San Diego is said to be the most desirable vacation location in all of California, and it’s easy to see why. The perfect weather, sandy beaches, rollicking fun for the kids and headliner entertainment is the perfect mix for vacation success. For your fun-filled vacation any time of the year, temperatures are mild, rainfall is minimal and the dress code is clean, casual and comfortable.
Transportation by auto, airlines or Amtrak train will make connections to the local transit systems: The Breeze, an extensive bus system, The Coaster, a commuter train that connects to San Diego Airport and along the coast to Carlsbad or the Metrolink, high speed light rail commuter from Oceanside to Los Angeles.
While in the San Diego area, you might consider a visit to the neighboring village of Carlsbad. It’s a few minutes drive on Highway 5, and offers great shopping, restaurants, and entertainment. Here are 15 things to see and do while you are in San Diego and Carlsbad:
To get started, check in at www.sandiego.org for coupons, a list of special events and visitor information.
1. Then you might want to check out the best ever sightseeing transportation on Old Town Trolley Tours, (www.trolleytours.com), which will provide an impressive overview of the variety of places to go and sights to see. Hop on and off all day and get a narrated tour through San Diego and across to Coronado. There’s no better way to see the big picture.
2. Ocean-view lodging accommodations offer the perfect setting for walks or picnics on the beach or a sail-away with Guided Nature Cruise to Coronado Islands by San Diego Harbor Excursion (www,flagshipsd.com). Rates: Adults $50 and $40 for kids 4 to 12.
3. Combine sightseeing with a Hornblower cruise (www.hornblower.com) brunch or dinner event, which often include live music or fireworks.
4. In the San Diego Harbor Embarcadero, many points of interest can be viewed in a 15 minute walk: Maritime Museum of historic ship collections, Aircraft Carrier USS Midway, Seaport Village, and Coronado Ferry Landing, waterfront park and a fishing pier.
5. The US Naval Air Station is housed on Coronado North Island. More details at www.thebigbay.com.
6. If exploring is your passion, or you delight in historical haunts, there are 43 venues to satisfy your curiosity listed on www.sandiegomuseumcouncil.org From oceanic hidden treasures to the reaches of outer space, art, science and gardening exhibits are provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, committed to increasing awareness of the region’s cultural diversity. Admission rates vary, but many are free. For example: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is free as well as Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at Miramar.
7. Balboa Park, just minutes from downtown, is home to the San Diego Zoo, lush gardens, performing arts, cultural exhibitions and the vintage Automotive Museum. Every Sunday at 2 p.m., a free concert at Spreckles Organ Pavilion showcases one of the world’s largest outdoor musical instruments, a 50-ton organ with 4,518 pipes. Parking is provided in the spacious Inspiration Point lot with a free tram service to the heart of the park, the visitors center and other stops throughout the park. Audio devices are available for walking tours and there are ten food venues in the park.
8. A trip over to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on the eastern outskirts of San Diego is where you will see the most exotic Asian and African animals. You can ride the African Tram Carousel, Caravan Safari, a Rolling (Segway) Safari or Flightline (Soaring) Safari. Reach out and feed the animals, and be sure to look for discounts on day passes at kiosks displaying attraction brochures or on line at www.sandiegozoo.org.
9. In Old Town San Diego, within the plaza of unique shops, open air vendors and eateries, is Casa de Reyes, where incredible giant margaritas and homemade tortillas are served by staff dressed in authentic Mexican attire and accompanied by strolling Mariachis. You can choose from outdoor patio dining amid bubbling fountains and flourishing native plants, or cozy indoor seating for lunch or dinner.
10. The Gaslamp Quarter, a 16-block area in the downtown sector, was founded by Alonzo Horton in 1867, for whom the plaza is named. Comprised mostly of shops and restaurants, an account of its colorful legends comes to life with a docent narration during a $10 walking tour guided by the Gaslamp Historical Foundation. Informative and spiced with ribald candor of the past in the days of Wyatt Earp and the sequestered brothel in the ornate Louis Bank of Commerce. Go to: www.gaslampquarter.org/tours.
11. An adventure to Coronado Island (actually a peninsula and tethered to San Diego via a 2.2 mile free bridge) is a “Walker’s Paradise.” Flat and a little more than a mile across, you can view the island’s most charming features up close. A reasonable alternative is rental of bikes, an electric cart, beach cruiser or 4-passenger surrey to traverse the Naval Air Station island, replete with character from the early days of founding the heritage architectural marvel, the Del Coronado Hotel.
12. A visit toThe Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, the non-profit, world- renowned repository of gem information, display of precious gems, leading education and research center, offers guided tours and a look into student classrooms. This world class multilevel showcase of “A girl’s best friend” in every color of the rainbow is a one of a kind fascination. See more at www.gia.edu.
13. The Museum of Making Music, in picturesque coastal Carlsbad, is a fun, educational and interactive musical venture for the entire family. Not only are there detailed exhibits of 450 different vintage musical instruments, and their uses, along with samples of the most memorable tunes shaping our collective musical experience. In a room dedicated to hands-on use, you will find many favorite instruments to try out. Admission: $3 to $5 Details at: www.museumofmakingmusic.org.
14. Next door in Carlsbad, Legoland Waterpark and Sealife Aquarium offers more than 60 rides, shows and attractions for the entire family, including the intriguing specialties such as the lost tombs in Land of Adventure, Pirate Shores and Castle Hill. Information at: www.LegoLand.com
15. Nostalgia of the Old West can be relived on a visit to the Leo Carillo Ranch Historic Park in Carlsbad. Once part of a 2,500-acre working Rancho and home of the 1950’s TV actor of Cisco Kid fame, Carillo played the starring role of sidekick, Poncho, with his horse, Conquistador. Now a 27- acre park with meticulously preserved and restored Hacienda, Cantina, pool, barn, stable, gardens and more, visitors have an opportunity to reminisce into the historic western past on a free, self-guided tour or a 90-minute guided tour on weekends. Visit: www.leocarilloranch.org.
Karen Balch is a retired nurse, avid traveler and freelance writer. She lives in San Ramon and writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 17 April 2012 03:26)
Due to popular demand, we are revisiting this story in time for a visit to the desert during the season. This year, due to excessive rain, the desert flowers are at their peak in March and April. Enjoy!
Whether you are into shopping, the outdoors, entertainment or just lounging by the pool, Palm Springs is your weekend destination. A little more than an hour by plane (Alaska Airlines has three daily non-stops from SFO) or about seven hours by car, this desert community has something for everyone.
More than 100 years ago, Palm Springs was a sleepy village situated in what were once hallowed Indian canyons. By the turn of the 20th Century, it was thought to be a place with restorative powers, due to the natural hot springs. By the 1920’s, it was discovered by movie makers and the Hollywood elite. Considered just far enough from Los Angeles to be out of the reach of tyrannical studio heads, movie stars flocked to the area to let down their hair and party like early rock stars.
As the era of Old Hollywood faded, the “Rat Pack,” headed by Frank Sinatra made it their own, building luxurious homes and backing the building of high end resorts and golf courses. But by the 80s, Palm Springs had become a faded beauty, known for tacky tee-shirt shops and retirees.
Enter Sonny Bono. The entertainer, restaurant entrepreneur and social activist ran for mayor and to everyone’s surprise, won the seat. Bono worked hard to bring the charisma back to the area, starting the Palm Springs International Film Festival, helping to restore the city core and bringing media attention back to the desert community. Sadly, he was killed in a tragic ski accident in 1998 .
But his work and dreams live on. Today, Palm Springs is a happening place, full of fascinating things to do, places to visit and of course that unbeatable weather.
Here’s how you can experience your own Palm Springs Weekend:
3:00 p.m.: Take the mid-afternoon flight from SFO to PSP. Check into the Ace Hotel, the newest and hippest hotel in the city. You may see in its stark white walls and orange doors a faint resemblance to a 60’s Motel 6, which it once was. The room rate varies by season, so check the website to make reservations.
6:00 p.m.: Head to Tropicale in downtown PS for cocktails and dinner. The outside patio is a great place to meet new friends while you enjoy the warm evening air. The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. Serving a Hawaiian Fusion menu, entrees run from about $15 to $25.
10:00 p.m.: Don’t miss a show of the Palm Springs Follies. You may have to order tickets ahead of time as this is the most popular show in the city. 60 and 70 year old showgirls sing and dance their way through the music of the 1930s to 1950s. Las Vegas has nothing on this extravaganza.
9:00 a.m.: After breakfast at the Kings Highway at the Ace, rent scooters right out front and motor around the fascinating mid-century neighborhoods nearby. Stop at the top of Palm Canyon Drive, and look south for a dead on view of Bob Hopes house, designed by famed architect John Lautner.
Noon: Park your scooter in front of LOOK, for lunch. The lime green and black and white décor makes for a perfect place to experience the ultimate PS vibe. The food and service are the best with a covered patio to keep you out of the sun. My favorite, a wrap called Nuts and Clucks runs just under $10.
2:00 p.m.: Continue your scooter tour through the downtown neighborhoods of Las Palmas, The Movie Colony and Old Tuscany. Get a map of the celebrity homes just about anywhere downtown so you don’t miss the pad where Elvis spent his honeymoon with Priscilla or the Peter Lawford house, where it’s said Marilyn Monroe secretly met with Bobby Kennedy.
6:00 p.m.: Cool your tired body with a margarita and dinner at El Mirasol. This come as you are Mexican restaurant attracts all types, from blue haired grandmas to families to in- the-know gay men. Get there early, as it gets crowded. Once you have your table, don’t hurry the meal. The people-watching is as good as the food. Their signature margarita is about $8, but the food itself is very inexpensive.
9:00 p.m.: Stroll along the retro shops of north Palm Canyon. Window shop, take in an art gallery opening or grab a gelato.
10:00 a.m.: Right across from the Ace is Koffi, where you can sit by the fountain and enjoy the view of Mt. Jacinto. Also be sure to check out Koffi downtown, where Sunday morning is an event with the grassy yard filled with morning people and their dogs. Right next door is Just Fabulous, where you can buy gifts, cards and books on the history and homes of Palm Springs.
1:00 p.m.: Palm Springs is famous for its consignment stores. Two of the best are The Estate Sale and J & J Consignments. Peruse everything from furniture to art to jewelry here. If you see something you like, buy it. By tomorrow, it may be gone.
4:00 p.m.: As your afternoon draws to a close, take time to lounge by the pool. The Ace pool area is usually rocking with a lively crowd on late Sunday afternoons.
7:00 p.m.: Palm Springs is loaded with entertainment options. From the McCallum Theatre to the Annenberg Theater to the many casinos in the area, there is always a great artist in town. Recent concerts ran the gamut from Reba McIntyre to Earth, Wind and Fire to Adam Lambert.
Sadly, you’ll have to catch that Monday flight home. But this is one weekend you won’t forget while you make notes of all the things still to do on your next visit.--SEW
140 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
760 323 0721
The Estate Sale
Palm Springs Follies
Last Updated (Sunday, 06 March 2011 01:32)
Our whole household was awake unusually early on this sunny and cold Saturday morning. Weekends are usually reserved for sleeping in and errands, but today was planned. Our 11-year-old daughter was checking her brand new snow boots and jacket. Our 8- year-old son had his goggles on, moving from side to side, pretending to be on a snowboard. We were all going to ski and snowboard for the first time. I could see it now, both kids talking about who went to the higher slope.
We arrived at Dodge Ridge in Pinecrest a little after 10 a.m.. The parking lot was already full and the resort was buzzing, boarders and skiers of all levels lined up for tickets. We decided to take lessons: the girls in skiing and the boys in snowboarding. After dropping off the kids for an all day lesson (lunch included), my husband and I headed to the adult section for our shoes, skis and boards.
I took the shoes and found a seat. I grasped the right shoe and put it on. My foot went in smoothly. Then came the part where I had to tighten the clasps and lock them. I will be forever grateful to the ski resort associate who helped me put them on. Little did I know that once you put the ski boots on, your ankles sort of magically disappear. So I walked with my knees to get my skis. More of a march, really.
To my amazement, my husband was already outside, board, helmet and goggles at the ready, observing. I could see the excitement in his eyes watching the expert boarders, moving gracefully and confidently. I, on the other hand, started to feel dread as I walked towards the bunny slope. I was feeling like a fish out of water. My movements were not coordinated, there were too many things going on and my lesson had not even started yet. I stood right next to the instructor to make sure I captured everything he said.
The first lesson was how to put the skis on and take them off. OK, I can do this, I thought, starting to gain composure. Then we were taught how to stand properly, how to brake, and turn. There were ten students and all of us clumsily plowed through the snow, desperately turning with one foot while making sure we did not fall over. Fifteen minutes later, most students got the rhythm, but I still struggled. And this was just the bunny slope.
A demonstration of how to get up the slope was given and we all successfully reached the top. Then the instructor asked us to go down in turns. At this point I was quite sure I had not mastered braking yet and I uttered a grunt of apprehension. There were four others ahead of me and they were waiting at the bottom. I did not want to look like a loser in front of the other students, so I sighed and started to head down the slope. As my speed picked up I only grew more apprehensive and panicked. How was I to brake, again?
Before I could think of the answer my fall was broken as I broad sided one of the women in the group. I tried to use the poles to brake but it was too late. I was the center of attention for the next three minutes. What was I doing? It was cold, but I was sweating. My cheeks were red, not from the wind but from embarrassment. How could I have failed so miserably? First, my ankles were non-functioning and because of the skis, it felt like my foot was elongated three times in front and in back. I tried to remember all the instructions but trying to recall all of them at once just made me frantic. Where was my husband, I wondered and how is he doing compared to me?
No sooner than I had these thoughts when I saw him approach me. He was on his board and had seen my collision. While I was struggling to learn to ski, he was doing magnificently with his board. He took to it like a fish in the water. I reassured him I’d be OK and that he should go back to the slopes.
We returned our boots, skis and board and headed to the children’s area to see how our kids were doing. Our daughter was second in line to go down the highest level allowed for her age. When it was her turn, she adjusted her goggles a little bit and whizzed by. On the other side, our son was dragging his board with one foot, his cheeks were flushed but he was beaming at us. Clearly, their day had gone very well. We all piled into the car to head home. Everyone talked about what they plan to do next time. When it was my turn, I sheepishly replied “Maybe I should snowboard since I surf…How hard can it be?” For more information on Dodge Ridge, go to http://www.dodgeridge.com/site/contact.php--CB
Celia Baula is a life science management consultant who loves to travel. She believes in living life to the fullest everyday, responsibly.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 02 February 2011 00:33)
The rolling hills in the Livermore Valley glimmered under the sun on a warm Saturday morning, the hills unfolded before us as my husband and I turned right onto Tesla Road. Green and purple grapes hung from the vines, waiting to be picked. The air was filled with the smell of grapes fermenting, the smell of vinegar and sugar mixed together.
Tesla, a two-lane road in the Livermore Valley lined with wineries, was abuzz with visitors. Cars were either going into a winery or going to the next one. I could barely conceal my delight as we approached one of my favorite wineries, Concannon.
The Livermore Wine Country is young but holds a lot of potential, some wines are already comparable with, if not better than, the wines of Napa. It is less crowded, a visitor gets better service, and the wine prices are more attractive to people like me who believe that price alone does not mean that the wine is superior.
The Livermore terroir is different than in the Napa Valley, meaning the factors that ultimately define the wine, such as soil, weather, wind, orientation of the grapes with respect to the sun are unique.It is hotter, making it a good region to grow, in my opinion, varietals such as Grenache, Malbec and some Cabernet. Having said that, I have tasted good Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah and Merlot as well.
Wine tasting is always a treat but I also forward to barrel tastings. Usually done in March, tickets can be purchased for $25 if you buy early and $30 on the day of. Hop on a chartered bus and be swept away by the view. Some wineries offer information sessions such as the types of barrels used, the varietals grown in the vineyards, and food and wine pairings. Others offer complimentary appetizers, discounted wines and merchandise, and live music.
I once purchased an outstanding case of Syrah for $60 (or $5 per bottle) and asked the winery to directly ship a case of wine to my friends in the mid-West. Several days later, wonderful thank you notes arrived with a request that I continue to send wines their way, which they are happy to pay for.
In the fall, when most grapes are ready (also called veraison) for picking, the Harvest Festival is in full swing. Around this time of the year, the grapes that will be transformed into wines have already been picked unless they are the ones that mature late into the season. For oenophiles, the small window of opportunity to participate in the wine making process is open. Some wineries will allow visitors to help remove the stems from the grapes and crush them. Crushing the grapes with the feet is still the best way to make wine although the wineries, for pragmatic and probably hygiene reasons, use stemmer-crusher equipments. Still, I think the experience of treading on freshly picked grapes and the exhilaration one gets from being part of a wine making tradition is well worth the grape juice stains.
My husband turned left onto the driveway of our favorite winery and found a parking spot. Our picnic basket was in the backseat, replete with two wine glasses, cheese, crackers, olives, and dark chocolate. I take one more look at the hills, breathed in deeply and smiled at my husband.
Some of the best memories in life are created in the wine country: weddings, picnics, birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries, to name a few. And sometimes, the best memories come from the unplanned and spontaneous moments, a visit to a new winery on a whim, the spontaneous drive along the wineries, the chance encounter with strangers who turn into lifelong friends, the last minute picnic.--- CB
Celia Baula is a life science management consultant who loves to travel. She believes in living life to the fullest everyday, responsibly. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com. Reach her at
Last Updated (Monday, 29 November 2010 22:05)
You might not expect to see women in bonnets and hoop skirts or horse-drawn carriages moving through the single main road into town, but you will step back in time when you walk down the classic "Main Street USA" of Sutter Creek, the historic city on Highway 49, known as "Jewel of the Mother Lode."
Named after John Sutter of gold-discovery fame in 1848, by the fall of 1849, gold fever had spread worldwide, setting off the gold rush. Now California is proudly proclaimed "The Golden State" for more than a single reason. Known for year-round sunshine and a rich and colorful history of gold-mining, the beginning came with the serendipitous finding of a few nuggets in the American River where a saw-mill was being built for John Sutter near Colma. Over the years, an estimated $2 billion in gold was mined.
Nestled in Amador County, amid the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, between Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe, the quaint hamlet of Sutter Creek and the delightful surrounding rural towns take pride in having maintained their original authentic presence.
Below the snow line and above the fog line at 1,200 feet elevation, many attractions draw the interest of year-round visitors. From the awesome oak-studded hillsides and back road trails for hiking and bicycle rides, to the city’s rich history, a tapestry of early American culture has been woven and preserved for residents and guests alike.
Here are ten things to do and see in Sutter Creek:
1. Take a walking tour: Becoming acquainted with the veritable "treasure trove" of places to go and things to see, is easy on the free, self-guided walking tour. This includes visits to 62 historic buildings and sites, including the Knight Foundry on the Register of Historic Places. Built in 1873, it is the last remaining water-powered foundry machine shop in the U.S. crafting specialty mining tools and machinery. Pick up a map at the Sutter Creek Visitor’s Center.
2. Snoop through the Sutter Creek Gold Mine: Daily one-hour tours depart for a trip underground on the Boss Buggy shuttle, with hard hats provided. Troughs are embellished with gold sprinkles for treasure seekers to try their luck at panning. A video provides the history of mining and geology of the area and a find in the gift shop may add a keepsake to your souvenir collection. The cost is $17.50 for adults and $11.50 for children.
3. Check out the Caverns: If you’re into even more adventure, you may want to check out the California Cavern State Historic Park or Black Chasm Cavern, where hourly guided tours take you into complete darkness, still coolness, a chance to try spelunking (the adventure of studying and researching caves and caverns, sleuthing for stalagmites and stalactites) and finally views of quartz rock walls threaded with brilliant veins of real gold.
4. Go Antique Shopping: I'm always looking for that stray piece of Adam pattern pink depression glass dinnerware, and did find the sugar bowl, to my delight. Some of my favorite places to ship are: Old West Antiques, Cozy Collectibles and Columbian Lady. Replete with fabulous finds, from the smallest of treasures, coins, hatpins or ink bottles, to fine vintage furniture, the possibilities are prolific.
5. Sleep tight at the Sutter Creek Inn: The first bed and breakfast in the West, the Sutter Creek Inn was built in 1859 before the Civil War. It’s a 17 -room, New England style paradigm of relaxed hospitality. Owned since 1966 by the Way family, matriarch, Jane resides on the property as well as her daughter, Lindsay, the property manager. My personal experience over the years has been genuinely "enchanted." The lush gardens, arbors, hidden alcoves, hammocks and myriad resting retreats outdoors are matched with an interior ambiance of complete relaxation and consideration for creature comforts.
Every room has a sitting area, outdoor patio or hideaway. Fireplaces, filled bookcases and swinging beds are some of the many options. Wake up hungry and ready for a breakfast of mouth-watering, hearty creations at 9 a.m. The menu is varied each day, including a bounty of fresh fruit platters, omelets, meats and home-baked breads and muffins. Requests in advance are always considered, such as chili eggs, artichoke casserole or berry bread. Robert Burdette, a returning guest over 40 years, reports "It’s like coming home, when I walk in the back porch.
6. Stop for ice cream: The Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium features fresh fudge and live ragtime piano in the ambiance of retro, small-town charm. Complete with a squeaky front screen door, counter stools, small table sets and memorabilia of a simpler by-gone era, the single-scoop waffle cone will surpass your greatest expectation.
7. Visit Amador City: A short drive away is Amador City, population 1200, where you will find an old-fashioned soda-fountain shop within view of an outdoor, miniature railroad display. On the corner of the diminutive street is an eclectic garden/decorative-finds shop, Bellflower. My finds have included a stained glass hanging, antique drawer knobs, a wooden bench and an iron plant stand.
8. Peruse the Monteverde General Store. A typical turn of the century emporium, the store that was built in 1898 houses a free museum staffed by volunteers, stocks vintage goods of a by-gone era and even has a pot-belly stove.
9. Enjoy some good food and wine: . There are 21 wineries in the area and the Shenandoah Valley Wine Country is within an 8-minute drive from Sutter Creek, offering many opportunities for tasting.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, consider an Italian-themed gourmet meal at Twisted Fork restaurant, located on Main Street in Sutter Creek in the historic American Exchange Hotel. The place has a classy, but casual atmosphere. On the lighter side, Back Roads Coffee Shop and Deli serves sumptuous salads, sandwiches, desserts and more. This is a friendly meeting place where I first encountered a dear 99 year old lady. This is a true story. She was with a group of younger "girls" discussing the quiche she had made that day. She drove up in a Mini Cooper convertible.
10. Take in the theater: The only remaining original former silent movie house in the region hosting live performances, concerts, film and dance events is the Sutter Creek Theatre. In the very heart of Main Street, featuring Caffe Intermezzo, as the name reflects, aficionados of the event may avail themselves of espresso, meals, delicacies and gelato. A wine bar is located adjacent to the theater.
Worth every minute of the short journeys to neighboring towns are the unique attractions each has to offer. Amador City, Jackson, Volcano, Plymouth, Fiddletown and Ione are all within a few minutes drive. A castle, a casino, historic churches and cemeteries, river rafting, skiing, golf, fishing, and many seasonal events offer adventure for every preference. –KRB
Karen Balch is a San Ramon writer, traveler and retired nurse. She writes about travel, health and community events for allnewsnoblues.com.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 22 December 2010 03:47)