It really doesn’t matter where you go if you really like the company of the people who are with you. I’ve learned that through years of solo travel for work to many lovely places that were just not quite as much fun without my family or friends.
Traveling with my daughter was an especially wonderful treat especially as she is now off on adventures of her own. It doesn’t really matter where we go – I wanted to spend some special time together.r
Our best, recent trip was an over-the-top pampering weekend at the exquisite Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California.
We shopped very diligently for the best spa deals in Southern California for our weekend rendezvous and the Langham came up with an excellent package for a suite of spa services over two days. We picked a package that started with our toes went all the way to the top of our head including a pedicure, massage and hair treatment.
I have to admit that we may have been influenced by the shade of pink the entire Langham chain uses as their unique brand color, or the miles of emerald lawns or the beautiful swimming pool at the Pasadena property. I had not tried the Chuan Spa before even though I fancy myself as a bit of a spa snob. In Chinese, Chuan means flowing water and is a key part of the spa’s philosophy towards wellness.
Upon entering the spa, we were immediately welcomed by staff that went out of their way to make sure we had all the services we wanted at the times we wanted. Fitting some sun time at the pool was another key ingredient of the weekend. We were ushered into the changing facilities through the Moon Gate. The spa offered a unique way to think about the pampering experience – as part of a journey to regaining balance and harmony built on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.
For our massages, I dived wholeheartedly into the hot and cold stone massage that delivered on it promise to deliver both an invigorating and healing experience. My daughter chose the more traditional Swedish massage. We spent some time in the Dream Room, aptly named for a quick snooze between treatments or a sip of their five elements teas. Following our rest and a dip in the Jacuzzi tub, we enjoyed side-by-side signature pedicures. I love a full massage but having someone focus on the pressure points of your feet was the most luxurious feeling. Fully relaxed and almost unable to move, we decided to go to the pool for lunch and some sun.
Dining outside in California was something I always look forward to enjoying when I visit. The Terrace restaurant offered a pool-side table. I enjoyed fish tacos while my daughter enjoyed her burger with a brioche bun and aged cheddar. Obviously we weren’t eating a spa menu or healthful and low calorie items.
The next day my daughter tried out the fitness center while I slept in. We returned gladly to the spa for our final treat, scalp and hair treatments. This was something I don’t remember ever having before. Remember how great the foot massage was? A scalp massage may be even better. I mean who gets their head rubbed?
Even though we shopped for a special, this weekend wasn’t something any budget can afford every year, making it an even more special treat. We regretfully concluded our spa weekend, fully refreshed and connected to each other.
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
I’ve visited California’s Yosemite National Park during all seasons, but I had never attempted to take in its splendor in a mere 24 hours. This year, the park celebrates its 125 birthday, so there seemed no time like the present to celebrate this unique national treasure.
With 1200 miles of park terrain to cover, a 24-hour visit had to be highly selective. Yosemite Valley is only a small part of Yosemite National Park, but it is the place to see the iconic Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan. Yosemite is best known for its waterfalls and granite cliffs, but expansive wild meadows and majestic ancient sequoias are equally wonderful.
The park offered a wide variety of housing—everything from rustic platform tents to a standard hotel or four-star elegance. The most upscale pick, of course, is the historic Ahwanee Hotel, located right in the park. While the lodging of choice for presidents and visiting royalty, it was a bit too expensive for our budget. Instead, we decided to stay at the other four-diamond choice, Tenaya Lodge, located right at the south gate to the park.
Tenaya Lodge is a full service resort that would be a great vacation spot even without the splendor of the national park on its doorstep. The Ascent Spa, two swimming pools, well-appointed guest rooms and several restaurants provided a welcome respite after our drive from Los Angeles. After checking in, we were tempted to stretch out and take a quick nap. Instead, we needed to hustle to make our 3 p.m. open-air Valley Floor Tour led by a Yosemite Park Ranger (the last tour of the day). My 85-year-old Dad opted for the nap, but the rest of us pushed on. The drive to the valley floor redefines breathtaking.
On this quick trip, though, the two-hour narrated tour provided just the right overview of the history, geology, plant and animal life of the region, along with all of the scenic highlights. With just a little better planning we could have seen Yosemite in the moonlight.
The tour finished just in time for us to make our dinner reservation in the Ahwanee dining room. We wandered around the Ahwanee’s dramatic lobby with its magnificent log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, and Native American artwork, and were quickly seated in the huge dining room, which featured a 34-foot-high beamed ceiling and a view through the floor to ceiling windows. Luckily, we were aware of the dress code for guests at dinner and were properly decked out in “resort casual.” The classic prime rib complete with Yorkshire pudding didn’t disappoint, and my daughter enjoyed her New York strip.
We made it back to Tenaya for a quick soak in the hot tub before turning in for the night. Breakfast came with our overnight package, so we headed for the buffet at the Lodge’s Sierra Restaurant. The buffet was ample and had all the usual entrees – scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and pastries. The menu also offered a very tasty California Benedict, a Mexican twist on the breakfast classic.
Pondering a choice between a hike and a horseback ride, we drove into the park to the Wawona Hotel, another seasonal landmark hotel on the property and a perfect jumping-off point for exploration. The two-horseback ride over flat, even terrain seemed like it would work for me, even though I hadn’t seen the back of a horse in 40 years. Unfortunately, we lingered too long over our coffee and missed the first ride at 9 a.m. Instead, we decided to explore on foot. The Wawona Meadow Loop was an easy, mostly level, three-mile hike that allowed us to see wildflowers, mule deer, and great gray owls. After our walk, we headed to wide porch of the Wawona Hotel, before heading into the Victorian-era dining room for a quick bite before hitting the road.
A mere 24 hours after our arrival, we had hit all the high notes of this marvelous national destination, and we left so much to see on another trip!
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
Imagine a place where the average daytime temperature is usually in the 70s. The sun almost always shines after a little morning fog lifts from a long stretch of white sand beach. You must be dreaming of summertime in California, which always earns its name of the Golden State.
San Diego’s North Shore is anchored by the smaller city of Oceanside, a classic beach city with that casual vibe that makes California so special. As someone born and raised in southern California, I’m somewhat of a connoisseur of the California beach experience. I love Oceanside for its lack of pretension and a lower cost than some better-known spots.
When vacationing at the beach, I always want to stay right on the ocean, but the sound of the surf can cost a bundle and the price can be prohibitive. We have twice chosen to rent a condo at Northcoast Village, a 550 unit development which is right on the beach and offers affordable prices, particularly if you rent on the non-beachfront side. It’s a nice complex with great swimming pools, barbeque areas and even a koi pond. There can be small drawbacks. For example, the last unit we rented had so many plastic flower arrangements and fake plants that we had to gather them all into one of the bedroom closets in order to accommodate our luggage. But that’s really the worst problem we’ve had to face.
A very short walk from the condo is the very kitschy Oceanside Harbor, a faux Cape Cod-style collection of restaurants and specialty stores. Sitting outside at the Nautical Bean and watching the boats go in and out of the marina with a steaming latte is a great way to start the day. Our favorite place for breakfast, The Beach Break Café, recently closed, but its sister restaurant of the same name is still open a few miles away. This is also the place to rent all kinds of water sports gear including paddleboards, kayaks, and sailboats. For lunch, my husband likes to duck into the Harbor Fish and Chips for a plate of nicely battered cod and crunchy French fries.
The main attraction of a beach vacation is, of course, the beach. Oceanside has a lovely wide beach with lots of sand to park you chair and towel. The surf can be rough, but the surfers really love that. I tried surfing once, but it wasn’t something I think I’ll repeat.
A short walk up the beach and you arrive at the Oceanside Pier and the heart of the city. The pier was first built in 1888 and was refurbished for the sixth time almost 100 years later. It’s one of the longest wooden piers in the west. I’ve never fished off the pier, but lots of folks seem to love spending hours and hours waiting for a bite. No need for a license, just grab your rod and reel (if you have one!).
As the day grew longer, we walked to the end of the pier for an adult beverage at Ruby’s, a ’50s-style diner.
If you want a lovely more formal dining experience, just one town over in Cardiff by the Sea are several beachfront restaurants. A new favorite is the Pacific Coast Grill. I loved my fish tacos, while my husband enjoyed the lobster version. The Chart House is right next door, an old stand-by. It’s part of chain of wonderful restaurants, and this one is as lovely as many of the others I’ve visited. Floor to celling windows make you feel like you are right on the beach—but without the sand.
If you want a break from the beach, San Diego County also offers a world-class zoo and even Legoland for the younger set. Enjoy your own California dream on a sunny beach this summer.
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
One of my favorite cities in the world is San Francisco. In any season, it is a great place to visit but during a Michigan winter it offers a wonderful respite from our frigid temperatures. Always temperate, San Francisco is a city of unique neighborhoods. Winters are marked by sun while summers can be very foggy.
On this particular trip, shopping and eating topped our list of activities. We decided to stay near Union Square, a shopping and dining mecca. We did smile when we walked into the square only to find a winter wonderland of ice skaters, all going around a manmade rink in the middle of the square. More ice we didn’t need.
Every store we could possibly want, however, was in the vicinity. Within a three-acre square, boutique and luxury retail shops, flagship hotels, art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and theatres, all beckoned. Union Square got its name because it was once used for rallies and support for the Union Army during the Civil War when it was a city park.
We decided to stay slightly off the square at the Prescott Hotel, a historic venue and part of the Kimpton chain. Over 100 years old, the hotel was showing its age and is slated for a significant renovation later this year. The staff, however, made up in charm what the hotel lacked in freshness. With a cozy, early evening, free wine tasting and a tasty continental breakfast on the club level, the Prescott had many nice elements. Our room was a strangely shaped affair but had two excellent beds, which was perfect for the three of us.
Right up Post Street was a small but fun crepery and café called Honey Honey. The menu was written on a wall-sized chalkboard and offered a variety of sweet and savory crepes, among other things. My husband enjoyed a mimosa with his Miami Heat crepe, filled with chicken, avocado and a spicy sauce. I settled for a very nice omelet.
Dinner was a much fancier affair at One Market, an upscale restaurant, located on the Embarcadero near the waterfront. Only a short walk away, this white tablecloth restaurant offered impeccable service and an innovative menu. My dining partners both settled on a perfectly done steak with absolutely marvelous mashed potatoes while I ventured into the unknown with an arugula risotto.
At the other end of the dining spectrum was Gott’s Roadside, a small chain of burger joints, done in quintessential California style. All the ingredients were local and the burgers were delicious, especially when paired with a milkshake. The lines were long as this Gott’s was in the Ferry Building, another charming upscale shopping area.
For another kind of dining adventure, try one of two Yank Sing’s in the city. This Chinese restaurant in the Rincon Center, offers Deem Sum, a very special kind of cuisine. As wait staff pushed their carts by our table, we were offered all manner of tasty items, some of which we could even name. The barbequed pork buns and steamed and fried dumplings were wonderful. The seas bass was a surprise treat, too. With a very large Chinese American population, choosing Chinese cuisine is rarely a bad choice in San Francisco.
Filled to the top with wonderful and diverse foods, and credit cards maxed out, we ventured out to Alactraz Island for a brisk afternoon of touring. Once the most secure super max prison in the country, it’s now a very well developed tourist attraction and well worth an afternoon or morning.
With so much to do, our brief three-day visit only scratched the surface of the wonderful city by the Bay.
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
Napa Valley has been in the news this week, as an earthquake shook up local residents and visitors alike in the wee hours last Sunday morning. My husband, traveling alone this time, happened to be about seven miles from the epicenter at a lovely bed and breakfast. He was pleased to report that everyone was still open for business and ready to welcome guests. Only about a dozen wineries reported significant structural damage according to Napa Valley tourism officials (some bottles and wine were lost, however).
On our last family trip, we decided to explore another part of Wine Country, the Russian River, near Sonoma. As we turned off the main road into the Russian River area, we found the geography to be very different than in other parts of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The redwoods and other dense tree cover loomed up on both sides of the two-lane road.
Our destination this time: a charming yellow Victorian house right on Austin Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, where we spent a few days enjoying the vineyards and other attractions. I often check out VRBO.com for houses or apartments to rent before I check hotels, because we love to set up house when we travel. Our house was named the Big Easy, and it was decorated in a jazzy, New Orleans style with all the comforts of home and an eight-person hot tub that reminded us we were indeed in California. The rental prices were cheaper in this part of the Valley, and we were within reach of several of my favorite wine areas, most notably the Dry Creek appellation, where they produce my very favorite—rich, plummy zinfandels. My goal was to spend at least one completely “zinful” day, tasting the best of the best.
The nearest food essentials were up the road about six miles at the Cazdero General Store. We got milk, bread and a couple bottles of local wine. A wonderful local restaurant in nearby Guernville, the Applewood Inn and Spa, allowed us to bring our Russian River wine to enjoy at dinner with no corkage charge. The charming pink building looks like a wonderfully romantic place to stay. On Sunday nights they offer a Russian River prix fixe three-course menu for $35, a huge bargain for a marvelous meal.
For coffee, we drove down to the tiny town of Duncan’s Mills, which got is start in 1877 as a sawmill supplying the growing city of San Francisco. The Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery served the coffee drink of your dreams using coffee beans roasted on site. I had to sample a bear claw baked in their authentic wood fired oven. The chocolate croissants reminded us of Paris. We picked up lunch across the street at the Cape Fear Café, where they graciously packed our food to go, so we could eat while enjoying the sand and the surf on the beach. The blue Pacific Ocean was just 10 miles from our rental house.
The main event was a day of wine tasting. The Russian River meanders through California’s Sonoma County creating a special microclimate that grows some of the best California Zinfandel grapes. In the Russian River Valley, new Zinfandel plantings have joined old vines planted in the late 1800s. The long, cool growing season produces some superb wines. The region is also known for its Pinot Noirs, which is my husband’s favorite flavor.
As previously advertised, I’m a Zin gal, however, and nearby Dry Creek didn’t disappoint. With well over a century of continuous cultivation, Zinfandel is Dry Creek Valley’s cultural heritage and its signature winegrape. Ridge Lytton Springs, Unti, A. Rafanelli, Seghesio, and my new personal favorite, Passalacqua Winery, all beckoned…so much wine, so little time!
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
My father, at 84, has traveled the world, seen and done almost everything. Wanting to a plan a day trip during a recent trip to see him, we discussed what was still on his bucket list. He had never tried a mud bath.
I did some research and settled on Calistoga, Calif., a Victorian-era town famous for its mineral water and mud in Napa Valley. This small village had been serving up spa treatments since 1862. As a bonus, it was also close to some extraordinary wineries and restaurants for our post-bath afternoon.
The Baths at Roman Spa had enough appointments for seven of us on a bright spring morning. They also offered two-person rooms, each with two tubs, which they advertised for “romantic couple’s baths.”
Given my dad’s age, he needed help getting in and out of the tub and shared a room with my long-suffering and always helpful husband. You can imagine the father-in-law bonding that occurred during the 60-minute treatment.
The session began with immersion in a bath of mud—a combination of Calistoga volcanic ash, peat and natural geothermal mineral water from local springs. A hot mineral bath followed, with a much needed cool-down in the relaxation room to finish the experience.
The mud was very hot and smelled like sulfur, so it was a bit of an acquired taste.
Once I sank down in the tub, however, it seems as if I was floating. Afterward, I felt rejuvenated.
Done with our treatments, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants for lunch, Mustard’s Grill in St Helena. Mustard’s chef/owner, Cindy Pawlcyn, wasn’t at the restaurant, but her staff carried on with their usual panache.
The Grill was named for the wild mustard flowers we saw around the vineyards. For 30 years, they’ve been serving classic American food with an extraordinary wine list. It’s a small place with lots of windows.
We split two entrees, the Niman Ranch Baby Back Ribs and the Seafood Tostada. A couple of our party enjoyed exceptional cheeseburgers and fries. Of course, the burgers were piled high with avocado and bacon. An order of onion rings with house-made tomato-apple ketchup made the lunch perfect.
Barely able to waddle out of the place, the rest of our party decided to do a little shopping in St. Helena, while some of us visited one of our favorite wineries, Corison.
With so many California wineries being absorbed by conglomerates, we wanted to visit a truly family-owned winery that still produces exceptional wines. Corison fit the bill admirably.
Cathy Corison has forged a life of wine that has spanned more than three decades, and she has transcended formidable challenges to become one of the premier female vintners in California. With a master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis in the mid-1970s, and after many years of wine-making for others, she honed her skills and sought to express her own wine-making voice.
In 1987 she made the first vintage of Corison Cabernet. Her vineyard, located between Rutherford and St. Helena, is in a region that is among the best places in the world for making Cabernet. Corison Winery regularly produces some of the most concentrated and superbly ripened fruit anywhere. The harvest of 2011 marks Cathy’s 25th vintage of Corison Cabernet!
Though it’s Cathy’s name on the label, Corison is a true family winery. Cathy’s husband, William Martin, designed the barn, keeps all the equipment humming and manages the day-to-day details of running the business.
On the day we were at the vineyard, he was operating the forklift, even as the mobile labeling truck was tending to the latest vintage of Cathy’s wines.
My dad was tired but he rallied for a glass of cabernet.
Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer
Growing up in South Pasadena, Calif., meant that we claimed the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade as our own. I remember piling into the family station wagon before dawn and heading to the parade route, wrapping up in comforters because it might get down to 50 degrees.
We would sit in lawn chairs, waiting with high anticipation for the parade, while sipping hot chocolate. When I was old enough, we were allowed to bring sleeping bags and sleep out on the parade route. You can grab a curbside spot on New Year’s Eve at noon.
As a teenager, I remember staying up all night walking up and down Orange Grove Boulevard, warming my hands at the small fires along the way. We would wait for the floats to move into position so we could get an advance peek. It was a giant street party. I was so tired one New Year’s morning that I slept through the entire parade.
The parade started in the winter of 1890 to promote Pasadena as the “Mediterranean of the West.” Visitors from the frozen parts of the country were invited to enjoy a mid-winter holiday, where they could watch games such as chariot races, jousting, foot races, polo and tug-of-war in the sunny California climate. Given that so much blooms all year long in the Golden State, a parade was added to the other events, featuring carriages decorated with fresh flowers.
My hometown has been building its own float with volunteers since 1910. We would show up every year, gluing flowers, seeds and greenery on the metal structure. Try attaching poppy seeds by the bushel! Most floats are now built by professional float-building companies and take nearly a year to construct.
This New Year’s Day, the 125th Rose Parade will travel for 5 ½ miles down Green Street and Orange Grove Avenue, filled with spectacular floats, marching bands and equestrian units. If you sleep through the parade, you can view all of the floats parked along Sierra Madre and Washington boulevards for a $10 ticket. It is something special to see the floats up close.
While you can decide to attend the Rose Parade on a whim, getting a Rose Bowl ticket is always tough, as many fans from Michigan State just found out. Go Spartans!
The first Tournament of Roses football game in 1902 also featured a Michigan team against Stanford. For the record, the University of Michigan routed Stanford that year, 49-0. The score was so lopsided the game was replaced with Roman-style chariot races (inspired by the literary classic “Ben-Hur”) until 1916, when football returned permanently.
Hotel rooms are as tough to find as football tickets during the first week in January. My two favorites places to stay don’t have any vacancies this particular week, but are worth a stop on a later trip. If you like small intimate bed and breakfasts, I love The Bissell House, right on Orange Grove. The three-story yellow shingle Victorian was built in 1887 and offers seven charming rooms and a swimming pool. For grand hotels, try the Langhum Huntington, a five-star, 380-room hotel sitting on 23 manicured acres. The Langhum has a nice outdoor bar and a top-notch restaurant, The Royce Wood-fired Grill.
Pasadena offers many excellent restaurants, which will be very crowded during the Rose Parade and Bowl festivities. If you can get into the Grande Orange Café, you will love the funky décor of the Del Mar train station. The swordfish tacos on made-to-order tortillas were great. Lucy’s “spiked” lemonade with a sprig of fresh rosemary went well with the tacos.
If you travel just a few more miles to my old stomping grounds in South Pasadena, you can choose from dozens of restaurants with fewer crowds.
Here’s a quick list:
• Gus’ Barbeque has been a landmark for 60 years and serves classic comfort food, including top-rated barbeque.
• Firefly Bistro offers innovative California cuisine. I especially like the brunch.
• The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain is the stop for a hand-dipped milkshake.
• Since 1971, Shakers Family Restaurant has been the place to gather for a breakfast at any time of the day or night. It’s open until 11 p.m. and will be open New Year’s Day.
• Buster’s is a wonderful local coffee shop. Bring a newspaper or a book and just hang out.
The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl are once-in-a-lifetime events, but Pasadena and its environs are worth a visit anytime. Who knows, you may meet someone who remembers me!
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer November 10, 2013
Growing up, a trip to Disneyland was the most special of all treats, akin to winning the kiddie lottery. Years later, the impact remains the same. As the grey, faux Matterhorn rose on the right side of the car, my excitement boiled over to an audible squeak of joy.
To beat the lines at the park, we bought our tickets from the desk in our off-property hotel lobby. It costs a steep $137 per person a day to visit both the Magic Kingdom and California Adventure. We were waiting impatiently when they opened the gates, so we could have the maximum amount of fun from 9 a.m. to midnight.
The original California location started in 1955 with only one park, The Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney himself laid out almost every detail of the five “lands”: Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. With the addition of Mickey’s Toon Town, New Orleans Square and Critter County, eight sections competed for our attention.
Arriving on Main Street and looking up at Sleeping Beauty’s castle, I felt the same tingle as my 6-year-old self. As a Disney traditionalist, I’m not sure that I like the new color scheme and crowns that now decorate the five turrets. I do, however, really appreciate that all of the rides have been souped-up with the latest technology. Perennial favorites such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise compete with the Indiana Jones Adventure and Space Mountain.
The Haunted Mansion was in its annual holiday makeover with characters of the original Haunted Mansion mingling with those of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” After a rather over-priced lunch ($29 entrees) at the Blue Bayou restaurant inside the Pirates ride, we walked across to the California Adventure, themed after the history and culture of the state of California.
The last time I visited this park, I was less than overwhelmed at the experience. Now, after a 7-year, $1.1 billion renovation, it was worth a trip all by itself. It also features eight lands, including Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Condor Flats, Grizzly Peak, Paradise Pier, Pacific Wharf, “a bug’s land” and Hollywood Land.
California Soaring was still my favorite ride, but the new Radiator Racers was a close second. The Aladdin show was a great place to rest our weary feet. The adults in our group were immediately attracted to Golden Vine Winery, where wine tasting was available. Dinner at the Wine Country Trattoria featured a tasty Italian menu.
Fortified by pasta and with hours before the resort closed at midnight, we moved quickly between rides. The Mad T Party was unlike any Disney experience I have ever had, where psychedelic lights, loud music, dancing and brightly colored cocktails were the attractions.
The next day, we spent the time before our flight in Downtown Disney, a shopping area outside the parks filled with chic boutiques and fun restaurants. An hour at the Mandara Spa, inside the Disney Grand Californian Hotel, rejuvenated our aching bodies, and we spent our last hour in a Disney-induced daze, sitting in the sun with a pitcher of mojitos.
I may not be a kid anymore, but after all of these years, the mouse still thrills!