Category Archives: California

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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Travel Notes & Beyond

How to find edible mushrooms – Forager, Adrienne Long

Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska where edible mushrooms hide

A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska, where edible mushrooms hide


We met on a long weekend camping trip in SE Alaska. I had no idea that Adrienne was a fungi expert until the two of us took off on a trail into the woods and she began pointing out edible mushrooms and more suspicious varieties.
Adrienne Long works as a forager and guide based out of Mendicino County. Her biggest passion is getting out into the forest, into the wild, and being able to live off the land. Most of us don’t have a clue about where to find them, which are edible mushrooms or might be fatal.  I asked what got her interested in mushrooms?
A – I always really enjoyed nature and something called me to the fungi. I knew I wanted to learn more and it exploded from there. First I studied in botany classes, mushroom, and natural history. So, I know a lot about what we have growing wild in the Mendocino area, where I’ve lived about 16 years.
mushrooms on trees are sometimes edible mushrooms
E -You can learn a lot about mushrooms in a book but it’s also an experiential thing. Who did you work with to learn about mushrooming?
A – My husband taught me the basics, then I took a class at College of the Redwoods with Teresa Scholers. We had a Teacher’s Assistant, Dr. Ryan Snow, a well-known mushroom forager and internationally recognized. With Teresa, the class was half lecture and half in the woods. Every year that she taught I would T.A. so there was more opportunity to be out in the woods and learn about new mushrooms. Maybe one year you didn’t see it and the next year there’d be a bunch of them out, so with the quantity of mushrooms we have in that area, the more you go out the more you learn.
E – The conditions along the California North West coastal region are prime for edible mushrooms because of the weather?
A – Weather and the trees are important. A lot of mushrooms are reliant on a specific species of tree. That makes for prime mushroom habitat.
E – I used to think that mushrooms were a sign of death; that they broke down things as parasites but you’ve said that they often work with plants. Do you see that often?
A – Oh yeah. Mushrooms are the most important decomposers we have on this planet. If we didn’t have mushrooms we’d just have piles and piles of plant matter that would never decompose. But we also have mushrooms that work with the trees to survive. They help the trees to gather water. There are some that weaken trees and allow other pathogens to enter the system to weaken the tree. So, there are all kinds of fungi out there. When you’re out it’s important to know what kind you’re looking for; if you want a decomposer or a Mycorrhizal mushroom that’s connected to a tree.
Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

E – I wasn’t a very good hippie but remember that some people loved to find certain kinds of mushrooms which were hallucinogens. Do you have those in your area?
A – Not so much. They’re some of the hardest to come by. They’re little and brown. The forest is full of hundreds of species of little brown mushrooms. You could pick one that is extremely toxic or one that is Psilocybin, those are the ones that are hallucinogenic but where we are it’s not very common to find them.
E – One of the most surprising things I learned from being in the forest with you is that the biggest part of a mushroom is not what you’re going to see.
A – They found in Oregon the largest mycelium, the roots of the mushroom underground. The largest one is four miles wide and it grows in a circle. So if you see a fairy ring, a circle of mushrooms, that circle is the mycelium and the mushrooms are on the outside. That ring if it’s large it means that it’s really healthy and the only reason the mushrooms are there are to spread spores and reproduce. The whole fungal body is either in the ground or in a tree decomposing and eating the tree matter.
E – It sounds like something out of a science fiction story but it’s happening all over the world. Is there anywhere you’d like to go to forage for edible mushrooms?
A – Anywhere and everywhere I possibly can. We’ve been to Mexico and I saw Chanterelles but they don’t really forage for edible mushrooms there. I’m willing to go anywhere in the world to hunt and see what species of mushrooms different places have.
Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

E – One of the most popular edible mushroom varieties are truffles. Do you ever find them in your region?
A – Not along the coast, we don’t have the right tree situation for truffles. I think it’s more the Washington and Oregon areas that have those. But even going to Washington is a great thing to do because they have such a great foggy climate. There’s a lot of wild crafted mushrooms that come out of Washington and Oregon.
E – We’re sitting in Ketchikan, Alaska, and spent some time in the forest. Did you find some surprising things?
A – I found a slime mold but it’s not really fungal. That’s another whole organism.
It’s a single cell ameba that goes wandering around the forest and then when it finds something to eat it will send out a hormone. Then all the other little ameba join up and make this mass. It’s pretty amazing and comes in all different colors. The one I saw was a nice shiny black.
E – They come together and then come apart at different times too. Does it react if you touch it?
Here’s a cool, short video about the kind of slime mold Adrienne found in the forest:
A – This one kind of molded together when I touched it but you can watch them move if you want to sit there for a long time. Once it’s finished eating and full, then everyone re-disperses into the forest until they’re ready to procreate. Then they’ll have a big ameba orgy later.
E – There were yellow mushrooms coming out of a tree on our SE Alaska trail and you pointed out that some are better to eat at certain times.
A – Yes, that was called “Chicken of the Woods” and they’re better to eat as little buttons. Some species can be toxic though and you need to watch out. They’re also called “Chicken of the Woods!” if they’re growing on something that’s toxic they could be absorbing those toxins and possibly be toxic to you.
E – That brings us back to an important aspect of mushroom hunting, “Go with someone who knows what they’re doing, who has the experience” like yourself. You work out of Mendocino and Fort Bragg with different organizations. What is the best time of year to go foraging with you?
A – Usually first rain into February, so usually October to February is great. If you want really high mushroom count, December is the best depending on what species of mushroom you’re looking for. Google ‘Mushroom foraging in Mendocino County’ to find me or look for the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. I do nature tours and guided walks out of the inn.
Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
E – You have children, are you teaching them to forage as well?
A – Of course, I have a four year and a ten-year-old and that’s one of their favorite things to do in the winter time. My son loves to go out with his friends and bring home mushrooms. He’ll go, “Oh, see this gelatinous mushroom?” and he’ll eat it. Audrey just loves to carry her basket around and go hiking with me. I feel it’s definitely something they need to learn.
E – Do you have a favorite edible mushroom that you like to cook with? A lot of people are familiar with Chanterelles, but you want to find a particular kind, right?
A – Yes, but there are false Chanterelles but those can be toxic and give you gastro-intestinal disorders, so you want to be careful. You want to know your edibles but more importantly, you want to know the toxics and toxic look-alikes so you don’t mistake those. One of the most important things when cooking mushrooms is to do a double sautee. So you cook them in a dry pan with no seasoning and no oil until the water comes out and evaporates. Then you add butter, oil, garlic, or whatever for flavor and they’ll absorb all that flavor. It makes them much tastier that way.
E – So, when you’re cooking, all that moisture out is it also for safety reasons or just for the flavor?
A – Just for the flavor. You want to cook out the moisture first before adding other ingredients, say for a sauce. I’ve ruined a few just by adding raw mushrooms. It cooks all that water into your sauce and can be very overwhelming. With all mushrooms, it’s better to pick a small mushroom than a larger mushroom. All mushrooms have the same number of cells, whether they’re small or large. They don’t grow by cell division. They grow by cell elongation, so when they’re really big it’s because their cells are elongated and water logged.
E – So bigger is not better.
A – Right, bigger is not necessarily better!
This has been so much fun. What a world you live in! I look forward to seeing where you take all this.
Interested in finding edible mushrooms?
Find Adrienne at or at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino, California.

Where to find the best places to eat in Oceanside

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

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

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

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

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

Urge Gastropub / Mason Aleworks / 101 Proof Speakeasy

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

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

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

Bartender inside the 101 Proof Speakeasy

Cyclops Farm

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

Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand

Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand

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

Staci Miller, founder of Miller’s Table

Millers table sandwich
The Millers Table

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

The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway

The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway

The Charcuterie plate at LTH

The Charcuterie plate at LTH

Local Tap House

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

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

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


608 pork loin from Chef William Eick

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

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

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

608 Oceanside

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

Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland at the Sunset Market

Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland

Plank roasting with Michael Bossle in the Flamin' Salmon booth

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

The Stone Brewery beer garden at the Oceanside sunset market

The Stone Brewery beer garden

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

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

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Desert wildflowers – Anza Borrego road trip tips

desert wildflowers and ocotillo

desert wildflower lily

Anticipation ran high and rumors began before the rainstorms stopped. Is this the year for desert wildflowers Superbloom? Winds, hard rains, and long years of drought have stymied the annual desert blooms over the last few years. So we waited to see if the conditions were right for the desert wildflowers to pop and finally got lucky.

My shoes covered in desert wildflowers pollen

My shoes covered in desert wildflowers pollen

Watch this video about the desert wildflowers road trip:

Careful timing and preparation for a desert road trip can save your life

The area can be scorching with temperatures regularly over 105 degrees for a good part of the year. Make sure your car is topped out with antifreeze and water whenever you go. There’s a steep climb to navigate over the mountains from the San Diego region. It’s also one of my favorite drives. The boulders surrounding the summit are formidably beautiful and the views as you emerge from cloud-filled peaks are breath-taking.

Wind conditions

When heading east along the southern route, it’s also good to know what the wind conditions are. Take extra precautions or another route if you have a high profile vehicle. I’ve seen trucks blown onto their sides and it can be a long wait for assistance in the remote area.

road sign on the way to find desert wildflowers

We set our trajectory to the timing of the first desert wildflowers reports. Wildflowers emerge first in the south just north of the Mexican border. We headed there guided by various tracking sites (see the list below.) There’s a wash on a side road from the freeway that leads to Calexico and it’s been our lucky spot.

carpet of desert wildflowers

From there we reversed our route driving north along Highway 78 towards the town of Ocotillo Wells. Before we crossed the freeway we made a pit stop for coffee at the Ocotillo Wells Chevron truck stop. A great discovery was the freshly made coffee in individual Keurig-style machines. We also discovered some pretty unique snacks on the counter (and left them there!)

larva and cricket snacks

Larva and cricket snacks at a desert truck stop!

Ocotillo Wells is a tiny town but worth a slow cruise. The locals keep it light with creative yard art. It’s also where off-roaders find repair and body shops. We cruised through on our way to lunch in Anza Borrego. (Read more in my earlier post about desert nomads and where the locals eat)

Ocotillo wells nose sign

Spotted in Ocotillo Wells

Campers and weary road warriors often stop at the Agua Caliente Hot Springs. The pools are managed by the county, so this isn’t a spa experience. The adult-only indoor pool has jacuzzi jets and the outdoor pool is family friendly. There are lockers, changing rooms and a few other amenities.

Anza borrego desert state park sign

Once you’ve entered the Anza Borrego Park bee-line to the Visitors Center. It’s natively landscaped and a carefully-positioned building full of interactive exhibits, trail experts, and information about where to go. Movies will entrance the kids and the gift shop is a fun diversion too. The Visitor center packs its calendar with lots of events whether desert wildflowers are out or not.

Borrego Springs – First Dark Sky Community

Star-gazing is wonderful year round in the Borrego Springs area. As the first Dark Sky Community in California, airplanes flying into the small airport angle their lights down and lights are modified on streets, businesses, and homes. Check out star-gazing opportunities if you are staying in the area.

desert sculptures near Borrego Springs

Sky Art

Make sure to save time to see some of the immense metal sculptures that dot the desert landscape. Sculptor, Ricardo Breceda planted his ‘Sky Art’ in the open reaches of the area. Most evolved from his imagination (A giant sea dragon crosses the road!) to Plio-Pleistocene animals and dinosaurs. Spanish explorers, turtles, fantasy creatures and bighorn sheep make great photo opps. In fact, on busy weekends, you might have to wait in line to get your shot. (See link to map below.)

Desert art between Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs

Desert art between Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs

The flowers drew us to the desert this year and we weren’t disappointed. So many plants were in stages of blooming and the desert floor had a low mesh of green growth that I’d never witnessed before. Nature wasn’t wasting a moment to take advantage of the rainfall. Our bonus as we headed home and up the incline into the cloudy summit was a full rainbow.

desert rainbow

***Check out my earlier post about the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve north of Los Angeles for more wildflower encounters.

Tips for finding desert wildflowers:

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Visiting Oscar – How to attend Academy Awards events

Academy Awards Foreign Film Symposium


Academy awards makeup symposium

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.)

Bus for ride to Academy Awards Symposium

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.

Samuel Goldwyn Theater entrance

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.

Painting by Charles E. Gordon of Tanna Tribe

Tanna Tribe by Charles E. Gordon Frazer (1863-1899) – Bonhams, Public Domain,

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

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

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.

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.

Posing with the Oscar statue before the Academy Awards

Want to go to the Academy Awards (and other Academy events)?

  • Sign up for the Academy newsletter and be among the first to get notices about special screenings and events. Enter the Oscar Night Lottery!
  • 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.
  • Follow the People Magazine Oscar Fan Contest and enter for a chance to win.
  • Visit the original Los Angeles Farmers Market day or night.
  • If you can’t make it to the Academy Awards or related events, don’t despair. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences is opening a state of the art museum that will be open to the public in 2019.

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Pebble Beach Golf Resort – Indulge in sustainable luxury

Pebble Beach Golf Resort greeen.
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.
Marker in the green commemorating the founding of the golf resort.

Golf course medallion commemorating the founding of the golf resort.

Historic sustainability
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.

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.”

journeys of discovery podcast

Listen here to the NPR Podcast interview about Pebble Beach Resort’s sustainability and conservation efforts

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 of 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.

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!
The mobile amenities cart is available for players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

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

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-baked strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

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.
Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge

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.
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Pebble Beach Golf Resort Pin

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.

This holiday visit one fun park – Knotts Merry Farm

Charlie Brown Chritstmas

Charlie Brown Christmas

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 at the holiday fun park Knotts Berry Farm

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 on ice in Knotts Holiday Show

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 in Knotts Restaurant

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.

Santas Christmas Barn in Knotts Merry Farm

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

The show inside the Mystery Lodge is a thrilling nod to Native Americans who once lived nearby.

Ride the train through the Calico Mine

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

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

Knotts Website:

Tickets at the Buena Park Visitors Center:

California Welcome Center:

Riding a Segway – See San Francisco with the Electric Tour Company

Riding a Segway in San Francisco with the Electric Tour Company
Riding a Segway in San Francisco with the Electric Tour Company is fun for the family
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.
Riding a Segway is simple with these easy controls

My ‘Sedquey!’

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 while riding a Segway

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

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.
View of downtown San Francisco while riding a Segway
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.
Riding a Segway bliss
Riding a Segway through San Francisco:
  • The Electric Tour Company has weekly specials and a detailed website. (Say hi to Aaron for me!)
  • 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.
weekend wanderlust April 2016

How to find the best local food – San Francisco’s Valencia Street

Bi-Rite flowers in front of the local food emporium
Bi Rite Local Food market in San Francisco's Valencia Street food scene
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.
Dandelion small batch chocolate roasters' cafe

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.
Bah Mi Duc Loi market local food San Francisco Valencia neighborhood

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 and Mosto local food on Valencia Street in San Francisco

Tacolicious’ Valencia Street storefront

Lisa Rogovin of Edible Excursions with Joe Hargrove and Sarah Deseran of Tacolicious.

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 and sangrita at Tacolicious

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

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

CAW signature bun – The Rebel Within – served with a vial of tabasco-infused salt!

Dandelion Chocolate

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

Dinner counter inside the Bi-Rite Market

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

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.

Tart cider and Lao food at Hawker Fare.

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.

dosa local food san francisco
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:

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weekend wanderlust April 2016

Nomads in the desert, American style

nomads in the desert, galeta sculptures
Jim and Tina Kurtz, nomads in the desert, and the Galleta Meadows Sculptures in Anza Borrego, California

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 for two nomads in the desert

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.

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

Ocotillo Restaurant in Borrego Hot Springs

Seasonal changes
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, Galeta sculptures in Anza

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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  weekend wanderlust April 2016

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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Love driving? How to master Southern California traffic conditions

car map

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.Freeways can be a blur with Southern California Traffic Conditions

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.

Holiday driving

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.

Master Southern California driving conditions with a map and car.

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. Among GPS services are 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.

Great Apps: Google Maps or Waze

GPS installed in your car is a great driving tool but Apps can be a great alternative. Google Maps will give you alternatives and Waze offers even more route changes. Waze introduced Carpool options where you sign up and find others to share or rides.

When I ride to Los Angeles I’ll plug in the car’s GPS coordinates for my destination before leaving San Diego and then check on Google Maps to see how the two compare. I’ve also found that having a dashboard, cell phone holder is a great way to keep from getting distracted juggling your phone while checking route conditions.

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.

More tips to master transportation in Southern California: Ride-sharing and Vacation Driving Tips

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.

Trivia Answer: US 101 is considered a two-digit route, its “first digit” being 10.

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Los Angeles has crazy traffic conditions






Why make excuses? San Diego whale watching is thrilling

Whale watching in San Diego yields great spouting

San Diego whale watching success

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.

San Diego whale watching on a Hornblower ship

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 naturalists trained by the Museum of Natural History

One of several, on board naturalists trained by the Museum of Natural History

San Diego bay map

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.

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.

Two dolphins racing on a San Diego whale watching cruise

“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 on a San Diego Whale Watching cuise

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.

The view from one of the Hornblower decks on a San Diego whale watching cruise.

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.”

More about San Diego whale watching:

  • Hornblower Cruise schedules and events in San Diego online 
  • The San Diego whale and dolphin watching season runs from from Dec. 13 to April 24th
  • Review whale sighting reports online at
  • 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:

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One of many dolphins spied while on a San Diego whale watching adventure Naturalists on board a San Diego whale watching cruise


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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:…

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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

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More than a feast, it’s a cause – Collaboration Kitchen

Collaboration Kitchen in full swing at Catalina OP

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.

Tommy Gomes, Dave Rudie and Rebecca Gardon smiling at Collaboration Kitchen

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.

collaboration kitchen prep

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 Natrass talking about the Hiramasa starring at Collaboration Kitchen

Dan Nattrass talking about sustainable, farm-raised, Baja Seas’ Hiramasa 

Chef Anthony Pasquale of Saiko Sushi created this beauty for Collaboration Kitchen

Chef Anthony Pascale of Saiko Sushi created this beauty.

Su Mei grinds coconut at Collaboration Kitchen

Su-Mei Yu, of Saffron and PBS’ Savor San Diego, shows how the Thai grind coconut

Tommy and TV star, Sam the Cooking Guy

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

Chef Logan at the grill inside the Catalina OP Fish Market

About Collaboration Kitchen

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.

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Dan Nattrass holds a crab at Collaboration Kitchen

Keiko preps at Collaboration Kitchen


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The thrill of the hunt: Wild, edible mushrooms in San Diego

wild edible mushrooms wide
wild, edible mushrooms, candy caps, in San Diego

Wild, edible mushrooms – ‘Candy Cap.’

Be careful.

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.

wild edible mushrooms sprout on trails where hikers wander

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.

wild, edible mushrooms do not include these in San Diego

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.

wild, edible mushrooms include candy caps in San Diego

Candy caps with dirty bottoms snapped off – the better to clean later.

The terrain

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.

taking pictures of wild, edible mushrooms doesn't include these

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.”

Don't litter when looking for wild, edible mushrooms

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.

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.
  • Here’s the Mushroom Hunter’s bible: Mushrooms Demystified
    (Affiliate link at no extra cost to you.)

Read more: My post about a surprise, Thanksgiving mushroom harvest.

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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

Robolights – A very different holiday lights show

robolights santa welcomes you to Palm Springs holiday lights

robolights giant is part of the holiday lights display in Palm Springs.

The neighborhood is usually sedate. However at dusk during the holiday season, one corner flares into life. Towering animatronic robots whir into motion. Giant inflatables rise and over a million holiday lights flare to life. If Tim Burton stepped into this neighborhood art display I imagine he’d feel right at home. It’s the official site of the largest residential light display in the United States and created at the home of artist Kenny Irwin.

Giant bunny at robolights holiday lights display.

Robolights has been growing on the Irwin family two acre home lot since 1986 when young Kenny Irwin nailed together a giant robot. Later his room at college was strung with masses of lights. Now in his early forties, he adds new parts and pieces to the displays each year and spends months stringing millions of lights for the holiday show.

towering goofy robolights holiday lights displayThere are narrow paths and covered bridges, a variety of Santas, reindeer heads coming out of toilet bowls, reindeer-like mannequins led by a Santa in a tank, tall creatures from a vivid imagination and too many to list.

robolights mannequins holiday lights in Palm SpringsCarousels whirl, music churns and ticket booths beckon. The experience is totally unique and while some of it seems macabre, the heart of the matter is that Kenny wants to entertain.

“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.” ~ Kenny Irwin

white knight robolights holiday lights He douses many of his assemblages with paint in monochrome hues. Microwaveland is a maze of screens and bulbous creatures, some parts indeed created inside microwaves. Santa’s workshop is a shrine to Kenny’s visions with every inch covered in collections of recycled, re-purposed pieces.

robolights santa's workshop holiday lightsThis season the nonprofit group has been serving hot chocolate and cookies. A volunteer accepts donations in a sink bowl.

robolights volunteer holiday lights in Palm SpringsKenny’s father condoned the endeavor from the beginning. “Going to this place is an experience. Nothing you can say, except amazing.” It may be a bit strong for young kids but Kenny sees it this way, “Most all kids never want to leave Robolights and the premise is, “It’s a why not world in a why world.” That positive message is worth exploring. With enough support from the growing crowds, Robolights will grow even brighter in the years to come.

ticket booth robolights holiday lights in Palm SpringsIf you go to see the holiday lights:

When: The holiday light is open from Thanksgiving week to the first week of January. Call for days and times at other times of the year. TEXT 1-760-774-0318 to make an appointment to see art inside the grounds year round.

2016 Update:

As of December 14th, the City of Palm Springs is allowing limited entry. Check the Facebook Page as the hours may change. ROBOLIGHTS hours daily 4-9:30 until Jan 1st. New toys and clothes for the Syrian refugees are being gathered to make their lives more joyful. Drop off booth located to the right as you enter.

Where: 1077 East Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs

Support the effort and follow the Robolights Facebook Page

More about Kenny and his art at his website.

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Robolights holiday lights now in Palm SpringsThis post is shared with this linkup:


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












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