I’m not sure if it is the intersection of Covid-19, technology, and travel or if I’m just older and grumpier but the only conclusion I can reach is that travel is awful and if you don’t need to do it to see friends or family or escape death squads – you should probably avoid it.
That all being said – this trip to the Pacific Northwest has been a wonderful chance to catch up with some old friends and see some family that have been absent from my life for far too long. My thought was that while we were here, we could do some tourism things and enjoy a little of the wonders of the Northwest. That’s where the awful part comes in.
Case in point: The Tillamook Cheese Factory which used to be a favorite stop on the Oregon Coast but which could now accurately be described as the Tillamook Covid Incubator. I’m not saying that people have Covid there or have caught or spread Covid there – but God Lord Almighty – no masks, no restrictions, and no social distancing. If there were cheese samples out, I wasn’t going to touch them. We went in, panicked, bought ice cream so as not to disappoint our kiddo and split. In the parking lot were waddling people by the score and one bizarre dude who tried to pick a fight with me when I paused to let him cross in front of me as we were driving by. As usual, I ignored him and just moved on. Can you imagine? Trying to pick a fight with someone at 11am at the Cheese Factory? Someone who stopped their car so you could cross? Someone with their wife and kid in the car? WTF is wrong with America?
The bottom line – it’s just not a good time to be doing anything ‘tourist’ but there are thousands and thousands of people doing so. Hawaii is overrun with tourists who feel entitled to be on vacation after a year in Covid mode – they seem to forget that everyone else was in Covid mode too. My Dad and his wife were explaining a trip to me and justified it saying ‘We’ve been locked up for more than a year in our golf community’. I nodded my head to it and bit my tongue. There is no other way to communicate with that generation. If I would have said “So was everyone else, they would have had a new reason – they are of the generation that tells every other generation not to act entitled.”
My other big carps are technology and restrictions. Insanity. To go home to Hawaii we had to prove our vaccinations and we jumped through the hoops but they didn’t recognize the vaccination cards in their database so it has to be verified again at the airport – that was a solid hour of doing something that was required only to find out it was meaningless.
We were going to get the free covid test for our daughter but Walgreens only allows you to book it online and you have to book it at least 24 hours in advance so we were left with no option but using Hawaiian Airlines trusted partner which only offered tests at mid-day – which caused us to have to cut our time with family that lives to the south short so we could make it to the test on time. Also, it wasn’t free and the cheap version wasn’t available so there was another $150. To be honest, $150 starts to feel like not very much money – every hotel in Astoria was $300 or above with taxes – per night. More than most Hawaii resorts charge in peak season. Or at least more than they used to charge when USD money had value.
My $1600 Apple phone in my $1000 rental car was connected to Blue Tooth but the navigation app didn’t tell me that we would be delayed on the road from the coast for over an hour by road construction and when we hit it, we were in a cellular dead zone so couldn’t tell our family we were delayed. Every time I enter the car, the car bluetooth audio starts to play music on the car stereo and if I use the navigation app, the stereo drowns out the navigation voice causing me to miss important turns..
I asked the desk clerk at the hotel if she could recommend a good pizza place that would deliver since they no longer put the binder with local information in the room. She told me “Dominos” to which I responded “That’s not good pizza” and she said “I’m not from the area.” Really? Does she helicopter in each day from Alberta? The desk has never been asked about local pizza before? I tried to find something or use an app – but it was about 50% above menu prices for everything – so I called Dominos and it was an hour late – Remember it used to be 30 minutes or free? This time it was ‘Sorry we were late, here are some Dominos points -enough to buy a personal pan pizza’. Gee thanks.
Yeah, I admit it. I’m older and grumpier – but the other side of the equation is also true. Travel has absolutely been ruined by technology, capitalism, Covid-19, and inflation. When I get home from this trip, I won’t be planning any others unless it is to escape from America forever (again – but this time for real).
The following is a true account of a hitch trip I took from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington back in the year 2000. It was included as a fictional trip in the 2009 edition of my novel Slackville Road.
I wasn’t laughing as I struggled to navigate the I-5 on-ramps in Portland. The interstate is surrounded by concrete walls that make it hard for motorists to stop and dangerous for hitchhiking. Technically, it’s illegal to hitch on the Interstate anyway.
I walked to the last exit before the road crossed the Columbia River. I sat there nearly an hour and finally decided to catch a city bus into downtown Vancouver, WA.
After the bus dropped me off, I walked through a tunnel and over the Columbia River, thereby crossing the imaginary line that separates Washington and Oregon. The Columbia felt more impressive than the state line.
There was a bum lying on a park bench listening to country music on tinny radio. I said hello and he began complaining about the rain as he smoked a cigarette he mooched from me. It wasn’t raining as he laid there enjoying the smoke, but he was still complaining because that’s what bums do.
He told me a lot of the tramps had been getting their gear stolen in Vancouver. He told me he was going to Phoenix to “get where it was still warm and didn’t rain all the time.” Every bum has a dream. Bums are dreamers.
Further on through the park, I was hit up for a smoke by another tramp who told me he was called ‘The Duck’ when I introduced myself. He hit me up for change and then when I refused him, he walked with me towards the next on-ramp. He too complained about the rain and told me about the ever growing bum population in Vancouver.
Curiously, he had a huge bag of stuff he complained about too. Far more stuff than most bums carry with them.
When I asked what he was carrying, he asked me “Are you drunk?”
It was about 10 AM. I told him I wasn’t. It was true. I wasn’t drunk at 10 AM.
“I am.” He seemed proud of it. Then by way of explanation he said, “I been trampin a long time. Hey, by the way, you got any cardboard?”
Again, my answer was negative. I had a sign with Seattle written on it. That was all. So I guess I lied. It was cardboard. I just didn’t have any cardboard for him.
“Well I gotta get me some so I can fly some cardboard and get me some spending money. I’m in danger of sobering up”
He was dressed all in camouflage. He was big and sort of scary.
“I gotta piss…You know, I wouldn’t be a very good tramp if I couldn’t piss and walk at the same time. “
That was pretty much the end of our time together since I started walking a bit faster as he slowed down. Suddenly I heard the splash of urine on the sidewalk. The Duck didn’t seem to mind that it was daylight or think that the couple walking behind him would mind a wet sidewalk. I walked as fast as I could to get away from that human disaster and tried not to burst out laughing as he kept cussing about the rain which was now starting to fall while he was pissing all over himself. That was the last I saw of The Duck.
I finally caught a ride from a tattoo artist who told me about his shop getting robbed and how he worked from home now. He dropped me off at a rest area.
I sat with my sign at the ramp. No one stopped for a long time. People are scared of hitchhikers now. Finally, a neatly dressed man in a v-neck sweater walked over to me. I smelt Jesus all over him. Big smile.
“Hello, Friend. How are you today?”
I thought to myself, I don’t want to be preached to. “Praise the Lord, I’m fine.” I hoped he would leave me alone.
“I was hoping to talk to you about Christ the Redeemer.“
I lied, told him I was Christian, told him I went to Church, told him what I thought he wanted to hear, but he wouldn’t go away until I knelt down and prayed with him. Meanwhile cars were passing us by and ignoring my thumb.
“Dear Lord. Please help this man to find your salvation and forgiveness…” he began. I guess he hadn’t believed me.
“…and a ride to Bellingham,” I added. Then we went on until the Amen at which point he stood up.
“Can you give me a ride?”
“We’re packed full and we never pick up hitchhikers.” And then he walked away.
I felt like hitting him. I thought of doing a speaking in tongues and being possessed by God routine but didn’t have enough energy for anything like that.
To my surprise, that prayer worked, because a few minutes later he, his wife, and his five-year-old daughter made room for me to get in their car anyway. All I can think is that his wife made him do it.
Hot damn and thank you Jesus!
He called himself a planter. He had brought his family from some Baptist church in Texas. They apparently felt that we don’t get enough of a chance to know Jesus in the godless Northwest so they were sending missionaries to save our souls.
He said that if the Arabs and Jews find peace the world would end in 3 ½ years. That helped me understand why so many Christians stay on the side of Israel.
They dropped me off just North of Tacoma at another rest area. My next ride was a middle class white guy driving a nice Lincoln Towncar.
He pulled over and I ran up and got in.
“You mind if I drink while I drive?” He asked me, holding up a can of Bud.
“As long as we don’t crash,” I said, though I was already worried and considering getting out.
“I’m a state senator,” he told me. “ I help make the laws, so I can break ‘em.” He laughed. He told me that he was pretty moderate about his drinking and driving.
“What’s your name?” I asked him. “Maybe I voted for you.”
“Gordon,” he told me. “Call me Gordy.” I was pretty sure I had voted for his opponent. Maybe he was a liar though.
Gordy dropped me off in downtown Seattle near Westlake Center.
I heard chanting and shouting down the street and walked to see what was up. Pro-Palestine protesters were demanding that the violence stop in the Middle East. Banners reading “Stop killing our Children” and “Stop Israeli Violence” flew high.There were about thirty police officers and maybe fifty protesters present. Lots of bystanders looked on. I briefly considered letting them know that the world would end in 3 ½ years if peace came, but figured they wouldn’t care if it did.
Back in 2008, I left Hawaii and set out on an adventure that took me across the USA by Amtrak train, I called it the Amtrek. This week, for the Vagobond Travel Museum, I bring you the collected articles and videos from that trip. The trip began in Honolulu and then went to Portland, Oregon from where I crossed the country and ended in New York City with a one way flight to Barcelona – the truth is, the trip has never ended since I’ve never gone home.
Along the way, I couch-surfed and asked my hosts the same set of questions, those videos are below and worth watching. Keep in mind, this was before couch-surfing had gone mainstream.
Here are the ten lessons I learned on that trip:
The trains through the Rocky Mountains have the most incredible viewing cars for enjoying the magnificent landscape.
Sacramento is a lot cooler than I thought it would be and the train museum is a must see..
Utah is an incredibly rugged and scenic state filled with some very cool folks in Salt Lake City.
I want to travel by train to Austin, Texas and Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. I’ve still never been to those cities.
I love New York and Boston – taking a train to them was the way to go. People in these cities rock.
Philly and Chicago are both incredibly cold in winter, but the people I met in them were pretty great.
It’s better not to hurry, a 14 day rail pass was too short for a true American experience.
Too many museums in too short a time can’t be appreciated – so get a longer rail pass.
Libraries are havens of free wifi and peaceful places to work – trains should always have wifi and should have libraries for passengers.
Making the wrong friend can suck out part of your enjoyment of life and destroy a train trip – the right friends can make a boring stretch very exciting.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Mecca. Nirvana. The Holy Land. It goes by many different names to the faithful, but for the uninitiated it is known as Disneyland. I prostrate myself at its hallowed turnstiles and I am filled with a shuddering ecstasy: one of those big bastard Pentecostal grand mals.
After numerous trips to Walt Disney World in Florida, I finally get to touch the sacred soil of the California mother park. What’s the first stop? Space Mountain? It’s a Small World? The Matterhorn? All in due time. First I pull up a stool at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. The bar, named after the infamous Jungle Cruise headhunter, is a piece of kitschy South Pacific heaven.
The interior is a cramped space festooned with exotic Polynesian decorations. Outside, luau musicians serenade people lounging around an impressive stone fireplace. The Tiki Bar is everything I love about Disney on amphetamines, it’s not a bar, it’s an experience. I’m served up a tropical drink called the Uh-Oa in what can only be described as a large tiki cereal bowl. As the skipper sets it down before me the whole bar erupts in a chant over throbbing drums: “uh-oa, uh-oa, uh-oa.” Pinches of cinnamon spark as they are flicked on a flaming sugar cube floating atop a pool of rum and fruit juices. Around me, lightning flashes, water sprays, and a volcano goes off. I take a drink and my head spins. It’s that classic wholesome Disney debauchery. If I’m lucky I’ll wake up in the middle of a magical princess orgy. If I’m unlucky I’ll end up floating in the castle moat.
Most likely it’ll just end with me sinking into my posh bed near the top of the Fantasy tower at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s decked with fluffy white comforters and navy blue throw pillows reading “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” The dark wood headboard lights up with a twinkling display and plays a soothing When You Wish Upon a Star. Elegance like this comes at a hefty price. In order to pay for the room we nearly had to sell our daughter as an indentured servant in the Disney college program when she turns eighteen.
It’s worth it for the pure nostalgiagasm of the place. The hotel was opened in 1955, soon after the park opened, and today history oozes out of every crevice. Just off the main lobby is a collection of frame photographs of visiting celebrities and dignitaries over the years, including that lying crook Nixon. Our room has a framed, black and white portrait of the master of the mouse, Walt Disney, standing under the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Outside the elaborate pool includes water slides made out of old monorails winding down underneath a vintage Disneyland sign. It’s a Disney time warp.
At Trader Sam’s I run up a serious bar tab and chat with another couple. I spotted them out of the crowd and could tell that they worshiped at the altar of Disney. We bond over the fruity drinks and our mutual love of the mouse. They are California natives so we trade stories about the differences between the two parks. This particular family one ups me by sharing that they had the opportunity to go to Disney’s new Aulani resort in Hawaii. How was it? “Expensive, but so worth it,” they replied with familiar ecstatic eyes.
As a Disney World veteran, it is great to check out the source material. When I clear the Disneyland railroad berm I’m no longer in the middle of busy downtown Anaheim; rather, I’m transported into that happy place. I skip through the hallowed castle. I bask in the beauty of Mary Blair’s whimsical Small World facade. I join Mr. Toad on his wild ride straight to hell. I loudly catcall to the “red head” as roguish pirates raid the Caribbean town. I never, ever stop smiling.
The Disneyland park is a historical testament to the dedication of one visionary who had invested himself in making so many people happy. It’s an amazing legacy I’m happy to pay homage to. Just across the entrance plaza is the much-maligned California Adventure park. After an extensive billion dollar remodel, the park seems poised to reestablish itself. Through the gates I stroll past the art deco style buildings of Buena Vista Street, a tribute to Las Angeles circa 1923. We enjoy a fantastic meal at the new Carthay Circle Theatre restaurant. The interior of the restaurant evokes strong images of olden Hollywoodland high class. The first floor bar is a particular treasure. Their specialty is classic cocktails served up proper. I enjoy a gin martini, chilled to perfection with an ice sphere and garnished with an olive.
Beyond is the new Carsland, which note for note recreates Radiator Springs from the animated Pixar movie Cars. When the sun goes down the area sparks to life with brilliant neon. Life Could Be A Dream drifts romantically out of the loudspeakers. However, for all of the fun of the cartoon version, the real Route 66 awaits us, as we must soon say goodbye to the west coast and head home.
Our days at Disney end with a viewing of The Wonderful World of Color water show. Acrobatic fountains of water dance to sweeping music in a wild array of pulsating color. Dr. Leary would be impressed. We ignore the “you may get wet” warnings and take up a position right up front near the cascading jets. To quote the Flight of the Conchords, “I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face.” This is heaven.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Hollywood California: swimming pools, movies stars, and a man passed out on the sidewalk with his pants down. This is what we are treated to as we take a morning drive to see LA’s famous sites. The only thing distinguishing this particular scene from New York City is that his bare ass has a nice California tan. Instinctively, we hit the door locks.
It’s a good thing as a machete wielding maniac in a hockey mask approaches our car at the next intersection. It’s startling until we realize that he is just one of many costumed tourist-trappers bilking bucks on the crowds flocking to see Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The tourists size up there hands with those of the stars impressed on the concrete, while being prayed upon by Marilyn Monroe, the Incredible Hulk, and a shitty Spiderman selling photographs. We nope it out of there and careen through the Hollywood hills for a vantage of the famous Hollywood sign. I have an interest in none of this, but today is the kid’s day and she is calling the travel stops.
There is but one exception; I can’t visit Los Angeles without visiting the historic church at Alvarado and Hoover. In the 1970’s, this tan brick building served as Jim Jones’s People’s Temple. It’s most impressive feature is the semi circular front porch with rounded arches and fluted columns. A stately brick tower rises up over a red tiled roof. Inside, not much has changed since the Reverend Jim Jones preached here. The building still has the same burgundy church pews were the members of Jones’s cult ecstatically listened to their smooth tongued master and hoped for a better life.
After paying my respects, we leave the former cult building to go see the Cults. Coincidentally the NYC indie pop band is playing the Make Music Pasadena festival. The annual music festival takes over multiple city blocks in Pasadena. Its a great lineup on four stages and, since it is absolutely free, the cost of admission can’t be beat. In addition to fantastic music there are plenty of activities, lots of great food, and some brilliant chalk sidewalk art.
Its shoulder to shoulder as we pack in before the crowded main stage where the Cults are set to play. The crowd is diverse, but as a whole pretty laid back. A group of hispanic men with long black heavy metal hair openly smoke medical ganja and more surreptitiously pass around a gigantic bottle of Jack Daniels. Many of the young ladies around sport the nerd look with huge black glasses covering their faces. Hipsters abound, dressed in sock garters, cut off jean shorts, bandoliers, fringed vests, and rain boots. One holds a small tartan umbrella to block the blinding hot sun.
“Holy shit look at this crowd,” says Cult’s guitarist Brian Oblivion, shielding his sunglass covered eyes, as he peers outward across the sweating mass of flesh. The band launches into a soiree of synth infused retro-pop. Singer Madeline Follin croons into the microphone, “I knew right then that I’d been abducted.” Guitarist Oblivion comes in with a wash of distorted electric guitar. She sways in a baby doll dress. He’s a windmill of long black hair.
The crowd erupts at the opening glockenspiel notes of “Go Outside”. It’s accompanied by a sample of Jim Jones. “To me, death is not a fearful thing. It’s living that’s treacherous,” his ghostly voice intones. Follin earnestly sings, “I really want to go out. I really want to go outside and see your day.” The packed crowd sings along, everyone swaying together like a salty ocean. It’s religious.
A few blocks down SoKo is playing. She’s one of my daughter’s favorites who she got to meet outside of the vegan restaurant in LA. Born as Stéphanie Sokolinski, she’s a french singer with a fragile voice. The crowd is smaller at the Playhouse District Eclectic Stage, but no less enthusiastic. A guy in the audience yells something out in bad french, causing SoKo to laugh. “I love that’s the only french you know,” she said, then explained to the audience he asked her to take off her clothes.
I’m not so far removed from my childhood to remember the joy of seeing a favorite band perform. Even more, the excitement of getting to meet them. My daughter enjoys watching the show up front, as the musician works through an assortment of songs, from gentle guitars ballads to a raging punk missive while playing drums. During I Thought I Was An Alien she cackles into the microphone in high-pitched alien tongues. It’s definitely a highpoint of the trip for my kid.
We end the long, sunny day with a drive to Laguna Beach to look at the ocean. It seems that LA traffic alternates between crawling at a jammed snail’s pace to race car fast. We cruise along twenty miles over the limit, trying to keep pace only to come to a dead stop. In this herky jerky fashion we make it to Laguna Beach. The area is appealing, with interesting shops, nice restaurants and quirky houses. If there are half-naked bums, they keep them well out of site.
We manage to score a parking space in a busy area near a beach side park. It’s a pretty relaxed scene. Well dressed elderly men are playing a game of bocce. A family grills out, filling the air with the savory aroma of sizzling flank steak. The beach front is pretty small, but it affords the opportunity to sit on a rock and watch the tide come in and the sun set. It’s a calm end to an energetic day.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
“I’m hungry,” my daughter whines from the backseat. I can think of few things worse than traveling with a newly minted teenager, especially one that happens to be vegan.
“Food This Exit” declares another Interstate sign. However for her the options at this exit are no better than those at the last.
“You want some fries?” my wife offers.
“I’m sick of french fries,” my daughter moans.
“How about a mandarin orange?” We have a bag of Clementines in the trunk.
“I’m sick of oranges.” Her voice is fingers on chalkboard.
I must have done something really awful in a past life. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the meatless horizon: the culinarily diverse cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles are coming up.
As we head west we make a brief side visit to the City of Sin to take my daughter to Veggee Delight. I’m a little worried as the GPS leads us through the Vegas Strip deep into the heart of Chinatown. However, the Vietnamese cafe owners are welcoming to this mid-westerner. It also seems to be popular with non-Asian locals; a few trickle in and take up seats in the tiny dining room.
I scan the menu offering a variety of Asian dishes with fake meat: chicken, beef, pork, tuna. TUNA? I double-check that I read that right. Yes, they have a meatless tuna. I shun the “tuna”, which is barely passable in its legitimate version. My daughter orders some kind of “beef” bowl. I’m not big on fake meat, so I choose something called “wet fried vegetables with noodles”.
I take a moment to ponder the ancient, oriental mystery of how a vegetable can be both wet and fried. Service is quick and soon I am tearing into my dish as fast as my preschool chopstick skills will allow. As it turns out the “wet” is a thin sauce over some fried vegetables (carrots, snap peas, shoots) and some crispy noodles. The food is surprisingly satisfying and soon we are back on our way.
We are only miles down the road before I hear again, “I’m hungry.”
“You want an orange?”
“I’m sick of oranges.” So it goes with vegan teenagers.
Continuing southwest into California, we watch the temperature escalate: 100, 101, 102, 103 … Through the vast Mojave Desert, Joshua trees dot the crispy landscape stretching out into a shimmering, hazy horizon. It looks wet and fried.
Our travel is interrupted as we are commanded off the road to a mandatory car search. State agents wave our Nissan up to a checkpoint. What are they looking for? Drugs? Booze? Illegal immigrants? “Ma’am do you have any citrus in the car?” a no-nonsense woman leans forward to ask. My wife nervously looks at me, her eyes as wide as saucers. Should we run for it Dukes of Hazard style?
Minutes later we are on our way again, but without our contraband in tow. California takes their citrus seriously and our illegal Clementines are not welcome in the Golden State.
“I wish I had an orange,” laments my daughter.
In L.A. we treat my daughter to another vegan meal. We arrive at Flore Vegan Cuisine on a Saturday morning while they are serving their weekend brunch. The diminutive seating area is packed with Californians enjoying a leisurely mid-morning meal and the daily newspaper. For the diners, there is no haste to finish so we join a small line forming outside. I impatiently wonder if vegan food is worth the wait. It is. When our name is finally called we are treated to an outstanding meal, rivaling some of the best I have ever head. I order some beautiful buckwheat blueberry waffles topped with bananas. My wife enjoys a southwest scramble, a tasty tofu version of huevos rancheros.
My daughter enjoys something even better than her vegan breakfast. She delights to spot SoKo, one of her favorite musicians, out for a walk. The French actress/singer is gracious enough to pause for a cell phone picture. She informs us that she is performing at the Make Music Pasadena festival later.
“Can we go?” my daughter begs.
When she hears my answer she responds with the usual.
Story and Photos by Linda Kissam If you miss that feeling of carefree abandon and going on a road trip…then read on my friends. Frankly, I think many of us in our college years were too busy prepping for finals, looking for summer jobs, or just didn’t have the cash on hand or an airplane to fly to do much with their last spring break. So I am offering you a chance to go back in time and have the spring break you should have had in college–but better, because you’re a little older, a little more responsible, and of course better funded!
Picture this: Southern California’s two most impressive wine countries, Temecula and Julian, filled with fun people, all looking to have a blast as they sip, swirl and nosh their way through the vineyards. I can promise you incredible food available all day and all night, premium wines, great accommodations, music, and fun stops, all laid out for you. Think wine tasting, hot air ballooning. Olive oil tasting, golf, hard cider tastings, glider plane rides and more. This is an ideal vacation for anyone, but I am thinking this is really perfect for those who are 35+ and really ready to get loose and have a good time. Sound like you? Strap in and read on!
Day One – Temecula Wine Country
10 AM – Arrive in Temecula Wine Country About 45 minutes from Ontario Airport, about 12 miles from the French Valley Airport (Private planes), andjust about 7 miles off the I-15, this is an easy place to fine. Whether you fly or drive in…take Rancho California Road east. The key to enjoying yourself is pacing yourself and visiting 4 pre-selected wineries. I’d give you directions, but we all have GPS, so I won’t waste the space. Here are my favorites.
10:15 AM – First up, Thornton Winery
This is a beautiful French chateau looking property that offers both indoor and outdoor sit-down tastings in the Champagne Bar or their famous Café Champagne Restaurant. Winemaker David Vergari has created premium still and sparkling wines to die for. Just added to the menu – chocolate wines. Yup, they’re actually quite good! Personable service, good prices and a killer hors d’oeuvre menu created by Executive Chef Steve Pickell sells this place. Check out www.ThorntonWine.com for hours and 2 for 1 tasting coupons.
11:30 AM – Briar Rose Winery
Just around the corner, and maybe 8 minutes from Thornton Winery, this upscale boutique, by reservation only winery takes itself seriously…and for good reason. Their amazing wines ranging from $28 – $1,300 and will knock your socks off. It’s a special experience from start to finish from the Snow White Cottage theme, to the smooth, complex wines. Check out www.BriarRoseWinery.com for hours and reservations.
1 PM – Ponte Winery
Time for lunch. Just about 10 minutes from Briar Rose you simply must stop in at the Smokehouse Restaurant at Ponte Winery where you will sit out amongst the vineyards. Views, menu, and hospitality are incredible. Great wines for every palate and plate. You’ll want to linger for a while and after lunch enjoy their wonderful gift shop – one of the best in wine country. Reservations a must on the weekends! (www.Pontewinery.com)
3:00 PM – Keyways Winery
This winery is on De Portola Wine Trail, about 15 minutes from Ponte. You’ll quickly notice the terrain changes from your Rancho California Road to one that focuses on more of an equestrian feel on the DePortola side. Gorgeous, relaxing, unique is what makes the area and this particular winery worth the drive. The wines are fabulous; the décor is thoughtful and engaging. The best bathrooms in wine country – almost art -like in concept! This owner knows details. The grounds give of a Zen vibe, and when this winery showcases local musicians indoors or outdoors, guests find themselves caught up in the moment. Truly a memorable experience. (www.KeywaysWinery.com) 4:15 PM – Check into your hotel I recommend Temecula Creek Inn. Good rates and they often feature special packages that include golf and wine tasting. Try their Temet Grill for superior wine country cuisine. 6 PM to 8 PM – Head off to Old Town Temecula
About 10 minutes away. Park your car at Front and Main and walk to late afternoon olive oil tasting at Villa Di Calabro or the Temecula Olive Oil Company. It’s a fun, unique experience. There are also four or more tasting rooms to visit. My picks include Lorimar Winery’s tasting room and Tesoro Winery’s tasting room (www.TesoroWinery.com). Both are staffed by fun knowledgeable people and stocked with premium wines you are going to love. Lorimar Winery is known for their incredible promotions. Tesoro features a classy, well-stocked gift shop and an outdoor tasting garden that allows you to people watch well into the evening. For evening fun, try The Collective featuring many local small lot wineries without tasting rooms. Day Two – The Wynola Business District in Julian
8 AM – Road Trip! After a great breakfast at the Temet Grill, you’re ready to get into your car and head out to the Wynola Business District in Julian. Much has been written about the town of Julian, but I am giving you an insiders tip – spend some quality time in Wynola before you browse the town of Julian. It’s about a 90-minute trip. Take Highway 79 South to Highway 78 (left) to Wynola. You’re going to enjoy the pastoral wide, two-lane highway drive. It meanders past cow pastures, the Warner Springs Golf Course www.WarnerSprings.com/golf.cfm, Santa Ysabel Casino www.SantaYsabelCasino.com, and the Sky Sailing facility in Warner Springs www.SkySailing.com. If you stopped at each place, it could be an 8-hour trip. You can also catch an awesome wildflower display in nearby Borrego Springs. Each stop is unique and worthy of a spring break experience.
10 AM – Wynola Business District
Watch out for this quirky, strip mall kind of business district on the left hand side. The easiest sign to read – and your first stop – is Orfila Winery. What a find! Seriously good wines here folks. Manager Jeff is a great host and often offers samples of unique cheeses: Local lilacs are blooming so Jeff will be selling fresh lilacs by the bunch. You cannot possibly imagine what a special spring break sensory treat a tasting room full of Lilacs presents. Linger awhile, take it all in. And hey, Jeff even offers non-alcoholic cider for your designated driver. A must do! Check out their Web site for tasting coupons (www.Orfila.com)
Next door check out the Julian Hard Cider store. It just recently opened. Yup, with 7.27 percent alcohol, this refreshing drink has a good kick to it. The Julian Hard Cider recipe originates from 1670 colonial America and is comparable to the finest British ciders. It took 4 years to build the tasting room. According to owner Paul Thomas it was built using all reclaimed wood from the Julian area. History buffs will be delighted with the interesting photos on display. Seems Paul tracked down a bunch of old photos with historical significance from Julian neighbors, scanned them, and then framed them using frames from the local Goodwill. Paul is a wealth of information and as energetic and friendly as they come. This is a pleasant stop not to be missed. Check out hours, tasting fees, etc at www.JulianHardCider.biz. 12 PM
Walk a few more feet and you’ll find Country Cellars. This small tasting room features San Diego wines and beer. I loved the names as much as the beverages. Who wouldn’t love beers named Inferno Ale, Serpents Stout and Black Marlin Porter? How about wines from Cactus Star/ Scaredy Cat Ranch, or Woof n Rose Winery? This is a perfect place to sample local San Diego adult beverages in a casual atmosphere. Check out all the options at www.CountryCellars.com.
Julian – You can check out Julian on your own now. Spend a couple of hours browsing and strolling the charming town. A great lunch and some more wine tasting is available. It’s just 10 minutes from the Wynola Business District. (www.JulianCA.com)
3:30 PM Julian Pie Company
Who can resist having the best apple pie ever? Certainly no one on spring break. Heading back to the I-15, at the convergence of Highway 79 and Highway 78 , you’ll find the pie place of your dreams. This is a casual place – self-service and counter stools. They’re focused here. No fooling around, it’s all about the pies. Stop in for a slice and cup of coffee or a latte. I am pretty sure you’ll be taking a whole pie to go. www.JulianPie.com
Time for your designated pilot/driver to head back to the airport, it’s about a 90 minute drive, but you’re refreshed, invigorated and loaded down with bottles of wine, beer, and pies. Seriously, did we have fun or what?
Private Plane Pilot’s Guide
French Valley Airport is located in Southwest Riverside County, adjacent to the communities of Temecula, Murrieta and Winchester. The airport, located on Highway 79, is only minutes away from Interstate 15 and the 215 Corridor . Outstanding climate and minimal congestion make takeoffs and landings easy at French Valley Airport. The wide-open approaches and ground support services accommodate most aircraft including jets and turbo-props. The filed is composed of two runways 18 Left, 36 Right. More info here www.rivcoeda.org/Default.aspx?tabid=522
One of the great things about being back in the United States is the opportunities it presents to engage in that greatest of American pastimes, The All American Family Road Trip. Like the Griswalds, I can load my family into the car with a minimum of explanation, make sure the tank is full of gas and we’ve got a credit card with a bit of mileage left on it, and then we can hit the road for parts unknown.
Personally, I like to engage in as little solid planning as possible – which leaves plenty of opportunity for that most wonderful of road trip wonders – improvisation. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Miles Davis when it comes to catching everyone off guard with a new and sudden direction – and like Miles – I have the skills to make those improv moves work. It’s a little hard on my wife – she still likes to pack for a specific situation and bring everything that she might need in any eventuality – which is hard when she doesn’t know if we will be going to a theme park, staying in a posh resort, spending time in the city or the country, or even leaving the country. I will give her credit though – she’s starting to get it – bring a rain coat, a swimsuit, a passport, a sweater, and sandals. And what you forget, can usually be found along the way in a thrift shop, a mall, or at a garage sale. Yes, it’s these trips that I love most about the USA.
Over the coming days and weeks, I will share some of the trips we’ve taken since landing on these shores back in 2013 – but for right now, I’ll give you a little teaser. We’ve camped up and down the Oregon Coast and into the Redwoods, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. We’ve also made spontaneous trips to Seattle, Portland, Astoria, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, Bandon, Florence, Yachats, and Eureka. We’ve explored the deserts of Arizona and the streets of Victoria, British Columbia along with traipsing through the Coastal Redwoods, hitting the Las Vegas Strip, and of course, seeing the lights of Los Angeles. I don’t want you to misunderstand – these are fast trips with lots of road time, lots of driving, and a relatively short amount of time spent at our destinations. That’s the thing with road trips – they are as much about the road as they are about the destination. The time spent singing in the car, the games we play with other people’s license plates, and the mystery of where we will stay in a given night – whether with friends, in a nice hotel, or a roadside dive.
I will begin with our most recent trip – which we just returned from day before yesterday. It was an epic jaunt from Reedsport to Roseburg then down to Redding, straight down the I-5 to Anaheim, a visit to Disneyland, then a trip to Southern Arizona near the Mexican border before journeying straight through Phoenix and Tucson to Las Vegas, then turning back westward to the Central California Coast where we went though Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and straight through the Redwoods back to Oregon and where we started in Reedsport. It was a crazy 3000 mile figure-eight shaped road trip in which we almost never drove on the same road twice. I’ll start telling you about it in the next post…stay tuned.
California may well be famous for its sun-drenched beaches, but we think that when it comes to having a really exciting, memorable holiday, it’s the California’s National Parks you should look to. There are 26 in total, and today we’re going to take a look at three of the very best.
Yosemite National Park
Let’s start with Yosemite National Park, which is around a four-hour drive from the bright lights of San Francisco. In this reserve can expect to stroll with views of some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in the world. It’s this stunning landscape that the park aims to protect, and for which it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984.
First, a few basic facts. The park was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and spans 1,170 sq miles. Without doubt it is best known for its striking scenery, which includes vast monoliths like El Capitan (3,000 ft high), waterfalls and sequoia coves. While there are plenty of activities you can try in the park, including hiking and rock climbing, arguably the best thing to do if you’ve never been here before is to visit some of its most famous landmarks.
Yosemite Valley should be high on your list, with its gorgeous waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. For the ultimate vista, head over to Tunnel View, which is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel – from here, you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls. We also recommend visiting the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is around 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley (which should give you some idea of just how vast the park really is). This is the reserve’s largest group of giant sequoias, and standing among them you’ll feel utterly dwarfed by their size.
By the way, if you’re planning a fly-drive holiday to California don’t miss driving along Tioga Pass. Usually open from late May to early October, it spans the entire length of the park and offers incredible alpine scenery.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Over in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range are the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Now, technically these are two reserves rather than one, but as they are twinned and often treated as a single entity, we will look at them as one park. And, as they stand side-by-side, that’s perfectly easy to do when you visit as well.
Both these parks preserve granite peaks and lush forests and, as you can probably guess from their names, the giant sequoias and Kings Canyon are the top things to see. Looking at the latter first, Kings Canyon might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon, but it is actually the deepest in America. Expect to be totally wowed by the views – think sheer granite cliffs rising 1,000 ft sprinkled with spectacular waterfalls.
The sequoias, meanwhile, are best viewed in the aptly-named Giant Forest. The largest tree of them all is dubbed General Sherman, and is approximately 275 ft high. As you stare up at it, it’s worth remembering that this is thought to be the biggest tree in the world by volume.
Other great things to do here including taking a tour of Crystal Cave. A really popular attraction that’s home to some fascinating marble formations, it is open to the public from May to November, but you’ll need tickets to get in and take the tour. It’s worth bearing in mind that because of its popularity these tend to sell out fast, so try to book first thing in the morning. Sometimes you can reserve places the day before, so that’s worth checking when you arrive.
Pinnacles National Park
Our final suggestion is Pinnacles National Park – another aptly-named reserve, having earned its title from the huge spires and monoliths found here. Located just to the east of Salinas Valley, this ancient volcanic field is in the Gabilan Mountains and has some of the most exciting and unusual terrain in California – at least we think so anyway!
Over millions of years, the volcano here eroded as it gradually moved along the San Andreas Fault. Left behind are sheer-walled canyons, spectacular spires and massive monoliths that have to be seen to be believed. Most people come to the park to hike or rock climb, but you can also visit simply to admire the view. As a quick tip, Pinnacles is one of the few national parks that’s well suited to exploring in the cooler months and is generally open throughout autumn and winter.
Since the park is home to more than 30 miles of excellent hiking trails, it’s definitely a must-visit for keen walkers – even if you’re not after anything too challenging. For instance, there are several short routes starting out at the Pinnacles Visitor Centre, such as the 2.3-mile trail to Bear Gulch Day Use Area and the 6.5-mile path along the South Wilderness Trail. The latter is fantastic for wildlife spotting, while it’s worth bearing in mind that spring is the best time to come for seeing wild flowers on any of the trails.
It was my third trip to Ojai in five years, and delightfully, not much has changed. This adorable town of about 8,000, nestled in the Ojai valley, seems to have escaped the shuttering of independent shops and eateries that has plagued LA. Surely the recession has hit Ojai, but perhaps because of its small-town attitude, where folks take care of one another and life is simpler, they have managed to maintain their charm and economic vitality without giving in to Pottery Barn and Taco Bell.
The Inn Place
The accommodations in Ojai reflect the way of life of its residents. Mostly visitors will find small inns, with all the creature comforts of high-end hotels, but with a low key and casual atmosphere. My family lodged at The Blue Iguana, a Santa Barbara style bed and breakfast with modern amenities such as HD flat screen TVs in every room, but also with its own full kitchen, so we could prepare meals at “home.” Our bungalow also featured its own private fenced-in outdoor dining area and patio and French doors in every room opening to the outdoors.
Each morning at the Blue Iguana we enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast of bagels, pastries, cereals, juice and coffee, and my son’s favorite, hardboiled eggs. Guests could take breakfast to their own private patios or bungalows or sit with other guests in the breakfast nook or on the communal patio outside.
It was a couple of minutes by car from the inn on the town’s main street, Ojai Avenue, into the center of town, heralded by what used to be the only stop light in town, at Signal Street. Shopping in town offered many charming small boutiques that thankfully resembled nothing of the GAP. My favorite clothing shop was The Kindred Spirit, featuring comfortable and stylish modern hippie fashions and shoes, like the Spring Step European wedge loafers I picked up there. Another fun to browse was Kingston’s Candy shop, which is like a trip into a Little Rascal’s episode with its bins of vintage-style candy, sodas and other novelties, like Big Buddy chewing gum.
I had thought I had tried all the best restaurants in town during my previous visits, but I was thrilled to find a plethora of undiscovered outstanding options for gourmet tastes, including the enchanting Azu. The restaurant had an earthy, artsy feel, with a cozy fireplace, wood benches — for which I asked for and was given a cushion for my poor bad back – and a front-room bar with well-dressed locals gathered for conversation and laughter. The service was friendly and casual, and Chef Laurel Moore’s Spanish and Mediterranean comfort cuisine menu was creative and reflective of the local bounty, such as blood orange and spinach salad, Cabra salad of Ojai organic greens and honey baked brie, drizzled with Ojai organic sage honey.
The next day we lunched at Feast Bistro, a quaint eatery along the town’s famed Arcade, a long pavilion of shops, that backs up to a grassy landscaped area where purveyors sell locally grown fruits and vegetables, jams, honey, bees wax candles, olive oil, free range eggs and chicken and a variety of crafts at a year-round weekly farmer’s market, every Sunday, rain or shine.
The knoll behind Feast Bistro restaurant was a great place for my son to play while we waited for our food. Since we all had walked up an appetite, and everything on the menu looked so yummy, we ordered entrees to share. We started with the locally sourced Eel River organic beef burger with cheese, a perfect complement to the Buffalo Blue spicy chicken breast on a bed of mixed greens and veggies, topped with Bleu cheese crumbles. My son enjoyed a huge platter of pomme frites, served as he ordered, half garlic, half parmesan. We finished off our hearty meal with a plate of still-warm Cookies of the Day.
We wanted to see more of Ojai outside of downtown, so we hopped aboard the Ojai Trolley, which for a fare of fifty cents is a great way to get around the town. Though the wooden bench seats didn’t make for a very comfy ride, and the trolley meanders through some of the less glamorous sections of town, it was still a fun ride. The trolley also offered the chance for us to see some of the good-neighbor attitude of Ojai in action, as the locals aboard the trolley greeted each other as they boarded and were quick to help a man in a wheelchair get aboard.
The Ojai Way
We were happy even as tourists to experience the small town feel of Ojai, which by the way is Ventura County’s smallest city. At the local park across from the Arcade I met a mom who lives in town. We pushed our kids on the swings side by side as she gave me the local scoop on the schools and community, which was all good. Then my son joined in with a group of kids on a spinning merry-go-round, and I chatted with their parents, more friendly locals. We strolled deeper into the park to find an outdoor concert theatre with a magical gate made of handing pipes that actually played music when you walked under them.
The Road to Ojai
Though this oasis sits in Ventura County, just 12 miles inland from Ventura, the great thing for Angelenos is that it is just about a 90-minute car ride from our bustling city. We made the trip in a luxurious seven-passenger Mazda CX-9, which featured super comfy reclining leather seats and was more than roomy for our family of four, with space to spare for all of our luggage and even my son’s 20” bike that we brought along. It also featured the best navigation system that I had ever used, which not only led us directly to our final destination and a few side trips, but it warned us of traffic ahead and offered alternative routes and advised me when I had drifted over the speed limit, which can be easy to do when the ride is so smooth. The rear-seat entertainment center with a DVD player also came in handy for my son.
Our trip goes to show that three times is a charm, as were my first and second visits to Ojai. And already I am planning a fourth.
It makes sense that a Hollywood director conceived of Paradise Point Resort & Spa in Mission Bay. The movie set-like gorgeous landscape, the private island appeal where VIPs can escape their public, the world-class amenities and the nearby location to LA all lend themselves to a celebrity worthy getaway. Yet this family oriented resort is accessible to everyone, literally, as it backs up to a public beach where boats dock for the day to enjoy its sandy shores and beautiful vistas.
Bungalow with a View
Celebrating its 50 year anniversary since it was established in 1962 by Jack Skirball, the AAA four-star rated resort looks as fresh as a starlet back from rehab, thanks to a $20 million renovation in 2010. The 462 bungalows and suites that line the beach and lagoons are modernly outfitted with contemporary furnishings and amenities, including wet bars, granite bathrooms, luxurious designer bed linens, plasma TVs, wi-fi, leopard patterned rugs, and padded leather lounges perfect for reading that paperback you’ve longed to finish.
The upscale and sophisticated décor belies the fact that the resort is made-to-order for kids. Just outside our door was a patio lanai where I could relax and watch my four-year-old play in the sand a few feet away. We could walk everywhere on the property, or hitch a ride with the friendly attendants cruising the resort in golf carts. We rented bikes, with my son pedaling behind me on a tandem-like trailer, to explore the 44-acres grounds and sites, including a lookout tower with 360-degree views of the resort’s lush tropical gardens and its one-mile expanse of beach.
Besides the beach, other great attractions for families and kids are Paradise Point’s Island Adventure Club, a day camp offered during peak season which includes arts and crafts, treasure hints, seaside frolic, nature walks and other activities. The whole family can enjoy “Dive-In” Movie Nights where guests watch films poolside or on floats. Ask any kid though and they will tell you the coolest thing about Paradise Point is building a bonfire at night in one of the fire pits along the beach and roasting s’mores. Don’t worry if you forget your supplies, as the Island Market sells s’more kits complete with sticks and bundles of logs.
It is no wonder Forbes.com designated the resort as one of the “Top Ten Family Resorts in the World.” Families can partake in abundance of exciting activities without leaving the island, earning the swimming in the five pools, mini-golf, sailing lessons, court sports, jet skiing or kayaking, one of the most popular attractions of the resort is its proximity to SeaWorld Adventure Park, just a five-minute drive, or guests can take Paradise Point’s own water taxi service to SeaWorld, bypassing the entrance lines and parking fees while touring beautiful Mission Bay en route.
My four-year-old loved his first trip to SeaWorld, though he was more exhilarated with the rides than shows. He got fidgety during Sea Lions Live, and he groaned when I suggested the Sesame Street show. I tried to convince him that seeing Shamu was a huge deal, but after a few minutes watching the famed killer whale swim in his aquarium, my son was tugging on my arm to go to the rides. I was leery after seeing other park guests in drenched clothes, but I was assured by those in line that as long as we avoided the front boat that we would not get soaked on Journey to Atlantis, unlike Shipwreck Rapids which was sure to be a bath. We rode a half dozen times, daring to ride in the front boat at last, which sure enough left us soaking wet. Luckily I was a prepared with extra clothes and shoes in my backpack. Cheeseburgers and Sea Bass in Paradise
Three eateries at Paradise Point offer distinct options. Barefoot Bar and Grill serves farm-fresh casual fare in an indoor or outdoor setting with spectacular views of the marina and bay, wonderful for a lazy morning of reading the newspaper, enjoying the early sun and watching the sail boats drift past. Tropics Bar and Grill at the main pool also offers salads, sandwiches and snacks along with a variety of refreshing drinks.
Baleen is a family friendly fine dining restaurant with creative dishes of seafood and land cuisine. Entrees include a delicious Matcha Crusted White Sea Bass served with mascarpone polenta, wild mushrooms, sweet pea, tendrils, blistered tomatoes, cauliflower soup, chive oil and a micro salad, and a divine Angus Filet Mignon with Point Reyes blue cheese chive butter, truffled potato puree, asparagus and Cabernet sauce. My son opted for chicken quesadilla from his choices of sophisticated kid-size dishes, such as petit filet, soy-orange black tiger shrimp with pasta, or grilled wagyu burger, all made better with a side of Truffle Parmesan Fries, served in a stylish tall spiral basket deserved of the delicacy. For dessert, the treats on the menu looked fabulous, but for my son nothing could compete with s’mores we made later under the stars on the beach.
The Zen of wine is my deal. I like it. I like to drink it. I love sharing it with friends and pairing it with food. I like to learn more about it whatever city I am it. Every once in a while I come across an area so well-known for its wine that all of its other liquid assets take a back seat to it. So when I arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a short 2-day wine tour, I thought yippee, Oregon wines, some of the best stuff around. What else could I possibly want to taste in the land of great Pinot’s? As it turns out…Saké and beer… definitely.
I love a city that treats its visitors well. You can expect your vacation to get off to a great start at the Portland International Airport (PDX). Clean, efficient and striving to be as “green” as possible, it’s the perfect start to any vacation. The airport is located nine miles
north of downtown Portland and is conveniently connected to the city center via the MAX light rail train. The trip between the airport and downtown Portland takes about 38 minutes and is about $3. I stayed at the impressive Doubletree Inn just a short block from one of the stops. Easy, breezy, convenient.
I became part of a larger group of adult “beverage expert’s.” Our tour guide planned out what I consider was the perfect introductory tour to the Portland beverage scene. I thought she would lead with the wine card, but nope, Saké was our first port of call.
SakéOne is about 30 miles west of downtown Portland in the beautiful Willamette Valley, famed for its many exceptional wineries, America’s premier producer of Saké, Saké One (820 Elm St., Forest Grove, 800/550-SAKE). Most visitors are surprised to learn it’s American-owned. Several high-quality Sakés are produced, including some flavored varieties, including Moonstone, Momokawa, G, and Murai. Saké One makes an engaging alternative to tasting strictly wine while exploring the Willamette Valley.
Tasting room and facility are open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, except. Guided tours are available and last about 20 minutes. Expect to have your ideas challenged about what is and isn’t today’s Saké . This is the really good stuff. My group that was treated to a food and Saké tasting. You’ll have your choice of three tasting flights (generally without food). And, on the third Saturday of each month, they offer Saketini Saturday ,a showcasing of sake and mixing cocktails.
Yea! Our second stop is Montinore Estate Winery. It’s one of the top producers of case wines in Oregon offering Certified Biodynamic wines from 230 acres of grapes. Located In the North Willamette Valley, it is snuggled against the foothills of the Coastal Range, and a short drive to the incredible Oregon Coast. Pinot Noir still rules but there are many different types of wines to taste. It is open 7 days a week, from 11am to 5 pm. I enjoyed tasting the latest vintage of estate grown and bottled wines while enjoying the sprawling views. All the wines are great, but be sure and try the 2011 Müller Thurgau (white) ($16) and the 2008 Graham’s Block 7 Pinot Noir ($40).
Lunch time found us at South Shore Café: Located in a (slightly leaning) 100-year old
clapboard in North Willamette wine country, this is where the locals stop for a fresh generous local lunch and some friendly gossip. Our group loved the gracious owner. Her homemade soups, sandwiches and treats brought a collective “ahh” from the group. Take the time to walk across the street to Smith’s Berry Farm, an upscale garden market filled with local produce, local plants and specialty gift items.
Back in the van our next stop was the more of a boutique -style winery. Hawks View Cellars is a family owned and -managed winery tucked away on Chehalem Mountain in Sherwood, Oregon, just 30 minutes from downtown Portland. This facility produces small lot, limited quantity, ultra-premium estate grown Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as wines made from top vineyards in Oregon and Washington. For my taste, the estate grown wines were the standouts. Care is evident in the wines, the tasting room and the beautiful grounds. This is a great place to relax and spend some quality time. It’s about 30 minutes from Portland. The 2011 white Pinot Noir ($26 – Now sold out) made from 100% Pinot Noir fruit was a star. Hopefully when you go the next vintage will be in stock. With spectacular views of five Cascade peaks from the patio and tasting room, stay a while and relax in the spectacular setting, and enjoy pure Northwest style wines and hospitality.
Our final beverage stop was Two Kilts Brewing Company. Now, I am not much of a beer drinker, but this place (located in a plain-Jane strip mall) has the right vision and products to turn this wine diva into a beer babe. Constantly in pursuit of the finest India Pale Ale and Scotch Ale (all made with local ingredients) they make creative premium brews. When I was there, they had a Korean Food Truck just outside the door. The unforgettable pairing of an iced cold, vanilla- laced beer with a spicy Korean taco is a pairing I won’t soon forget. Owners Chris & Alex are rock stars in the making. Stop by Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ask for a sampler taste.
We were dropped of at McMenamins Grand Lodge for check-in and a little R&R before dinner. This is a 77 European-style guest room hotel located in Forest Grove. One of the most unique lodging facilities I have ever stayed at, McMenamins showcases rolling lawns, lush landscaping, a movie theatre, a couple of restaurants, small bars and some truly mesmerizing artwork gracing the hallways. Built in 1922 as a Masonic & Eastern Star home, the Grand Lodge is quite the drama queen. Renovated and opened by McMenamins in 2000, every part of this hotel screams history from the individual room names, the hallways, and even the overhead pipes. Note that there is no air conditioning and shared bathrooms are the norm. Reasonably priced.
Dinner was a very special treat. Amazing is a better term if I am being honest. 1910 Main ~An American Bistro is owned and operated by chef/owner Kathy Compton. Showcasing local ingredients, Kathy created 1910 Main after 30 years of catering and restaurant experience. Kathy brings a love for great food, wine and company to her restaurant.
We were treated to a 7-course wine makers dinner filled with specialty courses such as Gin cured Oregon Coho Salmon Tartar on Crisp Potatoes paired with 1 2011 Apolloni Sparkling Rose ($29). Each course was a visual and gastronomic feast for the eyes and tummy. Despite the fancy food, the restaurant is warm and casual. This is a must-do for dinner.
All in all, Portland surprised and delighted, and definitely exceeded my expectations…and certainly expanded by liquid assets horizon. This was a pure gold experience. Ahhh, if I’d only known what I have been missing, I’d have long ago staked a claim to Oregon’s Washington County.
As a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.
When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.I was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”
I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.
I bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket. I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.
Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me. I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.
Since leaving Turkey (and even while I lived there), I’ve watched a beautiful country on the verge of an amazing future start to dismantle itself, create sectarian conflicts, and become something ugly through extremist religion and ideology. What does that have to do with Reedsport, Oregon?
During the election of 2016 and the aftermath of that disaster- I watched this little town do something similar. A beautiful little place filled with good neighbors became a place where one kind of person was welcome and another kind wasn’t. But that comes later…
I found Reedsport, Oregon when I realized that I didn’t have enough or earn enough to find a house with a yard that wasn’t too far from the beach in California or Washington. The two areas I would have preferred to settle would have been the San Francisco Bay Area (extending east to Sacramento, North to Santa Rosa, and south to San Luis Obispo) or the area from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham, Washington. I just didn’t have the income or savings to rent a house in those areas and starting a business seemed unlikely given the startup costs.
So, I focused in between. Reedsport sits about 20-miles south of Florence, Oregon and even though it was in the same county as both Myrtle Creek and Canyonville – it was far from both. I found a nice little 3-bedroom house with a big back yard for $675/month. It was an older house, but it was near a good grade school and in a friendly neighborhood. Reedsport was mostly a retirement community but had a health food store, a good coffee shop, and a quirky vibe that I liked. It was a fishing town with the Umpqua River going through it and a big Elk preserve nearby. The Oregon Dunes extended into it on the coast and the little village of Winchester Bay was just a couple of miles from our house. I was in love with Reedsport, to be honest. It was a little slice of heaven.
Now, to be fair – there’s a lot of poverty in Reedsport. The education level is on the lower end of the spectrum. The winters are long and grey and rainy. And…people tended to be white, conservative, and a bit on the racist side – which wasn’t obvious at first (the racist part) but came out as we drew closer to electing a racist president.
My credit was good. Between Ebay and online work – I was earning more than enough to pay the rent. The landlord looked at my application and instantly approved it “Most people around here don’t have a credit score anywhere near that, ” she said. I was surprised – it wasn’t that good, really. Somewhere in the 700 range.
So we packed up our estate sale accumulations and moved from the squat house in Sacramento to a place with our names on the lease in Reedsport, Oregon. My wife took a job cleaning in a hotel and I started working for Banker’s Life Insurance – which didn’t suit me at all. I got certified, made a little money, and then said ‘fuck this’. Selling bad life insurance to senior citizens wasn’t something I could do. So, instead of that, I jumped back into buying and selling.
I opened a little antique shop on the main drag in Reedsport. My rent was $300/mo and I caught all the travelers driving down the Coastal 101 Freeway. I became a regular at all the estate sales (and garage sales) and soon began to run estate sales for other people (which is where the money really is). The little town paper ‘Coffee Talk’ announced it was shutting down and I began putting together an alternative. As soon as Coffee Talk sent out its last issue, I was at every advertiser they had offering a new paper Reedsport.info. I was able to create a website version and figured out how to print a weekly version, where to distribute it, and within a very short time – I was earning more from the ad revenue than I was making in my antique shop.
I needed a bigger shop and rented a big abandoned storefront in Reedsport’s dying downtown. There was not much there. The only book store in town was closing down and was right across the street from me. I bought his shelves, his fixtures, his neon ‘Books’ sign, and everything else I could get. It was fire sale prices. In my little newspaper, I was a big advocate for marijuana after Oregon legalized it. I suggested that Reedsport could enjoy a huge benefit from bringing in dispensaries and catering to weed tourists. This didn’t win me any fans. I had several advertisers threaten to pull out if I continued to make jokes about ‘Weedsport’ – so I toned it down.
On a whim, I decided to enter politics. I ran for Umpqua Port Commissioner, a county level post. I got nearly 40% of the vote without really doing anything. It was becoming increasingly clear that my ‘liberal California’ ways were not loved by most of the folks in Reedsport. My wife (thankfully) had left the hotel job and gotten a job as an educational assistant at the elementary school. She began the process of getting certified to work with special needs children. We were doing pretty good, actually. Our daughter was in kindergarten, our businesses (and her job) were earning us a nice income, a brewery had opened up across the street from my shop, and the little downtown was coming back to life. This was late 2015 and early 2016.
That’s when things started to get ugly. My wife is Muslim, technically, I converted so I am too, but I’m not a religionist on any level. First the Trump rhetoric started on the campaign trail. His hate talk towards Muslims activated people. His racist talk made people feel it was okay to be racist. I began having more and more old white men come into my shop, see that I was a small town white guy, and start saying hateful, mean, violent, and racist things about President Obama, about Muslims, and about immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, and Jewish people. They just assumed I was part of their club – I shut them down the best I could and generally raised the prices from where they might have been. Great thing with an antique shop is that your prices are generally set 200% above what you really want – I would only let these guys give me a large profit for the stuff they wanted. Their racism cost them.
I became hyper-alert and anxious because I was living in a town where my wife and my child were targets because they weren’t white or Christian. I didn’t need to worry about my 5 year old getting harassed for saying “Allah” in kindergarten, but that time was coming. I knew what small town bullying looked like. I watched with disbelief as Trump got more and more support. My fellow townspeople loved him! They actually carved chainsaw statues of him and put them up on the three roads coming into town. To me it screamed “We’re racist here!” One of the guys who worked for the state highway department began driving around with a huge confederate flag flying from the back of his pickup truck.
I was an early Bernie supporter. My “Feel the Bern” signs didn’t bother anyone too much though a couple of old guys felt the need to explain that I was supporting a ‘Jew Communist’ -but when Hillary got the nomination – the ugliness of 2016 really came out. “Hillary = WWIII” “Lock the Bitch Up” – these were actual signs I saw people put out in their yards or bumper stickers on cars. I was never a huge Hillary supporter, but of course I was going to vote for her because the alternative (Trump) was so much worse. There were a few signs that went up supporting her that I saw on my drive to work one day – on the drive home, they had been stomped, broken, or thrown in the river. This happened multiple times. I was still trying to do business in this town, so I didn’t put Hillary signs up in my shop – but I did start selling bumper stickers that said “Vote Neither in 2016 because WTF….NOOOOO!” – I would have made a killing selling Trump hats and stickers, but I refused.
The town was filled with Trump signs and Trump supporters. More and more old white people were saying things to me like “When he gets in there, the (N-word) are going to have to pay” or “He’s going to lock that (N-word) Obama up”. I lived it, on the ground as a white person at Trump ground zero – I know why they voted for him. People voted for Trump because they are racist. Period. You don’t vote for a racist because he is a good business person unless you are a racist. And by the way, he’s a terrible business person.
You know the story, Trump won. I had seen the dirty souls of the people around me. I no longer felt like my family was safe. I listed my shop and my newspaper for sale and hoped that a buyer would come along. That buyer did show up and right around the same time – our landlord informed us she was selling the house we had been renting. It was all the confirmation I needed.
I couldn’t leave fast enough. We closed the deal on the shop and paper, had a huge sell off garage sale at our house, and I packed a trailer and shipped it to Hawaii. Honolulu may not be perfect – but it’s filled with a diversity of people and racism isn’t a big problem like it is on the continent. Hawaii is the least violent place in America, and Hawaii voted 70+% against Trump. Plus, and this is true – Hawaii had always felt like it was home to me – I finally had enough money to get my family there and give us a start.
I made a quick trip to Honolulu, landed a job as an archaeologist, rented a little apartment – and then went back to Reedsport for the last time to pack up my family and bring them to Hawaii. In a way, this was the conclusion of the trip I’d started back in 2008 when I left Honolulu to see the world. I’d come full circle.
To be honest, the whole thing with Reedsport really broke my heart. I loved that little town. I loved the location, the outdoors, and the untapped potential. I liked living in a friendly small town (before Trump). We had a lot of friends there. Our businesses were doing good. I’m not sad that we came back to Hawaii – but I’m sad that things went they way they did. The fact that a government worker was allowed to drive around flying that confederate flag and the awful Trump statues proclaiming ignorance and racism – and making the families there who weren’t white, Christian, straight, or Republican feel like they weren’t welcome. Those racist old white dudes suddenly feeling like it was okay to throw the n-word around in public – all of it – it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. There are some great people in Reedsport. It’s a cute little place with a huge potential – but as much as I loved it – it wasn’t worth having my family in a situation where we were at the mercy of heavily armed bigots. On a strange note – the David statue has been converted to a Trump statue by the new owners of my old shop and now sits in front of their shop without the city offering any protest.
Incorporated in 1919 near the confluence of three rivers – the Umpqua, the Smith, and the Scholfield, the City of Reedsport is located on the beautiful Oregon Coast on Highways 101 and 38 on the banks of the Umpqua River – the largest river between the Sacramento and the Columbia. Located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, Reedsport is in close proximity to over 17 freshwater lakes and is just four miles from Winchester Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Reedsport is the home of the Umpqua Discovery Center a Natural and Cultural Interpretive Center. It has a population of about 4500 people.
Reedsport is located in Douglas County on the central Oregon coast at the intersection of Oregon Highway 38 and U.S. Highway 101. The City is approximately 195 miles south of Portland, 87 miles southwest of Eugene, 70 miles west of Roseburg, 25 miles north of Coos Bay, and 21 miles south of Florence.
There are all types of getaways. The choices are limitless…from big adventure to soft adventure, romantic to family, glamping to camping. The key to getting it right is understanding what your heart and soul needs. Is it downtime you crave, or do want to scale a mountain, or maybe you just need time to listen to your “creative” without distractions? I call this last kind of getaway, Going Away To Go Within. If you’re an artist of any kind you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Occasionally, we need to pause – step away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. One way to do this is to get away from our daily life and go on a getaway that is a mixture of retreat and vacation. A Dorland Mountain Arts Colony Getaway integrates some traditional aspects of seclusion with some more modern traits of a vacation. Far more than a vacation, this artist couple’s getaway offers time to rest, reflect, and renew your creative spirit. It allows time to slow down, breathe in and breathe out so that you can emerge renewed, refreshed, and ready to pursue your creative passions with a new found perspective. Think time for reconnecting with your creative self to produce something of merit, with a splash of soft adventure to remind you what uncomplicated “fun” is all about. It’s that “ah” moment; the convergence of the exact right place, with just the right people, with just the right level of activity.
You’ll find Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Southern California, about 90 minutes from San Diego or Los Angeles. It’s a nonprofit artist’s community set on 300 acres along a ridge overlooking the Temecula Valley. The Colony covers about 10 acres with the rest of the land left in its natural state. It also happens to be just 10 minutes from the trendy Temecula Valley Wine Country. The mission of Dorland Mountain Arts Colony is to provide a unique working and performance retreat fostering creativity, and a community connection to the creative process, in a secluded natural setting. They do this by offering a unique residency program in their two self-contained cottages that can accommodate up to two people per cottage. Residencies are intended as professional development opportunities for writers, composers, visual artists and most other artistic media’s. So whether you’re trying to finish your latest book, compose a new song, paint a masterpiece, or do some serious scrapbooking, this is the place for you. And you can do it for about $250.
Cottages rent out for a minimum of one week at $250 a week. Artists must apply to stay at the retreat. Artistic merit and promise are the basis for selections. Mature and emerging artists are encouraged to apply. Applicants 21 and over may apply. It’s an easy online application that starts your adventure. You’ll need to give about 2 weeks to 30 days for confirmation of acceptance.
Once accepted, Residents are housed in individual, furnished, small cottages with complete kitchens, one bedroom with full bath, a great room with a wood burning stove (wood is furnished by Dorland), and a veranda or porch with magnificent mountain, canyon or Temecula Valley views. Residents structure their own time and activities. Residents may choose to maintain their privacy or to engage with other residents and activities at Dorland. In order to protect individual privacy, residents are encouraged to communicate with each other by leaving messages in mailboxes located by Dorland’s gazebo and Reflection Pond. Residents are responsible for their own personal living expenses, food, beverages, supplies, telephone and expenses related to the production of their work during the residency.
I’ve visited Dorland several times. The residents come for the distraction free environment – the beauty, the inspirational moments…and the occasional outing to fine wine, dining and gaming. Dedicated sessions to their craft, long nature walks on the property, and the occasional trip to the lush green vineyards, wineries, a nearby glitzy casino (Pechanga Resort & Casino), and small town amenities seem to be the key to the success of this artist getaway.
Without the pull of deadlines, relationships, the Internet and other media, you and a partner can give yourselves the gift of time and reflection. Hopefully, when you return home, you can take a little bit of this time alone back with you creating the space for deep reflection, a creative life renewed , ready to take on the world.
It’s a shame that not much has been written about Desert Hot Springs near Palm Springs, Ca. I am not sure if those who know about it don’t want others to be “in” on the values and fun of it all or the press just hasn’t discovered it yet. One thing for sure, this is one of those wonderful USA holidays that hasn’t yet been ‘discovered’.
No matter, I’ve been there, experienced its rich treasures, and am here to tell you – it’s a great place to relax and rejuvenate. It’s hasn’t wrapped itself in the glitz and glamour cloak of its neighbor Palm Springs yet, but …it can certainly hold its own until that time comes and is worthy of a 3-day stay. If you’re the kind of traveler who can appreciate the raw essence of a natural jewel, this is the place for you.
Desert Hot Springs is built over one of the world’s finest natural hot mineral water aquifers. Naturally occurring mineral waters bubble to the surface making this a mineral bath and spa destination. There are over 22 unique (many family owned and operated) inns where you can Zen out, relaxing in polished marble resorts, retro-hip motels, clothes optional, or dog friendly retreats.
Almost every inn has spa treatments available on property, so you can just roll from the comfy rooms, to the pool, to the mineral baths, to the spa treatments. No need to bring your own stash of designer bottled water as the city boasts pure and delicious award-winning municipal drinking water.
I’d forgotten how good the health benefits of mineral-rich, hot springs can feel. Mineral waters around the world are famous for their healing attributes, and Desert Springs is no slacker in this department. What a treat to experience stress relieving natural heat, while minerals absorbed through my skin rejuvenating my body. Ready to relieve sore muscles and treat the stiffness that accompanies arthritis, the water in Desert Hot Springs is rich in silica leaving the skin soft and smooth.
This destination is perfect for some serious alone time, girlfriend getaways, or some romantic rejuvenation. There are a variety of inns to choose from. My favorites (including a refreshing recipe) are below, but whatever you’re looking for…it’s here for you.
Aqua Soleil: This was my host hotel for two days. Savvy General Manager Sabine Pollerman welcomed me with open arms. I must say the ground floor suite she assigned me was amazing. Just imagine your own mammoth Jacuzzi in your suite. By count I think I could have gotten at least 10 people in it. Also, lots of space to work on the computer or lounge on the couch. If I were writing a book, I’d like to start or end it here. The grounds were immaculate and inviting with a large swimming pool, two Jacuzzi’s and inviting well-kept outdoor conversation areas. Sabine tells me that her goal for her guests is for them, “To relax, refresh, and leave with abundant energy to return to their normal life.” The on property spa offers a variety of treatments and uses the upscale Body Deli products. Think Blueberry Fusion Micro-Scrub. Sabine encourages potential guests to check the property’s Web site for specials, and to call front desk manager “Ella” for any daily deals not shown on the Web site.
El Morocco Inn & Spa: A Moroccan inspired luxury inn in Desert Hot Springs, CA. run by owner Bruce Abney , one of the most gregarious inn keepers I have ever met. A day here is not only going to provide relaxation via the natural hot mineral water pool and spa, but when the evening rolls around… charm and deliciousness is the order of the evening. Between the delightful Bruce and the Inn’s signature cocktail, “The Morocco-tini” you’ll be raising a glass to pure relaxation. And hey…make sure you ask Bruce for the Sultan’s Tent Tour
Dog Spa Resort: This is an inn created from the ground up for dog lovers. Dogs vacation free with their owners. The owner and inn keeper are outstanding guardians; you’re going to love this place. No size limits or breed restrictions. Soak, swim, and rejuvenate in some of the world’s finest hot mineral waters.
Does it get any better? Yup! The pet nanny is on duty from 12 – 6pm to care for dog guests while you play off site. The rooms are large, clean and gorgeous. All you have to do is pack your bag, grab your significant others and get ready for a unique experience.
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Soleil Chilled Avocado Soup with Tomato Salsa
The recipe serves 8-12 Compliments of Aqua Soleil
6 large ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 spring onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yogurt
4 ripe tomatoes, deseeded
2 seedless cucumbers, deseeded
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Chop avocados roughly, leaving 1/4 cup for the salsa. Place in a food processor with lime juice, garlic, spring onions, cumin and stock – puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add yogurt and blend for 30 seconds. Chill soup until ready to serve.
For the tomato salsa, finely dice tomatoes and cucumber, then combine with the remaining avocado left from the soup. Stir in spring onion, lime juice, sweet chili sauce and chopped cilantro.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a small amount of salsa.