Diego, Scottsdale, Arizona’s West Valley) or sign up as a guest. There are probably other groups attending but this is how I reserved a seat at the Foreign Film and Hair/Makeup Symposiums.
Escaped. I turned off the news and fled from work to relax with a few friends and indulge in delicious flavors. The beauty of the Tucson foothills did their best. Leaving the manic world behind, I dove into something extraordinary – a few days exploring a historic luxury resort, the Hacienda del Sol guest ranch.
The entry fountain at the Hacienda Del Sol luxury resort
A little history
In the 1930’s, Josias T. Joesler was hired to design a girls school on the sixty-acre ranch in the foothills outside of Tucson. He built in the authentic Spanish/Mexican adobe style using tile, stone, hand-hewn beams, thick walls set with deep windows. The non-denominational prep school for girls opened with a staff of six teachers with 28 students enrolled.
The girls came from some of the wealthiest American families and most brought their horses to explore the canyons and hills surrounding the Hacienda. The trail riding tradition continues in a more luxury resort style today.
A view of the main hall in the original school wing at the Hacienda del Sol
Tucson is modest about its treasures. Locals don’t boast about being the only UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. They’ve always nurtured their harvests and gardens, and regularly use grains discovered here 4 thousand years ago. My first taste of ancient Mesquite flour was in the cookies waiting for me in my hotel room. They were moist and flakey with a satisfying, grainy texture.
The garden at Hacienda del Sol
In the heart of the resort is a net-draped garden where executive chef, Bruce Yim, nurtures plants and trees for the luxury resort Grill and Terraza Patio restaurants. He incorporates seasonal harvests and regionally sourced greens, beans, dairy, meats and even flowers into his menus. Other botanical garden plots and pots flourish across the resort acres.
The ever-mobile, Executive Chef, Bruce Yim in action
Coffee service in Hacienda del Sol
In January the weather is changeable. I woke to the sunshine, then misty rain, then sweeping clouds turned to rainbows at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Coming from a drought-plagued region, the mists felt wonderful. My pores opened, each breath filled with fresh, rain-washed oxygen. It made my in-room massage all the more profound and I dozed, waking to quiet and then dinner.
The grounds are highlighted with local artist’s work.
On my first evening, I joined friends on a terrace above the golf course with views of the peaks. Craftsmen hand-chiseled each rock for the wall and there was a door-sized mural with a little girl facing a sunset vista. It was a workman’s tribute to his little sister. Personal touches transform so many things at the Hacienda del Sol.
The Director of Wine and Spirits, John Kulikowski, passionately introduced the table to local brews. I grew fond of the Tombstone Whisky and each wine pairing was a discovery. Why didn’t I know about the wineries of Sonoita and Elgin, not far from Tucson? Tastings at the distinctive wineries will be another highlight when I return to Tucson.
One of the Sunday Brunch tables at the Hacienda Del Sol Luxury Resort
At Sunday brunch the waitress generously poured champagne with a colorful splash of blood orange juice. She expertly knew the right proportions and kept them coming. Pastry chef, Cara Valadivia, made certain that tables overflowed with sweets and cakes. Her expertise and the caring staff keep locals returning to fill weekly brunch tables.
Hiking with a naturalist in the wilds near Hacienda del Sol
Saguaro cacti dot the landscape
From luxury resort to wild canyons
All was not indulgence. One morning we hiked along a trail into the river basin with Geoffrey Campbell, Hacienda Del Sol’s resident expert hiker, and Assistant General Manager. While sharing highlights of the history, geology, flora/fauna, he pointed out the secrets of the Saguaro sentinels and why barrel cactus tilt, and learned about the entire Tucson basin. With his help, we spied tracks and spotted a bobcat lair above the whitening remains of a coyote. There are trails across the resort for beginners and advanced hikers can venture into nearby Finger Rock Canyon. Saguaro National Park, with acres of the nation’s largest cacti, is close to Tucson as well.
One view from ridge rooms
The days sped by as I learned more about the area, falling in love with the subtle charms and casual luxury of the Hacienda del Sol.
Between the petite village beauty of Carmel-By-The-Sea and the boardwalk diversions of Monterey lies one of the most iconic drives in the world – California’s 17 Mile Highway. The world class golf resort of Pebble Beach is tucked into that drive. The course is usually reserved there is usually reserved for the members, the wealthy and deep-pocketed international tourists. During tournaments, those willing to watch and party with the world’s best golfers can visit for a pittance of the price to play (about $500, if you can get a reservation.) Otherwise, there’s a guard house entry but that needn’t keep you from visiting whether you play golf or not.
Golf course medallion commemorating the founding of the golf resort.
Nearly a hundred years old, the Pebble Beach Company has flourished through keen sensitivity and observation. Abundant water is a requirement for any golf course. In the 1970’s, a drought clenched water use throughout the state. Long before saving water became trendy the PBC thought about conservation. The efforts paid off and Pebble Beach gracefully sailed through the recent drought after investing millions in a water reclamation plant. Today it supplies all the water necessary to maintain their idyllic panoramas. Golf courses around the world have taken notice.
The 2017 IAGTO Sustainability Award
The PBC was recognized by the IAGTO for Resource Management, specifically for their water and renewable energy projects. The global golf tourism organization celebrates the outstanding sustainability achievements of golf facilities, resorts, and destinations around the world.
Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.
I spoke about the award with David L. Stivers, Executive Vice President, and Chief Administrations Officer. Solar panels built above the maintenance building were part of the accolades. A sophisticated sprinkler system helps avoid flooding in low-lying areas and makes sure sun-drenched spots never turn brown. Going green isn’t onerous, Stivers emphasized, “It’s also good business.”
The Executive Vice President and Chief Administrations Officer, David L. Stivers talks with Elaine Masters about the award and the long-term sustainability efforts at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
David Stivers in the Lodge lobby
At the upcoming AT&T Pro-AM Tournament, thousands of pounds of recyclable materials will stay out of landfills. Pebble Beach Golf Resort is working with partners to make recycling a comfortable part of the event. It’s no simple task with tens of thousands of visitors arriving for the event.
Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.
I’m not a golfer but appreciate golf resort landscapes. Scooting around the greens in a cart on a lightly overcast morning, I peered into a cove where sea lions lolled. Deer were munching near multi-million dollar estates bordering the southern greens. They’re such regular visitors that the staff rarely notices them!
A mobile snack and drink cart visits players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
I asked about where to stop for lunch along the 17 Mile Drive to Monterey. It turns out there aren’t any lunch options along the coast drive, so we opted for a window table overlooking the 18th hole in the Bench Bistro.
The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort
Dirty Harry played here
In 1999 ownership of the resort came back into American hands. Significant among the names on the plaque outside the Bench restaurant (next to the actual bench) is Clint Eastwood, the actor-director who once was the Mayor of Carmel, a long-time resident of the area and a Resort investor.
Extraordinary! Wood-roasted strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort
The sun shot rays through dark clouds as we ate and I saved room for dessert – a wood-roasted, strawberry cobbler. It was served directly from the oven in a small ramekin with a warm, balsamic reduction. A scoop of ice cream melted into the crust. I will never forget how the textures complemented each other, the sweet balanced with the sour, the crunch and the cream. It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation. It was simply perfect.
What a day! To quote a song, “I’ll never be royal,” but for a brief time, I felt like an American aristocrat.
The lodge with the Bench Restaurant lower center.
Can anyone visit Pebble Beach Golf Resort?
Yes, even without a reservation to stay (although the packages may tempt you.) There is a fee to enter but not to park. The website is welcoming, noting that, “While dining at our restaurants, please present your gate receipt to your server. With a purchase of $35, your gate fee will be reimbursed.”
Many thanks to the Pebble Beach Company for hosting our visit and congratulations again on the IAGTO award.
The forecast was dire. Thunderstorms were headed towards Tucson on the day of our planned bike tour. With a bit of juggling, Tucson Bike Tour guide, Jimmy Bultman, quickly switched gears and arranged for us to meet a few hours early. By the end of the ride, we were stuffed with new stories, pictures and made new friends. The sky burst open a few minutes after we rolled into tour headquarters. Lucky break!
In the office courtyard, we met our chariots and adjusted each seat. A few minutes later we were going over the route of historical downtown Tucson.
Ride along in my short YouTube video:
Each of us had a basket or gear bag to store our cameras and a water bottle was attached to each frame. With a self-deprecating sense of humor, Jim gave us an outline and we were off. The city is fairly flat, so riding for hours was easy and I’m no jock.
The Buffet Bar in the Iron Horse neighborhood of Tucson
Central Tucson isn’t that large but encompasses several distinct neighborhoods. Each has its own personality and history. With showers threatening, we kept moving but still had time for questions as Jim shared his expertise and passion for the city. I made mental notes on which spots I wanted to return to – a good bike tour is like that. For one, The Buffet Bar and Crock Pot seemed like a great dive bar. It’s notorious as “The oldest bar in Tucson – since 1934!”
The Iron Horse that connected Tucson to the world. Engine 1673 hauled a million miles of freight and appeared in the 1954 movie ‘Oklahoma.’
The ‘El Jefe’ mural is new in Tucson. It honors one of the two, wild Jaguars that remain in the United States. This one lives in the desert mountains outside of the city.
Just one of the personalized adobe houses in the Barrio Viejo neighborhood.
The entry of Hotel Congress where outlaw Dillinger and gang were arrested. Today, the hip interior hosts great food, reasonable room rates, and performances.
The Tucson Museum of Art
Soldier from Living History day (once a month) in Tucson’s El Presidio de San Agustin
Detail of the Tucson Barrio Viejo Mural on the former site of Lee Ho’s store, which was one of the most important of the local Chinese markets.
Cathedral San Agustin
Congregants pose at the doors of the Cathedral San Agustin
We stopped our bikes at El Tiradito, a little shrine in memory of a ranch hand who was killed due to a romantic involvement with his mother in law!
Tucson has a drive-through liquor store. Nice stop for thirsty bicyclists and our Tucson bike tour host treated us to little bottles of tequila!
Why a bike tour?
Tucson is laid out in the flat basin area above river plains. It makes for an easy bike ride that most anyone can manage. Another reason I’d recommend it is how simple it is to stop whenever you want. There’s no need to search for a parking place, get in and out of the car and traffic in Tucson is light enough to make a bike tour safe.
My favorite destinations make me want to stay longer. Visiting Tucson is like that. One day I’ll return to attend one of the many celebrations, like Dillinger Days and the Jazz Festival. I’ll set up base camp in town then explore the outlying regions; go wine tasting in the prodigious vineyards, to see the old movie sets in Tombstone, hike through the Saguaro National Park and explore nearby Kartchner Caverns.
If you go on a Tucson Bike Tour:
Make a reservation with the office of Tucson Bike Tours. Curated tours and seasonal specials are available.
Adventure, golf, food, and more – flesh out your personalized itinerary with Visit Tucson.
The weather was unseasonably warm for Christmastime in Philadelphia. I unzipped the padded liner on my coat and joined the family for an outing to Longwood Gardens. We’d procrastinated and bought our tickets the day before – grabbing a few of the last. The crush of crowds is kept to a minimum with numbers limited on the property at a time.
What makes Longwood Gardens such a hot ticket for the holidays?
Spread out over 1,077 acres, Pierre du Pont (Yes, of the famous Dupont family) built one of the greatest gardens in the world in the 1920’s. In winter it’s especially tantalizing with thousands of light displays spread across limbs and roots, across bridges and around fountains. But I think that the vast labyrinth of Conservatory buildings are the real treasure.
Boiler room of Longwood Gardens worked to warm the Conservatories into the 1960’s
A plaque on one Conservatory entrance reads:
“Longwood Gardens is the living legacy of Pierre S. du Pont, inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education and the arts.”
I was unprepared for the impact that walking through the dark and acres of trails would have on me. The night was chilly for a Southern Californian but mercifully still. As we strolled, children and families chattered, giggled and strode by. Some brought flashlights but I was glad we didn’t; preferring to let my eyes adjust to the dark and splashes of illuminated color.
Poinsettia display inside one of the Longwood Gardens conservatories.
At one point, four G-scale trains wound over a 17 foot steel bridge, past a 5-foot wide waterfall, and past miniature Longwood landmarks. The landmarks are built from natural materials – roof tiles are laid of magnolia leaves and there are handrails of honeysuckle vines.
Longwood lights miniature train building
Du Pont in his Banana House
A Banana House for Philadelphia
Mr. du Pont had a passion for growing fruit indoors – including tropical crops. Just after the Conservatory was opened in 1921, the Banana House was one of many areas where he grew fruit for his employees, friends and family. In 1983 the space was reduced to expand the Orchid House. How times and priorities have changed. A plaque near the entrance is inscribed:
To Pierre Samuel DuPont and presented by the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for his ‘generous and unselfish service.”
Inside one Longwood Lights conservatory
The main house was closed that evening but we spent a few minutes listening to an organist as he brought the historical pipes to life. The space inside the Conservatory was warm and rows of chairs inviting. As the music lifted up to the lofty glass ceiling above us, our spirits rose in kind. It was a bittersweet moment – remembering the lyrics and mumbling along, remembering loved ones gone and missing, remembering childhood and how special this time of year was and remains. Misty eyed, hearts full of the spirit of the season, we left soon after to drive back to central Philadelphia.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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.
Strains of the music from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ swirled around me as I stepped into Knotts Merry Farm all decked out for the holidays. Memories flooded in. I’ve always loved theme parks. Riding rollercoasters, seeing shows and running around with family and friends was easy growing up in Southern California. Knotts Berry Farm was fun no matter what age and visiting the fun park kicked my holiday spirit into overdrive.
Photo Opp with Snoopy
Snoopy and I go way back. As a young graphic designer I worked for Determined Productions adapting the beloved Charles Shulz characters for toys and accessories. Snoopy and Woodstock were the most popular and I met them once again in the fun park.
Snoopy dances in the holiday show!!
Knotts started in the 1930’s when Mrs. Knott started serving home-fried chicken and berry pies for pennies to locals. The home kitchen expanded, the hybrid Boysenberry was discovered and grown on the farm and Mr. Knott built a small ‘ghost town’ to entertain visitors while preserving local history. It’s all still there, if you look.
Mrs. Knott cooking.
Boysenberries are still grown on a memorial plot inside the park but today kids run around Camp Snoopy, teenagers get their thrills on towering rollercoasters, adults do too when they’re not taking in the Ghost Town sights and shops. Trains, stage coach rides and saloon shows run all day.
During the holiday season a tall Pine tree stands decorated in the main square and each evening at dusk a small crowd draws near. Carolers, dressed in Victorian garb, cover the stage. A ‘sheriff’ steps up to the microphone to address the good people and signals the lighting of the tree. It’s a lovely ritual in the middle of the fun park.
Here’s a short video of the fun park:
Snoopy dances and serenades families in a holiday show running November 19th to January 8th. There’s hot cider and chocolate in Santa’s Barn (and a fortified version for the grownups!) but most families gather for snow. Each evening right on schedule it falls from overhead. Even in warm Southern California the wintry spirit of the holidays perseveres.
The show inside the Mystery Lodge is a thrilling nod to Native Americans who once lived nearby.
Ride the train through the Calico Mine
One thing I discovered is how affordable Knotts Merry Farm is compared to other parks. It makes sense that families and friends of all ages filled the fun park. Entrance is less than half of the other giant theme park near by and the experience is less crowded and more intimate.
Discount tickets can be found online and inside the California Welcome Center (see links below.) Housed in a historic building on the original stage coach line, it’s worth a visit on it’s own. There are tours, maps, brochures and ticket specials for all the Buena Park activities.
Photo opp outside the historical California Visitors Center Buena Park
Whatever the reason or season, I look forward to visiting Snoopy again and eating more of Mrs. Knott’s famous berry pie in the fun park, Knotts Berry Farm.
Links for visiting the fun park, Knotts Berry Farm
Where would we be without wheels? They keep us spinning, moving, exploring. We sing children’s songs about them and Tina Turner immortalized Proud Mary’s big wheel. In San Francisco, the city is full of wheel configurations. Bus, trolley, BART, cable car, taxis, bicycles and ride sharing – but none is as fun as riding a Segway through the city streets.
The morning was cool as we stepped from our Airbnb apartment to catch a bus. One ride took us entirely across town to within blocks of our destination, the Electric Tour Company in North Beach. The weekend was a first for my son, Josh, and me vacationing together as adults and he was more than happy to get up early for the chance to scurry around the city while riding a Segway.
We easily found the Electric Company space, between buildings just steps from the Cannery shops and cafes. Before touching the machines, we were ushered into complete registration, shown a safety video and given helmets. Questions were asked and answered, then the coaching began. I was assigned the ‘Sedgequey’ (a common mispronounciation we were told!) and soon we were confidently starting, stopping, and spinning our machines.
Within minutes of getting his Segway moving, Josh was racing in circles – well, racing is relative. The maximum speed is capped and each machine slows automatically as you reach that. Still, he had fun pushing the limits well before we took to the streets.
Our guide, Aaron, handed out small transmitters and ear buds, connecting us to his guidance and narration for the tour. I was concerned about riding a Segway through city streets packed with pedestrians, buses and cars, but didn’t need to be. Brilliantly, Aaron positioned our group of 12 in formation as if we were the wheels of a bus. We were assigned a place, riding two by two in parallel lines. It made us easy to see and simple to follow. Soon North Beach was whizzing by and while stopped at a signal, Josh reached over for a grinning fist bump. Nice!
Lauren and her birthday crown
Aaron kept us entertained with bit of history and puns. We cruised close to famous landmarks and took at break at Washington Park. Riding a Segway uphill was fun and downhill was easy too. There was no way our Segways could runaway with us.
Pausing to check in at Washington Park while riding our Segway
Near the end of the tour we left the busy streets behind and headed out along the breakwater near Fort Mason. Only a few hikers were on the path, intrepid swimmers splashed nearby and the views were astounding. A historic schooner sat in the bay with the skyscrapers of downtown behind. Ferries and sailboats scooted past Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge sat in full glory.
After time out for pictures, we headed back to the barn, as it were. What a great family adventure. My 20 year old had as much fun as mom. The youngest in the group, 14 yrs. old, had as much fun as his grandmother. Twenty five year old, Lauren, taking the tour as part of her birthday celebration, rode proudly – her helmet embellished with a tall, golden crown. She seemed to enjoy riding a Segway more than anyone and giggled street by street.
Use public transportation to get around San Francisco. Save anxiety about meters, tickets and finding parking places. I used my cell phone GPS and Google Maps to find the best routes and buses. There are numbers to call at bus stops throughout the city.
If buses and trolleys aren’t your thing there are taxis everywhere plus…
The Uber and Lyft community is huge in San Francisco.
Special thanks to the Electric Tour Company for hosting our ride. All opinions are my own.
When you’re hungry in a new city you can settle for simply filling your tummy or aspire to great eating. Knowing I’d be famished during my stay in San Francisico’s Mission District, where to eat in the trending neighborhood was a mystery. When Edible Excursions founder, Lisa Rogovin, suggested a tasting tour featuring local food along Valencia Street, my tummy growled in anticipation.
Decades before local food tours were a concept, I tasted my first Tempura in a bamboo-panelled Japanese bar on Mission Street. If I’d visited Tokyo before stepping into the red lantern-lit space, it would’ve felt familiar. The shrimp and batter-slathered, veggie wedges were crunchy and cheap, perfect for a student budget. In the intervening years the Mission’s ties to Mexico have dug in deeper. The Tempura house has disappeared but the road still hosts street vendors peddling roasted corn elotes and fruit stalls spill over the sidewalk. Taquerias now open to the street in designerly tones with prices much steeper than my salad days.
The street is still grungy but safe. Low riders have moved on and artisans have moved in, knowing there’s opportunity with the influx of tech hipsters. Iron bars still criss-cross over windows and at night, the marijuana cooperative crouches behind a roll-down garage door. One block away however, Valencia Street could be on the other side of the city and that’s where the new foodster central is growing. Boutique cafes, craft patissieries and artisinal breweries are flourishing.
Inside the Dandelion small batch chocolate roasters’ cafe
Surprisingly Lisa began our tour at the corner of 18th Avenue and Mission in front of the Duc Loi Market. No flashy store front or sparkling renovations? No, we met at a historic intersection, an apt metaphor for the next few hours.
Duc Loi Market
Cities morph. If the neighborhood was different outside, then inside should reflect that as well. The Duc Loi Market embodies that and has been successfully rolling with the changes for over 25 years. The name means “ethical earnings” and it’s become a model for the demands traditional businesses are facing in the swiftly gentrifiyng area. The owners, originally from Vietnam, continually renew their dedication to serving the needs of the neighborhood with its churning mix of Caucasian, Asian and Latino roots and wide economic diversity.
Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich at Duc Loi market.
Lisa led me to the back, near the long cooler counter where a sandwich, a tradional Banh Mi waited. Further down the long case were cheeses from Italy, specialty meats and she looked for a pig’s head on the counter too. It was no where in sight on the Monday we visited.
After digging into the fresh crunch of the French baguette and through the delicious spiced meat with traditional sauce, we ventured into the rows of products. One collection of BBQ sauces said it all. Artisanal bottles with monochrome, letterpress labels and tony price tags sat on the top shelf. Other shelves held equally delicious, well-known brands for half the cost. Just another testament to a neighborhood in transition.
Lisa founded Edible Excursions before food tours were a trendy part of travel. She’s been at the forefront of gustatory adventures from the Ferry Building to Uptown Oakland, from Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the Mission; helping tasters discover “the importance of local, seasonal and sustainable eats plus signature dishes.” Her custom outings, business groups and weekly tours have gained notice and awards from SF Weekly, San Francisco Magazine and Viator. Craft cocktails and local brews have won her focus recently and soon Drinkable Excursions will be on the regular rotation of tours.
Tacolicious’ Valencia Street storefront
Lisa Rogovin of Edible Excursions with Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran, founders of Tacolicious.
We strolled to Valencia Street and into the subtle Mosto / Tacolicious digs. The Mosto tequila bar opened last year as a new focus for Joe Hargrave and his partner, writer and marketing pro, Sara Deseran, after the success of Tacolicious (three locations in addition to the Valencia Street space.) The moment we stepped in from the Valencia sidewalk and past the subtle-to-the-point-of-missing taco sign, I knew this place was unique.
House tequila, Sangrita and sides at Tacolicious
A patterned Mexican tile floor warmed the chic, open space. Large windows and a side patio were open to the mild Mission micro-climate. Once we sat at a tall booth, a steep shot of the smooth, house Jimador Tequila appeared next to a matching portion of fresh Sangrita. That afternoon’s batch was a spirited melange of tomato, chipotle and habanero pepper salsa. Small, succulent taco plates featured fresh tortillas from La Palma Mexicatessen, another San Francisco treasure. We surely weren’t going hungry.
Inside the Craftsman and Wolves patisierrie case
Craftsman and Wolves
Across the street in a low lying, re-purposed autobody repair building with stunning brick bones, sits Craftsman and Wolves. The CAW location is one of three in the city. In a case that could display jewelry, curvacious confections waited emancipation. Each was a work of subdued, edible art.
Lisa introduced me to the signature pastry, The Rebel Within, sliced open to reveal a soft-boiled egg within an asiago, sausage and green onion bun. The skill it takes to place a peeled egg within the dough and cook all to perfection is a testament to owner Chef William Werner’s tenacity. His expertise and commitment flow from over 15 years working in fine restaurants on the East and West coasts. The ‘contemporary patisserie’ is named with a nod to predatory challenges often facing those dedicated to craft. It appears that he’s winning the battle.
CAW signature bun – The Rebel Within – served with a vial of tabasco-infused salt!
Two doors down is a wonder that would inspire Willy Wonka – the bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate factory, Dandelion. Begun by a pair of intrepid chocoholics, Todd and Cam. They’ve grown their own cacao plants and roasted beans in home ovens, then toured major chocolate factories around the world before opening Dandelion in San Francisco.
Watch the video:
Today the company roasts and grinds a batch from one farm or cooperative at a time, creating distinctive chocolate bars with fine-tuned discipline. We watched the process, and tasted from their cafe before walking on.
Dinner counter inside the Bi-Rite Market
Vistiing Bi-Rite deli and market brought us full circle. The Italian deli has been serving the neighborhood for decades and Lisa often brings home dishes from the dinner counter, which opens daily at 4:30 pm. With art deco signage, the market opened in the 1940’s and has been run by the Mongannam family for nearly sixty years. Brothers Raf and Sam took over from their father in the late 1990’s, instilling a chef’s aesthetic to the small market and stocking the highest quality ingredients. Now lines form at the counter for the Wagyu beef, imported sliced cheeses and much, much more. That’s where I left Lisa as she ordered entrees for her family.
San Francisco organic creamery ice cream truck
Valencia Street buzzes around the clock. One night, searching for local food desserts, my son ordered goat milk and berry ice cream off a vintage, yellow fire truck. Parked in an empty, corner lot, the San Francisco Organic Creamery truck and it’s menu, was a world away from the industrial strength food trucks I’ve seen elsewhere.
Hard, Apple cider and Lao cuisine at Hawker Fare.
We also ate Issan Lao food at Hawker Fare, sipping tart hard cider, a simpler choice for dinner than one of their Tiki-inspired cocktails. They looked fantastic, however. I’ll just have to return and explore the upstairs bar menu next trip.
Another evening I slid up to the bar at Dosa and slowly cut into a paneer and pea filled chick pea ‘crepe’ between sips of Transylvanian white wine. A young man sat across from me and ordered the $44 tasting menu. For himself. Before drinks. On a Monday night. The neighborhood has certainly turned. It’s gotten to the point where regulations are being placed on preserving Legacy Businesses and limitations are being proposed on the number of new restaurants or bars.
Lisa will keep savoring the old and supporting the new. Her local food tours and Edible Excursion’s motto is: Eat. Walk. Enjoy. Repeat. I did happily until my feet were sore and my jeans were tighter.
If you’re hungry for delicious, local food in the Valencia Street area:
Leann, survivor and our guide through the Lower Ninth Ward
It was supposed to be a day of kayaking and bird-watching in New Orleans, but Mother Nature had another idea. Rains started at dusk the night before and I woke early to learn that our tour, launching from the lip of the Bayou in the Lower 9th Ward, was cancelled for safety reasons.
A more profound adventure of a completely different kind unfolded as the tour driver suggested she drive us around the landfall epi-center of Hurricane Katrina. Leann was one of the lucky ones and escaped the storm in New Orleans but Hurricane Katrina changed her life.
Before Hurricane Katrina hit
“We rode out storms all the time and assumed on Friday that we’d see each other on Monday.”
Leann worked at a radio station when the storm warnings came in. She fled New Orleans at the last minute, finding refuge in a Texas hotel until she was allowed to return. There wasn’t much to return to as her station was closed due to water damage. With severance pay she moved onto to work at a TV station in Baton Rouge until the glass ceiling had her looking for another job. Moving back to New Orleans, closer to family, made sense.
As I looked out over the bridge into the lower 9th ward, my heart sank. Leann paused the car in the middle of the deserted bridge for me to see the levee walls. It was clear that the 9th Ward was built well below the water line.
Bridge view – Lower 9th Ward on the right
Now, weedy green overflows vacant lots where homes full of families lived. Celebrities and government agencies have rebuilt some streets. President Obama visited when the new Andrew P. Sanchez & Copelin-Byrd Multi Service Center opened. Actor Brad Pitt founded the Make It Right Foundation to create 150, flood-proof, environmentally-sound homes. Other homeowners returned with insurance money to rebuild but many did so in the same style as before. I imagine they’ll be vulnerable to devastation the next time flood waters breech. The contrast was startling.
A chance encounter
Leann showed us her last packet of rations passed out by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. She carries it as a reminder in her cab. On one street she pulled the taxi over. “Hey baby,” she softly spoke to a man walking the sidewalk. I thought they were friends, but it’s a familiar NOLA greeting. Her easy call brought Wendall over and the questions began.
Here’s the video of the encounter:
As Wendell finished recounting his rescue and rebuilding traumas, Leann asked if he’d accept a donation and he nodded yes, with a slight smile. She passed him the packet of rations and some cash we’d collected. Blessings were exchanged and we drove on to see the Musicians Village across the bridge.
New home, post Hurricane Katrina, living space still built below the flood line.
One of the raised houses that Brad Pitt’s organization has helped construct
I’ve waited a year to tell this story. There have been scores of reporters and gawkers wandering through the 9th Ward. The ten year anniversary passed in 2015 with reviews and photo journalists’ galleries full of what’s left of the neighborhood. I didn’t plan to join them but it’s important to remember, especially as new life-changing floods have returned to Louisiana. That encounter continues to impact how I travel.
“Nothing else we could ever describe would allow us to meet any other way.”
Just Getting Through
A pair of girls in jeans and t-shirts pulled their hoodies close as we drove past. I imagine them growing up after the storm tore through. They have to walk out of the house every day, past empty lots and houses still waiting for demolition. Whether they stay in the ward or join the diaspora, the daily routine midst the scars of Hurricane Katrina remain. As Leann knows well, it takes energy to keep on, “Just getting through.”
Hope house in the Lower 9th Ward, 2015
I offer this as a remembrance and a request for those of us more fortunate to take action, to help when we can. My words are my means.
Boxing club in the Lower 9th Ward
How to make a difference in the Lower 9th Ward
Five years ago David Young came to the Lower 9th Ward to volunteer. He felt a calling to stay and has founded Capstone Gardens on more than 25 vacant and blighted lots. The fruits and vegetables grown there are given to organizations serving the hungry.
As the area is considered a ‘food desert,’ where locals need to take several buses to buy fresh produce, David has begun selling his harvests at a local convenience store, Galvez Goodies. If you can’t visit to help in the garden, check out his honey. His bee hives are helping the plants and trees flourish.
Ready to adopt a beehive and help Hurricane Katrina survivors?
It was 1957 and a young 9 year old was watching the world series with his father on their black and white TV. His dad turned the sound down and began explaining how the game was played and what was going on. The boy, Dan Schlossberg, soaked up every word and he’s been a fan ever since. The great American past time, baseball players and teams have shaped his life and led to publishing 36 books on the subject. Today he’s known as much for his travel writing, but baseball remains his passion. I caught up with Dan while he was in San Diego for the All Star Game and promoting his most recent book, When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags over Atlanta
The road to the diamond
Dan worked for newspapers in high school and later in college. His original goal was to cover the White House with his newspaper and political science liberal arts degrees. Discouraged with Richard Nixon in 1968, Dan decided that baseball was the better way to go. On his last day of college, he was offered the position of AP Sports Editor for New Jersey. Once his bureau chief found out how fast he could write and type, writing radio scripts on the hour was added to this tasks. Soon Dan was writing for broadcasts to 72 stations while covering sports at the same time.
Dan Schlossberg at the game with his latest book.
The grueling pace took its toll and when newly married, he started looking for new work. He was hired by Motor Club of America, similar to the AAA, as editor of their tabloid newspaper with three regional divisions. As the paper had a travel agency, Dan was asked to start promoting the trips and destinations they offered. He began freelancing and traveling extensively after attending Press Clubs and conferences where he met travel editors.
How a travel writer pumps out 36 books about baseball players
Dan likes to write early in the morning or late at night. During the day there’s too many interruptions – the dog has to be walked, the phone rings, etc. Often he’ll wake in the morning with a script or chapter written out in his head. Typing 150 words a minute helps too.
The structure is important and he has to keep it up even when he’s traveling. Every week he has a travel and a baseball podcast. He’s the travel editor of the Maggie Linton show on Sirius XM; travel editor of New Jersey Lifestyle Magazine plus travel editor of Latino Sports. Oh, of course there’s another baseball book in the works too
The road keeps him following baseball players and teams. He was in San Diego for the All Star Game Festivities, including Fan Fest (mostly for kids,) for the All Star Futures Game, played by minor league stars; a celebrity game, this year included Jennie Finch, Olympic softball star and Jamie Foxx. Dan’s got lots of company. “There’s about a thousand journalists here and I know about 900 of them at least.”
From the Clubhouse to the Reserves
Of all Dan’s stories about baseball players, his surprising favorites involve other encounters. In 1972, he was covering the last game of the National League Championship Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Atlanta Braves. His UPI editor said, “Go cover the Braves clubhouse, win or lose.” Dan continues,”I thought that I was going to be covering a morgue because if they didn’t score in the Ninth Inning, they were going home for the winter. They did win with three runs in the bottom of the ninth. I was standing right outside the clubhouse when it happened and went in. There was only one person in the room, Jane Fonda! (Two time Academy Award winning actress.) I said, ‘OK, Jane, what are you doing here?’ She replied, ‘Well, Ted (Ted Turner, her husband at the time and the team owner) is out on the field congratulating his players. I didn’t want to end up on the bottom of the pile!’
Following the Funnyman
Another of Dan’s favorite tales happened while he was stationed with the Army Reserves near the grand, Broadmoor Hotel at Fort Carson, Colorado. Comedian Jack Benny was performing at there. Being a huge fan, Dan suggested to his Commanding Officer, “Let me go spend the day with Benny and a microphone.” After writing three spots for the company station, Dan grabbed his tape recorder and trailed the star. The scripts were recorded but the call letters, KRSN, were mixed up on the last spot. Benny blurted, “I did that lousy didn’t I?” It was so funny that the station aired the spot, blooper and all.
Dan Schlossberg on the job
Onto the Baseball Hall of Fame
After San Diego, Dan brings his books to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s been invited to their Author’s Series to sign his latest over a week-long visit. Of course, Dan’s been there often. The company, Sports Travel and Tours, official tour company of the Baseball Hall of Fame, has hired him to host guests riding the bus to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Dan’s looking forward to having an hour and a half to “badger the riders!”
Jim and Tina Kurtz and the Galleta Meadows Sculptures in Anza Borrego, California
Jim Kurtz and Tina Ellis are American nomads. It didn’t happen overnight. About six years ago they sold their long-term home in Encinitas, California to move to Oregon. The idea was to start a vineyard and the new house stood on acres outside of Ashland. Retired as a Financial Consultant, Jim began sourcing grapes from neighbors. Tina, an artist’s rep, began making her own mosaics, but the open road called. Within a few years they ditched it all to become nomads in the desert.
Tamarask trees’ roots go deep to soak up water and Palo Verdes fill with yellow flowers in the Southern California desert spring. Ocotillo, with their long spikey branches, are frilled with red flowers at their tips then too. That’s what the desert was full of when I found Jim and Tina star-gazing outside of Borrego Hot Springs, a few hours east of San Diego. They were about to celebrate their first year as nomads in the desert: Dog, truck and fifth wheel. After exploring the U.S. for months, they’d set up camp for the winter at a plush RV Park. Their 5th wheel (a trailer home attached to the bed of a truck) is about 55 feet long. They chose it because, as Jim says, “There’s no feeling like the steering wheel is in the living room.”
Fifth Wheel set up
It’s hard to call their mobile home a trailer. It’s palatial with pop-out sides that create an open kitchen, dining and living room. The bedroom holds a king-sized bed and every nook has hidden storage. Jim installed heavy 12 Volt batteries at 150 lbs. each. As they criss-crossed the U.S. they could ‘boondock’ anyplace they chose for up to 10 days with plenty of power and a hundred gallons of water. Jim found out that ‘we don’t use that much.’
Inside the 5th Wheel for two nomads in the desert.
During the first few months on the road, Jim kept up his financial consulting practice but eventually enlisted the help of a firm associate and weaned away his clients. Now he’s completely retired. Tina keeps her creative and business talents honed, creating jewelry at the kitchen table. She builds tiny mosaics, using reflective glass in jewel tones, painstakingly gluing them into sterling silver settings. The pieces are irresistible, selling themselves as she wears them in town or by referral.
Nomads in the desert at the Road Runner Complex
At the Road Runner complex and RV Park they walk the perimeter with their dog, Ginger, and easily meet others doing the same. There’s a clubhouse where weekly wine tastings and BBQ’s dinners are set up, a pool, dog run, and doctor’s office where a nurse practitioner attends 3 to 4 days a week. On the other side of the Par 3 golf course, a few streets are filled with small houses. Most, built in the 1970’s, have three garages – two for cars and another for the golf cart. Purchasing a house in Road Runner complex runs about 19 thousand dollars. Jim quips, “You could pay for it with a credit card!” The demand is tempered by the $1,000 per month fee, paid year round for utilities, grounds upkeep, etc.
In the trailer section the best spaces book three years in advance and run about $60 a night. Short term visitors pay $100. Jim and Tina found that the best spots are on the perimeter where you can back in with one side facing the greens. The center section, ‘pull throughs,’ are in the middle with less privacy.
The complex owners enlist the help of volunteer camp-hosts, usually a couple, who work three, eight-hour days each week. They collect the garbage, help new arrivals back in, host weekly wine tastings and hot dog roasts. One couple, who had been long-term camp hosts, stopped returning. The wife had died and her husband said that he wasn’t coming back, but changed his mind after the owners invited him to return with free rent. He’s been there ever since. These are good people who share a real sense of community.
Ocotillo Restaurant in Borrego Hot Springs
Spring was a comfy time to visit, however, summer in Borrego Springs means scorching heat. Jim says, “105 degrees isn’t a big deal but 110 to 115? That’s toasty.” For residents the summertime strategy is to go out before 10 am or after 2 pm. For others it means spending the hottest months of the year elsewhere. Good planning is important anytime Jim and Tina pack up and take to the road with their 5th Wheel. Routes from coast to desert mean getting over the mountains and north of the town of Julian, on Highway 79, there’s a graceful rise that’s relatively easy to drive. On twisting roads the trailer tends to swing over the middle line. While Tina likes the challenge, they carefully plan their routes.
Two other nomads in the desert, Galleta Meadows sculptures in Anza Borrego
This summer Jim and Tina are no longer nomads in the desert. They’ve taken to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies until the fall weather drives them back south.
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Downtown Chicago is overflowing with classic architecture and a history of high and low culture. Early skyscrapers graciously step up and back as they rise to better allow natural light to reach the street and pedestrians below. It’s just one of the architectural refinements that would’ve escaped me entirely if it weren’t for the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour and pub crawl. The promise of insights into architecture, local history, great drinks and company lured my travel buddy and me out on a vibrant Friday night. Over two hours we dipped into hidden lobbies, studied classic facades, historic photos on iPads and explored an underground watering hole. The tour began in the Argo Tea Cafe on Randlolph Avenue, an easy walk from our hotel, the Hyatt Centric on the Loop.
Lobby sitting area inside the Hyatt Centric the Loop
Hyatt Centric the Loop rooftop bar with views to the lake.
Given the mild spring weather it was a pleasure to cross the river, enjoying beds of tulips scattered across wide avenues and stop to sip draft Kombucha at the Argo Tea Cafe. The registration fee covered the basics and tip cash was collected at the outset. After that we simply had to follow the leader, Elizabeth. She spoke quickly and began by engaging us in creative guessing games, then expertly herded us over the 3/4 mile walk. The veil of time was pulled aside with every anecdote, as she pointed out a sconce, bricked over window, elaborate carvings and so much more.
The clock inside the historic newspaper building of the Chicago Tribune.
Through a doorway at the back of the tea shop we stepped into the historic Tribune Newspaper lobby. The towering skyscraper stands as a shrine to news, to a grander era with chandeliers, arched windows and a coffered ceiling that made us hush in respect. The walls and floor were inscribed with quotes with more than 120 stones embedded inside and out from important locations around the world. Most unusual was the tall, muted world map behind the desk. The layout was vertical and pale; mountains and continents stood in relief. Shredded dollar bills had been pulped and molded to create the three dimensional relief!
Out we went to the corner where the Shriners had built their Medinah temple just before the Stock Market crash in 1929. Carved with exotic reliefs with Abyssinian figures and winged embellishments drawn from Islamic designs, the building is topped by a burnished gold dome. Originally, the story goes, it was part of a dirigible docking station before the Hindenberg disaster turned those plans to ash.
Entrance to the subterranean, Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized in a SNL skit.
The city is no stranger to ashes. The great Fire of Chicago in 1871 devastated nearly 4 miles of downtown. It created a new slate for the captains of industry to erect a more ideal metropolis. They created an underground where trash and delivery systems still keep truck traffic off the upper downtown streets. Downstairs, just a block from the Tribune building, stood a corner bar, The Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized by an early Saturday Night Live skit. We saw the ‘Wise Guys Corner,’ where early newspaper men and women spent long hours listening and drinking. The Goat is home to single/double/triple burgers and local brews. Our samples were served at an alcove table surrounded by framed photos of the original Billy Goat Siannis and his mascot side by side with media giants, sports figures and celebrities.
Sharing a snack on our pub crawl with Detours Chicago
Those were just a few of the stops covered in the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour. As it drew to a close, we passed the flagship Dylan’s Candy Bar. Cocktails in candy hues, garnished with gummy bears and sprinkles were on the bar menu (for those over 21.) The rest of the multi-level shop was a play land full of teens and young families, topping their evening with sweet confections of all kinds.
The flagship store of Dylan’s Candy Bar
Tiffany’s Peacock Doors inside the Palmer House Hilton Hotel.
After our pub crawl tour goodbyes we chose a different dessert, a late night brownie, in the hotel where they had been invented. The Palmer House stands proudly full of marbled columns, a cavernous central courtyard. The street lobby once once housed C.D. Peacock Jewelers. When the hotel was rebuilt after the great fire, the jewelers drew the elite in through gilded Peacock doors created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Inside the lofty hotel lobby several bars were in full flow for the Friday crowd. We chose a quiet booth in the restaurant and enjoyed plates of grilled octopus and vegetables before indulging in a brownie, created from the original recipe. (I’d recommend eating in the bar where it’s a bit noisier but there are better prices.)
Stepping into the Palmer hotel lobby
Brownie created from the original, first ever Palmer Hotel recipe.
Bertha Palmer, the original owner’s wife, was a savvy business woman and patron of the arts. She ensured that the City’s elite visited the hotel often. The story goes that, for a picnic box lunch with her society swells, Bertha asked the hotel chef to create a dessert that was less messy than sliced cake. The Brownie was born. Nearly a century later we were served a round Brownie made from the same recipe. It sat on a bed of chocolate syrup sprinkled with chips, nuts and cookie crumbles. My verdict? The round brownie was light, and more milk chocolate than the dark full flavor that modern brownies provide. It’s just a matter of taste, I like high cacao content chocolate, still not a crumb went to waste.
It was getting late but the night weather was mild and the street pleasantly peopled. Full of new facts about architecture, full of delicious food and drink, the walk back to our room at the Hyatt Centric Loop was the perfect night cap.
View across the river after our pub crawl. Yes, that’s one of Donald Trump’s towers.
Disclosure:Chicago Detours offers many architectural walking tours around Chicago. We loved the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour and look forward to returning to sample more of their trips. We also thank the Hyatt Centric the Loop for our media rate. Our pub crawl was complementary but all opinions are mine.
If you go on a historic pub crawl
DeTours Historic Walking Tours. The historic pub crawl was our choice but there are many tours to select from. It was great mixing speakeasy ambiance, meeting locals and out-of-towners, plus the tickle of learning while tippling! Detours Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour.
Hyatt Centric the Loop: Just steps from downtown attractions, restaurants, the high rail, it’s a new concept in hotel luxury. The lobby is modest but there’s an upstairs lounge, the Corner, with a snack bar, espresso machine, several rooms for dining and meetings. Our room was plush but modest – we had all we needed, enough space, lots of well placed outlets and great WiFi. The staff was courteous, thoughtful and my only regret was arriving a few days before they opened the rooftop bar in the evenings. It’s a perfect perch for a mild evening. The Hyatt Centric the Loop.
Palmer House Hilton Hotel
There are so many historic hotels to enjoy in the downtown Chicago Loop that it’s hard to focus on just one. For this foodie, when I heard that the Palmer House was the origin of brownies and that they were still baking the original recipe, the chance for a time travel tasting was too good to pass up. (Plus the elegant Palmer was less than two blocks from our hotel.)
Hope you enjoyed this post and get a chance to explore Chicago.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Driving is a big part of the Southern California mystique. The weather’s accommodating and elaborate freeway systems are well maintained. The ease of exploring cities, beaches, mountains and deserts makes it tempting to jump in behind the wheel and take off. Be warned though: Driving can be either brutal or breezy fun when you master Southern California traffic conditions.
After living in major regions along the West Coast, I’ve found getting in and out of Los Angeles or San Diego to be the most challenging – unless you know how to make it work. While public and alternative transportation options are improving, driving is still the best way to get around. If you’re interested in cutting carbon pollution, saving money on gas and minimizing stress for you and your vehicle, mastering Southern California traffic conditions is a smart move.
Numbers make a difference
Most of the major freeways run along a north to south or east to west axis. Numbering can help you when roads split suddenly and you need to be in the correct lane. In the contiguous U.S. odd-numbered routes run generally north to south, like Interstate 5, Highway 101. Even-numbered routes generally run east to west, such as the ancient Highway 10, a straight shot out from Santa Monica to the desert, or Interstate 8 which springs from San Diego’s Pacific Beach on a route towards Arizona.
Trivia Question: Why is US 101 considered a two-digit route? Answer below.
Two dragons: Rush Hour and the Day of the Week
If possible I avoid most freeway driving between 7:30 and 9 am as well as 3 pm and 6 pm in urban areas of Southern California. If you must drive during that time check out Drivetime Yoga to stay sane!
The worst rush hours are on freeways in a radius of 30 miles around Los Angeles. San Diego is trickier. The county is deceptively long and wide. The coast is densely populated and east county has vast, suburban pockets, (my Mom labeled them, bedroom cities.) Most San Diegans rarely venture out of a 25 mile radius – unless they must for work.
The days before and immediately after major holidays should be avoided, or change when you’re on the road. Start very early in the day or later in the evening. Leaving Long Beach early the day before Thanksgiving, I almost didn’t make it to a Palm Springs family reunion. I’d checked the maps and allowed two – three hours for the drive, with a few stops to stretch. It took us nearly six hours. Not much fun for our toddler in the backseat either.
Weekend considerations – Start early or after dinner
You’d think the major traffic tie ups happen only on weekdays but Friday and Sunday traffic is impacted. Gridlock starts early on Friday afternoons as crowds flee the city for the weekend. I’d never plan a drive into or out of Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon. If you must, expect the trip to take at least double what it would most other times. GPS can guide you. Sunday afternoons are the same problem as people travel to get home for Monday workdays. Leave early in the day or after dinner.
When farther might mean faster
GPS makes it easy to consider different routes. A longer route might be fastest because of many conditions. Study it, consider what time you need to arrive at your destination and choose. It’s harder to change once you’re underway.
GPS isn’t infallible but close
Do yourself a favor and don’t wait till you’re on the road before you check traffic conditions. A new GPS service offers alerts on alternate routes. They may not make sense but there’s usually a good reason behind it. On a late night return trip along Highway 405 from Orange County, a recent alert sent me off the freeway to a side street as part of an “Alternate Fastest Route.” It helped divert me around an overnight construction zone I had no idea was there.
Weather can mean a mess
Generally Southern Californians drive very fast and aren’t used to having wet roads. When it first rains after a long dry spell there’s more oil residue on the asphalt, making the roads even slippier than expected. Slow down if it’s raining, allow extra space between cars and tempting as it is, don’t be a ‘lookie lou’ slowing down to gawk at accidents while contributing to a chain reaction as everyone behind you slows as well.
Southern California driving conditions are notorious for many reasons but a little understanding, a bit of prep and a sense of surrender to the adventure, even on a daily commute, can make you happier.
Specific tips to master traffic conditions in Southern California:
In the Los Angeles on the 405 going north or south, expect delays between the Los Angeles airport and Melrose exit almost continuously.
Older routes are usually slower. There are fewer and narrower lanes on the Old Pasadena highway.
Headed east from Los Angeles to Big Bear or Palm Springs? Highway 10 and 91 are most often packed during rush hours. Toll roads in Orange County can help.
Getting out to Palm Springs can also mean rush hour woes in the San Bernadino and Riverside areas.
In San Diego avoid the ‘merge’ where Highway 5 splits to Highway 805 during rush hour going north and south. Traffic also slows around the Genesee exit where many hospitals mean lots of office workers on their way to or from work.
There’s no excuse to miss whale watching in San Diego! The annual migration of gray whales brings them close to shore and it’s a thrill to observe, along with jumping dolphins, basking sea lions and the powerful beauty of the bay.
Yet I’ve heard so many excuses not to go. “It’s too cold, too windy, too sunny, not for kids, not for elders, boring, too crowded, too expensive,” and the list goes on. I debunked every excuse on a Hornblower cruise one bright, winter afternoon.
The adventure begins.
Sea sickness was one excuse. It was a moot concern on the very stable Hornblower ship that slid easily out to sea. Two friends said, “I can’t get away on a weekday.” Fair enough but I hope we can one day take a leisurely sail for a Sunday brunch, birthday party with a weekend departure.
One of several, on board naturalists trained by the Museum of Natural History
Our route in green dots, but we actually went out past Point Loma, on the left.
The most surprising excuse was “I hate whale watching cruises.’ I respect the choice as I sense there’s a bad boat experience behind it. However with naturalists on board, a knowledgeable captain narrating and calm seas, our San Diego whale watching cruise was a comfortable, respectful, and informative adventure.
We swiftly slipped away from the San Diego skyline.
“I don’t have anyone to go with.” Watching whales splashing is a bonding experience. As the ship slipped out of its berth, it was easy to share the excitement of expectations with other cruisers. While standing on deck, adrenaline fueled conversations and there were interesting visitors from around the world. We cheered as the first whale spouts were spied. Dolphins delighted us when they materialized suddenly, playing in the ship’s wake. It was like watching fireworks – everyone ooooing and awwwwing in unison.
It was easy to get lost in conversations and forget about the views. Luckily the captain kept vigilant, announcing each sighting and what direction to look. We’d rush from side to side, back to front, to better spy spouts and flukes. There were many. The ship was large enough that it stayed steady and maneuvered to a respectful distance from the wildlife for photo opps.
“The wind, sun, cold or heat is too much.” There many viewing areas on the ship from deep decks to wide-windowed cabin areas. If the weather isn’t comfortable it was simple to shelter inside and not miss the show. I watched a pod of dolphins racing from a window near the snack bar!
Cabrillo National Monument from sea level
There’s much more than wildlife to keep you interested. The route passes many landmarks and there’s the skyline, careening seagulls, sailing ships to ogle, the Coronado Islands and the famous Del Coronado to admire. If you need a closer look there are binoculars available to rent on the ship!
Kids and elders won’t be bored. There’s much to safely explore. The naturalists give fascinating presentations complete with giant whale bones and lots of pictures. Elders or the wheel-chair bound will be comfortable from accessible viewing areas inside or out.
There’s even a guarantee. If you don’t see whales, dolphins or sea lions you’ll get a ‘whale check’ good for another Hornblower harbor or San Diego whale watching cruise. As the saying goes, “I’ll be back.”
If you’re not in San Diego for the whale season there are special cruises year round: celebrating Restaurant week in January, Easter Sunday in April, Valentines Day cruises in February, Pet Day on the Bay at the end of April, Full Moon harbor cruises, birthday and lobster dinner cruises.
Thanks to Hornblower cruises and events for inviting me to experience all this. As usual all opinions are my own.
There’s so much going on in San Diego. Check out this hidden artwork that most visitors miss completely. Share this post! Social media buttons are above and here’s a few pins:
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.
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.
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.
Josh Weigel and his draft Kombucha at Living Tea.
Hello Betty has seating indoor, rooftop or along the sidewalk.
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.
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.
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.
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:http://www.metrolinktrains.com/news/p…
I hope that you enjoyed this brief California beach adventure and will share these pins.
Collaboration Kitchen in full swing with Carnitas Snack Shack chef and founder, Hanis Cavin
It’s a meal transported to another realm. In fact you sit inside a fish processing plant on folding chairs and eat from paper plates – but you’ll be giddy about it. Perhaps it’s the hilarious barbs traded between the fishmongers, Tommy Gomes and Dan Nattrass. More likely it’s the chance to be part of a cooking show, to see how some of the region’s best chefs work their magic, while eating insanely well. Some nights local vintners bring samples and if you’re lucky Andrea’s Truffles or Robin of Cupcakes Squared will be offering their best as well. No one goes home hungry.
Part of the team: Collaboration Kitchen founder, Tommy Gomes, Catalina OP Owner Dave Rudie and Marketing Wizard, Rebecca Gardon
Held about ten times annually, there’s always a cause behind each chew. Collaboration Kitchen began seven years ago as an idea that Tommy Gomes, a fishmonger working at Catalina Offshore Products, took to his boss, Dave Rudie. It was a way to give back and offer great food while raising money for deserving causes. Monarch School, Just Volunteers and most recently Tim Johnson, local sushi chef suddenly in need of a kidney transplant, have been recipients. Tim discovered he needs a new kidney just days before Christmas. Here’s the link to his Go Fund Me campaign set up to help with medical expenses.
With Tommy as emcee, laughter’s on the menu. You’ll meet fellow fans of great local food and be introduced to new menu ideas. Most importantly though is the chance to be part of something truly good. There are many foodie events throughout San Diego but Collaboration Kitchen is one unique sensation. Get on the Facebook notice list and reply quickly if you want to attend.
Dan Nattrass talking about sustainable, farm-raised, Baja Seas’ Hiramasa
Chef Anthony Pascale of Saiko Sushi created this beauty.
Su-Mei Yu, of Saffron and PBS’ Savor San Diego, shows how the Thai grind coconut
Tommy Gomes and one of the guest chefs, TV star, Sam the Cooking Guy
If you miss the tickets or don’t have the dough, but do have hard-working kitchen skills, there’s occasionally room on the volunteer team. Working all day behind the scenes, volunteers step into the limelight to be applauded along with the chefs at the end of each event.
Chef Logan at the grill inside the Catalina OP Fish Market
Specialty Produce, co-host, is the source for chefs but the warehouse is open to the public
The Catalina Offshore Products Fish Market is open daily inside the warehouse (check website for hours) with fresh off-the-boat seafood. If your timing’s right, Tommy or a friend will be grilling samples. Located at 5202 Lovelock Street, San Diego, CA 92110
Disclosure: I’ve been comped to Collaboration Kitchen for years as the Catalina OP owner is my guy, but all opinions, as always are my own.
I hope you enjoyed this vicarious meal and will share with your friends. These are pinable!
The San Diego canyon was moist and the only way means descending a steep slope. It may lead to a mean slide on dusty gravel but recent rains have muddied the hillside, making it a different kind of dangerous. Those rains have led to perfect growing conditions for wild, edible mushrooms.
Be careful when hunting for wild, edible mushrooms.
They’re tempting but be very careful when hunting. Every year someone makes the wrong choice. It can lead to a painful death or an evil stomach ache. Recently several Asian immigrants died from eating mushrooms that looked exactly like those they knew well back home.
Angel of death – The white one on the right is the worst.
Go with an experienced, local guide. I’m fortunate to have one in the family. Dave Rudie has been hunting local, edible mushrooms for over 25 years. He’s obsessive, doesn’t take chances and tests. He never eats a mushroom when he’s even the slightest bit uncertain. He also knows several prime locations where edible mushrooms sprout, given the right conditions.
Candy caps with dirty bottoms snapped off – the better to clean later.
San Diego is built along a series of mesas. Its corrugated hillsides are topped with buildings. Suburban neighborhoods tower over shallow, narrow valleys. Most roads are not straight and drivers must learn routes that twist and turn. Major roads line the wider canyons and narrower ravines are peppered with hiking trails, some private and wild. Given the right conditions, a few of those hide small patches of mushrooms.
My favorite mushroom harvest – pictures of various stages.
There are signs at trail heads detailing what may and may not be done on public trails. The city tells you not to pick plants. Local, Steve Nau, grew up in San Diego and bemoans cactus-less canyons. “Most of the best ended up in people’s yards.”
Leave nothing but footprints.
I fudge and think, “Fungi aren’t plants!” We give back and always bring several plastic bags. Most of the time they end up full of garbage. If we’re lucky a bag might carry a few wild, edible mushrooms home too.
Wild, edible mushrooms sauteed in butter and garlic.
If you go:
It’s safest is to only harvest pictures and leave the fungus to whither, furthering natural forest cycles.
Mushrooms are good mimics. The most poisonous look innocuous. Some you shouldn’t even touch. Know what to avoid.
Join a club like the San Diego Mycological Society. Attend meetings and their annual festival. Find out what grows in your area. Only go hunting with experts.
Read up on wild, edible mushrooms and study pictures well (see link below.)Learn testing techniques. Get a second opinion and don’t eat anything unless you are certain. ‘Maybe’ can be life-threatening.
Pick safe, mature edible mushrooms and leave the smallest to grow.
Only take what you need.
Most safe, wild, edible mushrooms need to be eaten within a day or two, if not hours.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.