New York Foodie – The Best Places for Food Shopping in New York City

by Sarah Spigelman exclusive for Vagobond

Murray's Chees Shop

New York isn’t just the best place to eat; it’s one of the best places to shop for food. No need to subscribe to pricey specialty food email lists to obtain the latest in hard-to–source foods.

Stop stockpiling foreign candy that gets you in trouble with customs every time you try to come back from London. And please…let’s say goodbye to big box supermarkets that sell tomatoes that look gorgeous and taste like candle wax.

Here are just a few of Manhattan’s very best food stores, sure to give you everything you need to feast at home.

KalustyanKalustyan’s – this Indian food emporium offers literally anything you will need to make a meal from the subcontinent. There is a wall full of spices so potent that your eyes may tear – but at the same time, your mouth will water. Need paneer, chickpea flour, or kaffir lime? They have it. Or maybe you want a huge bag of Brazil nuts, strained yogurt from Greece, or foreign candy bars. Don’t sweat; they have that here, too. If all else fails, you at least owe it you yourself to try some food at the tiny upstairs café. It might not be fancy, but it is the best Indian food that you can get outside of your Bengali mom’s house.

Eataly—Mario Batali strikes gold again with this humongous Italian emporium. This place isn’t just a supermarket; it is a full-on destination. Along with the piles of exotic mushrooms, Italian dried pastas, and imported fruit like Sicilian blood oranges, you can have cooking lessons or wine classes. There is a European style food hall, with many small restaurants focusing on just one thing – fish, vegetables, pizza, or pasta. Also, stand at counters and try meats, cheese, or wines. Finally, for the ultimate experience, head to Manzo, an acclaimed beef focused restaurant right in the heart of the bustling store.

Zabar’s-come on to the UWS for a little nosh. This is the place where you come for Sunday brunch – for soft, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese,Zabar's and the gest assortment of smoked fish in the city. Smoked salmon, kippered salmon, smoked trout, whitefish salad, and everything else you can imagine to make a fantastic spread. Also load up on gourmet olives, luscious cheeses, homemade hummus, and artisanal crackers and breads. Don’t underestimate the stuff you can get at Zabar’s –they roast their own chickens; have an extensive prepared food section, and a coffee section that carries the aroma of the best Starbucks in the world.

Esposito's Meats by afagenEsposito’s – this old school butcher shop is what NYC used to be like, before the infusion of big chain grocery stores. Esposito’s is a tiny store in Hell’s Kitchen where anything and everything meat can be yours. Shins, marrow bones, veal breast, and whole baby goat – literally, anything that you want is either in stock or will be ordered for you. The fellas behind the counter couldn’t be more accommodating or helpful –they will tell you how to cook that chicken breast so it is tender and flavorful. Pick up some homemade mozzarella and local Italian bread while you are there and make sandwich fit for a king.

Hmart 1 by @JyonnnnHMart—goodbye, USA, hello Korea. This store, where the windows are papered and the location is in the middle of a harried street, houses an entirely different world. A world of 50 lb. bags of rice and dried squid sold like potato chips. A world of thinly sliced sashimi and an entire freezer case filled with dumplings and potstickers. A world of peach flavored gummies, coffee flavored milk, and instant noodles that are way beyond the stuff you had in college. It’s also a world of prepared bibimbap, kimpab, and anything that you might need to take a gustatory trip to Korea.

Luxury Vacation Condo & Private Chef in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Story by Linda Kissam by Vagobond

Gulf Shores AlabamaWho said the experience of a lifetime has to happen in some far off place? Holidaying at a luxury vacation home rental in the USA can be as memorable as anything in Italy, St. Croix, or any other exotic locale. The United States itself is so diverse that it borrows elements from all of the world’s best destinations. What is your idea of the perfect vacation? Is it a whirlwind of activities or a kick-back stay and play? If it’s the later and includes a luxury condo, sugar white beaches, crystal clear waters and a private chef, I have the vacation of a lifetime for you. It was a unique experience for me, and one that I highly recommend for you.

What would you give to stay on the beach and out of the kitchen, unpack once, throw your purse and smart phone on a chair and head out to the water? Ahhh, I sense I have your attention. Think the Dunes Subdivision just 19.5 miles west of Gulf Shores, Alabama on Fort Morgan Parkway. Along with your luxe rental, hire an experienced local, private chef from near-by Orange Beach to prepare gourmet meals customized to your taste buds. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean breezes. No shopping, no meal prep, no cleaning up. Serious luxury living.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefGulf Shores has a distinct food culture that you’ll not find anywhere else in the world and a private chef is guaranteed to bring the best of the Gulf shore directly to your vacation tabletop. A private chef is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of the area’s cuisine without ever leaving the comforts of your villa. Who would I recommend? Chef Chris Sherrill – celebrated chef and owner of EAT! Restaurant and Staycations Catering in Orange Beach.

First things, first. When the sugar white sand beaches and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico start calling your name, Kaiser Realty, Inc. is a good place to start your Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation rentals search. Located in charming Gulf Shores, Kaiser Realty, Inc. welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy a fantastic vacation experience along the Alabama Gulf Coast in one of the areas most luxe rental homes or beach condominiums. With properties sprinkled along the 32 miles of pristine white sand beaches accommodating singles, couples and large groups, you are going to easily find your perfect vacation rental. Kaiser Realty, Inc.’s ability to accommodate groups of any size makes creating a successful beach vacation in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach a breeze. Specializing in romantic getaways, family vacations and large group accommodations, their expert staff will pair you with the best property for you and your idea of the perfect vacation.

Gulf Shores Alabama My condo experience was the “CARPE DIEM:: GULF FRONT” featuring 6 bedrooms and 7 baths. It is a direct Gulf-front property. Off the beaten path between the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, the Fort Morgan Peninsula offers privacy, but easy access to area attractions. All homes within this subdivision have access to a swimming pool, located approximately 1 block north. Carpe Diem is conveniently located to 2 of this area’s finest golf courses. This home features lots of extras including a wet bar, 61″ TV with a home theater system, DVD player. Trust me; this is anybody’s dream vacation home. Here’s some (subject to change) pricing for you. Seven nights in peak summer $7,697.28 (there is a week minimum required in summer and peak season); 7 nights in winter $3,127.26; 4 nights in winter $2,172.46 (there is only a 4 night minimum required in “off” seasons). Adding a private chef to make the meals was a separate cost, but such an excellent decision.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefOnce you find your perfect accommodations, call up Chef Sherrill to let him know what you want. Chef graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C. in 1998 and has been a successful chef and entrepreneur for over 10 years. Chef was selected to be part of eight Gulf-area chefs to participate in the “Spirit of the Gulf, “a series of food and music events specifically designed for the US Olympic team and their families during the 2012 Olympic games.

What does Chef Sherrill do for his vacation condo clients? “We cook condo meals on site. The menu is handpicked by the client and my suggestions per seasonal and fresh product (produce and seafood). We take extra care to make sure food allergies and cultures are taken into consideration.” I asked Chef what Gulf Shores Alabama Private Chefthe benefits of having a personal chef prepare meals at a client’s vacation home. “Benefits? No wait versus standing in line during the summer. Many restaurants are on a 2 hour wait. Drink and eat in the comfort of your condo. Children can be served a separate meal early and the adults can eat at a later time. BEACHFRONT DINING!!!!!” I agree!

 

Resources:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Visitor Info – http://www.gulfshores.com/

New York Foodie – Emergency Dinner Spots in NYC

by Sarah Spiegelman  for Vagobond

Katz's Deli NYC Food emergencies happen! You just have to deal with it. Here are a few emergency dinner situations and how to make the most of them in New York City.

– Maybe you are meeting your parents they refuse to go far from their hotel.

– Maybe you are dining with friends who are just too cheap to pony up for a pizza that costs more than $10.

But, whatever the case, you can almost ALWAYS dine at somewhere a little better than what would have been if you are the one to suggest a place, and it is somewhat within the parameters that you or someone else has set.

There are just too many places in NYC to allow even one meal to be less than delicious. Follow this guide to ensure that the only time you eat a less-than-good meal in NYC is when you are in the airport.

Spice Market NYCLast Minute Party Reservations—so you couldn’t get into Buddakkan for your girlfriend’s last minute I’m-turning-35-and-freaking-out huge birthday bash? All you need is to keep an open mind and check out Open Table.

Go with a hip spot like Spice Market, The Stanton Social, or Tao – all places that specialize in small plates with strong Asian flavors. The only difference is that they are a little less popular with the Sex and the City crowd of tourists. These should be easier to get into and still give your friend a wonderful party. Don’t forget to ask for a prix fixe so everyone knows how much they are paying going in.

Dinner with Parents-

If your parents are visiting from Ohio, chances are that they are either so enamored with the bright lights of the city that they won’t want to leave their Times Square hotel area or that they are so disgusted with NYC that they won’t want to leave their hotel room.

Either way, you owe it to them to show them that NYC is more than just the Naked Cowboy and buying fake handbags. For a really NYC experience, pony up for the cab and take them down to Katz’s on the lower east side. IF they have never had real NYC Jewish Deli, they haven’t experienced NYC at all. Get a pastrami sandwich, a potato knish, and an ice cold Dr. Brown’s cream soda.

Tocqueville NYCIf they want a more relaxed dining experience, take them to the John’s in midtown. Spoiler alert – it really IS as good as the John’s downtown, takes reservations, and is far easier to get into. Get a cheese pizza and treat them to a real taste of NYC.

Dinner with Snooty Boss –

If your boss asks you to have dinner with him that night, but YOU had better make the reservation, and for 9 pm nonetheless, don’t even try to get into Jean-Georges of Babbo. Isn’t gonna happen.

Instead, head straight to Tocqueville. This gorgeous Union-Square area eatery offers high end green-market driven fare in an elegant setting. Come wearing a suit, don’t miss the scallops and foie gras, and be sure to ask for a kitchen tour when you are done dining.

Last Minute Brunch on Upper West Side-Gazala's Place NYC Druze Food

Friends pop in last minute? Don’t run out and get a stale bagel, and do NOT head to Sarabeth’s. Rather, go retro with brunch at Big Daddy’s. This 50’s style diner specializes in big portions of home-style favorites like omelettes, pancakes, and from-scratch tater- tots. There are quite a few kids there, but if that bothers you, just have another bloody Mary – they are delicious and strong!

Dinner with Skinflint Friends –

Cheap friends doesn’t have to mean a cheap experience. Head to Hell’s Kitchen and go to Gazala Place, the best Druze food this side of the dead sea. Load up on tabbouleh, falafel, and homemade bourekas in this tiny cash only spot where the food is way too good to be this cheap. You will struggle to spend $15 and will leave totally stuffed. Bonus – the spot is BYOB.

Got another favorite NYCX Emergency Dinner Spot? Let us know on our  Facebook page!

 

The Bellingham, WA Renaissance A 7-day Foodie Tour

Story by Linda Kissam
Bellingham, WAThere was a time when Bellingham area was booming, then a time when prosperity was only a faint memory. But a quick trip to Bellingham just a few short weeks ago tells me, its back bigger and better than ever. Whoever is responsible for the thoughtful mix of college town and foodie mecca should get an award. There’s enough to see and do for even the most demanding of food and wine diva’s – me included.

Some interesting facts about Bellingham set the scene. It’s about 2.5 hours by car from Seattle. It is Bellingham, WAhome to Western Washington University, so it has an authentic college town feel to it. It is a highly celebrated outdoor recreation haven. It’s also America’s raspberry capital. It is home to the largest Manila clam producer in the US. The Bellingham Mt. Baker region is #1 in the nation in milk production per cow. And…my favorite “brag” about Bellingham…Gading.com named Bellingham as one its “…top 25 greatest cities for sipping on vino thanks to its wine bars, boutique wineries, subdued vibe and stunning scenery. Ya gotta know I‘ll sip to that!

A true foodie tour is a mix of trying the ultra-fabulous and local’s favorites. Foodies love food for the experience, preparation, and promotion of it all. We want to learn everything about food and wine; both the best and the everyday, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. My 7-day trip to Bellingham was that and more.

A quick puddle jumper from Seattle (about 40 minutes) brings you into Bellingham Airport. Love this airport. It’s clean, simple and has rental cars. The first thing you’ll notice after getting your rental car – opt for the GPS – is that everything you’ll want to see and do is no more than 15-30 minutes from each other. Man, I love “The Ham,” as locals call it.

Fairhaven, WACheck into your hotel. I tried three while I was there. Each was perfect in its own way. First two nights I stayed at the Chrysalis Inn in Bellingham. Can you say, “Light, airy, elegant and a glorious spa?” The views were to die for and it was just a short breezy walk to the quaint town of Fairhaven. Bags dropped off, I was on my way to a sunset BBQ at Taylor Fish Farm. This is a working shellfish farm and a local’s favorite for its picturesque rugged Northwest location and fish market. Bring your own picnic supplies. Purchase oysters, clams and geoduck and do a scenic shore-side BBQ. It’s memorable to say the least.

Perhaps the highlight of my foodie-thon was a foraging event. Working with local wilderness guide celeb Jennifer Hahn my group went foraging for food in the morning in a near-by forest. That collection of herbs, flowers, and berries was sent over to Ciao Thyme on Unity St. in Bellingham. That evening we were treated to a dinner featuring the fruits of our labor. I cannot begin to describe the “wholeness’ of this experience. A delicious multi-course dinner made by owner Jessica and Mataio Gillis served at elegant community tables with classic Washington wines brings the term farm to table to life. This is a must do.

Switching hotels, I find myself at the Fairhaven Village inn. Large, well appointed, comfortable rooms, easy access to downtown and a friendly staffBelllingham, WA make this a great place to stay. For breakfast, walk about 50 feet to Magdalena’s Creperie. Owner Magdalena came to Bellingham from Poland. Her menu is certainly inspired by her Polish roots, but expect a definite French influence as well. Any dish you order is lovingly prepared, delicious beyond expectation, and generous in portion. I don’t think you’ll have a favorite because everything you order will be your favorite. The espresso drinks are also killer. This is a must stop for anyone on a quest to taste excellent local-run restaurants.

A quick tour around town with the Goodtime Girls Walking tour will give you some background on this once wild and wooly town. Or if you wish, try their Sin & Gin Tour. Both tours run about $20 bucks and end up with a free drink at a local bar. Its good fun and fun times with the ladies. Highly recommended.

For the more artistic types head off to the Whatcom Museum and Mount Baker Theater for some lessons in art and architecture. Both are breathtaking, unique and a joy to visit. Call ahead for a private tour. Both sites have a lot to offer from LEED awards to Moorish style architecture which come to life through a docent tour. Have lunch at the Cheese Meat(s) Beer café located in the Museum. I think you’ll enjoy this fresh take on comfort food. Expect the unexpected through the many influences and inspirations of owners Travis Surmi and Annalou Vincent.

BellinghamFor dinner, The Table in downtown Bellingham might just have your number. It certainly had mine. This is an edgy, trendy, energetic restaurant. The food is served family style with a view to using locally produced products whenever possible. Known for its healthy gourmet food attitude, expect really good food served in an upbeat but noisy atmosphere. Our dinner included freshly made Beet Caprese, Fattoush Salad, Sockeye Salmon Primavera, Moroccan Chicken Linguine, and Pink Vodka Penne. Yum!

Take a breather as we did and stroll over a few blocks to Chocolate Necessities. Owner Kevin Buck treated us to a guided chocolate tasting helping us to better understand the differences in quality of chocolates and cocoa content. Best to call ahead to see when the chocolate and wine pairings are happening. You’ll thank me later.

Switching hotels again, this time to Hotel Bellwether located in Bellingham, WA. This 65-room upscale view property is lovely and is again centrally located. One of Bellingham’s most popular seafood restaurants, Anthony’s, is located just a quick stroll away. A waterfront view of Bellingham Bay, delicious creative cocktails (try the cucumber cooler), and some of the best seafood in Washington is served up in casual elegance. Both hotel and restaurant are highly recommended.

BellinghamHopping on a shuttle tour with Whatcom Wine Tours the group was out for a glimpse into what the area wine scene has to offer. Our stops included Glacial Lake Missoula Winery, Vartanyan Estate Winery and Dynasty Cellars. Since there are another six to try, your tour might be different. Although not world class wineries as of yet, there is certainly potential. We had a lovely picnic lunch at Vartanyan. Owner Margarita is so passionate and visionary, you can’t help but sense success is just around the corner for her. At Dynasty Cellars, owner Peter Osvaldik greeted us with lots of charm and a dynamite food & wine pairing. Peter seems to be mixing Old World winemaking techniques with Washington varietals. My guess – we have a winner here. Watch out for this guy – he’s a rock star in the making. The reds are killer.

Last up on the foodie tour was the grand slam of it all; a 16-course dinner at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Under the quiet and confident direction of young Chef Blaine Wetzel this was a chance to indulge Bellingham Foodieand delight in the foods, taste and culture of Washington cuisine. Tiny bite-sized courses paired with Washington wines made this the ultimate foodie experience and best of all it’s an affordable indulgence.

During the dinner, our group was treated to the texture, sights and tastes of exquisitely prepared and presented courses. Our server patiently explained each unique course: Baked Sunflower Roots, Crispy Crepe with Sockeye Roe, Pickled Oyster with Sorrel, Toasted Kale with Black Truffle and Rye, Wild Berries and Grasses, Albacore with Horseradish, Shitake over Fire, Smoked Sockeye Salmon, Bread with Pan Drippings, Crispy Halibut Skin with Razor Clams, Flax Seed, Aged Venison Leg, Grilled Onions, Spot Prawns, Charred Frisée, and finally… Blueberries with woodruff and malt.

Washington wine pairings at the dinner included Wescott Bay Traditional Apple Cider, 2010 Ross Andrew Winery Meadow Pinot, 2011 Mount Baker Vineyards Madeline, 2011 Lachini Vineyards Rosé of Pinot, and 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Opulento Port.

Hard to top that, so I won’t try. Goodnight Bellingham. Nice to see you’re back – and a great place for foodies.

Helpful Resource

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism

Julian, California A Magnificent Four Season Mountain Town

Story by Linda Kissam

So… when I say, “ Julian, California” you probably responded, “Pie.” If that’s what you did then you would be about 10% correct. A recent four-day stay in Julian tells me this place is trending in all the right places: food, wine and unique travel activities… four seasons a year.

The key to getting to know this special place is to stay awhile. It’s about an hour away from San Diego and Palm Springs; add another 30 minutes from Orange County and LA. Coming up for two hours for a cup of cappuccino and a slice of apple pie, just doesn’t make sense. This is a smart hip mountain town that combines all the elements foodies and small-town aficionado’s look for.

Lake Cuyamaca

Think easy to walk downtown area with lots of different shops, a microbrewery, a multitude of incredible restaurants small and large, a charming tea shop, and my favorite of course…wine tasting rooms. Venture out ten minutes past downtown and you’ll find wineries to visit, hill top dining in Wynola, a picturesque fishing lake, an ultra-cool stargazing facility, and killer hiking opportunities like the Pacific Crest Trail. This is Julian? Yup…and there’s even more. Drive 20 minutes from downtown and you’ll be able to do some gold mining, discover a wolf education center, and work those slots and poker tables at a casino. Ahhh, I see I have your attention now.

Here’s a round-up of my favorite places. Use it as a quick guide of what to do and enjoy in and around Julian.

In the Downtown Area
Park your car and enjoy free parking, flat terrain, restaurants, clothing stores, wine tasting and bakery shops. Get your credit card ready, this is a shopper, foodie and wine lovers paradise. Here’s a taste of what to expect.

Julian Lodge Bed & Breakfast – Designed after the Washington Hotel, built in 1885, the affordable Julian Lodge (generally under $90) with modern amenities is just steps away from all things fun: shopping, biking, hiking, dining, wine tasting and afternoon tea. Guests enjoy recently refurbished rooms and a pleasant continental breakfast. Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Open year-round. Be sure to check out their online and walk-in specials. Hikers welcome!

Orchard Hill Country Inn – Book here for a serene and romantic AAA four-diamond experience. I know you’ll love the choice of twenty-two well-appointed rooms, 10 comfy lodge rooms, and 12 secluded cottages near downtown Julian. Stroll the grounds and sit awhile in this lovely mountain top retreat. Enjoy your own personal “Ahhh moment” viewing gorgeous sunsets and wandering through the seasonal gardens. Includes many in-room amenities, Internet, a full breakfast and afternoon hors d’ouevres. Be sure and make reservations for their four-course sophisticated dinner served on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Room rates run from $195 – $450. Check out the Web site for specials and packages.

Julian, California

Julian Tea & Cottage Arts –Despite the name this place is definitely all about the tea. A gracious staff makes your time here a welcome retreat. I loved the way the staff member Jill explained each course and the tea that accompanied it. Tea is served in a charming turn-of-the-century home. Afternoon Tea consists of finger sandwiches, scone with whipped cream, homemade jam and dessert. However, if you just want a cup of tea or tea and cookies, you’ll also be welcomed with open arms. Ask to try the Yorkshire Gold. Seriously, for those of us who love all things afternoon tea, this has to be on your places to visit and do some major shopping.

 

Witch Creek Winery- A boutique winery focusing on quality over quantity, by producing small-lot, handcrafted wines. The result is full-bodied well balanced wines rich in flavor that have earned many medals over the years. Server Tammy told me “We’re all about the Reds.” She was right. Be sure to taste the 2009 Screaming Kitty ($23), the Tre Amici ($29- Gold Medal Winner) and the Cat’s Pajama’s ($21).

Julian, California

Candied Apple Pastry Company –Owner Charles Scott and Executive Pastry Chef Charles Scott bring quality, scratch-made pastries and delicious lunch entrees to Julian. This is the bakery you’ve been longing to find. Sit outside and people watch while munching on unbelievable treats, enjoying unique lunch offerings, sipping some local fresh pressed apple cider (seasonal) or enjoying the full espresso bar. This place has passion for its product and the community it works in. DON’T MISS IT.

 

Bailey Pit BBQ & Julian Brewery – This is the place for dinner and live entertainment. Bailey Barbecue has a big-boy BBQ menu, 16 draft beers, in addition to a full bar. Enjoy live music and dancing every Saturday night and some Friday nights. The place was packed and rocking out when I was there. There’s a special vibe to this place that will call to your artistic side. The Julian Brewing Company (brewing facility located in the garage of the historic Bailey house) has released the first brewed beer in Julian in over 100 years. Trust me, it’s all good – the food, the music, the beer. Check out the Web site for the menu and live entertainment schedule.

Julian Pie Company: You know you’ve come to the right place for apple pie when you find out each one weighs 2.85 pounds –give or take an apple slice. Hot, juicy, luscious come to mind. This is the ultimate apple pie stop, don’t miss it. Think about combing your visit with lunch first. It’s a simple lunch menu that’s offered, but its Big Boy sandwiches at their best…for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. One of my favorite places.

Eagle & High Peak Mine –Just a few blocks from downtown tour one of Julian’s original gold mines. Guides lead you through the intricate path of tunnels in the hard rock mine and share tales of the life of early residents of Julian. Great fun! Perfect for all ages.

Just Outside Town
10 minutes away on a charming country road.

J. Jenkins Winery – This boutique winery is ready to run with the big dogs. With 15 year-old vineyards, their wine has finally come into its own. Currently there are 7 wines to taste, all have merit. There is a $6 fee to taste which allows you get to keep the glass. My jaw dropped at the exquisite 2005 Syrah ($22). Big and bold, this ruby colored wine is complex, expressing both bold fruit and a definite earthy quality. I took this one home intending to share it with my wine club as an example of a great local wine find. Melanie was tending the wine bar. She suggested we try the Dolcezza ($16) (apple wine) made from 100% apples. Light, crisp with a slight effervescence, sipping it out on their patio was quite a treat.

Menghini Winery – Just down the road from J. Jenkins , this winery is surrounded by apple orchards and a six acre vineyard. This is country charm at its best and a major site for many Julian events. The winery produces approximately 4,000 cases of wine annually. I think you’re going to like the 2006 Syrah with its berry notes and hints of oak, and the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc showcasing some grassy notes on the nose and palate. Should be an excellent food wine.

In Nearby Wynola
Surprising dining options on this hill top just a few minutes from downtown Julian

Julian, California

Wynola Pizza Express – Located a mere three miles west of Julian on State Highway 78 and 3.5 miles east of Santa Ysabel this is where you go for the best gourmet wood-fired pizza, a variety of entrees, desserts, wine and beer and lively entertainment. Affordable and great for singles, families, or date-night. There’s a variety of places to dine at, from a bistro-style dining room, to casual booths or a group dining area. My favorite dishes were the Fire-Roasted Artichoke Dip (serves 2-4) $ 9.95. Artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, Romano, provolone and mozzarella cheeses blended with herbs and spiced and served with Buffalo crackers; Sausage Pizza $11.95 Sausage, red onions & bell peppers & mozzarella cheese; and the Sumi Salad (an Asian slaw) – $7.95. Crisp green cabbage tossed with crunchy noodles, scallions, shredded carrots tossed with house rice vinaigrette and topped with toasted sesame seeds and almonds.

 

Jeremy’s on The Hill –Heads up foodies! This family owned and operated business specializes in fresh and sumptuous gourmet foods. Put this experience in the fine-dining category without the pretentious stuff . They take pride in providing an atmosphere that promotes family friendliness while still providing for romantic intimacy. Chef Jeremy is dedicated to using only the finest and freshest ingredients available–most of which are locally provided. Because of that, the menu can often change, while still providing guest favorites. Got to love a place that brings in organically grown produce from Julian, Borrego Springs, Valley Center and other nearby locations. Great wine list and the Sunday Brunch is to die for. Put this 24 year old chef on your “to watch” list.

Chef Jeremy sends his love through a yummy recipe. See below!

Country Cellars- Think and drink local beers, wine and hard ciders with owner Trezette “Trez” Gotfredson. Country Cellars offers $6 tasting which include a mixture of local wine and beer choices. Offerings change weekly so you’ll always be surprised at what Trez is pouring. If you’re lucky you’ll come on a day Trez is offering her mini food & wine pairings. This should be one of your first stops on the way into Julian so you get an idea of what the local microbreweries and wineries have to offer. Plan your tasting AFTER you spend some time here.

A Little Further Out
There’s more unique fun about 20 minutes outside town.

Observer’s Inn Sky Tour – This is going to be an OMG moment for you, guaranteed. One of the best ways to see Julian’s star-filled skies is by taking a sky-tour with owner/innkeeper Mike Leigh. He’s set up a small – but mighty observatory with research-grade telescopes. Mike’s evening sky tours are literally out-of-this world. Mike will guide you through the star clusters and galaxies, pointing out planets and nebulae. This ain’t your boring high school astronomy class. Mike leads a lively presentation challenging everyone to think outside their comfort zone. The best $10/person you’re likely to spend.

California Wolf CenterAhhh, the heart and soul of it all. This place is likely to bring you to tears – happy ones – for all this center does. The California Wolf Center is a one-of-a-kind education, conservation. Founded in 1977 to educate the public about wildlife and ecology, the Center is currently home to several packs of gray wolves, some of which are exhibited for educational purposes. The wolves serve as ambassadors representing wolves in the wild. They also host highly endangered Mexican gray wolves, now being reintroduced into the southwestern United States. A visit to the Center provides a unique close up experience involving one of the most charismatic and controversial species in North American history. Perfect for singles, families, and couples.

Santa Ysabel Casino – Escape to a hidden getaway with intimate gaming, breathtaking views and some of the best craft beer and tequila shots around. Enjoy over 350 of the most popular slots, blackjack, 3-Card Poker, Pai-gow and exciting poker tournaments. Full service restaurant featuring lots of variety.

 

Chef Jeremy’s Crispy Brussel Sprouts & Chickpeas Recipe

Enjoy the following recipe compliments of Chef Jeremy Manley. Chef speaks directly to the reader throughout the recipe in an engaging and interactive format. The instructions come with some cooking tips that are essential to a successful dish. Read carefully all the way through before prepping..

One pot of oil (approx. 8 cups)

1 bamboo skewer

½ cup chick peas

1 cup of quarter Brussels sprouts

1 cup of Ponzu- a citrus soy sauce

2T red wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

1 T red pepper flakes

¼ Cup Brown Sugar

1 garlic clove minced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk rigorously until all combined.

Heat your oil to 350 degrees. Wonder how you can tell what 350 degrees looks like? Once your pot of oil has been sitting on the stove top at a medium high heat for a couple minutes, place a wood skewer in your pot of oil and when the bubbles rise gently gliding up the stick you are at the appropriate temperature. Do not bring to a boil or you will create the biggest mess you have ever seen and burn wounds are dangerous!

Gently place the chickpeas in a wire basket, or straight into the pot. Remember though you must have a tool to fish them out.

After about 30 seconds add your Brussels sprouts and watch out! They will snap crackle and pop on you so protect your eyes! A little grease splat on your arm builds character.

If the risk is too high for you, just come into the restaurant and I’d love to cook you up some local vegetables. Did you know Brussels sprouts are from Belgium and they are a hybrid of the cabbage family. Enjoy!

 

 

Big Food Challenges in Florida

Florida is known as a place where everything is bigger and better – the theme park rides, the sports and certainly the food. If you’re the competitive type, why not check out some of the restaurants below, all of which offer unique challenges for the truly hungry.

Whether you’re on holiday with your kids or enjoying an intimate break, sweltering over the Inferno Soup at Nitally’s, chowing down a 48oz steak or eating ice cream from a kitchen sink, you’re sure to have a great story to take home with you whether you pass the test or not.

48oz Steak Challenge at Don Shula’s Steak House

48 oz steakLaunched by former NFL coach Don Shula in 1989, this restaurant chain quickly gained a reputation as one of the best places in Florida to sink your teeth into some prime Angus beef. Each restaurant is themed after the Miami Dolphins’ “Perfect Season” that Shula presided over in 1972, when the Dolphins became the only team in NFL history to finish the entire season undefeated.

Orlando holidays in Florida wouldn’t be complete without sampling their famous 48oz Porterhouse steak, dubbed “The Shula Cut”. Holidaymakers who manage to finish all of this titanic T-bone in one sitting are rewarded with induction into the restaurant’s 48oz Club, which would certainly provide a few bragging rights back home.

However, guests have their work cut out for them if they’re planning to beat the record of superfan Taft Parker, who to date has eaten over 175 of the giant steaks – earning a commemorative football from Don Shula himself for his achievement.

Shula’s Steak House Orlando, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, 1500 Epcot Resorts Blvd, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830

Inferno Soup Challenge at Nitally’s

If you’ve got a taste for the spicy stuff, you may have finally met your match at Nitally’s Thai-Mexican restaurant in St Petersburg, Florida.

This challenge isn’t for the faint of heart: the Inferno Soup contains fresh ghost pepper. At over 400 times stronger than Tabasco sauce, it’s the hottest chili known to mankind – in fact, it’s so hot the Indian government has reportedly considered using it in non-lethal hand grenades.

For good measure, the restaurant throws about a dozen other varieties of pepper, including three kinds of jabanero, into the dish.

The owners of Nitally’s initially offered a $150 (£96) reward to any steel-tongued guest who can finish the soup in less than 30 minutes, but as of July 2011 not a single customer has managed it – prompting them to raise the jackpot to $800 (£512).

Challengers must be over 18, stone-cold sober and “of sound mind and health” before they can tackle the Inferno Soup Challenge, as well as remaining seated throughout. Any takers?

Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine, 2462 Central Ave, St Petersburg, Florida 33712

20 Tacos in 40 Minutes at Poblano’s

Poblano’s Restaurant in Clearwater, Florida is a local favourite among lovers of burritos, enchiladas and tequila. The truly adventurous, however, can put their guts to the test with the 20 Tacos in 40 Minutes challenge. The crispy fried tortillas filled with shredded beef, cheese and lettuce are a staple of Mexican cuisine, but it takes true grit to step up to the bar at Poblano’s and earn a place in the restaurant’s hall of fame.

The tacos are served ten at a time and diners are expected to clear their plates completely to succeed. If they do manage to chow down the full 20, the house pays for the meal and the challenger receives a T-shirt and has their photo mounted on the wall of the restaurant.

A word of warning, though – only 13 people have completed the challenge since it was launched a couple of years ago. Reigning champion Adam went above and beyond to finish an incredible 30 of the spicy snacks in the allotted time.

Poblano’s Mexican Grill & Bar, 2451 North McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, Florida 33759

The Kitchen Sink at Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour

Americans love to round off a meal with a good ice cream sundae, and entering this classically-styled parlour in Dania Beach, Florida is like stepping back in time to the age of soda jerks, Cadillacs and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s also a dessert on the menu that’s a meal in itself and then some.

The Kitchen Sink isn’t just a clever name – it really is served in a full-size kitchen sink, plumbing and all. The servers behind the counter are invited to let their imaginations run wild putting everything they can think of into the colossal sundae, with toppings including marshmallow, chocolate, strawberries, cherries, fudge and sprinkles.

In this case there’s no reward for finishing the food besides the satisfaction of a job well done, but at $12.95 (£8) per person – for a minimum of four diners – it’s a whole lot of ice-cream for your cash.

Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour, 128 South Federal Highway, Dania Beach, Florida 33004

Eddie’s Monsta Burger at Eddie’s Bar & Grill

Eddy's bar and grillIf you’re a burger lover and you think you’ve seen it all, Eddie would have you believe otherwise. From the outside it may seem like just another waterfront burger joint in Dunedin, Florida, but it has achieved local fame thanks to one truly daunting menu item: the Monsta Burger.

Featuring 3lbs of beef created from six of the restaurant’s normal half-pounders and “all the fixin’s”, this colossal burger is even served with a pound of French fries on the side! Finish it all within 30 minutes and you’ll get a T-shirt and your picture on the Wall of Fame, as well as a free meal.

Fail, and it’ll set you back $24.99 (£16), but why not have a go at one of Eddie’s other challenges? The super-spicy Fire-in-the-Hole Chicken Wings will net you $100 (£64) in gift vouchers if you can chomp down 13 in 15 minutes, or alternatively there’s an enormous tray of nachos offering the same prize if you can finish it in half an hour.

Eddie’s Bar and Grill, 1283 Bayshore Boulevard Dunedin, Florida 34698

World Travel for Almost Nothing #6

One of the biggest impediments to world travel is your stuff. Not just your physical stuff, but your mental stuff too. It’s hard to get rid of the baggage you’ve spent your life accumulating. One of the reasons I’ve been able to see as much as I have is that I’ve gone through the painful process of saying goodbye to people, things, and ideas…it’s never easy and if I were better at it, I would have seen much more than I have.

World Travel for Almost Nothing Tip #6: Leave Your Crap Behind You

We all like the physical comforts that a sedentary life brings us. The nice lazy boy (yeah, I miss mine), the kitchen gadgets, the easy way we can lounge around the house, and most of all the comfort of routine.

Routine is the biggest killer of adventures. It’s comfortable, we’re used to it, and even if it isn’t good for us, we hang onto it. I say that as I realize I’ve been smoking for nearly 25 years and refuse to think of how much that has cost me in terms of money and health. Or how much it will.

Yes Virginia, habits are nothing more than comfortable routine. It’s hard to leave your city, it’s hard to put yourself in a new environment, it’s hard to leave the friendships and places you are used to. But if you want to see the world for almost nothing, that is what you have to do.

Most of the time people think of travel in terms of leaving home and then coming back home. Well, a home costs you whether you are there or not. Same goes for a car, electricity, and all the other physical things you own. You have to keep them somewhere, right?

The bulk of my things are sitting in six small boxes in my brother’s garage. When I say small, I mean you could put them all in the front seat of a compact car. These are the things I’ve temporarily let go of with the knowledge that it might be permanent. I’ve also managed to somehow get a house full of things in Morocco, but I’ve very little attachment to any of them this time. My wife doesn’t count as a thing by the way, she isn’t a possession. 🙂 Besides, she’s small enough to fit in that front seat with the boxes…

Anyway, the point is that if you want to travel for almost nothing you need to get rid of that stuff or find a place where it will sit and not inconvenience anyone while you explore the world. One nice thing about traveling is that you don’t have to pay any of those expenses unless you hold on to them.

The truth is that traveling takes less money than being sedentary. As you travel you don’t need to pay those bills, you don’t need to have a job, and you don’t need to worry about what the Jones’ will think.

That also gives you the chance to let go of some of the harder possessions. Obsessions and habits need to hit the garbage can. To Truly find the joy of travel, you need to walk away from it all and experience what comes at you with your whole mind, body, and spirit.

If you have to plan everything six months in advance and you can’t live in the moment and ‘carpe diem’ than you might as well book that cruise vacation or the all inclusive package and spend the next six months working to pay for it.

The only way to really travel for almost nothing is to have almost nothing.

If you enjoyed this series you should buy my books, buy things using the affiliate links on the site, or donate a couple of bucks towards my future travels and the upkeep of this site.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #5

Tesla CoilBeing able to do something useful makes all the difference in the world when you want to travel the world for free or for almost nothing.

The fact that I can write, edit, work on computers, fix cars, and wash dishes means that I can go just about anywhere and trade my skills for whatever I need.

World Travel for Almost Nothing Tip #5:
Make yourself Useful.

Whether you cook, clean, or practice medicine the skills you’ve worked hard to develop will help you to be welcome wherever you go. If you are a carpenter or a mechanic, you can probably find everything you need in return for your skills. If you’re good at eating chips and playing World of Warcraft, well, it might be harder to find someone who is willing to trade food or lodging for those skills…but in this world, anything is possible.

In fact, lots of people opt to take actual jobs that involve travel. Working on cruise ships, airlines, tour guiding, and many more jobs actually pay you to travel…that’s almost better than free.

The key to this is that it takes time. You can’t step off the plane and simply say, here I am! You have to talk with people, you have to interact, you have to let people know that you have something to offer. So if you want to get that free vacation rental in Bermuda for three days, you better work your ass off figuring out who you know has connections there or using the internet to network virtually.

Another skill that has really worked in my benefit is being a teacher and a Native English Speaker. You can usually find someone who wants to trade what you need for language lessons.

Making Money While Traveling – A Few Ideas

I wrote this back in October of 2010 – but it’s still true today. In fact, in 2019 – it’s even easier. They call us digital nomads now! Funny how the world changes – when I started this blog – there was no such thing and few of us doing it – today – the world is crowded with digital nomadism. To update this a little – I hit a really good stretch with Vagobond for a while – selling links – then Google changed the pagerank algo and it dropped to nearly nothing. Same goes for adwords – it was good and then it became not so good. 

Earning money while you are traveling the world isn’t as hard as you might think it is. Of course, making a lot of money…that’s quite a bit harder! I can’t say that I’ve mastered the art of making a lot of money whether I am on the road or stationary, but I have learned that no matter how bad the economy is, no matter how depressed a place I might live in, no matter where I am- I can find a way to make a few bucks. Definitely enough to get to somewhere else, take care of my wife and me, and hopefully to have some fun along the way.

Lots of travelers today are having good luck with affiliate marketing and blogging. I’ve been pretty successful at blogging in terms of people liking my writing and coming again and again to my blog, but I can’t say I’ve really had much luck with making money at it (but thanks for the anonymous donations Mom!). Same goes for affiliate marketing. As you might guess, this post has some affiliate links in it (not any more). It won’t cost you anything to use them if the programs look interesting to you, and it will throw a little extra my way if you sign up for them. There it is – full disclosure! (Of course if I were sneaky, I would probably be rich but honesty is a profit killer.)

Of, course, one way that I make money is by teaching language. As a Native English speaker, the world is clamoring at my door to offer me money for teaching others to speak English. I happen to be a very good teacher, so that helps. To get my teaching credential, I went through an online TEFL course. That and being a native gets you through the door and into most countries.

You might want to get more than just the certificate though and start learning how to teach too!
The sad part is how many teachers I meet who don’t know how to teach at all or who are just plain terrible teachers. It just goes to show, that even if you aren’t a good teacher, you can make money in foreign countries as a teacher. You just need to get your TEFL certificate.

Of course, I think the best way to make money while I am on the road is by writing. It’s amazing how many people don’t think they can write, but in fact, if you can talk, you can write! It’s as easy as that (presuming you know things like letters and spelling). You don’t have to have a dictionary vocabulary. You just need to be able to say things in a conversational tone. That’s the tone that works the best on the internet.

There are millions of outlets for writers if you take the time to look.It might be exactly what you are looking for to make some money while you are on the road.

What do you do to make money while you are traveling?

Smooth Living Rule #5 – Brownies on the Table

I present the following with no commentary:

If there are brownies on the table, ask if they contain drugs even if the host has said to help yourself. 

Shrooming with The Naked Gourmet at Scenic Hot Springs near Seattle

This happened ages ago back in the late 1990s, but it’s still one of the most enjoyable naked drug experiences I’ve  had – I know, I don’t get out as much as I should. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living it. 

Shroomin at the Hotsprings with the Naked Gourmet

Scenic Hot Springs is off of  Highway 2 near Snoqualmie between Seattle and Everett.  We hiked two miles vertically and finally reached the hot springs where about a dozen people were nudely soaking and reveling despite the snow, the icy slick trail, and the difficult hike. By the time we got there, it was dark.

Scenic hot springsSomeone there offered us some psychedelic mushrooms  almost as soon as we arrived and so we settled into the natural hot spring tubs with an expectation of the unexpected. Just as the shrooms began to kick, which I think was faster than normal because we were soaking in the hot pools, Robert, the naked gourmet arrived.

A Puerto Rican man in his 40’s who reached fame through traveling to different hot springs and cooking incredible gourmet treats for those lucky enough to be there. He was, of course, naked, as were we. Everybody was – this, after all was a wilderness hotspring in the Pacific Northwest.

Before he cooked, Robert explained the hierarchy of the hot springs to everyone there.

“There is a class system here” he said, “It goes like this. This place and this energy is a result of Goddess. So first in the hierarchy are the goddesses who come here. Whatever they want, they get. Here they are not girls or women, they are Goddesses and I exist to serve. ” The beautiful girls in the tub with us murmured in delight.

“Next come those who serve Goddess and the Goddesses who visit. So this young man,” he indicated a dark youth with a secure energy about him who was happily massaging a Goddess’s shoulders. “He is next because he helped me carry my gear up the mountain and he is really pleasing this Goddess. After that come the rest of the guys.”

The shrooms started reshaping my reality and the snow-capped peak directly across from us began sort of bow and kow-tow to me while the trees began to giggle. Faces and words began to blend into each other and I thought of how the whirling dervish spins so reality blurs together and God can be seen in totality. My reality was blurring into the steam rising into the clouds and the stars that were not there dancing among those that were.

Scenic hot springs

One of the boys brought out a pipe and propane lighter. We shared his weed. I was intensely reflecting inward while I sat in the corner. Sitting in a bucket looking at my bucket. The Goddesses were lovely and the water was divine at just the right heat. A light snow began to fall.

Robert pontificated pleasantly from the pool called The Lobster Pot and I settled into a comfortable corner of another calledThe Bear’s Den. The dark boy and his Goddess were next to me; they were very comforting and real. The Naked Gourmet served up a delicious treat with orange slices that I tasted with my ears and felt with my nose.

Goddesses first, then helpers, and then the guys. Strange things still blurred the corners of my vision.

Two very drunk teenage Goddesses came and got in the Bear’s Den with me. They both had huge bottles of beer. I struggled to hold on to the center as their much older boyfriends came and got in with them. Let the molesting begin…

I felt an urge to speak but each time I tried, I realized, I fit in better being quiet. The Goddess and her dark servant moved to the Lobster Pot and the drunk young Goddesses squealed in delight at the extra room. I felt like I was going to be soaking in their boyfriend’s sperm soon so I moved to the Lobster Pot.

Roberts’s constant patter about the adventures of the Naked Gourmet  allowed me to simply listen and exist in my own world. Each time someone got out of the pool, we all shifted to a more comfortable spot. Slowly faces became distinguishable and words took on meaning. The visual died away and I returned to the somewhat Valhallalike world of Scenic Hot Springs.

The Naked Gourmet cooked in the snow and then turned from his makeshift kitchen with quesadillas and more orange slices.

Scenic hot springsShortly afterward he began packing his enormous load of gear into a sled and set off yelling “For those of you here tomorrow, I’ll be back for brunch!”

I stayed in the Lobster Pot for the next 6 hours or so, only getting out once to take an enormous pee in a downhill snowdrift.

About 3:00 AM, my friends and I dressed as needle like snowflakes flogged our mineral bathed skins. The hike down the mountain was a slick ride on one foot while crouched in the easy parts and treacherous ice in the flatter areas.

I thought my trip was still going on as a loud buzzing got near deafening and I looked up to see the purplish blue wires coursing up and down the mountain with an eerie ionic glow.

My friend saw me looking and said “Isn’t that a trip?”

“You mean it’s real?” I asked.

“Yeah, freaky huh?”

I thought about the strange effects all of that electromagnetic energy must be having on my brain, nervous system, and body as I lived among it every day…the same as standing under the same power lines in a city…the thought made me shudder.

 

Vagobond in New York

me and guttenberg bible

Me taking a picture of the Gutenberg Bible at the New York Public Library.

I love New York. A few more photos in slideshow format of some of my time in this amazing city. I can’t wait to go back again. Obviously, the big hole in the ground is where the Twin Towers were – since then Freedom One has gone up.

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Traveling Across Canada by Foot and Thumb – Arcadia, Quebec, the Great Lakes, the Prarie, the Canadian Rockies, and British Columbia

My trip across Canada caused me to fall in love with the country and her people. Both of my grandmothers had roots in Canada. On my mother’s side – her grandmother was from Moncton, New Brunswick and on my father’s side – his mother was from Victoria, British Columbia. If you look at genetic nationality, I guess that makes me 3/8ths Canadian – so it’s not a big surprise that I would love the place. The other 5/8ths were old American families rooted in California and Washington by way of Texas and Michigan – but none of that really matters. What matters is that Canada blew my mind. Yes, there were some hardships – in particular, one night in Ontario when the weather dropped below freezing – also, the black flies and the Mounties in Ontario were pretty rough on me as I tried to find rides – but mostly – Canada was beautiful, welcoming, and warm. The Canadian people reminded me of how truly good humans can be. Thank you Canada.

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Vagobond in Big Bear Lake #saturdayslideshow

Big Bear Lake, Belleville Cabin

When I tell people that I grew up in the mountains above Los Angeles or a ski area near L.A. – they often look confused. I grew up in a small town called Big Bear Lake. 7000 feet above Los Angeles in Southern California. Big Bear is famous for skiing, Hollywood shoots, gold mining, and – not surprisingly – big bears.

On the left is the old Belleville Cabin in Holcomb Valley. Hard to believe this is all that is left of what was once the largest Southern California gold rush town. Belleville was nearly 25,000 people and had more than it’s fair share of prostitutes, miners, and desperados. The town was named for Belle, the first baby born in the community. It brought the nearby communities of Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City, and Fawnskin to life but then died.

The last time I visited was 2009. Big Bear (which is what the whole area is called by locals) was a lot smaller than I remembered it and was filled with quite a few odd people. If someone told you they had just spent a fun-filled weekend at a popular southern California resort called Yuhaviat, you probably wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Yuhaviat is a Serrano Indian word that means “Pine Place,” and it is the name Big Bear had for more than a thousand years.

Big Bear is no longer called Yuhaviat, because back in 1845, Benjamin Davis Wilson rode into Yuhaviat Valley with a posse of 20 men. They were chasing Indians who had been raiding their ranches in Riverside. As they entered the valley, they found it swarming with bears.

Wilson divided his men into two-man teams. Each team went out, roped a bear and brought it back to camp. They had eleven bear at the camp all at the same time. This prompted Wilson to come up with the name Big Bear Lake. However, it should be noted that Big Bear Lake is a man-made lake that didn’t exist in 1845. The lake Wilson named Big Bear was actually the natural lake at the east end of the valley, now known as Baldwin Lake.

Ben Wilson is not only remembered for giving Big Bear its name, but he went on to become an important figure in Southern California history. Among his accomplishments, he is remembered as the first mayor of Los Angeles. He was also a two term California state senator, and he built the first railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego. Wilson died on March 11, 1878, but before he died, he donated land and buildings for the construction of a college. This new college eventually became the University of Southern California.Wilson’s energy and leadership qualities were passed down through his children to his grandchildren. One of those grandchildren was the famous World War II General, George S. Patton.

Today, Big Bear is a tourism town. Sometimes it seems like the main industry is making ugly chainsaw carvings of bears, but actually the big draw are the ski resorts of Snow Summit and Bear Mountain along with weekend camping and mountain getaways by the people that we used to call ‘flatlanders’.

About 15 years (1860) after Bear Valley was discovered by Wilson , prospector Bill Holcomb discovered gold in nearby Holcomb Valley . After abandoning his prospecting and mining efforts in Northern California and Oregon where he spent 10 years searching for gold, Holcomb and his partner Jack Martin came to Bear Valley in the winter of 1859. Although the partners worked hard they made only a modest strike. Martin returned to Los Angeles to get his family.

Meanwhile, towards the end of April, while Holcomb was hunting bear, he crossed the meadow in the center of Bear Valley and climbed up the west side of Bertha Peak and saw what he described as “the most beautiful mountain valley I have ever seen”. A few days later, he returned to that valley with companions, and while tracking a grizzly he had wounded, along what is now Caribou Creek; he noticed glittering specks of gold in a quartz ledge.

News of his find spread fast and soon prospectors began staking and working their claims. The population of Holcomb Valley swelled to over 2,000; buildings and businesses sprung up, including a General Store, Saloon, Grocery Store, Blacksmith Shop and the famous Octagon House where the “glitter girls” danced and otherwise entertained men in small dimly lit cubicles. As more and more prospectors came to Bear Valley in the hunt for gold and silver ore, the Bear Valley Mining District was founded.

When I was a child, that history was still celebrated in a big way. Each year we had a two week festival called “Old Miners Days” during which there were pageants, dances, parties, a parade, and an annual event that I always looked forward to – donkey baseball and the annual burro race. There were large herds of burros and donkeys that lived wild in Big Bear in the 1970s and each year they would be rounded up and people would race them around the lake and play baseball with them – with runners having to ride wild asses around the bases.

As kids, we were allowed to run wild in the San Bernardino National Forest – we were real natives and would catch rattlesnakes and scorpions, explore abandoned gold mines, and hike off in any direction for as far as we wanted. Most of our parents were busy with the booze, drugs, and sex of the 1970s – so there was no one to bother us.

We all went to North Shore Elementary School in those days (which always gets a funny response when I tell people in Hawaii – they say “You mean Sunset Elementary School?” – then I explain my school wasn’t on Oahu’s North Shore but Big Bear Lake’s). Big Bear was a great place to be a kid and the 1970s were a great time to be a kid. Below are a few photos that have meaning to me – the old Juniper that generations of kids built tree forts in, my spaceship looking elementary school, a couple of my childhood homes, my first job at the Alpine Slide, and the little market I used to buy Lemonheads and play Defender and PacMan in. Also a couple of pictures of the lake – look for the tiny white building in the distance – it’s the world’s most important solar observatory – which might be where I got my love of space and my universal outlook on life.

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Originally published 07 June 2009

Lanai- The Pineapple Island

Lanai is owned by Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle Corporation. The people who live there are not owned by him. The last time I was there was in 2008. It was a short trip – mainly because I couldn’t afford to stay any longer. Lanai has two expensive resorts and the Lanai City Hotel which was fully booked except for the two nights I stayed there.

To be more specific, Ellison owns 97% of the island. There are some private homes and a small portion owned by the State of Hawaii – but he owns the rest.  The island is 140 squrae miles and highest elevation is Mount Lana’ihale at 1026 meters (about 3,366 feet). There are about 3100 residents on Lanai. So, in a way, it’s a small town. It’s also the 6th largest island in the Hawaiian Island chain. The island is approximately 30 miles from Oahu and is visible from Oahu’s south shore on clear days. Residents are proud of the fact that there are no traffic lights on Lanai. 

The name Lānai is of uncertain origin, but the island has historically been called Lānaʻi o Kauluāʻau, which can be rendered in English as “day of the conquest of Kauluāʻau.” This epithet refers to the legend of a Mauian prince who was banished to Lānaʻi for some of his wild pranks at his father’s court in Lāhainā. The island was reportedly haunted by Akua-ino, ghosts and goblins. Kauluāʻau chased them away and brought peace and order to the island and regained his father’s favor as a consequence.

In ancient times Lanai was ruled by the Maui chiefs and kings, this has translated to modern times when it is still considered a part of Maui County (along with Molokai and Kohoolawe). Lanai was a sugar growing and Hawaiian taro growing place until 1862 when it was purchased for the Mormons and subsequently stolen by Walter M. Gibson – who subsequently became the prime minister of the Hawaiian Kingdom under King Kalakaua.

Gibson’s adventures are another story but suffice to say, he lost the island and in 1921 Charles Gay planted the first pineapple. Today the island is known as the Pineapple Island mainly because the island was bought by James Dole of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (Dole Food Corporation and Dole Plantation). The island stayed part of Dole until it was purchased (with Dole) by David Murdock. He sold the island to Larry Ellison in 2012. The island hadn’t produced pineapple in two decades at that point. The island cost him $300 million.  He remodeled the Four Season’s Lanai at Manele Bay and is restoring the other Four Seasons Resort at Ko’ele. Ellison has also funded many public works improvements.

Not many visitors go to Lanai – but those who do typically have the money to stay at the Four Seasons. The Lanai City Hotel is more of a locals place. There are three very nice golf courses on Lanai and a trap shooting range. These are also attractions for wealthy folks. As is the yacht harbor. There is a concrete ship which is crashed on a beach appropriately called Shipwreck Beach. It’s sort of an attracation. 

Most people rent cars to see the remote places. I went hiking each day and managed to make it to most of the same places. Lanai isn’t that big.  In addition to hiking to the Garden of the Gods, I was able to visit the Luahiwa Petroglyphs, the Pu’u Pehe Overlook and also spent some time lounging in Dole Park and exploring the plantation streets of Lanai City. 

I want to go back to Lana’i someday – but not until I have more money.

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