Archive for the ‘ California ’ Category


A lofty view of San Diego

Friday, December 6th, 2013

San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities in the country—with its lush foliage, rolling hills and ocean views, one of the best ways to experience this coastal community might be in a hot air balloon. If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon before, let me encourage you to put it on your bucket list. Even if you say you’re afraid of heights, I can almost guarantee that you won’t have any fears about ballooning.

I’ve been ballooning in many cities around the country, this was my second time to do it in San Diego. I would go so far as to say that hot air ballooning in San Diego might be one of the best places that you could do it. The temperatures are nearly perfect and the scenery is simply stunning. You’ll see rolling hills, mega-mansions in one of the richest communities in the country (Rancho Santa Fe), and, the ocean views from high above are awe-inspiring.

I was lucky enough to go on my ballooning excursion with my sister Susanne, which was actually her first time. It’s fun going up with someone who has never done it before…the look of pleasured excitement is priceless. We met our balloon company in Del Mar, from there we were shuttled north to a launch area in Rancho Santa Fe. After a brief intro from our pilot, we watched the balloon being readied, then boarded the basket what held twelve. Moments later we began to rise…as if on a magic carpet gently lifting us high above the terrain below.

The mostly clear skies provided us with long range views that only height can provide. We saw how the 1% live as we flew over massive estates. About twenty minutes after take-off, we were treated to an in-flight beverage service, which consisted of sparking wine and sodas. This was actually the first balloon ride I’ve been in where refreshments were served in the air.  This was also one of the longer flights I’d been on, maybe consisting of slightly more than an hour in the air.  We also had some wonderful views of the ocean. The last time I ballooned over San Diego, we got to go skim the water, which was a pretty cool experience. Apparently the balloon companies no longer take flights over the water…I’m sure it’s because of litigious reasons.

Just as the sun was setting we came in for our landing, which was very graceful and uneventful. As the ground grew stabilized the balloon and laid the protective material down, the pilot released a vent to let the hot air escape. The balloon gradually fell to the ground where the crew packed it up. Shortly thereafter we boarded our van that took us back to our meeting area.

If you’ve ever been on a hot air balloon before, please leave a comment below and share your experience. Let my readers and me know where you’ve done it, and perhaps your favorite destinations. If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon before and have any questions, feel free to ask away. If you liked the video, please share this post with your friends and family by clicking one of the buttons below.

Yosemite National Park

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

With all my years of travel, Yosemite, one of the nation’s most popular and coveted national parks, has somehow eluded me… that was until recently. I’ve never kept track of how many national parks and monuments I’ve visited, but it’s a lot! Yosemite is one that had been high on my list for a long time. I finally had an opportunity to explore this amazing wonderment–its grandeur and natural beauty did not disappoint.

After seeing Yosemite first hand, I could understand why famed photographer, Ansel Adams, had such a passion and affinity for it. I was thankful to have visited the park during the shoulder season…it was busy, but assuredly nothing like it would be during peak times.  I was also lucky to experience some unusually warm and spectacular weather this late in the year.  The warmer weather made for ideal camping and hiking conditions. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous hiking too far from designated trails or campgrounds due to bear activity.  My understanding is that bears are more dangerous late in the season, before going into hibernation, as they need to forage as much as possible to sustain themselves through winter.

Again, because the weather was so nice, I was able to experience the eastern part of the park, off of highway 120, which is often closed due to inclement conditions. The eastern entrance of the park is at 10,000 feet, and, even though it was wonderful weather, it was downright cold! There was still snow on the ground from the winter before, so that should tell ya just how cold the temperatures are year round.  Regardless of the temps, the lakes, creeks and waterfalls were spectacular.

Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada range and offers visitors a varied landscape of deep valleys, vast meadows and groves of giant sequoia trees. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness. Yosemite is also one of the largest and least fragmented habitat blocks in the Sierra Nevada, and the park supports a diversity of plants and animals. The park has an elevation range from 2,100 to over 13,000 feet.

Have you ever visited Yosemite?  If so, what is your favorite part or sight?  Click the following link to see more of my pictures of Yosemite.

Frazier Falls – an easy hike with a big reward

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Frazier Falls is located just above Grayeagle, California and is about 6200 feet in elevation.  The 1.4 mile round trip hike is both easy and quite scenic.  This area experiences heavy snowfall in the winter, the melt-off  flows from the Lakes Basin into Frazier Creek on its descent more than 2,000 feet to the Middle Fork of the Feather River. Frazier Falls has an overall cascade of 248 feet with a waterfall of 176 feet, making it one of the highest in California.

The trail-head has room for several cars and you’ll find a few picnic tables and a restroom. The trail winds through the forest with huge granite boulders scattered throughout.  Nearly half way to the falls you’ll come across a wooden bridge that crosses Frazier Creek, which is a nice place to take-in the surrounding beauty. The trail continues straight, but taking a left here and hugging the left bank of the creek will bring you out to Frazier Falls in about two hundred yards. Click the following link for a map to Frazier Falls.

If you’ve ever been to “Frazier Falls” before, leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you enjoy most.

Five essential San Francisco experiences

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Fancy a road trip along California’s famous highway 101 this summer? There couldn’t be a better place to end your journey than San Francisco. The ‘City by the Bay’ truly has it all – natural beauty, incredible architecture, world-class cuisine and its own quirky culture. During your visit to the northern Californian metropolis, be sure to add the following to your itinerary:

1. Shop at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
Surrounded by lush farmlands and vineyards, San Francisco is known for its fresh produce and culture of locally-sourced cuisine. Experience the region’s best ingredients by strolling through the famous Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Just down the road from the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, this massive outdoor market is where the Bay Area’s top farmers, artisan bakers and cheese producers go to sell their products directly to the locals.

By cutting out the middleman – supermarkets or restaurants – you’re guaranteed the freshest possible produce and you’re helping support the local economy. Tis the San Francisco way!

2. Tour Alcatraz
Though there are certain tourist attractions in San Francisco worth avoiding, Alcatraz is not one of them. Touring the famous island prison is truly fascinating. You’ll be given headsets with an audio guide of the premises; featuring realistic sound effects and the actual voices of former inmates and correctional officers, the audio guide really gives you a sense of what the prison was like.

3. Cruise the Bay
There’s no better way to take in the majesty of San Francisco’s skyline than by viewing the city from the water Take a Red & White Fleet cruise around the Bay, where you’ll be amazed at just how impressive the Golden Gate appears from the waters below. This can also be a great way to see Alcatraz if the tickets to the island are fully booked during the summer months since many boats will sail close by giving you some of the history before continuing on their way.

4. Cycle Across the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s beautiful natural scenery has led to its very active culture. Despite its famous hills, the city has quite a large cycling community. Hire a bike and head across the Golden Gate. Traveling with a friend? Go for a tandem!

On the other side of the famous bridge, you’ll be in the small city of Sausalito, situated just across the Bay from San Francisco’s gorgeous skyline. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a lazy outdoor lunch by water before catching the boat back (yes that’s right, you don’t have to cycle both ways)!

5. Ride the Cable Cars
A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the world’s last manually operated cable cars. These wooden trams soar up the city’s steep hills and are actually a very practical way to get from point A to point B. To better understand how the system works, visit the Cable Car Museum – right near Chinatown.

Find more great attractions in San Francisco before planning a trip, and make sure you spend some time booking tickets to attractions in advance to avoid disappointment.

Image: Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge by Mario Sanchez Prada used under Creative Commons License.

Covert mission to uncover UnderCover Ale Works

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

UnderCover Ale Works and Sweet Palace produce completely different products, however both may share the “it” factor when it comes to helping a small community become a destination.

Nestled hillside off highway 70, just outside of Graeagle, CA, I discovered (thanks to my friend Debra) a covert local attraction fermenting liquor of the malted variety.  UnderCover Ale Works is the brainchild of Rich and Susan, two artisan brewmasters with a passion for hop-infused spirits.

After a quick tour of the handsomely constructed brewery, it was time to do some tasting.  I got a kick out the creatively named brews that support the brand…from “Deep Cover,” “Incognito Saison,” to “Ambush IPA.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a connoisseur of beer, as a matter of fact, I just started drinking beer a few years ago after learning that the type I enjoy most are unfiltered wheat beers, like Blue Moon or Pyramid Hefferveisen. I don’t believe this admission goes over all that well with a Brewmaster, but I think Rich and Susan were kind enough to take it in stride.

There were a number of folks at the brewery, all intently listening to Rich enthusiastically tell us about the beer making process. After a while, we each took a glass of our favorite style ale and headed to some outdoor seating in a clearing among tall pines.  It was a lovely evening, so I broke out my chessboard and challenged Debra to a game. We ended up playing three…actually, the third game never finished as lively discussions began to ensue.

Debra and I were discussing why some small towns become extremely popular destinations, while others continue to exist under a veil of mediocrity. I was sharing some of my experiences of the road, providing examples of what I thought were “cool” towns and why, and/or how they become that way.  People have an inherent aversion to change…this is a problematic position because “change” is inevitable.  The question becomes, are you going to be a part of shaping that change…or, will you be a bystander complaining along the way?

I’ve lived in a small community before, wanting to be a big fish in a small pond, so I know first hand the challenges that well-intentioned leaders face—it’s an uphill battle, but it’s one where a single person can have a positive influence and move the pendulum. I’m often reminded of this when I was traveling through Montana and one of my best friends told me I should go out of my way to stop by the tiny town of Philipsburg to visit the candy shop.  “A candy shop,” I said!  “Why would I go out of my way to visit a tiny town just to go to a candy shop,” I exclaimed.  “Trust me, it will be worth it” he said.

When it comes to travel destinations, my buddy Sean has never steered me wrong. So, I went to Philipsburg and visited the “Sweet Palace,” aka “The Candy Shop.”  It was such a cute little town…and not in an old, glory days are in the past sort of way—but in a cool, hip and vibrant way.  After I spent all of five minutes touring the small town, I walked into the “candy shop” and instantly knew why my buddy was so insistent that I visit. Sweet Palace is unlike any candy shop you’ve probably ever encountered.  First it smells divine. Second…it’s huge!  The shop is set up like a turn-of-the-century candy store with beautiful hardwood cabinets, shelves and drawers that display the shops’ goods in perfect harmony.

Sweet Palace was started in the late 90s by a woman with a vision, and, the passion, desire and tenacity to see it through.  This passionate person was not just starting a candy shop, she was building a destination.  While people might go to Philipsburg, MT for the “candy shop,” they’re now greeted by quality lodging, restaurants and other shops.  While it took many to re-invent this old community, you can probably credit a single person for putting it on the map.

[Digression concluded] I’ve spent a month now exploring Eastern Plumas County and while there are some great things to do and places to visit, it’s places like UnderCover Ale Works that will put the area on the “map.”

Oceanside produces outstanding Sunset Market

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I have been to a number of evening markets around the world, from Asia to Europe (the one in Bangkok is amazing).  The public market concept is a cultural gathering that dates back to the beginning of time.  With fresh food, artisans and live music, what’s not to enjoy.  I haven’t run into many night markets in the U.S., but have to say the one in Oceanside, California is quite good.

  • When: Every Thursday evening between 5 and 9pm.
  • Where: Downtown Oceanside, California, in north county San Diego.
  • What: The Sunset Market offers a plethora of arts, crafts, ethnic foods to whet your taste buds, along with some fantastic street musicians and performers.

Click the following link for more information on the Oceanside Sunset Market. For a list of things to do in San Diego, check out my “ONE thing San Diego” post and video.  Click the following link to see pictures from San Diego.

What is “the ONE thing” in San Diego, California?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

San Diego, California is one of the coolest big cities in America.  “SD” as San Diego is often affectionately referred, is made up of a series of coastal communities that beckons snow birds (people escaping the cold) and zonies (people escaping the heat) throughout the year. From young and old, there is a plethora of outstanding activities to partake in throughout San Diego Country.

I have a special affinity toward San Diego as I’ve lived and visited for many years.  During my most recent trip to SD, I went on a quest to find “the ONE thing,” that you HAVE to do when visiting this world class city.  Be sure to watch the video below to find out what my “ONE thing” is.  Post your favorite activities below.   Once this page amasses a number of comments, I’ll take the five most popular and create a poll for you all to vote on “the ONE thing” to do in San Diego.

Here are just a handful of things to do when visiting San Diego, CA…most of which I’ve done myself:

  • SeaWorldSeaWorld is probably one of the most popular attractions in San Diego.  There are many exciting shows, from Shamu, the famous Killer Whale, to dolphins and sea lions.
  • San Diego ZooYou’ll find over 4,000 rare birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians; not to mention a hundred acres of gardens.  When you visit this world-famous zoo, you are in for a day of fun and discovery.
  • Safari Park - A trip to the Wild Animal Safari Park is like a journey to one of the world’s most exotic places—and yet, it’s like no other adventure on earth. See animals roaming freely in settings resembling their native homelands.
  • Old Town San Diego – Old Town boasts some great restaurants and a variety of shops nestled in a Spanish setting at the foot of Presidio Park.
  • Seaport Village – Stroll along the boardwalk for beautiful views of San Diego Bay.  Enjoy the diverse mix of street entertainers and discover great local restaurants, enchanting boutiques and the legendary carousel.
  • Cabrillo National Monument – Breathtaking views of San Diego Harbor and Coronado Island. The century-old lighthouse, Point Loma history, National Cemetery and tide pools are just a few of the activities.
  • Balboa Park – Set in the heart of San Diego, this getaway features museums and cultural centers, among which include; The Old Globe and Fleet Space Theater, which is home to the annual Shakespeare festival.
  • Gaslamp District – Located in the heart of downtown, the historic Gaslamp District is home to world famous restaurants, night clubs and shopping.
  • La Jolla – Named the “The Jewel of the Pacific,” La Jolla draws visitors, divers, swimmers and surfers to its beautiful blue waters. Explore La Jolla Caves, Seal Beach, and then head to the opulent downtown with exclusive shops and unique restaurants.
  • Water Sports – Surfing and sailing are very popular in San Diego, so too is water or jet skiing in Mission Bay.
  • Extreme Sports – If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, check out kitboarding or hang & paragliding.
  • Coronado Island – Across the soaring bridge from downtown San Diego is the relaxed  beach town of Coronado. Visit the world-famous Hotel Del or stay in lavish luxury at the 1906 Lodge.  Coronado has one of the best beaches in San Diego, if not the world.
  • Birch Aquarium – Enter a world of sharks, seahorses, living coral reefs and more.  Discover a stunning variety of Pacific marine life in more than 60 habitats.
  • San Diego Beaches - While Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are probably the most popular in San Diego, I personally prefer the less crowded ones that manly locals know of.  Excluding the lesser known beaches (that I won’t share to keep them that way), I really enjoy Coronado, Del Mar and Carlsbad.
  • Tour San Diego - Jump aboard an ol’ time trolly and leave the driving to an experienced guide. Or try a hybrid amphibian tour via Seal Tours. Or, maybe take a tour via the amazing two-wheeled balancing Segway.
  • LegoLand – With more than fifty Lego block-themed family rides and attractions, youngsters ages two to twelve will have a blast!

Click the following link to see more of my San Diego Pictures.  Be sure to post your “ONE thing” below and I’ll add it to the list and include you in the upcoming poll tally. If you found this post and video to be helpful, please share it with your friends and family by clicking the “like” button.

For more information on San Diego, visit Click the following link for California Tours info.

First time ‘Kamping’ at the San Diego KOA

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

I’ve done all kinds of camping in my day, but I’d never been “kamping” in San Diego before.  The San Diego KOA (Kampgrounds of America) is located in the southern part of the county in Chula Vista.  The property is quite large, with over 300 sites for RVers and tent campers, along with 35 cabins (or as KOA spells it, “kabins”), including a handful of deluxe accommodations, which is where I stayed.

The deluxe cabin can sleep six comfortably with a private bathroom, full kitchen, loft and your own private BBQ and fire ring outside.   If you stay in one of the traditional log cabins, be sure to bring your own linens…those accommodations are kind of in between a tent and a motel—best part is…you can spend the afternoon relaxing on a shady porch swing.

The public restrooms have hot showers and are quite clean with private stalls.  There is a central Kamping Kitchen for camp-goers to share…it includes everything you can think of in a traditional kitchen, however you get to do it in the great outdoors of sunny San Diego.

There are a ton of fun things to do at the San Diego KOA…from the heated pool & spa, to a myriad of bike rentals, game-room, basketball court, ping pong, playground, to a rock climbing wall.

Of course, outside the campgrounds, San Diego has a lot to offer, from the famous San Diego Zoo to SeaWorld, Old Town, Balboa Park, Cabrillo National Park, Gaslamp Districts, to Seaport Village and a whole lot in between.

Click the following link to see some of my pictures from the San Diego KOA.  If you’ve ever been to this KOA location, leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you like best.  If you found this post and video helpful and/or entertaining, please click the “like” button below to share with friends and family.

KOA San Diego Information:

(800) 562-9877
Info Line:
(619) 427-3601
111 North 2nd Ave.
Chula Vista, CA 91910


Death Valley: A fascinatingly inhospitable place

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

This was my first visit to Death Valley National Park and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a fascinatingly inhospitable place.  From the salt flats, sand dunes, to the hikes and cliff dwellings through the canyon walls, Death Valley is a very interesting and unique place with so many varying landscapes. The diversity of colors and textures throughout the park will also surprise and impress you.

I entered Death Valley from the north and discovered the area to be very mountainous with a “valley” (hence the name) that runs through.  I knew the park was below sea level, but had no idea that its lowest point was nearly 300′ below sea level.  Death Valley has also recorded the hottest temperature in the Western Hemisphere at 134 degrees.  I’m from the Phoenix area and remember when it hit 122 degrees…I can’t imagine how hot another 12 degrees would be—perhaps at that temperature it would make no difference.  The average high temperature in July (the hottest month of the year) is 117 degrees…I don’t think I would recommend exploring the park during the summer months.   As a matter of fact, if you do drive through during the summer months, I’d probably bring a lot of extra water.  JustSayin’ ™ :-)

I think I may have visited Death Valley at the perfect time of year…it was maybe 75 degrees with a light breeze…perfect for hiking and exploring. Death Valley National Park is massive in size, as a matter of fact, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48.  The park contains a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. To my surprise, Death Valley is not as inhospitable as I would have suspected…the park actually supports life and there are a number of water sources.  There are even preserved ruins showcasing that people actually lived in this area at one time.  I guess it stands to reason…in the summer months they probably made their way to higher elevations, while during the winter trekked back down to the valley floor for a more temperate climate.

  • Stovepipe Wells is home to the most photographed sand dunes in the world, and is within hiking distance of Keane Wonder Mine and Mill. Just a short drive away are two must-see ghost towns, Leadfield, California, and Rhyolite, Nevada. If you choose to stay the night, there is nearby campground with 200 sites and is open from October to April.
  • Two miles east of the Furnace Creek Inn is the start of the off-road driving route through Echo Canyon. Highlights along the ten-mile route include a colorful section of narrows, a natural arch called the Needle’s Eye, and the still-standing structures of the Inyo Mine.
  • Just outside of the southern end of the park I discovered some interesting cliff dwellings that are accessible to explore.

Bottom line: Death Valley National Park is one of the most unique places on earth. It’s difficult to describe how strange, yet compellingly beautiful the park is.  There’s a sense of isolation, coupled with a hidden sense of life…including the random displays of wildflower, which are quite unexpected in such a desolate place.

Click the following link to see more of my pictures from Death Valley National Park.

Have you been to Death Valley before?  If so, tell my readers and me something interesting…a special place or favorite thing you enjoy doing.  If you enjoyed this post and video, please click the “like” button and share with friends and family.

Bodie State Park…A time capsule unearthed

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Bodie State Park is a well-preserved ghost town that dates back to the mid-1800s. By 1880, Bodie, California was a booming town with a population near 10,000, and some estimate that it was the 2nd or 3rd largest city in the state.  By 1917, after the railroad shut down and the tracks used for scrap, Bodie began its irrecoverable declension. After years of decline, the last known residents left Bodie in the 1940s and forever encapsulated the town.

If it were not for a thoughtful guest at the Chalet View Lodge (the resort I was staying) who overheard the direction I was traveling, I probably would not have discovered Bodie State Park. I’m always grateful for destination suggestions from experienced travelers…I’ve been to some wonderful places due in no small part to the experience of others.

As Bodie turned into a literal ghost town for some 20+ years, it was rediscovered in the early 60s and eventually preserved by the California State Park system in 1962.  In its heyday, Bodie had some 2000 buildings…today just 170 remain, although many still in good condition.  The odd thing about Bodie is that many of the buildings retain the furniture, belongings and artifacts…as if there was some sort of exodus prompted by the last remaining residents.

With so many buildings still in-tacked, containing period garb, it’s a true treasure for tourists to experience.  For example, the general store still has shelves full of canned food, the hotel casino has chips near the roulette wheel, and a dining room table is set in one of the homes—with 60 years worth of dust casting a patina on the belongings of a once thriving community.

Whether you’re into history, photography or perhaps painting, you’ll enjoy spending hours exploring Bodie State Park.  From sunrise to sunset, the day provides varying compositional light and shadows to cast a plethora of creative angles for the artistic to capture.

As I wandered the dirt streets taking some photos, there was a stillness in the air, then a moment later a light gust of wind…just at that moment I witnessed a tumble weed blow through town…it was one of those quintessential “ghost town” moments you see in the movies.  Speaking of movies, Bodie will make you feel like you’ve been transformed to an old western studio set…you can just imagine seeing John Wayne coming out of the saloon with guns-a-blazin’.

If you’ve been to the Bodie Ghost Town before, leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you like best.  Click the following link to see more of my pictures of Bodie State Park. If you enjoyed this post and video, please click the “like” button below and share with your friends and family.

Bodie State Park Information:

Location: The park is northeast of Yosemite and 13 miles east of Highway 395 on Bodie Road (Hwy 270)  Note: The last three miles is a rough dirt road.
Map: Google Map – Latitude/Longitude: 38.2122 / -119.0111Park Phone: 760-647-6445
Hours: Open year around 9 am to 6 pm in summer (May 15th – October 31st) – 9 am to 3 pm in winter (Nov 1st – May 14th). Note: The park is closed during periods of inclement weather.
Prices: $7 for adults 17 and up  – $5 for children ages 6 to 16. Only cash or personal checks are accepted.  You will pay at the Parking lot using a dropbox system.
Weather: Click here for area weather