Strolling along the San Antonio River Walk is a delight. Shops and restaurants line the walk in downtown. Other walkways are quiet, offering a good time for reflection and relaxation.
History, delicious cuisine and an array of activities for exploring San Antonio make this a fun city to visit with friends and family. We were there during the annual Fiesta celebration, which added to the liveliness of San Antonio, the seventh largest U.S. city with a population of two million. Land and boat parades, as well as music on the streets and at area attractions created a festive ambiance everywhere we went.
Fiesta pin buying and swapping (much like Disney pins) is a popular activity that becomes a bit competitive about who gets the most! Note that I'm wearing a red sash with colorful pins in a photo or two.
Our first meal was at La Margarita, home of the original fajita platter, claims manager David Cortez.
The platters of steaming sausage, steak and chicken were certainly very tasty. The restaurant is located in the marketplace, which was packed with booming music, colorful decorations and people celebrating Fiesta.
We had a jam-packed itinerary planned for our first full day. First stop: Pearl Farmers Market, located along the banks of the San Antonio River. This producers-only market ensures that all the goods are locally planted, raised and harvested. Next, San Antonio Botanical Garden, a lovely 33-acre garden representing Texas' diverse landscape. In honor of Fiesta, there was a children's parade with festively decorated wagons and strollers.
The children's parade at San Antonio Botanical Garden featured decked out wagons, strollers and kids in traditional fiesta-style clothing.
After a lunch of cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes at Cheesy Jane's (I don't want to know about the calories!), we spent the afternoon at the Fiesta Arts Fair, featuring unique artwork (much of it from recycled materials), music, food and a Children's Art Garden. Kids had a chance to work with professional artists to create clay, jewelry and art pieces.
Dinner that night was aboard a boat! Margaritas, wine and beer flowed freely as we cruised the river. As we ate tasty enchiladas and fajitas prepared by the Rio Rio Restaurant, our tour guide chatted about the history of the river area. The river walk opened in 1939 but the river town was founded in 1946, with the first restaurant, Casa Rio. Bridges are named, and as we cruised under bridge I35-37, our guide said people gather here to see bats flying out about 7:30 p.m. each evening. Special events and meals aboard these boats can be arranged through Rio San Antonio Cruises (www.riosanantonio.com
People can also tour the rivers via water taxis ($5 one way or $15/24 hours) and tour boats.
Capping off a busy day was a splendid Fiesta Pops performance by the San Antonio Symphony at the Majestic Theater. The concert spotlighted the Guadalupe Dance Company and 11-year-old singer Sebastian De La Cruz.
The interior of the Majestic Theater is designed to look like an outdoor venue. White clouds skitter across the midnight blue painted sky.
I woke up early the next morning to attend the Fiesta Mariachi Mass at the historic San Fernando Cathedral. During the nationally televised mass presented in both English and Spanish, the priest blessed Fiesta Royalty and Commissioners.
A visit to San Antonio must include the Alamo! Originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo was established in 1718. The Alamo is famous for the battle of 1836, when 189 Texan heroes fought with General Santa Ana's army of thousands.
While the Alamo building itself may look small, the entire plaza is actually part of the Alamo. The historic site attracts more than two million visitors annually. Visit early in the day if possible, before it gets packed.
As recently as 2009 discoveries are still being made inside the Alamo. A doorway arch that had been covered since 1850 was the most recent discovery. The year 1850 is carved into the wall.
Refreshing prickly pear margaritas and a Tex-Mex lunch buffet awaited us at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, a lovely property with a water park ideal for families.
Exploring San Antonio on my own that afternoon was fun. I took a sightseeing tour aboard a Hop On/Hop Off Double-Decker tour bus that stops at major sightseeing spots. As the name states, you can hop off and on the bus at any of the designated stops.
The main pick-up stop is Alamo Plaza. Stops include HemisFair Park, Market Square and King William Historic District.
Fellow journalist Kathy Chin Leong and I walked to HemisFair Park and rode the elevator to the panoramic viewing platform of the 750-foot Tower of the Americas, built for the 1968 World Fair. There's a rotating Chart House restaurant and 4D theatre ride.
A delicious BBQ dinner that night was at the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort. We were greeted with prickly pear margaritas (again, yay!) and saw Lakers player Dwight Howard on the property. The Los Angeles Lakers were staying here while in the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs. The Westin is a gorgeous, sprawling property with a kids club, water slides and several restaurants.
On our last day in San Antonio, we learned about the coronation ceremony that takes place during Fiesta. Participating young women (usually about 20-21-years-old) spend thousands of dollars (the price of a brand new nice car) on a coronation dress. The Witte Museum, which is a natural history museum, houses a coronation exhibit showcasing these intricate gowns, which are worn just three times during Fiesta. The coronation was started in 1909 as a ceremony to crown the queen of the Fiesta. Gown trains can weigh as much as 70 to 80 pounds.
Not to be missed is the simply fun Texas Cavaliers River Parade. The boats decked out with colorful lights and decorations and people are dressed in themed costumes. Musicians perform from some of the boats, as mardi gras beads and Fiesta pins are tossed to bystanders. A good place to watch the parade is from bridges.
Where to Stay: Located on the waterfront, the Drury Plaza Hotel (a former bank building) has a central location making it easy to walk to historic sites, shopping and dining. This view is from the rooftop of the Drury (but I had the same view from my spacious 22nd floor room). Tower of the Americas is seen in the background.
A complimentary hot breakfast and afternoon "kick-back" (with wine, beer, mixed drinks and hot food) is included in the stay. There's a rooftop swimming pool and fitness center. www.druryhotels.com
The Martini Bar at the base of Taos is the place to go for apres ski drinks and chats.
One of the things I like best about skiing in New Mexico is that the resorts are family owned, giving them a welcoming ambiance. These families not only operate their respective resorts but they like to ski with guests. For example, Ariana Blake (shown wearing the hat and whose family owns Taos)), not only skied with us but joined us for apres-ski drinks at the Martini Bar. And it's not just because we're journalists. There was a guy there who sprained his thumb and she showed concern abut the swelling. She chatted with him, offered him medical attention and bought him a drink. How cool is that!
Shot Ski at the Lift House Bar & Grill
Red River Ski Area (www.redriverskiarea.com)
My New Mexico Ski adventure began here,
where we met Laura House, whose family owns the resort. Although we didn't ski with her, she chatted with us during lunch at the Lift House Bar & Grill, at the base of the slopes. It's a good place to enjoy a meal and drink while
watching skiers come down the mountain. On weekends, there’s live music. We indulged in a shot ski (six shot glasses secured on a ski). Kinda tricky and half the drink dribbled down my chin but it was fun!
While here, we skied with locals who seemed eager to show us around this unassuming stretch of the Southern Rockies. We discovered that Red River is a small town (about 500 residents) proud of its family-owned ski resort. Nothing fancy, just
a happy place where people come to have a good time on and off the slopes. Half a dozen old -school lifts service 57 trails, of which only 30 percent are for experts. That means most of the mountain is ideal for cruising on long runs top
(at over 10,000 feet) to bottom and through aspen-lined trails under mostly blue skies. There’s a small open-air chapel where resort owner, Laura House and her husband were married. A trip highlight was a ride up to the mountain top
inside a toasty warm snowcat - decked out for comfort, (hence,
snow coach) - for an exquisite steak dinner at Tip Restaurant. On that evening, we were the
only ones in the restaurant and were pampered by Chef Kai Dunbar, a food and
beverage manager whom we also skied with during our stay since these lucky guys
get to ski when they’re not working!Home base while at Red River were the Caribel Condos, walking distance to the slopes. The condos have fully equipped kitchens and gas fireplaces.
Ben Abruzzo is so low-key you would never know he's a member of a pioneering southwestern family that operates Ski Santa Fe (www.skisantafe.com
) and Sandia Peak in New Mexico. As mountain manager at Ski Santa Fe, located about 16 miles northweast of Santa Fe, Ben not only drives snowcats, repairs and maintains the resort's seven lifts, glades trees and works on various other projects - he enjoys skiing with resort guests.
I had the pleasure of skiing with Ben (a super fast skier, so I was always trailing behind him) who explored the world before joining the family business. He served as an Army Infantry Officer, an Infantry Platoon leader and executive officer with the 101st Airborne Division and served in Iraq. He also worked as an FBI Special Agent for a few years. He says all these jobs helped define his leadership skills, learn to solve complex problems and keep cool under stressful situations. No wonder he comes across so calm, cool and collected! But he also knows how to treat guests graciously. After skiing several runs together, we stopped at the historic, mid-mountain Totemoff's Bar & Grill where he bought me a beer. We sat on the sunny deck chatting about life (he married his high school sweetheart and they have two kids), skiing and his family business, which is ever growing.
Ski Santa Fe recently renovated its base, the La Casa Lodge, which houses a fabulous restaurant, ticket sales, rentals and a sport shop. The restaurant serves a New Mexican cuisine (try the pork tamales), grilled food, sandwiches and salads.
There's no lodging here but with the city of Santa Fe so close, that's not a problem. We stayed at the El Dorado Hotel & Spa in downtown. While in the city, we ate at one of my favorite restaurants - Il Piatto, an Italian farmhouse kitchen with a twist of New Mexican cuisine.
Our third and final stop was Taos Ski Valley (www.taosskivalley.com
), a world-renowned resort with good reason - a village with a cozy European ambiance and a challenging but fun mountain. We arrived in time for dinner and margaritas at Tim's Stray Dog, a Taos staple for 20 years. It was there that we met Ariana Blake, a mom, a sharp business woman and amazing skier. Over drinks and steak tacos, we made plans for the next day. Then, fumbling in the dark, we found our way to the slope-side Kandahar Condominiums, which have spacious bedrooms, a family room, full kitchen and wood-burning fireplace (with wood stacked outside the door).
In the morning she helped us with rentals and ski lessons. It was my first time to Taos and I figured I'd need a lesson to navigate the steeps of this mountain. I was directed to Strawberry Hill, where instructors gauge your ability before assigning you to a class. And while I had an exhilirating lesson with longtime instructor Stuart, I found my worries of skiing here were unfounded. While there are certainly lots of steep runs, there are also plenty of intermediate trails too. Stuart even had us skiing on some bumps I could handle.
I caught up with my group at Rhoda's, where I enjoyed a delicious green chili cheeseburger. Afterwards, I had the pleasure of skiing with Adriana, who showed me around the mountain. We made a pit stop at the elaborate children's ski center, which has its own pint-sized chairlift.
We capped off an afternoon of skiing at the Martini Bar, which overlooks the slopes. Dinner that evening was at the Edelweiss Lodge and Spa. With so many good options, we decided to share plates of vegetarian lasagne and steak. Oh my, so good!
And so ended a fabulous ski week at New Mexico.
Moonstone Beach, Cambria
I'm not a food or wine connoisseur so I wasn't sure how I would fit in at the 2012 Sunset magazine Savor the Central Coast Food & Wine Festival. I needn't have worried! The four-day event was filled with people who just wanted to have a good time sipping wine and sampling dishes from local restaurants and vineyards.
I drove up from L.A. with another writer, where we met the rest of our group in Cambria - a stunning coastal town. Moonstone Beach (see photo on left) is magical. I stayed at the comfortable Best Western Fireside Inn (www.bestwesternfiresideinn.com
), located on Moonstone Beach Drive, across the street from the beach. Complimentary breakfast is included. I walked to Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill that evening for dinner with my group. It's a charming family-run restaurant overlooking the beach.
The next morning our group of journalists took a walking culinary, history and art tour of downtown San Luis Obispo (SLO). I've always enjoyed this pedestrian-friendly area with its plethora of shops, restaurants and historical sites, such as the beautiful Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Mission Plaza is a relaxing, scenic spot with a fountain, park and creek. As we walked, our tour guide pointed out various art elements (sculptures, murals). We met with Jeff Olds, a founder of Jamba Juice. I learned that SLO is the home of the original Jamba Juice.
Bubblegum Alley in downtown SLO. Colorful, isn't it?
Another thing I discovered is Bubblegum Alley (don't look if you get grossed out by old chewed up gum). Yes, there is an alley slathered in old chewed up gum. It's kind of a tradition to leave your own chomped on gum on the wall (I admit, I did it). There's even a bubblegum store nearby.
Novo restaurant in downtown SLO
We lunched at one of my favorite restaurants - the creekside Novo restaurant, which has an Old World ambiance and a diverse menu using local ingredients. A very tasty appetizer: potato samosas, made with Indian spiced potatoes in wonton skins dipped in hot oil and served with mint chutney and yogurt dips.
After lunch we drove to Morro Bay, where we rented bicycles from Farmer's Kites and Surreys, and rode on a bike path along the bay to the beach. It's quite picturesque. For those who like seafood, Tognazzini's Fish Market and Restaurant is a must-stop. I don't eat fish but the bowls of steaming muscles and other sea ingredients smelled good even to me!
Opening night of Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast at Hearst Castle
After a full day of sightseeing, we had just enough time to get ready for the Opening Night Event: An Enchanting Evening at Hearst Castle. This was a trip highlight for me. It was easy to imagine what celebrity parties must have been like back in the day when William Randolph Hearst hosted events by the Roman-style Neptune Pool. During this elegant event, we sipped wine and sampled bites of salad, cheese, steak, oysters, pizza, and a host of other foods.
basket of freshly picked tomatoes at the chef's garden at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
The next day our group split up, each of us scheduled for a SAVOR tour. Mine was the Secret Tomato Garden Lunch with Chef Robert Trester and Sunset magazine Garden Editor Julie Chai. What a delightful day! We sipped wine, plucked tomatoes from the chef's garden, watched a cooking demonstration and were then served a scrumptious lunch under a canopy in the garden. Lunch: chilled tomato soup, charred octopus salad, prime sirloin caps, and yellow tomato sorbet.
Sycamore Mineral Springs hot tub
I was pampered after lunch with a private soak at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa. Hot tubs (for one or two people) are scattered throughout the hillslide. Each tub is private. I soaked in mineral water while enjoying the lovely hillside view.
Afterwards, I checked into our next hotel - Pismo Lighthouse Suites (www.pismolighthousesuites.com
), situated on the cliffs above Pismo Beach. Beach access is via a pathway and steps. I enjoyed this hotel, where I slept to the sound of the surf. Amenities include a kitchen, bedroom, living room and two baths. Complimentary breakfast. That evening, our group reconnected for the Sunset International Wine Competition Grand Tasting and Dinner, at Pismo Beach. Another round of great wines, appetizers and a sit-down dinner.
Saturday and Sunday were the main events for the SAVOR event and took place at Santa Margarita Ranch in Paso Robles. People were lined up for the chef and wine seminars, beer garden and vendor stalls displaying wine and food samples representing the Central Coast region. I attended a "Battle of the Chefs" seminar, hosted by "Chopped" Ted Allen. I love watching cooking shows and seeing this demonstration in person was a lot of fun.
The beer garden was popular too. Actually, it was one of my favorite places at the event. We ate tacos and drank beer while listening to live music.
The Historic Paso Robles Inn has 98 guest rooms, a swimming pool, and pretty gardens with a stream.
Mid-afternoon we checked into our next hotel - the historic Paso Robles Inn (www.pasoroblesinn.com
), where I was delighted to find my own private mineral springs hot tub on my balcony! The inn (called the Paso Robles Hotel) was built in 1891 and considered the finest in the U.S. in its time; it was visited by many notable people, including U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas Fairbanks, Boris Karloff, Bob Hope and Clark Gable. In 1940, the hotel burned down and after it was rebuilt as a garden inn, it was renamed and opened two years later as the the Paso Robles Inn.
Winding down the event was Paso Glow: A Culinary Experience at Windfall Farms, nestled among the rolling hills of Paso Robles. A more laid-back dinner than the previous two nights, the event featured BBQ American lamb, Harris Ranch beef and two delicious salads with avocado, eggplant and other veggies. Live country music played as we ate our meal at long tables set outside. Adding to the warm ambiance were illuminated hot air balloons (see photo at left).
Throughout our stay - so we could enjoy wine tasting and not have to drive - we were shuttled around by Breakaway Tours (800-799-7657). For more information about the Central Coast, please go to www.visitslo.com
We flew into the Hilo airport, which is just minutes from Hilo town. While on the Hilo side, my son commented that it didn't feel like traditional Hawaii to him. I reminded him that part of the beauty of Hawaii is its diversity. True, Hilo has black - not white - sandy beaches and afternoon rain showers. But the rain keeps the island lush, and waterfalls and streams flowing. And the beaches have black sand due to the lava. In fact, the black lava landscape is prevalent throughout the island not just Hilo.
While in Hilo, we visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Spent almost an entire day hiking. Free, informative ranger-led hikes are offered daily and definitely worth doing. Our first stop was at the visitors center to get our bearings. We took a hike with a ranger to Thurston Lava Tube. Afterwards, my son, Michael, and I hiked to the bottom of the crater. the trail took us through a rainforest and open up to a barren landscape that looked like Mars. The ground is pocked with steam vents, crevices and plants poking through the cracks. It's an easy hike and worth doing.
We timed it to be at Jagger Museum for sunset when the glow from the fume from Halemamau crater starts out pink and deepens to red. the glow comes from boiling lava inside trhe crater. if you go, bring a jacket - it gets very cold!
The next day we drove to nearby Rainbow Falls. It's best to arrive before 10 a.m. to see a rainbow that seems to magically appear to the right of the falls. Then we went to the Hilo Farmers Market and bought some fruit (five papayas for $3, an apple/banana bunch for $2) and vegetarian manapuas to take to Richards State Beach, a black sand beach good for swimming. The sun was warm, the food good. After a few hours, we went to the Imiloa Astronomy Center to learn about the importance of stars to early Hawaiians. The hands-on exhibits are great for kids of all ages.
En route to Kona the following morning, we made a few stops. First one: Akaka Falls, a 442-foot waterfall. There's a short and beautiful walk through a rainforest with stream. It was misting when we got there. The area is so lush. We saw a few more waterfalls as we continued our journey. We stopped at Tex Drive-in in Honoka, known for its malasadas,available plain or with flavored creams. The young server recommended the plain malasada, which is very similar to a sugar doughnut. It was warm and tasty!
By now it was lunchtime and we stopped at Village Burger in Parker Ranch Center in Kamuela - cowboy territory, where stop signs say "whoa." We ordered cheeseburgers with chipotle goat cheese and avocado. Oh my! So good. My son declared them the best burgers ever. Since the place is popular for its milkshakes, I also added a strawberry shake to my lunch. I was stuffed but hoped to work it off swimming that afternoon.
We checked into the Hali'i Kai in Waikoloa. Initially I thought we were in the wrong place. We arrived at a gated condo complex and I didn't have an access code. But after calling the phone number I had we were let in and told how to reach the office just around the corner. The two-bedroom condo was fabulous, equipped with beach towels, bikes, tennis racquets (the courts were just across from us) and an assortment of toiletries. The best surprise was the rock pool with ocean view. Although there's no swim beach here, the scenery is stunning. Black lava rocks against brilliant blue ocean. The pool was designed with coves, waterfalls and a ledge for shallow lounge chairs set right in the water. The Jacuzzi had a sandy bottom. Oh yes, very nice.
Dinner that night was at the Lava Lava Beach Club, a casual but not cheap restaurant right on the beach and located within the Waikoloa resort. This is where we had our best meal. Michael had fish tacos and I enjoyed a teriyaki steak. From here we watched the sunset. There are four cottages (including one wheelchair accessible) available for rent here too, at about $500 per night.
We had big adventures planned for the next day, which began with Ocean Sports Black Sand Picnic Snorkel Sail. I just love catamaran snorkel sails and try to book these excursions for each trip to Hawaii. This was among the best. They picked us up from our condo (outside the gate actually). The crew was great and brought us to a secluded snorkeling area where we saw a variety of fish. It's not that we saw an abundance of fish but we did see a nice veriety of fish. A contintental breakfast, deli lunch and complimentary bar is included in the $150 per person rate.
In contrast to our day at sea, we joined Hawaii Forest & Trail for a seven-hour roundtrip excursion to the Mauna Kea summit, situated at nearly 14,000 feet elevation. We met our guide John (a Cornell geologist graduate with a great sense of humor) in the nearby shopping center. There were about a dozen of us on our tour, which sells out every day.
John talked non-stop, feeding us local history and peppering his dialogue with jokes. The first thing he said to us in the van was: "Everyone give your name, where you're from and what animal you would most like to be." John, originally from Oklahoma, stated he would like to be dragon. What a character. Honestly, a better guide we couldn't have asked for!
During the tour, we made a few stops. One for a picnic dinner and a couple more to acclimate to the altitude. By the time we reached the summit, where we donned warm jackets (provided by the tour company), the sun was setting. Thirteen huge telescopes set up by various countries including Japan and the U.S. frame the summit. It's almost a surreal scene. Afterwards, we drove a short distance to the visitors center (packed with tourists) before fiding a spot downhill to set up John's telescope for star gazing. This guy, admittedly, could talk about the universe all night. He's so cool, so enthusiastic. He made hot chocolate and gave us brownies and then pointed out constellations, planets, and galaxies. We took turns gazing at the sky, where we could clearly see starry wonders such as Saturn's rings and the Milky Way. And a shooting star! Magical! But we were freezing (John said temps were about 40 degrees but it felt colder because of the wind). We got back to the condo about 10:30 p.m.
We explored on our own the next day, with no particular agenda, just following our whims. One of my favorite ways to travel! We drove to Kona for coffee at Lava Java. Taking our hot coffee cups to go, we sat on the beach, contentedly enjoying the quiet morning. We navigated our way to the Mountain Thunder coffee plantation to buy a package of coffee but the rather bossy tour leader insisted we join the group before making any purchases. We wimped out and participated. Not such a bad thing. Got a lesson about the coffee making process before finally being "allowed" to buy a $20 bag of coffee. Next stop: Kona Brewing Company for a pizza and beer lunch. This was a trip highlight. So relaxing. On our way back to Hilo, we stopped at Hapuna Beach, a white sand that Michael had heard about. Glorious! The sea was calm and I floated in the gentle surf, chatting with a guy who was visiting from Seattle with his two sons.
Our last stop before returning our rental car was at Ken's House of Pancakes in Hilo. We each ordered a plate lunch (complete with macaroni salad) and savored the aloha ambiance of the Hawaiian islands before going home.
Boating and tubing on Bass Lake. Great family fun!
I love being pleasantly surprised on family vacations. It's such a relief! I plan all our trips and while most of them have been successful (more laughter than fights), a few were not quite as "family unifying" as I would have liked. But our recent trip to Bass Lake and Yosemite was pure and simple joy - for a few reasons: easy drive, great food and fun activities.
To start, it was just a three and a half hour drive from our home in Northern L.A. County. Our three kids - ages 17, 21, and 23 - were fine being cooped up with us in a car for that relatively short road trip. Upon arrival, check-in at the Pines Resort at Bass Lake was smooth. We had two roomy, adjoining chalets with partial lake views. With free WiFi and a total of four TVs the kids were happy campers. The resort village has a well-stocked market, marina, post office and several shops. Our time at the lake competed with the Olympics so our kids spent more time watching than I would have liked but we were getting along so well I didn't want to rock the boat.
On our first day, my husband and I joined a recently launched tour in the area - Bass Lake Duck Tours (www.basslakeducktours.com
) - for a spin around the lake on land and water in a brightly-painted yellow WWII-era vehicle that both rumbles on roads and floats in water. Owners Dale and Roger dress the part as captain and jovial tour guide and enthusiastically share history and jokes for the 90-minute tour - most of it on land.
Our favorite activity while at the resort was boating. We rented a party boat (www.basslakeboatrentals.com
) that towed a tube and was equipped with a CD/radio system and an onboard BBQ grill. I haven't seen our kids laugh and smile so much in a long time. They took turns on the tube (it holds two at a time) splashing along behind the boat as we traveled about 20 to 25 MPH. It may not sound fast but they were holding on tight as they bounced along in the boat's wake. During the five hours we had the boat - from 2 - 7 p.m. - we toured the lake, dropped anchor a few times to swim, and grilled burgers. If we had brought our dog with us, he would have been allowed to enjoy an afternoon on the lake too. And he would have loved it! We noticed quite a few dogs at the resort.
I was giddy with joy that evening as we ate dinner, watched the Olympics and planned our activities for the next day. Everyone was relaxed and happy. Our son even used his Mac Pro to map out two hikes for us - the Taft Trail and Mist
Trail to Vernal Falls.
The next day was devoted to Yosemite. The resort is just 13 miles from Yosemite's southern entrance, making it an easy day trip. We crammed a lot of hiking and sightseeing into one day. Our first stop was at Glacier Point, which has expansive views of Yosemite. The last time we posed her for pictures was 14 years ago! Next, we hiked the fairly level Taft Trail hike that leads to steep drop-offs and amazing views. Maybe it was the wonderful pine smell and exercise but we were all in exceptionally good moods.
Our next stop was Bridalveil Falls, which actually was disappointing because it was more of a mist than a waterfall. The last time we were here the waterfall was gushing. Our son had been telling his younger sister about how awesome the waterfalls are in Yosemite so we were disappointed with the sputter. But, it was a dry winter afterall.
Before our next hike, we found a shady spot along the Merced River for a picnic. This hike was steep from the beginning - something we didn't expect. It was beautiful though and I would do it again. Halfway up the one and a half mile hike is a footbridge with a water fountain (yay, we were running low on water), restrooms with flush toilets and views of Vernall Falls.
Before leaving the park, we made a quick stop at the Mariposa Grove to see the giant Sequoia redwoods. I love these trees. By end of day, we were exhausted and ready for dinner. Here's where the surprise came in. After cleaning up, we ate dinner at the resort's signature restaurant, Ducey's on the Lake. We expected a good dinner but what we got was an incredible gourmet dinner - a definite 10 .My filet mignon was cooked to perfection (I like it well but not charred) and the roasted prime rib cooked to my family's taste. My daughter had the crab-crusted mahi-mahi, a menu item that reflects the chef's influence from living five years on Kauai. A creme brulee capped off our magnificent meal.
On our last day, we lounged by the pool that overlooks the lake. I was in no hurry to leave. Our family was content and I was relishing our time together in a beautiful setting. It reminded me of the days when my kids were little and happy to be anywhere with us. I wasn't ready to let that go. But I'm grateful for our serene and memorable days together at the Pines Resort and Yosemite.
View of Pines Resort from party boat. Try it!
View from Glacier Point in Yosemite
Photo taken on footbridge of Mist Trail to Vernal Falls.
View of Santa Monica Beach from the historic pier.
Los Angeles County’s diverse beaches offer many ways to enjoy family
playtime in the sun and surf. Having grown up here, I love all the beaches! But among my favorites are Zuma Beach because there's lots of room for everyone. So even when it's crowded (which is almost always in summer) it's still easy to find comfortable space for us and our chairs, towels and coolers. It's a super clean beach with lifeguards, food and restrooms.
But now that my kids are older, they often prefer to go to Santa Monica and Venice where we can stroll the boardwalk, ride attractions on the pier and still soak up sun.
Whether you prefer wide, sandy beaches for swimming and throwing a Frisbee or rocky shores for tide pooling, check out Heal the Bay’s “A” list of L.A.’s cleanest beaches.Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card measures the level
of bacterial pollution at more than 500 California beaches. For more information on the following beaches, visit
Pick any spot along The Strand to swim and play on 40 acres of recreational beach space. With more than 50 volleyball courts on this stretch of coastline, it’s no surprise this beach is considered the volleyball capital of
SoCal. But you certainly don’t have to be a volleyball player to embrace this section of beach. The ocean is
ideal for swimming and boogie boarding or surfing at El Porto. There’s also a children’s play area, restrooms, showers and a bike path that follows the coast north to Will RogersState
Beach. A walk along the scenic 928-foot-long pier leads to the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium where visitors can learn about sea life. Free but $2 donation requested. Fishing along the pier is allowed year-round. A
rental shop provides all the gear you needVenice Beach
Famous for its funky boardwalk, Venice Beach has ideal waves for boogie boarding and spacious beaches for picnics, flying a kite or catching rays. Watch or join surfers at the Venice Breakwater, a popular, local surf spot located
north of the Venice Pier and Lifeguard Headquarters, and south of the Santa Monica Pier. Lifeguards are on hand during daylight hours.
Beyond the surf, people watching is always entertaining. Stroll the boardwalk or dine at an eatery with a front row view of street performers including jugglers, musicians, tarot card readers and roller-bladers. Santa Monica
After years of poor water quality, the city of Santa Monica cleaned up those issues near the iconic pier, housing
PacificPark, a seaside amusement park. If you’re looking for a super-sized, action-packed beach this is the place. The sound of the waves is somewhat muffled from music and people shrieking from the nearby Ferris wheel, coasters and other rides but all that just adds to the festive ambiance at this iconic California beach. Salty ocean air mixes pleasantly with aromas of grilled burgers and hot dogs.
Rent a bike from the shop on the pier or bring your own to cruise along the bike path. Learn about marine life and ways to keep the ocean clean at the Santa Monica Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at sea
level beneath the pier. Feel a sea star or sticky anemone, and find rockfish in a kelp forest exhibit. The jellyfish exhibit shows why plastic debris is deadly for sea creatures. $2-$4 donation, kids 12 and younger admitted free with paying
adult. www.santamonica.com.Zuma, Malibu
This quintessential California beach has lots of open space, good waves for body
surfing, lifeguards and ample parking making this a popular summer spot for families. To park in the larger lots and get close to food huts, turn right from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Before setting up beach chairs and umbrellas,
make sure you find a place 100 yards away from the Zuma creek outfall.
Amenities at Zuma include two food huts serving rather tasty grilled burgers, hot dogs,
sandwiches, salads, chips, candy and drinks. There are also restrooms and outdoor showers (with cold water).
At nearby Point Dume, you can take an easy hike to the newly created marine protected areas
spring, you get great views of migrating whales.Royal Palms StateBeach, San Pedro
Pack a picnic and wear sturdy shoes for scampering over the rock shoreline and tidepools teeming with
sea urchins, starfish, anemones and other marine life at this Palos Verdes Peninsula spot. Staffed by lifeguards,
this unique beach is San Pedro’s hidden gem and is revered for its beauty and views of Catalina Island. Amenities include a picnic area, restrooms and showers. A children’s play area and a small park are nestled at the top of the bluff. 1799 Paseo delMar, San Pedro, CA 90731Heal the Bay beach safety tips include avoiding enclosed beaches where lack of circulation creates a breeding ground for bacteria; stay 100 yards from storm drains; and download Heal the Bay's beach report for the latest water quality at www.healthebay.org.
Typing away at my computer working on travel articles but wishing I was back in Hawaii, one of my favorite destinations. I really enjoy snorkeling and think Hawaii is the best place for this fun activity. Snorkeling is so relaxing - and good exercise too. This snorkeling photo was taken off the shores of Oahu on a Wild Side Specialty Tour where crew members explained how to swim with dolphins and turtles without touching them or disturbing them. It's exciting to be in the water upclose with these beautiful creatures! The catamaran ride is enjoyable too. After a morning of swimming, it feels so nice to soak up sun while sailing.
I used an underwater camera to capture some photos and video of dolphins and turtles.
I'm hoping to visit the Big Island later this summer. Two years ago my daughter and I had one of our best trips ever in Kona. The snorkeling there is superb! So many colorful fish. Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guide offers amazing snorkeling and manta ray tours. These are a must-do while in Kona! On the snorkeling tour, crew members prepare a delicious BBQ, which smells so good as you're swimming. Back on board the spacious catamaran, it just feels so relaxing to eat a tasty, freshly grilled burger while drying off in the sun. That was the best snorkeling trip I've been on.
Now, back to work.
Gear up for a bumpy ride on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
I brought my younger daughter, Megan, and two of her close friends, to the grand re-opening of Disney California Adventure featuring the new Cars Land and renovated Buena Vista Street. These additions greatly enhance the park, which I already enjoyed but offers so much more now.
Buena Vista Street represents early Los Angeles, around 1927, when Walt Disney arrived in California. New to Buena Vista Street is a Red Car Trolley, which cruises to the Hollywood Tower of Terror.
But Cars Land is the main attraction. Built on a former parking lot, the newly developed land features shops, eateries and three new rides - Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi's Flying Tires and, the best one in my opinion, Radiator Springs Racers.
The racing attraction is sure to be one of the park's most popular rides.The four-minute long ride begins with a comfortable cruise through scenic desert landscape before becoming a dark ride during which the cars are perpared for racing. Then suddenly, there's another car beside you on a separate track and the ride becomes a roller coaster race!
All the new rides are fun. Luigi's Flying Tires is an innovative new attraction where you steer your vehicle by leaning either to the right or left. Along the way you can catch an oversized ball and bump into other riders like in bumper cars.
With Disney's typical attention to detail, there's much to see and do at the new and improved California Adventure.
I don't usually travel on holiday weekends - although I'm tempted to. Especially when I see people loading up their vehicles or campers with supplies for a long weekend at a lake or the mountains. But I don't like the traffic coming home. So, I spend holiday weekends shopping in preparation of my next trip. This weekend I am shopping and packing for my trip to Oahu May 31 - June 5. I've been there many times and it never loses its appeal. For me, it's a different trip each time. Depending on my travel companion(s), activities and outings vary. This time, we're staying at a resort close to Diamond Head for a few days. The second half of the trip we'll be at Ko Olina on the leeward side. We've got a great itinerary lined up and I'm looking forward to a few days of fun with my daughter, Christina. Photos and story to follow!